Author's Foreword/Disclaimer/Warning/Long Ramble: I have always wanted to write a holiday story. Now in doing this, I broke many of my own rules. Yes it's true. Just about everything I avoid purposely doing in my other stories - I have done in here. Because this is just for pure enjoyment and holiday spirit.
I understand that it is logical in the FFVIII world they might not celebrate Christmas and I'm not here to argue that point either way. (Though when I replayed I noticed Zell called someone a 'Scrooge'. Also Seifer does mention Boy Scouts – Sorry, I found the latter fact rather odd!) I'm here just here to get back to basics and do what I started in the first place – write because I wanted to.
So thank you everybody. This is why most of us started - for the fun and the chance to be ourselves once and awhile. This story to me is the chance to well... take chances... and I thank each and every one of you for the opportunity. Happy Holidays, no matter what day(s) you celebrate. This is my present to you guys.
~ A Very Carbuncle Christmas ~
Chapter One: A Time for Reflections and Velvet Bows
It wasn't going to be our first Christmas together. In fact, this year we would be celebrating our fifth. If you wanted to get technical, it would actually be our sixth. It's just that the first Christmas we knew each other was before the whole ordeal with Ultimecia. It was back when Squall still considered me as a client of Garden's, or better yet, 'a mere annoyance' as he often states. Trust me, Commander Leonhart can be all about rules and technicalities in any given situation. I know this from experience.
Still, that side of his personality never detracts from his good points. The two sides rather balance each other out once you get used to them... and master the ability to calmly walk away before wanting to strangle him. Which again, I have found myself doing more often than I'd ever care to admit. But I would never trade our relationship for anything in the world. Anything. Ever.
Plus, self-mediation has forcibly become my new favorite pastime. Who would have guessed that one six years ago? I sure wouldn't have.
Believe me, I'm extremely thankful for everything I have. This is the time of the year that you start reflecting on all those little things in life - both the good and the bad, though the holidays have been becoming increasing difficult over the last few years. Honestly, I'm not sure why. I should be happy. I have every reason in the world to be happy. Why on earth shouldn't I be? I've been living in the greatest place for the last six years. I have best friends who would literally sacrifice their lives for mine. No, that isn't right... I couldn't even begin to classify what our group shares as mere 'friendship.' We are family; we are far beyond anything I would define as friends.
And of all the things I have to be thankful for - I have Squall. I wouldn't, I couldn't, even try to define everything that man is to me: he's a boyfriend, a best friend, a knight. He is everything. He is also the person who drives me to the brink of sanity on almost any given day.
In short, I love him for everything he is. What else is there to possibly say?
I know he was never much one for holidays or any type of celebration. I think I knew this fact from before I 'officially' even met him. I've never tried to push him. Though, sometimes, I know that friction between us becomes inevitable. Our worlds collide and we both try our best, but somehow... fire and ice, oil and water, or whatever other cliché you want to insert here. You get the idea – we are opposites.
So, in some unspoken truce between us, every Christmas Eve he gives in and lets everyone come to his apartment. Of course, I'm just talking about our closest friends. It's a small informal gathering but somehow he knows the gesture holds great meaning to me. Maybe in a way this is the best Christmas presents he gives - without ever having to buy me a thing. I just wonder sometimes if he knows how much I appreciated it.
The tradition, for lack of a better word, started our first Christmas as a couple together. He had agreed to my idea without a single negative comment. I'm thankful for this fact every year. One of these days maybe I should ask him about it. Then again, maybe some of the magic is in the not knowing.
When I first suggested the idea of all of us getting together five years ago, I think I left it open-ended to either of our places - his or mine. True, I live in a small dorm room. But still, there was a part of me that believed that the polite thing to do was at least make the offer. He just rolled his eyes in a silent 'whatever' when I suggested my place. No, this gesture wasn't made in anger. It was more like his way of saying, 'I can't believe you just suggested that. You know darn well we're going to end up at my place so why even try to act innocent Rinoa.' It was that kind of eye roll. Plus, he knew that I would thank him in my own way that night. That sly dog... I think he got that idea from Irvine, though he would never admit to it in a million years.
Anyway, even with Squall's patented 'eye roll of doom,' tonight has always been one of those silent understandings between us. It's the one time of year that he'll give in to the slightest amount of holiday cheer or the hint of celebration.
Looking in the mirror, I forced a smile struggling to tie a velvet bow in the back of my hair. I'd never been good at tying these stupid things. I always found myself jealous of those girls with really nimble fingers who could tie gorgeous runway model bows in their hair. I cursed myself for not buying some premade hairclip like every other girl from Deling. Damn, I'll just have to have Quistis or Selphie retie it for me when they get to the party. Not like anyone would notice. It is just a velvet bow.
I'm not sure why I feel the need for everything to be perfect for an informal gathering. I guess it was... Well, it was Christmas Eve and I wanted it to be perfect. Even if Squall doesn't believe in traditions, these were some of mine from childhood. The Christmas season was one of the only memories I had left of my mother, though faded and obscured. At this point, the memories might not have even been mine, just ones I had dreamed over the years or watched in films. But still, they were the memories I clung to and….
Why can't I get this bow to tie? Oh well, it's just a stupid piece of fabric anyway. What difference did it make?
I took a moment to stare at the reflection in the mirror. Sometimes I wondered who I was and who I had become. I never thought of myself as a sorceress, rather just plain Rinoa Heartilly - whoever she was… I still didn't know. Like I said, maybe this time of year just made you think a lot about reflections.
I didn't have time for self-analysis and life changing revelations right now. I absentmindedly brushed some of Angelo's stray hairs from my sweater wondering why I'd chosen to purchase a black cardigan. The canine's fur contrasted with it like night and day, light and dark, again, insert your cliché of choice in here – you get the idea.
I glanced back at my furry companion who was stretched into a lazy semicircle. The 'wooly princess' raised two eyebrows at me like I had the audacity to disturb her beauty sleep. Sometimes I wonder what goes through that dog's mind. Then on the same note, I'm sure glad I have no idea.
Really, I am.
Angelo and I have lived in this cozy dormitory now for over six years. We've always been happy here; we've never taken it for granted. Never once have we asked to move into anything bigger. The small room was still more of a home than anywhere in that empty mansion with Caraway. You can have all the possessions in the world and still have nothing. Sometimes, I wondered if he ever understood that after my mother died. Though the General and I were on better terms now, things were... well, for the most part and for the lack of better term... civil.
But tonight was not the night for dwelling on that. Tonight was a night for the positive. Tonight was the night for my friends, my adoptive family. Tonight was for Squall.
So here I am, now standing outside Squall's door. Even after all these years I feel a certain nervousness after knocking. You would think that I'd get over this by now. Sometimes it is worse than others, tonight is one of those times. I honestly think it stems from my desire that everything go smoothly for Christmas Eve. Again, it's that part of me that is holding on to those traditions of childhood, distorted as they may be. This time of year I start thinking about everything more and more, especially those left behind. Maybe I'm wrong, I don't know... Sometimes I overanalyze everything. I know that. I just wish he'd answer the door; this casserole dish in my hands is getting very awkward to hold.
I quickly glanced down at Angelo in an attempt to distract my thoughts. She, unlike her mistress, was sitting patiently waiting. I don't think she cares one way or another. I mean, she's just looking intently at the wood grain pattern on the door or maybe she's just anticipating it opening. I don't know. Whatever she's doing, she's sure a lot calmer than me – though that's not saying a lot. In five years one would think that I could at least walk into my boyfriend's apartment without feeling like an anxious teenager – I'm twenty-two now.
I smiled nervously as the door opened and saw Squall standing there with a dumbfounded look on his face. I wondered who he expected.
All right, this was just getting weird. Apparently, we now know each other's names, which was a good start, I guess - though this did nothing for my nervousness. I felt my hands grasp the glass pan a little tighter than what would be natural in the given situation. I was relieved to see when he finally gave a small smile, though you would have to know him like I do to know 'that' is an actual smile.
"Is there something wrong?" I finally managed, balancing the dish as I moved past him.
Though you must understand - Angelo somehow feels the need to be the first to walk into any room once the door opens. I think this is a dog thing, and unfortunately, a Selphie thing. Sometimes those two battle it out. More than once it has ended up with both of them lying on the floor after tripping in their haste. I really do love my friends and all their idiosyncrasies – I wouldn't trade any of them for the world.
I could feel Squall walk up beside me as I set the dish down on the countertop.
"You... you cooked?"
"Oh, is that what that was about back there? I get it now Mr. Leonhart, you say one comment about my cooking and you'll be sorry."
"Why will I have to eat it?"
Men, well more specifically, "Squall!" I yelled in mock anger and hurt. He knew I was kidding, just as I knew he was too... at least, I hoped. All right, my cooking does... well... usually suck, but this is simple enough even I can make it! I got the recipe from the back of a soup can. A soup can! Three steps - I don't think even I can mess that up… at least I'm desperately hoping.
He doesn't react to my little outburst. In fact, for the most part, if you didn't know better he seems rather apathetic towards a lot of different things. He really isn't. He just doesn't express emotion unless he feels it's necessary. Though sometimes if he does, it catches me off guard, and only makes the moments even more special.
Leaving him in the kitchen, I started to make my way into the dining area. Granted his apartment isn't huge, but honestly, I have to say that Garden did a wonderful job. The sheer cabinet and storage in the place is amazing. From the bathrooms to the two bedrooms - they have utilized every available area. It's honestly a packrat's dream, which is why the irony is lost on Squall living here. I often wondered why Cid had designed so much cupboard space for a guy, who at one time, literally owned a single plate, a glass, and a mismatched set of utensils. I figured Edea had a say on the blueprints, sometime that was the only viable explanation.
As I headed towards the cabinets, I felt a slight tug on my wrist. I gasped more in surprise that I hadn't heard him than the actual contact. Sometimes Squall and his catlike abilities scared me. He had that stalking-his-prey technique down to a near science. I turned to face him and looked him in the eyes. Honestly it was the first time since I walked in that I really looked at him. I smiled as our gazes met and felt that stupid nervousness again about wanting the whole evening to be absolutely perfect. I know… I have nothing to worry about, because no matter what, it is already perfect with him at my side. I just have to keep reminding myself of this during the times that he isn't looking into my eyes.
"Rinoa, do you think that Angelo would be more comfortable here tonight?"
I buried my face onto his chest and rested my head on that spot between his neck and chin. It was a place that almost felt like it was made just for me, though I'm sure that doesn't make sense to anyone else. I love how my head just fits there like a pillow. All right, a lumpy pillow, but a pillow nonetheless. I found myself smiling inwardly as I felt content just leaning against him. Maybe it was these simple moments that made everything else in the week seem worthwhile. It was the silence in between all the words - the moments between all the touches - that we understood each other without having to say a single thing.
'Angelo,' in simple terms, had become our code. Squall still could never come out and ask me to spend the night with him. I guess there was that fine line between needing and dependency that he was afraid of crossing, maybe this was the balance he could live with. Either way, I never pushed the issue... at least seriously. So instead of just asking me if I wanted to spend Christmas Eve with him, he had come up with this elaborate ploy…
Well again, maybe 'elaborate' was stretching the truth. Squall's imagination was a little on the nonexistent side. Let's face it - Angelo would be happy anywhere there was a fluffy comforter, an overflowing bowl of dog kibble, and hair free water. Okay, maybe that last one was more my wish. It just grossed me out every time I saw one of her hairs floating in there and her tongue lapping dangerously close to it. Yuck! Yes, I have issues, not the dog. I know. That is so not the point of this conversation, let's get back to the point: Angelo simply didn't care which room she slept in.
"I think Angelo would love that. While we're here, do you think we can put some milk and cookies out for any late night visitors in red suits?" I don't think my sarcasm will be lost on him. It never is, though half of the time he wisely decides to ignore it.
"Don't push it." He smiled leaning down and kissing the side of my neck, just below my ear. "But Rin, I don't think you've been that good this year anyway. You'll be lucky if he leaves an M-Stone in your stocking."
Darn it, I was starting to look forward to those cookies. "Look who's talking," I replied playfully wrapping my arms around him and he instinctively followed suit.
Oh well, at least I'll be staying with him tonight. Not that I had any doubts that I would be. Though it would be nice if one of these times he'd just ask me outright, better yet, if it came to a point where I wouldn't feel the need to have to be invited. But all in all, I'm still a guest here at Garden. Believe me that thought is always in the back of my mind. Like I said earlier, I'm thankful for everything I have and I would never push anything.
"Whatever," he smirked under his breath pulling me closer. He then found the need to whisper seductively in my ear, "Who wants to be good anyhow?"
"And that is exactly why you want me to spend the night, isn't it?"
I had to say it, he really left the door wide open on that one, didn't he? Now as much as I wanted to stay in his arms, I really needed to get this place ready before the others showed up. God knows the comments Irvine would make if the food and drinks weren't out by the time they arrived.
"Squall, I need to go find the punch bowl. Everyone's going to get here and nothing's ready!"
"And somehow that is my fault, right?" he asked grinning as he ran a hand through his hair. If he thought his naïve attempt at getting out of helping me was going to work, he was so very wrong.
"Yes, yes it is," I stated simply. "Remember, it's not like I live here."
I bit my tongue after saying that. Maybe it was best I just leave sleeping dogs lay after that comment. Or sleeping lions, or sleeping grumpy commanders, or whatever he was going to be at the moment. I could never tell the many moods of Squall Leonhart – even my Magic 8 Ball had labeled him a lost cause. Which right now, I think my brain was also MIA, because I really didn't mean to say that.
So in a vain effort to hopefully drop the subject completely, I moved across the room and started digging through the 'Leonhart' dining room cabinets. I tell you, the interior of these things are arranged in some sort of sequential, alphabetical, numerological, code from hell. Actually, I have no idea how they are arranged, but somehow they are in perfect rank and file like little military crystal soldiers. It's rather eerie. By height, color, mass, volume - well, again, you get the idea. This man needs some form of entertainment in his life beside the thrill of arranging cabinets.
I didn't see the punch bowl in the first set of lower cupboards so I moved on to the next. You would have thought that he would have known where the very large and obtrusive punch bowl was stored, but apparently not. Maybe he missed the memo he sent to himself on that subject, who knew. After I made it to the final set of lower doors, I sighed in exasperation.
"All right Squall, I give up. It used to be down in these cabinets, right?"
When I saw that wry smile on his lips, it dawned on me what he had been doing this entire time: watching me. As I had been bending over trying to find the punch bowl, he had the nerve to be watching me!
"No, it's always been directly above the first set of cabinets you looked in."
"Damn you Squall," I squinted at him. Oh so help me… If tonight wasn't Christmas Eve, this would be one of those moments that I would just walk away. "Why didn't you tell me that in the first place?"
"Because, who wants to be good anyhow? Plus I was quite enjoying myself, thank you. Don't you always tell me that I need to do that more?"
Did I mention I love this man?