Author's Foreword: First off, I would like to thank Hiasha for coming up with the title Endless Waltz. This story starts approximately six months after the game's end. The first part, Dancing in Time, started during Rinoa's 18th birthday. For those who didn't read Dancing in Time, the concept is based around the first year of Squall and Rinoa's relationship. There are no 'major' enemies or threats. The story itself is their relationship and how they deal with growing as a couple and as individuals. Each chapter is usually its own story (on occasion, an arc may spread through a specific number of chapters), but they're all tied together by time.
Chapter One: Eye of the Needle
A cold wet sensation scared her from whatever traces of slumber remained. Rinoa opened her eyes only to be greeted by a soulful puppy face. She groaned realizing that any further attempt at sleep would definitely prove futile. Angelo whined in protest of her master's apparent neglect of her needs. The young woman no longer was in charge of her own destiny; she was fated to serve the whims of her furry roommate.
Rinoa started to sit up only to notice she was still wearing her formal from the night before. She grimaced looking down at the pattern deeply imprinted on her arm. It was an exact replica of the beading on her gown's bodice; apparently she had slept with her arm tucked under her stomach. The act of moving proved difficult as every muscle in her body cried out in pain. Still, falling asleep on the rooftop with Squall was worth any amount of discomfort. It wasn't until the early morning hours when the two had made the way back to their separate rooms. She remembered vaguely opening the door and then willing her legs to carry her to the bed before collapsing helplessly.
Managing to sit up further, she saw the single red rose placed on her nightstand. Rinoa had awoken earlier, if only enough to glance at the flower and card. She would always remember the words printed on it, "Whatever – Forever." It was so simple, so unique, something that was truly Squall.
Her mind again wandered back to the memories of the previous evening. She remembered the way they danced together, the fears each had admitted, and most of all, falling asleep in her knight's arms. It had been an emotional journey over the last twenty four hours and her mind was clouded with some of the remnants. She still feared for the unknown effects of her powers and the possible retribution of the White SeeDs. However, more than ever, she understood her battle was never to be fought alone.
She thought back to the last four months living at Balamb Garden and treasured them dearly. In that time she had grown from an adolescent into the role of a young adult. The months had provided a limited amount of time for change, but she was proud of her accomplishments. Working as Cid's assistant also taught her valuable lessons about accountability. In Timber she had played a vital role with the Forest Owls, but this was something completely different. Her goals and ideals never wavered, but she was learning to balance the obligations of a job along with responsibility of being a sorceress.
Of course there was also the matter of a certain Squall Leonhart. He was a subject that had so many intricate layers; it would take a bulldozer to unearth them all. It was a subject that both excited and scared her. She loved him. It was that simple. It wasn't like anything she had ever experienced before and sometimes their connection was overwhelming. She could only imagine how he struggled to deal with their budding relationship. It was his strength she admired, both physical and mental. People would often say that he was changing, she never once believed that. He was growing. Growing into a man made up of many different facets.
A disgruntled 'yelp' brought her out of her reverie. It was apparent that Angelo certainly wasn't in the mood to reminisce or reflect about life, the canine just wanted to go outside. Rinoa smiled and offered her furry companion an apologetic scratch behind the ear.
The dog responded by laying her head between her two front paws as two eyes silently encouraged her master to hurry. Rinoa took another glance down at her attire; it certainly would look odd to walk through the halls of Garden in a formal. Angelo was going to have to be patient a tad bit longer while she changed. Finally dragging herself completely out of bed, she started to head toward the dresser. Unfortunately for Angelo, she never quite made it to her destination as someone knocked at her door.
"Just one more minute, promise," Rinoa sighed eyeing the dog in sympathy.
The young woman managed to step over Angelo, who seemed determined not to help in her master's quest. Rinoa opened the door to see both Selphie and Irvine outside, to which Angelo whined audibly. Those two humans never stopped talking; this was going to take forever!
It wasn't exactly great timing on Rinoa's part either. Both of them would certainly want an explanation of why she was still wearing her clothes from the previous night. Although the reason was completely innocent, she could already mentally hear Irvine's highly suggestive remarks.
"Rinoa?" Selphie questioned suspiciously examining her attire. "Has the cafeteria changed the dress code for breakfast?"
"Well, somebody must have had an interesting night," Irvine stated with a knowing grin and an obvious wink.
The cowboy was silenced with an elbow to the stomach. The blow wasn't hard, just enough for him to understand the comment wasn't appreciated in the least. Rinoa had to smile inwardly, sometimes she just loved Selphie dearly.
"Irvine Kinneas, don't even start after what you did last night! You're already walking a fine line, buddy."
"What, what did I do?" Irvine questioned earnestly. Of course he may 'have done' many things at the party. He just wasn't positive which one his girlfriend's comment was in reference to.
"Men," Selphie said in huff crossing her arms.
"Sorry to break up the fun guys, but I really need to get changed. Angelo has to go out."
"Irvine will take her," Selphie announced pushing her way forward into the sorceress' room.
"Yeah, after last night, it's the least you can do."
The young girl gave a squinted glare back in the cowboy's direction. The look would have induced fear in bravest of SeeDs. Rinoa could actually see him outwardly wince in terror.
"I'm sorry, Selph, really I am. It won't happen again."
"Sure, that's what you said last time!" Selphie flung her arms up, disgusted by her boyfriend's behavior. "Just take Angelo out, before the pair of you end up being swatted on the nose with a newspaper."
"Come on, girl," called Irvine motioning Angelo to follow. The canine happily walked out wagging her stub of a tail. The dog figured at least one human had a brain around here.
After Irvine and Angelo were on their way, Rinoa closed the door heading back to the dresser. Of course the sorceress was curious and just had to ask the obvious, "Selphie, what exactly did Irvine do last night?"
"I don't know." The other girl smiled innocently flopping down on the bed. "I'm sure plenty of things, this way he'll feel guilty about all of them."
"So you mean… you really don't know what you're talking about?"
"Nah, but if he's feeling that guilty he must have done something. So I figure it evens out the karma in the universe."
"…clever, ingenious, brilliant?"
"Not exactly the direction I was heading, but we'll stick with that for now." Rinoa shook her head in disbelief.
Selphie in return leaned back on her elbows as she kicked her feet back and forth. The girls made eye contact and couldn't help but giggle at the situation.
"Remind me not to get on your bad side, you scare me sometimes," Rinoa managed as she finished retrieving her clothing. "I'm just going to run into the bathroom. I've got to get out of this thing."
When she was nearly changed, Rinoa called into the living area, "Selphie, I know you are dying to ask me, so just do it already."
"Ask what?" Selphie said as sweetly as she could.
Rinoa walked out carrying her formal, which she then tossed haphazardly over a nearby chair. The sorceress eyed the other girl placing a hand on her hip.
"You know Selphie, what you came here to ask. What you're dying to ask me. About last night."
"Hey, I didn't come here to ask anything!" Selphie hid behind an over exaggerated smile.
"Uh… huh don't feign innocence with me. It really doesn't suit you," Rinoa grinned. "Maybe if you hadn't just confessed that you have Irvine apologizing in circles and you don't even know what he did… I might buy the whole act a little more!"
"Oh yeah, right, that…" Selphie smiled standing up. Placing both hands behind her back, she began to shift her weight from one foot to the other. "Okay, okay, I'm dying to ask you about last night! I mean…do you know what Squall did and why he did it? And what happened after he left the dance? I mean, I assume he found you… and wait, why did you leave in the first place? Everyone went to look for you two and then he didn't answer his mobile, Squall never does that! Not to mention you're still wearing the same dress and…" Selphie trailed off taking a moment to breathe; she had somehow managed to ask all that in a single breath.
"Selphie, I," Rinoa began. How was she going to explain all this? She had some answers, but others she was still trying to figure out herself. She doubted she could truly articulate the situation, even if she wanted.
"You know what Rin, forget it. I mean, I want to know. Of course, I want to know…but I can tell by… well, I can just tell. You don't have to tell me until you're ready. Just say you and Squall are all right? Please?"
"We're doing fine, Selphie."
"Good… If you need someone to talk to, you know I'm always here."
Rinoa smiled relieved by her friend's understanding. "You're first on my list, okay?"
"I better be!" Selphie smiled brightly and added hopefully, "Sure you don't want to talk about it?"
"Not yet, I'm sorry."
"It's okay. That really wasn't the only reason we came up here. Well, okay, it was one of the reasons, I'm only human! But you know how my birthday is coming up? Well, I have this really big, huge, gigantic, enormous…wait did I already say huge? Never mind, it doesn't matter… Anyway, I have a favor to ask you…and Squall."
It made no difference his age or stature, being called into a superior's office still felt just as intimidating. Being commander had no bearing on the situation. In fact, it made it that much worse. He was supposed to uphold the regulations set forth by Garden and in any other situation he would have done just that. But there were mitigating circumstances, something that went beyond reasonable control. Sure he might be able to explain that to the headmaster, but the rest of the populous of Garden would never comprehend.
To them, all they would ever see was their commander verbally berating a White SeeD officer. Then to top off the public display, he disobeyed Cid's direct order by walking out of the ballroom. The rest of Garden could never see him as a knight in defense of a sorceress; the world wasn't ready for that when the wounds of war had not healed.
He wondered if Cid had purposely made him wait alone in the office as some type of mental rehabilitation. The headmaster often didn't work weekends, instead he returned to the orphanage to aid Edea in the restoration. This just made the anxiety that much greater. In the past Squall had broken rules, either blatantly or from being egged on by a secondary party. But he always accepted the fault and today was no different. He wasn't going to hide behind titles or pretenses; there was too much honor at stake.
What happened at the dance last night was unavoidable, though the timing could have proven more fortunate. The fact remained that the White SeeDs were still in existence and to them the sorceress remained the foremost threat. He honestly couldn't deny their reasoning. He himself had been to the future and had seen the countless SeeDs who had fallen at the hands of Ultimecia. Still, that history was no longer set in stone. He wasn't one to debate the relatively of the future timelines, that certainly wasn't his area of expertise. His allegiance laid to the continued survival of Balamb Garden, and most importantly, to the training and survival of Rinoa Heartilly.
Still the whole situation laid before him caused quite the paradox. He would take whatever punishment Cid believed fit and accept with dignity. As long as Rinoa had found peace within herself, this punishment would be acceptable.
It didn't surprise Rinoa when she hadn't seen Squall around the halls of Garden. Part of her wished that he had come to talk to her, but she knew that was more for reassurance on her part. It was well into the evening and nobody had seen him since he left the meeting with Cid. She had already tried both his office and the training center, though she thought that the latter might have been more logical. She even wondered if he had gone off campus into the plains of Balamb for solitude, it would have been typical of him.
She had heard from pretty much everybody that he was summoned to the Headmaster's office. That didn't come as a surprise. However, what did was to hear the details of the graduation dance the night before. Squall was not the type to provoke someone like Commander Weatherly; however he was also not the type to back down. She had to admit, though she would never openly say, that she felt a certain happiness when she heard he had defended sorceresses. Of course the general public thought he was referencing his adoptive matron, Edea. But Rinoa knew differently, he defended both of their honors.
Squall was not the type to seek her out in a situation like this. He usually dealt with such matters by himself, though she didn't blame him. That was just who he was. She never expected him to come running to her every time something was wrong. She was always very careful to allow him his space. The only difference this time is that most of the guilt lay squarely on her shoulders. For whatever punishment he would have to follow, she took the blame.
It hadn't helped that she spent the last few hours pacing her dorm. Which given the small size, wasn't the easiest of tasks. It was Saturday night and she wondered if this had not happened would they have been spending the evening together? Zell had already stopped by her room trying to lift her spirits, but had no idea where the commander had gone. Out of desperation she had tried to call Quistis, but that too turned out to be a dead end. Squall again had decided to turn his mobile off, a very un-Squall like move. Irvine and Selphie had rechecked the training center, and had even driven half way to the coast. It seemed that the man was nowhere to be found. It wasn't until a second conversation with Zell that an important question was raised by the martial artist, "Did you check his room?"
It might have seemed the most obvious, but Squall rarely spent time in his apartment; the place was rather barren beside from a bed, a desk, and a chair. In fact, Rinoa often thought Squall went out of his way to avoid the place, though she could never figure out why. However through all of their searching, nobody had ever suspected that he would simply be at home. It seemed much more feasible that he would either immerse himself in his job or a grueling workout.
She quickly made her way up to his place hoping that he would be there. Then again, if he had wanted her company, he would have sought her out. This was one of those situations she was torn between. Still since their conversation last night, she believed they understood each other better. She also felt that, to some degree, she was allowed to worry about her boyfriend.
When he answered the door she managed a "Hey." It wasn't the most eloquent, but it was all she could think of after hours of worrying.
Apparently Squall had just as much difficultly articulating given the circumstances. Oh well, at least her next statement would come out with more clairvoyance.
"Um…did you…um…talk to Cid?"
Yeah, apparently not.
"Do you want to come in?" Squall asked never breaking his emotional front.
"Yeah, that is…if you're sure. I mean if you want me to come in," she said knowing that again she was intruding on his life and sounding rather pathetic while doing it.
"You know, we're going to have to get beyond this someday," Squall replied showing the tiniest hint of a smile.
"So…um about the meeting today?"
He closed the door and stated simply, "Come here."
He stretched his right hand arm outward, offering it to her. She looked at him in the eyes, before accepting his hand. He gently pulled her closer, taking a step forward to meet her. She instantly relaxed when she felt his arms around her. It was these simple moments that they treasured when there were no words or fears, just the comfort of one another's breath. After uncounted seconds in that position he was the first to speak.
"You know, I was expecting you here hours ago."
She giggled softly into his chest, "It's rather a funny…long story."
He moved his head back so he was looking her in the eyes.
It was the only word she could manage before his lips pressed against hers. She moved forward as he continued holding her firmly. His arms held her tightly as one of his hands followed the trail of her backbone, the other finding a resting spot on her neck. She was getting lost as he was deepening the kisses, and then something dawned on her.
She regretfully broke away making eye contact. "Squall Leonhart, you're stalling!"
"Maybe," he answered catching his breath, "Is it working?"
"Unfortunately," she answered before leaning in for another kiss. Part of her knew she should continue to ask him about the meeting, but a bigger part just was so lost in the feeling. It wasn't that they didn't kiss often, though really they didn't. It was just one of those times when she felt he was less guarded.
"Squall?" she gasped between kisses.
He stopped abruptly and she immediately regretted pushing the subject. Earlier Selphie had shown her respect, now she couldn't even do the same to him. It was different, right? It had to be different.
"Fine," he answered. Positioning himself to where he was only holding her right hand, he carefully wrapped his fingers around it. "Just remember that it was my decision. I don't want you to blame yourself." Even as he said the words, he knew that she would. It was just their personalities. If it had been reversed, he would have taken full responsibility without a doubt.
"Oh God, it's that bad."
He placed a finger over her lips and silenced her. "I want you to listen to everything I'm going to say, all right." She nodded. "Believe it or not, the headmaster understands. It doesn't mean that he can let it go unpunished, but he did stress to me he understood. Our situation is…well, highly unique. As far as the student body knows, I've been suspended for ten days."
"Ten days, Squall I'm-"
"Rinoa, stop." He could see the tears forming in the corner of her eyes. "You're just too damn stubborn to listen, aren't you?"
She forged a smile, though it was extremely difficult. She blamed herself for their emotional connection. She should have been able to control her fears when faced with the White SeeDs.
"Remember, I said listen to everything. If you start doing this now, you're going to second guess every decision either one of us makes. Do you remember last night?"
"Yes, of course Squall, I've never been able to talk with someone like that."
"Me either and that's why I've accepted the punishment. Rin, I can still work. I just have to do it from my apartment. To keep appearances, it has to look like I'm completely suspended. Think of it this way, working down here I won't get distracted by Cid's beautiful assistant. I was getting up the courage to ask her out."
"That's not even funny." Her answer was the combination of a cry and laugh.
"Why, do you think she'd say no?" He raised an eyebrow completely serious.
"You bet she would with that attitude, mister."
"Well, damn I was going to see if she wanted to get some dinner tonight. But since I'd be shot down, I better not even try."
He started to walk away, but she still held onto his hand. With a slight amount of force she pulled him back. "However," she started moving closer, "I could put in a good word for you. If you ask nicely that is."
He didn't respond verbally only pulled her into another kiss. It wasn't as forceful as the others, but still was passionate in nature. She managed to lose her footing and ended up stumbling back toward the wall. He didn't seem to be distracted by her movements and managed to follow relatively well.
"All right, she'll have dinner with you."
He smirked at her reaction. He had to admit there was a part of him that enjoyed seeing her flustered at times. It was certainly never an effect he thought he would have on the opposite gender, but he couldn't deny that there was definitely a sense of satisfaction with the results.
It was then he made a mental checklist, cursing that he really had nothing eatable in his apartment. One of these days he was going to do some decent shopping, food and otherwise. The idea of driving to Balamb didn't sound that intriguing, but the thought of more cafeteria food appealed to him even less.
He hadn't honestly planned on going anywhere tonight. Although he was comfortable with her, he didn't truthfully want to hear the whispers of gossip. They had always shown respect for his position and abilities, but he wasn't sure how much of that may have been lost. He spent a lifetime trying to merely hide among the shadows, he still didn't deal with the spotlight well.
But he also felt that if he stayed here, he'd be punishing Rinoa. And for what? What had she done beside stand beside him? He knew that she probably endured more gossip than he did and she still carried a positive outlook. God, he admired that in her. The best thing he could do was just ignore the talk and be himself, he could do nothing more or nothing less. At least driving into town would be different and getting away from this place would be welcome change.
"Feel like going to Balamb?"
"Love to," Rinoa replied wrapping both arms around him. "You're driving."
"Of course, I've already gone through my share of torture today," he retorted in jest, pulling away.
"Oh that hurt," she shot back scrunching her nose at him. With that, he finally allowed her to see a genuine smile.
The drive to Balamb was about twenty minutes, which passed in relative silence. They had a habit of doing that when in a car together, though he found it to be one of those small things he really appreciated about her. It seemed that both of them would rather listen to music than to discuss idle chitchat. He thought about his suspension and his conversation with the headmaster. He was telling Rinoa the truth that he wouldn't have changed a thing, but that didn't mean he wished last night hadn't transpired differently. He kept going over every detail to see if there was something he could have handled more professionally and less emotionally.
The one thing that he kept coming back to was their connection. How they could sense the other's moods and emotions, only at given times. It always seemed to act as a catalyst to some horrific event. Somehow he needed to be able to separate her emotions from his. He knew the key would be in training and together they could sort out needed emotions from those that were superfluous.
Once they arrived in Balamb, they settled on a small restaurant that specialized in foreign cuisine. Rinoa knew how much Squall enjoyed Dollet style deep-dish pizza, and she too was growing to like it. Only if he would add a few more vegetables on the massive pile of meat, though she knew that wasn't likely to happen anytime in this century.
After the waiter left, Rinoa found herself fiddling with her cloth napkin. Not really for any reason, more just something to keep her mind occupied. Squall on the other hand, took a sip of his drink and then swirled the ice cubes around just to watch them spin. It was apparent that neither of them knew what to say.
He had almost wished that they had stayed at his apartment, he was positive there may have been a can of condensed chicken noodle soup in his cabinet. At least they seemed not to have such a communication problem there. Then again, they did spend half of the time making out while they were there tonight. That wouldn't exactly be appropriate at the moment, though he thought it would at least be entertaining. Still if they had stayed at his place and eaten that godforsaken soup, maybe they would be in each other's arms now. It would certainly better than staring at frozen water.
He heard his name and looked toward Rinoa, it was apparent it wasn't the first time she had called him. She was staring at him with concern and he suddenly felt like a trapped animal. It wasn't as if he was drifting off into random thoughts, they were specifically about her. Still he didn't want to elaborate where his mind was at that moment.
Rinoa smiled seemingly satisfied with his answer. "Do you want to tell me what's on your mind?"
He paused for a second. While he wasn't going to mention his thoughts about his apartment, he could mention what he had thought about in the car. They needed to start training together.
"I'm thinking about Monday."
"You mean not going into your office?" she questioned not understanding his statement.
"No, I was actually thinking how mad at me you're going to be, so I'd better enjoy tonight."
"What are you talking about? Why in the world would I be mad at you Monday?"
"Because that's when our first official training session starts. I don't know how you're going to like me as a teacher."
"Monday, really?" She let out a small giggle. She remembered him saying something on the roof about wanting to understand their connection. In reality, she would feel much better about it too - if it was something controllable. "If you teach anything like you did up in Trabia, I won't be mad at you, I'll be bored to death by Tuesday."
"That hurts," he spoke emotionlessly.
"Hey, I'm only speaking of what I know…what Zell knows…what a class full of junior cadets know…"
"You're just jealous because those kids loved me."
"Yeah, they loved you when I put a Silence spell on you, then forced you to give them piggyback rides."
"See, they still loved me."
"All right, you remember it your way, I'll remember it mine." Rinoa reached over and patted his hand, which was resting on top of the table. "But either way, I'll be looking forward to training with you. Any clues about what we're going to do?"
"It's a surprise, just dress appropriately."
"Um, how am I supposed to 'dress appropriately' when I don't know what we're doing? And what's your definition of 'appropriate' anyhow. Black leather?"
"Black leather is appropriate anytime. Don't you know that by now?" Then he added in a serious tone, "You should see my swim trunks."
She couldn't help but to laugh openly, she loved his dry humor. It was something she had learned about him from the beginning, when they first toured Garden during Ultimecia. He always had a sense of humor; it just wasn't used often and even then, it was hard to detect.
The waiter delivered their pizza a few minutes later and the rest of the meal was eaten with minor conversation. They discussed a few SeeD related odds and ends, like hiring a new chef for the cafeteria, the possibility of Garden going mobile for maintenance, and details of the field exam the day before. She finally mentioned how everyone was looking for him today, but ironically, nobody checked his room. However, she didn't mention the favor Selphie wanted; she figured she would save that for Monday. He had already gone through enough torment today.
They made it back to Garden before curfew and he escorted her to her dorm. Rinoa didn't have to invite him inside; he automatically walked in when she opened the door. It was a small step. He was feeling more comfortable around her tonight, now if she could just pass that same barrier at his doorstep.
He glanced at his watch and knew he needed to leave soon if he was to get back to his apartment before curfew. Still, there was time for a goodbye kiss. He didn't like to admit he was looking forward to such things. There was an excitement and newness that he felt every time they touched. Part of him wanted to explore it further. The more logical side of him was still overwhelmed by the emotions to a point that it scared him – because he was not in complete control of his actions.
"I need to head back."
"I know," she replied, as they faced one another in the dimly lit room.
"Be ready for Monday."
"You too. Believe it or not, I can be a very stubborn student."
"I'd expect no less."
She was the one to stand on her tip toes, placing a small kiss on his lips. They gave each other a few more pecks before she moved away. She smiled shyly, unsure of his reaction.
"Apparently, I need to teach you to say goodnight a little better," he softly spoke before grabbing her around the waist and pulling her forward.
She hardly had time to react before they were engaged in a kiss, one that grew more passionate by the second. She moved her hands slowly up his bicep letting every centimeter of his arm become part of her memory. He in return was fascinated by the way her lips felt against his, the scent of her perfume, the softness of her hair. He was fascinated by her mere touch. He had felt so close to her emotionally over the last days, now he was feeling the bond physically. There was part of him that didn't want to stop at the kissing, part of him that desperately wanted to experience more. She had not turned on the lights. In the darkness he felt a type of desire, one that seemed to manifest itself when he felt blanketed by the shadows.
It was then a well-timed (or not so well-timed) bark emanated from the corner. Rinoa heard the cry and knew that she needed, once again, to take Angelo outside. She didn't want to stop, but knew that this would eventually have to come to an end.
Squall also seemed to have understood the message, being brought back into reality by the sound. He gave her one more kiss, tracing her jaw line with this his thumb. With a nod, he smiled before finally mouthing the word, "goodnight." It wasn't the first time Angelo had interrupted them. He didn't know whether to be grateful or angry. But for the moment, it was for the best.