(Yes, it's another FF8 one...I can't help it! Those are just the easiest for me to write! And yeah, unconventional pairings are fun.)
"Irvy, look over there!" Selphie's cheerful voice reached Irvine Kinneas's ears. He saw his best friend pointing towards the balcony and directed the camcorder in the proper direction. And who else was the target but Rinoa? He pressed a button, causing the image to zoom in, not noticing the low battery signal in the corner.
"Well, well, well," he narrated. "And here is our very own--Aw man!" He lowered the camera and shook his head in exasperation.
Selphie ran to his side, "What happened? Did you break my camera?"
"Ah come on! You think I can't handle something like a camcorder?" he placed the device in her hand. "Your battery went dead."
"What? You just put one in this morning!" she exclaimed with dismay. "Wait a minute. I didn't have to turn it on tonight. Oh no! You forgot to turn it off this morning, didn't you?"
Irvine grinned and pinched her cheek. "I thought it had one of those automatic shut-offs or something. Don't be mad at me, Sefie."
Her face emanated pure sunshine and she shook her head with a laugh. "Of course I'm not mad. I had a feeling something like that would happen…" she reached into her pocket and produced a new battery. "Always be prepared, right?"
About that moment, Rinoa and Squall returned inside to mingle with everyone. Rinoa had her arm looped around Squall's and was whispering in his ear. Irvine exclaimed grandly, "Well, if it isn't the two lovebirds." Squall rolled his eyes and Rinoa giggled, tightening her grip on his arm.
Cid approached the group and said, "Oh good. Rinoa, Irvine, I was hoping to get a chance to talk to you two." He smiled and said, "Well, maybe now's not the time. After all, we're here to celebrate. Not talk business. Why don't you two make your way to my office tomorrow morning at 9:00, alright?" Rinoa and Irvine both nodded their assent and Cid clapped his hands together. "Good!" He noticed the confused looks on their faces and laughed, "Oh, it's nothing bad. It's quite good, in fact. But forget I said anything at all! Enjoy yourselves!" He grabbed his wife's hand and led her to the dance floor.
"Whoa," a new voice said. Zell joined the others and pointed to where Cid and Edea were dancing. "I didn't know Cid could move like that."
"What do you think Cid wants?" Rinoa pulled Irvine aside and asked nervously.
"I wouldn't worry," Irvine assured her. "He said it was good. Maybe he wants to give us a medal or something."
"I doubt it," the dark haired young woman laughed. "Why single the two of us out? Squall's the one who deserves a medal! Not me!"
"Hey now! You worked just as hard as Squall. Give yourself some credit." He put his arm around her shoulders as he led her towards the refreshment table. "I mean, you probably went through more than Mr. Leonhart over there."
Rinoa shook her head. "Hardly! You have no idea what Squall's been through."
Yeah, and you have no idea how many times we had to twist his arm to get him to go rescue you, Irvine thought. He didn't voice that thought however. In fact, it rather surprised him. He had never felt any animosity towards Squall. He had always respected him and had always deferred to him. Where had that come from? "Yeah, I know," he said. "I didn't mean--"
"I know," she laid her hand on his arm. "Let's just enjoy tonight. It's our night!" Irvine watched as she ran towards Squall, pulling him out on the dance floor. He protested, but ended up giving in to her. Irvine watched them "boogie" for a little and turned his head, searching for Selphie. She was the center of a crowd of people, as usual, and for good reason.
He spotted his hat, which Selphie had taken off and carefully placed on one of the tables. Walking over to it, he began to think about some of the people he had come to care about. Especially the three girls. When he had first seen Quistis, the first thing that struck him was how beautiful she was. Yet, every time he had tried to get closer to her, she had raised her chin a little higher and ended up usually dressing him down. He could tell that if people were able to break through her shell, they'd be able to see her for who she really was and he wondered if he'd ever be one of those people. Unfortunately, he realized it was going to take a lot to try to penetrate the image she had so carefully sculpted, and he didn't know if he wanted to spend the effort trying. Until that day came, if that day ever came, their friendship would remain at arm's length.
Selphie was a different story. They were best friends as children. It was only natural that the friendship would remain strong into adulthood. She had been the one whose hand he had grasped onto when they were attempting to escape compressed time. She was his ray of light in the dark world, and yet, she was no more than his best friend. She'd never be more than his best friend. He had thought what he was feeling was love, and he suspected she had felt the same, but he realized that though the bond they shared was more precious than any other, it would always be the bond of friendship - nothing more.
And Rinoa? "Nah…" Irvine said aloud as his thoughts shifted to her. He watched as Squall dipped her and saw the joy that radiated from her face. He had always respected and enjoyed Rinoa's company. He had always appreciated her spunk and even her stubborn will. But from the very beginning, he saw that her affections were for one man, though he couldn't understand why. Even back in Deling City, the person she had turned to was Squall. I was really scared, she had said as she buried her face in his chest. It had always bothered him the way Squall was so reluctant to help her out. Selphie had commented that he was simply scared about letting her in, but Irvine dismissed that remark with a roll of his eyes. If you had a friend in trouble, you helped that friend. Plain and simple. But somehow, Rinoa began to change Squall. He hoped that if any situation like that ever came up again, Squall would jump at the chance to save her. She'd certainly saved him. She would give her life for him. That was evident…
He plucked the hat from the table and set it down upon his head. He began to head out of the large room, suddenly tired. Before he could reach the doorway, however, a hand tugged at his shirtsleeve. "Irvy, where are you going? The night's still young!" Selphie exclaimed.
"Well," he paused. "I have a date in the morning and I want to look and feel my best."
"A date?" she looked at him skeptically.
"For breakfast," he explained.
"So, I'll catch you tomorrow. 'Night Sefie," he hugged his dearest friend and watched as she returned to her crowd of friends. He had fallen into a mood for some reason. He was beginning to feel the part of the lone sharpshooter once again. He cast one last glance towards the group of revelers and walked away, his footsteps echoing hollowly through the hallway.
"Come in and sit down," Cid welcomed Irvine and Rinoa into his office and gestured towards a couple of chairs. When they took their seats, he leaned against his desk and pushed up the pair of glasses that had begun to slide down his nose. "Ok, I know you're probably wondering why I've called you in here. Well, I'm aware that you two were instrumental in the whole Ultimecia incident and yet neither of you are SeeDs."
"Sir, I--" Irvine began, but Cid cut him off.
"Hear me out. I think the Ultimecia incident could definitely qualify as your field test, in which both of you would have passed with flying colors. However, there's the problem of the written exam. You didn't take it at Galbadia, did you?" he asked Irvine.
The young man shook his head. "No sir. I was scheduled to take it, but then I got called away for something pretty important, if you know what I mean."
" I'm sure you've studied plenty already then." Irvine raised one eyebrow and smiled guiltily. "I see," Cid said.
"You mean I could become a SeeD too?" Rinoa's eyes widened at the chance. She had always felt somewhat like an outsider. "I mean I haven't really been trained like the others have."
"The written test won't be easy for you," Cid conceded, "But I'm sure with some studying, you'll pass with flying colors. You already possess much of the skill that the SeeDs do. I'll tell you a secret. It's not necessarily about the book knowledge, but about how you are on the field. However, you do need to know some of the basics. Really, this exam is merely a formality, but since it's always been required for everyone else, I'm afraid I'll still have to require it for you. That is, if you're interested."
"Interested? Of course I am!" Rinoa began to inch her way to the edge of her seat. Irvine smiled at her excitement.
"Yes sir. Of course. I've always planned on becoming a SeeD. I don't see why I'd change my mind now."
"Good," Cid sat back. "Well, the next testing date is a month from tomorrow. Think that'll be enough time to prepare?"
"Yes sir," Irvine and Rinoa answered in unison.
"Wonderful. If you have any questions, just let me know." With that remark, he pulled a file out of his drawer and began to flip through it. Irvine and Rinoa watched him for a few minutes. Cid noticed their hesitation and smiled. "That'll be all," he added, indicating they could leave.
As soon as they shut the door behind them, Rinoa squealed with delight. "I'm going to become a SeeD! Oh, Irvine, we've got to study together!"
"What?" he turned to face her.
"Well, you are planning on studying, aren't you?"
She shook her head. "No, you're not waiting until the last minute. We can help each other. I know I'm going to have a lot of questions anyhow. Please?"
"PLEASE?" she grabbed his arm and looked up at him, her eyes big and round.
He wondered then how Squall could ever resist her. Well, at least she wasn't kicking or pinching him this time like she had when she wanted to go back to that prison.
Rinoa stood outside of Irvine's door and knocked. She hugged the SeeD study guide to her chest and waited for him to answer. She heard some bumping around and then the door opened and the handsome young cowboy greeted her with a grin. "Welcome to my humble abode," he spread his arm wide and gestured for her to enter. He looked like he had just gotten out of the shower, his long hair hanging loosely down his back in wet clumps. He was wearing a faded Galbadia Hockey Club t-shirt and a pair of old, torn jeans.
She giggled and said, "Thanks." But when she stepped inside and looked around, she was quite surprised.
He noticed the expression on her face and shifted uncomfortably. "What?"
"I just…your room! It's not what I expected at all!" She had expected clothes to be on the floor and dust on the tables or at least, a picture of a scantily clad woman here or there. She couldn't have been more wrong. Everything was in it's place and the décor was very tasteful. She spotted a framed print on the wall and pointed. "That's an Amelie Waterston piece, isn't it?"
"You know her stuff?" Irvine asked.
"I love her work!"
"Yeah, so do I. When I was younger, we went on this field trip to Deling City and visited the art gallery there. Most of my friends were bored out of their minds, but I fell in love with her painting."
Rinoa turned to face him and smiled. "I would never have thought that about you. I would never have pictured it."
"Most people wouldn't," he remarked, remembering Selphie's reaction had been much the same when she had first entered his room. They stood in silence for a few seconds before Irvine pulled a chair out from by the desk. "Well, shall we?"
"Yes!" Rinoa agreed, sitting down and pulling out the study guide.
"Oh good! I was hoping you'd have one of those," Irvine said, leaning back where he sat. He propped his bare feet on the edge of the bed.
"Ok, well, why don't I just quiz you first and see what you know? You can probably help me out then."
"Shoot," he agreed.
So she opened the study guide to a page in the middle and said, "Here's one. It's easy. True or false…a buel sometimes uses fire."
"Everyone knows that. True. I've fought many buels before. Not too fun. That's too easy. Come on, challenge me!"
"Ok," Rinoa looked at him slyly and turned a few pages in the book. "1 sharp spike refines into 5 AP ammo…true or false."
He looked thoughtful and frowned, "I should know this one…fffftrue?"
Rinoa made a sound as if a buzzer were going off. "Nope! It's false. You almost got it. How about this…Under Regen, HP is restored regularly, even if you are afflicted with Stop."
"OK, wait…say that again?"
She repeated the question, slowly. "Under Regen, HP is restored regularly, even if you are afflicted with Stop. True or false?"
"I have no idea…true?" He looked up at her, a hopeful expression in his eyes.
She shook her head, "Sorry."
Irvine sighed. "Looks like it's going to be a long afternoon."
"That's ok…it'll be fun!" She leaned back in her chair, kicking her shoes off and propping her feet next to his.
"…and so I said to him, 'What do I look like? A moomba?'"
Rinoa burst into laughter at Irvine's joke. "Did that really happen?"
He held up one hand. "On my honor as a member of the prestigious Galbadia Hockey team," he said solemnly as he used the other hand to point to the logo on his t-shirt.
"You were never on the hockey team!" Rinoa protested.
"Yeah, but I went to all their games! Ok…some of them. Well, two of them. But my old roommate left me this really cool t-shirt."
"You're hopeless!" she laughed, her gaze shifting to the clock. She suddenly sat straight up. "Oh no!"
"What? WHAT?" Irvine looked around, worried.
"I was supposed to meet Squall over an hour ago to go over some things and he-"
"Just tell him you lost track of time."
"I did lose track of time," she said.
"I know. Just tell him that. He'll understand. I'm sure he wants you to be a SeeD just as much as you want it."
"Yeah," Rinoa sighed. "Too bad we didn't get much studying done." They had simply been chatting for the last four hours.
"Well, we can try again tomorrow," he suggested.
She immediately brightened. "Yes! We should! Want to? How 'bout my place tomorrow? Same time?"
"Sounds perfect," he agreed.
"Ok," Rinoa grinned. "I'm out of here!" She slipped her feet back into her shoes and waved goodbye as she walked out of Irvine's room. He shut the door behind her and turned towards the bed, catching a glimpse of his reflection out of the corner of his eye. Why was he wearing such a dopey grin? And how long had it been there? He had had one of the best afternoons simply talking to the one girl at Balamb Garden whom he had never really thought about before. She was practically married afterall. He shook his head, as if trying to clear it. It was silly to think anything anyway. He had enjoyed the company of one of his friends and that was that.
That was that.
As the weeks went by, Irvine and Rinoa found themselves in each other's company more and more. They began to find excuses to spend time with the other, always claiming they needed to study. And they did study. But once they put away the books, their time together didn't end. They usually ended up simply talking about everything and nothing at all. And the bonds of friendship grew stronger. They didn't think anything could take that away.
The night before the exam, Selphie and Quistis knocked on Rinoa's door. She opened it, but went back to her mirror and picked her hairbrush up, running it through her long silky hair. She had made herself up somewhat.
"Oh no!" Selphie said. "We were going to take you out tonight for a good-luck dinner, but I guess you already have plans for Squall."
"No, I don't," she looked at them, puzzled. "I was going over to Irvy's for some last minute studying."
Quistis raised an eyebrow. "Irvy?"
"Yeah, Irvine," Rinoa laughed. "Why?"
"You've been spending a lot of time with him lately," Quistis commented as she walked over to Rinoa's bed and sat down.
"It's just because we've been studying for this SeeD test together. That's all." She frowned. "What are you suggesting?"
"I don't know," Quistis shook her head. "Nothing."
"You think I like Irvine Kinneas?" Rinoa demanded.
Selphie frowned, "And what would be wrong with that?"
"Nothing, Selphie. Really. It's just that I love Squall. I have always loved Squall and I always will. Not Irvine. And not anyone else!"
"Alright," Selphie held both of her hands up. "It's ok, Rinn."
"No, it's not ok!" the dark haired girl responded. She marched over to her phone, picked it up and dialed a number. After a few seconds, she said, "Yeah Irvine? I can't make it tonight…Why? Because something more important came up. I do have other friends, you know. Besides, we've been studying plenty. We don't need to anymore. And people are starting to get the wrong idea," she shifted her gaze irritably towards Selphie and Quistis. "They think…nah, don't worry about it. It's stupid anyway. Bye." She hung up and said, "Ready to go?"
Irvine stared at the phone for a few minutes after he hung up. He walked to his dresser and picked up the stuffed moomba bear that he had bought Rinoa. Good luck, it said on it's belly. His shoulders sagged and he set the bear back down and reached for the bouquet of pink daisies that Rinoa had mentioned she liked so much. He stuffed them in the wastebasket.
Sure, they had simply gotten together originally to study, but each day they spent in each other's company, it seemed like something else was happening. He had found their eyes meeting more and more when they were out with friends or merely going about daily life at Balamb. Rinoa had confided in him that Squall didn't always make her feel important and the last time they had "studied" together, she had fallen asleep in his arms.
Something more important came up. I do have other friends, you know.
The tone of her voice had hurt worse than her words did. There was a hardness, an edge, present and he didn't quite understand what he had done.
People are starting to get the wrong idea.
He had wanted to tell her that he was getting that idea too. That he had found himself being drawn to the most unlikely person. He had found himself drawn to her.
It's stupid anyway. Bye.
She hadn't bothered to wait for a response. She simply hung up. "Well, that's what I get for being dumb." He picked the stuffed moomba bear back up in one hand and his hat in the other. He wanted to get out of this place.
He walked the long hallway to her room and laid the moomba bear outside her door. Turning on his heel, he spotted an attractive young woman with curly titian hair. "Hey," he walked up to her. "What are you doing tonight?"
Rinoa was miserable. She sipped her soft drink in silence as Selphie and Quistis chattered on and on about something that had happened earlier. Quistis was speaking. "…and then Nida walked up like he owned the place and said, 'If you think that's a grat, you're sadly mistaken!'"
Selphie howled with laughter at Quistis's story. "Ah man, I wish I could have been there to see all that. That's hilarious!"
"I know!" Quistis agreed. "It was funny. Especially because of that stupid omelette."
Selphie giggled again and then noticed Rinoa staring off into space. "Rinn? You ok?"
She snapped her head back and smiled, "Of course I am. Why?"
"You just seem preoccupied or something. Are you just nervous about the exam tomorrow?"
"Yeah," Rinoa lied. In reality, her conversation with Irvine was plaguing her mind. She had always seen him as nothing more than a womanizer, but that's because she had never truly known him. But as she had spent time with him, she saw who he really was on the inside and she had come to suspect that he used his casual and somewhat egotistical attitude to cover up his insecurities. And she did like him. She liked how down-to-earth he was. She liked his sense of humor. But most of all, she liked how he truly listened to her and seemed to respect what she had to say. So many times, with Squall, she found herself wondering if he was really hearing her. With Irvine, there was no doubt in her mind that he truly listened to her.
"Don't worry. You'll do great!" Selphie reassured her. At that moment, however, the one person that Rinoa couldn't stop thinking about walked through the door into the little restaurant where the girls sat. On Irvine's arm was a beautiful red haired woman. Rinoa's stomach began to churn for some reason. Selphie smiled as she waved at Irvine. "Looks like he's got a new girlfriend. She's pretty."
"Yeah, she is," Rinoa agreed. Her expression grew hard and she quickly dismissed Irvine Kinneas from her mind. Why waste another thought on someone so shallow?
That night, after the girls had returned back to Balamb Garden, Rinoa sat curled up in one corner of the lobby, with the SeeD study guide in her hands. She was trying to get some last minute studying done, but found her eyes shifting upwards towards the entry way every few seconds. She was rewarded at last when Irvine and the young woman stepped inside, laughing about something. Irvine took the girl into his arms and gave her a long, tender kiss. She whispered goodnight and left his side. He turned around with a smug look on his face, which faded when he saw Rinoa looking back at him, her face unreadable.
"Hey," he said casually, walking towards her.
"Hey," she responded stiffly. "Did you have fun on your date?"
His mouth fell into a wry smile and he nodded. "Oh yes. Courtney is absolutely wonderful. She's everything a guy could want in a girl. Funny and smart, not to mention beautiful. I don't know anyone like her. Except maybe Selphie." He suddenly frowned. "Besides, why do you care? You had more important things to do."
"I don't care," Rinoa replied. "I was just being polite and making conversation."
Irvine folded his arms against his chest. "I see. Well, did you have fun with the girls?"
"Oh yes," Rinoa exclaimed and then added, "I can't think of a better way to spend my time. There's no one I like being around more. Except Squall, that is."
Irvine saw the meaning in her words. She didn't really enjoy being around him like he had thought. He must have bored her somehow. He had to have done something or else she wouldn't have started acting like this all of the sudden. With the exception of Selphie, it seemed that anyone he tried to get close to ended up rejecting him later on and he couldn't understand why. He was so tired of being rejected. He opened his mouth to retort, but thought better and ended up nodding to her and saying, "I'm glad."
"What?" She looked puzzled.
"I'm happy that you have people like that in your life. But if you'll excuse me, I've got a test in the morning and I kind of need to get some shut-eye. Goodnight." He took his hat off his head and trudged toward the dorm wing. Rinoa watched him, unsure of what he was thinking.
Irvine paused outside the door to his room and leaned his head against it. He wanted to go back to Rinoa and find out what exactly had happened tonight. He started to turn back the way he had come, but changed his mind. She didn't want to see him. She had made that more than clear. She wasn't the person he thought she was. The door closed behind him with a soft click.
Rinoa waited in the lobby, hoping Irvine would come back. That hadn't gone well at all. She felt horrible about the way she had acted and wanted to tell him so. So she waited.
But he never came. She heaved a sigh and shook her head. "Apparently, he could care less." She stood up, stooping down to pick up the book she had accidentally dropped on the floor and slowly walked back to her room. Leaning against her door was a stuffed moomba bear with the words, Good luck, on it's belly.
The days turned into weeks and the weeks into months. Both Rinoa and Irvine passed the written exam that day and were awarded SeeDship. Everyone was so proud and they were extremely pleased with themselves. However, something precious had been lost, tangled in the webs of misunderstanding. A friendship that had been blossoming had withered away. They still ran around with the same crowd, but avoided the solitary company of the other. At first, things seemed strained, but gradually everything fell back into the routine that had once been established. A routine that kept the two separated.
Rinoa was eating lunch one day with Zell and Quistis. She saw Irvine wander into the cafeteria, greeting them with a nod and then make his way to a table in the corner, where he sat by himself.
Zell noticed and frowned, "That's kind of weird. What's with Irvine being so antisocial?"
"Oh leave him alone. Maybe he's just having a bad day or something," Quistis scolded him. "Come on, finish what you were saying."
"Oh yeah! And so the guy hopped on the chocobo's back and see, the chocobo didn't seem to like that too much and…" Zell was saying. Rinoa began to zone, her eyes shifting towards Irvine, wandering how he was doing. "Rinoa."
"Huh?" she looked back at Zell.
"Do you get it? Deling City. DELING CITY!" Zell fell back in his chair, laughter erupting from him. Quistis was trying to contain her own laughter.
Rinoa allowed herself to laugh politely. She hadn't heard a word he had said. "Excuse me," she smiled and stood, picking up her tray.
As she was walking away, she heard Zell whisper to Quistis, "I don't think she got it. Deling City!" He broke into a fit of laughter again.
She slowly approached Irvine's table, feeling very unsure of herself. She cleared her throat and he looked up at her in surprise. "Is anyone sitting there?" she motioned towards the seat in front of him.
"Hopefully you," he responded. She muttered her thanks and sat down before him. He glanced over towards Zell and Quistis and asked, "Was Zell telling that joke about the bartender and the chocobo?" Rinoa nodded. "Ah yeah," he laughed. "That was a pretty good one. Especially the part about Deling City."
"Irvine, can I talk to you?" she blurted out.
"Sure," he nodded solemnly.
"About that night before the exam, I feel terrible. And I've been avoiding you because I didn't think you wanted to talk to me. But I've got to tell you this or it's going to bother me forever. I do enjoy your company. So much. Those days that we were spending all that time together…well, I can't remember when I was so happy. It was just fun. We had a good time together."
"I know," Irvine agreed quietly.
"But I messed it all up. Selphie and Quistis suggested something and I felt threatened or something," she shook her head. "I can't even explain it."
"Well, you are a woman," he pointed out with a sly smile.
Rinoa threw her napkin at him and gave him a playful pout. "But I didn't mean it when I implied that they were more important than you. Or that I enjoyed being around them and not you. It was wrong of me and I'm sorry. I'm sorry it's taken this long to say all this."
"You shouldn't be the only one to apologize. You're not the only one who messed up," he answered her. "I went out with Carrie that night--"
"Wasn't her name Courtney?" Rinoa interrupted.
"Oh yeah. I guess it was. Anyway, I took her out where I knew you'd be just to make you jealous, which is silly because I mean, you're dating Squall and all. But I thought if I showed you how much fun I had without you…I don't even know. It all seems so stupid now that I mention it. I wanted to come talk to you, but I didn't think you wanted to talk to me."
Rinoa sat back and laughed in amazement. "What's going on? Here we're sent out on these missions all the time helping people and trying to make this world a better place, and we can't even handle simple things as friendships?"
"Whoever said friendship was simple?" Irvine asked. "Believe me. It's not."
Rinoa looked thoughtful for a minute and then asked, "So you want to start all over?"
Irvine shook his head, causing Rinoa to have a moment of uncertainty. But his words reassured her. "Why start over when what we had was so good? Why not just pick up where we left off?" He looked at the beautiful dark haired girl sitting before him, all the old feelings he had experienced flooding back to him. But he knew she was happy with Squall. Still, he'd rather have her as a friend than nothing at all. He had felt so empty the last few months. And besides, who knew what could happen between them?
"I can't think of anything I'd like more," Rinoa replied reaching out and taking his hand. This caused Irvine to raise an eyebrow.
Who knew what could happen, indeed.