For the Where I Belong challenge! It's a Squinoa writing / art / digital media challenge for all that is Squinoa! Please participate if you haven't yet :)
Haven't played FF8 in a long time so I'm sorry for any plot mistakes and whatnot. I also didn't re-read this, because I absolutely wanted to write this for Squall's birthday.
If you see any mistakes feel free to tell me so I can fix 'em.
Fluff is the best I can manage in terms of romance.
Rated T for the occasional angry Squall rants.
Headmaster Squall Leonhart heaved yet another stack of paperwork onto his desk and sighed. He stared at the clock, now reading 11:34 PM. He had been at this since morning, only stopping to get a hot-dog at noon.
He halfheartedly began completing the first form. But instead of a financial report for the cadets, the first line read: 'Today is special' with a smiling face scribbled next to it. Puzzled, Squall picked the next paper up and it was blank.
Where was the paperwork? Had somebody been in his office? He resumed reading the only filled paper. 'The place of memories where the moon shone through the glass is where you will find answers.'
"The heck?" Squall muttered. If this was a hint as to who messed with his paperwork, then he would find the answer to the stupid riddle and get on with his work. The place of memories where the moon shone through the glass? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Was it referring to his memories? Or the prankster's?
He rolled his eyes and looked over to the wall clock. Below was a picture of him and Rinoa dancing in the ballroom of the Garden. Zell had taken the picture and canvased it, hanging it in Squall's office. Rinoa had a copy as well.
Warm memories of that night resurfaced. The moon shone through the high, glass ceiling... Of course! The ballroom was the place in the riddle. All suspicions shifted to Zell. He had taken the picture after all. Squall quickly walked out of his office, swearing to God that when he found Zell, the little bastard would pay.
The ballroom was a great deal of distance from the Headmaster's office, and Squall's murderous intent for Zell grew bigger with each step he took inside the vacant space. It was dimly lit, as it had been on that night with Rinoa.
The dance had given Squall a brief moment of freedom, the first person he had ever opened up to being Rinoa. Thinking back, Squall blamed the wine for his overly abundant extrovert tendencies on that day. He had told the servants that he was not only a teetotaller, but definitely underage. After a few attempts from the servants' part to convince him into indulging since it was his SeeD passage ceremony, he deemed it easier just to take the damn wine so they would stop bothering him. He had only drunk a few sips, which he thought were the reason of his outgoing behaviour towards the girl in the white dress, at least on that day that's what he thought. Now he realised she had planned it all meticulously, taking the lead in the dance, sticking with him until the end despite dancing skill or lack thereof, and that smile.
Rinoa Heartilly's smile had guided him through an unknown skill, dormant territory shying away and waiting to be poured out. That day, she began to inspire a source of trust, her childish aura showing her pure spirit. Maybe, just maybe he could confide in her, at least for a while, he had thought after the dance.
Snapping out of his flashback-inducing trance, Squall frowned and searched the area for any trace of Zell. Instead, he noticed small arrows scribbled on the ground. It looked like... Blood? He followed the arrows all the way to the balcony and found a note attached to the railing. He unfolded it and it read, in very messy handwriting:
'Need help where a man's best friend would shop. Buy train tickets.
What the hell? So Quistis was the one who wrote that prank on his reports? And she was the one giving him Hell for being behind on his work too...
Now, the stupid note. What did it say already? A man's best friend.
"That's the dog," Squall found himself saying out loud. Nobody was here to hear his ramblings anyway. Even if there were people, they wouldn't get it.
The dog was man's best friend, and where would a dog shop? A pet shop?
Squall ran a hand through his unruly hair. Quistis needed help at a pet shop. And what else? To buy train tickets? Dogs didn't shop at the first place. Their owners bought stuff for them. Squall's mind drifted to the annoying pup he had gotten accustomed to over the course of his adventures. He had asked Rinoa countless times why she had named the female Angelo, but she would always say it was a fitting name. That dog prove useful in battle, though. Squall remembered having to read those magazines sold in the Timber pet shop to train the dog's limit breaks.
"'Your dog will soar past the moon and return to strike your enemy where it hurts! Enter the Invincible Moon!'" Squall read from the newest Pet Pals magazine in an all but enthusiastic voice. "What is this?"
"I'm teaching Angelo some tricks to use in battle," Rinoa replied, staring intently at Angelo's poor attempts at 'soaring to the moon' as the magazine so poetically described it. After over-feeding Angelo dog treats and more ring-hooping in vain, Squall decided to read the rest of the article to Rinoa.
"You have to walk your dog for about 900 steps for optimal results."
Rinoa immediately turned around, her brown eyes wide in surprise, giving Squall that fluttery feeling in his stomach that he hated so much. Right now it felt pleasant, though.
"What? Why didn't you tell me that before?"
Squall had to admit it was fun to see Rinoa struggle to train her dog, making adorable pouts and harrumphing as she failed. Instead, he replied, "Whatever."
"No, Squall, no 'whatevers' this time. You had the magazine, and you decided not to give me important info?"
Squall almost chuckled at the word 'important' but held it in.
"Read it yourself..." he stated, making extravagantly sarcastic motions with his arms and leaning forward.
"Hmph," Rinoa said, then without warning she chucked two dog bones at him, and they hit him 'where it hurts', as well as prompted Angelo to bite him in hopes of attaining more bones.
Rinoa pouted. "Meanie."
Timber. The pet shop in Timber was the next target, riddle-place destination, or whatever pranks Quistis was trying to pull. Oh, and he was expected to buy his train tickets himself? Did Quistis remember whose salary paid for EVERYBODY's tickets when they went to Timber for the first time? And she probably forgot how much one ticket cost... But if it would bring the paperwork back, then Squall would scale the garden walls wearing nothing but a loincloth if that's what it took to finish his work and just go to bed. Okay, maybe not. But he was still eager to find Quistis and the paperwork and punish her. Like, by cutting her pay or something.
The train ride to Timber was dull and boring, except for the occasional brat that would come asking to touch the gunblade and saying things such as 'Is that even real?'.
By the time he arrived it was already dawn. A whole day (or rather night) wasted on some prank? he thought angrily. Squall bleakly stared at his wallet as he got off the train. It felt light, and he thought of subtracting what he had paid for the ticket off Quistis's pay.
He had already forgotten how things were placed around Timber, so after running in circles for a while, finally accepting defeat and asking for directions, he finally found the Pet Shop.
"Hello, there," an old lady greeted him after the door chimes rang. He remembered her from when he was tasked with buying magazines here. Rinoa would send him as part of their 'contract'. He would get tired of doing menial tasks, finally protest, then Rinoa would make it up to him, just with a reassuring smile conveying both trust and gratitude.
"Morning. I'm looking for..."
What was he looking for exactly? Paperwork? Quistis?
"Oh my, aren't you that youngster who got groovy with young Rinoa?"
Groovy? That word caught him off guard and he went through five shades of crimson before shaking his head nervously. Groovy... God, what the hell was that supposed to mean?
"Ah, too bad. One day you'll get there, let's see... Squall, was it?"
Squall nodded and looked around for clues. He inwardly slapped himself. Clues? He was starting to sound like some lame detective from comic books. This was nothing serious, just a prankster doing his thing. Even so, why was he feeling like he was enjoying this wild goose chase? No, he was supposed to hate the perpetrator with his every gut for depriving him of work and sleep. Yet he didn't. The intent to cut Quistis's pay was dissipating. Strange...
"Squall, here, a package for you," the lady said. "Silly coincidence, meeting you here. The girl with too much energy left this for you."
Girl with too much energy...?
"Selphie?" he asked. The lady nodded, muttered, "Nice young lass..." and gave Squall a small lead box. He opened it and found his ring, his beloved griever ring, intact and maybe more polished than before. Inside there was a note attached. In handwriting that could only be described as Selphie-like, it was written:
'He lent it to her and she never gave it back. What? Who? WHERE? Thirty minutes or I burn the paperwork along with one Moomba for every minute you're late.'
Oh God. If Selphie said she was going to burn a Moomba it meant she would do it. Thirty minutes? The location was probably thirty minutes away, then.
"Everything okay, Samuel?" the old lady piped.
"Squall," he said, worried for the poor Moombas and their fate to come...
"Oh, of course, Squall. Stop by to tell me when the cat meows between you and Rinoa, alright?"
This lady had obviously never heard of the word 'moderation' as this crossed the line. Squall decided to take that as innocently and ignorantly as he could as he darted out of the shop.
He re-read the note and smiled as soon as he thought about it. Zell had lent Squall's ring to Rinoa and she had never given it back. He remembered telling Rinoa to keep the ring. She could keep everything, she could take the world, if it meant having her back at his side.
What remained was only the 'where'. But the ring was right here, wasn't it? Right! Zell had taken the ring from Squall at the Garden. Near the quad, if he remembered correctly. He quickly boarded the last minute train, jamming whatever money he had left into the conductor's hand. At this point, he couldn't care less about the paperwork. He only hoped to get there in time to stop a useless Moomba genocide. Knowing Selphie, she would fry the poor tykes on the stage for the world to see...
Squall ran out of the train like a bullet and immediately headed for the quad. His wallet now thin as paper, he wondered how the hell he would buy a train ticket if this ended up being another riddle.
Nearing the quad, Squall noticed a strange smell. Barbecue?
He doubled his sprinting speed and rushed to the stage.
He remembered his determination when the Garden was being attacked. Yes, he had been fierce, but he had felt like he left something behind. He had channeled all the anger, the emptiness in the raging fight, and finally convinced himself, lied to himself, that it was because he had left the Griever ring behind. Now he knew it was more than that. It was a piece of him he had left behind on that day. He had left Rinoa in the others' care while he fought. Back then, fighting was the only thing that kept his inner emotions at bay. Fighting could be calculated and was based on skill. Skill was all SeeDs needed. Soldiers had no emotions. A smile tugged at Squall's lips as he thought of the person who had proven him otherwise.
The increasingly strong burning scent brought him back to reality and he turned the corner to the quad. The sight that greeted him could once again only be described as 'Selphie-like', because who else would lead a dance aerobics class on the quad's stage whilst cooking up a smoking barbecue and sing to the beat of the booming stereo next to her? Thank God she wasn't frying Moombas.
"Selphie," he called out over the loud music. "Selphie!"
She turned around, beaming at him as she jumped even higher and flipped the ribs on the barbecue.
"Squall! Wanna join us?"
Squall brought his palm to his face. Selphie was the one behind these schemes and now she was asking if he wanted to join her barbecue-aerobics class?
"No! Turn the music down!"
Selphie complied and dismissed the now exhausted girls. They walked onto the stage and began helping themselves with large portions of barbecued ribs while chatting. What the hell kind of workout was this?
"Heya, Squall. Irvine told me to give this to ya! He said you'd come."
Of course Squall would come, she had threatened to burn a Moomba every minute he was late!
Selphie gave him a neat envelope with his name on it.
"What about your letter?" Squall said, realising she was the first involved person he had met since the wild goose chase began.
"You said if I didn't come in 30 minutes, you would burn Moombas."
"What? I love those little guys!" Selphie protested. "I know I said we could fry 'em when we were in the prison, but I was joking!"
Selphie didn't seem to know anything about the letter... So it was Irvine, huh? Totally his type, that cowboy-hat wearing son of a-
"Hey, by the way..." Selphie said, then quickly shook her head. "Never mind!"
She ran back to the stage, looking way too energetic for somebody who had just danced aerobics while frying ribs.
"Round two!" she shouted, and the girls protested.
"Come on, come on!" Squall left the area as the music was beginning to get on his nerves. He opened the envelope in a silent corner of the cafeteria and found a small piece of paper saying:
'FINAL ORDER. CHANGE INTO YOUR NORMAL CLOTHES. JUNCTION GUARDIAN FORCES, SLEEP AND BLIND.
-You will find me there.'
This was actually getting kind of fun, as Squall already knew the place of the riddle: the training centre. Quistis had taught him how to junction magic to his attacks there, as a final order before her instructor's licence was relinquished permanently. They had fought a T-Rexaur and he had to admit it had been hard. The physical attacks awakened the beast, so he had to stick to Guardian Forces.
So it had been Quistis all along. Squall would have her pay for this by making her do the paperwork. Maybe he could subtly add the overdue reports as well.
He headed to the training centre and in his triumph for completing the last puzzle, didn't bother to junction any form of Guardian Force or magic. He proudly marched inside with only his gunblade, in case of minor enemy attacks. But he stopped short in his tracks when the floor began to rumble. An earthquake? Suddenly it was like the earth shattered and let loose all the Behemoths it sheltered. The beasts skipped and ran and rolled, all aiming for him. There were maybe a fifty? A hundred?
"The heck?" Squall shouted. He began to summon Shiva but then remembered he hadn't junctioned his Guardian Forces nor his magic.
'It was written in the letter, Squall,' he thought. 'You brought this on yourself, Squall. Learn to read carefully, Squall.'
He hacked and slashed at the first, quicker hordes of purple monsters. Lionheart finished them off and they disintegrated in a cloud of misty light. Their brethren's demise seemingly angered the already rampant beasts and they quickened their pace, no longer attempting to divide their forces. Was this the final challenge? Quistis's idea of a prank was murdering him via angry Behemoths?
"Squall!" a voice called from above, except it wasn't Quistis.
"Squall, use Shiva, quick!"
Squall laughed a bit. Rinoa had been on a trip for two weeks now, Timber restoration or something. Though it was openly known that they were dating, he kept to himself the fact that he missed her. He had closed in on himself a bit more during those weeks, a small part of himself reverting to the old 'whatever' Squall, as Rinoa liked to call him. He immersed himself into paperwork and became a full blown workaholic.
What was she even doing here? Her trip was supposed to be a month long, wasn't it? And she knew about all this? Was she the prankster?
"I don't have my GFs," he answered loudly. The Behemoths sneered and began attacking. He slashed at them as forcefully as he could manage, then Rinoa leapt down from her boulder with the Shooting Star holstered on her arm. She began attacking the purple monsters as well. Squall could tell by her frustrated expression that this was not going according to plan.
"It was written, Squall! On the letter!" Rinoa managed between relentless attacks.
"I know," Squall snapped. "Rin, why the Hell are they not stopping? We should have killed them all by now!"
"I don't know!" she answered. They were now fighting back to back, quickly getting cornered. "I may have overcooked that summoning spell..."
Squall couldn't believe his ears. Rinoa had basically cut her trip short, come back to Balamb, stolen his paperwork, sent him half across the world and back, and summoned Behemoths in the training centre?
"Why in the world would you summon BEHEMOTHS?" Squall shouted over the squeals and snorts and roaring of the monsters.
"It was a surprise!" Rinoa justified as she sniped the beasts, near and far, hitting whatever she could nail.
What the Hell kind of surprise was this? A death wish of some sort?!
Soon they were cornered, and the monsters stopped their assault, surveying their prey, probably thinking about which to tear apart first.
"Rinoa Heartilly, you do realise we're pretty much DEAD now," Squall whispered between ragged breaths. His clothes were torn and he had slashes and scratches all over his body. Rinoa stayed silent, and Squall was about to call out for her again when suddenly he was blinded by light and Rinoa soared above, with angelic wings protruding from her back. She beautifully and captivatingly drifted afloat, then came a flurry of spells.
A tornado blew half the Behemoths away, and then they froze over when she cast Blizzaga almost as fast as lightning. The beasts' shattered remains became ashes when a devastating Firaga was released along with scorching heat.
Then silence returned.
Rinoa's wings disappeared, and Squall guessed the adrenaline that had kept him standing for such a long time had just ran out, because the Sorceress and her Knight, the two star-crossed lovers, collapsed in each other's arms.
Rinoa lay down on the cold floor and Squall did the same. Then, Squall did the strangest thing to do in such a situation.
Squall Leonhart, the aloof commander, workaholic, and all-around sarcastic, laughed.
He laughed and laughed and couldn't stop laughing. Then Rinoa joined in.
"I-I can't believe you screwed with summoning..." he said between choked laughter, "...for Behemoths!"
Rinoa clutched her stomach and said, "There were only supposed to be one hundred!"
Squall laughed even harder. One hundred? Was that supposed to be a small amount?
"Rin, stop!" he managed. His sides were now hurting so badly but he couldn't stop laughing. After a few minutes or so, their laughter subsided, apart from the occasional snickers that would escalate into a mini laughing fit.
"Why'd you come back so early?" Squall finally asked, almost unconsciously intertwining his fingers with Rinoa's.
"Because today is special," was her reply. What did she mean by special? Come to think of it, that was the opening for the first note. What was it that happened today?
"Tell me, did you have fun?"
"Doing what, chasing after cryptic riddles and financially mutilating my own wallet?" he laughed.
"Just answer," Rinoa pressed
Squall thought about it. Did he have fun?
Hell yeah, he had fun.
The feeling of glory he got whenever a puzzle was solved was well better than that bureaucratic 'I-just-completed-another-stack-of-boring-paperwork' feeling. Sure, he was tired, but it had been worth it.
"I guess," he admitted.
Rinoa giggled. "I know you like to come here and train when you're overloaded with work, so that's why I prepared the Behemoths..."
God, if she talked about the Behemoths again he would erupt into laughter and wouldn't stop.
"Yeah, you overdid it though," he chuckled, trying to control the laughs.
"So you did all this?"
"Yeah," Rinoa said, inching closer. "I asked Quistis for the last hint, but everyone seemed so busy. So I organised this. Oh, and Irvine helped our too, for the-"
"Letter for Selphie."
All the pieces were sticking together.
"He didn't know what was inside, though."
They lay there in silence for a while, then Squall finally asked the question that was bothering him all this time.
"Why did you do all this, Rin? Why all this..." he trailed off.
She lightly squeezed his hand and softly said: "Happy birthday, Squall."
After washing up and healing up came the obligatory social gathering, with cake and food and Zell bragging about the prank he hadn't even planned an inch of. Squall usually disliked birthday parties, being the centre of attention and such, but he found himself enjoying the company of Zell, Quistis, Selphie, Irvine, and especially Rinoa. He had only Rinoa to thank for this. For everything, from the lack of paperwork to the visible displays of care and kindness she always showed, to the fact that he had a reason to live.
Zell was being loud at the office table, as usual, while Squall sat in a corner, musing about Rinoa.
She joined him shortly and he simply said: "Thanks, Rin."
Rinoa smiled. "I'm happy you enjoyed your day."
She took his hand and they joined the loud party.
Squall had forgotten his own birthday once, but it wouldn't happen again. The next time he found suspicious notes, he would search for Rinoa before actually following with the riddles.
He smiled, and Irvine basked, thinking his dirty joke had made Squall laugh. But Squall's mind had wandered to the future, specifically March 3rd, where he would be ready to exact revenge.
Oh Mai Gah. I stayed up till 3 AM yesterday trying to finish and ended up completing it today. I hope you enjoyed and please please please double please review! Reviews matter! I don't care if it's only a few words, just leave some feedback! Don't leave me hangin'!