Chapter 22: Sailor's Delight

Squall gazed down into the bassinets containing his babies, watching them sleep in the predawn darkness. He listened to their breaths, their soft noises. Smelled the sweet scent of baby powder, lotion, milk, and baby. In the four weeks since they'd returned home, both he and Rinoa had gotten into a sort of routine, aided by Ellone when she had been there, of alternating feedings so that each of them managed at least two hours of sleep.

The babies were sleeping longer now, but every now and again, Squall's anxieties would get the better of him and he'd be compelled to get up and check on them. To make sure that they were still breathing. It wasn't as bad as the first few nights after they'd returned home. It seemed as though Squall was up every hour, checking on them when he didn't hear them fussing or feel their need.

Rinoa's arm gently encircled his waist and she leaned into him, thinking, "Worrying again?" He draped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, kissing her hair.

Squall knew better than to try and hide what he felt, so he simply answered, "Yes. I'm always worried about them. I have a feeling that I always will be."

"Welcome to fatherhood honey. If it makes you feel better, the first few nights after we got home I had horrible nightmares." Rinoa confessed.

"I did wonder about that. I thought it was MY anxieties that were bothering you. What sort of nightmares were they?" Squall sent.

"Terrible ones. Ones where I'd do something stupid and hurt them, even kill them. Sometimes it would be a stupid accident, sometimes deliberate. Sometimes I'd have these nightmares where I'd done nothing at all and they'd simply be…dead. They're so fragile, so tiny…I know they're healthy and they're as strong as any newborn baby can be, but still…" Rinoa sighed, pressing closer to him.

Squall frowned down at her, "Rin, why didn't you tell me about this before?"

"Because I figured it was just anxieties, fatigue, you name it. You and Ellone, you've both done wonderfully with showing me that I'm not in this alone. Turns out, that's all it was. They're not bothering me as much anymore." Rinoa responded.

"Well, that's good. But please, if …if those feelings get worse, please tell me?" Squall sent; letting her know his concern was mainly for her.

"I will. Now come back to bed, we've got hours yet before either of us has to actually be awake. Best not to waste it." Rinoa sent. Squall nodded silently and allowed her to tow him back to their bed.

As they cuddled together, Rinoa whispered, "My doctor's appointment is tomorrow."

"Which doctor's appointment? Didn't we have the twins in to see their new pediatrician last week?" Squall asked her quietly.

"My OB/GYN. Six weeks, remember?" Rinoa reminded him.

"Oh. Ohthat doctor's appointment." Squall sent, kissing her gently under her ear and caressing her now much tighter abdomen. Once given the okay by her doctor, Rinoa had taken advantage of Squall's offer and had begun doing gentle exercises to strengthen her middle. As her abdominal muscles got stronger, her backaches eased until now they were all but gone.

The obvious side benefit to that was the fact that Rinoa's figure had mostly returned to its former shape. Mostly. As she was currently breastfeeding the babies, and would be for some time to come, that portion of her anatomy had definitely changed. But it was a change that Squall had no problems with…. at all.

Blinking sleepily, Squall yawned and pulled Rinoa tighter to him, letting her feel how happy he was that by tomorrow evening, things would truly be back to normal between them. Rinoa smiled. She couldn't wait either.

The day that Squall and Rinoa had returned to Balamb they were greeted by a veritable mob of well-wishers; the entire population of Balamb and Garden, along with several media representatives, had all gathered to greet them.

Quistis had already gotten Squall's okay on the press statement that they'd released on his behalf two weeks prior to his arrival, and both he and Rinoa had fielded numerous requests for photographs of the infants and interviews. After some initial hesitation on Squall's part, he agreed to release a photo of the twins to the press. He hadn't yet decided on doing an interview however.

The resounding cheer that rose from the gathered crowd when they emerged from the Ragnarok left Squall both surprised and a little embarrassed. Of course, he'd never been very comfortable with the more public aspects of his job as commander. Still, he put a good face on it and gave a sketchy wave as he escorted Rinoa and Ellone, each carrying one of the babies, down the ramp.

Rinoa had smiled over at him and sent, "I know this makes you uncomfortable, but I personally think you deserve it. You ARE their hero you know."

"But it wasn't just me, everyone here played their part. Don't they deserve recognition too?" Squall responded.

"Of course they do sweetheart. And I know you'll figure out a way to do that." Rinoa sent.

But Squall didn't have a clue of how to do that, and really, the only thing he had on his mind right that moment was getting back to his place and figuring out where they were going to put the babies while he worked on getting all of their belongings back from Deling City.

Fortunately, that was something he didn't need to worry about. When he, Rinoa and Ellone entered his room, they were greeted by all of their friends. They had all gathered there to throw an impromptu welcome home/ baby shower, organized by whom else but Selphie.

In addition to organizing the party, she'd also taken it upon herself to get everything from Squall's home in Deling City packed up and brought back to Balamb, a fact that Squall quickly discovered, once he glanced around his apartment.

Rinoa happily hugged Selphie, thanking her effusively for doing them that service, and she said, "Well, Irvy helped too, once he came home."

Squall meanwhile thanked Irvine and Zell, who both grinned down at the currently sleeping babies.

"Wow, they've gotten big since the last time I saw them," Irvine commented.

"They're way cuter than the picture you sent last week." Zell said.

"Thanks. I'd better put them to bed. Did you guys set up the bassinets?" Squall said.

"Yeah." Irvine nodded. Squall thanked them and brought both babies into the bedroom and put them to bed.

When he returned, he said, "Thank you Selphie, for doing this for us. I honestly hadn't a clue that you were planning this."

Selphie smiled at him and said, "Well, I did ask you about it, and I believe your response was 'whatever'. I took that to mean 'thank you Selphie, I appreciate the help'."

Rinoa came up then and smiled at Selphie, slipping her arm around Squall's waist, saying, "I'm sure that's exactly what he meant, right?"

"That's right." Squall agreed.

The party was kept short and simple, in deference to the time difference between Balamb and Esthar, as well as the needs of the two currently sleeping infants in the other room. Gifts were handed out, with Selphie and Irvine both presenting Squall and Rinoa with a small beautifully carved wooden box.

"I stopped in Timber on the way home and picked this up. Zone made it, Watts had it carved; it's made from spicewood. They wanted you to have something nice to put Angelo's ashes in. They both say they're planning on coming up soon to visit you guys and see the babies. Watts has to bring your car back anyway." Irvine explained, handing them the box. Selphie, her eyes suddenly bright with unshed tears, gave Rinoa Angelo's collar.

Rinoa took the collar and hugged Selphie, thanking her. Squall took the box and the collar and put them on a nearby shelf. Feeling the weight of the box, Squall figured that Irvine had already placed the ashes in it.

It engendered many a comment over the next several days as Caraway paid them another visit. He'd made the trip from Deling City to Esthar several times to see Rinoa and the babies, gratified at their progress and his daughter's recovery. He was, fortunately, the polar opposite of Laguna, gingerly handling the babies as though they were spun glass, gravely speaking to them as they stared up at him. Before he left, he offered to see if the breeder who'd produced Angelo still had his parents. If so, then when Squall and Rinoa were ready, he could get them both another dog. It wouldn't be exactly the same, but it would be close.

Edea and Cid too, noticed the box when they came to visit, both offering their sympathies when informed of its contents.

The first couple of weeks back were a blur of exhaustion for them both, and Ellone's help then was deeply appreciated. Gradually however, the babies took more at every feeding and slept longer in between. By the time Ellone left to return to Esthar, Squall and Rinoa had more or less gotten a sense of the twins' sleeping and feeding patterns, and had even began to more or less work on a schedule.

And each day as they grew bigger, stronger and healthier, Squall simply watched in fascination, as both children also seemed to get even cuter. Both he and Rinoa experienced a little frustration however when they noticed that both babies' eyes remained a colorless gray even as their hair colors became obvious.

Saber had his mother's inky black hair, while Julia…. Was a redhead? While confusing on the surface, a little thought brought the conclusion that it was Squall's genetics that produced that vibrant color. While not obvious, he did have red tones to his hair, as did his mother. And while he knew nothing at all of his family tree on his mother's side, it wasn't too difficult a stretch to consider the possibility of a titian haired family member existing somewhere at some point.

As far as the eye color went, both Squall and Rinoa knew it could take several months before it actually developed. It didn't stop them from wondering if both children would have their mother's brown eyes, or their father's clear turquoise.

Once the babies had settled into a routine, Squall began pitching in with the reconstruction efforts, lending a hand despite being officially on leave. His return to work as commander ironically coincided with Rinoa's six-week checkup, so he wouldn't be able to help with the babies. Selphie had fortunately volunteered to baby-sit while Rinoa went to her doctor's appointment.

He supposed he really didn't have room to complain. The manner in which he'd left had him thinking that he wouldn't in fact be Commander any longer. He was prepared for that possibility, though deep down, he did wonder what he'd do if that weren't part of his life. He hadn't considered how much a part of his identity it had become.

Rinoa's checkup and his return to work also coincided with the completion of the Balamb Hotel. Roughly eight weeks after it had been leveled by the hurricane, the hotel was rebuilt and once again opened for business.

"Are you sure you and Irvine are both going to be okay with this?" Rinoa asked Selphie anxiously.

"YES. Rin, for the hundredth time, we are going to be okay. You've got more than enough milk stored for us in the fridge, so I say, if you want to rent a room in the hotel for the night, go right ahead." Selphie assured her.

"You know I can't go that long without nursing or pumping or something, I'll be in agony." Rinoa said, looking over her wardrobe choices and feeling more and more apprehensive by the moment.

"Well, okay, maybe overnight is a bit of a stretch for you at this point. But seriously, take as long as you can Rin. You both need a break." Selphie said.

Biting her lip as she pawed through her clothes, she wondered, "Will I even be able to get into any of these dresses? I mean, I don't weigh but a pound or two above what I did before I got pregnant but…"

"Rinoa, trust me, you look great. Aside from the stretch marks, nobody would be able to tell you'd ever been pregnant. One thing though…. That nursing bra's gotta go." Selphie said.

"Stretch marks?" Rinoa moaned, adding, "I need the nursing bra, what if I… um… spring a leak?"

"Well, I say pump both out real good, that should hold you for a couple of hours at least. And wear this." Selphie advised, holding up a merry widow Rinoa had bought for her honeymoon.

"Oh, I don't know. That thing was snug before I got pregnant…" Rinoa frowned.

Selphie shrugged, "try it on, see if you can still wear it."

"Okay." Rinoa said, removing her bra and struggling into the lingerie. It took a bit of adjusting, but it fit more or less like it had before, with the exception of the top…. which was much too tight. Even adjusting the straps brought only a little relief. It wouldn't take long for it to be painfully uncomfortable.

"Wow, you really are spilling out of the top there Rin. When Squall gets a look at that, I don't think you'll be wearing it long enough to be uncomfortable in it." Selphie grinned.

"All right. I still don't know what dress to wear…" Rinoa frowned. She and Selphie both debated the choices, finally settling on a deep, midnight blue silk dress that worked with the lingerie and showed off Rinoa's enhanced cleavage wonderfully.

"Okay, that takes care of that. Now, just give me a few minutes to take care of this." She said, getting the breast pump out. Selphie obligingly helped Rinoa out of the lingerie to allow her to express milk from her breasts, then once that task was done, helped her back into it.

Selphie went to put the resulting milk in the fridge while Rinoa continued getting ready. Squall would be home in just a few minutes, and she wanted to be ready to go as soon as he arrived.

Meanwhile, Squall was just finishing up in his office, feeling just slightly overwhelmed by all the catching up he needed to do. There was no question of even attempting to finish it all on his first day back, so he wisely decided to put the unfinished work aside to tackle when he came in the next morning and began shutting down his computer.

A knock at his door had him grimacing and calling out, "come in."

"Hey man." Irvine sauntered in, and grinned at him, "I came up here to remind you that you have a very important date tonight, Commander sir, but it looks like you actually remembered. Bravo!"

"Yeah, well, there's no way I hell I'll get all this stuff done in one day, so there wasn't any point to even trying." Squall said, locking his desk.

"What do you guys plan on doing tonight? Like I have to ask…" Irvine commented with a smirk.

Squall gave Irvine a droll look as he locked the door to his office, saying, "The Balamb Hotel's just reopened today and they're having an open house. Thought we'd check it out…"

"And maybe rent a room? Hmmm?" Irvine asked with a wink.

"Irvine, you do realize that if we do rent a room, you and Selphie might end up babysitting all night." Squall warned as they headed toward the lift.

"Hey, take all the time you need buddy." Irvine grinned at him, punching the button to the appropriate floor.

"Sure, you say that now. But have you ever dealt with newborn twins before?" Squall asked him.

"How hard can it be? All they do is eat, sleep and poop, right?" Irvine asked. Squall burst out laughing. The bell rang as the reached their floor and the left the elevator, with Squall still chuckling.

Finally he said, "Sure Irvine. Sure." My friend, you are SO going to get educated… he thought in amusement. Not that the twins were at all difficult, they were actually very sweet and not at all as fussy as some he'd heard of…. and he'd heard of a lot, while they'd been in the NICU ward at the Esthar hospital.

"Oh! Hey, I almost forgot. Here…" Irvine pressed several small packets into Squall's hand.

"Irvine, what…" Squall began, then glanced down and saw what they were. Condoms.

"Just in case. Give your wife a break man, she just had twins." Irvine said.

Squall was about to protest, then realized that he and Rinoa hadn't actually gotten around to discussing that sort of thing, and the fact was, if she'd managed to get pregnant once, it was very possible it could happen again. Another pregnancy this soon after giving birth? No. It would be horribly unfair to her. Not to mention actually dangerous. After nearly losing her to childbirth, Squall found he wasn't willing to take that risk again. So instead, he stuffed the condoms into his pocket and thanked Irvine for his thoughtfulness.

They arrived at Squall's room to find Selphie cradling Julia in her arms, cooing softly to her while feeding her a bottle. Irvine smiled at the sight and approached her, giving her a soft kiss on the cheek.

"Hi baby. How's everything goin?" Irvine asked her.

"Fine so far." She answered.

"Where's Rinoa?" Squall asked.

"She'll be out in a minute. How was work?" Selphie asked him.

Squall shrugged, "It was work. Why do you ask?"

"I heard something about a new garden?" Selphie asked him.

"Oh. We got a request several weeks ago from Dollet; they want to build a Garden there. All of the other Garden headmasters have reviewed it and were just waiting on me to look it over and offer my opinion on it before they approve it." Squall answered.

"So? What do you think about it then? A new Garden in Dollet?" Selphie asked him, interested.

"I don't know yet, I've just barely started to review the proposal. At least they've gotten a little more creative with the name." Squall said.

"Oh yeah? What do they want to call it?" Irvine asked, interested.

"Radiant Garden. I guess its more interesting than simply calling it 'Dollet Garden'." Squall answered, wondering what was taking Rinoa so long, and trying to decide if he should stay in his uniform or change into civilian clothing. Like any intelligent man, he decided to consult his wife.

"Rin? Should I change or stay in uniform?" He sent.

"Hmmm… You're just wearing your normal one, right? Not the formal dress uniform?" She responded.

"I don't wear my formal uniform to work sweetheart, you should know that by now." Squall answered.

"Then change. I'll be out in a minute." Rinoa responded.

True to her word, Rinoa emerged from the bedroom and smiled radiantly at Squall. Her hair was pinned up in an attractively messy style that had inky dark strands framing her face. Her makeup was subtle, enhancing her dark eyes, flawless skin and ruby red lips. But the dress…. the midnight silk flowed down her body like water, hugging and showing off each curve.

Both men simply stared, with Irvine mumbling, "Damn!"

Selphie grinned over at Rinoa, saying, "Told ya. I think you just shorted out Squall's brain."

He silently agreed with her. He was married to this woman, but suddenly felt like he'd just met her and couldn't think of a goddamn thing to say.

Rinoa for her part sent her appreciation of seeing him in uniform, telling him, "On second thought honey, you look sexy as hell just as you are. Don't bother changing. Let's just get out of here."

He slipped his hands around her now slender waist when she approached him, pulling her against him in a hug, and murmuring, "Selphie, Irvine? Don't wait up for us."

Irvine grinned broadly at the aggressively sexy image Rinoa projected, appreciating her and Selphie's efforts in that direction. There was no question of Squall resisting that.

Taking his hat off, he fanned himself with it, saying, "Whew! It's getting hot in here! You guys better go before the place goes into meltdown."

Rinoa smiled at him and Selphie, pulling out of Squall's arms for a moment to approach Selphie and stroke little Julia's cheek. Then Squall reclaimed her and they turned toward the door.

Before they left, Rinoa asked Selphie anxiously, "You have Squall's new phone number, right?"

"Yes. We'll be fine guys, you go have fun." Selphie reassured them.

They headed toward the garage, and Rinoa smiled over at Squall, catching an echo of her apprehension coming from him as well.

"Nervous about leaving them, aren't you?" Rinoa asked.

Knowing it was no use denying it when Rinoa could detect it easily, he nodded, "Yeah. I am. Is that weird?"

"No." Rinoa reassured him, squeezing his hand. They reached his car, which had been returned to them by Watts awhile ago, and got in.

"It's really impressive that they got the hotel rebuilt so fast. Eight weeks? They'll be able to hold the Midwinter Ball there this year after all." Rinoa said, watching the countryside slide past, the Alcauld plains washed with wan winter twilight. The road had been rebuilt too; it had been the first thing that had been rebuilt. It made it easier to get the debris cleaned up and the necessary heavy equipment into the area to begin reconstruction.

The cobbled streets were once again clean, homes and businesses in various stages of reconstruction. Squall smiled over at Rinoa as she exclaimed at seeing Ma Dincht's home virtually completed, lacking only a coat of paint and some interior finishing touches.

"Yeah, Zell's pretty proud of that. Lots of people have pitched in to help though." Squall commented.

"You included. Have your carpentry skills improved then?" Rinoa smiled over at him.

"They must have. All of my fingers are intact." Squall shrugged. Rinoa laughed. Then quieted as they pulled into the parking area near the harbor.

Squall quickly got out of the car and came around to her side, gallantly opening the door for her and helping her out of the car.

"My, aren't we the gentleman tonight?" Rinoa smiled.

"I have my moments." Squall smiled back. Rinoa turned and gazed out at the harbor as Squall shut the door.

"Rin?" he asked, taking her hand, seeing her attention focused out to sea.

"It's…. so beautiful…" She whispered. It was. The quay had been repaired, and looked like it always had, with ships moored along the rebuilt wharf. Fishing boats, trawlers, sailboats, and houseboats, along with the amphibious assault craft the SeeDs used moored in their own secure slip, all lined up neatly in their assigned spaces.

Seabirds cried and sailed on the freshening breeze as the sun set over the ocean, the diffuse winter light still managing to dust the scene with gold. But the sunset itself was what had caught and held Rinoa's attention.

Ragged, wispy clouds were dragged across the sky by the breeze, gilded by the setting sun, tinted with rose and vermilion as twilight advanced into night. As they both watched, the golden light faded and crimson light blazed across the sky.

"Red skies at night…" She said softly.

"Sailor's delight." Squall said, slipping his arm around her waist and kissing her cheek.

"What's that mean?" Rinoa asked as she followed his silent encouragement and walked with him toward the hotel.

"It's a maritime proverb. It's an omen of fair weather in the morning." Squall answered her as they reached the hotel and walked in.

"Oh, my…" Rinoa said, eyes wide as she scanned the lobby of the hotel, awestruck. It looked like the original Balamb Hotel…but somehow, better. Larger, brighter, the décor echoed its seaside location in blues and greens, much like the original did, but here and there subtle changes could be seen. New furnishings, fresh flowers, plush carpeting along with the smell of fresh paint and varnish added to the hotel's new ambience.

Squall led Rinoa through the lobby, crossing the threshold of two opened double doors that led to a beautifully decorated ballroom that seemed to contain the entire population of Balamb.

The hotel manager, and the owner, both greeted them enthusiastically, with the owner exclaiming, "Commander Leonhart! We weren't aware that you and your wife were coming! Welcome! There's champagne and refreshments over there, just help yourselves!" The man urged, waving them toward a table at the far end of the ballroom.

The manager however, said, "Not before I greet Mrs. Leonhart properly." Turning his attention to Rinoa, he said, "Thank you so much for coming my dear, you look stunning." Taking her hand into both of his, he gave her a wide smile, bending down to kiss it gently.

"The hotel looks lovely. Better than it did before, actually." Rinoa smiled back at the man.

"Thank you. Well, enjoy yourselves, I think we all deserve it." the man said, waving his hand into the ballroom itself.

Squall nodded with a slight smile and escorted Rinoa into the ballroom, feeling more than a little smug at the frankly admiring looks she got.

"You're actually enjoying the fact that I'm being ogled by just about every male here?" Rinoa sent in surprise.

"Hell yes. Just like you get to go home with 'Commander Hotness', I get to go home with my stunningly gorgeous wife. How could I NOT love that?" Squall sent.

"Took you long enough to mention it." Rinoa thought, sending her amusement at his tongue-tied reaction earlier.

"Well, Selphie was right. You DID short-circuit my brain. Of course, you blow my mind on a regular basis anyway…" Squall responded. Rinoa laughed softly, catching his meaning.

They meandered their way though the gathering, Rinoa smiling and greeting friends that they both knew, Squall too, shaking hands and visiting with people. It shouldn't have surprised him that so many people greeted him so warmly; he was a member of their community too. It was the main reason why he'd expended so much effort into saving the citizens of Balamb from the hurricane; he cared for them. All of them; from Captain Charlie, decked out in his uniquely pirate-like splendor, sipping a dainty glass of champagne, to the mayor, greeting everyone with his usual bombastic humor, to the sheriff, who gripped Squall's hand firmly in greeting.

But he didn't feel as though he merited all of that adulation. He'd gotten them out of harm's way, sure, but the true heroes, at least in Squall's eyes, were those who'd pitched in and started to rebuild the town in the aftermath. He'd played his part, but he wasn't the only one.

"Squall! Hey, I didn't know you and Rinoa were coming! How're the babies?" Zell bounced up, giving Squall an enthusiastic hug, pounding his back, before pulling Rinoa into a considerably gentler embrace and kissing her cheek.

"They're fine, Irvine and Selphie are babysitting tonight." Rinoa said, smiling.

Zell chuckled, "Wonder if they'll end up rethinking the whole parenthood idea." A petite, pretty brunette came up to Zell and slipped her arms around his waist, kissing him on the cheek.

"Hey baby," He smiled, kissing her back.

"Oh, I'm sure they're little angels, aren't they?" The girl smiled at Rinoa.

"They are indeed. But, they are babies. Angels or not, they can be exhausting." Rinoa smiled back.

"So I hear. I'll bet it feels good to be out for a change. I have to say, you're looking great Rinoa." The girl said in admiration.

"Thanks. And yes, it does feel good." Rinoa sighed then, looking around the ballroom and saying, "This place looks amazing. I understand you had a hand in this Zell? Along with rebuilding your mom's house?"

"Yeah," Zell said shrugging.

"Looked like you were almost done." Squall said.

"Yup. Ready for paint in a few days. You in?" Zell asked him, grinning.

"Sure." Squall said, smiling slightly as Zell clapped him on the back enthusiastically.

"Awesome! It'll be a blast!" He grinned. His grin faded as his girlfriend whispered something to him, then widened.

"Hey guys, I'll talk to ya later. Have fun!" he waved at them as his girlfriend led him away.

Rinoa smiled at Squall, asking, "wonder what they're up to?"

"Not what you think," he smiled at her, gesturing toward the center of the ballroom where some couples were dancing. Zell and his girlfriend were gliding gracefully around the room, pressed close together.

Rinoa raised her eyebrows and said, "Well, that is a surprise. I didn't think he knew how to dance like that." Taking her hand, Squall started threading his way through the crowd.

"Well, you know," he said casually, "we did go to the same school together. Took the same classes, even ended up graduating the same day." Then he stopped and pulled her close to him, and Rinoa suddenly noticed that they were in the middle of the ballroom where people were dancing around them.

"Approach your target unobtrusively at a dance party, remember? If I could figure out how to dance, he certainly could as well." Squall said softly, beginning to guide Rinoa in time to the music.

"How could I forget?" Rinoa smiled up at him, enjoying the way his body spoke to hers as they moved together on the dance floor. Folding her hand in his, Squall rested it against his chest and leaned his cheek against her hair, sighing.

He smiled slightly to himself, knowing she was fully aware that his apparent reluctance to dance with her was mostly for show now. He enjoyed it as much as she did, mainly because he got to hold her in his arms, although sometimes it was fun to surprise other people with how well he danced.

They worked their way around the room, gliding as gracefully as Zell and his girlfriend had. They ended up near the edge of the dance floor when the song ended.

"I think we need to check out the rooms upstairs." He suggested, his emotional overtones showing Rinoa plainly why he was so interested in doing that.

Rinoa smiled up at him, "I agree." Taking her hand, he led her out of the ballroom and up to the front desk. After a brief exchange with the concierge, he got a room key and they headed upstairs.

"That was quick. I'd have thought they'd be booked up because of the party." she commented as they walked down the hallway, looking for their room.

Squall smirked slightly at her, saying "I reserved the room earlier today. I wasn't sure if we'd get to use it or not, but I went ahead and did it just in case." They finally reached the room, which turned out to be a suite, much to Rinoa's surprise.

She gasped as he unlocked and pushed open the double doors with a flourish, "Squall it's gorgeous! But isn't this a bit extravagant? I mean, I would love to stay the entire night, but…"

"Don't worry. It didn't cost as much as you think." He said, locking the doors behind them. The spacious suite had a kitchenette and dining room, as well as a sitting room. Plush carpeting in cream covered the floors, polished wood gleamed everywhere: the dining room table, end tables in the sitting room, the coffee table. A couch and loveseat occupied the sitting room, both comfortably overstuffed and upholstered in a pale blue and cream pattern. That same color scheme, with just a hint of sea green, was echoed in the wallpaper.

Rinoa walked across the room, taking it in, Squall following her as she investigated the bedroom, spying the glass-paned doors at one end, which obviously led to a balcony.

She turned then and smiled at him, asking him, "You really dig balconies, don't you?"

He approached her and slid his hands around her waist, smiling down at her, saying, "Some of my fondest memories involve balconies. So, yeah, I really do dig them."

"Which one is your favorite?" Rinoa asked curiously.

Squall's smile turned wistful as he answered, "The day that Garden became mobile… remember? It was just floating along on the sea; we had no real control over it. They'd just made me commander, and here you came, waltzing into my room to wake me up and ask for a tour."

"I remember that. You seemed so… irritated. Like I got on your nerves. I didn't think you liked me at all, you were just putting up with me because you had to." Rinoa said, her own hands slipping around his waist.

"I was, at first. You did get on my nerves. You confused me, attracted me, irritated me… my whole world was thrown into disarray and you seemed to be at the center of it all. I didn't know what to do or how to feel… but then, I took you out to the balcony after walking around garden with you. You looked back at me, with the wind in your hair, and this sparkle in your eyes… and smiled. You were so beautiful…and I was lost. I've been lost ever since." Squall said softly, bringing his hand up and stroking her cheek lightly before bending down to kiss her.

He started lightly at first, asking, rather than demanding. Tasting and teasing, sipping at her lips, wanting more but not pushing, never pushing. When she pulled him closer, he deepened the kiss, feeling her excitement echoing his.

He brought his hands up and buried them in her hair while still kissing her, pulling it loose from the pins holding it in place, combing his fingers through the warm, fragrant silk. Obsidian silk… he thought, a memory coming to him then. It had gotten longer, reaching nearly to the middle of her back in a thick, glossy fall.

As always, when he was with her, he let himself go. No worries, no outside distractions were allowed to interfere with their time together. It was only she, and he, and what they shared. He felt from her the same hunger that he felt; the breathless desire to feel her smooth skin against his, to sink into her warmth and love her until passion exhausted them both.

He kissed and nipped gently at her shoulders and neck while working the zipper down her back, moving the straps aside to allow the dress to fall to the floor. Rinoa's eager fingers were likewise working at removing his tunic and unbuttoning his shirt, at times interfering with Squall's efforts and prompting them both to laugh at each other.

"Like a couple of horny teenagers…" Rinoa murmured in amusement.

"Wasn't that long ago." Squall grinned between kisses, adding, "But we're not teenagers any more."

"No," She replied, kissing his chest as she unbuttoned his shirt, "we're not."

He stepped back to allow Rinoa room to pull off his tunic and shirt, studying what she had been hiding under her dress with interest. He couldn't articulate what it did to him, so he simply let Rinoa feel how it affected him. Motherhood had given her curves that the lingerie she was now wearing showed off wonderfully, and he couldn't resist the urge to run his fingers along the neckline of the garment, trailing them over mounds of her breasts.

Rinoa meanwhile was running her hands all over Squall's chest before trailing her hands down to his trousers while gently pushing him back toward the bed. She got his belt unbuckled and pants undone, had just slipped her hands over the firm curve of his buttocks when he distracted her with yet another searing hot kiss.

From him, she sensed how much he enjoyed feeling her hands on his body. He also sent his frustration at the obstruction her lingerie presented to his exploration of her body. He pressed her close, trailing light, tantalizing kisses down her neck and along the top of her décolletage, before finally turning her around.

Pushing her hair aside, he made her shiver as he kissed the back of her neck, whispering, "while I truly love your inventiveness with regard to your wardrobe choices, and this thing looks sexy as hell on you… it has to come off. I want to feel and taste your skin." His hot breath on her neck, the sexy rasp of his whisper, the words he said… all made Rinoa shiver again as he worked at removing the garment, finally stripping her to bare skin.

Then her knees went weak as his hands slipped around her from behind, leaving trails of fire as he pressed her close, the warm skin of his chest and torso flush against her back. Her head fell back against his chest and she closed her eyes, a hot thrill of excitement going up and down her spine as he continued kissing and nibbling her neck, ears, and jaw line. It prompted her to arch her back, inviting Squall to trail his hands up over her ribs to cup and caress her breasts.

When one of his hands trailed lower, fingers finding and caressing her intimately, her legs quivered in response and she moaned.

"I can't stand it… you're killing me…" She thought, fighting for breath.

"Can't have that, can we?" He responded, pausing in his manipulations long enough to finish undressing. He thought about the condoms in his pants pocket, and Rinoa caught it and smiled at him.

"It's taken care of sweetheart. Don't worry." She sent. She was warmed by the concern that had prompted that "just in case" preparation.

Squall heaved a heavy sigh of relief, sending, "You sure? I don't want to risk you getting pregnant again this soon…"

"Absolutely. Now come here. We have some unfinished business to attend to." Rinoa crawled up onto the bed and laid back against the pillows, stretching her arms out to him, a beautifully sensual expression on her face. It drew Squall like a moth to a flame and he joined her, drawing her close and tracing her contours yet again. Thigh to hip, hip to waist, waist to breast, and back again.

He followed his hands with his lips, teasing and tasting her moist flesh until she was shuddering, her aching need feeding into and stoking Squall's need as well. They hadn't denied themselves any intimacy besides actual intercourse, so neither actually felt deprived. However, neither could deny that when Squall finally positioned himself and entered her, they both felt a sense of homecoming.

He paused then, detecting slight discomfort on Rinoa's part, asking, "Okay?"

"Yeah, I will be." She whispered, smiling at him.

He kissed her gently then, sending, "We'll take it slow. I didn't think you'd be this TIGHT, after…"

"Well, it HAS been awhile." Rinoa sent, and stroked her hands down his back, letting him feel her appreciation of his smooth skin, the play of his muscles beneath it as he shifted. Her hands wandered lower, and she squeezed his butt slightly, silently urging him to further action.

After hesitating a moment, he continued, keeping his movements slow and gentle, paying close attention to her comfort level. Gradually, the sensations he felt from Rinoa became more pleasurable, and he relaxed, moving with more assurance.

"You feel so good…" Squall thought, letting her know how much he'd missed this aspect of their relationship.

"So do you." Rinoa responded in kind, letting him know that despite the initial discomfort, feeling him stretching and filling her stole her breath and drove her wild. She clutched at his back, digging her nails in and holding on tight.

Heat rose, breaths came short. Tension mounted and coiled tighter and tighter as their sensations fed off each other. Passion took the lead and they both rode its crest to the peak, Rinoa tumbling off the edge with a gasping cry first, with Squall following after her.

He kissed Rinoa gently in the aftermath, feeling her heart beating just as heavily as his. Raising himself up onto his elbows, he shifted to a more comfortable position, withdrawing from her. He could still feel the afterglow of their lovemaking, the power that turned Rinoa's eyes golden still a pool of warmth between them.

Squall reached up and caressed her cheek, moving his hand lightly back over her hair, moving his fingers through it. There was nothing to be said, nothing that needed to be said. The softness in his eyes as he gazed at her showed plainly what he felt.

Sighing, he laid his head on the pillow next to her and draped his arm over her waist, pulling her close against his body.

"I've missed this. What we'd done before, while it satisfied us both, left me feeling…. incomplete, somehow." Rinoa whispered.

"Me too." Squall murmured, blinking sleepily at her. Working all day and helping Rinoa with the babies, had eaten away at his reserves. It was the same for Rinoa. Of course, it didn't help that neither of them had bothered with dinner, he realized as his stomach chose that inopportune moment to remind him of that fact.

"You're hungry too, aren't you?" Rinoa smiled at him.

"Yeah. Guess we should do something about that." He said, yawning.

"I don't want to get up and get dressed though." Rinoa said, stretching languorously and rolling onto her side, facing Squall. She cuddled close, tucking her head beneath his chin and sighed as his arm came around her and caressed her back.

"Don't have to. We're in a hotel remember? Room service." Squall smirked at her and rolled away, reaching for the phone on the bedside table.

"I love room service." Rinoa smiled at him.

"What are you in the mood for?" he asked as he dialed the number.

"Besides you? Surprise me," she said. Stretching again, she got up and went to use the facilities, picking up Squall's shirt to use as a cover up along the way. She smiled back at him as she caught his appreciation of the sight.

After she left, Squall pulled his pants on, deciding it might be a good idea to be decent so as not to embarrass the staff. He still didn't think they'd be able to spend the whole night there, so decided to make the most of the time they had.

When their food arrived, Squall generously tipped the man and went into the bedroom to inform Rinoa. A waft of cold air greeted him from the opened balcony doors, and Squall walked through them to see Rinoa leaning against the stone balustrade.

He shivered slightly in the chill and came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her and asking, "Aren't you cold?"

She leaned back against him and answered, "Yeah, but look at this view. Gorgeous." She indicated the expanse of beach that their room faced, the starlit surf providing a soothing whisper in the background. Far off in the distance and inland, Balamb Garden's lights could be seen clearly.

He gazed in that direction and asked her silently, "Can you feel them from here?"

"Yes. Can you?" She responded. Noticing her serene attitude, he concluded that she hadn't sensed anything of concern.

"Only through you. I can sense them on my own when I'm in the same room, but my talents in that area aren't as strong as yours." Squall answered.

Kissing her neck, he told her, "Dinner's here. Still hungry?"

"Yeah." She answered, turning to face him.

"Then let's go eat." He said, kissing her.

They stayed in the room as long as they could, enjoying the dinner brought up immensely before making love once again and even falling asleep for a while. But Rinoa's aching, milk-heavy breasts finally prompted them to reluctantly get dressed and leave, heading back home to Balamb Garden.

A soft whimper woke Rinoa, and she felt Julia's hunger as she fussed. Rolling over to get up, she noticed that Squall was gone. Yawning, she put her robe on, wondering where he was. Picking the baby up, she carried her into the living room where their new rocking chair sat. It soothed both her and the babies to rock while they nursed, and made things much easier for Rinoa.

She glanced at the clock as she sat down and rearranged her clothing to allow Julia to nurse, noting that dawn was not far off. Perhaps Squall had gone out on a run.

Then she glanced toward the couch and smiled. Squall lay stretched out on the couch, sound asleep. Saber lay on his chest, also sound asleep, held securely in place by Squall's hand. The other hand rested on his stomach. An empty baby bottle sat on the floor next to the couch.

Rinoa's heart squeezed at the sight, and she desperately wished she had a camera handy. She knew there would be plenty of such moments, but this one was just so precious it had to be recorded. Unfortunately, even if she had a camera handy, she wouldn't have been able to snap a photo…not while she was busy nursing Julia at any rate.

So she contented herself instead by watching both him and the baby sleep, remembering the boy he had been, not so long ago, and loving the man he'd grown into now.

When the baby was done with nursing, Rinoa carried her back into the bedroom and gently changed her diaper, finally managing to do it without waking her. Laying the infant back into her bassinet, Rinoa returned to the living room and gently took Saber from his father, putting him back into his bassinet as well.

Returning to the living room one final time, Rinoa sat down on the edge of the couch next to Squall and stroked his face gently, brushing lightly across his mind, waking him. He sighed, stirring, and blinked up at her.

"Come back to bed sweetheart." Rinoa whispered.

He nodded wordlessly and followed her into the bedroom, fingers tangled with hers. When they got into bed he folded her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. She responded by tightening her arms around him before relaxing and gradually returning to sleep, with Squall joining her. For this moment in time at least, all was right with the world, and both Squall and Rinoa couldn't have been happier.

Author's Note: Yes, I did include a random KH reference in here (a couple of them, actually...) but that does not mean I have any intention of writing a crossover. I don't own the games and have never played them, so I'm not familiar at all with the story. HOWEVER, that may change if I do manage to get ahold of KH and KH2 and actually play them. Meanwhile, you all have my permission to let your own imaginations go wild.