~ Chapter Four: A Time to Build Up ~
There’s no escaping love,
Once a gentle breeze
Weaves its spell upon your heart.
No matter what you think,
It won’t be too long, till you’re in my arms.
Underneath the starlight, starlight…
We’ll be lost in the rhythm so right,
Feel it steal your heart tonight.
--Leann Rimes (Can’t Fight the Moonlight)
She sighed, grabbing a pile of papers from her ‘Inbox.’ It was her one-week anniversary of working for the headmaster, and in its honor, he officially presented her with a nameplate. Okay, it was a moral victory more than anything, but it was still an accomplishment in her life: the first sense of normalcy she had ever experienced.
Rinoa looked at the clock, watching the hands slowly ticking into oblivion. Not that she didn’t like working, in fact quite the opposite…but the last week had been extremely tiring. Who would have thought that making it through an eight-hour workday could be more taxing than freeing a small village?
Her dark hair was pulled into a high ponytail, and what make up she had put on earlier had worn off by lunch hour…which again, she felt the need to work through. This weekend was looking more like a godsend every moment. She wanted to go back to her room, take a hot bath, and fall into the peaceful realm of slumber, waking up on Monday morning.
Okay, it was a dream…but one she could hold onto for the moment.
“Rinoa?” Cid’s voice called from the other room, “Can you get the commander to approve the new semester budget? He’s disagreed with my figures the last two times, maybe you can talk him into signing it.”
“Cid!” Rinoa laughed at the thought. “What exactly are you asking?”
He sighed, looking at his now spotless desk. “I’m asking you to get him to ‘approve it.’ And how in the hell am I supposed to find anything on here? It’s clean! I can’t concentrate with all this cleanliness going on…I thrive in mess.”
“Tragic,” she replied dryly.
“Come in, it’s open.” He looked up to see Rinoa walking in, carrying a folder. Squall casually set his pencil down, leaning back in his chair. “What can I help you with?”
“Wow…that’s way too open ended, can you rephrase that?” She sat on the corner of his desk, tilting her head and giving him a seductive smile.
Leaning forward in his chair, he raised an eyebrow at her. “What work-related matter can I help you with Miss Heartilly?”
“You are the epitome of fun Leonhart.”
“What about it?”
“I’m not approving anything without first going over it. I don’t need to get into another ‘contract with the Forest Owls’ situation.”
“You know, that hurts…you’re impossible.”
“Not impossible, just thorough.” He reached over, grabbing the file from her hands. For a second their fingers touched, and he found himself letting them linger on her skin a moment longer than would be considered professionally acceptable.
“Move hand, move hand…quickly.” His inner voice screamed.
“Squall, are you going to take the folder? Or just hold my hand?”
“I didn’t know I was touching you.” He cringed, “Oh like she’s going to believe that one.”
She suppressed a small laugh, “Yeah, right…like I believe that one.”
“Well, ‘Mr. Thorough,’ can you tell me what is wrong with the budget? Maybe we can come to a compromise.”
“I don’t think you have the power to negotiate.”
“You’d be surprised what power I have,” she teased, wrinkling up her nose at him and leaning toward him a slight bit more. “I can’t do anything about the budget, but I can work with you on your compromising skills.”
He tried to conceal his doubt with a slight snort; did she really think she had a chance with a trained professional?
“Fine Miss Heartilly, what do we compromise on?”
“How about taking me out to dinner next weekend?”
“A date? You want to go out on a date?”
“Squall, you’re not trying! It’s a compromise, not a debate.”
“Fine, how about lunch in the cafeteria next Thursday?”
She buried her face in her hands in aggravation. “Okay…okay how about we make it a dinner on Thursday?”
“Thursday is no good, it’s a school night,” he said with a wry smile.
“Squall, I’m not in school.”
“I know, but you work at one. We must set a good example for the cadets. How about Friday?”
“Ahhh! That is what I said originally, that’s not a compromise!”
“Squall, that is tonight.” She almost rolled her eyes at him, until he handed her a piece of paper. She looked at it shocked. “Um…what is this?”
“Reservations for dinner - seven o’clock.”
“How? What? Tonight?”
“Look, tell me now if you want to go.” He grabbed the paper from her hand, teasing her, “If not I’ll have to find someone else on short notice…wonder if that ‘hero worship’ thing is still going around.”
“Don’t you dare!” She quickly snatched it back from his hand. “That isn’t even funny.”
He handed her back the folder. “Tell Cid I’ll be in his office Monday morning to go over these figures again.”
“Now was that so hard?”
“No…but I didn’t compromise on anything...you did.”
She squinted her eyes at him, ready to make a witty comment. Damn it, he was right. In frustration, she only could come up with, “Grrrr.” Yes, all those years of finishing school paid off for her in that moment. Not one of her brightest moments. In return, he could only chuckle at her, as he leaned back further in his chair resting both hands over his head.
Rinoa looked in the mirror for what had to be the hundredth time. She wasn’t sure why she was so nervous; it wasn’t as if she hadn’t dated before, in fact, quite the opposite. Maybe before the reasons weren’t always the purest, maybe there was some kind of juvenile satisfaction in going out with men, no boys, whom her father didn’t approve of. But this was different, this was real. And it scared her.
Looking back on her younger years now, she realized it had all been some kind of game with her, to purposely find the person that her father would like the least. Now she only felt the guilt of her teenage, childlike entertainment, not only toward her father, but also the way she had treated several of the men back then. Maybe she also had to mature some more, for Squall wasn’t the only one scared of a serious relationship.
Staring at her reflection, she straightened her necklace, placing the clasp toward the back. This was the first time she had worn anything semi-formal since that night at Fisherman’s Horizon. She had decided upon a basic black off-the-shoulder dress, which gathered into a ballerina waist before flowing into the slightly shorter than tea-length hemline.
She pulled her hair on top of her head, and then let it fall back gently around her shoulders with an annoyed groan. Nothing she did seemed to feel right, and she let out her frustration by falling back onto her bed. Her thoughts were interrupted when the phone rang, startling her out of her daydreams.
“Heya Rin, what’s up?”
“Selphie! Oh my gosh, how are things going up there in the cold-white north?”
“Cold and white, surprisingly enough. I just have a few minutes, thought I would use a few of these calling cards you and Quistis gave me. How’s it going in the flatlands of Balamb?”
“Doing well. I’ve been in the office a week now, and Cid hasn’t attempted to harm me yet. I take that as a good sign.”
“What about Squall?”
“Yeah, jury’s still out on that one. I swear a stray pencil flew from his hand in my general direction the other day…he still claims it slipped. I’ve been trying to give him space until he gets used to this whole idea.”
“There isn’t enough space in the world dear.”
“Very funny…you know what I mean. I’ve only had to go see him a few times, and kept it strictly professional. Luckily, I deal more with the headmaster than the commander. There’s been talk of getting him his own assistant, wouldn’t touch that job. But anyway, how’s Irvine?”
“Well, aside from the fact that he has already hit on everyone here, he’s doing fine.”
“Sorry ‘bout that, Selphie.”
“Oh no, don’t be! Actually, I rather get a kick out of making him suffer. Not to mention he hit on another man with a long ponytail thinking ‘he’ was a ‘she’ from the back…still nobody is letting him live that one down. He can’t help the way he is…plus now he goes out of the way to be nice. He actually has been bringing breakfast in my room for the last week.”
“Selph, I don’t even want to know.” She laughed for a moment before turning more serious. “Really, how are you doing?”
There was a long pause on the other end, before the younger girl answered with a much more serious tone. “I’m all right. It’s just hard…I just feel responsible for all of this, if I had just made it out of D-District Prison a little sooner…if I had just been able to warn them. It wasn’t fair…so much destruction.”
“Nobody blames you, it wasn’t as if you chose this…fate decided that they needed you more in Balamb. I think it was something bigger than any of you could have guessed.”
“But Rinoa, I should have been here. What makes me so special? Why was I ever granted the transfer? I never really wanted to leave… I got a letter from Balamb, asking if I would be interested in taking the field exam last spring…honestly, I would have tried the following year, I didn’t think I was ready…Headmaster Kramer did. But the more I thought about becoming a SeeD, the more it seemed right. Before you knew it, I was sending my application in. What gives me the right!?”
“Selphie, I can’t answer that. But maybe you are needed more now; your strength and attitude can’t be surpassed.”
There was a long awkward pause on the other end; she could tell her friend wanted to get back to a lighter subject. “So Rin, where is he taking you?”
“You know, I didn’t ask. I was just in shock at the moment.”
“Well, I’m guessing it will be either a rifle range or a leather shop… either option has a lot of exciting possibilities.”
“Oh Selphie, you’re hopeless!”
“I’ve been hanging around Irvine too much. Well, I’ll let you get ready. I need to give Quisty a call. Don’t do anything tonight that I wouldn’t do.”
“This is Squall. I won’t do anything a nun wouldn’t do.”
Hanging up the phone, Rinoa looked at her nightstand and suddenly realized how obvious the solution to her ‘hair dilemma’ really was. Opening the drawer, she took out a small box, pulling out her birthday present. Moving her finger over the smooth surface of the pearl barrette, her thoughts couldn’t help but drift back to the memories of that remarkable day. Smiling, she fastened the front part of her hair around, letting the back remain long. Taking another look in the mirror, she closed her eyes, trying to fight back the nervous feeling growing in the pit of her stomach.
The soft hum of the heater echoed softly under the music. Neither had spoken since they had left Garden. He found himself driving with his hands at the ten and two position, remembering every safety protocol that he had ever learned in driver’s education. Somehow, when they were together as a group, nothing really ever fazed him. It was the one-on-one situations that he didn’t fare well in.
The fields of Balamb whisked by, as winter browns were turning to the newborn shades of green. Rinoa watched as the first signs of spring approached the small continent, and was glad for the change. It was a rebirth, and somehow spring always gave her more hope, a sense of adventure…it was almost a year ago she first entered the gates of Balamb.
Watching from the corner of her eye, she could see him glance over once in a while, unsure of this whole situation. It almost made her want to laugh at his childlike curiosity, how one trained as a warrior didn’t have a clue on a more mundane existence. Part of her wanted to comfort him, and part of her wanted to…well do some things that would be very inappropriate in a car…and would have Squall speeding away quicker than Cactuar on rollerblades.
“What are you thinking about?” He finally asked, slightly hesitant of trying to start the conversation.
“Err…Cactuar…roller-skates, that sort of thing.” Well, it sounded a lot better than what she was really thinking about. He really wouldn’t want to know, would he? She cleared her mind, sensing his confusion, and tried to clarify as best she could, “Um…well I was thinking about spring, and then I thought of flowers. Since I kill everything I try to grow, I figured a cactus might be good. So naturally, I thought of Cactuar and then thought of how fast they are…and thought it would be fun to run that fast. So then I thought about going rollerblading this summer with everyone.” She wanted to hide her hands in her face, embarrassed of the completely moronic statement she just made. Instead, she faced him for the first time in a while, smiling sweetly. “What the hell did I just say?”
There was a moment of awkward silence while he seemed to look at her in pure confusion. “Guess I just don’t understand how you women think. Don’t suppose I would be the most coordinated on wheels, that’s more Zell’s department.”
She waved her hand in front of her face, dismissing his statement, “Oh don’t worry we don’t understand you guys half of the time either. And you’ll do fine on blades, like you mastered everything else.” Pausing for a moment, she moved her hand along the vinyl covering of the dashboard, and a question entered her mind. “Hey Squall, whose car is this?”
Shaking his head, he looked over at her. “I thought you might have asked that question thirty minutes ago when you first got in. It’s mine.”
She was stunned. “You…you bought a car?”
“Well, needed to do something with my money and a car seemed like a logical investment. Actually, all five of us ended up purchasing some type of vehicle.”
“I knew that Quistis bought a new car, I went out to lunch with her a few times. I guess I didn’t realize that everyone did. This is really nice, Squall. I guess I thought you were borrowing it from Cid or something.”
“I’m not sure whether to be flattered or offended that you think Cid and I would buy the same vehicle…but figured I needed a full-sized car that is practical, yet comfortable, for long trips.”
“Squall, you sound like you’re reading that straight off the brochure. I guess the leather seats should have given it away.” She laughed as he gave a quick look in her direction. “So you said everyone ended up with a car?”
“Well, no…not all cars. Quistis as you know got a convertible. Zell opted for a huge SUV…guess he can haul more hot-dogs that way. Irvine decided on an extended cab pick up truck, where he put a custom holder in the back for his Exeter. Plus he is talking about picking up a boat this summer. And Selphie...well, believe it or not, she ended up buying a full-blown custom motorcycle, I think that thing has more extras than the four of us combined.”
Rinoa laughed, “I saw that parked down there! Selphie? Oh my word, guess it fits though if you think about it. I guess SeeD pays slightly better than working for a resistance faction.”
Rinoa stood outside the restaurant, feeling the ocean breeze whip her long hair against her face. Biting her lip, she could taste the savory essence of salty air in her mouth. She could just make out his back through the patrons of the restaurant, as he walked in to the maître d' to let him know that they had arrived. She smiled watching him, even from behind she could tell how uncomfortable he was in the situation. Not only in the whole ‘date’ concept, but also in a formal dining setting. Running his hand through his hair had been one of the small things she had noticed since returning to Garden, it was an outward sign of his nervousness…much like her grabbing the rings on her necklace.
He made his way through the crowd, moving toward her. His dress jacket was a sharp contrast to his leather coat, and she was surprised that he actually strayed from his usual attire. The white buttoned-up shirt underneath could be seen clearly with his coat swinging with every stride. He hadn’t gone as far as wearing a necktie, and truthfully she was grateful…there was something so amazing and fascinating about his neck. Sometimes she wished she had the courage to reach over and kiss his collarbone where his chain met his skin, but then again, he probably wouldn’t want to hear about those thoughts either.
Recognizing that he was standing there, watching her distant expression, made her realize that her thinking hadn’t gone unnoticed. Reaching up to her necklace, she held the two pieces of metal within the palms of her hands. She didn’t even try to explain, who knows what cockamamie excuse would come out this time…she might end up asking him to go scuba-diving off the coast of Dollet…although Squall in swimming trunks might not be a bad thing. She shook that thought from her head too, trying to quickly get off the subject.
“So, how long do you think it will be? I’m starved.”
“They’re running slightly behind schedule, he thought we could be seated in about twenty minutes.”
“Oh,” she said softly. Not that she was upset; just somehow, she felt a calming serenity watching the ocean. It was one thing that she never really got to experience in Deling often, the coast being almost an hour’s drive from her house. She looked toward the horizon, noticing the brightness of the stars, even through the lights of the boulevard.
“Looking for something?” He asked, watching her gaze as it turned toward the heavens. A momentary flashback of their first night played through his mind, and he couldn’t help but feel nostalgic at that moment. “Suppose you are going to ask me to dance now.”
“Don’t worry,” she laughed watching a few patrons leave ‘The Neon Chocobo’ the bar adjacent to the building. “I would never force that upon you on the street, in front of a bar, next to a seafood restaurant. Although that would pretty much be the norm in my world.”
He had only been half listening. Squall had found himself entranced with her simple movements and concentrated more on his own breathing… only every few words actually registered in his mind. “Dancing on bars?” He asked raising an eyebrow at her. She actually caught dry humor in the statement, something she would more expect coming from Irvine.
“No, I said ‘in front of, Squall! I just mean that I have done some crazy things, and dancing in front of a bar wouldn’t be the strangest. Years of ballet you know, has to come in handy for something.”
“Like dancing on bars.” He couldn’t even believe his own comments. How he seemed to be feeling more comfortable with her and, Hyne knows, sounding more like Irvine. She reached over, grabbing his wrist and laughing along with him. Slowly he placed his arm around her shoulder, and she moved her hands around his waist. It was the closest they had ever been in public, and she was glad for the peaceful moments.
“Don’t make me tell you again Leonhart, I said in front!”
Watching her hair blow into her eyes, he gently moved his right hand over her face, trying in vain to push back the unruly strands. “Ballet huh?”
“Yeah, a few years, although one can’t tell with my stunning lack of coordination sometimes.”
“This would be a bad time to mention the falling off the side of Garden then, right?”
“Well, I fell with style,” she joked, having a hard time taking her eyes off his. “Okay, maybe not much style, but I grabbed the rope pretty nicely, right?”
“This wouldn’t be the time to mention that I could see down her shirt, would it?” He had actually laughed aloud not realizing it, until she was staring up at him with a very curious expression wondering what he had just found humor in.
“What?” begged Rinoa, slapping him lightly on the chest. “Tell me what was so funny!”
“Just you…falling off the side of Garden, only you Rinoa.” He hoped that was a close enough save for the moment; she might get a little upset at the truth.
“Fine, be that way, for that I’m going to have to embarrass you.”
“More than normally? You wouldn’t.” He tried to look serious, although failing miserably.
Taking a step away, she placed her hands over her head, used the neon sign in the shape of a chocobo for spotting, and did a pirouette in front of him. As she spun like a top on the pavement, the rubber heel of her shoe caught within the traction, and she lost her balance stumbling forward. She regained her balance with his help, as she fell into his arms. Momentarily dizzy from her performance, and lack of practice, she looked past him and toward the night sky; the stars were merely iridescent white streaks upon a dark canvas.
“Well, that was almost impressive.” He said softly as she leaned back in his arms.
“Years of training.” She spat in between laughs, “And more years of falling on my butt.”
“Never would have guessed.” Somehow, he wasn’t able to take his eyes off her. Every detail of her skin seemed to magnify under the streetlamps. He took a small step forward, as he subconsciously held her tighter in his arms. Even the features that he had never noticed seemed to imprint themselves on his memory, for a few moments, he lost track of reality, lost in something unknown. Until he felt a sting on his arm.
“Squall!” He recognized the sound of his name…finally dawning on one of the few senses he did have left.
“Oh God, did she say something?”
“…Yes?” Why did he always have to sound like a hesitant second grader asking his teacher a question?
“You’re on it. My shoe…I can’t move.”
“Oh…and is that a bad thing?”
“Well, no…not moving isn’t, having your entire weight placed upon the ball of my foot is.”
He hadn’t realized his weight was on her as he shifted, and she stood upright while once more smoothing out the fabric of her dress. “Sorry,” he apologized under his breath. “I can go check on how long before they seat us.”
Rinoa looked at the restaurant and then back to the ocean. She paused for a moment realizing just how much fun she was having, and how much she really wanted to just spend time alone with him, getting him to open up… she knew he already felt somewhat uncomfortable with her, or other people for that matter, and placing him in a formal restaurant would only make it worse.
“Trust me?” She asked, smiling up at him.
“Depends, I guess as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with spiders or ballet.”
“Funny, very funny…stay right here.” She gave him a quick, unexpected kiss on the cheek; he didn’t even have time to register her action until he watched her walk into the restaurant, but not before turning around and pointing at him to remain standing there.
Returning after a few minutes, Rinoa waved at the host as she left the building. She started to hurry toward the sidewalk; Squall was standing alone on the curb with his usually bemused expression.
“What did you just do?” His words held more accusation then he had meant them to, but somehow he felt slightly apprehensive about her demeanor.
“Squall, you are not sounding too trusting right now.”
She playfully poked him in the stomach, before grabbing his hand. He followed about as reluctantly as he did onto the marble dance floor, seasons ago. They walked passed the restaurant, to a small park that lay kitty-corner to the brick covered streets of Balamb. The breeze still made her long hair tickle her face, but was nothing unbearable. The air was quite warm for late March, and she had left Garden without a coat. She led him to a picnic table. There were a few other people enjoying the night air; many couples walking around the outer paths of the park, but yet in this area she still felt a solitude.
“Rinoa, I don’t think we can get a waiter out here.”
“Oh ye Squall of little faith,” she said, sitting down on the bench. She pointed next to her motioning him to follow her lead, “Come here.”
“You drag me out into the middle of an isolated park, and want me to follow you? Garden instructors have warned me against people like you.” The commander answered, taking off his jacket and placing it beside him. “So I don’t suppose you brought me out here to show me more of your ballet skills.”
“I detect sarcasm there.” She placed her elbows on the table, watching the waves disappear before they crashed into the aluminum seawall. “I just,” she paused taking a softer tone with more serious hint, “I just…wanted it not to end. I guess if we went in there then, I dunno…it wouldn’t be…”
Her statement was cut short when he placed his arms around her, pulling her back to his chest. She moved one leg onto the bench, as she let her weight fall back onto him completely. Pillowing her head between his neck and shoulders, she felt him rest his cheek on the side of her hair.
“I know.” He stated simply, never letting her finish her jumbled explanation. For a few minutes, they just sat there, each finding themselves staring up into the night sky. “Do you ever look up and wonder where we were?”
The question caught Rinoa slightly off-guard, and she found herself looking away from the very celestial bodies they had been admiring. “I do…but sometimes it scares me.”
“Really?” Squall found himself holding her tighter, as if trying to make the feeling subside.
“One minute I was with everyone in Galbadia Garden…the next I was just floating. I can remember bits and pieces of the stuff in between, but no more than watching myself in a dream…or nightmare I guess, and when I wake up, only the fear remains. I can look at the stars and think of us, but…” Bringing her hands to her face she couldn’t believe what she was saying, he hated confessions like this so much; it reminded her of trying to talk to him the night of the concert. Here she was talking like a child, and the last thing she wanted was for him to think of her that way. She tried sounding more confident in her new answer, “Yeah, I wonder where we were.”
Pushing her body away from his, Squall moved enough so he could make her turn toward him. Rinoa tried to resist for a second, but finally gave in. Still, she couldn’t look him in the eyes, embarrassed of her momentary ranting. He put a finger under her chin, forcing her to look at him.
“Rinoa, it scares the hell out of me too.” His look was so serious, so completely honest she couldn’t help but get lost in the words. “I was on the retreat with cadets, before I saw you again in Deling…and I couldn’t help but watch the stars. You’re right, I could feel completely safe under them, yet feel completely lost in their endless void. I would wake up in the night, fighting for breath…feeling the tightness of my spacesuit confining me. In my nightmares I would see the reflection of your helmet and remember fearing that was our end.”
She smiled, understanding him completely, finishing the words to his story…because her thoughts were exactly the same. “Yet letting the same stars calm you down, watching their endless twinkling…letting their memorizing patterns help you drift back into sleep. Hoping to see…”
“A shooting star.”
The words were said between the two in unison. And if Squall Leonhart hadn’t been in such a trance, he would have loathed the fact they had just become one of those couples who could finish each other’s thoughts. He couldn’t help it, she was so close and the pounding of the waves failed in comparison to the pounding of his heart. He pulled her closer until their lips met; closing his eyes, he let every invigorating sensation enter his body: the crashing water, the scent of salt mixed her the sweetness of her perfume, and the growing aroma of the nearby fish frying from the restaurant.
“Miss Heartilly?” Crap, couldn’t she have seen this one coming?
She broke away, but noticed that this time he hadn’t jumped like in the past. Rinoa wondered if it was because it wasn’t someone he knew, or he was just slowly accepting the idea of being together.
“Yeah, that’s me,” she looked at the man in the black and white suit standing next to another waiter. She started to stand up, but the man motioned for her to stay seated. Squall watched in slight confusion as the second man undid a white tablecloth, and set a plate setting in front of both of them. The first waiter stood with two silver platters on a tray, two glasses, and a bottle of wine.
They finished serving the food, and even opened the bottle of wine, pouring the first glass. When they walked away, Squall looked at her as he took a sip of the alcohol. “Rinoa, just how did you get them to do this?”
“Well,” she tried to act innocently, placing her napkin on her lap. “I guess that ‘hero worship’ thing you mentioned early in your office goes both ways.”
“What?” He said, setting his glass down on the table, and spilling some of the contents out. “What are you talking about?”
“Well, saving the world does have its privileges…including talking them into serving the ‘world-famous Commander Leonhart’ out here. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I promised them I would dance on the bar later.”
He tried not to chuckle at her attempt to act seriously. “That is not funny young lady. But, thank you…really…I like it better out here anyhow.”
“Well, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for the bill,” she teased. “We just stop by afterwards.”
“Guess hero worship doesn’t pay like it used to.”
After finishing the meal, the two walked back to the restaurant where Squall settled the bill. It was close to nine by now, and most of the warmth was being replaced by the coolness of the evening. Rinoa held her arms folded in front of her stomach, until she felt a material weight on her shoulders. Looking up she saw him smiling back at her, placing his blazer around her shoulders.
“Thanks,” she softly echoed. Squall didn’t answer, but only grabbed her hand intertwining their fingers. “I suppose we need to get back.” She spoke with a tinge of disappointment.
They continued until they reached the car, where Squall opened the door. While he walked around, she took advantage of the moment to bury her face in his jacket, taking in the sweet, intoxicating aroma. It smelled like him, and she would never forget his cologne in a million years. For a moment, she wondered what the softness of the leather jacket would feel like warming her. She had felt the satin-like inside several times, some by accident, and some done skillfully on purpose…she hoped he was none the wiser.
He started the car, pulling out into the street. She watched in her side-view mirror as the lights of the town faded into nothing more than a faint glow on the horizon. Although he had turned the heater on, she refused to yield the sensation of the blazer. Sighing, she placed her head against the cool window, watching the hypnotic beam of the headlights on the road in front.
“Hmm?” It wasn’t really an answer, but it was better than his customary silence.
The question was one that had been plaguing her, but knew the outcome was inevitable. She could have asked the headmaster, but felt that she wanted, needed, to hear it straight from Squall. “When are you leaving?”
The way her voice slightly cracked when she asked almost made his heart break, and knowing that the trip had to be done, seemed all the more upsetting. He only wished that they could had made it through the evening without the subject entering their conversation.
“I’m in the second unit…so when Selphie and Irvine return, Zell and I will be heading up with the next group of students.”
“Oh,” her answer was barely above a whisper. “I know how important it is, I really do think it is wonderful that Balamb is helping with the restoration.”
“Promise me something,” his voice catching like hers only moments before, “just don’t go anywhere while I’m gone. I don’t like the idea of you traveling by yourself.”
She looked over smiling, although through the darkness of night, her actions went unnoticed. “Don’t tell me that Squall Leonhart is actually worried about me?” She added a slight laugh at the end.
To her surprise, he pulled off the side of the main route onto a dirt access road, coming to a complete stop. Taking his hands of the wheel, he nervously cracked his knuckles out of habit. “Rinoa,” he began, “I…I do worry. I didn’t like it when you were alone in Timber either. I don’t think there was a moment that went by that I didn’t worry…I just want you to be around people who can protect you. I won’t be here, but Quistis, Selphie, and Irvine will be. I can trust them.”
“Two months…it’s like a small eternity.”
“Who said small?” He looked away towards the driver-side window as the words left his mouth. Somehow he sounded as if a lovesick puppy dog - curse his unintentional sappiness. Busy trying to think of the most ‘manly’ save, Squall never heard the click of the metallic seatbelt. Before he realized she had moved next to him, Rinoa leaned forward and wrapped her fingers on the steering wheel over his.
He froze and for a moment all reason was pushed back into that logical part of his mind; instead of looking at her, he looked at her fingers. How beautiful, how slim, they looked in the pale moonlight. He turned his palm upward, letting go of the wheel as he moved his fingers over. For a second he tightened his grip, never enough to hurt her, just enough to reassure himself that she was really there.
She shifted her weight in her seat, feeling a strange mix of being the most uncomfortable she had ever been in any given situation, and being the most relaxed she had ever known. There were no words in the dictionary to articulate the thought, not one seemed to fit. It was an inner feeling gone way past anything she had ever known, something so mysterious yet perfect. She pushed her doubts away and acted on the very urges she had on the way to Balamb…okay not all them, but the ones that wouldn’t make him run screaming.
Their eyes met, and even with only the natural light of the heavens they could see each other with clarity. Rinoa moved even closer, facing him the best she could. She never gave him time to respond, she pulled him into something that neither would forget.
True, they had kissed before, but fate and circumstances had always had their way…now it was their turn to guide their destiny. It was their time and nobody, man or animal, would take these moments from them.
He closed his eyes, as she moved forward, afraid for the first time that he wouldn’t have the courage to stop something. It was all new, as he had said many times before, yet this was somehow familiar. Not the kiss itself, but the sensations. It was like a dream that he had lived a thousand times coming true, and it was far better than he could have imagined. For all his life he had wanted to be alone, yet deep in his heart he knew better…he knew her.
Maybe this was the ending of the first chapter of ‘them’ or the wonderful start to the second. They were learning about each other, more than they even knew about themselves.
Somewhere they both lost track of reality. It no longer felt uncomfortable to him, as he only wanted to be closer to her. Somehow everything he ever thought about two people sharing such affection left his mind, never to return. For a few minutes they shared a kiss that could only be compared to those in fairytales, or idealistic romance novels.
In a one kiss, they sealed the beginning of their story.