A/N: A proper fanfiction entry for the Where I Belong challenge in August 2012 - part one.
The author does not own the Final Fantasy Franchise.
"I see. That's too bad, then," Rinoa speaks into her mobile phone, currently held in place between her ear and her right shoulder. She sets down a small, blue screwdriver on the foldable table and returns a handful of small screws into the circular canister beside them, then holds her phone with her right hand once more, listening to the person on the other end intently.
"Mm-hmm... mm- yeah... Yeah, I will." She exhales, then gets up and walks towards the open window. "... Okay, thanks. Take care, as well... Bye." Rinoa presses the End Call button and folds her phone, placing it by the bed. Panning her eyes around the mechanical mess that is currently her room, she sighs dejectedly and plops down on the covered mattress without bothering to take off her bandanna and oil-spilt shirt.
Squall had called to say that he couldn't return to Balamb that night due to delays in the scheduled meeting with Trabia Garden, and that he would be back the next day. Disappointed as she was, it was not like Rinoa could meet with him, either, as she was still putting together the set-up of bulbs in parallel circuit for her first demonstration in physics class. (She messed up with a dry cell earlier and accidentally let go of it in shock, knocking an oil can in the process.)
The young sorceress had always wanted to be of more help to her knight and to Garden, so she immediately said yes when they offered to train personnel to be in charge of the inner mechanics of the mobile campus. However, her physics grades from high school were not credited due to some technical reason or other, so she was asked to retake the general physics course in Garden to earn the missing units. Unlike most of her classmates, junior SeeD cadets who were only assigned to take the subject, she sees it as more of an interesting venture into the unknown, a deeper understanding of something new and additional integration into her new life with the institution.
Bip-bip-biiiip! Rinoa reaches a hand to her work table and pushes the switch on the third digital alarm clock from the left end. She didn't need to look anymore to know which clock made which sound, after "bonding" with them for several weeks on end. She'd found them a month earlier among a pile of metal scrap while on a trip to the basement with Zell, with whom she split the broken clocks for repair. They are currently on a race to see who finishes repairing (in her case, experimenting on) their share of clocks first. Seifer scoffed at the idea, howling in laughter as he walked away with Fujin and Raijin. Irvine checks on them and chronicles their progress almost every other hour. Quistis and Xu watch the turn of events with interest. Selphie was refused a share of clocks and told to go down and get them herself. Squall rolled his eyes.
"Whatever," she silently repeats to herself his trademark one-liner, echoing what he did when he found out about the competition from a complaining Selphie. She swears she caught a glimpse of a small smile grace his lips, though, as he said this, before he quickly returned to work mode and curtly dismissed the perky female mercenary, along with the access keycard to the Garden Master basement.
Rinoa would laugh at that particular memory whenever it resurfaced - which for her, was every time she worked on her clocks. Most likely, Squall was just bewildered at the idea of either her sudden interest in mechanics (But she has already been ever since, unless he didn't notice; take her extensive knowledge on how Vinzer Deling's train worked, for instance), or Zell competing in something that does not involve martial arts or hotdog eating. (But this was also common knowledge. If not... well, Zell's also a guy; what did he expect?) There was also that wild, farfetched idea that squeezed itself into her mind that Squall developed a phobia of clocks and time in general, given their battle with Ultimecia and his traumatic experience in time compression. She'd immediately dismissed it, of course - it was very improbable, and not funny. She had to admit, though, that the Sorceress of Time was most likely the reason many of the junior Garden students' time-telling devices found themselves a new home in the basement.
After several minutes of her random mind rambling, she finally rises from the bed and grabs a clean set of clothes from the drawer. She spends a good half hour in the cold shower, coming out just in time for dinner at the cafeteria. She orders a pasta bowl and a bottle of juice for takeout, then heads over to the Quad to pick up Angelo, whom she dropped off earlier with a group of junior cadets who volunteered to take care of her while she was at physics class. When they get back, Rinoa moves the foldable table with her project to the back and prepares her dog's sleeping area while watching the latter eat.
Angelo finally settles down after a couple of hours, during which time Rinoa herself has eaten and cleaned up, all while conversing on the phone with Quistis. Zell had also called to check on her, doing so in Squall's absence. Selphie was cheering in the background, having found stuff she could repair herself, as well as something of hers she thought she lost before when she first set foot on Balamb Garden. They finally hang up at 9:00, and the sorceress puts her phone on silent mode to continue working on her mechanical projects.
She finishes her physics project faster than expected, so she decides to fix another clock - it was her second to the last. Rinoa judged that Zell must also be about done with his share. (For a long time, she has admired the tattooed SeeD's way of getting things done in an orderly manner. It was one of his more positive qualities.) She glanced at the digital calendar to her left; it was half an hour before midnight. She bites her lower lip and stares at the little gadget she was about to dismantle, seemingly hesitating for a moment, before finally unscrewing the back cover.
Rinoa is awoken by a series of low, dull beeps. For how long she'd dozed off, she has no idea. With eyes half open, she groggily lifts her head off her work table and stretches her arms, then wipes her face with her handkerchief. She pans her eyes around the room, which was now darker than she last remembered. Feeling more awake, she reaches over and flicks off the last alarm clock she did the previous night, wondering why it set off when she knew she had turned the sound off. As she did, she happens to read the time at which it was set to ring - 1:43 a.m.
"That late already?" she mumbles to herself. Blinking a few times to keep awake, she shifts her attention to the clock she attempted to fix before falling asleep and notices a piece of paper folded in half pinned underneath. Rinoa's eyes narrowed in inquisition; she might have been inattentive due to sleepiness, but she was certain that paper was not there before. Letting out a small frown, she briefly glances at the door, which was still closed, then back at the paper, deciding what to do with it. Letting natural curiosity and instinct take over, she finally relents and unfolds it.
Go to sleep. You'll need energy for your class tomorrow.
Don't stress yourself over your 'competition' with Zell. Your health is more important.
Call me first thing tomorrow.
I locked the door on my way out. Don't forget next time; it's for your own good.
As she reads, a mixture of emotions sweeps over her, a number of which expresses themselves on her face. She does not know whether to laugh or to cry at her boyfriend's short, blunt sentences, no matter how used to them she already is. She knows from the start how much he cares for her, because she also feels that way, that much, towards him. What she is truly amazed about now is how more open he has become in expressing himself, his feelings - even if it is only by a very small degree. The Squall she first knew would most likely never expose his sentiments on these matters - much less permanently on paper, where someone could read it. These kinds of notes were very much more than normal for most, but Rinoa sees this development as a plus, a small step further in their relationship. She couldn't say she didn't hope for anything more, but for now, she's happy to take it slow, to wait it out and see what happens. Maybe next time, he'd write her something longer.
Rolling her eyes, the sleepy sorceress tucks the note behind her phone and clears the table of repair equipment. As she does, a small smile creeps up her face as she now noticed more clearly one by one the few changes her knight made to her room. She silently checks on a sleeping Angelo, the top of its little space now roofed with the makeshift night sky they had painted together when she first moved in. She then makes her way to the door and slides the inside chain lock in place, then turns the knob beside the light switch to return its intensity to normal before turning it off. Before finally going to sleep, she adjusts her digital calendar for the next day, briefly remembering the time at which Squall set the alarm clock before he left.
1:43... Of course. Rinoa stifles a giggle. I see what you did there, Squall.
She wished tomorrow would come soon.