Disclaimer: Unfortunately I do not own any of the rights to Final Fantasy VIII.
A Tune for Two
The smell of fresh paint intermingled with the smell of the ocean and the slightly musky smell of the T-Rexaurs that were migrating further inland. Squall stood in front of one of the open windows and gazed out at the forest below. Fall on the island was treacherous for two reasons: First off, violent tropical storms developed in the area, and second, it was T-Rexaur mating season. He gazed out at the heavy purple clouds that lingered on the horizon. Storm advisories had already gone out for the people living in the lower areas. A distant yet distinct roar sounded off somewhere to the north. T-Rexaur warnings had also gone out to both the SeeDs and cadets alike. There was a surplus of young bucks reaching maturity this year and raging hormones and lack of territory had the young dinosaurs bold, angry and reckless.
He glanced around the open area of his new apartment. It was really different, having such a large space dedicated to his living quarters. As a child he'd slept in a room with five or six other children at any given time. As a cadet he'd shared a dorm for years. Once he'd made SeeD he'd gotten a whopping one-hundred and twenty square feet all to himself. Now that he was the Commander he was told he had fifteen hundred square feet. He didn't have a measuring tape to see for himself but he definitely believed it was every bit that big.
Rinoa had been very excited about the prospect of the apartment being ready to move in. She'd done nothing but go on and on about paint colors and curtains, so much so that she'd given him a slight headache. He never told her though. Instead, he'd allowed Quistis and Selphie to convince him that Rinoa just needed an all girl's getaway. Now that his headache was gone and he was thinking straight, Squall was a nervous wreck. He was also a bit angry at Selphie and Quistis. They had seen his moment of weakness and had seized it. He never let Rinoa leave Garden without him, everyone knew that. There were too many opportunistic reporters still stalking Garden trying to get stories to sell their magazines, too much turmoil still swirling about since the war ended, and too many people that could potentially discover Rin was a sorceress and hurt her.
Maybe it was the paint fumes, but he was starting to get a headache again. Opening up another window, he glanced around the room. Had Rinoa had her way everything in the apartment would've been a slightly different shade of light blue. Thankfully Rinoa had been shopping in Deling when the painters had come in to finish up. He hoped she didn't hold it against him for telling them to paint the living room a storm cloud grey. He had, however, allowed them to paint the ceiling blue and finish the trim in a lightly blue tinted white.
Squall looked over when someone rang the buzzer and checked the time on his watch. Today was significant. He'd made Selphie swear she'd have Rinoa back before dark. He didn't know if Rinoa knew it or not, but today was the six month anniversary of the first time they'd met. He started over to the door, the heels of his boots echoing in the fairly empty apartment. They had so much space now that he didn't know where to begin to fill it. He was really hoping Rinoa did. He also might've been hoping she'd make a few larger furniture purchases while she was out. The door hissed open without him hitting the release. He stood to the side, ready to berate whoever came into the apartment without permission.
"Hey Squall!" Zell smiled as he helped Irvine move a large wooden box inside. "Security didn't like the look of the delivery men so they wouldn't let them past the front gate. We volunteered to bring this up," he offered as they both knelt to put the box on the floor.
"These little straps are awesome," Irvine admitted as he dropped his lifting straps and left them sitting under the box. "I wonder what else we could pick up and move with these things."
Zell smiled. "I want to know what we moved with them today," he stated, looking at Squall. "That's a big box man."
Squall just stared at them. "It's a piano," he stated simply.
"Seriously?" Zell asked as he looked around. "Let's pry this thing open and check it out," he smiled.
"I don't have anything to pry it open with," Squall stated. "The delivery men were supposed to unpack it for me."
"Psh! You've got a gunblade," Zell dismissed him.
"No," Squall said flatly.
"Oh please, you don't even use that old Revolver," Zell argued. "Go get it and let's bust this box open! I'm assuming it's a gift for Rinoa, so you're going to want to have it ready when she gets home."
Squall sighed. "….Fine. But don't scuff it up too badly," he warned him. Zell all too eagerly took off to retrieve Squall's old gunblade. He returned moments later, and Squall tried not to squirm as he watched Irvine and Zell use his first gunblade as a crowbar. The wood squeaked and cracked in protest but moments later it was open.
"Oh this is so cool," Zell grinned as he tossed the gunblade aside and began removing packaging materials. Squall grimaced, going and quickly collecting his blade.
"Here, we get it out like this," Irvine stated, helping Zell to get the piano out and attach the legs.
"On three we stand it up….One, two, three!"
Squall looked on as they assembled the piano for him. He had to admit that it looked good by the window. Reaching inside the shipping container, he pulled out the pieces to the bench.
"So what's the occasion?" Irvine asked.
"Six months since we made SeeD and he got to meet Rinoa," Zell smiled.
Squall frowned. Zell had stolen the words from him.
"Sorry," he offered.
He shrugged it off. "Anyway, I thought she might like it," he admitted. "She told me once that her mother taught her how to play." He fumbled with the pieces of the bench for a moment before putting them together.
"Hey, I think you did good," Zell smiled.
"Seriously though, you need to turn it down a notch," Irvine stated. "You're makin' the rest of us look bad."
"Know what would make you look better?" Zell asked. "If you stopped flirting with every cashier and waitress you came across. That would make you look better man."
"I can't help it!" Irvine defended himself. "I'm just a natural flirt. It comes out and I don't even realize what I've done 'til it's too late!"
Squall shook his head. It was pretty bad when he was better at relationships than either of his closest friends. "I've got to start supper soon. Selphie promised to have Rinoa back by sundown."
"Ooh what are we havin'?" Irvine asked.
Squall paused. "We are having chicken fettuccini alfredo….if I can manage not to ruin it."
"Want help?" Zell asked.
"Do you know how to cook?" Squall asked.
"I happen to be a great chef. You would've known that if you'd let me cook more on our mission."
"We basically drew the line when you started flambéing bite bugs," Irvine teased.
"Hey, it's called protein," Zell defended himself. "Protein and an allergen immunity to those little suckers," he grinned.
"Seriously?" Irvine asked.
Zell nodded broadly. "If you eat it enough," he smiled.
Squall made a face. "Just how often do you eat those things?"
"More than you probably want to know," Zell admitted as he looked around for a distraction. "Alright guys, the girls will be back in less than an hour. To the kitchen!"
Half an hour later despite the chicken smelling good, the kitchen was full of steam and a hint of burnt cheese. Angelo barked in a panic and hid inside an open linen closet as the alarm in the kitchen went off. Zell grabbed a cutting board and hopped up on a stool to fan the alarm until it stopped beeping at them. Squall grabbed both pots off the stovetop, moving the overflowing water to a back burner and looking a bit lost about what to do with the burnt cheese sauce. Irvine however, remained totally useless to the situation as he laughed at Squall from his seat at the kitchen table.
"I would help," he laughed. "But if you can't boil water right I don't know what I can really do to help that."
"Move," Zell said, pushing a handful of gil in his direction. "Go to the corner store half a mile out, buy sauce," he ordered Irvine. "Squall, destroy any and all evidence that this ever happened." Taking over the kitchen, Zell checked on the chicken as he attempted to restore control over the situation. Squall looked around for the trashcan and started scraping the pan out. When some of the burnt sauce wouldn't come off, he threw the whole pan away and tied the trash bag shut.
By the time the chicken was done, Irvine had returned with a jar of sauce. "Here we are," he said, putting a bag on the table. Reaching into the paper bag, he pulled out the sauce and then a pack of condoms. Squall hesitated. "Just to be on the safe side man," he told him.
"Coming from the guy who may or may not have a baby with a random Galbadian girl?" Squall said shortly, more than a little uncomfortable.
"You guys don't seriously believe everything in those tabloids do you?" Irvine asked.
"That one sounds almost credible," Zell stated as he cut up the chicken into neat little pieces.
"Yeah well don't believe everything you read. In order to have a baby I have to have done somethin' to even make a baby," he frowned, crossing his arms over his chest and appearing almost uneasy with the subject.
Zell paused, watching him. "You mean to tell me that after an entire mission's worth of your dirty jokes, magazines and embarrassing innuendo that you've never slept with anyone?"
Irvine didn't reply.
Zell grinned broadly. "You mean to tell me that of the three of us Squall is the only one of us that has slept with anyone?! Dude! When did the king of anti-socialness become the expert in women?"
"I- I'm not," Squall said, growing increasingly uncomfortable but maybe a little bit proud. "I'm just trying to keep her happy."
"Yeah I'll say," Irvine couldn't keep the comment to himself. He also couldn't keep from grinning as he said it.
"….." Squall looked away, willing his face not to turn red.
Zell put down the knife and bowed before Squall. "I revel at your greatness," he teased, making Squall's face go a little redder.
"Please get up," Squall pleaded with him as he covered his face with a hand. Then they all heard the door to the apartment open. "Irvine take these," Squall shoved the condoms towards Irvine.
"No way I can't get caught with those," Irvine pushed them back at Squall.
"What?" Squall asked in disbelief. "Why not?"
"Because then Selphie will want to sleep with me and I'm just …not ready," he said under his breath as he backed away from the table with his hands up. Squall turned to Zell who shook his head.
"Can't chance Amie thinking I'm some kind of perv just wanting one thing," Zell admitted.
Squall scowled. "I hate you both," he muttered and then shoved the package in his pocket when he heard Rinoa squeal in the living room.
"Squall!" Rinoa exclaimed as she dropped her shopping bags and rushed over to the piano. Sliding her fingertips along the top, she looked over when he came into the room. "This is so….this is so perfect," she smiled broadly.
He watched her as he offered a shrug. "I thought you might like to have one," he offered.
Coming across the living room, she wrapped him in an embrace. Squall slid an arm around her, still not entirely comfortable with being openly emotional in front of other people. She pulled back and looked up at him. "I can't wait to sit down and teach you how to play," she smiled. She paused and sniffed the air. "What is that? It smells great."
Squall smiled. "Supper," he told her. "Irvine and Zell were just leaving," he said, looking over at them.
"Oh, yeah, see ya around," Zell offered. "I'm supposed to be meeting Amie for this ….thing," he shrugged nonchalantly and then waved as he opened the door.
"Yeah," Irvine smiled. "Gotta go see what all Selphie bought, I'm sure she's going to need help carryin' it all in."
Rinoa nodded in agreement. "She will," she warned him.
Irvine smiled. "Bye guys," he waved.
Once they were gone, Rinoa looked up at him. "So, what is the occasion?" she asked him. "A beautiful gift, supper that smells wonderful," she smiled, sliding her hands down his arms and taking his hands in her own.
"It's been six months since the day we first met," Squall informed her.
Rinoa let out a little squeal. "You are going to remember every anniversary we ever have," she smiled broadly.
"I'm good with dates," Squall admitted, seeing Angelo creep out of the linen closet for the first time since the alarm had gone off. "Six months felt like a big deal to me," he told her.
She smiled broadly as she pulled him into a hug. He slid both arms around her this time. "See, I could tell when we first met that you were a sweet guy, even if you were trying to hide it from the world," she said as she rested her head against his chest.
"It's a defense mechanism," he said quietly, staring off towards the piano.
Rinoa looked up at him. "Well you can let your defenses down with me," she told him. "I promise not to ever hurt or leave you." She pulled him over towards the piano. "We have to at least try it out," she said. "Sit." He did as she asked, sitting on the bench and watching her. He hoped she didn't expect him to play. Sitting on his lap, Rinoa slid her fingers lightly over the keys and started playing a lighthearted melody she remembered from her childhood. Every now and then she hit a wrong note but Squall didn't notice. He hadn't expected this gift to go off so well. He'd hoped it would but in all honesty he'd been a little afraid she wouldn't have liked it that much. He was jolted from his thoughts when he felt her pulling his hands up onto the piano. "Press here, here, and no, with that finger," she giggled as she tried to make his fingers duplicate what she was doing.
Squall smiled, he was really enjoying this closeness with her. "I can't play," he warned her.
"I'll be the judge of that after you've had some practice," she smiled broadly, clearly enjoying her new gift.
He smiled faintly. "The food is probably getting cold. We should go eat," he told her. "You wouldn't believe how hard this meal was to make," he added.
She grinned as she eased up off his lap and waited for him. When he was standing, she punched him playfully in the arm. "That's for painting my living room grey."
He smiled as he led her to the kitchen and pulled out her seat for her. "It is storm cloud, thank you," he informed her.
"Mhm," she smiled as she watched him fix their plates. "Where I come from we call that grey," she teased.
He put a plate down in front of her. "I let them paint the ceiling blue," he offered.
She smiled. "I know, I'm just giving you a hard time," she said as he sat down with his own plate. She watched him as he started to eat before looking up and catching sight of a rainbow out the window. He paused when he realized she wasn't eating too.
"Is something wrong?"
She shook her head, her bangs falling into her eyes a bit. "No," she smiled, looking away from the rainbow. "Everything is perfect."
Notes: This little fic is the second in my new line of Final Fantasy stories. It was inspired by and written for the "Where I Belong" challenge. A special thanks to Ashbear and Ronin-ai for inspiring me to get back into writing. A very special thanks goes out to Roarke Stratton for helping me brainstorm and edit this story.