Phase XVIII: White Lilies
"Okay, so we know both Rinoa and Seifer are definitely involved now." Zell said, sitting on the wooden floor of Raine's old apartment in the town of Winhill.
Angelus sipped at some cheep Galbadian beer while leaning against foot the couch, "Seifer left the country. She looked rather pissed about it."
"They're still in a relationship." Squall added offhandedly as his eyes curiously scanned the documents in his lap. None of it made sense, figures and script were typed or written entirely in Estharian. A bigger question hung in the air between the three men.
Why did Caraway, the newly elected president of Galbadia, have Estharian medical records stashed away in a locked desk drawer? The question ate at him, and Squall was drawing a serious blank.
Zell raised a brow, "Jealous much?"
Angelus nudged Squall's leg, "Naw, man. He's all over Selphie now."
"Guys, focus." Squall scowled, holding up a few pages, "Why would Caraway have these?"
"Who cares? He's dead. Outta sight, outta mind, bro!" Zell exclaimed, setting his beer down next to him. When he looked up, Squall and Angelus were sending questionable glares his way. "What? Too soon?"
"Have they announced who's taking over in his place?" Angelus asked.
"Nope." Squall replied, "The media's been too caught up with his funeral processions and the investigation as to what started the fire. Rinoa hasn't even talked to the media yet, and it's been a week."
"I saw her talkin' to Watts at the party." Angelus added. "Think that has to do with anything?"
"Rinoa was worried about Zone." Squall shrugged. "Maybe Watts something found out."
"Found out that SeeD took him hostage or that he's dead?" Angelus raised a brow.
"You mean, like, he might've been fillin' her in?" Zell chimed in.
Only listening with half an ear, Squall skimmed through the documents again and let out a frustrated sigh, "Why the hell are these Estharian? I can't read any of this!"
"Dude, fuck those documents!" Zell snapped, trying to grab them from Squall's hand.
Angelus looked over a stray page that appeared to be a contract or prescription of some kind. The bottom had a signature scrawled on a dotted line and was dated just over a year ago. Squinting, he recognized the name. "O-Odine?"
"Odine?" Zell scoffed, "Mr. Mad Scientist? Well, that sorta makes sense. He did have an interest in Rinoa bein' a sorceress, right? Maybe Caraway was worried about his daughter, which is why he had these."
No interim president had been announced to the public.
Rinoa hadn't talked to the media.
Caraway was Rinoa's father.
Caraway had Estharian medical records signed by Odine himself.
Odine had an interest in Rinoa being a sorceress.
Rinoa is a sorceress.
…It's starting to make sense now.
Squall promptly turned to Angelus, "Rinoa left with Caraway." Angelus nodded in return. "They got to the mansion, Caraway was killed, and the mansion went up in flames."
"Do you think she was killed in the fire?" Zell asked him, and Squall immediately ruled this possibility out.
"No, I think she caused the fire."
Winhill, Galbadia/Winhill Bluffs
"You think he's here?" An Estharian soldier asked his partner who stood next to him on a cliff overlooking the small pastoral village.
"We got word that he was spotted here. He isn't going to like what we have to tell him." His partner replied.
The man sighed, "I still can't believe it. Makes me want to get the hell out of this country for what they did to ours."
His partner grunted before turning on a small device that transmitted the message back to Lieutenant Xu. "Simba has been located. We're going in."
"Good. Report back when you're done."
Squall was cleaning up the mess they had made in the living area after Angelus and Zell left. In the pit of his stomach, he felt wary of the small apartment above the bar. Everything had been preserved and left untouched since Raine had lived here. Had she survived, this would have been his home, too. This house held the answers to what had been absent his whole life. His roots, his family.
Squall wasn't a superstitious man nor believed in ghosts, but if Raine really did die in this house, he wouldn't want to get on her bad side. Ellone had filled him in on his mother's temperament, especially when it came to dealing with Laguna's mess. Allowing a small smirk to form on his lips, Squall filed all the papers away into a folder and shoved it into his black duffel bag for safekeeping.
He peered up to see Selphie standing by the door with a bright smile on her face. She had on a floral sundress and brown sandals instead of her usual white tank top, jean skirt, and knee high boots. The weather in Winhill was unlike Deling City, which normally had chillier temperatures this time of year. Winhill was so far south on the Galbadian continent that summer never truly ended. He even opted for a simple grey t-shirt paired with his black shorts to beat the almost unbearable heat.
Squall straightened, "What's up?"
She walked closer to him, eyes catching the nearby window for emphasis. "It's a nice day out, and you're cooped up in here?"
"Just finished some work."
She giggled, trying to distract herself from his eyes trailing up and down her body. "What're you doing for the rest of the day?"
Squall scratched his neck, "Uh, I guess not much."
Selphie looked hopeful, "Nothing at all?"
"Well, I was gonna go visit Raine."
"Mind having company?" Her smile never relented.
"Not at all."
"Maybe you should get her something. Raine liked flowers, why not stop by the florist?"
Squall frowned, "You think?"
"Yeah!" Selphie laughed, grabbing his hand, and dragged Squall to the door, "It'll be fun!"
There were things he knew well like combat and battle strategy, but Squall knew absolutely nothing about flowers or anything remotely sentimental- let alone buying his mother or females, in general, gifts.
The old stone house sat on the side of the dirt road, smelling of various scents competing to get into your nostrils at the same time. Squall's eyes searched the displays of flower vases and pots holding all sorts of blooms. The level of femininity in the small store made him uneasy. It was crowded with stock, but it had been clear upon arriving that Selphie and himself were their only customers.
Selphie stepped around a large bouquet marveling at its beauty, "Didn't someone say she liked white flowers?"
"Did she?" he asked her.
"She's your mother!"
"I don't know," Squall frowned, "You're a girl. Pick something."
Selphie took a moment, spotting a bouquet of white lilies. A smirk crossed her face, pointing at it. "Okay, fine. I like that one!"
"I'll get the lady to grab it." He told her, walking to the service desk. An elderly woman sat there reading a book when he approached, and judging by how far along she was, Squall assumed she didn't get many customers. "Hey, can we get some flowers from that display over there?"
At first the she didn't seem too interested in him, but averted her gaze anyways. Her expression went from irritated to utter shock, like she'd seen a ghost.
"Oh! You need something, young man!" She switched to a rather forced politeness. "Most definitely! Which one?"
After showing her, the lady began to ring them out at the counter. As he paid, Selphie meandered around the shop, inspecting different blooms and was too distracted to notice anything peculiar about the store clerk.
"Who should I make the card out for?" She asked him.
"You don't have to. They're not really a gift. It's for a grave."
The ladies eyes went wide, "Boy, may I ask you a question?"
Squall dignified her with an odd stare, but said nothing.
"Have you been in this town before?"
Due to their current situation with the Galbadian authorities up north, Squall still chose to stay silent.
"You look like an old friend of mine. She had a boy like you. He hadn't been in this town for almost twenty years since the girl died. It was quite tragic I must say. He was just a baby when he left, bundled in blue being shipped off to Hyne knows where." She sounded sorrowful while applying the last piece of tape to the bouquet. Squall inwardly sighed.
Selphie's ears perked up when she heard something about a baby.
"I'm sure he's fine." Squall felt the need to say, even though irony was thick in the air.
She smiled then, "Say, if these are for someone special, do you plan on getting her anything?"
Before he could retort, the store clerk rummaged through an arrangement behind her as he tried to not glance at Selphie. "Raine made the best flower crowns. I learnt the arrangement myself to keep her legacy alive." She gently placed the very arrangement on the counter next to the bouquet. "This will keep your friend over there smiling."
After packaging everything up, she leaned over the counter and whispered, "I am glad you survived."
Squall justified that was a nod and strode out of the shop with Selphie in tow. Making their way down the road again, the sounds of workingmen going about their evening on the docks by the river filled the uncomfortable silence.
"So, that was interesting." Selphie commented. "She knew you."
"Whatever. Let's just go." He grumbled.
"What'd she give you?"
His thoughts were drawing him into himself so much that he almost completely forgot within five minutes of leaving the store, "Oh, right. This is for you."
"Oh wow! Thanks Squall! You're so sweet!" She exclaimed, putting the crown on her head that perfectly matched her dress.
He shrugged, "Glad you like it."
Selphie grabbed his hand again, "Come on! I'm sure Raine's excited to see you!"
Squall had to think hard as to how to get to the humble sized graveyard having only been there once a few years back. Ellone had forced him to come along. Squall listened to her speak of good times to the small marble tile that had his mother's name engraved into it, but couldn't bring himself to say anything. The concept of talking to a dead person was still relativity new to him.
They walked down the hillside with Selphie latching onto his hand trying to not lose a sandal. He had to help her most of the way down guiding her in their desired direction until they found a small yard sectioned off by a wooden fence that had a plaque marked 'St. James Cemetery'.
It was right near the back, almost out of sight; Selphie knew this was it when he stopped to look down at something. Displayed on a white marble slab was the name 'Raine Loire' scrawled out with simple, yet elegant, type. Squall remained quiet for a moment, setting the flower's down at the foot of the grave.
Selphie playfully nudged him, "Why don't you say something?"
"I don't know what to say." Squall whispered back like Raine could hear him.
She giggled, "Start with hello."
"Do you think she can hear me?"
Selphie nodded, "The dead always can. They're always watching over us."
Squall wasn't sure how he felt about that, wondering if Raine was disappointed in him over the way his life turned out. What kind of mother would be proud of a son who got paid to kill people? To fight wars and do the things he had done just in the past few months?
That unsettling feeling was at its peak, but his stoic expression masked his nerves well enough to prevent Selphie from catching on. If she was right though, he might as well get this over with.
"Hey Raine. It's me…your son. I've…been okay, I guess. It's been awhile since I came here. Hope that's okay."
Selphie's heart melted as she watched Squall interact with his late mother. A sense of pride came over her in that moment. At least he was trying.
Squall flashed a glance her way and jerked his thumb towards her, "Oh, this is Selphie. She's my-" He stopped himself for a moment, "a friend of mine."
She took in a sharp inhale to quell the fluttering in her chest. Shock took a little too long to subside by the time logic sent in. He wasn't going to call her his…that was he?
Just pretend you didn't hear that! Stay cool, Sef.
Selphie crouched down next to him, minding her skirt brushing the grass by her feet. Pushing her thoughts away, Selphie mustered up the warmest tone she could to mask her surprise, "It's nice to finally meet you, Mrs. Loire. Squall's grown up to be a really great guy. You must be so proud of him like I am."
Blooded rushed into his cheeks. Her kind words were unexpected, and Squall couldn't help but feel flattered. He also couldn't take a compliment if his life depended on it.
Does she actually think of me this way? Or is she just sucking up to my dead mother?
Most guys brought girls home to meet their parents. Maybe girls had to act a certain way to get their mothers to like them. Would Raine have liked Selphie? But she wasn't his…Selphie wasn't his anything. Sure they were in this odd grey area now, but wait- was this actually becoming some sort of date? Panic set in, and Squall felt like he was going to throw up.
"Um…" Squall let out in a whisper, "Maybe we should get going."
Selphie complied without another word, getting up to stand. Squall said his goodbyes to the grave, and they made there way out of the cemetery.
"Heey," She tugged his hand after a while, grabbing his attention. They were just descending another hill, and the sky was turning a reddish pink.
Selphie smiled, "Why not stay here a while? It's not everyday we can be out in a place like this."
Squall's eyes shifted around in question, "Selphie, it's a field."
"I bet the sunset's gonna be awesome!" She said, passionately. When she realized that he still didn't seem convinced, Selphie pressed on, "C'mon! Pleeease Squall? Just for a bit."
She plopped down in the grass totally ignoring his protests. Her eyes looking up at him expectantly until Squall relented with a heavy sigh. He sat next to her on the slope of the hill, eyes trained on the setting sun. They remained quiet for some time, before Selphie broke the silence.
She was twirling a few blades of grass around when she spoke, "Can I ask you a question?"
Squall raised a brow to that, "What?"
"Why didn't you keep in touch with me after Garden shut down?"
He kept his eyes ahead of him, feeling her green ones boring into the side of his head. At first he didn't know how to answer, but he supposed the truth would clear things up a little more. "I…wasn't sure how I felt at the time."
"...About Rinoa or…about me?" Selphie asked him, hesitantly.
"I don't know." He deflated, "Both?" She nodded, going uncharacteristically silent now, which concerned him a bit.
"It's just…" She trailed off, "I don't know about you…about us."
"I don't either."
Her green eyes cast back to the sunset, "I mean, I wanna know, y'know? I wanna figure this out. I have for a while, but then you were a jerk, and then we were cool, and now we're here. In a field, looking at the sunset, and I'm wearing this crown you gave me and we-" Her face was pulled towards his and met his lips instantly. Unlike the last time, Selphie let him kiss her, and she kissed him back. It was longer than the last time; filled with those same contradicting emotions.
When he pulled away, a smile crept upon her lips, forehead pressing his. "What…"
"I wanted to see if you'd slap me this time." Squall whispered and was dealt with a playful jab to the torso in return. "You proved my point."
She laughed, pulling away, "You're point?"
His eyes brightened, his body sitting closer to hers, "You're a violent one."
Her hand was midair when his reflexes kicked in and caught it before she could deliver another blow. "H-hey!" She shrieked when he bound her wrists together with one strong hand.
Selphie wrenched her hands away, but he didn't let go. "I can kick your ass, Leonhart! Don't make me do it!"
Squall smirked, "Try me."
She collided her elbow with his shoulder, but Squall countered by pinning her hands to the ground next to her until his body was pressing up against hers. Selphie turned her head to find his face inches away. This close, she could see small green freckles in his eyes that she never noticed before and how his trademark scar was now a slightly jagged white line across the bridge of his nose.
And for the first time, she kissed him, short and sweet.
The confusion settled between them, replaced with a budding warmth and relief knowing that they both felt the same way. Selphie settled into his side, his arm wrapped around her petite frame watching the sunset. They stayed this way for what felt like hours.
Selphie was dozing off when she heard his deep voice rumble against her ear, "It's getting dark. We should get back." He pulled her to her feet, a small smile lingering on his lips, leading the way to the dirt road again.
"I had fun." She told him with his arm wrapped around her shoulders.
"Me, too." He replied, kissing the side of her head when they finally made it onto the road.
Squall turned to see two men in black standing behind them. Scrutinizing them with untrusting eyes, he replied with caution, "Depends who's asking."
"We work for President Loire's personal security unit." One of them explained, "We have matters to discuss with you that can't wait."
Squall let Selphie go, "What're are you talking about?"
"Please come with us, Mr. Leonhart." The same soldier urged him.
If these guys came to find me, there has to be a good reason. Something must've happened. He desperately hoped that wasn't the case.
"Squall?" Selphie called him.
"I'll see you back at the bar." He told her over his shoulder, joining the two men who led him towards Winhill's city hall.
They found a vacant office to the side of the foyer, and Squall sunk slowly into an old wooden chair while they chose to stand.
"Why did you call me here?"
"Esthar was attacked." The one who did all the talking said.
He knew it.
Squall swore under his breath, rubbing his temples furiously.
Of course Rinoa would go after Esthar!
"Why have you been looking for me? Doesn't Trepe have it under control over there? She's got enough SeeDs in her army to defend the city." Squall snapped, and neither of them chose to speak. "How could this happen!?"
The quiet one frowned, "They bombed us. Missiles. The Presidential Palace was a direct hit."
Upon hearing this, Squall held his breath. His eyes widened, and his heart stopped for a moment. "The President was in a meeting and…"
Squall's throat felt like it was coated in sandpaper.
Squall, don't go! It's Christmas eve…
A memory played back in his mind from a year ago. The last time him and his father had been in the same room, let alone had spoken.
"We have searched the area, but haven't found any survivors."
Fuck you, I don't need you! I never have. I've been fine all these years on my own!
"I'm sorry, son. We'll leave you alone for a few moments." His ears almost didn't catch that, trying miserably to control his emotions. When the door shut behind them, the silence grew louder and blanketed him with its comfort.
He had to remember to breathe. In and out…that's all it took to extinguish the ball of fire burning in his chest. His hand clenched around the armrest until his knuckles turned white and veins protruded from his forearm to the top of his hand.
Squall, I knew your mother…
It's a good thing you don't look like your father.
I'm glad you came to visit for Christmas, Ellone's gonna be so excited!
You look very much like your mother.
The memories were all in the past tense. He hated the past tense.
Visiting his mother was one thing, she was six feet under, and he never had the privilege to get to know her. What was worse was aside from all the time and energy Squall spent trying to avoid his father and blame him for everything, he spent less time actually getting to know him. It was too late, and Squall might have missed his chance.
Seventeen years lost, two years somewhat gained, the rest of Squall's life would again be without a father. And suddenly he realized he was no better, if not worse, than the man who typed in the coordinates for the missile that hit the Presidential Palace.
Anger rose inside his chest when he recalled the events that occurred in the past few months. The destruction, the lies, and the power hungry Galbadian government enforcing fear into other cities and countries until they crippled and disintegrated.
He hated it. He hated it all.
Up until this point, Squall hadn't emotionally checked into what had been happening. He fought because it was all he could do to survive, and the Naperic group and the Underground Association needed to know what was going on. From losing his home, to his family, Rinoa was going to pay a hefty price for all the damage she'd done.
Squall knew what came next. And he would see it through to the very end or he'd die trying.
Because this war just got personal.