"I've been thinking about something."
Squall's only response was a low "hn" as he shuffled through sheets of paperwork. Failing to find what he was looking for, he eventually looked up with a little frown, and after a brief pause reached out to tap the surface of his desk next to where Rinoa was sitting on it. "You're sitting on my budget."
She glanced down, and, realizing that she was in fact sitting on some sheets of paper, she quirked a little grin. "Don't pretend you're not listening. Isn't the budget someone else's job?"
"I still have to know what it is," he pointed out in a dry tone.
"Anyway..." Rinoa hopped up off the top of the desk, letting him have the papers, and leaned back against it instead. "I've been thinking."
He looked up at her again, briefly, but he didn't say anything - not that she'd expected him to. It didn't really matter when they both knew she'd tell him anyway; Squall just wasn't much good at following social rituals. He didn't see the point in wasting words where they weren't needed.
"About this," she went on as though he'd asked, and leaned towards him to tug once, gently, on the fur collar of his leather jacket. "It's armor, isn't it?"
This time when he looked up to her face it was with a frown and a faint, confused creasing of his brow.
"Not like armor armor," she said. "I mean... social armor. To make you look tough, so people will keep their distance."
Squall's frown grew deeper, and his grey eyes slid uncomfortably away from her to focus on the papers spread across his desk.
"I'm embarrassing you. I'm sorry. It's just that I've been thinking that it doesn't seem like you. Or, I mean - it's part of you now, but only the outside part." Embarrassed with herself now, Rinoa fidgeted absently with the rings she wore on the chain around her neck. "I'm not making any sense, am I?"
"It's fine," Squall said, but he didn't look up.
"It's not that I want you to change anything you don't want to. It's just... it'd be kind of a shame if you still felt like you needed it. You know?" She hesitated, then let go of her own necklace to reach towards him again, hooking a finger under the heavy chain around his neck to lift the lion's-head pendant from his chest. "It looks cool, but... you wear it all the time. Like it's some kind of symbol. It just seems... kind of excessive."
With a long exhaled breath, Squall let the papers he was holding drop to his desk. Closing his fingers around the edges of his pendant, he inclined his head to look down at it. "I guess it is," he said, in a low, detached tone that left Rinoa wondering which part he was agreeing with. "I had it made years ago... around the time I named my ring. I guess it was just how I felt."
Looking at the chain, the heavy links and the design of it so much like a choke-chain, and the frozen snarl of the lion and the sharp points of the cross it tapered into, Rinoa felt a little pang for the boy Squall used to be. "But you don't still feel like that now, do you?"
"No." He was quiet for a while, contemplating the pendant, before he added unexpectedly, "Actually, it means something else now." As she raised her brows curiously, he lifted his head, pulling the chain off over it and turning the back of the pendant toward her before he held it out.
It weighed heavily in her hands as she took it, and on the smooth back of the pendant she could see the sharp, clear lines of recent engraving, in plain, simple lettering.
Remember Your Chains.
When she looked uncertainly up to his face, she found him watching her with steady eyes.
"It's easy," he said quietly, "to start taking things for granted, after you've had them for a while. You get used to it, and you start to forget what it was like before. The feelings get dull." His face turned away from her, eyes settling on something far beyond the windows of his office. "I don't want to forget where I was, before you found me. I don't want to stop feeling grateful."
Tracing a finger lightly over the engraved words, Rinoa felt the pressure squeezing around her heart dissolve into warmth, and she smiled. "I like it. But you know..." She waited until he met her eyes again before she moved, sliding carefully into his chair and across his lap. He angled his head back to keep sight of her face, but didn't protest. "...there's something else that you should keep in mind."
She brought the pendant to her lips, kissing the engraving before she settled the chain back around his neck; he bowed his head to receive it like a knight accepting a medal. "When you remember your chains," she said, carefully arranging the pendant against his chest, "remember your chains are gone."
He didn't smile, exactly, but there was a rare, unshadowed peace in his expression as he leaned his head back against his chair and looked back up at her, his face naked of all defenses.
Author's Note: The title, and Squall's littlebit of philosophy, were drawn from Steven Curtis Chapman's "Remember Your Chains."
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