Echoes of Childhood
An evening walk. It was a wonderfully relaxing activity the young couple tried to partake in as often as possible. The pair was silent as they walked hand-in-hand along the wooded path adjacent to Balamb Garden. The silence was soon broken, however, by a soft feminine voice.
"I'm glad you decided to ditch the rest of that paperwork," Rinoa sighed contentedly, squeezing Squall's hand tightly.
The young man exhaled, his breath just barely visible in the crisp late autumn air. "It's nothing that can't wait until tomorrow, and I was bored out of my mind anyway," he replied. "Besides, you're more important."
Rinoa snuggled in closer to Squall as they walked, allowing his arm to snake snugly around her waist. She shivered in the brisk dusk air, mentally scolding herself for not wearing a jacket.
As they walked, the young woman began to chatter about the events of her day, while her Commander boyfriend listened intently.
"…and then Selphie dropped the whole pot of spaghetti sauce on the floor and it splashed all over Quistis' brand new shoes," she said with a slight giggle. "I think that's the last time she lets Selph cook us lunch. I thought Quistis was going to throttle her."
Squall answered only with a quiet, "Mmm-hmm."
As they continued to walk, the sun began to slowly set, prompting the timed lamps lining the secluded trail to switch on. Almost immediately, small flying insects became entranced by the glowing lights and swarmed around them.
They eventually came to a point in the path where it forked. As Squall began leading them in the direction they always went, Rinoa tugged on his arm and asked, "What's down that spur of the path? We've never walked that way before."
"I think it's just a playground, Rin," he replied.
The young woman's eyes lit up with delight as she unsnaked her arm from Squall's. She clapped her hands joyfully and squealed, "A playground? Why didn't you ever tell me that before?"
Squall merely rolled his eyes and countered matter-of-factly, "Because you're nineteen years old. You're too old to play on playgrounds."
Rinoa stuck her tongue out at him and, hands on hips, quipped, "For your information, Commander," she emphasized, "I am not too old to play on playgrounds, and neither are you." She grabbed his hand and began to try and drag him towards the fork in the trail. She was met with immediate resistance, however, as the young man outweighed her greatly, and was much stronger. He simply locked his knees and steadied himself, causing her to yank harder, dragging her feet in place on the dirt path. She tried in vain, but could not move him.
The young woman quickly realized her attempt to drag him was futile, and relinquished her grip on his hand. She decided to switch tactics. She stood; arms crossed across her chest, lips pouting and whined, "Whatever! All I want to do is play for a bit. You're no fun!"
Squall smacked the heel of his palm against his forehead and scolded, "If you think you're going to get your way by whining, you're wrong." He tried to move towards her, and she purposely moved farther away, turning her back on him in defiance, arms still firmly crossed on her torso. He finally got close enough to her and embraced her, whispering into her ear," You might want to try asking nicer next time." He kissed her ear softly and felt her un-tense in his arms.
She turned around to meet his azure eyes with her chocolate ones, and with a totally forced innocent tone to her voice pleaded," Please Squally," batting her eyelashes for emphasis, "Please can we go play on the playground? Just for a minute?"
"Nice try with the innocent act, which I don't buy for a minute by the way. The answer is still no."
"Meanie! I asked nice, you have to say yes!" she whined, stomping away from him for emphasis.
"There's nothing written anywhere that says just because you ask nice, you get your way," he replied. "What if someone sees me? I'm the Commander of SeeD; I shouldn't be playing on gym equipment.
Rinoa walked back to him and put her arms around his waist. She snuggled into his chest and sighed. She had to remind herself that even though he was technically still a teenager, he was also a very powerful mercenary and commanding officer of a large force of subordinates. He was right, of course, he couldn't sully his stern reputation by being caught cavorting around on a playground with his girlfriend.
So, of course she was quite surprised when he sighed and quietly said, "All right, just for a minute."
She looked up to meet his eyes and he cautioned, "Just don't you dare tell anyone, especially Zell. With his big mouth, news of this will travel around Garden like a wildfire." He smiled down at her and gently kissed her forehead.
The young woman put her left hand on her heart, and raised her right one, with her whole body stiff at attention. "I promise your secret will remain confidentially locked in my vault, Sir!" He merely rolled his eyes at her.
"Thank you!" she squeaked, planting a quick peck on his cheek. She grabbed his hand and started skipping down the dark playground path, with Squall struggling to keep up with her.
XxX XxX XxX XxX
The path to the park was surprisingly long, and Squall was inwardly pleased at its seclusion. He was also relieved that it was now full-on nighttime, far too late for any children to be playing.
As they got closer to the playground, Rinoa's pace increased, as if she couldn't wait to get there. That, of course, was exactly the case.
"Squall! There's a slide!," she screeched. "And swings! Oooh and a jungle gym! I haven't played on one of those since I was ten!" Her face was practically glowing and was engulfed by an ear-to-ear grin.
"There's a reason you haven't played on a jungle gym since you were ten, you know," Squall stated flatly, arms crossed lightly in front of his body. "It's because…," and he emphasized all of the last words, "…you're…not…ten…anymore."
Rinoa's only response was to blow a raspberry in his direction and bound off towards the climbing frame. "Come on," she yelled over her shoulders.
His only reply was a curt, "No."
The young Commander watched with a bit of amusement as his girlfriend jumped and ran from end to end of the massive structure, even making use of the monkey bars. She slid down a fireman's pole, and immediately ran back around the assembly, springing up and over two steps in one stride. As she made her way up the ramps and giant steps to the apex of a tall, spiraling slide, she called out to him once again, "Come on, join me! This is sooo much fun!"
"I said no, Rinoa," he replied, shaking his head.
"Suit yourself!" she yelled back, throwing herself feet first down the gigantic slide, arms over hear head the entire way down.
He met her at the bottom, and held out his hands to help her to her feet, as she had rocketed right off the end of the slide and into the sand below. "Can we go now?" he pleaded.
"Not until I get to go on the swings," she countered, dusting the sand off her legs and rear end.
Squall begrudgingly followed her over to the other side of the park and took a sentry position next to the swing set. Rinoa chose the swing closest to him and then motioned to the one next to her. "Swing with me, please?" she pleaded, pouting ever so slightly.
"No." he responded.
This time the young woman wasn't giving up so easily. "Ok, you don't have to swing, but at least sit down. It's a long walk back to Garden, and it will feel good to rest your legs for a while," she suggested with a small smile.
Realizing it useless to resist her insistence, he gave up and made his way to the swing next to her. He sat down and exhaled deeply.
Rinoa started to pump her legs, making the swing slowly start to reach higher with every movement. She leaned her head back, laughing loudly as her black hair blew in the self-made breeze.
Squall still sat, unmoving, as he watched her soar high in the air, kicking her feet every time she neared the top of her arc.
"Dare me to jump off?" she challenged.
"No way," Squall scolded. "I don't feel like carrying to all the way back to Garden when after you break your ankle on the dismount."
"Fine," she huffed, allowing the swing to gradually slow down under its own power. "I never could do it anyway, even when I was a kid. Too chicken, I guess," she confessed.
Squall laughed quietly and replied with a "Bawk bawk!"
Rinoa laughed hysterically at the chicken noise and reminded herself to write it in her journal later. She loved making a record of times when Squall was actually funny.
Her laughter stopped and she sighed as she asked him," Did you have swings at the Orphanage?"
Squall was a bit taken aback by her sudden question. They didn't talk much about his childhood, mainly because he didn't remember most of it. However, in the last six months, he had de-junctioned many of his Guardian Forces, and was slowly regaining long lost memories.
He thought hard for a moment, trying to access the memory, before replying, "Yeah. Selphie used to pretend she was a rocket ship pilot on them." He thought for another moment before continuing. "Now that I think about it, she used to jump off of the moving swings all the time. I'm amazed she never got hurt."
Rinoa couldn't help but imagine a five-year-old Selphie screaming at the top of her lungs as she launched herself fearlessly from a soaring swing. She could also imagine Matron, gasping in horror as she saw it out of the corner of her eye. She listened intently, so happy that Squall was sharing memories as he continued.
"We had a jungle gym, too, although it wasn't nearly as big as the one here. I think Cid built it. Seifer always claimed it as "his" and usually didn't let us on it, until Matron would scold him. Then he would just be a jerk anyway, and terrorize us until we gave up and got off. It was in the back yard, overlooking the beach and ocean. When Seifer would actually let me play on it, I used to sit on the highest point and stare out at the waves," he reminisced.
His content façade quickly turned into a sour frown as he recalled, "Then one day Seifer snuck up behind me and pushed me off my perch. I fell really hard and broke my arm. After that, I never went up there again. In fact," he remembered, "I never played on anything in the back yard again, or anywhere else for that matter. Not even at Garden."
Rinoa instantly felt incredibly guilty for pressing him to play with her. She sometimes had to remind herself that he did not have a normal childhood, and her heart nearly broke for him. She had such wonderful memories of playing with friends: running through the sprinkler in her back yard, making silly puppet shows with homemade figures and gossiping about cute boys during slumber parties. It made her so sad thinking that at the same age, Squall was already attending Garden, being trained to be a mercenary.
She removed his hand from the chain of his swing and clutched it tightly. "I'm sorry I kept bugging you to play with me on the jungle gym. I feel bad," she admitted.
He squeezed her hand back, tighter than her original grip and replied, "Don't be sorry, Rin. You didn't know. Besides, it's in the past. My arm healed, see?" as he held his left arm up in front of his body and waved it around in the air, wiggling his fingers.
"Still," Rinoa sighed. "I do feel bad. Leave it to Seifer to ruin childhood play time, huh?" she said, sadly.
They continued to sit on the swings for a few more quiet moments, holding hands in between them. Squall finally broke the silence as he gazed up at the stars and full moon.
"We had better get going. I will take at least an hour to walk back to Garden, and it's getting late…and cold," he said, zipping his fur-collared jacket up.
"Yeah, you're right," Rinoa answered, with chattering teeth. She rubbed her arms around herself in an attempt to warm her chilled skin.
Squall noticed her actions and rolled his eyes, with a small smile on his face. "Leave it Rin to go for an evening walk in October with no jacket," he thought.
He rose from his swing, offering a hand to Rinoa to assist her in doing the same. When she was standing, he let go of her hand and removed his jacket, exposing the thin short sleeved shirt underneath, along with his gleaming Griever pendant. He moved behind Rinoa and placed the jacket around her shoulders. She immediately started to protest, "You're going to get cold now," as she tried to refuse the young man's coat.
"Take it, you're shivering," he demanded. "I've been trained to withstand cold temperatures with little or no gear, you haven't."
She smiled in thanks and put the jacket on properly. She pulled it tightly around her body and reveled in the fur collar tickling at her neck. She inhaled softly, losing herself in his scent for a moment. Hyne, she loved the way he smelled.
He put his arm around her waist and began to walk back towards the path. They had only moved about ten steps when Squall abruptly stopped dead in his tracks, catching Rinoa very much off guard.
"What's wrong?" she whispered, nervously.
Squall replied back with an almost nostalgic tone in his voice, "Wow. I haven't seen one of those since I was five."
Rinoa followed the line of his outstretched hand and pointer finger, to spot a seesaw hidden near the back of the park, close to the thick tree line.
Rinoa gingerly asked, "You wanna go on it?" She totally expected him to say "no." She was pleasantly surprised when he responded, "Yeah sure, why not? The past is in the past, right?"
They walked hand in hand towards the toy, made of wood with bright red metal seats. It looked pretty old, and for a moment, Squall was concerned that it would not hold their combined weight.
Rinoa sat first, and leveled it off so Squall could comfortably mount the seesaw. He steadied himself for a moment before asking, "You ready, Rin?"
Rinoa nodded in reply and Squall gently extended his legs into a straight position, making Rinoa's end touch the ground. Rinoa then mirrored his movements, pushing herself high into the air, sending him to the ground. They continued this way in silence for a few minutes. He could feel the wind blowing through his chestnut hair as the seesaw moved up and down. Just for a moment, he felt as if he were five again, and it made him smile ever so slightly.
Even though it was nighttime and the park had no lighting of its own, Rinoa couldn't help but feel content and happy, because she could just barely make out a smile on her moonlight-illuminated boyfriend's face in the dark. High above in the night, a shooting star streaked across the sky, but both lovers were having way too much fun to take any notice.
Author's notes: This story is an entry into the "Where I Belong" challenge. A very special thank you to Ashbear for encouraging me to take part in this. Squinoa is not something I usually write!
The idea for this story came to me while listening to "Ride My Seesaw" by the Moody Blues. I find inspiration in the strangest of places!