A/N: It's been a while since I had trouble with writing longer pieces. I hope it didn't show here... But I did finish it right in time for Squall's birthday. :D

Special thanks: M. L. Ayala, for being such an amazing beta. :)

~ Hyne, she hadn't felt this awkward around him since their first date! And Squall wasn't exactly helping, either. ~

Okay, it was official: they couldn't go on like this anymore. Not if they wanted to actually achieve something.

Surely, she had had more fights than just this one with Squall, - that was normal in a relationship - but this one felt quite different from all those other ones. More frightening to begin with. That, and the fact that he still hadn't come home from work, said more than enough already. He was still mad, and avoiding her on purpose.

Work... that's always where our disagreements start, the raven-haired beauty thought sadly, letting out a deep sigh.

In retrospect, the argument seemed so childish, petty even. But wasn't that always the case? She had accused him of the fact that he was always more interested in his job as a commander in Balamb Garden rather than in their relationship. The effort had to come from both sides, after all. Though as of lately, it seemed that she was the only one who was trying.

"Rin, I thought we already discussed this," the usually silent brunet man had noted quite tiredly, while running a heavily gloved hand through his thick, silky smooth hair.

And he had been right about that one, because they actually had. Any other time, she would've agreed with him, but it was just that the previous answer hadn't been that satisfying to her. If anything, his tone of voice had only annoyed her, immensely. Squall had a rather monotone voice of himself, but he'd never sounded this indifferent before, so something about that sentence had made her lose her patience.

"Yes, and that's exactly the problem: you always think that whatever you have to say is more important than my thoughts, so you don't even bother to just listen!" she had countered fiercely. "When you're not in the mood to deal with problems, you just ignore them, hoping they'll go away by themselves!"

This had earned her a rather sharp look. Obviously not as sharp as his poisonous glare, which could make even the toughest warriors feel like a speck of dust if it was directed to them, but sharp enough to make Rinoa feel... uncomfortable to say the least. But she had refused to look away, because that would've meant that the brunet had won.

"You know that's not true," he had said softly, almost defiantly, while his stormy blue eyes refused to leave her for a second.

"Oh, then you have a really weird way of showing that, Squall, because even Seifer treated me better than you do sometimes."

It had been a low move, she knew that, but at the moment, she'd been so angry that she couldn't care less that these words would hurt the silent swordsman deeply.

After her comment, the brunet male had finally started frowning. For Rinoa, it had been the telltale sign that he was starting to get annoyed with her accusations.

Her suspicions were only confirmed when he had asked through gritted teeth, "Could we talk about this sometime later? I don't really have time for this today."

Needless to say, this comment had totally rubbed Rinoa the wrong way. "Well, Squall, if you're too busy to make some time for me, then what am I even doing here, keeping you from your oh so precious work? Why didn't you abandon me right away?"

A long, painful silence had followed after that, palpable and almost as thick as smoke. Eventually, Squall had said rather coolly, "That's something I've been wondering, too."

And that was when the fight had really started; both of them raising their voices more and more, until they were sure that their neighbors could hear every word. Eventually, he had left the apartment, not sparing her a single glance. But if you really thought about it, could you blame her for her outburst? As of lately, Squall was all work, work, work and no play. It was almost as though he was avoiding her... As if she didn't matter to him any more. As if he couldn't care less that he was hurting her this way. Maybe he really didn't.

Oh, and let's certainly not forget that when he finally does come home late at night, all he really does is eat some leftovers and after that, he immediately goes to bed. No 'Why, hello, Rinoa, how have you been?' or 'Darn, you must feel pretty lonely. Let's do something fun tomorrow' from him. Not even a simple 'So how was your day?', Rinoa thought bitterly, and she let out yet another long-suffering sigh.

Hyne, it was as though she didn't exist to him anymore! Was it really that hard to believe that this lack of attention - more than usual, that is - from the person she cared most about made her feel incredibly insecure? Didn't Squall know how this had to be for her? The guy was more around Zell and Quistis than with her.

On the other hand, of course the poor man was tired all the time, seeing that he pulled all-nighters now more often than ever. Of course he had raised his voice, even if it was only slightly, because when you're beaten, bruised and broken because of all the (sometimes unwanted) responsibilities you have as a high-ranking Commander, you simply can't muster any more patience to people who always seem to annoy you, anyway. And her shouting had only made things worse.

So did that mean that Squall wanted to break up with her? Was that what he was trying to say by not showing up tonight? After all, his actions always spoke for him and it was currently half past twelve. Perhaps he'd been serious when he had answered that last question of hers. Or was this one of those nights that he would come home when she was sleeping, so he could avoid another upcoming fight? Honestly, with someone like Squall, you never knew for sure. Rinoa closed her eyes and allowed herself to take deep, calming breaths (not that it was helping much, she still felt like she could burst into tears any moment). She noticed just now how tired she actually was. The fight and all that worrying afterwards had drained all the energy from her and she couldn't even bring herself to go to the bedroom and lie down in that huge bed, all alone.

Just when she had decided that perhaps it was better to go upstairs and get some sleep (Squall wouldn't come home anytime soon and even if he did, her tiredness would probably only cause another fight between them. That was honestly the last thing she wanted), she heard someone open the front door and close it again. At once, Rinoa sat up straight, feeling more nervous than ever. Because what if Squall was still mad at her? He had a right to be, after all the things she had called him.

Without realizing what she was doing, she got up from the comfortable couch and shuffled closer to the door that led to the hall. Judging by the sounds she heard, Squall was taking off his heavy boots... And he was having quite some trouble with it (either that, or he was just taking his sweet time in doing so). That alone was a giveaway that it had been a long day for him. This only made her feel guiltier...

The soft sounds of footsteps indicated that he was getting closer. The raven-haired woman unconsciously held her breath when Squall entered the room (although it looked more like hobbling what with the way he was moving around and leaning against the doorframe), looking flat out worn from checking all those reports and signing them... if that was really what he'd been doing. At the moment, he gave more the impression that he'd been fighting thousands upon thousands of monsters. In fact, the brunet looked as though he was about to die from a combination of pure exhaustion and lethal wounds; his hair was able to hide most of his face, but she could still see the dullness of his stormy blue eyes. Squall's eyes were never dull, they always had that glint in them that suggested unusual sharpness. And now, that was gone.

Rinoa took a deep, steadying breath, before starting nervously, "Hey..."

She ignored the fact that her voice sounded unsteady and an octave higher and looked up at him expectantly, willing to forgive him for what he'd said to her...

However, Squall didn't greet her back. He didn't mutter an indifferent "Whatever," either and she found herself wondering if she should be relieved or worried.

Frankly, the silent swordsman didn't even acknowledge her presence and even though Rinoa felt really bad for his current condition, she couldn't help but be highly peeved at his overly rude behavior. Yes, he was mad, she got that, but that didn't automatically mean that he could treat her like trash! She was about to tell him this, when she noticed how he slowly, painstakingly slow, made his way to her. If she hadn't been worried before, she sure was now. He looked like he was about to collapse.

Rinoa frowned. "Squall, what's-"

The raven-haired woman wasn't able to finish her sentence, because before she knew what was happening, he'd bumped into her with such a force that it took her breath away, quite literally. If it hadn't been for him instantly wrapping his strong arms around her and keeping her in place, close against him, she certainly would have fallen on the floor, hard. Without saying as much as a word, he merely tightened his hold on her, while burying his head in the crook of her neck. His skin was icy cold to the touch and the sudden contact made her shiver involuntarily. Was it really that cold outside?

Still, she didn't pull away. At a complete loss of words, Rinoa slowly returned the embrace, taking in his scent. Squall always smelled like a mix of coffee, gunpowder, a flower field, a peaceful spring evening, and something else that she couldn't quite put her finger on. Well, whatever it was, it was doing a great job of making her head spin, in a good way.

The two of them stood like this in the middle of the room for a while. Both quiet, as solid as a rock, with Rinoa quietly listening to Squall's calm breathing, waiting for him to break the silence... But that never happened.

Eventually Rinoa couldn't take it anymore and she felt she had to say something. "Squall?" she whispered.

Only silence met her. No reaction whatsoever. She sighed lightly, stroking his chocolate-colored hair softly. Oh, how she loved his hair; it was getting quite long, was thick and silky smooth. She enjoyed running her fingers through it and thankfully, Squall never seemed to mind. After hesitating a moment, she tried to get his attention once again by saying his name, but again to no avail.

A little too soon, he let go of her and stepped away, not looking at her. Trying to hide her disappointment, she asked him patiently, "Are you hungry?"

Avoiding her gaze, he briefly shook his head. "...No."

"Okay. Well..." Hyne, she hadn't felt this awkward around him since their first date! And Squall wasn't exactly helping, either. The ebony-haired woman didn't even know if he was still mad at her or not. Well, only time could tell. "I'll go get you something to drink then."

Anything to get out of this room for now. Squall didn't say anything, but he didn't protest, either, so she figured that maybe he was thirsty enough. As she took a glass of the cabinet, her hands were shaking, but she wasn't sure what was the main cause.

When she finally came back from the kitchen, a glass of cool water in her hand, she encountered yet another surprise that made her halt.

Apparently, Squall had taken off his black leather jacket while she'd been in the kitchen and was now lying on his back on the couch, one arm resting on his chest and the other dangling off the edge. Judging by the slow raise and fall of his chest, he was fast asleep. Careful as to not make any sounds and wake him up, Rinoa put the full glass of water on the small coffee table. Without a warning, she waved her hand furiously in front of his eyes to be sure that he wasn't faking it. She had done this once when he'd been awake, making him grasp her wrist to stop her and give her that deadpan look. The same look that always made her weak in the knees and sent shivers down her spine, and yet, he still had no idea what he could do to her.

Yup, he's sleeping like a baby, she thought, a small smile gracing her pink lips. A super sweet, super stubborn baby, but still, he's my sweet, stubborn baby... He hasn't looked this peaceful in ages!

There was something absolutely adorable about the brunet man that made Rinoa want to go all "Aww." She decided against it, though.

Without waking him up, she quietly lay down next to him. The young woman carefully put one of his arms (the one that was resting on his chest) around her and happily sunk into the warmth that he provided her, without knowing it himself. The couch was big enough for the both of them, thankfully. She let out a blissful sigh, because even in his sleep, the swordsman played the role of the Knight well, as he pulled her closer to him.

Hmm... I could definitely get used to this...

Slowly, Rinoa's eyes fluttered open. The first thing she noticed, besides the fact that it was daytime, was that she was lying on the couch, with a blanket draped over her form. Did Squall do that when he woke up this morning? Almost at once, that euphoric feeling to which she'd woken up to disappeared. Because where was he now? Did he leave again, wanting to avoid a new round of fight? That would be just like him.

For a moment, she wondered what had woken her up in the first place, but then she heard the noise coming from the kitchen. Judging from the sounds, Squall was still home and he was either destroying the place, or cooking. Not that it was much of a difference when it came to her Squall. The guy didn't know his own strength sometimes. But that didn't mean that it wasn't cute.

The ebony-haired woman barely noticed the empty glass of water that was still on the coffee table, as she made her way to the small kitchen. She had barely entered the cozy and once so clean place, when her boyfriend accidentally spilled orange juice on his white shirt. Yes, you could say a lot about this man, but he was a total dork in the kitchen.

He cursed under his breath, before letting out an annoyed sigh. Almost as though he could feel someone's eyes on his back, he turned around and stood face to face with an amused Rinoa.

"Morning," she said in a sing-song voice.

"Oh... I wanted to surprise you," he admitted quietly, staring at her from between his chocolate-colored locks.

Rinoa's eyes automatically traveled to his shirt. The orange stain on it was getting bigger and bigger, much like a parasite.

"Really? Because for someone who wanted to surprise me, you weren't exactly the epitome of quietness," she noted teasingly, her dark chocolate-like eyes twinkling in pure amusement.

"I guess... you've been rubbing off too much on me," was the simple explanation.

That response earned the brunet a playful smack on the arm. "Haha, very funny, Squall."

It was silent between them for a moment, both parties becoming self-conscious, until they suddenly started simultaneously, "Why are you-"

"I was just-"

Just as suddenly as they had started, the two paused again, looking at each other in surprise. Rinoa let out a nervous laugh.

"You first," Squall said after a quiet beat.

"Okay... So why are you trying to show off your cooking skills?"

This time, that comment didn't earn her a sharp look.

The commander took a deep breath. "Because I'm sorry... For what happened last night. I was just tired and... I mean, I shouldn't have..."

Apparently, he didn't know how to continue, but for Rinoa, it didn't matter. "I'm sorry, too, Squall. I was only thinking about myself. I should've known that you didn't have the energy to go through all that stuff... Will you forgive me?"

In a swift move, Squall pulled Rinoa closer to him and captured her lips with his own. It was a tender kiss, but it still managed to increase her heartbeat and make the butterflies in her stomach come alive.

"Does that answer your question?" he replied, a little breathless.

"It sure does..." Rinoa felt herelf start smiling dumbly (which was all Squall's fault of course, because that always happened when he was around.) After a moment of pure silence, she started tugging at his shirt, to which Squall gave her a questioning look. "Now, let's first take off that shirt of yours, before it gets impossible to get that stain out of it, alright?" Rinoa suggested with a playful wink that promised much more. "Breakfast can wait, right?"

Squall smirked. She didn't have to say that twice.

"...Yes, why hurry?"

A/N: This was written for the "Where I Belong" challenge. Check out the forum "Where I Belong" for more info. :)