ONE:

Squall was sitting at their tiny kitchen table while Rinoa leaned back on the counter. She was smiling broadly at the plan she had just presented to him. He took a sip of coffee and let the thought settle in for a moment. "That sounds like a great idea, but-"

"No 'buts'."

"But-"

She fixed him with a stern, albeit playful, glare.

He sighed and smiled in spite of himself. "I can't just-"

"Can't? Or won't?"

"Can't."

"Won't." She leaned over, picked up his coffee, took a drink, and returned the cup.

He gave a short laugh and reached over to trace his fingers over the back of her hand as she pulled back to resume her stance at the counter. "I've got-"

"Responsibilities."

"Yes. To-"

"Garden."

He couldn't force the smile from his face. "How am I supposed to plead my case if you won't let me finish?"

"That's the point." She made a 'no-no' gesture with her finger. "You're not supposed to plead your case."

"I'm just expected to give up right at the beginning, then?"

"In this instance? Yes." She took a seat across from him and slid his coffee cup closer to herself.

He grasped her other hand and kissed it, but didn't let it go. "I'm not sure I'm capable of such a thing."

"Surrender?"

"This wouldn't be a surrender. It'd be a forfeit." He released her hand, stood, and went to the cabinet over the sink. "There needs to be terms and conditions for it to be a surrender." He withdrew another coffee mug, filled it, and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. He handed the fresh mug to her and took the first one as he sat back down.

"Okay. How about this? I'll tell you every argument you were going to make for not going and if I'm wrong, you get the chance to say your piece with no interruptions."

"Although the ending will be the same, right?"

"Yes."

He chuckled, ran a hand through his hair, and took another sip of coffee. "Alright. The floor is yours."

"You think that if you're too far away from Garden, you can't be contacted and make your way back in an efficient amount of time to do anything about what might be needing your attention." She cocked a questioning eyebrow at him.

"Go on."

"You think that if you and I are alone and beyond the immediate reach of some form of civilization, it would be a golden opportunity for someone to execute an attack on either one of us."

"Keep going."

"You think that if neither of those things happens, you'll be forced to admit that the world will keep on spinning even if you're not there to supervise it every single day."

He had the good humor to pretend to look wounded for a second or two before he grinned and nodded his agreement.

"Lastly, you think that dealing with all the questions, whispers, gossip, and finger pointing you'll be faced with when you get back is just a huge hassle and it's so much easier to just avoid it altogether." Rinoa sat back in her chair, drank some more of her coffee, and tried to look as ridiculously smug as she possibly could.

TWO:

Rinoa walked into the Balamb Garden Library and immediately found Zell right where she expected him to be - leaning on the front desk talking to Justine, who looked up as Rinoa started towards them, causing Zell to turn around.

"Good afternoon, Miss Heartilly."

Rinoa smiled. "Justine, please call me Rinoa. Every time you call me Miss Heartilly, I look around to see who else is here. Hi, Zell."

"S'up Rinoa?" He cast a sidelong glance to Justine. "See what I did there?"

"Shush."

Rinoa gave Justine a 'sorry for interrupting' look. "Mind if I borrow him for a few minutes?"

"It's okay. I need to finish up a couple of things before my shift ends, anyway."

"And what happens once your shift is over?"

"Yes, I'll give it back to you."

Zell moved to follow Rinoa to the lounge area in the back of the library casting a last glance over his shoulder at Justine. "Thanks." He blew her a kiss.

"If you hadn't been playing paddle ball in here in the first place, I wouldn't have taken it away from you, you know."

.

"So, I need a favor."

Zell pulled a chair away from a table, turned it around and sat with his arms folded over the back. "Name it."

"I need you and the others to make sure Squall knows everything's in good hands for about a week while we go on a vacation."

Zell stared at her and blinked a couple of times before shaking his head like he was coming out of a daze. "I'm sorry... what?"

"I didn't say it would be an easy favor."

"That's not a favor, it's sorcery."

Rinoa glared at him around a small smile.

"What? Too soon?"

She sat down in an arm chair across from Zell. "Come on. It won't be that bad."

"You actually got him to agree to a vacation?"

"Yep."

"Well, I suppose the hard part's already taken care of then."

"Very funny."

"Here's the thing: you guys mean the world to me. I'm never gonna say no to a chance to help you out, but..."

"I just want him to actually have a nice time and maybe even relax a little."

Zell nodded. "Okay."

"I'm gonna meet with Irvine a little later today and Quistis and Selphie probably tomorrow, so it's not like you'll be doing this alone."

"So you came to me first?"

Rinoa smiled and nodded shyly.

"Dude. Rock on. Can I offer a small suggestion?"

"Absolutely."

"Let me talk to Quistis."

Rinoa gave him a quizzical look.

"Not to put too fine a point on it or anything, but you did in one dance what she couldn't do in all their time at Garden."

"What?"

"She was pining for Squall since before she knew what the word meant and then you appeared."

"But he..."

"Never mentioned it?"

Rinoa shook her head.

"Why would he? Far as he's concerned there's nothing to tell. Nothing ever happened and nothing ever would've."

"Really? Never?"

Zell laughed quietly. "I'm not even sure he knows she's a girl... so yes, really. And no, never. For her though, it was kind of a big deal."

"But that wasn't anything personal!"

Zell put a finger to his lips. "Shh... we're in a library, you know."

"I didn't know about any of that stuff then."

"All I'm sayin' is that if I go, it'll be casual and easy. If you go, it'll be subtexty and complicated. The end result'll be the same."

"I appreciate the offer, but I think I'll do it. Try to mend some fences I didn't know were broken, you know?"

"Good luck, then. I wouldn't expect a warm reception, but keep a few things in mind: Quistis isn't a bad person. She just had a front-row seat to a bad situation. Not somethin' that goes away quick. Regardless of what the actual facts are."

Rinoa nodded and looked up at the clock on the wall. "I've got to go. I'm meeting Irvine in a few minutes. Thanks for your help."

He hooked a thumb at himself. "I'm on it."

THREE:

Squall stood in the library looking absent-mindedly at the spines of books whose titles he'd already memorized ages ago as Zell paced back and forth behind him playing paddle ball. "It feels like it's too soon."

"...Ninety-eight...ninety-nine...one hundred... Too soon? Why?"

Squall shrugged.

"...Hundred and ten...hundred and eleven... You're waitin' for the other shoe to drop, right?"

A scoffing noise of mostly agreement was the reply.

"That's what I thought. Now that things have calmed down-"

There wasn't actually a sound to accompany it, but Squall furrowed his brow at Zell with just enough conviction to make it heard as well as felt.

"Context, Boss... context. Life's kinda evened out for us in the last couple of months. You more'n anybody knows that. Hundred twenty seven...hundred twenty eight... The jobs we get are fairly routine and all the big stuff we've got coming up are still in the planning stages."

"What's your point?"

"What's yours? Hundred thirty three...hundred thirty four..."

"What if something big were to happen right now?" He pulled down a random book and started absent-mindedly flipping through it.

"Like... NOW, now?"

"Yeah."

"While we're hanging out here in the Library?"

Squall rolled his eyes and shook his head. Times like this helped him understand why Zell and Rinoa were such good friends.

"Look, the biggest thing that's gonna happen right this very minute is that I'm about to beat my best count at paddle ball. Hundred forty eight...hundred forty nine..."

"What is your best count, anyway?"

"Seven hundred eighty two."

"What? You're only on-"

"...hundred fifty four..."

"A hundred and fifty four."

"So?"

"So that's nowhere near 'about to beat'."

"I've got a good feelin'."

Squall returned the book and took a seat in one of the chairs off to the side. "Okay. What if something big and work related happens?"

"Like what?"

An extremely cocked eyebrow in conjunction with a crossing of his arms was Squall's answer.

"Jeez. Sorry, Mr. Grumpy Pants. Hundred eighty...hundred eighty one...hundred eighty two... Think of it this way: we're a squad of highly trained mercenaries with access to all kinds of intelligence gathering equipment, tactical analysis, and strategy training."

"And?"

"Of which, YOU are the commander."

Squall motioned for Zell to continue.

"...Hundred ninety two...hundred ninety three... Are you presently aware of any troop movements or cell activity indicating a move on us any time in the next few weeks?"

Silence.

"Exactly. Quit tryin' to talk yourself out of it. We've got everything here under control. Rinoa's doin' you a favor. Let her do it."

"I am. First thing I did when I got here today was clear it with Xu. It just feels so bizarre to think of not being..." He looked around, searching for the right words.

"...Two hundred six...two hundred seven... At work?"

"Yeah."

"Or on a mission?"

"Yeah."

"Maybe at home?"

"Yeah."

"In your office."

"Yeah."

"Being away from all this comfortable stuff, even if it's just you and Rinoa makes you feel trapped, right? Out of control?"

"Kind of, yeah."

"We're not in your office now."

"But I'm still at work."

"Speaking of which, why are we here?"

Squall looked around again, slightly thrown by the question. "In the existential sense?"

"Dude... no. Why aren't we in your office?"

"Eh... it's too small. Too..."

"Confining?"

"Yeah."

"You confuse the hell out of me sometimes, you know that, Boss?"

FOUR:

Rinoa walked into The Bar and waved a casual greeting to the bartender. She spotted Irvine sitting at a table slouched comfortably with one arm draped over the back corner of his chair, his hat pulled low over his face, and his feet propped in the opposite chair. "If your goal is for me to sit on your lap, I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you."

The permanent grin he wore stretched a little bigger at that. "Can't blame a guy for tryin'." He put his feet on the floor and pushed his hat back as Rinoa sat down.

"I'm a little surprised you suggested meeting here."

"My usual haunts ain't exactly the flavor of establishment you'd choose to frequent."

She cocked an eyebrow at him.

"An' we all like this place, so it seemed like the better idea. I see that sharin' space with Squall is workin' for you."

"What do you mean?"

"That eyebrow thing. That's his primary means of communication. You seem to have it down pretty good."

Rinoa rolled her eyes but couldn't help but smile.

"You wanna go?"

She shook her head. "Here's good."

He made a quick gesture to someone behind her. "'Cause we could go to my place."

"Oh, hell no."

Irvine snorted a laugh. "Guess I was right to not suggest that, then."

Rinoa blushed. "Sorry. I didn't mean..."

"I know what you meant. Don't worry 'bout it. I think my delicate sensibilities'll recover in time."

The bartender came to the table, dropped off two full glasses, and moved away. Rinoa looked from her drink to Irvine. "I didn't order anything yet."

"Nope. I ordered for you."

She picked up the glass and studied the beverage inside. It was dark enough that light couldn't penetrate it and there was a quarter inch of thick, tan foam on top. "This looks like the beer Squall drinks when we come here."

"That's 'cause it is."

"I've never had it before."

"First time for everything." He held up his own glass. "Cheers."

They drank at the same time. Rinoa fought the urge to spit out the beer and swallowed hard. "How the hell... That's disgusting."

"No it ain't. It's just not what you're used to."

She took another pull from the glass. "Yeah, it's better when you know what to expect."

"I can get real distracted talkin' about beer, so what say we move on? What's my part in this little adventure you and Pretty Boy have planned?"

"He's not overly fond of you calling him that."

Irvine's grin shifted into a small smile. "I'm aware."

"Your part is just to make sure he knows it's alright for him to go. Tell him you'll keep an eye on things while we're gone."

"Darlin', I can only do so much."

"I know. But if you and the others can just use the next few days to make him see that-"

"The place won't get razed to the ground while ya'll are gone? You're not exactly askin' for somethin' simple, here."

"I want him to be able to appreciate what's happening, you know? And he needs to have some clear space in his head to do that."

Irvine shook his head and took another drink of his beer, regarding Rinoa with a satisfied look. "I think what you're doin' is mighty sweet and more'n a little necessary, so I've got nothin' against lendin' my talents to the cause..."

"But?"

"But I ain't no miracle worker. Housebreakin' a Malboro'd be easier than gettin' Squall to not think about work."

"So you see why I need help."

"Touche, Darlin'."

"Do you mind filling Selphie in for me?"

"Not at all. But considerin' her nose for gossip, she probably knew about all this before you even thought of it."

"I'm meeting her for lunch tomorrow, so if you give her the basics, I'll take care of the rest."

Rinoa was taking another swallow of her beer when a thought occurred to her. "If you know that calling him Pretty Boy bothers him, why do you keep doing it?"

"Takes 'im down a peg or two. Keeps 'im from gettin' too big for his britches, you know? 'Sides, it only sticks in his craw like that 'cause he knows I'm prettier."

FIVE:

Squall walked into The Bar and immediately found Irvine at one of the booths along the side wall. The cowboy exhaled a plume of blue smoke into the air, stubbed out his cigarette, and waved Squall over. As he passed the bar, Squall nodded to the bartender, pointed at one of the taps, signaled for two, and pointed to the table.

"How ya been, Pretty Boy?"

Squall cocked an eyebrow at him as he sat down.

Irvine let out a sharp bark of a laugh.

"What?"

"Nothin'."

The two sat in silence for a few moments until the bartender dropped off their drinks.

"So here it is: Don't worry about things here on the home front while you and and the missus are out galavantin' around."

Squall gave a snort and shook his head, but he was half smiling while he did it.

"Tell me you didn't see that comin' and I'll call you a liar."

"No, I saw it."

"You just like me referin' to Rinoa as 'the missus', don'tcha?"

"Guilty as charged."

"Look at you... bein' so expressive. Kinda surprisin' what happens when you don't have the fate of the world to worry about, huh?"

"Don't know that I'd go that far."

"'Course you wouldn't. That's what I'm here for."

"Because going that far is what you do?"

"Heh. Every chance I get. But that's not my point. Rinoa's really ridin' high about this trip - for a lot 'a good reasons - and you need to be there for it."

A look of confusion worked it's way onto Squall's face. "I know. That's why I said I'd go."

"You need to do more than just go. You need to participate. You've gotta want to be there."

"I just said that's why I'm going."

Irvine shook his head in exasperation. "The whole time you two are on the way, you're gonna be lookin' out for something comin' after you. Once you get there, you're gonna be focused on findin' where people can hide, where you can hide. What you can use if somethin' happens, and what you're exit strategy is gonna be."

Squall intently studied the wood grain pattern on the table.

"And once you've got all that covered, you're gonna get back to what's goin' on at Garden. Who's checkin' this, who's monitoring that, did whatever get done, did it get done right... you're gonna be so far from where you are that you won't be able to find your own ass with two hands and a map."

Squall grunted.

"Tell me I'm wrong."

"I can't."

"Exactly. And that's why you won't be there."

"So... what? I'm supposed to just forget that all those things exist? That they aren't real possibilities?"

Irvine nodded. "Yep."

Squall looked at Irvine in disbelief. "That's insane."

"That's life, Pretty Boy."

"That's your life, not mine."

"Look, all I'm sayin' is that you need to let what Rinoa's got planned be your focus. Think about that. React to that. Don't be distracted from that." He finished his beer. "All the mundane, day-to-day stuff that you've been smothering yourself with will still be here when you get back. And we'll manage it while you're gone. Quistis, Zell, and Sephie've been doing this as long as you have, and they know how to do their jobs. And not being a SeeD doesn't stop me from bein' part 'a the team."

Squall drained his glass and pointed at Irvine's empty to which Irvine nodded. Squall signaled for two more. "Not sure I can let everything go that completely."

"Let yourself try. Open the door for yourself and it ain't that hard to go through it. And before you even get it in your head to do so, don't fake it."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning, don't lie to her in some misguided attempt to make her feel better about draggin' you along. Mainly 'cause she'll know you're doin' it and she'll resent you for it, and also 'cause that's a lousy thing to do somebody. 'Specially somebody you care about."

Squall nodded and turned his gaze back to the table until the bartender brought two fresh beers and left with the empty glasses. He gave a heavy sigh, but managed a legitimate smile at Irvine before reaching for his drink. "She's not dragging me along."

"Glad to hear it."

"I really do want to go."

"Good."

"I'm even looking forward to it."

"Even better."

"I just don't know how to be away from Garden. I just... don't."

Irvine leaned forward and put a hand on Squall's shoulder. "I guess you wouldn't, would you?"

"Never really gave the opportunity much thought."

SIX:

Rinoa stood in front of the door to Quistis' office, took a breath, blew it out, and knocked.

"Come in."

She opened the door but did not cross the threshold.

Quistis had not yet looked up from what she was doing.

"Good morning."

At the sound of Rinoa's voice, Quistis sat up with a perplexed look on her face.

"I'm probably the last person you expected to see, huh?"

Quistis stood and gestured for Rinoa to come in. "Maybe not the last, but you're in the top five."

"I'm sorry to interrupt you, I just need a... few minutes of your time."

"Certainly. Have a seat."

Rinoa sat and Quistis returned to her chair as a heavy silence filled the room. They played a short game of 'look at each other and then look away' before Rinoa decided to dive right into things. "Squall and I are going on vacation in two weeks. I want him to actually try and relax while we're gone, so I need you, Zell, Selphie, and Irvine to let him know that it's okay to do that."

Quistis eyed Rinoa for a moment and then chuckled slightly. Now it was Rinoa's turn to look confused.

"That wasn't at all what I was expecting you to say."

"Oh. Well, then... that's good, right?"

"I suppose."

"So will you help?"

"I'll do what I can."

"Okay." Rinoa stood to leave, thinking she should quit while she was ahead, but unable to act on that thought. "I didn't know about-"

"Most people don't. I can really only think of two people who should."

"I just wanted-"

"To make me feel better?"

Rinoa nodded, looking apologetic.

"Forget that you ever heard it happened. That'll work wonders."

Rinoa nodded again, not knowing what else to say. She turned to leave and got as far as the door before Quistis spoke again. She stopped and turned back around.

"Look... I'm sorry. You probably think I hate you, don't you?"

"The thought had crossed my mind."

"I don't."

Rinoa let that sink in for a moment. "You've never talked to anyone about any of this have you?"

"Have you considered my options?"

"So what really happened?"

Quistis was taken aback by the sincerity of the question. "I really don't mean this the way it's going to sound, but why would I talk to you?"

Rinoa returned to her chair and fixed Quistis with a sly grin. "Have you considered your options?"

Quistis couldn't help but smile at Rinoa's nerve. "Fine. What do you want to know?"

"No more than you're willing to tell me. It just seems like you need to get at least some of it out in the open."

"That's it?"

"That's it. I'll be honest with you, I'm very aware that I have nothing to worry about. I know that sounds horrible and arrogant, but it's just the truth."

"Well, you happen to have a little more insight into the future than the rest of us."

"It's not that. It's just that as far as Squall is concerned, I just... know." She paused for a moment, gauging Quistis' reaction. "I'm not going to judge you for a history that doesn't concern me."

"I don't think I'm really ready to open up that much to you."

"Like I said, whatever you want to say. No more, no less."

"I hate this word. I hate the fact that it exists, I hate that people use it so frivolously, and I hate the fact that I have to use it: I had a crush on Squall."

Rinoa, knowing that there was more to come, simply nodded for Quistis to continue.

"It consumed me for a while. I couldn't see past it. I lost my instructor position because of it - although that's not the official reason, I know better."

"And Squall..."

"Utterly unfazed. Even before you. He absolutely. Did. Not. Care. He had about as much time for me and my romantic notions as he did for hunting Pupu."

A few moments of silence passed between them, not uncomfortably before Rinoa stood. "I think you're doing quite well for yourself considering all of that."

"I've been trying to move on recently."

Quistis rose from her chair and shook Rinoa's hand. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

SEVEN:

Squall was pouring himself a cup of coffee when Quistis walked into his office.

"It's not like you to have your door open. You feeling okay?"

"Makes the room feel bigger when it's open. Want some?" He pointed to the half full carafe.

"Have I ever turned down coffee?"

He gestured to a chair. Quistis took the seat while he poured a cup for her.

"Rinoa came to see me today."

"I'm not surprised." He handed Quistis the mug and remained standing.

"No?"

He gave a half smile as he took a drink. "She's on a mission. You weren't too..."

"Hard on her?"

"Yeah."

"No."

"Good."

"I actually rather enjoyed having the chance to talk to her."

He cocked an eyebrow. "No you didn't."

"Okay, I didn't. But I appreciate that she came. It took guts."

"She's never been lacking in that department."

"And her reason was a good one."

"Is this that part where you tell me everything will be fine while we're gone?"

"It is."

"Alright, then."

Quistis rolled her eyes in mock frustration. "Everything will be fine while you two are gone."

"Well done."

"You're enjoying this too much."

He couldn't help but smile. "Probably."

"You don't actually need any convincing about this, do you?"

"What makes you say that?"

"You're smiling more. You're standing still rather than pacing, and your office door is open."

"Maybe I'm just bored."

"Maybe you're just full of-"

"I'm experimenting."

"With smiling?"

"Sure."

"And being still?"

"Why not?"

"And leaving your door-"

Squall's laugh cut her off. "Is it that hard to believe I'm capable of a good mood?"

Quistis smiled in spite of herself. "I hope you enjoy yourself."

"I will."

.

EIGHT:

Rinoa sat and stared in awe across the table. Selphie was unabashedly eviscerating a sandwich made up of a double bacon cheeseburger, a turkey leg, a half rack of ribs, and some form of condiment mixture she didn't even want to try and identify.

This was the same thing she ordered every time they met for lunch and Rinoa would never get used to seeing her devour it.

"Want to know what amazes me about watching you eat that?"

Selphie smiled around her mouthful of food and nodded.

"You never make a mess."

"HA!" She drank some of her soda and replied as best she could before swallowing. "Iknowright?"

Rinoa took a normal sized bite of her normal sized burger.

"It's like some kind of power I never knew I had. STAIN REPULSION!"

Rinoa saw a few of the cafe patrons look their way, but she didn't care. Hanging out with Selphie meant being the center of attention sometimes.

"So I hear you and Cutie Pie are goin' on a little romantic getaway."

"That's the plan." Rinoa blushed slightly, which only served to emphasize her grin.

"You're not gonna elope or anything are ya?"

Rinoa's cheeks went redder. "That's not the plan."

Selphie pouted and gobbled another bite of her sandwich.

"Sorry to disappoint you."

"So you're not pregnant, right?"

"Jeez, Selphie... No. I'm not pregnant. We're not going to elope. We're not planning to fake our own deaths and run away somewhere. It's just a vacation."

"Seems kinda boring if you ask me. Sure you don't want to shake things up a little bit?"

"The idea is to be away from all the things that are already shaken up."

"That's what Irvine told me, but I wasn't sure if he was leaving out all the fun parts."

"I'm not sure he knows how to leave out the fun parts."

Selphie smiled. "Good point."

"I need you to do a little something extra, though."

"Oh?" Her eyes widened a bit.

"You hear everything that goes on at Garden, so you're in charge of keeping the rumors from getting out of control."

Selphie had a questioning look on her face.

"With Squall gone for a week and not on a mission, people are going to talk."

"Kinda like me asking all those questions."

"Right. Only instead of just asking, everyone else will just make stuff up."

"And you want me to tell 'em what the real deal is."

"Exactly."

NINE:

Squall was staring out his office window. His mind was drifting along of it's own accord. That never happened. He was always thinking of something purposefully, something important. But now he was just letting the stream of his consciousness flow wherever it wanted to go. It was a singularly odd feeling, but not unpleasant. The ringing of his phone actually managed to startle him. He shook his head to bring himself back to reality and grabbed the receiver on the third ring. "Yes?"

Selphie's voice crashed into his ear with all the subtlety of a car broadsiding a parade float. "You need to come see this!"

"What happened?"

"I think I invented something new! And explode-y!"

"You what?!"

"I've got everything under control, but come see! I'm in my lab!"

Squall hung up and was two steps to the door before his brain put a few things together. He stopped abruptly, allowed a mischievous grin to spread across his face, and walked back to his deak. He picked up the phone and dialed the number for Selphie's lab.

"Hello?"

"It's your turn to talk to me about my vacation isn't it?"

Selphie let out a gasp followed by a pout that Squall was certain he could feel rather than hear. He hung up before she could respond and headed for the elevator.

.

Squall wound his way through various overloaded tables to stop in front of Selphie's desk. She fixed him with a glare that could melt steel if it weren't for the fact that he was smiling. "You are such a buzzkill."

He shrugged. "I'm having a good time."

"You're still a poop head."

"Did you actually come up with something new, or were you making that part up?"

It was Selphie's turn to shrug. "I did. But I do that all the time. I was hoping to have a little fun."

"Sorry to rain on your parade."

"HEY! You played along. You're smiling. And you pulled a fast one on me!"

Squall nodded, pretending to look sheepish.

"You're not a clone are you?"

"Not that I'm aware of."

"Robot?"

"Nope."

"Zombie?"

"Uh-uh."

"Alien slime creature wearing Squall's skin?"

"Possibly. And what's an alien slime creature's ultimate goal again?"

"You'd use SeeDs to take over the planet, of course."

"Oh, right."

"Except that now I've figured you out."

"And I would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for your meddling."

Selphie stood and clapped her hands, beaming the whole time. "I like it when you're not all Mr. Broody-Face. You're way more fun."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"Please do. And have fun camping, okay?"

"That's it? No lecture? No words of wisdom about letting go or advice on how to be in the moment?"

"Nah. I think you've got a pretty good handle on it."

.

TEN:

Squall and Rinoa were walking along the coast while Angelo ran ahead of them playing a very one sided game of fetch with the tide.

Having a beachfront apartment in Balamb made it easy for them to enjoy nights like this, and they often did.

"So what made you decide to go on a camping vacation anyway?"

Rinoa thought for a minute before responding. "I just want us to do something that's just... us. You know?"

"Something where we're not a phone call away from the rest of the world?"

"That's part of it, but you already travel to all sorts of places for work, so going somewhere as a tourist seems kinda silly. We live on a beach, so there's no need to go to another one."

"Makes sense."

"We went camping a few times when I was really young and my parent's schedules allowed the time. And I don't remember specific things, but it always felt like they were more at peace when they didn't have the demands of their lives surrounding them."

"That makes sense, too."

"I want you to know what quiet feels like. I want you to be able to exist in your own head without thinking about contingency plans or tactical strategies."

Squall grinned. "You think I work too much."

"I think you're unaware of an alternative. And you need to know that you're allowed to have a life. You're a SeeD Commander, a hero, a boss, and an example. And you're all of these things to all kinds of people." Rinoa took his hand in hers. "You're also a human being. You need a chance to be more than just some guy with an important job."

Squall stopped walking to stand in front of Rinoa. He reached out to softly caress her cheek and she kissed the palm of his hand. "I love you."

Rinoa simply smiled. "I love you, too."

"I also appreciate that you got everyone else to help."

"Strength in numbers."

"It worked."

He pulled her into an embrace and they just stood there enjoying each others closeness. After a few moments, Angelo bounded up to them and they separated.

"Selphie said because we're not going to fake our deaths and go into hiding that our vacation sounded boring."

"One person's 'relaxing' is another person's 'boring' I guess."

Rinoa shrugged. "Whatever."

.

Posted for the Where I Belong SquallxRinoa Challenge.

Thanks to my wife, Summoner Luna. Squall and Rinoa (singularly as well as a couple) have a much greater meaning and far greater depth to me because of my love for her. She continues to tell me that I should not only write more (which I need to do), but to write more FFVIII fanfic (which I need to do). I should also thank Ashbear and Emerald-Latias for giving me the opportunity to do both of those things