Author Notes: Updated October 29th, 2014 - I'd like to thank Mojayyyy for going back through the entire story and helping correct mistakes. Due to a miscommunication with my awesome beta Carie, I had actually posted several un-edited chapters. I think because of this mistake, I'd lost the desire to update the story. Thankfully, we're on the road to a new chapter and, as a bonus, I ended up redoing this one - it's about 3000 words longer than the first version. So, I present to you chapter 17v.2!

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Chapter Seventeen: Non Sequitur

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non se·qui·tur (-noun) – Latin
[Latin, literal: it does not follow]

1. An inference or conclusion that does not follow from the premises or evidence.

2. A statement that does not follow logically from what preceded it.

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July 19th

His fingers wrapped firmly around the gunblade's grip as he did his best to remain calm. If he focused all his anger into his hand, maybe it would imitate an electrical charge, flowing through the weapon and grounding him in sanity. He didn't want his anger to be misplaced and the last thing he needed was to cause some sort of scene. Truthfully, it was all he could do to keep from punching the nearest wall. The main reason he'd held back wasn't self-control, although it factored in, but the desire not to have a broken hand sort of topped everything else.

"How did you know about Rinoa?" he demanded, his voice strained from his failing restraint.

When she seemed hesitant to answer, it was all he could do to contain the animalistic scream that begged to be released. He knew this anger was misdirected; it wasn't Quistis that he was upset with, but rather the situation – one that he'd knowingly put himself into. Unfortunately, she just happened to be the one getting the brunt of his verbal wrath, while it appeared his gunblade would absorb the physical.

As for Quistis…she honestly believed he knew.

She'd been falsely under the impression that had been the reason for his random office supply abuse this afternoon. If that hadn't been the cause, what she was about to say was going to greatly compound his problems.

"This morning...I...I heard she spent the night."

"Tell me everything," he demanded coldly, "now."

Squall knew the risks. The moment that he'd invited Rinoa over, he'd opened up himself to the impending storm. Last night, he weighed choice against consequence and, within the calm, he decided that it was worth any possible fallout. However, in the light of day, it was more than easy to second guess that decision.

"Basically, Rinoa surprised you at your apartment last night. She showed up just before curfew."

Her voice was soft and even; she wanted to state facts without injecting her own opinions into it. After everything she had faced with her former student, this was easily one of the hardest things she ever had to confront him with – she'd found it a difficult subject on a personal level. Honestly, she knew rumors were often fabricated or, at the very least, exaggerated to a point where the truth became unrecognizable. But if there had been a grain of truth in them, it would make the stories that much more plausible to the students.

"… And?" He prompted impatiently, the last thing Squall needed was some dramatic pause because she was nervous; he wished she'd just spit it out as this certainly wasn't going to improve his mood.

Quistis couldn't even look directly at him. Instead, she kept her hands busy by slowly wrapping her whip as she explained. "… Apparently, Rinoa was extremely angry about the Timber Manic article and the whole eligible bachelor status. She was so irate that she caused a scene, calling you out, and publicly confronted you in the hall about it. There was something about her not letting you enter your room, demanding a key for your place… The only thing you could do to control the situation was to have her come inside."

"Glad people are there to twist every little thing, not like I don't have enough fucking problems without this. Anything else that I should know about my own life? As apparently, people don't have lives of their own and feel the need to dissect mine twenty four-seven?"

Quistis hated to be the bearer of bad news, but better to hear it from her than another source – at least that's what she desperately was trying to convince herself and that this was for his benefit.

"Well, just that Rinoa left at 9:05 this morning… And she happened to be wearing the exact same clothing from the night before."

"Down to the goddamn minute? What the hell? It's actually sick and twisted… I couldn't even tell you the precise minute she left. This is all…fuck it. Fuck them. I can't even."

"Squall…" God, she didn't want to say this. Again, she convinced herself that hearing bad news from a friend was better. It wasn't. Bad news was never better. She nervously looked down as her fingers ran over the braided leather cord. "There's a little bit more to this than just overhearing kids talking in the halls… The reason I know the exact time is because there was a photo… The best I can gather is someone managed to snap a picture of the two of you last night. It looks like someone managed to get a picture with their cell phone, probably around the corner down the hall."

"Of course there was..." he snorted mockingly. "We teach surveillance, but we don't specifically teach who to watch. I thought common sense would be applied, apparently not."

"Remember, you became their leader under extraordinary circumstances and it's only natural to be fascinated by that. A year ago, you weren't even a SeeD and now you're their commander. It takes adjustment for everyone and yes, some will be bitter. The students here may be great fighters but, we all sometimes forget, they're still just a bunch of kids and teenagers."

"So, you're defending them now?" he nearly growled. The last thing he needed was this, but maybe he should have figured this out coming from her.

"Calm down. I'm not defending them - at all. There's no doubt they crossed a line."

The instructor knew his anger wasn't really aimed at her; she just happened to be the one standing directly in his line of sight. He was showing emotions though, although highly restrained and, even if it was negative, it was better than bottling it all inside.

"Squall, I'm not saying that at all the students here are like us. Yes, some manage to mature because they have to, but you can't expect the entire student body to follow that example… And I really don't want to say this." She looked away, closing her eyes. If he was upset with the first part, she didn't know how well he'd react to the next. Still, it had to be from her; she was in too far at this point.

"What aren't you telling me, Quistis?"

She hadn't done anything wrong, yet she felt like a puppy afraid to look at her master after chewing his favorite pair of shoes. Even if they were friends, Squall's natural demeanor seemed to elicit a nervous response from others.

"…There's more. The reason I knew the exact time is because I saw both pictures… It's, um, it's all online." She paused and waited for his inevitable response, but there was nothing. It was that same stoic expression she saw from him in class. She wasn't sure if he wanted to hear more. Well, she was sure he didn't, but it was either that or this awkward silence – she'd take the former.

"It's not just the pictures… It's a little more detailed. From the Timber Maniac story to her demanding a key to your place, all the details are listed there. There's a several page in-depth discussion posted on a forum some of the older students use. Worse yet, the servers are off site so Garden can't control the content like we do here… Our hands are tied. I-I really thought you knew, I'm so sorry."

She bowed her head, at least it was over. For good or bad, it was all out in the open.

"Sure, why the hell not," he said calmly and then broke out into uncharacteristic laughter. It only lasted a few seconds, but it was as if all his emotions had been channeled into this moment and that became the only viable response.

"Take something that meant a lot to me and turn into some gossip blog…how they twist and distort reality is amazing. I asked Rinoa to open the door. She said she didn't have a key - so of course that means she demanded that I give her one. And you know what's even better? I decided once we were inside to give her one. Not because it was something she wanted, it was something… Never mind just screw them. I'm getting so tired of this. They don't need a commander, they need a fucking babysitter."

"Squall, try to step back and look at this objectively. I know you're upset and you have every right to be, but don't make this worse by letting people know it's getting to you. I know you don't want to hear this, but I'm speaking from experience. I've had every little thing I say or do go up onto some Trepie website and worst of all that included, well… Let's just say pictures that make Rinoa leaving your apartment look like nothing. People I trusted invaded my privacy and that hurts, hurts like hell. It's horrible and you feel completely helpless… But the thing to remember is you cannot let them know they're getting to you. Don't let them think they have power and, right now, they do - you're giving it to them. So, if anything, keep cool for Rinoa's sake."

"Quistis, do you have any idea what they'd do if they found out," jaw clenched his words were barely audible, "she's a damn sorceress?"

"That's what I'm saying. Do not give them a reason to dig. If they see a negative reaction, they'll continue… It won't stop right away but given time, it will pass. Honestly, they're most likely going to focus on Rinoa because they see her as an outsider…and yes, a threat. "

"That's so much better to know," his tone dripping with sarcasm. "So take away the thing that means the most to me here? Is that their point? Drive her out? She has no real reason to stay and she's well aware of how the students feel about her…but why? Why the hell twist our lives and take away whatever happiness we have?"

Quistis smiled wistfully.

Her reaction was out of sorts; it left the commander more confused than upset. "What?"

"You really do care about her." Even though her smile remained outwardly, her words were solemn. "The truth is - I'd take your problems in a heartbeat if it meant having someone who meant that much to me. I'm not saying the student's reasons involve jealousy, because even if it is a factor for some, I know it couldn't be for everyone…. Still, if I had to guess, I'd bet a lot of the people on that website feel the same way. It's sometimes easier to want to destroy or mock something you don't have rather than support it. "

"Maybe."

He didn't know what to believe, although he hardly thought that many people could be jealous – jealous of something that he was still trying to figure out. Deep down, on some level, he believed her words were also a personal confession. At first, she had always been quick to point out that Rinoa was an outsider, a client by chance, and her impulsiveness was a dangerous character flaw. He wondered if this had been Quistis' subtle way of apologizing; during Ultimecia, he was aware she often pointed out how unsuitable he and Rinoa were for one another, but over time she came to see it differently. Ironically, that was virtually the same wording she was saying about the students.

Squall had forgiven her, as had Rinoa, but it would take time for both of them to be completely comfortable in her presence. Even now, he found it was awkward to be around Quistis at times. Not so much in a group setting, but more in a one-on-one situation, which often happened at work. Still, she was a friend and he did trust to her, but there were boundaries he made extra careful not cross. He also believed the way he she felt towards him simply didn't fade away with a single proclamation on the beach. It was nice in theory, but he knew years of feelings were never just black or white. They weren't a switch to be turned off; so he would try to be the 'brother' that she claimed protective feeling for.

In that respect, he also knew that he didn't have to explain his life to her. As she said, his relationship with Rinoa was theirs alone and not some public free-for-all, but he wanted her to know the truth. If anything, he wanted to clear Rinoa's name. True, he didn't give a damn about strangers' opinions, but he'd come to care about those of his friends.

"I called her."

"I'm sorry?"

Finally, loosening his grip, his hand remained on his weapon but now he found himself twisting it into the dirt. This was one of the worst things that he could do to it, but it wasn't Lionheart, just some practice blade he needed to replace anyhow.

Although he'd made a short statement, he had yet to expand his answer. Given his current company, he contemplated how much to give away. His focus was fixated on the weapon as the metal reflected the light. The spinning blade became almost hypnotic as he tried to pick his words. There was a fine balance between what he wanted her to know and what might come across as patronizing to her feelings.

"After you left, I seriously thought about what you said." With that, he looked up giving her genuine smile. "Thank you for that, by the way."

She returned the gesture, but again he could see through it. She was happy, but conflicted. He only hoped that she could find whatever she was looking for.

"Quistis, you were right. That article was a joke to me, but I never thought about how Rinoa would take it. Remember, it was already close to curfew, so my options were limited. I ended up calling her and asked her to meet at my apartment. That's why she showed up, because I asked her to. Funny thing, she was the hesitant one, but I convinced her."

He chuckle slightly at the memory. "Okay, it really wasn't that difficult to convince her, but she tried her best, keeping her stubborn streak intact. Anyways, I had no food, shopping isn't my thing, so I stopped at Zell's and talked him into giving up a few hot dogs - now that was a fight. So, after promising him an arm and a leg – not to mention a yet to be determined favor – he reluctantly gave in. So, yes, while it's true Rinoa was waiting for me when I got there, it's only because I called her. I was carrying the food, so my hands were full and opening the door was an obvious issue - that's how the key thing came up. I'm not going to say Rinoa wasn't being stubborn and, yes, her sarcasm could've easily been taken out of context, but that was between us."

"Someone must have heard bits and pieces and created their own version."

"Don't they always?" he said frustrated. It wasn't just this instance, but his life always seemed to be a pawn in somebody's game; it was one thing when he could stay out of it, but he'd be damned to let it affect his future.

"Squall, again we live and work in a place where the average age is thirteen; there's going to be conflict and people are going to talk. It's human nature, unfortunately."

"Human nature or not, it's an invasion of privacy. Quistis, I'm sorry about the comment I made when you came to my office – where I said you were stalking me. I know you weren't, but in my frustration that's how I perceived it. But yes, I know the difference between searching out a friend and what they're doing to us. The worst part? It's not one person and that's the crux of the problem. Life here feels like it's always going to be us looking over our shoulder… it's not possible to avoid the entire student body. Trust me, I spent a better part of my teenage existence attempting to do just that. But this, what they're doing to her, it's not right… It's no way for Rinoa to live. She's strong, but over time it will slowly chip away at her psyche, and then what?"

He had a point. Quistis shook her head, smiling softly. She wanted to give the perfect, reassuring answer, but she highly believed that could only come from Rinoa herself and even that would only carry so far.

He was still very upset, but most of his earlier ire had found an outlet. "Let's hope I never find out who was responsible. It's better for everyone that way, although…" He gave a rare smirk that almost came across as evil. "Although, I do feel like several worksheets, seminars, and extremely long essays about personal boundaries and accountability are in desperate need around here. If anything, being commander has taught me one valuable lesson: when all else fails, paperwork is the root of all evil. So, I'm thinking a Garden-wide influx of research reports or, basically whatever I can dream up, would be just what's needed around here. As Rinoa says, it's about time I learned to use my imagination and think outside the box – until then, the box will be filled to the brim with essays."

"Ugghh," Quistis moaned, although with a smile on face. "Sure, who do you think has to grade all those? Punish the students, not the instructors."

"Fine, we'll find a happy medium, but I'm doing something. I'm sorry that Cid never stepped up during the height of your harassment. In hindsight, maybe that was a bad idea. If the Trepies could post anything without consequence, it set a precedent. Honestly, a note from Xu saying to 'stop' didn't go anywhere near far enough, especially when the entire student body can post anonymously."

"Thank you."

Now it was her turn to offer a simple, unsolicited thank you. She'd never gone to the headmaster about the Trepies, believing that it would make it worse and she didn't want to cause any waves; her license and abilities had already been called into question and Cid had his plate full with Norg and the Garden Faculty. In retrospect, standing up for herself might have exactly what Cid had been looking for but, for the sake of harmony, she'd taken a passive approach. Still, the fact that Squall had openly acknowledged the harassment she felt and sympathized on any level, no matter how long in the past it may have been, was very touching.

He shrugged as his expression softened. "Posting details of someone's personal life shouldn't be tolerated… And for you, it was much, much worse and I'm sorry that nobody stepped up. I can't imagine what I'd do in your situation, but you're strong. Know that."

At that point, he wanted to lighten the mood; it was obviously a tough subject for her – not to mention an awkward one for him. "As far as the postings about Rinoa and myself…I wonder what everyone would think of us if, whoever this coward was, they posted the truth. I'd hate to burst everyone's bubble…letting them know the most daring thing that happened behind closed doors was my almost-failed attempt at making cereal for breakfast…Well, that followed by my rather cynical views on morning cartoons…. Seriously, there was no rhyme or reason for this animated, cartoon Chocobo-thing being chased by a Triface. Think of the all scandalous possibilities in that, not to mention think of all the brain cells I'm fairly certain I lost as the Triface painted a cave on the side of a canyon wall."

"I dare not think about it, but I'll mourn for your traumatic loss. Seriously though …that's so amazingly sweet and those are memories that you both have – don't let their words negate any of that. Although, truthfully, I think if that did get posted your standing with the female population would increase tenfold – if that's even possible. Don't ever let them make you doubt yourself or what choices you make with Rinoa."

Although it became increasingly difficult as the reality of his words set in, she managed a faint smile. Here Squall was being incredibly romantic without even trying - all based off a suggestion she had made. She'd made a point to say it earlier, but he was happy.

…And that was hard. It shouldn't have been, but it was.

She despised it when she let herself fall back into old patterns. The worst part was that on some level, she knew that Squall was still very aware; her feelings would always remain that silent albatross between them. But, he did what he'd done since the beginning, since before Rinoa, as he did his best to be friends regardless. It was hard for her, as truthfully, Quistis did like Rinoa, although it was obvious they didn't always see eye-to-eye on certain issues, but who did? Her friendship with the sorceress was why all these lingering emotions became even more difficult to bear. Yes, they had talked about it and even had lunch where they settled their differences – or at least brought them into the open. Rinoa was her friend and she would never do anything to destroy that, moreover, she cared too much about Squall to hurt him.

By now, he had picked up his gunblade, heaving it over his shoulder.

"If you're game, I'd like to try to go find a T-Rexaur. I really need something less botanical and a little more carnivorous. Grats are not my personal favorite unless you're making a salad."

"I understand. Grats creep me out on the most basic level. There's a reason I don't own houseplants. Once you have a nightmare about your hanging fern casting a Sleep spell and then devouring you, it's hard not to lay there with at least one eye open." Gathering her whip into a ready position she looked over to him adding, "Squall, I think we've spoken more today than all the years at the orphanage and beyond. It's been nice."

Of course, the part that pained her to admit was that most of this was only after she'd told him about the pictures. Even then, the topic always seemed to revolve around Rinoa, either directly and indirectly. Still, she had never interacted with this Squall; she only wished she could have met him years ago.

He grunted a monosyllabic response - nothing like pointing it out to make him think about it. Of course, he talked when he felt comfortable enough to do so. Case in point last night, he'd said far more than anything today. For him, it came down to a matter of wanting to talk as that was always key. Things like small talk still irritated him, although he'd begun to tolerate it in small doses from his friends. Even more surprising was that he'd actually learn to enjoy it from Rinoa, although again in doses. Admitting that to her however was another step, one he wouldn't quite make, however.

Outside in the main area of the Training Center, he heard a loud voice. Someone was yelling about flanking an attack and, just like that, reality snapped into place for him - as in, the reality that he and Quistis were alone, not just anywhere, but in the secret area. If the student body had a field day with Rinoa staying the night at his quarters, they were going to throw a goddamned celebration after finding him and his former instructor in here.

What they needed to do was to get out of this place. Now. These were the mental errors that could eventually cost him. The small oversights that might have been glaringly obvious to someone a little more accustomed to thinking about, and understanding, social cues and personal interactions.

Now, now he was stuck with the sick irony in this whole situation. He had been so goddamned worried about someone overhearing hearing what he and Quistis were discussing, that he completely forgot about what other messages – nonverbal messages – his actions might be sending.

He cursed that his initial instinct was to retreat, literally hiding away. Hindsight made it obvious that ushering Quistis to a secluded area was a major screw up, especially the day after he was voted the world's most sexy or eligible bachelor…whatever the hell it was. Add to that the ill-timed photos hitting the internet that highlighted his girlfriend spending the night. Hell, by the time he got back to his office there would probably be another photo added, one of him and his instructor.

"Shit. We need to get out of here. I didn't really think this through."

"Yeah, it slipped my mind too."

Squall wasn't entirely sure about that, but decided that was his own insecurities talking. Not hers.

Leading again, he signaled for her to stay behind. He had almost made it to the clearing, which led to the path but, instead of running into some random student, he ran into the last person he expected to find in the Training Center, his girlfriend. She seemed stressed, although he guessed that was likely about the least of what she'd be feeling once she realized he wasn't alone.

Her surprise in finding him sneaking through the brush had been obvious, although that expression was short lived. She shied away just as quickly and the fact she couldn't keep her eyes trained on him certainly gave him pause.

"Squall…I was looking for you and-"

She stopped as her eyes flashed with momentary pain. He knew it; he knew the very second she saw Quistis trailing behind. It was strange enough that he'd ventured into the secret area, let alone with another person. Rinoa found herself glancing between the two SeeDs, unsure of how to process the moment. Honestly, she barely possessed the will to be suspicious right now but, as the reality stood tauntingly in front of her, it was difficult to ignore.

Seeing them together caught her more off guard than anything. Besides a handful of occasions, Squall much preferred to work out alone in the Training Center, whereas she was the polar opposite. She never went alone. Most of the time she went with Zell for fun, although they'd usually end up doing more goofing around than actual fighting. However, through it all, there was one major fact that she could state with one hundred percent certainty – she'd never taken the martial artist in the secret area. It had more to do with the implied meaning of the area. That was a can of worms she'd never dare open with anyone who wasn't her boyfriend; apparently, said boyfriend didn't exactly share that particular hang up.

That was…surprising.

The thing was, even after seeing him, she trusted him completely. She would've liked to say the same with Quistis, but some insecurities didn't die as easily as level one Grats. All and all, she had to believe her friend would never hurt her…a leap of faith and all that. Still, it was difficult and, after yesterday's article, those insecurities were definitely being tested to all extremes. Seeing this, seeing them, it was moments like this that compounded those inner fears. No matter how hard she believed, there was always a small voice to whisper otherwise.

The worst part – everyone had lost the inability to speak, apparently. Finally, Squall had enough of his wits about him to put an end this. Sadly, these were the same wits that were strangely absent during his earlier lapse of judgment. The ones that brought them to this place in first place; he seemed to be having many of these random lapses of sanity as of late.

"Rinoa, I-"

"No, no…don't. I mean, it's fine. Don't even worry about it." She cut him off, politely laughing. She was probably coming off as too eager to ignore the obvious, plus a little overly congenial. "I'm sure there's a good reason…you don't need to explain. I mean, not to me."

It became apparent to both Quistis and Squall that Rinoa was covering, hiding behind her laughter and a smile. In truth, she'd been so nervous about bringing up the whole Dr. Kadowaki appointment to him that she'd become a giggling-wreck. After looking into his eyes, no matter how fleeting their exchange was, any strides she'd made in gathering her nerves suddenly vanished. No, she stood there mind utterly blank as she had no idea what to say. In all the times she'd run through this plan in her mind, the scenario hadn't been anywhere near this awkward – or anywhere near as crowded. Instead of over-thinking the situation, instead of over-thinking about how personal this was to her and Squall, how intimate this was to their relationship…and how Quistis was now right there, smack dab in the middle of it, the only thing she could do was laugh at the irony.

"No, no guys – like I said it's fine. Seeing you two…just caught me off guard." That was the understatement of the year. Again, she smiled at her boyfriend even if she couldn't yet manage full eye contact. Within her own head, her words sounded sincere although she had no idea how they were actually coming across… She was guessing somewhere between crazy-lunatic and pathetically-desperate – like that Triface who hopelessly chased the golden Chocobo. It was about this time in the cartoon where a random anvil would materialize in the air, just before falling on her head, which would totally be par for the course.

Maybe she could find the right words and salvage this; she'd then call it a win for her dignity and that of hapless Trifaces everywhere.

"Squall, it's not like I don't trust you. We both have lives and friends; we have to be ourselves too. Now… If it was Irvine and some random girl in the secret area, a small chat and a Petrify spell may be in order."

She tried to joke, unfortunately it was at Irvine's expense. She felt horrible, although he'd probably understand. Heck, he'd probably be the first to agree. Honestly, she just wished she'd stop talking but, when she felt that familiar nervousness creep up, blabbering was all she could manage. Then again, she still needed to explain her rather random appearance in the first place.

"Yeah…I guess you were expecting a monster, but surprise – a random Rinoa appeared." That voice inside her head was telling her to shut the hell up, the voice in her mouth wasn't listening. "Sorry, you know it's bad when I go into third person. Um, kidding aside, I just wanted to talk…to you Squall, I mean. It's kinda important, but not majorly important – just sorta. So, if you're busy it can wait… You know?"

Someone needed to put the 'random Rinoa' out of her misery, because she was about to run. Not really, but she desperately wanted to. Not to mention that when she said 'you know' that he really didn't know at all. He couldn't. In fact, she'd made very little sense when she found him, even less than normal.

For his part, Squall had actually begun to worry that maybe she was taking the whole invasion of privacy thing hard or maybe it was in the company he currently kept – either scenario he'd take full blame for. He couldn't help it, but that nagging voice in his head remembered what he told Quistis; it was his greatest fear that he tried desperately to repress and more often than not failed.

If Rinoa's life was constantly placed under a microscope, how long would she stay? The students already treated her like a pariah because she was an outsider and dating him. She had to know about the blogs; it might go to help explain her behavior.

Of course, the sorceress knew some, but nothing close to the full extent, although there was no way for Squall to know yet. Rinoa only knew what Selphie did - only those aspects overheard by Irvine at breakfast. As for Quistis, her information was based on an online search after it was relayed by one of the Trepies. Unfortunately, the only reason that person approached her was to gain bonus points for 'bringing the instructor in the loop.'

Right now, Quistis wished she really had been clueless. The tension between the three of them had gone become palpable, skyrocketing through the roof. She decided it was time to make a strategic exit as hopefully there was time to gracefully bow out. The writing on the wall was clear; this was something they needed to work out as a couple. Plus, she really just wanted to hightail it out of there before something else went wrong…or Rinoa rambled on for another inexplicable speech.

"Commander, Rinoa….I need to excuse myself. There's an overview that needs to be written on this semester's exams and I don't believe it will outline itself, unfortunately. I'll see you both around and Squall… It looks like that T-Rexaur lucked out today, but I'll definitely take a rain check." As an afterthought she added, "Rinoa, it would be fine if you wanted to join the two of us, the more the merrier."

For someone who rarely tripped over her words, Quistis had no idea what idiocy had just spewed from her mouth – it seemed whatever Rinoa had was catchable; she learned the unfortunate lesson that sometimes 'afterthoughts' should remain 'never-spoken thoughts.' Literally, it sounded as if she had just invited Rinoa, as a third-wheel, on some sort of T-Rexaur hunting date between her and Squall.

The SeeD instructor felt like her entire emotional-being was transparent, including all those feelings worn on her sleeve. As hard it was to be around Squall alone, it was harder for her to be around them as a couple, especially when the rest of the group didn't act as buffers. Deep-down, Quistis couldn't help but envy Rinoa; it wasn't even the fact that she was with Squall, although that alone gave anybody reason to pause. …But no, it was the way their relationship was progressing. It was the fact that they had taken the time to get to know each other and to become friends before lovers. It was something that was rare in Garden; it was a connection that was rare in life.

Standing there with Rinoa and Squall, she wanted to make amends equally as much as she wanted to do a quick about face and leave. She really didn't need to apologize as she'd honestly read too much into it. She would think, and then over think, which would often lead her into this downward spiral. At this point, logic was winning out as she'd begun to walk away, but she found something was pulling her back.

Maybe the words weren't for them, but rather for her. It was something that needed to be done to rebuild old friendships and to reinforce new ones.

"Rinoa, Squall, before I head off, I wanted invite you to a dinner tomorrow night. The four of us were going out to celebrate Zell's victory – his bequest, of course. Still, we thought it may be fun as everyone needed a break. Squall, we didn't think you'd want to go, considering… But everyone would like you both there, myself included. It took some convincing and, honestly, some major ego-stroking to get Irvine to agree. Given the rankings, he's still…well, being a big-ass baby to put it bluntly." Quistis rolled her eyes at the thought. "I seriously hate that magazine and their so-called list with a passion, but I digress. After some coaxing, blackmail, and probably a lot of promises that are wholly-inappropriate by Selphie, Irvine agreed to go on the condition that Zell's treating. So, the dinner's a definite go. Tomorrow night, five o'clock, we're meeting at the Neon Chocobo and then heading as a group from there."

"Victory? I'm sooo lost." Apparently, Rinoa's mind hadn't had the capacity to register most of Quistis' words, although she got the gist - dinner, tomorrow, and Zell's treat.

The instructor nodded as she'd embarrassed herself again. For the umpteenth time today, she'd made a rather large assumption. Now she knew they didn't know what was going on. For someone who was very keen on communication skills, the instructor realized she needed a refresher crash-course.

"I'm sorry, I should have explained better. Last night, after Zell discovered his placing on the Timber Maniac bachelor list, and ranking higher than his self-described 'mortal-enemy-but best-friend' Irvine, Zell decided to throw himself a 'mini-celebration.' Originally, it was planned for tonight, but Irvine refused on principle – don't ask whose or what principle as it's better not to ask questions sometimes. Anyways, everything changed earlier. Last minute, Irvine was invited to lecture at a local college in Timber's about guns in society. He headed off on the train this morning but, after this surprise 'ego boost,' he agreed on dinner tomorrow – again on the condition that Zell pay."

Squall finally broke his self-imposed silence. "I'm not sure what's more shocking – someone purposely wanting him to speak in public or him setting foot in a school voluntarily."

"Well, he's 'voluntarily' getting paid. Plus, they put his picture on the front of the brochure. If you check your email, he sent us all a copy from the train."

"… And that would be the clincher." Rinoa had to shake her head, only Irvine. "Never underestimate the power of photo and publishing programs, plus the quickly-printed brochures."

"I barely made it through my voicemail." The commander hadn't even considered looking at his emails. This just made the prospect of going to the office later that much worse… But, on the not-so-bright side, he'd get to see Irvine's brochure – joy.

Wrapping her fingers around her boyfriend's bicep, Rinoa decided to step in and reassure him. "Don't worry, I'll be sure to save the file on the main network for you, maybe even burn it onto a disk. History has proved you're apt to 'accidentally' send it to the trash bin and we wouldn't want that tragedy."

Squall skillfully avoided acknowledging any such accusations as the two women continued talking.

"Rinoa, don't worry about back up - he promised to bring everyone an autographed copy. I'd like to say he was kidding, but ten Gil says he follows through…and another five that we all receive them pre-framed."

"He's proud, so I can't blame him."

"I can," Squall mumbled under his breath. He was met with a loving-reminder of how strong Rinoa could be, especially when she was already holding his arm. Then again, he'd fought Ultimecia, he was no stranger to courting fate. "…Well, I can."

"Some of us are proud of him - framed, autographed brochures and all." Rinoa was being sincere. There was a part of her that easily related to Irvine's point of view. Squall may not understand as things came so easily to him, but it was nice to be recognized for your abilities. "I think it's pretty impressive to be selected to be a guest speaker… Plus, I think we can all count our blessings - if they were going to pick one of his two self-proclaimed 'specialties' at least they went with guns and not women, thankfully."

"You can say that again." The instructor let out a polite laugh. "Anyways, between this and the magazine rankings, there's bound to be a lot of testosterone flaring up between bachelor #47 and bachelor #78. I'm sure the night will be…interesting. Even if you don't go for the possible entertainment value, it's always nice to get out. I desperately need a change of scenery."

"Well, my social calendar is about as active as ever. So, yeah, even if I have to reschedule giving Angelo a much-needed bath, which sadly has become a monthly highlight, I'm totally free."

Rinoa glanced to her boyfriend for an answer, but wasn't too surprised when one wasn't forthcoming. When any conversations steered between 'polite banter' and 'random chit-chat' that was usually Squall's cue to drift into his own thoughts.

She knew he was most likely zoned out, so she decided to take this opportunity to have a little fun. "Squall, do you have any plans tomorrow night, around five?"

Not waiting for him to answer, she responded lowering her voice to mimic his, "I have to work – I always have to work because I have a strange obsession with stapling reports, printing unnecessary pie charts and, for some reason, an inexplicable rainbow-colored thumb tack fetish."

He didn't look amused as he dismissively answered, "I have work."

There was something empty to his voice and Rinoa honestly wasn't sure if she'd crossed a line. She thought it was playing around, but realized that she might have taken it too far. She didn't push him; she knew better. It was completely his choice whether to go to dinner or not. Of course, she'd be disappointed, but that certainly wasn't enough to stop her from going out with her friends. As she said when she found him earlier, they were two different people with two different lives and if Squall was busy that didn't mean she was.

Rinoa tried to remain outwardly positive, "Well, count me in, although I may have to catch a ride with someone. I still don't actually own a vehicle and catching a wild Chocobo can be rather time consuming. Trust me, it didn't work out well for the Triface earlier and he's been trying for decades, I doubt I'd fare much better."

The instructor chuckled. "To save you Gysahl Greens and the possibility of being pecked to death, feel free to ride with me. I'll get a hold of you tomorrow, but I should head out now. I get to play my least favorite game, 'track down the headmaster.' I wouldn't bother, but I really need to talk with Cid."

After that Quistis excused herself at least satisfied that her conversation with Rinoa ended on a far more positive note than it started…

It had.

Then again, that had a lot to do with Rinoa – who was now biting her lip, trying not to break out in ill-timed hysterics as the instructor walked away. The sorceress would forever curse Selphie relating hot-monkey-sex and the act of 'talking to Cid.'

Those words would never, ever be the same.

As for Squall, although he'd been quiet, he'd never stopped listening. When the idea of dinner was broached, he knew he couldn't give an answer – at least one that would satisfy Rinoa. Yes, getting out did hold its appeal; however, hearing those two idiots bicker about a magazine placing like it was a contest didn't, especially because he'd technically won. That only brought up another problem as he'd be forced to deal with the fallout of that damn title.

He looked over towards Rinoa, unsure how the next few minutes were going to unfold. When she first ran into them, she seemed nervous, which quickly morphed into shock, before degrading into randomness and laughter. Now, it had appeared to have come full-circle as she'd returned to nervous.

"So, yeah, um Squall, like I said before I'd like to talk…but well, maybe not. Basically, it can wait. I guess...?"

It could wait if that had been his choice but, to her, the situation equated to ripping off a band aid – get it over quickly and then spend the next few minutes cursing the day they were invented loudly…or something like that.

"My office would be best."

The bluntness made him sound aloof, but it was a defensive reflex. Now that they were alone, in a public area, he'd become acutely aware of his surroundings. The worst part was that this was entirely on him; if he had logically thought it through and decided against calling her last night, he wouldn't be like this today…but then they wouldn't have had last night. Now, all he could do was literally look around every corner, behind every tree, and hope they'd allow Rinoa to be herself.

Still, that protective instinct kicked in; he wasn't going to lose her because some anonymous cowards harassed her behind a computer monitor. He didn't want her to have to look over her shoulder to see who was uploading some video to the internet. When he vowed to be her knight, he knew that someday he may have to face SeeD, but never once did he think that rumors and gossip would be their weapon of choice, although they could be far more sharp and jagged than any blade.

"Your office…" Her words were barely audible as forced them out. The idea of going to his 'office' bothered her. It became a hollow concept as there was something so impersonal and cold to his tone.

Before they left though, he wanted to make sure that they were on the same page. His actions weren't some sort of kneejerk reaction (it was) to not wanting to be alone with her (he did) but because he'd convinced himself that a working atmosphere would draw less attention. Reaching out, his fingers wrapped gently around her hand; however, that was before his mind caught onto what his heart was doing, so he quickly withdrew. Confused, she glanced to where his skin had brushed against her skin. He seemed…scared. If he was scared to simply touch her, how could they even begin to talk about that. Rinoa found herself nervously swallowing as she willed herself to look him in the eyes. She blinked several times, taking in several hurried breaths. When their eyes met, he stared at her a second before making a conscious effort to step away.

"Before we leave, I wanted to…. Rinoa, by any chance did you find out about the students, about us?"

"…Yeah." She tilted her head quizzically. "You mean that they saw us last night?"

She'd spoken the words so easily. No anger, no resentment – just curiosity. He'd accept that as found an unexpected wave of relief bathe his body. Defying any logic, he felt his lips turn into a thin smile. With a nod, he was thankful to have at least one emotional reprieve. She accepted him; she always seemed to.

"That's why I was speaking with Quistis. I'd been…out of the loop and so she started to fill me in. Once she'd started going into detail, I wasn't sure where it was going so I pulled her to the side. The secret area was the closest place – Rinoa, I wasn't thinking. I'd just heard the words and that's all I could hear. I didn't think about how it would look, but mistakes like that come with the highest price. Given the students, the situation and last night, it would look better if we speak in my office. We shouldn't draw attention to ourselves."

"Of course not."

She turned around, barely able to block the tears. She usually didn't think this way, but right now she couldn't believe how fucked-up this situation seemed. He pulled Quistis into the secret area to talk, but somehow it would look better if she and Squall talked in the office? His words were emotional and genuine, but his actions continued to belay that. What sense did that make? Maybe it wasn't what she was supposed to take away, but all she got was that Quistis and Squall were Garden royalty. Together, they could do no wrong, but put her next to their commander and she had to hide behind the façade of work. If there was one thing that threatened him, the mighty lion turned into a kitty cat – and suddenly the girl who slept in his bed last night, couldn't even be seen near his apartment.

And worse yet, he thought he was protecting her? No matter how misguided his actions where, she knew they'd been for her. Given that, she wasn't going to argue the point with him. People were going to think what they were going to think. It didn't matter where they were. So they were going to Squall's office on a weekend when nobody else was around? Sure, in his mind it was justifiable and didn't seem inappropriate. Hell, the students were just going to switch it up – instead of going back to his apartment, they'd decided to just have sex in his office, on his desk, hell, on Cid's desk.

The more he tried to protect them, the worse it was. But Rinoa couldn't say that. If it came out wrong, he'd likely retreat and they'd lose the foundation they'd started. These were his hang ups and he was the only one that could eventually overcome them. Yes, it bothered her that he seemed to care this much about either denying or protecting their relationship, but losing him bothered her far more.

Rinoa hated that the students empty gossip had snaked its way into his brain. She had loved last night and wouldn't trade it for a damn thing - from reading the horrible write-ups about their fathers, the hot dog picnic, being woken up by him playfully pouncing, the television, their physical closeness, cartoons, and even a gravy boat used as a bowl. It was everything as there wasn't a minute she didn't covet…although, not necessarily in that order.

True, she never expected Squall to suddenly become Mr. Hospitality knowing they had stayed together, but she hadn't expected this much regression. After last night, she had led herself to believe that he wanted to move forward with this relationship on an intimate level; now she felt completely foolish for making the doctor's appointment.


They had made it out of the training center easily as only two Grats had the misfortune of bad timing. Not surprisingly, Squall made quick work of them; Rinoa remained on the sidelines not exactly up for random battles at the moment. The rest of the trip was even less uneventful as the commander's death-glare warned students to remain at a safe distance. Normally, Rinoa found herself often trying to match his pace; he had a tendency to take large strides and she always found herself step behind. Honestly, if there wasn't symbolism in that today, she didn't know what would be. Maybe that's why she didn't even try to keep up, to match him or be equal. As she lagged further behind she knew one thing - cancelling her appointment had become a far more viable option.

When they finally reached the administrative floor, there was a tense silence between them. He had already unlocked the main door and entered the security codes before she reached him, but at least he was looking back for her.

…Or so she believed, but belief and Squall Leonhart could only be used together in certain contexts and this wasn't one. As she approached and studied him, the realization hit her like an errant blow – he wasn't looking at her, rather he was looking beyond her.

Again, he could be right beside her, yet she might as well be miles away. It was sad, because maybe if she was that far away, he'd see her.

Of course, Squall had told a different story. He had tried to stay a few steps ahead of her on the walk here, afraid that someone would be there with a camera or nasty comment. Once they reached the floor, he was concerned; it wasn't as much a safety issue as it was a privacy one. To Squall, seclusion and solitude were precious commodities, something he valued above all else; she deserved that. And by god, he'd make sure that they wouldn't bother her. That's why the commander remained vigilant, to make sure that nobody had followed them. For Rinoa's sanity, he was seriously contemplating asking Cid to allocate funds for additional security cameras. Garden had the main areas covered, but some of these 'blind spots' fell through the cracks and he was damn sure most of the students knew the locations. He did. But these kids were flat out abusing the system to invade someone's privacy – a superior at that.

Closing the door behind them, he took one last look out. Rinoa watched curiously, his plan to not draw attention seemed to be backfiring with his paranoia. Walking past her, he headed for his office. He said something faint, that she couldn't make it out, although right now it all fell on deaf ears. It could've been some version of 'follow me' or something similar but, instead of doing that, she let him enjoy that one thing he coveted most, apparently, his privacy.

Watching as his silhouette walked down the hall, the figure became engulfed entirely in the shadows. She waited until he'd completely faded into the darkness before she allowed the tenseness in her body to relax. This was irony that even he could appreciate – to her own surprise, it was only when she was finally alone did she let go. Even the fact that they were using minimal back up lighting made the environment far more therapeutic. It felt nothing at all like it did during the day; she'd say it was night and day, but that was far too literal.

Standing straight, she allowed herself to take several deep, calming breaths as her eyes fell shut. When she allowed the stress to leave her body, she finished the exercise by counting backwards from ten, slowly. Rinoa hadn't done these calming exercises in what felt like forever; last time she could recall, it had been those days with the Forest Owls.

Opening her eyes, she took solace in the moment. She could have headed directly to his office, and, yes, she probably should have – she was the one who wanted to talk, right? But, there was something beautiful in the offices desolation; it was soothing in the dark – these were seriously thoughts that never entered her mind. Of course, during working hours, low-level lighting would prove entirely counterproductive. A single laugh escaped from her lips, keeping the lights off at work to be more comfortable sounded like a rather Zell suggestion.

Finally, she forced her feet to move or at least she should – two entirely different scenarios. This was when she was supposed to go to his office, she was supposed to talk to him about a doctor's appointment, but…she didn't. In that moment, she didn't even want to. Her actions even surprised her as she walked down the hall that was opposite to Squall's. This was where she felt most comfortable, at least as this floor went as she made it not to her boyfriend's desk, but hers.

Once there, she reached down and picked up one of the pictures sitting in her workspace. Her fingers gently brushed along the frame as the memories came flooding back. In the dark, it was difficult to make out lines and contours, although her eyes slowly adjusted. She knew the picture; she knew the picture by heart. It was her and Squall – in the first picture as them, a couple. It was taken at the height of Zell's birthday party during one of Selphie's, "I'm a photographer. Gimma a camera. No, now I'm a videographer. Gimma a video camera!" phases. These two personality traits often battled it out which, according to various sources, started when she was about thirteen and was still going strong.

To Rinoa, the picture also had another special meaning. Squall had an identical picture at his apartment, down to the same frame. Selphie had ended up given it to Zell, so he could be the one to give to Squall, when he was doing his rotation in Trabia. The photographer had insisted that he needed something to remind him of his girlfriend 'back home.' Squall was Squall – at first resisting, saying that he didn't need some physical trinket; he'd always possess the memories. Turns out, both distance and time were fickle; not too far into his stay in Trabia he (allegedly) admitted to Selphie he was thankful to have something tangible.

Of course, that wasn't meant to get back to Rinoa, but it did – quicker (as Rinoa once mused) than a Cactuar on rollerblades. Now, he kept the framed picture on his nightstand. To Squall, it had become something in a home filled with basically nothing.

And that was how Squall Leonhart communicated, in a way so complex that it often required roadmaps.

Rinoa pushed that thought to the side, at least for now. Her eyes could now decently focus within the low-level lighting as she finally made out the picture her fingers clasped tightly. Her smile was genuine. Maybe the darkness bred sentiment as her mind traveled back to that night; it was the first time she knew that not only did she belong with him, but she was right where she was destined to be - any doubt she had about moving to Garden faded when the party ended.

The photograph was a singular moment in time; it was never destined to show the whole picture, but yet she hoped it helped define a lifetime. She studied the two subjects in the frame, the people who didn't seem to have a care in the world.

But, they had cares, just as they did now, but it was impossible for the camera's lens to capture those. Still, she could remember and, thinking back, a few seemed to stand out.

Like the fact that every time they tried to kiss, somehow they were rudely interrupted and that particular night Angelo had been the culprit. Then there was Selphie's armchair philosophy about male anatomy and the consuming of mini-wieners and she tried to get Squall to eat some… That was a little bit uncomfortable. Of course, it was also the day she completely obliterated herself with her powers trying, and utterly failing, to kill a spider. That, of course, led to Squall hiring an exterminator that night. Rinoa still believed that woman was openly trying to flirt with her boyfriend.

The sorceress found herself jealous then, even if she was too proud to admit it. The thing was, she would have liked to say that had changed, but her initial reaction today proved otherwise. It wasn't simply jealousy, it was lifelong insecurities. It was funny - when she looked at the picture all she could remember was the good time. She had to stop and think back to recall their share of problem. Those problems today, they didn't matter. They found a way to kiss… a lot, the exterminator was seriously a non-issue, although the world would always be filled with spiders…and insecurities.

In the end, the positive outlived the negative and she held the photographic proof in her hands.

Maybe talking to Squall about birth control would be difficult, maybe the timing wasn't right today, but maybe it would never get better. Eventually, they'd pass all these hurdles of the day too. In her head, she could hear Selphie's chirpy voice repeating that, "Relationships come down to communication and that went double with Squall."

Double? Try triple, quadruple, and well, whatever came after that. She was drawing a complete blank, but the point was it was a lot – as in a lot, a lot.

"Communication, right?" she whispered to the people in the picture before she placed it back gently on her desk.

"Right."

Startled, she involuntarily flinched, causing the back of her hand to hit the edge of the frame. Not only did that picture fall over, it started a small domino effect, leveling the other three framed photos sitting on her desk. Of-freaking-course, there were times that his ultra-supersonic, bat-like hearing seemed otherworldly. At other times, she could yell his name, jump up and down in front of him waving her hands like one of those whacky inflatable tube men at used car lots and he'd be too lost in his 'otherworldly' thoughts to hear.

Deciding to leave the fallen pictures until Monday, she turned around to see him standing there, arms folded, as he casually leaned against the far wall. This made his ability to hear her even more impressive; it was either that or somehow this room had been acoustically designed to eavesdrop on people who whispered. Strangely, that wasn't too far up on the conspiracy theory latter as she would've have put that past Norg and his annoying, robed henchmen.

"Rin, you do realize - to communicate - it's kind of customary to be in the same room?"

She could tell he was smiling and was glad to see it. "I'm sure the invention of the phone is rather disturbing to you. Kind of blows a hole in your theory, huh?"

His smile had morphed into something more akin to a smirk as he unfolded his arms, walking towards her desk. "Only you, Heartilly…impossible as always."

In the stillness of the dark, he moved in front of her. She could easily make out his features, although a lot detail remained void within the shadows. Rinoa had to begrudgingly admit, that she'd gone from being upset, to being slightly intrigued. Maybe it was some side effect of being in the dark, at work, with one of her superiors – it all felt forbidden. Not to mention, it seemed like a rather enthralling beginning to what would become a rather vivid romance novel.

And yeah…her thoughts had drifted off topic. As in, really off topic, she'd need to have to use a GPS or something to get herself back into reality. Then again, in some ironic way, maybe these thoughts were more on topic than she cared to admit.

"I'm sorry." It was still difficult to apologize, but he knew it was needed. "Bringing you to here was a little cold. But we're here now, so why don't we go to my office?"

"All right." She agreed as some inward voice was being a little more difficult, saying if he thought this was cold, it was his duty to warm her up. "Bad, bad, Rinoa," she chastised herself, again realizing she was thinking in third person.

Ah, screw it, she had bigger problems. It was all she could do to convince her legs to play nice with the rest of her central nervous system and, you know, maybe take that first step forward. It worked…okay, it worked for two full steps. Instead of moving, she found her body hesitating to a stop. The mental argument waged within herself; she wanted physical contact, but believed her making the move to would be pushing it? It was only grabbing a hand, not freeing a small nation – it should be simple, right? Or was this one of those occasions where it was important that Squall took the lead? Still fighting this battle in her mind, it turned out the decision had been made for her as he walked away.

The war was lost, both sides were losers…she'd build a small monument for the cause on her desk Monday. Seriously, she'd lost her chance – if she couldn't even decide to take his hand how could she go through with a whole conversation about birth control.

As she followed, a new debate emerged as she wondered whether it would be best to call this off. Entering his office, she had started to head to her usual chair, the one directly in front of his desk, when he stopped her. Placing his hand on the small of her back, he ushered her behind his desk to his chair, even being the perfect gentleman by pulling it out for her.

"Are you sure?"

She was surprised, but also grateful. It was a small gesture, but one that held some significance for him. To put it rather bluntly, referencing Irvine's analogy, Squall's ass was practically fused to that chair – they were an inseparable duo. She tried not to read too much into it or look for some outside meaning - was only a chair after all. Even still, as she started to sit she couldn't help but look back up to double check that she had his permission.

"Absolutely. It's more comfortable, trust me." Being the perfect gentleman, he pushed the chair forward, which had been an act of politeness over necessity. He then sat in the chair normally reserved for visitors. It was strange for him to be on this side of desk, even stranger to be looking at Rinoa from this perspective. She, on the other hand, didn't seem to notice him as she momentarily became rather engrossed in the chair.

"Comfortable?" He didn't have to ask, her content look said it all.

"I…I think I want to spend the rest of my life in this chair," she answered blissfully as the palm of her hands literally caressed the armrests. She looked up at him, smiling guiltily. "Confession time: before I met you, I was…not a fan of leather." She laughed nervously, as if she'd just committed the most heinous crime in the history of all mankind. "It was…sort of a hang up. Caraway's car had leather seats. In the summer, it was absolutely dreadful how my skin would stick to it. Of course, then it was the exact opposite in the winter. It was always cold and I swore that the leather seats never warmed up. I mean, sure I owned a leather miniskirt, but that had a satin lining. I liked the look, but never was never a fan of how the leather felt directly on my skin."

Relaxing, she wrapped her random tirade, "… But this, this I could sit on this all day."

"I sort of do." The commander shrugged. He acted indifferent and, honestly, he was, as far as her previous opinion about leather went. However, and it was a pretty major however, Squall was far less indifferent when thinking about her past wardrobe. Rinoa in a leather miniskirt…that he was an image he was having a harder time getting past.

True, while she did enjoy the chair, Rinoa would freely admit this was an act of procrastination. That had become a specialty of sorts. Seriously, if she could guest lecture at a college, she'd easily qualify as a professional in the field of procrastination…then again, the point would be moot, if she was asked to talk, she'd likely never write the speech. Still, she was thankful that they weren't fighting. It was kind of nice to have something new for a topic of conversation, although his end of their conversation had been along the lines of single words or short sentences – a trained parrot would be more talkative than him.

However, to be entirely fair to both her boyfriend and the bird, a trained parrot wouldn't try so hard to hide their thoughts in regards to leather mini-skirts. Squall's eyes had slightly widened at the idea before he feigned indifference.

Okay, she could do this. Selphie had reminded her that this was something she shouldn't be embarrassed about.

"Squall…I guess you know that I didn't want to talk to you about your chair, although, again it is amazing. Honestly, whoever the manufacturer is, you should find out if they make couches because, then damn it, we're going furniture shopping. Even if I have to drag you."

We're going, we are going, we… Rinoa thought back and wished she had picked her pronouns a little more carefully.

"I've never felt so used for my apartment's square footage. I know you have an affinity towards the built-ins and a rather personal relationship with the whirlpool-bath. If I add a couch that makes you this comfortable, I'll never get you to leave."

Rinoa hadn't been the only one to misspeak; maybe it was something they'd managed to caught, like a rogue virus, from Quistis earlier. After he heard his not-so-choice words, he wished that he could have a mulligan. Not only had he phrased it awkwardly, but he reminded himself about the whole bathtub incident right on the tails of the miniskirt. Even worse, he'd made an implication that she was there too often and it sounded like he was more worried about getting her to leave. In truth, she was hardly there, but that was his fault. They could be there right now in the tub…or on a beanbag. Or damn it, something.

Unlike her, he wanted to correct himself. It was best to explain while his thoughts were still fresh.

"Rin, please don't take that as I think you're there too much or that I, in any way, want you to leave. It's actually the opposite."

Yep…now he'd overcorrected with too much damage control. If he'd only stopped a second earlier it would have been right on point, now he sounded like it was some underlying invitation to move in.

Everything about Rinoa's simple statement in regards to communication rang true. As she stood at her desk, Squall hadn't understood the direct relevance, although there had always been a connection – that was a given with them. When it came to relationships, sometimes reading between the lines is where the true communication lies. It wasn't just about speaking and hearing, it came down to understanding and reading the situations more than the words being spoken. He was still a novice at this, but he also knew failing wasn't an option.

"This was the communication problem you mentioned, right?"

"Exactly." She smiled. Then again, she couldn't let this chance slip by. "So, the opposite, huh? When should I move my things in?"