It resolves into images of Rinoa fleeing from crowds of Heartless--and not just little ones, either. Shadows nip at her heels, but they're the older, tougher type, and they're accompanied by larger versions with crooked antennae and strong arms. Great floating balls of pure darkness follow. Here's where it changes, though: Rinoa isn't just *running* from the things. Every few moments, she turns around, and she lashes back at them, glaring as she sends the Keyblade she wields spinning through their ranks. It should look familiar to Squall: he wielded it, once. But now it shines, and wings rise from the silvery lion carved into it.
"I don't want to," hack, slash, "hurt you." Rinoa kicks one of the Shadows in the head while slicing through one of the larger things with the Keyblade. "It's not your fault, what you are. But you're *keeping me from Squall*!" Her voice rises, angry and frantic. "Stop that!" And they dissipate around her as she spins and slices, and then she's running again.
Now the setting she flees through comes clear as well, through the static of some strange foggy connection. It's a twisty place all wrought with thorns, and then try to snag on her dress as she runs through them. Her arms are bleeding. But she keeps going--
--the dream flickers, and for a moment it is lost in static. There's only a void--
--it's back. Rinoa emerges from the thorns, her head held high to drown out the fear in her eyes. There's a castle in front of her, but on its steps stands Maleficent.
"Give him *back*," Rinoa snarls. "Give him back right now."
"Now, now, dear child," says the witch. "I told you how it would go. You do as I say, and I give you back your friend." She's smiling indulgently, cruelly.
"And I told you I'm not doing it that way!" The fear is still there, but the anger has overwhelmed it; and beneath it is a raw possessiveness. Rinoa is here to claim what's hers. "I traveled through *worlds* to get him back. You think--"
It cuts off, and there's that mental static again. The noise overwhelms the signal. Alone, alone--is that her shape in the distance, or just a meaningless anomaly?
It's all wrong. He'll think that later, when he can think clearly - it should not happen this way. He should be the one fighting his way back through hardship and peril, carving his way back to her through the thorns and the waves upon waves of Heartless.
It's only because he's failed that this is happening.
"Rinoa!" He calls out to her through the white noise that's surrounded him, reaches out in the direction of his last sight of her. Anything to reach her. "RINOA!"
There's a perilous moment there where it seems nothing will happen. He'll be lost forever in the hopeless static. Never mind that it's a dream; *Rinoa* is there, so it's realer than anything in waking life, isn't it?
Then, far more abruptly than it came, it clears, and for one perfect moment, Squall is looking right into Rinoa's wide eyes. Across the worlds, something clicks.
Then his view zooms out again, and he can see her standing with the Keyblade out, facing Maleficent. Her mouth has dropped open in surprise, and she blinks once. Then she *glares*. "You don't have him! You never did! Oh, I'll get you for *that*--" And she flings herself at the great witch, Keyblade flashing.
Maleficent raises one hand. "No, I don't think so." Poisonous green light flashes, and Rinoa is flung back to land on the ground with a pained cry.
For a moment, there is silence. Rinoa stares up at Maleficent, not getting up off the ground, but still clutching her Keyblade. Finally, she says quietly, "I thought--all the worlds I went through--all the things I saw and did and learned--I thought it was about getting the power to fight you so I could win him back. But it wasn't."
"No," Maleficent says, her voice almost amiable, but just a little bit too sharp and mocking. "It was about being better able to serve me, when you do come to your senses and join me, child."
Now Rinoa gets to her feet, tossing her hair indignantly as Maleficent speaks. "Not that either! No. All those worlds, the heroes I saw there--they were trying to tell me something." She faces the witch square on. "I understand it now," she says. "They were telling me to look into my own heart--as they looked into theirs--and find the courage and the answer there."
She turns away from Maleficent, beaming. "I'm coming, Squall!" she says, and she flips the Keyblade around, inwards, and stabs it into her own chest.
The light consumes everything, then: Maleficent's shriek of thwarted rage, Rinoa's crumpling form, all of it. It radiates out until it's too painful to bear, and finally it tears sleep away as well. The dream's over. Time to wake up.
"NO!" Squall roars it with everything he's got, but it's too late and he can't stop her - he can only cry out until he jars himself awake and sits suddenly upright, gasping with the abruptness of the jolt between dreaming and waking.
Sitting there, in the dark of his own room, he draws in a deep breath to steady himself. "A dream," he murmurs to himself, dragging a hand back through his hair to get it out of his face. "Just--" But even as he tells himself that, he knows it's not true. It wasn't *just* a dream, and the comfort he might have taken from that moment of connection is drowned out by the fear.
He sits there for a moment or two longer before he gets up. It's still dark, the middle of the night, but there's no point in staying in bed now; he won't be sleeping any more tonight.
For a little while, in that lonely room, there's silence. Only the sound of Squall's breathing and movements break it up. Maybe if it goes on for long enough, he can even convince himself that it was just a dream. Maybe.
And then, just like that, there's someone else there. Except there's not. But there's the *sense* that she's there, undeniable--and yes, it's a she; more than that, it's Rinoa. She's not there, there's no one there but Squall himself, but the sense of her being there is impossible to shake.
And she speaks. Not that she really does, mind you--the words enter Squall's head without ever passing through his ears. But for the sake of argument...we'll say she speaks. "I'm sorry," she says. "I think...I think I messed up, a little. But I'm really happy you're all right."
Her voice in his thoughts stops Squall cold. He was in the midst of reaching for his clothes, intent on getting dressed and getting back out there, to search for a new rift - or *something* - but now he just stands very still, staring into the dark, all but holding his breath. His first thought is that he's finally slipping.
"Of course." She sounds almost affronted--or maybe she just *is* almost affronted, since it's hard to say what she *sounds* like. "I mean...I think. I think...I'm part of me. Squall, I'm confused," she says. If she were really *there*, at this point her voice would crack and she might almost cry. But none of that happens, because she's not actually there--just the sense of her presence, frightened but warm.
"I'm confused," she repeats. "And scared. But I found you. So it's okay."
"Where are you?" Squall asks, confused himself, but urgent. "I can hear your voice, but..." He's always been kind of literal-minded; even having seen all he's seen, and knowing all he knows, it's not easy for him to wrap his mind around the idea of being able to hear someone who isn't *there.* But if anyone could reach him from anywhere, it would be Rinoa. "I've been trying to find a way back." He says it as though asking her forgiveness.
"I don't know," and she's *definitely* confused. There's silence (but it's all silence!) for a moment. Finally, she suggests, "I think I'm in your head. It's--cold." But not as cold as it once was, perhaps. "And it's hard for me to talk to you like this."
For a moment, it seems like it's *too* hard, and she's not going to say anything more, Finally, though, there's a sense of her smiling. "I knew you would. But you didn't need to. This time I came after *you*." And maybe that's wrong--maybe the knight should always find his way back to his sorceress, not the other way around--but she doesn't care.
"I don't know how it works, though," she admits. "I--I don't remember exactly what I did. I just know that I had to do something to get to you, and I did it. And I remember you. Everything else is...kind of blurry."
It's not her body or her mind or even part of her soul. It's just her heart.
He can't help but be angry - not at Rinoa, but at himself, for being such a poor excuse for a knight that something like this could come to pass. For her sake only, he tries to rein it in, to stay calm. "Don't be afraid," Squall murmurs. "Just - stay with me. I won't let anything happen to you." Fear is there, too, but he refuses to acknowledge it. He won't allow himself to fail her this time.
"I believe you," she says, without the slightest hesitation. She doesn't know anything else. She barely knows her own name. But she knows that she believes Squall, and that she believes *in* him. "Things will be all right. Soon."
The sense of her presence lingers a moment longer, and then it fades--but she's not quite *gone*. It's more as if she's about to walk in the door any moment; or perhaps he can catch sight of her in the corner of his eye. She's here. Somewhere. Somehow.