Brief note: Happy birthday, Squall Leonhart! ^_^


Listen to Your Heart

"Listen to your heart
when he's calling for you
Listen to your heart
there's nothing else you can do
I don't know where you're going
and I don't know why,
but listen to your heart
before you tell him goodbye~"

Listen to Your Heart ~ Roxette


They both stood outside the guest room in Balamb Garden. Rinoa Heartilly knotted her fingers behind her, fidgety without any particular reason as she kept her head bowed, her right foot making invisible circles on the floor.

There was nobody else in the corridor at the moment. Everybody was at the ballroom, enjoying the victory party by defeating the wicked Sorceress from the future, Ultimecia. The loud thumping of music, which was Selphie's doing as a DJ, reverberated along the corridors.

"It's been a long day," Squall said, breaking their silence as he raked his hair with his hand.

Rinoa looked up at him, smiling. "Commander Leonhart, a long dayis such an understatement."

Defeating a sorceress from the future, getting stuck in Time Compression, finding the one you love not breathing at all as he lay on the ground, no, it was not just a long day. It had been a living hell.

A trace of a grin split the young SeeD commander's face, giving him his youthful feature despite the circles below his eyes and tousled hair. "You're right, Miss Heartilly."

Rinoa brought a hand to her mouth as she tried to stifle a yawn.

"Tired?"

"Very." The sorceress nodded, fighting the urge to stay awake. It truly had been a tough day.

"I'll let you rest now then. There's already a set of change of clothes in the room." Squall motioned with his chin at the door. "Good night, Rinoa."

He then looked at her with curiosity as she looked back at him like he was some kind of an apparition. "What's wrong?"

Shaking her head, she said, "Nothing." She cocked her head to the side. "Just making sure that you're real."

"I'm here," Squall assured her, sounding relieved.

The young sorceress took a step closer and lifted her hand to caress the SeeD's face. Squall, who was not used to being touched, stiffened for a while but then gradually relaxed against her palm.

"I thought I'd lost you forever," Rinoa whispered. "Seeing you lifeless on the ground was very painful."

"But you brought me back." Squall clasped her hand that was on his cheek and brought it to his lips. "You're my angel."

Rinoa retracted her hand. "No. I've become a monster."

Squall narrowed his eyes. "Don't say that. Because you're not." His fingers trailed its way from her neck up to her chin, tilting her head up so they met eye-to-eye. "I also almost lost you – when you were in a coma, in Space, at the Memorial, and in Time Compression. I've never been so broken losing someone again. Even in Time Compression, all my last thoughts were of you."

Tears welled up in Rinoa's eyes as she looked back at her own reflection in his steel-blue eyes. She had never seen Squall in this state. His eyes – they held the utmost sincerity that equalled the fear in his confession. Never had she imagined that he would be like this, in this state – in front of her, nonetheless. Gone was the intimidating, stoic SeeD commander. Now there was only Squall Leonhart, the man who bypassed his youth to be the strongest fighter that he was, but still the broken boy who was left alone in the dark.

"Please," Rinoa pleaded softly. "Please stay with me tonight. I'd feel better if you're with me."

Squall regarded Rinoa with amusement as he smirked. He put his hands on his hips and leaned down to look at her straight in the eyes. "It's against Garden rules for students of the opposite sex to sleep in one room, Miss Heartily."

Rinoa mimicked his posture. "I'm not a student here," she said as-a-matter-of-factly. "And neither are you."

"I won't be a good example."

"Are you teasing me, Commander?" She cocked her head to the side and lifted an eyebrow. "Fine then," she said, challenging. "Good night."

"You look lovely when you're annoyed." Backing her up against the wall, Squall rested his hands on either side of her head against the door. "Of course I'd stay with you. I, myself, can't let you out of my sight."

Smiling, Rinoa clasped his hand. "Come."


"Rinoa, what's wrong?" Squall got up in the middle of the night, distrupted by Rinoa's whimpers and incessant tossing and turning on the bed. He turned on the lamp shade on the bedside table, bathing the room in a warm, dim yellow glow. "Rinoa, wake up." He shook her gently before grabbing both of her wrists and pinned them on either side of her head before she started clawing herself. "Wake up, Rinoa. I'm here."

Settling on top of the young sorceress to prevent her from hurting herself, Squall waited until her movements had ceased, noting the beads of sweat that formed on her forehead, as her breathing slowly went back to normal.

Rinoa then opened her eyes, blinking profusely to adjust her vision. "Squall?" she asked, squinting.

Relieved, Squall let go of her hands and lied on the bed again, propping an elbow to look at her. "You were having a nightmare."

"A dream," Rinoa muttered, pressing a hand on her forehead. She closed her eyes. "I dreamt I was Ultimecia." She turned to Squall. "I killed you... and..."

"No. You are not Ultimecia." The SeeD Commander lifted his bare hand and brushed away Rinoa's bangs on her forehead. "You are Rinoa, the kindest and most beautiful sorceress that ever existed."

Rinoa blinked, wide-eyed at Squall's retort. This was truly a new side of Squall she was seeing. A step away from the reticent SeeD she had met on the dance floor months before. How, how could he possibly say those words so easily now? And it was meant to be a compliment to her.

She gazed at him, searching for clues in his stormy eyes. It was there: the concern, the worry, the sincerity, and what else was there – affection? Could she still be deserving of such now that she was unsealed, free, and being feared by the masses?

"Edea is a nice, beautiful woman, Squall. And yet..." She shook her head and sat up. "I shouldn't be here. What was I thinking? I shouldn't be here. I could hurt someone again. I..."

"Don't think like that," Squall answered, sitting up as well and pulled her into his arms. He cradled her head against his chest and ran his fingers through her dark locks. "There are no mad sorceresses now, Rinoa. And you have saved me more than you could have hurt me. I had just gotten you back."

He pulled away slightly so he could look at her directly in the eyes. "I have never felt so broken when I saw you sealed in Esthar. When I freed you, I swore on that day that I would never let anything happen to you again." He shook Rinoa gently, compelling her to look at him. "Listen to me, Rinoa, I will protect you. I'll be your Knight if you'd let me. We'll ask for Matron's help, and together, we can help you control your powers. Please..."

Squall closed his eyes, almost as if he was in pain. Seeing him like that – the fearsome SeeD leader so vulnerable, it tore Rinoa's heart to pieces. How can she even ever make him happy?

He opened his eyes again, his resolve burning in his eyes. "Don't leave."

Right then and there, Rinoa felt like she was seeing Squall, the young boy, who had been left alone in the rain. She ached for him. She wanted to kiss the pain away, but how can she when she knew that she was the cause of his anxiety? She wanted to be there for him, always. But in the long run, can he bear the criticisms that will go his way for being with the new generation's sorceress? Heck, she was the one who had unsealed Adel and launched the world into chaos again.

"I don't want to hurt you," Rinoa said. It was the best she could muster.

Squall nodded, contented for now, and kissed her forehead. "Rest, Rinoa. It had been a tough day. I'll stay with you. I'll keep both of us safe. Trust me?"

It's me I don't trust, not you."Yes." Rinoa smiled, assuring him.

They lay back on the bed, the lampshade turned off, as they basked in the moonlight that filtered through the window. Closing her eyes, Rinoa rolled on her side, still queasy if Squall will consent to be touched.

It took her by surprise when it was the SeeD himself who wrapped his arm around her and pulled her so that her back was pressed against his chest.

"I'll be here when you wake up." Squall whispered on her ear. And his soothing voice was enough to make her surrender to dreamland. This time she no longer dreamt of the barren wasteland in Time Compression, but the flower field of their promises.

"Slept well?" Squall asked when Rinoa had finally awakened. The sunlight that filtered through the window illuminated the room. They were both on their sides, facing each other.

"Yes," Rinoa murmured. "I dreamt of us in the flower field. It was the most comforting dream I've had." When Squall just nodded and didn't answer, she added, "What are you thinking?"

"It's my first time to sleep with a woman."

"I'm honoured, Commander." A smile crept on Rinoa's face.

"You should be." Squall returned the gesture, his smile making Rinoa flush. She should this side of him often.

"What time is it?" Rinoa asked, trying to shake off her early morning giddiness.

"11:34 am."

"Oh my goodness! It's late!" Rinoa tried to get up. "Why are you still here? Did I keep you?"

"Relax," Squall called out. "A huge battle had just been fought and won. And a massive celebration had just ended. Everybody's still tired and probably asleep."

"But."

"I liked watching you sleep."

"You watched me for how long?" Rinoa leaned against the headboard of the bed and raised an eyebrow as she gazed at him skeptically. "Are you keeping something from me, Commander Leonhart?"

"You're very verbose even in your sleep."

Rinoa's eyes widened. "What'd I say?"

The SeeD only smirked and got out of bed, still dressed in his shirt and jeans.

"Squall!" Rinoa feigned to be irritated, pouting and crossing her arms while stifling her laughter. "Did I say a lot of things?"

Squall looked down at her, his eyes lighting up with amusement. Eventually, he leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. "I'll always be here too."

What? Did she make promises while she was asleep? Oh.

"Let's eat breakfast. Balamb Garden has the best hotdogs" Squall said, standing up and approached the door. "I'll meet you in a few minutes. Will just change my clothes."


She couldn't ignore it. No matter how her mind screamed to just focus on eating and not let her eyes wander around the cafeteria, she couldn't help it. Everyone was looking at her.

Old and young, male and female, each person that passed by their table in the cafeteria always looked at her and their Commander before going back to their own social bubbles and proceeding with their whispering. Some gave innocent looks and smiles, while some looked at them with furrowed brows and disparaging looks. It made her uncomfortable.

Taking another bite of the hotdog, it was indeed delicious. No wonder almost every person in the cafeteria was ordering it. She snuck a glance at the gorgeous man sitting beside her. Even with tousled hair and just a plain shirt and linen pants, he still looked fresh and tantalizing as ever. Maybe that was why everyone was staring at them. He was just too good for her.

Feeling her eyes on him, Squall looked up from his plate to Rinoa's discerning look. "What is it?"

Caught in the act, Rinoa blushed as she shook her head. "Nothing."

Squall scanned the crowd briefly. "Ignore them."

"I am." And it's failing miserably.

"Good." He looked at her. "I haven't eaten here with company before."

"Really?" There was nobody whom you shared your food with?

Squall nodded, impassive. "It's new to the crowd."

"I'd better go then. It's attracting attention."

"I don't mind being seen with you."

What?Rinoa blinked at him, dumbfounded for words. She swallowed as she searched his eyes that only reeked of sadness and sincerity. Why was she the one being embarrassed about this? Heck, he had kissed her on the balcony last night that was even caught on videotape. "Alright."

Suddenly, the intercom buzzed with the voice of Headmaster Cid Kramer filling in the room.

"Cid is expecting me," Squall said, then turned to Rinoa.

Sensing his uneasiness, Rinoa smiled to assure him. "I'll go take a walk around. Maybe Selphie and the others are awake by now."

After Squall had gone to see Headmaster Cid, Rinoa had decided to go to the library instead. The lack of people in there and the silence comforted her. It was a good hide out especially when all the other people gawked at her in the corridors. She didn't understand why. Was it because of whatshe had become?

Strolling in between packed bookshelves, Rinoa mused at the first time Squall had taken her for a tour around Garden. It felt like ages ago. He had been reluctant then, unwilling to give in to her plea. Yes, it was the stoic Squall Leonhart, the very same person who had willingly jumped into Space and the Sorceress Memorial to save her. How could that have happened?

Bending over, the young sorceress skimmed through the book titles on military tactics. She was distracted when she heard muffled voices at the other side of the book shelf. Peeking at the spaces between the books, Rinoa can see two females that looked just about her age, dressed in the Garden uniform.

"That was quite a show last night!" said the female on the left, a blonde with pigtails. "I never thought I'd live to see the Commander kissing someone in public! I mean, it's Squall Leonhart for goodness sake!"

Rinoa blushed in infinite shades of red. It was the kiss from last night at the party. At the balcony. It was just the two of them. They were too absorbed in their own private bubble that they paid no attention to everyone else. How many had seen them aside from Selphie and Irvine?

"I know!" answered her female companion, a brunette this time, whose hair reached her shoulders. "Who would have thought this whole messed up Sorceress War could end up in romance? Oh I wish I've joined their party in fighting the Sorceress if I had known that that the Commander will fall for me!"

"I've heard that she was his client before all this," answered the blonde.

"Before that woman herself became a sorceress."

That woman. So she was thatwoman to the others. And a sorceress nonetheless. Rinoa felt her stomach churn. Of course Squall had his own set of fans. But it was her first time encountering someone who openly said so. So many girls probably did everything to be noticed by him. The question was – why did he choose her?

"So what do you think happens now? The woman is a sorceress. This is the place where we are trained to get rid of sorceresses. And right now, there is one in our premises! She may not be dangerous now, but who knows when!"

"And what's worse is that she's involved with the Commander. When she goes berserk, oh my god, he may not even fight against her."

"Or worse, she might be his Knight. You know, be her puppet! What will happen to Garden? To the world as we know it!"

"That's Armageddon for us!"

Her whole body was shivering, her breathing fast. She couldn't take it anymore. Dashing out from the rows of bookshelves, Rinoa unexpectedly ran into someone.

"Rinoa."

It was that voice. That voice that could easily make her melt. She looked up at him, seeing the concerned look on his facem and that sigh of relief.

"I've been looking for you everywhere," Squall said, taking her hand. "Let's go."

"How was your talk with the Headmaster?" Rinoa asked, trying her hardest to ignore the look of the students they passed by along the corridors. Looking back at Squall, he didn't seem to care at the others at all.

"The direction of Garden from now on," he paused. "You."

"Me?"

"He said that he'll be more than happy to give you space in Garden if you want to stay here."

"Stay? But I was just your client. I'm not in any way part of Garden."

But you're a part of mine,Squall thought. Sighing, he muttered, "You were not just our client, Rinoa. You fought with us. You played a huge part in the war. In a way, this is Cid's way of thanking you."

I was the extension of Ultimecia in the world,Rinoa said to herself. But it was a tempting offer. She could stay with Squall. But then again...

"I'm a sorceress, Squall. I can't stay here."

"Rinoa, we've been through this already." Squall raked a hand through his hair. "You're not evil."

"Yet, Squall. I'm not evil yet. One day, I..." Rinoa paused, noticing that they were already standing in the middle of Garden's ballroom. The chairs were already stacked at the sides, the tables neatly arranged, devoid of any stains and mess. It was not as if a wild party had ever been thrown at all.

The sorceress stood in front of the SeeD and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I don't want to talk about this right now. Let me take some time to think."

"I'd like that," Squall responded, encircling her waist and leaning down so their foreheads were pressed against each other. "Let's dance. We weren't able to last night."


~Eight months later~

Squall was on his fourth glass of margarita, still incapable of shutting off his senses, when she had finished playing the piano. It was his first time to see her play the instrument, and she was really good at it. Watching her now, eight months since she had left Garden without a word, she looked even more beautiful. She wore a flowing red dress that accentuated her curves and pale skin, her dark hair was longer, and she exuded an even more mature mien.

Watching her like this at the corner of the hotel lounge, Squall recalled the dream he once had of Laguna and Julia. It made him disappointed that right now, he was being like Laguna – a soldier watching the woman he loved play at night, waiting, hoping to be noticed by her. Only that, this time, will their story end up as bittersweet as Laguna and Julia had been?

Rinoa finally stood up and bowed to the audience, smiling. How he had missed seeing that smile. The young Commander narrowed his eyes when she had made eye contact with a man in a suit, seated in front, and nodded at him in acknowledgment.

Another man, an employee from the hotel, then came up to her on the platform and handed her a bouquet of flowers. There was a bemused and amused expression on her face upon receiving it, especially when the man had whispered to her some kind of a secret.

Scanning the crowd, she finally found him. Dressed just how she had always remembered him with his white shirt, jeans, those belts that she had no idea how he wore them like that, and his jacket that was coloured black now but still had fur as a collar. It surprised her that after all this time; his attractive, but intimidating look still took her breath away.

He was looking intently at her – steel blue eyes clashing with chocolate brown ones. It made her shiver, self-conscious, and messed up at once. How can he still have that effect on her?

She waited until her audience resumed drinking and chatting before mustering all her strength to move her legs and approach the man who had just rocked her world with just one look.

"Hi," Rinoa said, wondering if she had been blushing under his hawk-like gaze.

"Hi," Squall answered, face devoid of emotion.

"Mind if I sit down?"

Squall nodded and made room for her on the leather cushion.

"Thank you for the flowers," Rinoa began, gaze focused on the flowers on her lap.

"Hn."

"So what brings you in Deling? Are you staying here for long?"

"A meeting with officials from Galbadia Garden. It's our last night here."

Why didn't her father tell her about Balamb Garden SeeDs visiting Galbadia Garden? She could've been spared from this unexpected visit if she had known. "Oh. How are things in Garden?"

"Busier than we've ever been," Squall said, taking a sip from his drink. "I don't want to talk about work right now."

Rinoa nodded in understanding. This awkward small talk was killing her. "Alright."

"Walk with me?"

That question was enough to make her finally look at him. Her mind screamed "No!" but all she said was, "Sure."

How can she ever resist him?

They stepped out of the hotel and into a vast garden right after Rinoa had asked a hotel staff to deliver the flowers in her room. They walked up the trail, with the stridulating crickets and water trickling down the fountain ahead filling in the silence. Walking up at a small arched bridge, Squall leaned onto the stone railing and gazed at the pond below that reflected the starry sky.

"Why did you leave?" he asked.

Rinoa stared at his back. She had already known that this question will be coming. But that did not mean that she was still prepared for this blow. "Because it was the right thing to do," she managed.

A moment of silence passed between them. Every second that passed killed her each time. "Squall," Rinoa pressed.

"It was right to just leave without a word?"

Hyne, he's mad.She can tell even if his voice was as impassive as ever. Of course he had every right to be. It was her fault. She left him. Hurt him. She was no different from Ellone who had just vanished from his life one day. He should hate her. That's right. He should. This was for the best.

He turned to her. "By doing the rightthing, Rinoa, are you any happier now?"

No."Yes," Rinoa challenged. She wouldn't let him bring down her resolve. "And you should be, too."

"That's right. I should be." Squall said. "But I'm not." He took a few steps to close the distance between them. "Tell me, Rinoa. Tell me then I'll leave."

Rinoa looked up to his stormy eyes . "Because I don't want to be involved with you."

"Because of what you think you've become?"

"What I thinkI've become? For real, Squall? If it hadn't occurred to you yet, I am this generation's sorceress."

"I know."

What is he getting at?"Good. Then I shouldn't explain any further. Because that fact alone explains a lot. You may go now, Commander Leonhart."

"Don't mock me, Rinoa," Squall said, holding her arm. "And I'm not going anywhere until we've settled this."

Rinoa shook him off. "Damn it, Squall! Do I have to spell it out for you?! I'm a sorceress! You know what I did in the Sorceress War. It can happen again. I have these powers inside me that are just waiting to shoot out, and I don't even know if I'm strong enough to stop myself from letting that happen!"

"You're over-thinking this."

"Over-think?!" Rinoa repeated the word like poison in her tongue. "How can I not over-thinkthis when I'm perfectly aware of how people look at me like I'm some kind of walking curse, how they talk behind my back, and how mothers hide their children when they see me!"

She let out a deep breath. "Can't you see this, Squall? You're the leader of the institution that eliminates sorceresses. And I amthe sorceress. Sooner or later I will lose control. And I don't want you to have second thoughts in killing me when that day comes."

She closed her eyes, as she painfully recalled what the students said in the library. And what's worse is that she's involved with the Commander. When she goes berserk, oh my god, he may not even fight against her.

Or worse, she might be his Knight. You know, be her puppet! What would happen to Garden? To the world as we know it!

No. She will not let that happen. She cannot put him in that position. He deserved so much more. "I'm sorry I hurt you, Squall. I left because I wanted to save you from all of the others' judgment. Even people in the Garden think that if I lose control one day, you'd take my side. And Garden will lose their leader.

Then I thought that... We should accept as early as now that you and I are not going to have any peace at all, should I stay. You deserve someone so much better, Squall. You've missed out on a lot of things in life. I can only taint your name. I didn't mention it to you at all because I know you'd persuade me to stay. And I know that when you do that, I won't be able to leave."

"Are you finished?" Squall said. He held her shoulders, keeping her in place. She could've shoved him off with reflex, but she was halted when the look of his eyes softened. "I will never kill you," he said.

"I know. That's what I'm afraid of. When worse comes to worse that's what you have to do."

"Weren't you the one who told me to lean on others and not handle things alone? And yet now, you're the one recoiling. This isn't you, Rinoa." Squall shook her gently so she could look at him. "The Rinoa I know will not say things like this. She always sees the best in everything. In everyone. That's the woman I fell in love with."

"And I never thought that the Squall I used to know would be saying things like this," Rinoa responded, a small, forlorn smile crept on her face, while her eyes started to brim with tears. What had she done to deserve such an awesome man?

Seeing her smile delighted him, making Squall return the gesture. "It's because a stubborn client came into my life. I'm serious, Rinoa. I won't let you go through this alone. I'm not going anywhere. Lean on me. We'll ride this out together. You and me. And we'll make it. You just have to trust me."

"Oh, Squall." It's me I don't trust. Not you.

"I don't care what the others think. I've lived my whole life not caring about what they think of me. I'll take care of you, Rinoa. I'll protect you. Stay with me."

Never in her life had she expected that the almighty Squall Leonhart will ask of her like this. What had she done to receive this kind of affection from him? He wanted her to stay with him. Tears began to fall from the sorceress' eyes.

"Don't." Squall caressed her face and wiped away the first fall of tears. "I'm sorry. I know this is hard for you." He pulled her into an embrace, and threaded his fingers on her dark hair as Rinoa sobbed. "But the Rinoa I know will not make others worry, will fight through everything with everyone."

That Rinoa has not been in love yet. And not even a sorceress.Rinoa thought despondently.

"Let's get you inside," Squall offered when Rinoa's sobbing had ceased. How long had they been standing there in the dead of the night just holding each other?

When they were at Rinoa's door in the hotel suite, Squall said, "We'll be going back to Balamb tomorrow."

"Have a safe trip."

Awkward silence floated around them for agonizing seconds. It was Squall who broke the silence. "So I'll... see you when I see you. Good night, Rinoa," he said, turning on his heels to leave.

Before he could do so, Rinoa threw herself at him, wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him fervently and desperately. She pulled away before he can even respond. "Good night, Squall."

And then she entered her room, closed the door, shutting him out of her life.


"Wishing you a safe ride back home, Sir." A young male Galbadian Garden cadet saluted.

"Thank you for your Garden's hospitality," Squall said, saluting back.

Opening the trunk of the SUV, Squall put in his duffel bag. Upon closing it he gazed at the azure sky overhead, and was baffled when a lone white feather came into view, slowly descending from the heavens.

Wide-eyed, he watched it slowly descend, falling right in front of him. He opened his palm to catch it, to hold it, to feel its softness despite the barrier from his gloves. It reminded him of the moment in Time Compression, when all of his thoughts were full of herbefore he succumbed to darkness.

Then there was that familiar pull. He looked up, and as if his thoughts had summoned her, he focused his gaze on the woman standing by the gate of Galbadia Garden.

She was wearing a beige trench coat, a contrast to her dark hair that cascaded past her shoulders, her gold-red highlights shimmered under the sun. She had a hand bag on, and two suitcases beside her were on the concrete floor. The sorceress smiled and cocked her head to the side, teasing, when she saw her Knight's bemused expression.

"Well?" she called out. And it was the only word the SeeD needed before walking up to her and kissing her like she would be gone in a blink of an eye.

"Well..." Squall murmured, smiling, when they had both parted for air. And they both knew that it was for a new beginning that shall continue on for as long as they live.


Author's note:

Oh hi there! It's been a long while since I last wrote for Final Fantasy VIII, and it's so refreshing and nostalgic at the same time to return to my first fandom, my first love, my first home.

It's been exactly ten years since I first laid eyes on Final Fantasy VIII and have read my very first Squall-Rinoa fanfic. And I have to say that ever since then, FFVIII and fanfictions have been an integral part of my life.

I've been mostly a reader in the fandom during its peak in the early to mid 2000's. Having read more than a hundred Squall-Rinoa stories, I then started writing my own, but I was a child back then so my writing was terrible, haha.

So now that I'm a bit older, I've come back with this piece, but a little uncertain with Squall and Rinoa's personalities because like I said, it's been a decade since I've played this game. The details are getting hazy. :|

So there. I hope you guys liked this. Please let me know what you think. :) Feedbacks are most welcome because I want to shape up to return to FFVIII fanfiction again. ^^

Thanks a bunch to Ashbear for informing us about this really good project. :) It was delightful my favourite active authors in the past return here with new outputs.

Long live, Squall x Rinoa! ^_^