A/N: Sorry for such a long delay here, partly due to me being a little stuck with what to do with this one.
Chapter 14 – Stargazers
Squall could not have been more right about his father defusing any possible awkward silences. He easily twisted Merlin's arm into letting Rinoa come out to dinner with them and, over the following weeks, they fell into a comfortable and steady routine. As Spring approached, so did Rinoa's fourteenth birthday.
"Having a party for your big day then?" Laguna asked, passing her a slice of cake that Aunt Ifalna had baked for the occasion.
She shook her head. "I can't, I have lessons tomorrow. I'm not really worried about it this year. I've had so much on mind that I've barely thought about my birthday at all."
"All the more reason to have a party!" cried the man.
"It's fine. It'll be nice to have a quiet one this year. I've been the centre of attention pretty much since I got here."
Laguna's face fell a little. "Well, if you're sure. Is there nothing you want to do?"
"I did want to see the meteor shower, but Merlin won't let me go to the meadow."
"Ah, well, you can see it from your room though?"
"Not very well."
Laguna's smile slipped a little. "Sorry, I kinda agree with Merlin here. It's too dangerous to let you go outside the town, especially after dark."
"What if she had company?" Squall suggested. "One of the guards or even Genesis?" He fought to keep his tone level at the name. He didn't want the older boy to take credit for his idea or strengthen the bond between the young man and Rinoa, but if it got her what she wanted…
"Braig won't allow it. He's a real stick in the mud about these things," he paused to give her a small smile, "but I think this time he's right. We don't want you in danger, you're precious to us all and we don't want to lose you."
"I suppose," Rinoa admitted, though she looked more than a little crest-fallen. "At least I can still see some of it from my roof."
"That's the spirit!" Laguna loudly rushed, clearly relieved that she'd given up on visiting the meadow. "Tell you what, why don't you sleep round on the night? Watch it from here with Squall?"
A smile returned to her face. "That'd be nice."
That wasn't exactly how it happened. Instead Merlin and Laguna settled on letting Squall spend the night at Merlin's house (it was never Rinoa's house, it was always very clearly Merlin's and she was his guest). So on the evening of Rinoa's birthday, they sat together on the roof of the house, waiting for the start.
She sighed, staring up at the skies above them, the stars nowhere near as bright as they were in the country. She drew her legs to her body and crossed her arms over them. It really was annoying that she had to watch it from here. She understood why, she really did, but that didn't mean that she had to like it. It was one night! One night and she was more than a little able with her magic now. If Merlin had come with them then there wouldn't be any danger. It seemed a little unfair.
"Does it matter?" She jumped a little at Squall's voice, looking round to see him watching her. "Will it really make any difference watching it from here?"
She rested her chin on her arms. "I suppose not really. We'll still be able to see it, but there's so much light from the town that we'll miss a lot. It doesn't really matter though, I guess."
Squall suddenly grabbed her wrist, pulling her towards the ladder.
"Come with me," he urged as he started to climb down into the street, "before I change my mind."
Her face split into a wide grin as she realised what was happening. Squall being the bad boy? That was a little unexpected, but the rush of excitement overruled any caution she might have felt. She wasn't sure if it was from the danger or because Squall was doing something so uncharacteristic for her.
She didn't look back as she descended the ladder, following him down into the side alley. He stopped at the end, stepping back as a couple of guards walked past, chatting pleasantly between themselves. She couldn't help but beam as Squall reached back and took her hand, running across the street with her in tow. They slipped down another alley, down the small road and onto the path that would lead them to the Central Square. They kept close to the buildings, hoping to avoid notice by doing so.
The square was harder to navigate, watched as it was by four guardsmen. They waited, her heart beating wildly, her body tingling with the thrill of it all, her hand warm and secure in Squall's. During the next minute she tried not to draw attention to them by breathing too loudly, or shifting around, but it was difficult. She wanted to move, to run with Squall, away from the town and into the clear spring night.
Suddenly Squall pulled her forward, ducking behind the bushes and down the steps to the tunnel that lead to the outer gardens and Meadow Gate. She let a small giggle escape and her partner in crime shot her a warning look to be quiet. They paused briefly to check for people before running across the Outer Garden, through the gate and out of Castle Town.
With no one to hear them, Rinoa was free to laugh to her heart's content as she ran down the hill. She couldn't believe they'd actually done it, she really had expected them to be caught. Even Squall managed to squeeze out a wide smile. She half-slid, half-fell to the ground and threw herself onto her back, just in time to see the first streaks race across the heavens.
It was beautiful, hundreds of lights dashing through the sky and, in that moment, it seemed as if they did it just for them. This was why she wanted to watch from here, to see it clearer than anyone else in the town possibly could. She could sense her friend settling down beside her, lying down in the chill spring air and slightly damp grass. They lay together in the peace and quiet, simply watching.
"Happy Birthday, Rinoa."
She turned her head to look at him, barely half a metre away, a small smile claiming his lips. He seemed softer in the moonlight, more relaxed than she had ever seen him. Her heart beat a little faster and heat rush to her cheeks…was she blushing? She was! She couldn't have been gladder that it was too dark for Squall to see.
"Thank you," she breathed, earning her a bigger smile from the boy, and her heart missed a beat. His attention returned to the stars, but hers remained fixed on him. It wasn't until he glanced back at her that she quickly averted her eyes, growing hotter under her collar. Despite the rare event above them, she found her gaze constantly slipping back to her friend. She supposed she'd never realised how good-looking he was, how kind he was to her, how… cool he was. Not until tonight.
"We should go," Squall finally said as the sky returned to normal, the only lights remaining locked in place.
She rose with him, brushing herself down. "Thank you," she said again, more sincerely, without meeting his gaze.
"You're welcome. I'm glad you liked it."
"Yes, well… um," she stammered. "We should go," and she took off up the hill. Hoping her cheeks would return to their normal colour before they got home.
It wouldn't be until years later that they would realise two things: Firstly, just how much less the guards had taken their duties to heart in those early days - they never dreamed that anything serious could actually happen with the town walls. Second was how truly foolish and dangerous their own actions had been on that evening.