Dancing in Time Chapter 17

A Time to Keep

By Ashbear

May 29th

Once the morning light broke the camp's horizon, the group gathered their belongings and headed back to the comforts they had taken for granted. In a typed up mission report, the retreat would have appeared uneventful, but to those who knew the parties involved, it was much more than an overnight's stay. It was growing and understanding, not just between a knight and a sorceress...but also a bond strengthening between their friend and the presences of youth.

With each step closer to Trabia Garden, Rinoa's muscles were begging for relief. She hadn't felt this much soreness since before having her tonsils removed. At least back then, a small battalion of painkillers weren't too far behind. Every so often, she would glance to Squall, who would quickly avert his gaze – both teens trying to conceal the unspoken need to keep checking on one another. Rinoa would have found the moment a lot 'cuter' if her body had not been screaming in such agony.

"Hey Rinny!" Zell scurried beside her, breaking her internal contemplations. She glanced, slightly annoyed at his exuberance. He had found the added strength to give a cadet a piggyback ride. Then again, she had to remind herself, he was a trained SeeD after all...and she was Cid's assistant... Rinoa bet that she could outmaneuver him at designing a practical use for a spreadsheet in nothing flat. Somehow, the thought seemed of little comfort at the moment. Right now, all she wanted was to collapse headfirst into the snow.

"Wow, you really aren't a fun one in the mornings without coffee, Squall wasn't kidding. Anyway, I forgot to tell you, when I gave my portion of this morning's report to Cid, he mentioned that you'd be working with Squall and I in general labor until you leave. That's you and construction Rin...you know with hammers and nails and other things that Zone and Watts warned us to keep you away from." Somehow, the martial artist seemed way too enthusiastic about sharing this information with her.

"Work? What? Why?" she questioned exasperated, continuing to walk in horror as the words were sinking in.

"You're so cute when you're freaking out." He added with a wink and chuckle. "Yeah Rinoa, work, you know that thing you get paid for in between the angst and the fighting you and Squall do. I'm sure you've heard of it."

"I am so going to get you one of these days." She managed under her breath.

The martial artist continued as if he hadn't given any validity to her threat. He looked upward to the boy positioned on his shoulders. "Hey Vick, remember what I told you about Rinoa and Commander Leonhart?"

The little boy held on to the martial artist's shoulders, proudly mimicking his posture. "That there is more electricity produced between them, than between all of the solar panels at Fisherman's Horizon."

"Right! And that is your science lesson for the day."

"Zell!" Rinoa protested, gritting her teeth through her embarrassment. "I can't believe you told him that!"

"Mr. Dincht," the little boy said with confusion in his voice. "I still don't exactly understand what that means. How can two people have electricity just between them? Unless it's like static electricity, but that wouldn't be specific to two people. I mean, static electricity can also occur with a person and an object. Like when I walk across the carpet, and then I get shocked when I touch the doorknob. So are you also saying that saying that Commander Leonhart and a doorknob have more electricity than the solar panels too?"

"Ummm...why don't you go ask him?" Zell finally answered triumphantly, removing the child down from his back. "While you're at it, ask him to explain the function of ovaries. He loves going into vast amounts of detail about the subject."

"Oh...my..." Rinoa covered her mouth in utter shock as the little boy ran toward the commander. They both exploded in thunderous laughter, as Squall turned back, glaring at them with a ferocious look. No, this was past ferocious, this was something that would border on the homicidal...

Yet still, all the duo could do was find humor with the extremely odd situation. And somewhere, deep inside, both Rinoa and Zell were sure Squall did too...maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not even next year...okay, honestly, maybe never. The commander shook his head in pure frustration before turning back to the cadet. Squall hesitantly spoke with the youngster as they continued trudging through the snow.

Rinoa noticed how much Squall used his arms when he was talking. He moved his hands in simple gestures, emphasizing certain points, bringing both life and animation into the conversation. She couldn't help but smile at the miraculous sight that most of the world wouldn't have given a second glance to. This was not a 'change' as so many would label her influence on him; this was something internal not brought on by her at all. This was achieved through his own freewill. He seemed pulled into the conversation, rather than simply speaking like the military cutout that she had met over a year ago... Okay, there still was that 'Snow Lion' speech to work on. Baby steps.

Squall's anger had completely ebbed, as he was engrossed in conversation with the cadet. Rinoa figured the commander had managed to steer the boy to another topic. There was no possible way that Squall would get that animated about electricity or the female reproductive system...at least to God she hoped not. Then again, she'd had a few overzealous health teachers in her lifetime, but Squall Leonhart was the furthest from a person who would be teaching a health class.

Rinoa couldn't help getting lost within her own thoughts as she often did. She wondered that, if Squall had been an instructor at her school, what type of class he would have been most likely to teach... algebra, trigonometry, calculus? Yes, something relative to the math family...he was good with numbers and had a great figure. Oh, Hyne help her, now she was using juvenile puns that was what sleep deprivation could do to her mentality... Maybe if he had taught her geometry, she would have paid a little more attention, and not sketched random doodles into her notebook... Then again, staying after school for extra credit may have gotten her in a little bit of...

"Earth to Rinoa! For the hundredth time!" She saw a hand wave in front of her face and Zell's shouting brought her crashing back into reality. "Have you joined us back among the land of the walking Trabian popsicles?"

She winced, realizing that she had been caught daydreaming on their hike back. What a qualified leader she was turning out to be. Not that she had asked for the position, well, not that any of them had asked... It just seemed that some were adapting better than others – like the spiky haired chameleon walking next to her.

"Sorry Zell, what were you saying?" Rinoa whispered softly, embarrassed to be caught in such a position. Unfortunately, she found herself in these situations a little too often.

"Yeah, right Rin...do you think you're going to get off that easy?"

"I was just daydreaming...I should have been paying more attention to my responsibilities. I promise to take my duty more seriously, I'm sorry." She offered, watching the kids as they moved single file, except for the one still walking next to Squall.

The martial artist stopped dead in his tracks, grabbing her arm. She halted abruptly, looking her friend in the eyes. "Rinoa, this is an intervention...seriously...you've been working with him way too long... If you start quoting verbatim specific Garden codes, utter the phrase 'whatever', or wear more than one belt at any given time, this friendship is over. Seriously, a guy has to have his limitations."

She laughed and led him by the arm, "Come on we can't fall behind, and I'm not that bad... If I ever am 'that bad' you have permission to use the most torturous punishment known to humankind."

"You mean?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes." She replied, crossing the thick sleeves of the jacket over her chest. She acted like she was protecting her body from the thought of the hideous retribution.

"The singing tape!" they both screamed in fear. Luckily, not loud enough for Squall to hear their specifics as he glanced back towards them.

Zell saluted, letting his commanding officer know they were fine, before asking her out of curiosity, "What do you think Squall would do if he found out? I still can't believe that Irvine opened the air duct of his dorm, and lowered the tape recorder to the inside of Squall bathroom's vent."

Rinoa shook her head, "I think that would be an intervention that none of us could stop. But I mean, if Squall's going to sing at three in the morning and wake Irvine up...serves him right...least he could do is learn to sing well." She laughed. "And from what I heard on the tape... His singing isn't even classified as semi-tolerable...not even close... Who knew that someone who has such a remarkable, indescribable voice that burns into your soul when softly whispering your name...well, when singing could sound...ah..."

"Worse than a Wendigo's mating call."

"Um...yeah...thanks, Zell."

"Great...now Rinny dear, unless you want me to tell your boyfriend that you just said aloud his voice is 'worse than a Wendigos mating call'...you are going to tell me what you were daydreaming about." He announced slyly as she was still leading her by the sleeve.

"Why you little!" Rinoa threw his arm down as he laughed. "That is so not fair; you took that so out of context."

"So you're going to tell me right? We're almost back." He countered as he pointed to the large structure looming directly in front of them.

"Thank you, Mr. Obvious. Fine, I'll tell you...but it's not like it is going to make sense anyhow. I could lie to you and it would probably end up making more sense."

"Yeah, that's how I know if you were lying." She punched him in the arm as they continued bringing up the rear of the single file line.

"Fine... I noticed how Squall was using arm gestures when he was talking to Vick. It's just a little change, but he is more animated in his conversations. I don't know, I guess it sounds ridiculous saying it aloud. And then..." She looked away as they stopped moving, knowing this part was really going to sound like it was coming from an adolescent with a crush. Could she just for once daydream about something a little less pathetic - like imagining him working out, glistening in sweat, rather than teaching her math?

She took a quick breath, mumbling the thoughts in one incoherent sentence. "I was wondering what Squall would be, had he been an instructor at my school, and if I would have paid more attention in geometry if Squall had been my math teacher - instead of drawing so much, but then that entire extra credit thing could have gotten me into a whole lot of trouble. Okay are you happy now that I sound like a rambling idiot?"

He laughed, "Squall, math? You've got to be kidding Rin? What planet are you living on? He has the makings for a history teacher if I ever heard one...facts and more useless facts. Did you not hear the thrilling lecture on the Snow Lion? We could have lived through three historical time periods and that thing still wouldn't have concluded!"


"What?" Rinoa almost screamed inadvertently, recognizing the voice behind her.

"Paleontology...that's what I would teach. The study of life existing in prehistoric time...such as fossils, bones, and other extinct things... such as you two are going to be if you don't keep up with the rest of the class."

"Squall!" the martial artist smiled, realizing that they weren't alone. "Hey, look, we're already back at Garden...in one piece! You're the greatest man... I'd follow you into the frozen tundra anywhere...thick or thin...thin or thick! Whose da man? You da man!"

"Are you done sucking up yet?" Squall looked at his friend, slightly irritated.

"Yeah, that should about cover it for now... I may have some time later this evening, if your schedule is clear."

The commander closed his eyes as he slowly applied pressure to his temples. He was way too tired for this. There were times Squall felt as if he had been watching ten children on this trip, not just the eight cadets.

"Zell...Rinoa if I could bother to ask you two to pay attention, like the rest of the children are respectfully doing... Could the two supposed adult leaders escort the cadets back to the main entrance? The Trabian dorm advisors should be meeting you shortly and take the students back to their rooms... I just need to return the communicators to the audio/video department and then sign the paperwork that no children, nor adult escorts, were fed to the nearest Snow Lion. Can you two handle it?"

Rinoa nodded agreeably, still embarrassed by the situation as Zell saluted. Squall broke his stern appearance with the smallest hint of a smile. "Both of you just wait in there for me. Until the paperwork is completed, it's not too late for any unforeseen accidents. Then again, I did have an entire speech prepared on the Mesmerize that I never got around to."

"Tell me you're not serious." Rinoa looked her boyfriend directly in the eyes, trying to gage his seriousness.

"Tell me what brought on the idea of me teaching math."

Rinoa forged a smile. "Mesmerizes...my favorite!"

The young woman closed her eyes, listening to the sounds that resonated from the hollowed entryway. It was an acoustic marvel as each noise magnified - whether it was two persons whispering, a student's hurried footsteps, or even an errant shout from a classroom two halls over – it all mixed into a kaleidoscope of sound. The cadets that they had been responsible for had already gone. In some way, Rinoa found herself missing their company. For the first few minutes, she and Zell had occupied themselves by talking until she finally couldn't fight the need to sit down. The exhaustion was quickly catching up, and Squall's paperwork was taking longer than any of them originally anticipated.

Zell had found a nearby bench. The high screech of his rubber soles meeting the floor echoed every so often. She figured he wasn't too thrilled about having to wait patiently for the commander's return... He wasn't one for sitting still for long periods of time – especially without Triple Triad, fighting magazines, or any form of beef byproduct around. Rinoa sat on the floor, leaning against a wall, legs crossed, and desperately fighting to stay awake.

"Zell, go ahead...I can wait here for him."

"He told us both to wait. I'm certainly not going to disobey an order."

"It wasn't exactly a direct order." Rinoa replied leaning her head against the wall. "It was more like a verbal request and he can get over it."

"When does Squall 'get over' anything?"

She let out a slight snort. "Go Zell, I can handle him. Which one of us is he more likely to forgive?"

"Good answer." He stood from the bench, stretching his arms over his head before looking back to her one last time. "Rin, you sure about this?"

"Yeah, I need to talk with him anyhow... this will hopefully give me a chance. I'm sure he won't be much longer... With my luck he's probably stopping by the library for a few more invigorating monster facts."

"Dear Hyne... on that thought... I'm outta here!" Zell quickly snapped into military attention position and then saluted. He smiled wryly before quickly dismissing himself. All she could do was shake her head at his abrupt exit.

"I can feel the love, Dincht."

The commander hurried down the corridor, running his fingers through entangled strands of hair. He sighed as his hand rested on the back of his neck, applying pressure to the tender muscles at the top of his spine. The pain might have registered had he not been more concerned about getting to the main entrance. He wondered if they would still be there, moreover, if she would still be there... He would have never asked his friends to wait had he thought it would have taken so long.

His mind was already prepared for them to have returned to their dorms. Not that it would have been an inconceivable notion, actually quite logical... Squall was just one for believing and accepting the negative before the positive. It was an attribute that was hard to overcome, although he was trying.

As he rounded the corner, he saw a lone figure sitting against the wall. There she was, knees to one side, his spare SeeD coat partially unzipped, and her right elbow propped on her duffle bag – using her palm as support for her chin. Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail that, for the most part, had become unfastened with large clumps hanging in front of her eyes. Right then she seemed to have no care for her physical appearance, but all Rinoa could ever do, was look was beautiful in his eyes.

She either sensed his presence, or heard the sounds of his boots hitting the floor; he wasn't positive which. Her eyes flew open and her gaze locked directly on his. It was all he could do to hold back the immediate formation of a smile, yet inner reason won over impetuosity. He continued walking to her, pretending to be more concerned that her partner in crime hadn't stayed.

"So, Zell not around?"

"Told him I could handle you." She answered without breaking her expression.

"You have a lot of confidence in yourself." He finally allowed a small smile, extending his arm to help her off of the floor. "Couldn't find a more suitable spot to wait?"

"If I did, I would have been asleep before I could count to ten." She stood, taking a moment to regain her bearings.

"Guess I should count my blessings... I know how much fun waking you up can be." His mind flashed to his feeble attempt in a car outside of Winhill. "Need an escort back to your room?"

"And they say chivalry is dead."

"No, 'chivalry' would be if I offered to carry your stuff... I was just offering to accompany you. Maybe hit the elevator button if the mood struck..." He shook his head, retrieving her duffle bag off the ground. She remained staring at him in complete silence. "You really are tired, aren't you Rin?"

"I just need sleep... you, Zell, the kids... I don't know how you guys keep going. I just don't have the same training."

"Oh, now you realize this. Why didn't this epiphany dawn upon you while we were fighting Ultimecia?" He wrapped his left arm around her as she rested her head back on his bicep.

"Because I'm difficult."

"That's the understatement of the year."

He wasn't positive when Rinoa put her head completely on his shoulder, or when her body fell onto his chest a little more, but somewhere during the walk, he was supporting her entire bodyweight. It was quite amazing that her feet were still able to move as if engaged on some type of internal autopilot. When they reached her door, he shifted her weight just enough to unzip the small pocket of her duffle bag and fish out her room key.

"Work with me here." He whispered, trying to put the key in with his right hand, while supporting her with his left. With a little finagling, and absolutely no grace or elegance, he managed to balance her between the wall and his chest. He pushed the door ajar, using his foot to open it the remainder of the way, and finally guiding her over the threshold.

Rinoa staggered into the small dorm and removed her coat. She barely cleared the doorframe, as she tossed her jacket onto the built-in desk. It took all of her remaining will to walk the distance to the bed, before collapsing gracelessly onto the mattress. She wasn't sure if it was purely from the physical exhaustion, or lack of sleep, or a combination of both. It seemed that in the last few minutes she had been fighting with herself to keep her eyelids open, and that it had been a losing battle. In fact, if it hadn't been for the support of Squall, she was positive she would have walked face first into the nearest wall...or worse. Squall... he was still there... this sudden realization made her body tense with a rush of adrenaline. Oh great, as if her actions weren't already beyond unexplainable on a daily basis, what would he be thinking about this?

She would have never imagined.

Her body met the bed with some force, and yet all he could do was stand there like the clichéd immovable object. Did he offer to help her? Did he get her a blanket? Did he even say goodbye and leave her to her rest? No, of course not. He looked down wanting to say something, wanting this day, night, morning - whatever time itself had morphed into - to last a little longer. The way her face rested on the pillow, the way each of her fingers wrapped around the cotton pillowcase.

He would have never imagined himself here a year ago, standing in the same room as this girl. Forget that...this woman - an extraordinary person, so full of life, who for some unknown reason wanted to be with him... He still couldn't figure out what earthly reason why.

Maybe a part of him wanted to know what it would be like to lay next to her, to sleep in the same bed with her. All his life he had followed the rules, and even now, he worried about appearances above all. He had responsibility whether he wanted it or not, but there was also that part of him that was still a teenager. It was a big part of him, a part that he had suppressed for far too long.

"Are you just going to stand there?" She asked with the realization that he was still in the room. She was nervous inside, but she remained calm outwardly, asking the question as if it were as common as a greeting.

Squall swore that her eyes remained shut, as her hand reached with precise accuracy. The same fingers he had just looked at were now wrapped around his wrist. He knew that he needed to say something, because just standing there, he was feeling like the moron of the century. His voice caught in his throat and, for a moment, he forgot all rudimentary skills.

"Uh...uh...no... meeting and a thing later... but nothing now. Bed, going to bed... I mean don't worry... not with you." There were certain times that he felt more like a teenager than others...and then there were times he felt 'King of all things Moron', this would have been one of the latter. He never dreamt of a time when he actually could sympathize with some of Laguna's earlier encounters with Julia. If there had been a way to slither out of the room and keep any sense of masculinity, he would have seized the opportunity.

Rinoa slowly opened a single eye, looking up at him. "You know, earlier when I said that I was difficult... let me amend that statement: we are both difficult, that's why we work so well together." She smiled as she brushed her fingers through her fallen bangs with her free hand.

"Squall, this isn't..." she sighed, inhaling deeply. It seemed that everything she wanted to say was a swirling cloud of stupidity. If she could form one lucid thought, it would be a small miracle. "Stay here... just for a while, please."

His heart was already made up; she really didn't even have to ask. He couldn't deny how tired he was, and how much he wanted to be next to her. He knew it wouldn't look professional, but honestly, they had been in each other rooms longer, watching movies or eating meals. This time the only difference was they would be napping after a tiring mission.

He slowly removed his own boots and then noticed that she hadn't taken off her shoes before falling onto the bed. He wasn't exactly sure where the protocol in removing one's girlfriend's shoes lied...but he hoped this wouldn't be crossing some unwritten barrier that Quistis would lecture him on later. Slowly he reached down, unlacing her boots, strangely wondering why he felt so uncomfortable taking off another's footwear. They were boots for Hyne's sake, boots! He could tell she was awake by the way she was tensing and pointing her toes, aiding his efforts. Finally, he dropped both of her shoes onto the floor and started to lie down on the bed, and as if on cue, Rinoa softly spoke from beside him.



"Now my feet are cold."

"Shock."He should have seen this one coming. Honestly, he should have.

"Really cold."

"Aren't you asleep yet?"

"Can't, too cold."

He sighed, looking around and noticed a quilt tossed haphazardly across the only chair in the room. It was Rinoa after all; folding and organization were not priorities in her makeshift domicile. He grumbled slightly, most of it just for show, as he got off the bed and retrieved the blanket. Carefully he spread it out over her, taking extra time to make sure her toes were completely covered.



"Anything else?"

"Um...no...but thank you."

"It wasn't that difficult." He sat back down on the outer edge of the bed, before nudging her with his elbow. "I suppose asking you to move a little closer to the wall would be crossing that 'difficult' line though."

This time Rinoa didn't answer. In one flawless motion, she rolled onto her side, moving closer to the wall. Squall took that as the opportunity to lie down on the bed, turning onto his back. He tried to ignore the awkwardness he felt, hoping that she would fall asleep quickly. Not that he wanted to leave, but honestly, he was a tired mass of a hormonally confused teenage knight and commander, who also had a meeting with his superior in a few hours...this wasn't helping him very much.

But could Rinoa let the situation wane that easily? No, of course not...she was Rinoa after all. There was of course that part of him that was more than thrilled that she was. He felt the bed shifting as she rolled towards him. It was a split second before the blanket snared him like a net, followed by her arm capturing his upper body. Before he registered his own actions, the commander reached up, as if it were as natural as breathing, and grabbed the corner of the quilt. He carefully wrapped it around both of them, before placing his arm around her back.

Somehow, even in her semi-conscious state, she rested her head onto his chest, using it as an improvised pillow. Momentarily, he allowed the realization to sink in – they were under the same blanket, in the same bed, and how used to this feeling he could get. It was a comfort, a security, a unity far beyond that known to most teenage couples. He closed his eyes, as he unconsciously wrapped his fingers through what remained of her ponytail. He mused that she hadn't taken a shower in the last twenty-four hours, but still her hair felt just like silk. Of course, then he realized that he hadn't taken a shower in the last twenty-four hours...but figured at this point neither of them really cared as Rinoa was fast asleep.

Rinoa shifted, believing she had the misfortune of discovering the world's most uncomfortable mattress. She tried to move again, and in the process, heard a loud crack resonate through her neck. Muttering a few words of unpleasantness, she started to roll onto her other side, cursing the manufacture responsible for this atrocity. Not only was it rather lumpy, one of the springs apparently was sticking through, making an imprint on the side of her cheek. She moved her hand up to her face to sooth the pain, realizing almost instantaneously that it wasn't from a spring, rather from a pendant.

Her eyes slowly opened as comprehension dawned upon her; she wasn't on a mattress, rather the uneven form of a masculine chest. The spring wasn't a wayward coil protruding from the mattress – rather the edge of a stylized lion's head.

With her first movement, Squall woke from whatever tentative 'sleep' he may have been in. Honestly, he wasn't sure if it was even classified as sleep...there was no possible way he could have slept under those conditions. It did take a second for him to focus, deducing the intruder wasn't a threat... Well okay, that was yet to be determined, but at least she was a welcomed trespasser. He wasn't used to having large clingy objects lying on top of him...especially ones who seemed to slightly curse in their sleep. He almost chuckled as she said a few choice things under her breath, forgetting all forms of decorum. It was then she must have realized that she wasn't alone as her eyes slowly opened looking stunned and incredibly embarrassed.

"Really Rinoa, wasn't the welcome I was expecting."

"I'm so sor--" she couldn't even finish, turning the compulsory shades of red. Well, she would have, had she not buried her head into his chest in utter embarrassment.

"Don't be." If anyone shouldn't be sorry for letting their guard down in a moment of normalcy, it would be Rinoa. "I think I have heard far worse in my line of work."

She waved her hand as she slowly sat up, trying to dismiss her actions, "Yes, but I was trying to keep the illusion a little longer, before you found out the bitter truth."

"Trust me, that façade was lost our first meeting in Timber."

"Thanks..." she mumbled, pushing herself onto her side.

He looked over to the clock, already regretting his next statement. "Rinoa, I need to get back to my room. I have a meeting with Cid, and I really would like to change first." He stopped momentary, waiting for her to answer. When she didn't, he continued trying to explain, "I can't believe I slept as long as I did. Don't worry about getting up."

It was funny how he still took everything Rinoa did, said, or, as in this case, didn't say, personally. It wasn't that she was angry, just still half-asleep. Only every other one of his words was registering in her mind, not to mention the fact that he had actually stayed with her. Stayed with her...crap that reminded her she needed to tell him before the meeting with Cid.

"Squall...I'm leaving."

A strange uneasiness overtook his body. Leaving...home? Was she referring to Balamb or Deling? Even after all this time, he wasn't sure where 'home' truly was for her.

It was from his hesitation that she caught her mistake, correcting herself immediately. "I mean I'm leaving Trabia. I...was just scared to say anything, but I didn't want you hearing it from Cid either...we're heading back for Balamb sometime at the end of the week. I don't want this to end."

Balamb, of course, how could he even think she meant something else? He had to stop believing the worst would happen - it was just so easy. He sat on the edge of the bed, turning back to her. He gently covered her back up with the blanket, moving his hand slowly over her shoulder.

"Don't want what to end?"

"This..." She reached her hand from under the blanket interlocking it with his. "I just feel... I don't know... I just think once we get back things will change..."

He squeezed her hand tighter, wishing that he could offer her some form of comfort, but both of them knew the truth. Their relationship was still new, and wouldn't change, but their surroundings, their priorities, and the responsibilities that each faced in Balamb would change the dynamics surrounding the relationship. It never dulled the importance, only the amount of time and effort.

Even Squall could admit he felt a different comfort level in Trabia. Here the students and instructors had a greater goal, and although he was the Commander of Balamb, he was still another teenager trying to find himself among the rubble. If there was one thing he wouldn't do it would be lie to her – making an empty promise. All he could do was build on what he'd tried so desperately to convince himself over the last weeks. He felt closer to her than ever - through the past weeks, through the return of Seifer, and through the three simple words she gave to him so freely.

Then why...why...why did he react that way on her saying she was going home? He shook the thought from his head; it was obvious that she was concerned and tired...

"Listen, we'll talk tomorrow, okay? You just get your rest."

She would have argued, but right now, the 'rest' part was looking pretty darn good. She managed a smile, not wanting to upset him before his meeting. "Okay, plus I get to work with you and Zell tomorrow."


"Yeah, supposedly it is that thing we do between the angst and fighting."

"Between what?"

"Never mind." She mumbled almost incoherently.

"Okay...you get some sleep. I'll see you tomorrow then." He let go of her hand, softly giving her a kiss on the cheek.

Her feet made barely a sound as they met with the carpeted floor. Once again, Rinoa found herself standing at Squall's door. This time, she didn't hesitate to knock. Her body still ached from sleeping on the cavern floor, but she wouldn't have traded the experience for all the Gil in Esthar. Part of her wondered if he would be surprised to see her tonight, figuring that they hadn't planned on meeting until tomorrow.

The door opened and their eyes met. "Hey Rinoa, what are you doing here?"

"I thought maybe you'd like to go get some dinner in the cafeteria... I hear they have a killer meatloaf."

"I didn't think we had plans tonight. Come on in."

She followed him. He seemed to be hurrying around the room, acting like he was late for a meeting. His behavior seemed slightly peculiar, but she stood wordlessly and watched him comb his hair. He grabbed a sweater from a drawer, raising his arms, and then pulled it over his head. She could sense the momentary frustration when he realized that he should have combed his hair after putting the sweater on. She held back a giggle as he wet the comb down, attempting to remove the static making his unruly mane stand on end. Finally, he tossed the comb onto the counter, grabbed his wallet, and then placed it in his back pocket.

He moved in front of her, looking her in the eyes, and reached for her left hand. "Rinoa, I'm really sorry... I would love to go out with you tonight... But I have a date."

His eyes were so serious, so beautiful, so... what?

"Huh?" she spoke in dazed realization. Honestly, she believed her ears were playing tricks on her. There was no possible way in Bahamut's Mega Flare that he just said what she thought he said. She vaguely recalled him stammering something about a meeting with Cid followed by a 'thing' and by the gods, a date wasn't classified as a 'thing.'

"I'm sorry Rinoa. I'll have to take a rain check on that meatloaf. I have a date."

"Wha?" she questioned aloud, understanding that she had heard him right the first time. It felt as if someone had poured superglue on the bottom of her shoes and placed an anvil in her stomach.

He moved behind her, gently sliding his arms around her waist. The silkiness of her hair caressed his cheek, instinct alone made him close his eyes on contact. He wanted to absorb every 'feel' into memory, her warmth, her hair, and the way her skin contrasted to his. It was a good thing she was in shock, or he would probably be face down in the floor by now.

"Don't be mad... but actually... I have three."

It was that comment that finally made her yell a semi-coherent statement. "A what? A date? Three dates? Squall...you? Date?"

"Cid's right...you'd be a natural in the diplomatic corps." He softly kissed the side of her neck. "It's just one night, I promise."

"What? Who?" Somehow, she still refused to believe him. There was some catch, or he was pulling the world's worst practical joke. She knew his humor...it could be slightly dark and warped...but this situation was just plain cruel.

"Well, you know them...pretty well in fact. Their names are Nicky, Krissy and Carrie...three of the contestants on the hit show 'Trabian Trivia."

She turned to face him, still speechless, but on a completely different level. She would have looked into his eyes, but couldn't. It was all she could do to keep standing. She wrapped her arms around his neck, resting her head against his shoulder. His steady heartbeat echoed through his chest, as he moved his arms around her back.

"Shh...don't say anything. I just want to see if they can introduce me to the show's hostess...she's hot. I would have said something earlier, but you were still half-asleep, and I was hoping to slip this one by." She laughed into his chest, allowing him to continue. "Seriously, turns out those girls have never had a Dollet style deep-dish pizza. The things you learn while giving piggyback rides, huh?"

Still she was soundless, wrapping her arms around him tighter. "It sounds strange...just one of the first good memories I have at Garden. Without using the GFs, some of the moments of my childhood are coming back... I remember a group of us students going with an Instructor out for dinner... He was from Dollet, and always talked about how nobody could duplicate the way they made pizza. I can't remember why we went, some type of reward for good behavior or something. I thought whoever invented all those layers of cheese and meat was a genius. Please remember that I was young...although I still think the man who invented it is a genius." He softly kissed the top of her head, "I guess when I heard they had never had a traditional Dollet pizza, I wanted them to share that memory."

"Squall," her voice was soft, muffled through the thickness of his sweater. "Don't be late for your date...um dates."

"I won't be..." He paused, not wanting to let her go. "You know Rin, those girls really look up to you. They'd love to see you again, and of course, I could use a chaperone. Would you like to tag along?"

"I could not think of any greater honor." She held him for just a moment longer, hearing Zell's words.

"You know, he could surprise you."

And then she realized that Squall surprised her each and every day.

Chapter 18

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