Selphie pouted at the closed door, as though if she looked cute enough it would magically open for her. The green envelopes she held in her hand were starting to crinkle as she clenched her fist in impatience, the elegant script on one that spelled out her commander's name twisting slightly. With her other hand, she loudly banged on the door again.
"Squall! I know you're awake! You couldn't sleep in if you tried!"
She could hear the telltale sound of sneaking footsteps on ancient, creaking floorboards that told of someone attempting to tiptoe past someone they didn't want to meet. Her booted foot tapped against the linoleum that lined the hallways, creating a small echo in the empty, nine-AM dorm wing. Everyone else, she knew, was either in the cafeteria or still in their beds, enjoying the lazy two weeks of winter vacation that had descended upon the Garden.
"I can stand out here all day and wait for you to come out," the brunette warned loudly. "I know you need to go to your office sometime today."
The sounds of movement stilled and she smirked as she heard a muffled curse. She knew she wouldn't have to wait much longer, and, sure enough, five minutes later the door swung open to reveal Squall in all his fresh-out-of-bed-ice-cube glory. He stared Selphie down withy a look that would have made lesser humans burst into tears, but the girl simply grinned and held out the envelope.
"Here," she chirped. He hesitantly took it from her hand and looked at it as though it were about to bite him. "It's an invitation to the Yule Party in a few days. It's a Secret Santa thing, and the person you're supposed to buy for is on the card inside – and don't worry, it's completely random."
Squall grimaced and glared at the innocent green envelop as though it were the one trying to destroy his life. Somewhere within himself, he knew Selphie didn't mean any harm, but he still cursed the extent that all his friends went to to hook him up with Rinoa. It wasn't as though he enjoyed the girl's company, much less showed any form of romantic interest in her.
"…" He sighed and turned away, heading into the kitchen area to find something vaguely edible so that he wouldn't have to go into the cafeteria and interact with anything human. "Whatever."
Selphie muffled a squeal of delight, knowing she'd won. It was always wonderful when her plans came together so nicely. And there was even enough time for her to run down to the cafeteria and get some breakfast before it closed. As she began so bounce down the hall, she glanced at the next unsealed envelope she had to give out. She pulled the card out and glanced at the Secret Santa name inside.
Selphie stopped in front of the glass doors leading to the common room. Her features became marred with a frown as she stared at the name. She could have sworn that she had put this card into Squall's envelope…
Quickly, she checked the front of the envelope she had pulled the card from. When no name greeted her, she groaned. She must have mixed up the cards when she was printing them out the other night. And there was no way she would be able to convince Squall to take the right envelope now that she'd said it was random.
Oh well, she sighed. It was just a minor setback – nothing too bad for Rinoa's relationship.
Squall sat down heavily on the couch that was nailed to the floor, forcing it to constantly face the wall not two feet away from it. The cup of coffee in his hand steamed slightly and he sipped at it, not wanting to turn his head toward the nauseating green envelope he had thrown on the end table. Just the thought of the invitation and what it must say was enough to send him into a silent rage (as though he had other volumes of that feeling). He couldn't understand how his friends had come to the conclusion that he wanted to date her, or that he would need their help if he did.
The coffee was bitter in his mouth and he set it down next to the envelope as he stood, ready to go back to the kitchen for something to make it vaguely sweeter. His fingers brushed against the cheap green paper and he paused, staring at it with a frown. There was a moment of silence as he stared blankly down at it, fighting the impulse to just set it on fire and be done with it.
But he knew that would cause Selphie to bitch, and he didn't particularly feel like putting up with her when she was upset that he would destroy something so precious to her. Finally, he sighed and picked it up, ripping it open quickly and hoping it would hurt less that way – as though a band-aid.
The card had a picture of a sickeningly cute orange cat poking out of a red stocking on the cover. When he flipped it open he briefly read the message inside.
"You are invited to attend the annual Balamb Garden Yule Ball on the 25th of this month of snow. The party starts at 1900 and the dress is fancy."
Squall made a face at the elegant red script and looked to the bottom of the card where the name of whoever he had to buy for sat.
A horrible blush flew across Squall's face and he was suddenly glad that he hadn't opened the card in front of Selphie. Selphie… She was the one who had made all the invitations – he knew she would never trust anyone else with something so important – which meant one of two things. Either the cards really were random or…
Or Selphie had managed to find out about his crush on Zell. Which meant that she'd probably told someone and now the entire Garden knew. Zell probably knew too.
He groaned and flung the wretched card away, taking sadistic glee in the way it flapped against the wall and tumbled uselessly to the floor. If there was anything worse than having to interact with people, it was having to interact with people who knew his secrets.
He continued to glower at the invitation, a thought slowly forming in his mind. Maybe this was Selphie's way of letting him know that it was ok. Squall's scowl slowly faded away. He had nothing to lose now that everyone knew, and he even had an excuse to buy something for Zell. What could have been mistaken for a smile crossed his lips and he began to look around for his wallet, determined to buy the perfect gift.
The Quad was decorated beautifully. A tall, still-living evergreen was tucked away in a corner, boughs reaching out onto the dance floor and dripping with large, shimmering ornaments of all colors. Fake candles lined the branches, glowing a rich gold and reflecting green. Spotlights lined the ceiling, sweeping across the entire room, lights fading from one color to the next and drenching the room in rich color. Speakers hidden amongst the light spilled out gentle Yule-themed music, some songs worded and others not.
Zell tugged at the collar of his jacket that was scratching his neck, wrinkling his nose at the sect of dust that cloaked every fiber of the tuxedo. He wasn't sure where it had been before, but he'd found it in the back of his closet the other day. He'd run it through three washes and it still reeked of dust and cheap cologne. And before he'd been allowed to leave his room, Selphie had forced him into ironing it. He didn't know why – it wasn't like anyone was going to care that there had been a few wrinkles in it.
He glanced over at the table where elegantly wrapped and displayed gifts rested. Again he tugged at the collar, though not at any psychical discomfort. He could spot the gift he'd bought from all the way on the other end of the Quad. Not because it was particularly large or anything, but because of the crappy way he'd wrapped it – he was surprised he hadn't used duct tape on it. Sitting next to all the other presents, it looked even worse. He groaned to himself and found a near-empty table to sit at, collapsing in the seat next to Selphie who seemed to be fuming over something.
And fuming she was. Her entire plan – the one Rinoa had so painstakingly helped her come up with – had been ruined. The cards had gotten screwed up and now Rinoa wasn't going to get a present from Squall and Zell wasn't going to get anything for the girl in the library. The fact that the party was going well lightened her mood slightly, but she was still upset. Suddenly she felt Zell plop in the chair next to her and she looked up, trying not to sound too irritated when she greeted him.
"What do you want, Zell?"
Zell quirked an eyebrow at Selphie and hid his unease under a smirk. "You ok? Usually you'd be bouncing off the walls at something like this."
"I'd much rather not in a skirt like this," Selphie pouted. Zell spared a quick glance at the shimmering blue dress she wore, its hem ending an inch or so above her knees.
Feeling the nervousness in his stomach settle slightly and giving a sympathetic smile, Zell asked, "So what do you have planned out for tonight? Any big surprises?"
A grin finally pulled at Selphie's lips and the look of anger in her eyes faded. "You'll just have to wait and find out."
Zell was about to say something when he felt another presence suddenly standing next to him. He looked up and watched as Squall pulled out the chair next to him and sat down in it, the silver trim on his black tux shimmering as a blue spotlight suddenly hit him. The fluttering in Zell's stomach suddenly returned full-force and he was glad when the light bled into a deep red as it hid the blush that heated his face. He watched without trying to be obvious about it as the other male leaned back in the chair, head tilting to look up at the ceiling blankly.
There was a moment of silence before Squall spoke just loud enough to be heard over the music, "How long is this supposed to last?"
Selphie pouted at Squall, still upset at herself but trying not to sound it, "But you just got here. Don't tell me you're trying to skip out now."
"I have work to do tomorrow," Squall reminded her.
"At least stay until the gifts are opened," Selphie pleaded. "Your name was on someone's card, after all."
Squall looked away with a grimace and Zell couldn't help but think about how cute he looked with actual emotion showing. As though knowing someone was thinking about him, the brunette looked to Zell and asked in the same trying-to-be-quiet voice that could just barely be heard, "Whose name did you get?"
The spotlight moved away to shine on another's table, although Zell was sure his face was glowing with the blush that spread across his cheeks. Hoping that it wasn't as obvious as it seemed, Zell grinned and said, "You'll just have to wait and find out."
Squall groaned. "You and Selphie just want me to stay here all night."
Selphie giggled to herself and Zell crossed his arms on the table, hunching over in his chair to rest his chin on the table. Witnessing their reactions, Squall froze slightly. He still wasn't sure if Selphie had found out about his crush, but she sure seemed like it. Zell was acting weird too, which meant that Selphie had probably told him as well.
Suddenly, Squall felt like up and running away from the table. He didn't want to stay there with the two of his friends acting weird around him, especially when he was in love with one of them. But just when he convinced himself to stand up and bolt, he felt a pair of thin, cold arms wrap around his neck, the bones digging into his neck and shoulders uncomfortably. He recognized the cheap, costume-gold and fake-jeweled bangles that hung off each wrist as they dangled in his face, obscuring his view of Selphie.
"Squally!" Rinoa screeched too loudly, her inhuman pitch accented by the lull in the music as the songs changed. Squall clenched one hand instead of flinching as his ear began to ring and throb painfully. Rinoa squeezed her arms together in a mockery of a hug that nearly crushed his throat and, by the grace of Hyne, let go of him. She pulled out the chair next to him, letting the legs squeal agonizingly against the floor, and fell into it, stealing his arm and pulling it against her chest. He tried not to look at the skimpy white dress, with its skirt that just barely passed mid-thigh and a neckline that plunged so low, it was amazing that her breasts weren't showing completely. It was a disgusting thought to know that, even through the cloth of his tuxedo, his arm was pressed up against her.
"How are you?" Rinoa continued to squeal. Without pausing to let him respond (like he would have anyway), she plowed on with, "It's so nice in here, isn't it Selphie? It's really pretty. And the music was a good choice, wasn't it Selphie? And those gifts all look so pretty, don't they Selphie?"
With each question, the brunette sunk lower and lower into her chair, looking anywhere but at Rinoa herself. She attempted to mumble something, but was drowned out as Rinoa turned her attention on Zell.
"You look so cute in that thing," she scoffed, sounding as though trying not to laugh. "Where did you find it? At that discount store in Balamb?"
Zell looked away, and mumbled more to himself than her, "I found it in the closet."
Rinoa's grip tightened on Squall's arm as she said venomously, "I bet you've found plenty of things in that closet."
Zell stood up suddenly and opened his mouth to yell, face flushing a dark red, when Selphie leapt to her feet and put a hand on his shoulder, saying loudly, "Irvine and Quistis are over there, do you want to invite them over here, Zell?"
Zell clenched his fists and refused to say anything, even as he turned away and stormed over to Quistis, in a long-skirted camo-patterned dress, and Irvine, in a dark brown tuxedo. Squall watched him go, feeling absolute repulsion as the flesh of his hand came into contact with Rinoa's. He tugged away quickly, ignoring the inquiring glance Rinoa sent him and instead watched Zell talking to Quistis and Irvine. He felt his heart drop in his chest when he witnessed Zell bow his head at something only to have Quistis place her hand on his shoulder and say something. It hurt to watch as Quistis made him smile – something Squall wanted to do but couldn't.
Finally, after several more agonizingly long moments, Zell finally headed back to the table, Quistis and Irvine following behind. As the two blondes and brunette approached, Zell suddenly blushed as he sat next to Squall, looking more awkward than before he'd gone.
Irvine pulled out a seat next to Selphie and put his arm around her shoulders, ginning over at Squall who was attempting to get Rinoa to stop touching him. "Hey, Squall, I heard you had a bit of a pest problem sine Ultimecia was defeated."
Squall grumbled something, silently wishing that Rinoa had left those three months ago. Finally, with one great tug, he freed his arm from Rinoa's grasp, smirking as he sent her tumbling to the floor. He ignored her as she pouted, instead just scooting his chair away as she made a grab for his leg. Rinoa looked up at him and whined pitifully, "Squally…"
Before she could continue, Selphie stood and announced, "Everyone's here, so I'd better go up to the stage."
All the others watched as she fled, not sparing a glance behind her. Rinoa continued to sit on the floor, waiting for Squall to help her up and keeping an eye on Selphie. If she had screwed up the plan, then she might lose her Squall to Zell forever. It hadn't been that hard to find out about Zell's crush on her man, and she wanted to do everything in her power to keep Zell away. This was her last chance for this year to show the entire Garden that Squall was hers and there was nothing no one else could do about it.
Selphie tried not to let her nervousness show as she approached the microphone on the stage. She made a signal with her hand and the sound of the music lowered so that she could speak naturally and still be heard over the speakers. "Welcome all of you, to Balamb Garden's annual Yule Ball. As each of you know, you were to buy a gift for your Secret Santa. And now that all of you are here, it's time to open your gifts." A cheer rose from the group of students and faculty and Selphie grinned despite her growing dread. "As you know, each gift will have the name of the recipient on it. So go ahead and grab the one with your name on it and have a very happy Yule!"
Selphie bounced down off the stage, keeping her hands on the front of her skirt so that it didn't fly up on her. She watched the group of people gathering around the long table, picking up their gifts and excitedly chattering away to their friends. When she noticed that none of her friends had gotten up, she quickly scanned the table, picking up the presents that bared each of their names, and carting them off to their table.
She heard Irvine chuckling as she approached, attempting to look as though what she was carrying wasn't heavier than anything she had ever picked up in her life.
"Hold on, Selph," Irvine told her, standing up to grab half the gifts. "Are all these yours?"
"Yes," Selphie said in a mock-snooty voice. "Did you think that you were my only boyfriend?"
Irvine laughed and reached for his hat to playfully hit her with it, forgetting momentarily that he wasn't wearing it. So instead he just tugged at the bob of a ponytail Selphie had attempted to pull her hair into, receiving a lighthearted scowl in return. Laughter rose from the majority of the table (Squall obviously being one exception and Rinoa being the other as she was still pouting on the floor), and Irvine and Selphie handed out the presents.
Quistis had received a small, camouflage-painted moose from Nida, which she lovingly decreed that she would put on top of her computer so that she could see it all the time; Irvine opened his gift to find a pair of silver spurs that would fit nicely over his boots from one of his many admirers in his wing of the dorms; and Selphie had been given a photograph of the newly-rebuilt Trabia Garden from a boy she knew by the name of Sora.
Rinoa smirked over at Selphie, who was too busy happily shedding tears over her photo to be scared of what was going to happen, and looked at her gift. It was square-ish and wrapped in newspaper. But that didn't worry her – she knew Squall wasn't going to spend a fortune on wrapping paper anyway. She found the seam-line in the paper and quickly tore it open. Her smirk faded as she looked at what she had received.
"Keeping You A Secret," she read out loud. "What the hell is this?" She pulled out the card that was serving as a book mar and read the name of her Secret Santa out loud. "Janine Cooper. Who is that?"
"I think that's the girl in the library," Irvine supplied, hugging Selphie. He looked over at Zell. "Didn't she have a crush on you or something? She was always trying to talk to you before."
Zell blinked in confusion before laughing. "Oh yeah, Janine." He shook his head. "She didn't have a crush on me. It turns out that her sister was in my Lit class and she wanted me to tell her something."
"Something?" Selphie looked up, drying her eyes on Irvine's sleeve. "What'd Janine want to tell you?"
"Nothing too big," Zell replied, eyeing Rinoa's curious look. "It just turns out that Janine is a lesbian and she wanted me to tell her sister that. Just in case she blew up and tried something, I could hold her down."
Rinoa made a face and tossed the book aside. She glared at Selphie, who finally seemed to take notice of her. The smaller girl shrunk into Irvine's arm, trying to avoid the accusations in Rinoa's eyes. So she turned away and looked at Squall and Zell. "So what did you two get?"
Squall picked up his gift. The paper was pretty, being in stripes of gold, red, and silver, but it looked as though it had been ripped up and taped back together about five times. Tape was everywhere, folding back in upon itself and leaving the glue-covered side up so that it stuck to his hands. He wasn't sure what it could have been, for any form it might have held was obscured by large clumps of paper and tape. He inspected it on all sides, finally finding a non-taped area that he could work on from here. He didn't notice Zell look away suddenly as he managed to rip away the paper, revealing what looked to be a plain shoebox.
"A box?" Rinoa sneered.
"You," Zell began with a squeak. He cleared his throat and began again, feeling Squall's eyes on him. "You gotta open it."
Squall watched him for a moment, feeling a fluttering in his stomach at the way Zell blushed. He finally looked away and opened the box. His breath caught in his throat as he looked at what lay inside.
"These are… your gloves." They weren't the gloves that had been used to fight Ultimecia, but instead the first pair Zell had ever owned. He knew that his father had given Zell these gloves before leaving the country to die in battle. Squall looked up, wonder in his eyes. "Why are you giving me these?"
"Cause I…" Zell mumbled off into his shoulder. Squall reached out to touch his shoulder and Zell jumped, repeating his words in a rush, "CauseIwantedtogetyousomethingreallyspecialtoletyouknowhowIfelt!"
Squall blinked and felt something tugging the corners of his lips. He removed one of the gloves and pulled it on, feeling the soft, used leather loosely cover his hands. He found, etched into the inside of the cuff, the name "Dincht". Suddenly, he looked up and said to Zell, "Open yours."
Zell's face darkened even more and he looked at the small box in his hands. The paper was plain gold, and elegantly taped together. For a moment, he was jealous of the taping prowess of whoever had wrapped the gift. But he quickly shook it off, gently tearing the paper and setting it aside. In his hands he held what looked to be a jewelry box, small and black and slightly fuzzy. He glanced up quickly, seeing the eyes of everyone on him and looked back to the box, flipping it open.
"Oh, wow," he breathed. Sitting there, glinting in the sudden gold light that swept over the table, was Squall's Griever necklace. Every scuff and scratch that had gathered over the course of time that it had been in Squall's possession had been lovingly polished out so that it gleamed like new metal. Zell looked up and, for the first time, noticed that the necklace was missing from its constant place around Squall's neck.
"You gave me…" He trailed off at the sight of Squall smiling. It was little, but it was definitely a smile. "But, why…?"
Squall leaned in and spoke softly, "Cause I wanted to get you something really special to let you know how I felt."
Zell blushed again and silence settled over the table. After a tense moment, it was broken. By laughter.
Irving leaned back in his seat, laughing and ignoring that everyone at the table was staring at him as the spotlight turned green. He grunted when Selphie punching him in the ribs and attempted to quiet down as she glared. "What?" he coughed, still grinning. "I just never thought I'd see the day where Zell was speechless and Squall was smiling."
Zell quickly ducked his head and Squall turned away, both of them muttering at the same time, "Whatever."
Quistis and Irvine laughed, while Selphie giggled. The petite girl opened her mouth to say something, but Rinoa stood suddenly, slamming her fists down on the table. She glared horribly at Zell and then at Selphie. "What the hell happened?!" She leaned over the table to glare at Selphie who was once more sinking away, as though trying to hide under the table. She reached out, trying to snatch at Selphie. "I thought we had a plan!"
"I'm sorry," Selphie squeaked, tears welling in her eyes. She hiccupped, trying to stifle a sob, and yelped when Irvine stood just as suddenly as Rinoa had.
"What's your problem?!" Irvine glared, grabbing Rinoa's wrist before she could reach Selphie.
Rinoa shrieked, and looked at Squall, expression fading suddenly into a pleading innocence. "Squally," she whined, "he's hurting me."
"Good," Zell spat when Squall remained silent. "Better him than me."
Rinoa gasped and ripped her arm away, rubbing at what was sure to become a bruise. "But, Squally, don't you love me?"
Squall slowly looked up at the woman as though she weren't really there. "I never have, and I never will." There was a pause as Rinoa began to cry, sniffling obviously. "Bitch."
"Get out of here," Quistis snapped, placing a hand on Selphie's shoulder. "You're not welcome here at all."
Rinoa sobbed pitifully, turning and running from the Quad. Silence settled over the table as the spotlight drifted away. Zell bit his bottom lip, jumping slighting in surprise when he felt a cold weight around his neck suddenly. He looked down at his chest and saw that Squall had slipped his necklace over Zell's head, the lion pendant resting just above his heart.
"Squall…" he breathed softly. "You really never loved her?"
"No," was Squall's response. For the moment, neither boy noticed that Quistis, Selphie and Irvine were still there. "I've been in love with you."
"Why didn't you ever say it?" Zell looked into Squall's eyes, blushing lightly.
Red dusted Squalls cheeks, but he didn't look away from Zell. "I thought you were straight."
"Then how did you find out that I, well, wasn't?"
Squall finally looked away. "I thought Selphie knew I liked you."
"Why did you think I knew?" Selphie asked suddenly. Squall and Zell blinked, remembering that there were other people there.
Squall shrugged. "You gave me the invitation. I thought you were trying to push me and Rinoa together again, but I saw Zell's name. So I figured you knew."
Selphie blushed and looked at the tabletop. "I told you it was random."
"If there's a party and it involves couples, there's never anything random about it," Squall countered.
Selphie smirked, despite herself. "Wrong this time, Squall." When the boy blinked, she explained, "I screwed up. Rinoa had it planned out that you would get her name, and I accidentally screwed up the invitations." She tilted her head to one side, smiling at Squall's look of amazement. "So I guess it really was random after all."
Zell laughed and reached out to take Squall's hand, feeling the familiar leather underneath. "I usually hate random, but I guess I can love it this time."
Squall smiled and leaned over, quickly placing a kiss on Zell's cheek, enjoying the way he blushed. Selphie smiled at the new happy couple, squealing when Ode to Joy began to play.
"C'mon, you guys! It's the prefect slow-dance song!" She tugged on Irvine's arm. "And what better way to kick off a relationship that with a slow dance?"
Zell laughed as Squall followed Selphie, dragging him off onto the floor. For the rest of the night, they stayed close to each other, enjoying that chance encounter that brought them together.
I tried so hard to get this done by midnight on Christmas Eve, but I failed by an hour. Oh well. Merry Christmas! This is dedicated to my lovely girlfriend – I hope you enjoyed it!