Acknowledgements are at the end of the fic.  I don't own Final Fantasy or Ma and Pa Kettle (has anybody even heard of them?  It is a series of slapstick black and white movies about a farming family with a big handful of kids.  They're hilarious.)  This is dedicated to everybody who enjoyed my previous fics and encouraged me to write another.

Summary:  What does it feel like to go from being an introverted teenager with no responsibility, to being an acclaimed hero, given a huge promotion, on the brink of manhood… and having your very first girlfriend?  Take a read in this romantic comedy centering on Squall and Rinoa.  Rated R.  (You all should know by now that I can't resist a little innocent naughtiness!)  Also has a little bit of spoof elements.



Optical Goddess

You'd think life immediately after defeating an evil almighty sorceress would be smooth for a while.  Just for a week at least maybe; to take the time to breathe in slowly, enjoying the serenity that you have taken back control of your freedom from her reign.  Just for everything to get back to normal, the way things were, consistency.

But, no.  The world had to inevitably adjust.  So many changes were taking place.  Areas around Tear's Point were still trying to fend off remaining monsters from the Lunar Cry.  Esthar, its identity no longer a secret, was beginning to welcome outside civilization and share its technology.  The Garden itself was just beginning to try to work out all the details on it mobile abilities.    Students were trying to adapt to post-war circumstances, mourning the loss of fellow students who ended up as nameless casualties in the Garden civil war.  One consolation at least, the hype they got from the media was dying off fortunately already.

Cid had a headache planning the future finances without Norg's funds.  Of course, the new permanent Commander shared all this stress as well.  One headmaster alone couldn't deal with all these new changes turning about.  The planning for the future needed a new fresh young mind for input on decisions.

However, there was at least one man in the world who thought to take time out and do something fun and relaxing for the famous young heroes—Laguna Loire, President of Esthar.  Sure, he had as many problems and new exciting alterations as all of the other world leaders, but he refused to turn into some overworked, no-personality character drone like his cohorts.

Actually, the real reason he wanted to treat these youngsters to some fun was a very serious motive.  He mentioned to Squall right before time compression that he needed to talk to him. What better way than to coax he and his friends to share his fine amenities at his personal residence for a day?  Large swimming pool, billiards, video games, deluxe hot dog bar, etc…  Laguna, a middle-aged man, became giddy just thinking about what a cool place he lived in.  Now what teenage boy in his right mind could turn down an offer like that?

Obviously, Laguna Loire didn't know his son too well yet.


Balamb Garden was stationed outside Esthar since their return from time compression almost a week ago.  Squall sat at his new temporary desk, organizing these papers with those files, with these negotiations over in the corner, but not to be mixed with the revised schedules in this pile… ugh!  He longed to go outside and join the countless others weeding out extra monsters leftover from the Cry that Rinoa—no; he had to correct himself—the Cry that a future sorceress started.  At least the number of monsters had been controlled inside the city itself so that its inhabitants were no longer in danger.

To others, it just seemed like an ordinary boring task to pass the time and work on training, but to an overworked brand new 17-year old commander that wasn't used to this professional image and responsibilities, going out and doing a little monster hunting sounded like heaven.

The commander stood up from his cushion-backed office chair and strolled over to the high bay window overseeing the arid desert ground below.  He watched as various Garden vehicles transported many fighters to and from the diverse regions of the Estharian continent.

Lucky scoundrels.  I wonder if any of my friends are down there riding along.  Squall thought for a moment.  Friends.  Allies.  Comrades.  The corner of his mouth curved up into his cheek slightly, but he wouldn't admit that to be a smile.  I have actual 'friends' now.  Real friends…  And one very, very nice friend.  The opposite corner of his mouth joined the first as it curled up also, making him feel flushed as he looked toward the ground and covered his mouth with his hand, feeling embarrassed even though he was alone in the office.  He managed to wipe off the alleged 'smile' and peered out the window once more. 

I wonder when she'll be back.  At least she said she was coming back.  She promised.  She wouldn't have been just saying that to be nice, was she?  Squall furrowed his eyebrows then shook the doubt out of his mind.  Hyne, man.  She just left a few days ago.  Get a grip.  Of course she'll be back.  She said one of her main objectives is to control her new powers, under the guidance of Edea.  And since Edea is staying here at Garden with Cid, then Rinoa will be back. 

The commander returned to his desk and continued his duties for the next several hours.  When nightfall came, he finally decided to call it a day—a very long day.  Upon returning to his quarters, he found his door ajar.  What the fuh--   Inside was one of his new 'friends', Selphie, all cheery-looking and not an ounce of impatience oozing from her huge smile even though she had been waiting there since she finished dinner.

"Squall!  I've been waiting and waiting and waiting for you I've got an exciting invitation you'll never guess who this is going to be so much fun you're just going to flip—"

Squall stood there flabbergasted with the look of 'huh?' all over his face.  "Whoa.  How did you get in here, why are you in here?"

"I've come to tell you about a party just for us!"

"But why are you in my room to tell me this?  Certainly there is a more practical way of giving me news."

"But I've done this before, like when I had to tell you to get ready for the Graduation dance, remember?"

"Yes, and I was upset then too!" Squall fumed.

"Well why didn't you say somethin'?  I can respect your privacy, you know."

With a furrowed brow and scowl, he exclaimed, "Wha--?  Couldn't you tell by the expression on my face??!"

She looked at him innocently.  "Uh… no?  You always look that way," she obviously stated.

Squall just covered his face with his hands and massaged his forehead.  "Selphie, what do you have to tell me?"

"Finally!  Ok, remember Sir Laguna?  Well, he gave me a personal message to pass on to his 'Ultimecia Team', that's us.  He's inviting us over this weekend for a day of fun and relaxation!  At his house!  No worries, no pressing issues for us to deal with, just a fun time to chill out and recuperate from this whole ordeal and aftermath…  Isn't that cool??!"

"Sorry, not interested," Squall said from still behind his hands.

Selphie leaned in a little closer.  "Are you suuuuuuuure?…  Rinoa's gonna be there."

Squall moved a finger aside and peered out of the crack.  "…she is?"

Selphie slugged him in the shoulder.  "I knew that would convince ya'!  This weekend, Laguna's residence, 1400 hours.  Oh!  And bring your swimsuit!"  she called as she exited the room.

After abruptly locking the door this time to his room, Squall plopped down on his mattress.  Hmm.  A party?  Yuck.  But it sounds like it would just be the few of us… at Laguna's??  That sounds kind of odd.  What, is Ward going to do belly flops into the pool?  He rolled onto his side staring at his blank wall and sighed.  But… Rinoa's going to be there, according to Selphie.  Was she telling the truth, or just saying that to get me to go?  If it's the latter I'm going to kill her.

He slid onto his back again to face the matching blank ceiling with a look of puzzlement..  Wait.  Why should it matter if Rinoa's going or not?  Why should that determine if I would go or not?

He tossed onto his side again and curled into a comfy ball.  Because you've really got it bad for her, you dummy.  Because just being able to see her again would be the whole highlight of my day.  I wonder if… if she wants to see me there too.  Has she been thinking about me as much as I do her? 

If I go to this 'party', is it possible it could be like 'that night'?  Did that even mean anything to her?  Ugh, am I the only one these answers are not obvious to?  Squall's thoughts referred him back to the night of Ulti's defeat when he somehow got the chance to go outside with Rinoa and they both just stood there, quietly, with nothing to break the ice but look at the clear sky.  He had been gripping the railing so hard his hands hurt. 

That moment, when we first got out there, felt so… tense, yet I didn't want to be anywhere else.  What the hell was I supposed to say?  I think my whole vocabulary got restless and jumped out of my mind to the water below for a quick swim.  I mean, what else was there to look at?  We certainly weren't going to just stand there staring at each other…  not like I wasn't trying to out of the corner of my eye…

Squall's mouth automatically turned up again as he reminisced what came next:  The flying star out of nowhere sent both of their minds to the flashback of déjà vu.  After minutes of debating on his choice of clever words to make sure she was still awake where she was standing, he found no words needed to be spoken after all. 

Just an action.  An action he still couldn't believe he actually had the guts to go through with. 

Squall closed his eyes as he relived the memory yet again, like he did umpteen times since it happened just less than a week ago, trying to engrain every detail of it into his head so as to never forget.  I could tell she liked it.  Yeah, she definitely did—I think.  Well, she seemed like she did.  Unless she was just being nice about it…

But she did put her arms around me when it was done.  Voluntarily.  Yeah, she must have liked it. 

His face became forlorn and the smile faded.  Too bad that was the only time we were alone like that.  With Irvine and that silly video camera, saying something about us having to act out that scene again when they replaced the batteries… talk about mood killers.  And the days to follow just got worse with the press and media trying to get every word out of us, not to mention all the other new situations we had to deal with with the world.  His headache reminded him it was still there and he groaned.

He recalled back to the brief conversation they shared after one of the many press conferences.  Rinoa now had the opportunity to check up on her resistance group after their base had been destroyed after the President's broadcast way back on Disc One.  Plus she didn't even get to see Zone and Watts on their last encounter onboard the White SeeD ship because of her coma.  She needed to know they were all right, and had to fulfill her promise of liberating Timber together.  Oh how Squall wanted to go with her, to keep her safe from the reporters, but all he said was,

"Yes, you should go do that."

Ugh.  Again, I didn't know what to say.  I wasn't about to get all mushy and go on about how much I would worry about her, and miss her, and look at my watch and calendar waiting for the time to go by waiting to see her again--  No, definitely not… although, I probably would have meant it.  Ok, I know she was worried sick about her resistance friends since this whole mess started.  I don't blame her for wanting to go visit them.  I wonder what it feels like to have a whole bunch of friends like she does.  It must be overwhelming.  Geez, I only have a small handful and I don't even have time for them

He shrugged off his SeeD uniform and boots and finally settled into bed.  Until this weekend.  I'm going not only for Rinoa, I'm going to spend time with my friends.


The busy days continued and the weekend finally arrived.  Squall already felt mentally exhausted coming from some leadership meeting that ran longer than expected.  He was already an hour late for this supposed 'party' in Esthar, and he hadn't even left the Garden yet.  He changed into his casual clothes of black pants, white shirt, and grabbed his black jacket as he headed for the door.

He stopped short and held up his finger as he remembered something.  Swimsuit!

He spun back to his dresser.  Swimsuit?  Maybe I'll just pass on that.

Heading back to the door, he put his hand to his forehead.  But what if I'm the only one there without one and everyone else is in the pool, like Zell, Irvine, Rinoa--  Rinoa.

Rinoaà swimsuit.


Squall quickly sprinted back to his dresser, grabbed his trunks, and headed out the Garden to the outskirts of Esthar.  After taking a few wrong lifts and ending up on the wrong side of town, he pulled out his official strategy guide and found the 2-page map layout for Esthar on page 260. (Damn!  I always get lost in this city!)  He finally arrived at the Presidential Residence over two hours late.

Maybe I should just forget it.  Everyone's probably already written me off as a no-show anyhow.  "Typical Squall.  He's always dodging social shindigs.  This party was even dedicated to him and the others.  What a rude jerk."

Well, I'm not a jerk!  Um, most of the time.  And I am here.  Here goes nothin'.

Squall walked up to the door, still anxious and pondering that it still wasn't too late to turn around.  He rang the bell and a boisterous Selphie, sporting a tiny yellow polka-dotted bikini, answered.

"SQUALLY!  You did come what took you so so long the rest of us have been here for like forever well not actually all of us all of us but most of us—"

Selphie was dragging him by the arm throughout the house as she directed him towards the back.  Squall did all he could to try not to stare as she bounced around in front of him wearing her teeny getup.  He was never physically attracted to her, but he wasn't exactly expecting to be greeted with-- that.

"Selphie.  First, can you slow down you're making me trip."

The over-energetic girl stopped running.  And thankfully for Squall's distraction problem, she stopped—bouncing, as well.

"Second, what did you mean by not all of us are here?  Who's missing?"  Is Rinoa the one not here?  No!  That would be awful.  I may as well start brooding now.  I'm going to kill Selphie for getting my hopes all high and then she's not even here, which is the only reason I tried to get here as soon as I cou--

Selphie interrupted his rambled thoughts.  "Well, Quistis and Ellone are off in Galbadia engrossed in some new Garden project yadda yadda thing, and Sir Laguna was here earlier to greet us, but after awhile when you were the only one not here yet, he looked kinda sad and said he had some business to attend to.  So he headed to his office or something and said he'd be back later.  It's just the five of us, including you.  He told us to just make ourselves at home and to help ourselves!  Isn't he just super?!  C'mon, everyone's been wondering about you!"

They arrived at the rear of the mansion.  Patio doors separated a kitchenette leading out to a medium-sized swimming pool with luxurious amenities only Barbie would own, just not in pink.  A shiny BBQ grill was positioned to the side.  Various floatation devices were stored in a little shed on the other side.  The pool walls were painted blue to make the water more appealing.  The bright sun shone white reflections on the small waves caused by Irvine and Zell splashing in the water.  Surrounding the pool's perimeter were many lounge chairs, one of which was occupied by a familiar fair skinned, dark-haired young woman wearing sunglasses and sitting with knees bent up to her chest, slightly laughing at the 2 'boys' playing in the water.

"Look, everyone!  Squall's here!!" Selphie announced as she shoved him through the patio's doorway.  Again, because of her aggressiveness, she pushed him a little too hard and made him trip again--

--Over the bottom railway for the sliding door.  Squall flew forward and hit the cement, stopping himself with his hands and knees before his face could meet the hard ground.  He instinctively closed his eyes at the impact.  He could hear voices around him. 

"Oops!  Soooooorrrrrrry."

"Ha!  I told you, Kinneas, he'd show up.  I won!  Pay up!"

"Oh, Squall!  Are you okay?  Selphie, you really know how to introduce someone, don't you?"

Oh, Hyne, just kill me now!

He felt a hand on his arm, helping him back up.  Squall tilted up his head to find himself gazing up at the beautiful creature.  Sunglasses now pushed up on the top of her head, Rinoa was kneeling in front of him wearing flip-flops and a blue Hawaiian-print 1-piece bathing suit.  He met her eyes and momentarily forgot his English.

"Uh… yeah, I'm fine," wiping his stinging hands on his pants.

"Yo, Squall!"  Zell had climbed out of the pool and was dripping wet.  "Did you see this place, man??  I've just got one word:  HOT DOG BAR, baby!!"

"That's more than one word, moron," Irvine came up behind him.

Zell glared at him for a second, realizing he hadn't thought that out before speaking.  He turned back to Squall, "Anyway, my point is check out his pad!  Every room's got this high techno shit installed, levers and buttons that practically dress and feed you, it's just like that ol' black and white Ma and Pa Kettle's home of the future movie!"

Selphie jumped into the conversation, elaborating on the new topic, "Hey, I saw that movie!  At some old classics marathon at Trabia when I was younger."

Zell turned to her and they engaged into their own little conversation, wildly throwing their arms about as they relived their favorite scenes.  Their eyes looked about to pop out of their faces as they illustrated their exaggerations.

"So, what took ya' so long?  Get lost or somethin'?"  Irvine asked.

"No, meeting went long."  And then I got lost.  Squall unconsciously touched his gunblade sheath, making sure his strategy guide was safely tucked in, out of view.

Rinoa smiled, "At least you still decided to come.  This was starting to become a drag, but now that the life of the party is here, we can liven things up!"

Me?  The life of the party?  More like the empty stiff uncomfortable chair at the party that gets pushed off to the side 'cause no one wants to sit in it.

Rinoa continued, pointing a finger at Irvine accusingly, "And I hope you learned your lesson by losing that chunk of gil to Zell."

Irvine shrugged at Squall, "So, I put a little a wager on if you were gonna show up or not.  At least I wasn't like her," pointing back at Rinoa, "slouching in her lawn chair, whining and worrying her little head off if something happened to you on the way heermmfph—"

"Want to join us in the water, Squall?" Rinoa asked with bright hopeful eyes, her hand clamped over Irvine's mouth.

The word "water" made him glance down at Rinoa's suit for some reason.  Maybe how that word held a sense of refreshment.  The different hues of blue in her suit also gave him a feeling of refreshment.  He now first noticed the zipper right in the front that he didn't see before, just opened maybe an inch from the top.

Shit.  How long have I been staring at that??  He quickly diverted his eyes back to her face and tried to act natural, putting a hand on his hip and nodding.  "Uh, yeh, Selphie told me.  I mean, she told me to bring my suit.  You know, in—in case we go swimming."

Rinoa had a little smile on her face.  Squall didn't know if she had that look as if to say, 'Yeah whatever why were you staring at my zipper so long you perv?'  Or was she inwardly laughing at his idiocy to answer her small simple question?  I'm not a perv.  I'm not!  Just the association of water, the pool water is blue, her suit is blue…

Sure, the sky is blue, too.  But then why didn't I happen to look at that instead?

Irvine showed him where to change his clothes.  Squall slipped into his civilian red iridescent loose-fitting swimming shorts.  He started to feel self-conscious about going back out there half naked.  It's not like I've never been out in public to go swimming before.  I've looked like this in front of my fellow classmates several times.  Selphie, Zell, Irvine, it's no different.

But Rinoa, she's not a classmate.  She's—she's something else, someone else, to me.  I don't know what to call her:  My friend?  My friend whom I like very very much?  My friend whom I tend to favor a little bit more?  My friend whom I wouldn't mind doing things with that I certainly wouldn't do with any of my other friends?

"Oh, my, you can dress in color!" remarked Rinoa when he came to the poolside.  She was already in the water, admiring his red shorts and the small rainbow of colors that they reflected.  He couldn't help but match his cheeks to his shorts.  Thank Hyne I didn't grab my standard issue SeeD ones instead.  He shuddered at the thought of what her reaction would be if he came out wearing those tight black Speedo's with the SeeD's emblem stamped on the hip, especially since no one else was wearing theirs either.  Wise choice.

A few balls were thrown in from the toy shed on the side.  What started as a little 'keep-away' game from Selphie, (started by Irvine in his dirty attempts to watch her try to jump as high as she could in her itsy bikini to try to catch the ball too far up in the air), turned into an all out war between the whole gang; the people on the ends trying to keep the ball(s) away from the ones in the middle.  Basic, and some ridiculous, rules were made up as they went along playing their own version of 'monkey in the middle'.  If an end person failed to catch a ball and lost it to one of the 'monkeys', they would have to switch places.

Things were getting very competitive, yet no scores were being mentally recorded, and everyone was laughing at some of the funny saves that were made.  Once in awhile, Irvine could be seen trying to "grab" an opportunity whenever Selphie was on his side and a ball came at their direction. 

At one point, Squall was on one end and Rinoa was a 'monkey' with her back towards him.  Zell was on the opposite end trying to give signals to Squall as to where he was going to throw his ball.  Rinoa kept backing up to Squall, her arms flailed out at her sides in order to keep him back and away from advancing forward.  She constantly glanced back at him, making sure he stayed back.  Hearing her constant giggles, made Squall giggle also, seeing how cute it was to see her try her best to contain him from catching the ball that was soon to be thrown at them.  He liked it when she kept looking back at him, but she also had to keep an eye on the ball also.

At Zell's frustration of Squall not being open, he ended up throwing the ball to someone else, yet Rinoa still played as though she were trying to keep Squall back.  Is she flirting with me?  She wasn't this competitive with the other guys.  He wanted to find some way of getting the heads up on her the next time a ball would come their way.  She's got me laughing so hard now, I feel like my mouth is going to fall off.  Wait…I'm laughing!  And I can't stop!  I hope I don't look dorky.  Is that why Rinoa is still laughing too?

Her arms still stretched across in front of him were making it hard for him to get open.  He had to do something about it.  Well, it is a physical game.  He put his hands on her elbows and pushed her arms down, only to have her whip them out again.  They were playing their own little game, Squall fighting for control of his position, yet neither really cared who would have caught a ball at that moment.  The bodily struggle was more entertaining to the two of them.  Squall finally grabbed hold of her wrists and held them together behind her back.  She tugged slightly, but Squall could tell she wasn't using all her strength to get out of the hold. 

Rinoa threw her head back and continued laughing.  Squall leaned forward to the side of her face and laughed, "You're not keeping me back this time!"

She opened her eyes to watch him speak to her.  She momentarily relaxed her arms and they gazed at each other for only an instant before Squall felt her wriggle her fingers, causing a ticklish, fluttery feeling across his abdomen.

"Agyh!"  A big grin formed on his face as he let go and backed away just far enough from her tricky hands.

"Yo, incoming!!" brought their attention to their surroundings.  The two looked up just in time to see one of the balls headed right for them.  "Shit!" was heard with a simultaneous shriek from Rinoa as they both dove to grasp it before the other could even lay their hands on it.  Squall was able to leap farther than her in the water and gained distance on her. 

"No!"  Rinoa shouted behind him, desperate to not let him have it.  Just before Squall could grab it, he felt something grip his clothing from behind him, pulling on his waistband.  But the closer he got to the ball, he could have sworn he didn't feel the back of that waistband on his skin anymore, as if the back of his shorts were being pulled down.  This caused him to lose his footing, not to mention his hands on the ball, and choked out a gasped "hey!" as his mouth filled with water.

He stood back up, spit out the bitter chlorine taste that lingered on his tongue, and reached down at his shorts to make sure they were still fitting where they should be.  Squall spun around to face the culprit, who had one hand covering her mouth, and the other held up in defensive mode. 

"Oh, Squall, I am (haha) so sorry (hehehehe)!" Rinoa said in between fits of laughter, not believing what she just did.  "I didn't mean to be so aggressive, I just grabbed at the first thing I could get my hands on!"

Normally, Squall would have been furious at anyone who even dared to attempt a stunt like that, even if it was accidental.  Everything happened so fast, that he just held a blank look of shock on his face.

"Nyah, nyah," gleamed Selphie as she hastily grabbed the abandoned ball.

Squall watched Selphie swim off with her prize to resume his previous role on one of the ends.  He looked back to the devil in blue again, who still had an apologetic, yet slightly fearful, look in her eyes. 

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  He cocked his head and stated, "Looks like we're both 'monkeys' now."

Relief flooded Rinoa's expression, probably because he chose to spare her life after that bold incident.  She smiled, raising one arm to scratch the top of her head and the other her stomach, screeching out the noise, "Ooh, ooh, eeh, eeh, eeh!"  She then swam over to the middle of the pool again to continue with the others.

He put his hand on his forehead as he rolled his eyes.  She can be so strange sometimes…

…I like that.

The game carried on with Selphie and Irvine at the ends; Squall, Rinoa, and Zell splashing around in the middle.  Somehow a third and even fourth balls made their way into the chaos.  Every time Squall leapt to catch a flyer, Rinoa would pounce towards him with all her strength, whamming into his side and bringing the both of them down into the water again without catching a single thing.  They both were laughing quite hard again and the competition between the two seemed to have no boundaries.  Squall trusted that she was going to be careful not to pull on his clothing again.

Oddly, there being five people and four balls, Rinoa nor Squall could get a chance to even touch one.  At her incessant attempts to prevent Squall from leaping to catch one, she would cause them to sink.  Squall found himself automatically holding onto her safely as he helped push the both of them back up to the surface.  They had swallowed much water, and a few times it had even gone up their noses. But after each time this happened, they continued on, refusing to stop.  After about the umpteenth time, Squall realized he was enjoying the torture simply because it was an excuse to be near her, to hold onto her after she collided into him.

Some time had gone by, and by the end of the game, there were no 'end' people left.  Everyone became 'monkeys', splashing each other with the balls, with the exception of Squall and Rinoa who still had yet to touch one.  Their hands and arms were busy shoving, splashing, and dunking each other.

"Doesn't anybody think it's time to eat now?" asked Zell, recuperating from the heavy physical activity.

"I have to pee," announced Selphie.

"Me, too," Rinoa agreed.

Squall hadn't realized he still had his arms around her body until she loosened the embrace she also had on him to swim to the ladder to get out.  He watched her lithe figure crawl up the metal steps.  He also watched her tug down the rear of her suit, as it had ridden up on her during all the horseplay.

I really hope her sorceress powers don't allow her to read minds.

His silent admiration of her form was interrupted as something bounced off his head.  Squall looked to the source and found Irvine and Zell snickering from the edge. 

"At least that got your attention," Zell teased.  "You're as bad as this guy!" he said, pointing to the cowboy.  "Help us get those tasty dogs on the grill."

Squall took the beach ball that hit his head and tossed it back.  He felt his cheeks getting warmer and smiled slightly as he realized they saw him staring at Rinoa as she walked away.  He quickly dipped under the surface and swam underwater to hide the embarrassment on his face.

The group grilled the hot dogs that Laguna bought for the occasion and ate outside as the desert sun went down.  The guys cleaned up the table afterwards to make room for a little Triple Triad action.  The girls went inside the house to look around and turn on some lights for outside.  Selphie came across some kind of sound system with various music discs to choose from.

"Hey, Rinoa, here's the disc with that song we played for you and Squall at the FH concert!" Selphie exclaimed.

"Ooh!  I love Celtic music!" Rinoa answered.

"Yeah!  It's the happy Irish Jig version with the guitar, violin, flute, and tap that you ended up liking so much, and by choosing that combination of instruments made your conversation with Squall go really smooth.  It's not the other alternative you could have chosen that would have been a Slow Dance rendition of "Eyes On Me" that you whined about and said it basically sucked which ended up with you telling Squall off and leaving the scene," Selphie stated matter-of-factly.

Rinoa gave her a puzzled expression, "…Huh?"

Meanwhile, the men outside had set up their Triple Triad cloth-playing mat.  Zell had raided the deluxe hot dog bar one last time and loaded his big ¼-pounder with everything he could pile on it: ketchup, mustard, relish, diced onions, cucumber, banana peppers, tomato, chili, cheese, and to top it off, a splotch of sauerkraut to boot.  He grabbed another beer and plopped down at the table where the other two men were getting out their decks.

Squall asked, "Are you sure we can be drinking Laguna's beer?  I'm mean, we're a little young, it's not ours, and he's not even here."

Irvine answered, "Don't sweat it.  He was here earlier before you got here, remember?  He specifically showed us what we could eat and drink from the fridge before he left.  He bought it for us along with the hot dogs and other snacks we've been eating."

Squall eyed Zell suspiciously, "Yeah, but I don't think he intended us to get plastered with it," knowing Zell had drunk an equal ratio of one beer to every dog, which by now had to be a lot.  Squall had never been drunk before, and didn't plan on that happening at the president of a frickin' nation's house.

While Zell polished off the last of his meal, the other two men had gone underway playing.  "Hey, ishn't it cool that they made cardsh of ush, man?!!" Zell spat while chomping.

Ever since they became nationally known after Ulti's defeat, Level 10 cards were made in their honor.  A card was made for each of the heroes, including Edea and Seifer. 

After a few rounds of cards, Irvine had claimed a couple of Squall's better cards, Seifer and Diablos.  Irvine inspected his new Seifer card closely, "What the hell?  What is this?  It looks like someone drew glasses and a goatee on his face, then did a shitty job of trying to scrub it off."

Squall laughed nervously, "Uh-- no, I think you're just seeing things.  Those are probably just his whipass battle scars."  He meticulously polished his remaining cards with his hand, suddenly becoming very interested in them.

Irvine shrugged it off and shuffled them into his deck, turning to Zell,  "Are you done eating yet?  I wanna challenge your drunken ass."

"I'm not drunk (hic)!  You're on, John Wayne Newton."

Irvine smirked to Squall, indicating this was going to be a piece of cake.

Going first, Irvine placed an Imp in the upper left corner.  Zell played a Grand Mantis directly underneath, flipping the Imp.

"So…  Squall…  The girls are out of sight, tell us what you and Rinoa have been up to lately!"  Irvine rapidly raised his eyebrows suggestively.

"What makes you think we've been 'up to' anything?  We're—we're not even together.  I mean, we're not like that.  We're friends," Squall denied, albeit a little too obviously.  Then he added softly, "Besides, I haven't even seen her since that celebration night."

Irvine put an Armadodo in the dead center, flipping back the Mantis.  "Yeah, right, just friends.  We would have gotten your make-out session on the camcorder if it weren't for the dang batteries going dead."

Zell played his GIM47N above the Armadodo, thereby flipping it.  Squall continued, defending himself, "We were not 'making out'!  We were—um—"  Damn you, Irvine, just drop it.  I don't know what to say!! 

The cowboy put a Jelleye in the upper right corner, flipping the GIM47N.  Zell came to Squall's verbal rescue inadvertently, ""C'mon, guys!  I'm trying to concentrate here.  I can't do that if you're swapping belt-notch stories."   Zell countered the previous move with Vysage right below the Jelleye, flipping the latter.

This conversation is not getting better.  "This isn't a belt-notch story!  It's not even near the belt!" Squall exclaimed.

"Oh, so it's still above it, then," Irvine snickered as he placed a Wedge, Biggs underneath Zell's Vysage, overpowering it. 

Squall rolled his eyes and muttered, "Whatever."  Turning back his attention to their card game, he rerolled his eyes as he watched Zell's last move.  With only two squares left on the grid, Zell put down a Glacial Eye in the lower left corner, turning over the Mantis above it, making the score 5-3 so far in Zell's favor. 

"Whoo,hoo!  Take that!" Zell was gleaming, thinking he had the game in the bag.

Irvine peered up at him from his cards remaining in his hand.  "You're kidding, right?"  The only empty spot left was in the lower center, adjacent to the 1 on the Glacial Eye, which Zell had just so 'cleverly' played.  Squall put a hand to his forehead and shook his head as he witnessed Irvine slam Zell with a Jumbo Cactuar in the last spot, taking both the Glacial Eye and Armadodo above it, thereby winning the game.   

Zell, with wide eyes, looked at his deck in his hands, back at the grid, and retraced his steps.  "Damn!!!"

"Squall, another game?  I want to play a hand where I actually have to think," Irvine joked.

As the two less inebriated men began to shuffle their decks, they heard fanciful folk music piped in through the outdoor speakers.  I've heard this sound before.

Irvine noticed the compositions also and commented, "Hey, I recognize this as the same band who does that jig we played at the FH concert."  He looked over at the blond still fuming at his card-playing mistake.  "Dance for us again, Zell."

The martial artist's nonverbal reply was the show of a back of a clenched fist, with only a certain finger protruding upwards from it, accompanied by a death glare.  Squall started out the card game by placing Bahamut in the lower right corner.

Irvine nonchalantly put down his Diablos in the far opposite corner, directing the conversation towards the other brunette besides himself, "Speaking of the FH concert, did you enjoy that magazine I left for you?"

I still can't believe he wasn't joking when he said he left it there!  The mention of that particular issue of Girl Next Door caused Squall to lose concentration for a moment, recalling the straight-on image of a nude redheaded woman on the front cover, her legs straddling the seat of a motorbike, and hunched down just far enough for the handlebars to conceal her breasts.  He remembered the panic he felt when Rinoa commented, 'oh, a naughty magazine,' hoping she wouldn't think that he had anything to do with it being there. 

Putting Leviathan in the upper right corner, Squall said, "Get real.  You don't just sit down and look through a porno mag with a girl.  That's just—too awkward."

Irvine used his newly acquired Seifer and placed it in the middle top row, flipping Leviathan to his favor.  "It's not that awkward.  Selph and I do that all the time."  He leaned forward, "It gets her hot!"

After hearing that comment, Squall's attention was diverted from his loss of control over the water guardian's card and looked at Irvine.  "You're making that up."

"No, I'm serious.  I've shown her my whole collection.  It piques her curiosity."

Looking at his cards at what to play next, Squall couldn't shake the subject enough to think clearly, inwardly blaming it on the little alcohol he had consumed so far.  "You mean, you and her have—already?!"

Irvine chuckled, "We have been before we even got to Ulti's castle."  He lowered his gaze and added in a sentimental tone, "We didn't think we were going to live much longer.  Especially with the Garden attacks and the near-death experience at the missile base…  We didn't want to die before we had a chance to be with each other."  His pride returned and he raised his head again, "Not like I didn't already share that experience with other women before her."

Zell finally spoke up, "See, I told you guys you were swappin' belt-notch stories."

The girls stepped through the patio and walked over to where the boys were playing on the glass tabletop.  Rinoa boldly sat down in Squall's lap, wrapping an arm around his neck as she asked, "So who's winning?"

I'm never going to be able to concentrate on this game!  But…

…I don't think I mind.

With his cards splayed out in his one hand, he noticed with Rinoa now sitting in his lap, he wasn't sure what to do with the other hand.  If he kept it out in front, he'd have to rest it on her thigh, Uh, no, I better not put it there!  Or he could use both hands to hold onto his cards, but then his elbow would poke her in the chest and ribs.  I can't have it there either.  Finally, he carefully snaked it around from in-between their bodies and rested it on the small of her back.  He felt elastic on her waist and noticed she had put shorts on over her suit, hair was combed, and had her flip-flops on again also.

"That would be me, darlin'," gloated Irvine who was up 3 to 1.  Squall noticed Irvine glancing at Rinoa's chest, not being able to speak directly to her face. 

What does he think he's doing?!  Squall glared at the man who he assumed must have dirty thoughts racing through his mind, looking at his girl.   He followed Irvine's invisible trail, still cursing him.  Well, she's not my girl, but he should know better, he's already got one and I'm surprised Selphie hasn't belted him one yet--

…ooohh…  nip-ons…

Still!  He shot one last angry glare at Irvine, maneuvering his hand of cards to hinder his view.

"And it's my turn," Squall said out loud, more or less to remind himself to get his mind back in the game.  Although he didn't want to take his hand away from its newfound spot on Rinoa's back to place down his card on his turns.

His lap companion must have read his mind because she offered, "Would you like me to pick out your card and put it on the grid for you while you hold them?"


Rinoa looked at the cards fanned out in his hand and gasped.  She grabbed his wrist and brought them closer, raising them slightly to cover their faces so her voice couldn't be heard by his opponent, and whispered, "I didn't know you had this card.  I haven't even seen it myself yet!"  She was pointing to her own Level 10 card, next to his own on the far right of the few that still remained in his hand.

Squall whispered back, thanking Hyne that neither of them had decided to put onions on their hot dogs earlier, "I had to sacrifice Ifrit to your fath—I mean, the General, to get it."

Rinoa's expression looked like she had just witnessed Angelo giving birth to a litter of puppies, "Ohhhhh, that's so sweet."

Squall felt himself in an odd situation, hoping she wouldn't wonder why he had gone out of his way to get her card.  He shrugged, "It was nothing.  I can always win Ifrit back."  The closeness of having Rinoa's face near his own as they exchanged hushed words sent his mind reeling back to that celebration night on the balcony.  Her eyes are so soft and full.  Just like her lips were.  If we were alone, right now, I could just lean over, kiss her like I did that night--

A third whispering voice was heard at Squall's other ear, startling them both.  "And isn't it cute that he's holding the two of you next to each other??  Teehee!"  Selphie was bent down on the other side of Squall, pointing out their two cards side by side in his hand.

The shy young man looked at one woman to the other, trying to come up with his practical explanation that he knew had to be lying around somewhere in his motives.  "I always arrange my cards from left to right, weakest to strongest in my hand.  Those just happen to be the strongest in my hand right now," he defended.  He looked at both their cards again.  Gotta admit, we do look good together.

"Ahem!"  Irvine cleared his throat to the three whisperers behind the fan of cards.  "Squall, go already!"

Rinoa pointed to Odin in Squall's hand and he nodded approval.  She placed it on the left in the middle row.  She sure feels a lot heavier than she did onboard the Ragnarok.  Of course, there was no gravity and if I didn't hold onto her she would start floating up and away from me.  She was so insecure about her new abilities back then.  Now she seems more confident, and I'm not going to let her float away from me this time.

Irvine had put Quistis below the card just played and flipped it.  Rinoa took a moment to think before pointing to Minotaur and looking to Squall for acceptance.  "Where?" he asked softly, not wanting to broadcast their strategies to everyone.

Rinoa mouthed the word, Bottom.  Watching her lips move but no sound caused him to automatically concentrate on her lips for communication.  He stared at her partially open mouth for a split second longer, waiting for her to 'say' something else, wanting her to do that again.  He nodded in agreement.

Irvine continued, playing Cerberus underneath Leviathan

With Rinoa being slightly elevated on Squall's lap, he happened to eye her zipper once again, still opened to some extent.  This combined with the sensuous movements of her lips a moment ago provoked an unintentional stirring down below.  Shit.  No.  Not now.  Not now!  Don't get hard, DON'T get hard…

It was their turn, the only spot left on the grid being the center.  Rinoa was calculating their last move in her head.  A smile formed on her face as she went to pluck her own card from his hand. 

Squall stopped her, "Nn-hnn.  Wait."  He rubbed his thumb over his own card, gesturing to her that she should play that one instead.

Why, she mouthed silently.

Better, he mouthed back.

She gave him a look as if to say, 'Are you saying you're better than me?'

Squall's face cringed and he quickly explained aloud, "No, no, I didn't mean it that way!"  He continued softly, "It's a guaranteed win.  We've got the game."

The stubborn rebel on his lap pulled out the Rinoa card from his hand and mouthed the words, Trust me.

She placed her own card in the center, making a plus combo with Seifer, Leviathan, Rinoa, Cerberus.  And hence, taking the game.

"No fair, that was 2 heads against 1," whined Irvine.

"We won!  We won!"  Rinoa tightened her embrace around Squall's neck and hugged him.

She was gleaming at her victory and bouncing in Squall's lap.  "Good job.  I didn't know you knew the game so well," he complimented as he in turn held onto her tighter so she wouldn't slide off.  He could feel her chest pressed against his neck and her bouncing was vibrating the whole lawn chair.  Her body feels so warm… so soft.  Her movements are shaking both of us.  Now if she was just facing me a little more, maybe with one leg draped on the other side of me, and she kept doing that… 

His body began to react to his thoughts again.  No. Argh!  Must stop thinking like that. Not again.  Not again!  In an effort to stop her celebrating, Squall offered, "Since your card won the game, why don't you pick out the card we should keep of Irvine's."

"Oh, thank you!"  She looked over the grid and decided on the strongest Level 10 card on the board, Seifer.  Once she had it up close, she studied it and said, "When did Seifer grow a goatee?"

***Thanks to RobertDogwood for the tremendous help on Triple Triad.  Without him, that whole section would have probably only been 3 sentences long.

Go on!  Click on chapter 2!  Hurry! -------à