When he heard from Squall what had happened to Rinoa, Zone had to go to her.
He was just glad that there was a map of the building's layout right in front of its main entrance, so he could see just where he needed to go. It was a lucky thing too; if he'd had to do a search for the infirmary he would have started by going the wrong way around the main hallway, making it a lot more likely that someone would have noticed that he didn't belong there. He didn't know what SeeD did to trespassers, and he didn't want to find out even if it was a safe bet that he'd be let go as soon as Squall came back. Hopefully. If the man wasn't annoyed that Zone had snuck into the complex on his own while Squall was searching for the White SeeD commander instead of asking permission to board.
He hesitated outside the door to the infirmary, bracing himself for the worst, then was surprised when he entered and didn't find it. When Squall had said that Rinoa had fallen unconscious after a fight and they didn't know why, Zone had assumed that he'd meant that she'd been badly beaten and didn't want to say as much. He'd expected bandages, and casts, and bruises, but when he saw her he could have thought that she was sleeping, if he didn't know her well enough to know that she was never that still, even in her dreams, or that pale.
He was so focused on her that he didn't even notice the other woman in the room, until she said, "Excuse me, do you need any help?"
He was proud of himself for managing to hold back the impulse to jump out of his skin before he turned to her. It was obvious that she was a doctor from the way she dressed, not to mention the fact that she was the first adult he'd seen in the building, a matronly woman who seemed more curious than bothered by a stranger wandering in. "I'm, uh, here to see..." he started, and couldn't resist glancing away to look at Rinoa. When he turned his attention back to the doctor again, she had a knowing smile.
"A friend of Miss Heartilly's, are you? Please, sit down. I'm sure she'll be glad to know she has a visitor."
"You think she can tell I'm here?" he asked as he took the seat beside her hospital bed.
"Even if she isn't consciously aware of it, I'm sure that she knows deep inside," the woman said. Her voice was kind, but Zone couldn't bring himself to look away from Rinoa again to see if she actually looked sincere.
He found himself unable to bring himself to touch Rinoa, or even say anything to her, not with a stranger in the room. Even if it had been somebody he knew he didn't think he would have been able to; he felt embarrassingly on display, even though he could hear the papers ruffling behind him as she turned back to the work she'd been doing.
Luckily, the woman seemed to recognize his discomfort. After a few minutes his attention was drawn back to her by the sound of her chair scratching across the linoleum. "I think that I'm going to go get lunch," she said, even though it was hours after most people would have eaten. "If there seems to be any change in her status, come to the cafeteria straight away and find me, all right?"
He nodded, and the second the woman was out the door he reached out to grab Rinoa's hand. The moment he touched her he was reminded, stupidly he thought, of Miss Ruffles. She had been a doll that Rinoa brought with her when she first joined the Forest Owls, a porcelain thing in a froofy dress with eyes that closed when she was put down that Zone had thought was about the most ridiculous possession he'd ever seen for a resistance fighter.
But that doll had been a gift from her mother, and, even with all the teasing she got about it, she slept with it every day then propped it up against her pillow when she got up so it could 'watch what's happening' (a declaration of Rinoa's which had, frankly, freaked Zone out whenever he looked at its painted smile and blank glass eyes). Then one day they'd gotten word of a Galbadian checkpoint set up at the station they'd been heading towards and needed to stop their train suddenly to reverse. Miss Ruffles, so precariously balanced, had fallen to the floor and broken.
He'd thought Rinoa was going to cry when they walked into her room and she saw the doll in pieces, but then she'd smiled bravely and said, "It's okay. You were all right anyway; it is silly for a freedom fighter to need to sleep with a dolly." She kept her voice so steady when she said it that he might almost have believed her if it hadn't been for the way her lower lip tremored and how bright her eyes looked when he knelt down to help her pick up the pieces.
Now Rinoa's own skin felt as cold as those bits of porcelain he'd cleaned up, her coloring just as corpse-pale. Her face was just as blankly expressionless as Miss Ruffles's, so much so that he almost felt like her eyes would be glass if he risked pulling up the lids covering them. He'd never even realized that a human could look like that while still alive.
Now, more than ever, he wanted to run back to the White SeeD ship and punch Leonhart until his knuckles split open. Even his stomach seemed at peace with the idea now that he'd seen the state she was in.
Even alone he now found it hard to speak. What did you say to somebody who so obviously wasn't home in there mind, no matter how optimistic the doctor acted to reassure him? Finally, after several minutes, he swallowed hard and whispered, "Come on, Rinoa, open your eyes. It can't be easy for you to stay like this; you usually never slow down for a second."
He knew that it was stupid to talk as if she had any choice in her condition, but it was just so unnatural seeing her lie so still. Even when she slept she didn't stay still, she would roll from side to side, curl up then straighten out again, and even when she got into a position that she liked for a minute or two her hands would twitch or her face would nestle into her pillow then turn outwards again after a moment to get more air.
He squeezed her hand more tightly, folding his other hand over it to try transferring more warmth into her skin. "Watts is right over on the next ship, Princess. Think about how much fun he'd make of me if he knew I was trying to wake you up after how many times I've avoided that job. Just open your eyes, and you can come over to watch. You can even join in, I won't hold it against you. Then we can get back to Timber--the Owls, back together again!--and far away from that bastard SeeD who can't be trusted to keep you safe."
There wasn't a single sign that she'd heard him, not even the tiniest flutter of her eyelashes or shift of her fingers in his hand.
"Give me a hint here, Rinoa. What do I need to do to wake up the sleeping princess? I'll do it this time, even if you scratch me to bits for getting in the way of your beauty sleep. No shoving it off on a mercenary this time."
Still nothing, though he kept his eyes fixed on her face so he couldn't possibly miss any shift in her expression.
After a moment his gaze drifted down to her lips. A thought crossed his mind and his teeth clenched, his hands reflexively tightening more than ever around hers, then he relaxed again just as quickly. "Maybe you're waiting for something more traditional, huh Princess?" he said, raising one hand to stroke her cheek lightly. His voice was thick and his eyes stung, but he did his best to ignore how very far this situation was from the way he'd always imagined it as he pushed himself away from his chair to lean over her. "After all, you always did like your fairy tales, didn't you?" he asked, his voice a low rasp, before closing the distance between them with his last distant hope.
He prayed for her eyes to fly open, for her to make an indignant noise against his mouth and shove him off of her as hard as she could. He prayed for her to kick him in the stomach as soon as he'd stumbled backwards far enough for her leg to reach him, throw anything close enough for her to reach at him, then launch herself at him and clobber him until he had to find that doctor again for himself before she even recognized who she was beating.
He prayed for her to do anything aside from lying there with her lips so cold and still beneath his, her breath faintly tickling his upper lip as it didn't falter in its rhythm for even a heartbeat.
He remembered Miss Ruffles. He remembered how he had tossed the pieces of it he'd picked up into Rinoa's trash can without a second's thought, but then how a few weeks later she'd forgotten to close one of her desk drawers and when he'd glanced into it he could see that it was filled with porcelain shards. She had gathered up every piece and, as far as he could tell, carefully arranged them in their right places, although there was no shape to it now apart from a foot here or a length of unbroken arm there. He never mentioned seeing it, but he knew that she kept it there until the day their train had blown up, taking the doll in its drawer with it.
"Rinoa," he said, pulling away just far enough to rest his forehead against hers. "Rinoa, you can't be my broken doll. You need to get out there and run all over the world again, even if it's far, far, away from me. You can't just lie here in pieces forever."
She was much stronger than he was, he realized as he watched a tear roll slowly down her temple from the corner of her eye and knew that it had fallen there from him. Even after so many loses he'd never learned how to put on a brave face when he saw something he loved had been broken, or smile even when his eyes burned with tears.
But there was nobody else in the room with them, and no way for her to express her own pain. Just for that little while, he thought, there could be no shame in sharing his tears with her.