Summary — Who would have known that a task so mundane and a decision so trivial would have the ability to provoke the deepest of thoughts? Surely Squall Leonhart had not. (Two parts. Post-game Squall x Rinoa for the Where I Belong Challenge.)

Author's Note — Whelp, I'm trying my hand at a little something for the Where I Belong challenge that myself and Ashbear concocted (yes…we are secretly evil scientists – but that's between us, k?). It goes 'til the end of August so if you have fanfiction/art/videos/whatever that you'd like to submit, please do!

Onto the actual story, it's not the most glamorous and am a little rusty writing-wise, but I do feel proud that I somehow managed to turn a reference from the game into actual fic fodder. Go me! Heh. And yeah, I really shouldn't be splitting this up but, darn it, I wanted something posted on Squall's birthday after missing it for 2 years in a row (I think). I promise to update it within a day or two.


part i - before

Squall Leonhart knew something was off.

Terribly off.

From the moment he had begun to walk along the narrow hallway, a foreign, pungent smell permeated his nostrils and refused to do nothing but intensify with every step he took. Noticing that the door at the very end of the hall was ajar, he cautiously slowed his pace to quiet the echo in his footsteps. After the target was approached surreptitiously, the commander held his breath and dared to peer into the room to assess the situation.

Nigh-instantaneously, the breath escaped his lungs' hold.

The sight before him managed to surpass his most dire expectations. And he'd seen a hell of a lot during the 23 years he'd lived on this planet.

Mustering all of his courage and audacity, he took a step forward into the room and coolly uttered, "…Haven't we all suffered enough the first time?"

Naturally, the paintbrush in her hand instinctively went flying in his direction. He caught it with ease.

"Don't do that, Squall!" she indignantly yelped after turning to her left. "I was just about to dip that in primer. You could have had a shirt and face full of paint… not that you wouldn't have deserved it for scaring me like that."

Inwardly smiling, he walked over to where she was to hand her back the brush. "Sorry. Couldn't resist."

Instead of simply taking the brush and resuming what she had been doing, the sorceress opted to rise from her crouched position. Crossing her arms and taking a step forward to eliminate the space between them, a devious grin quickly spread across her face. It was one Squall knew all too well.

"So…you wouldn't resist helping me out either?" she asked in the most sugary, put-on voice known to man. Yep, his most dire expectations were certainly being surpassed and then some right now.

"I would but staying here would make me the stupid one."

…Not that it impeded his ability to throw her through another loop, judging by the utterly dumbfounded look on her face right now.

Feeling merciful, he pointed to her shirt with his free hand. "This finally come out of hiding?"

Peering down for a second, the comment finally clicked in Rinoa's head.

"Oh, yeah, I guess it did." she sheepishly answered, flattening the invisible creases in her 'I'm With Stupid' shirt — a gift, if one could call it that, courtesy of Selphie from her and Irvine's trip to Deling a few months ago. "I was going to burn it but I figured it'd be perfect to paint in…being unwearable in public and all. I can wear this inside out if you want to regain some IQ points."

Squall shook his head. "It's fine." he assured her, holding a certain comment about earning the title of stupid for letting her effortlessly con him into this on his tongue. Pocketing the brush he'd been holding into his jeans' back pocket, he waltzed past her and peered into the nearby de-lidded paint can out of curiosity. His eyes suddenly narrowed. "…You sure this is primer? It's…light blue."

"Yeah, I'm sure." she airily replied, crouching back down to pick up the can to pour more of its contents into the nearby tray by his feet. "It's a new kind of tinted primer that turns white when the coat is completely dry. I'm not sure if two cans' worth is going to be enough, but we should at least be able to do most of the room."

Taking a fresh glance at their surroundings — a modestly-sized room with beech hardwood flooring (currently covered by layers upon layers of newspaper) and white trim outlining the bottom of the walls, a singular window and closet (also currently taped up along the edges) — Squall was not personally convinced that two cans would do the trick. Not because of the size of the room, oh no, but because the walls were presently giving him a migraine of epic proportions, painted in a painfully-bright yellow colour.

Mari…something, the real estate agent had called it?

Regardless of whatever the hell this shade of pain was called, the commander figured it would take a hell of a lot of this blue-tinted primer to make sure that retina-burning colour wouldn't bleed into whatever hue his girlfriend had in mind for the space.

"So…are you going to keep the brush or do you want the roller I have here?" said girlfriend asked, effectively pulling him out of his sardonic musings. "I'm thinking that whoever uses the brush will probably paint around all the trim since the roller won't be able to reach those parts."

"I'll keep the brush for now. We can eventually switch to even out the workload. Sound reasonable?"

Rinoa nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me." she agreed. "I'll get started. You might want to change into something else though. I'm not sure if the tint in this stuff might ruin your clothes if it happens to get on you."

Taking her advice, he took the brush out of his pocket and retreated from the room. After a quick right turn and hop up the stairs, Squall walked down the upstairs hallway, sparing a split second to appreciate the fact that the walls here were painted in a far less visually-assaulting off-white as he approached his target, the master bedroom he and Rinoa shared (which was also painted in the same colour). Upon latching his hand on handle of the aforementioned destination's door and twisted it to enter the room, he spared another moment to take in the gloriously-messy (mostly Rinoa's doing) sight in front of him.

With half-opened boxes pushed off to the side, no dressers or drawers to be seen anywhere, random articles of clothing strewn in every nook and cranny and two blanket-covered, pillow-adorned twin mattresses dotting the center of the hardwood floor, the room was rather unimpressive-looking. But to the man who had scavenged through those boxes to pluck out the clothes he'd wear for the day, slept on the pushed-together mattresses and had been blessed enough to be able to wake up in morning beside his beautiful girlfriend (despite the slight gap) for several consecutive days on end for the first time in their five-year relationship (a trend he hoped to see continue), it was a sight to be infinitely thankful for.

It wasn't soon before long when the commander found himself crouching down to one of the boxes inscribed with his name to rummage through it to find something suitable to paint in. In a sea of black, white, grey and occasionally navy, a shirt called caught his eye as he sifted through the folded pieces of clothing. A rare smirk appeared on his lips.

(to be continued)