Post-game, Squall and Rinoa revisit Winhill and what might have been.
Standing in the middle of the gravel road that led into Winhill, surrounded by the wide open expanse of rolling green hills and all its rural peace, Squall looked starkly out of place in his battered leather with his gunblade at his side. And yet... not really. He looked, Rinoa thought, a little like the soldier from all those fairy tales that started with a poor and weary soldier making his way home from a war.
"You know," she said, "if you don't feel right about this, you don't have to do it."
Squall looked back over his shoulder, across the broad open space of the fields towards the distant shape of Balamb Garden where it had been set down to let them off. Then he scowled, ducking his head to glower at the gravel in front of his feet. "Yes I do. I've been putting it off for months already. If I don't go through with it now, I never will."
Rinoa's sigh was lost in the breeze that brushed wisps of her hair over her face and ruffled the fur collar of Squall's jacket, carrying with it the faint scent of flowers. "I wish you'd tell me what you're worried about. It's not as though you haven't been here before - they're not going to chase you out of town with pitchforks."
"It was different before," Squall said. "I didn't know then."
"About your mother?"
He nodded without looking up. "Yeah. It's just... weird, coming back like this." He let out a breath that was closer to a derisive snort than a sigh. "Hey, remember Raine Leonhart who died seventeen years ago? I'm her son." The corner of his mouth curled in disgust. "Like some kind of prodigal... like I expect something."
It was astounding, Rinoa thought, how many people looked up to Squall with no idea of insecurity his gruff behavior hid, or just how sensitive he was to the judgments of others.
"Your whole life you never knew who your parents were." She moved up closer beside him, ducking her head to try to meet his downcast eyes. "Now that you finally know, it's only natural that you'd want to visit the place where your mother lived and talk to people who knew her. They'll probably be happy to see you... the people around here really liked your mother, right?"
"They liked /her/. They hated Laguna." There was a sardonic edge to Squall's voice that implied he sided with the people of Winhill on the subject of his father. "I'm his son, too. And just as much of an outsider."
She loved the boy, but sometimes Rinoa kind of wanted to kick him. "Come on. You were just a baby, it's not like you had a choice. If they really thought so much of your mother, they won't look down on you just because you grew up somewhere else. Especially after everything you've done."
Squall scowled, shaking his head in a quick jerk of motion. "I don't want them to embrace me just because I'm Raine's son, or because people think I'm some kind of a hero, or..."
He trailed off when Rinoa giggled, giving her a faintly sour look.
"You have such high standards," she teased fondly. "You want to be accepted, but only on your own terms."
"It's not funny," Squall grumbled, turning his face from hers to look ahead into Winhill.
"I know." She would have reached for his hand, but it was jammed into his pocket, so she tucked her hand into the angle of his elbow instead. "But you know, if you really want them to accept you for who you are inside... you're going to have to show them who that is."
The thought probably hadn't occurred to Squall, not in those terms. He frowned, brows drawing together to crease the scar that angled between them, his expression growing more troubled as he stared down the gravel road.
"Even if they don't welcome you, would you really be losing anything?" Rinoa tugged at his arm to bring his attention back to her. "You'll always have your friends, and me. If the people here won't accept you just because you didn't grow up here, it's their loss."
The furrow smoothed out of his brow, but Squall still looked distant, his eyes half-lidded and not really focusing on her face. "It's just... if things had been a little different, this would have been my home. I don't think I could live here now, but... I guess I'm trying to make peace with my regrets. So that I can stop thinking about how it could have been."
"Is that what you're looking for?" She watched his face, and the way he wouldn't quite meet her eyes. "Home?"
"No." Squall's hand slid out of his pocket and he lifted it briefly to her face, gloved fingertips skimming her cheek like a fleeting kiss. Then he let it drop again. "I already found that."