That's a secret between you and me
So they finally defeat Edea and — wait what do you mean that wasn't the final boss fight. Disc change!
If Disc 1 is about getting to know Squall, and the Disc 2 is about watching him start to grow, then Disc 3 is unquestionably about the romance. FFVIII's romance is, uh, polarizing, to say the least, and I'll admit that the first time I played through Disc 3 I thought it came out of left field. But in playing through the game again I found it to be a slow build, one that takes the entire game to reach this point.
I admit I've been avoiding the subject somewhat up to this point, but the next few pages will address the love story in full, with a focus on the events in the third disc — the events I feel have the strongest effect on Squall.
Squall reacts a lot to Rinoa's coma, more so than he reacts to most other things that happen in the game. One could look at it as forcing the romance, but I don't see this as romantic. Not at this juncture. It's true that he recognizes that everyone is trying to push them together, like I mentioned on the last page, but seeing Rinoa like this scares him. Squall fears death, but this living death of hers is in its own way even more terrifying. He's lived his life learning how to react to situations, but this is far beyond anything he's ever had to deal with before.
In the bridge scene (or as I like to call it, the scene where Squall Is Only Open With People Who Can't Respond To Him), we find out just why Squall acts the way he does. It's not a surprise, and honestly it's fairly typical for a kid his age, but it really goes to show how self-aware he is to know what he's doing. It's not an unconscious reaction at all — he knows damn well he's putting up a front to keep people out. He shuts the world out because he's terrified that they'll see who he really is. And for Squall, who's already lost so much in his life — he can't stand losing anyone else. How could he let people realize that he actually cares what they think?
I think this right here is what makes Squall such an empathetic character for so many people. Let's remember, this is a guy who started out the game an asshole, full stop. But then you realize it was all an act, and that Squall is actually self-conscious, and horribly so. The cold exterior he puts up is just a defense mechanism to keep anyone from realizing that.
The people he's known for years — Quistis, Zell, Cid — don't try to push past his walls past a certain extent. They've already tried and know Squall won't give. He meets Selphie and Irvine again after many years apart, but neither of them have much interest in Squall's problems. Out of everyone, Rinoa's the one that takes an interest in him, one that doesn't fade as the game goes on.
Maybe she was attracted to him from the start, maybe it was just harmless flirting. They are teenagers, after all. The fact is, Rinoa breaks through enough of Squall's barriers to make him care what happens to her, and be willing to show it openly.
Because she doesn't give up on him.
Everyone Squall has ever cared about has left him. Ellone left. The other kids at the orphanage left, until it was just him and Seifer, and then they went to Garden. He went from an orphanage to a school to train mercenaries. He withdrew into himself and shut out the world to keep from getting hurt any more. Even when the other kids from the orphanage showed up at Garden, it wasn't enough. Cid abandons Garden, and on top of that, drops control of it in Squall's lap. And, even though Ellone tries to connect with him (literally) through sending him to the past, she still leaves him, time and time again.
Rinoa is the one person who's been a constant for him. From their very first meeting at the SeeD ball, she's tried to get him to open up and let some light into his life, no matter how much Squall tries to deny he wants it. It takes her a while to figure out what he needs, but in time she's more gentle with him — urging him to trust in the rest of them at FH, and reminding him that he needs to talk out loud to share his thoughts at Trabia Garden.
Squall's been through a lot of shit in his life, and for the most part he's accepted the hand he's been dealt. But not this. For once, something matters enough to him that he's going to do whatever he can to make things right, even if it means carrying her on his back across an ocean and a continent.
This is the same guy who told Quistis to go talk to a wall because he didn't care about her problems.
I don't know about you, but I sure as hell wouldn't get in his way.