It's about time you got here! J

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Accepting his loss, Irvine said, "Let's pack up and go inside."  As Rinoa was removing her arm from Squall's neck, she quickly twirled a tuft of his hair right by his nape around her finger before withdrawing her arm from him completely.  Squall felt sudden shivers all over his body that tingled up and down his back, curling his toes. 

Oh Hyne.  That felt so good.  She is flirting with me!  Does she have any idea what she's doing to me?  I wish I could do something like that in return, without looking obvious. 

He decided to do something similar; as he was removing his arm from where it was resting on the small of her back, he intentionally moved his hand past the back of her own neck, quickly and softly flipping a cluster of her damp hair through his fingers before bringing his arm back to his side. 

Okay, that went well.  Subtle, yet it was there.  She had to have felt that.  I just hope no one else caught it.

"I saw that," Zell accused. 

"What?"  Squall froze, now wishing he didn't attempt that simple movement, that gesture that implied to all who witnessed how he really felt about her.

"Irvine!  I just caught him trying to sneak a few of my good cards into his deck as we're cleaning up!"

Squall relaxed, inwardly laughing at his misunderstanding and apparent paranoia of any sort of public affection he was trying to get away with.  He noticed Rinoa slightly laughing to herself as well.  He wondered if she assumed the same thing he did about Zell's observation.

"Squall and I will be right in," said the girl on his lap.

Huh?  Oh!  We will?  What is she planning?

Rinoa finally got up off of his quadriceps and offered her hand to help Squall out of his lawn chair.  Everyone else had gathered their cards and stepped into the house, leaving the two by themselves on the patio by the pool.  Rinoa drew him in closer.

Whoa.  What is she doing?  At least wait until the others are out of sight in there in the kitchen!

She held up a finger and said, "One last dip!" before shoving him into the still pool water that had calmed down after all the horseplay in it earlier.  Dusk had set in, but large lamps installed into each pool wall illuminated the water. 

Cold!! 

Squall surfaced, whipping his now drenched-again hair back and wiping his eyes.  He saw her smiling face, crouched by the side where she had just pushed him in.  Her shorts and sandals had been taken off and were in a pile to the side.  The zipper at the front of her suit also seemed to be hanging just a tad lower than Squall remembered seeing it hang earlier in the day.

I guess the water's not that bad.

Rinoa remained crouched and didn't jump in after him.  She undressed down to her bathing suit to come back in, right?  Maybe she's waiting for me to pull her in.

Squall swam up to her and propped his feet against the pool wall, curling his toes around the rim to hold him in place, making a horizontal squat.  "I'm assuming that you're going to join me?"  He then took hold of her forearms and pushed off the wall with his legs, propelling the both of them to the center of the pool with Rinoa on top of him.  They began to sink as they lost momentum and let go of each other to swim back to the surface.

Rinoa splashed him, laughing and said, "You had me scared there for a second.  I had no idea what you were going to do.  That was creative.  It felt like I was on a ride."

"Yeah, that was fun.  At least until we started sinking."

"Let's do that again!" she chirped.  She didn't wait for his response as she swam back to the edge again, climbed out, and resumed her previous crouching position.

"Um, o—okay," Squall stuttered, that section of his mind that worried about what others thought of him told him that they what they were doing looked silly.  Oh screw it, nobody's watching us anyway.  He looked quickly to the patio door leading into the house and the surrounding windows just to confirm that there were no peepers.

He again swam up to her, curled his toes around the rim and took hold of her arms.  "Ready?"

Rinoa nodded and the two were pushed out to the center again, creating waves that reached the far ends of the pool.  If not for the presence of the water, this could have been a more intimate situation.  But as they glided through the water, they had to shut their eyes and hold their breaths. 

"Just a couple more times, please?"  Rinoa begged.

Squall looked at her with large eyes.  "Again?"

She nodded ecstatically.

She's really enjoying this.  Is it the thrill like being on a ride like she said?  Or… maybe it's the part where she lands on top of me?

"C'mon, Squall.  I feel like a kid again!  Humor me.  How many chances are we going to get to act so carefree like this?  After everything that's happened, I feel like I'm obligated to act all serious and proper and uphold this image that's been forced upon me."

I'm sorry you have to feel like that.  I know what you mean.  We're role models now, others expect us to act a certain way. 

He smirked, allowing Rinoa's attitude to rub off on him.  "Race you to the edge!"

They continued the "ride" as Rinoa referred to it a couple more times.  "Okay, now your turn.  You climb out and I'll pull you in."

"Rinoa, I don't know if it's going to work that way.  I mean, I'm heavier and I'm going to land on top of you."

"I see the way you do it, it looks easy." 

Squall reluctantly climbed out and squatted at the edge while she attempted to hook her toes onto the rim like he did.  Her smaller feet kept slipping and didn't grip as tight as his did earlier.  "How do you do this?  I must be at a wrong angle."

Squall tried to help her curl her toes more snug, but that only made her retract and giggle.  "That tickles!!  Okay, I got it now.  So now I grab onto your arms like this?  Ready?"

"I guess so," Squall looked down, still feeling like he was going to crush her when they pushed off.  Instead, the glide was very smooth and he could feel two spots of pressure on his chest from where her own was pressing onto his.  However, this time they didn't go very far, Rinoa's legs not having the strength that her companion's had to push them off.  They abruptly starting sinking and Squall could hear her closed-mouthed giggling as they went underwater.

They both laughed as they stood straight again.  Rinoa said, "Okay, that didn't work as well as I thought.  But it's fascinating how weightless you are once you're in the water."  She grinned evilly, "In fact, I bet I could lift you up and carry you around this pool!" 

Before Squall had a chance to react, Rinoa had scooped him up like in romance movies where the guy picks the girl up off her feet and carries her off to some unknown romantic spot to do what they please. 

"Aaugh!  Hey!!"  Squall kicked his legs in the air as she held onto him, splashing water all around them.  She had one arm behind his upper back, and one underneath the backs of his knees.  He had nowhere to go, no leverage to fight back on.

Rinoa couldn't stop laughing at the fact that this was even possible, to carry something with ease that weighed more than she did.  "Stop struggling, or I'll tickle you in the kneepits!"

He stopped flailing and looked at her with incredulous curiosity.  "Kneepits??"

"Yeah, your kneepits.  You know, it's like an armpit, but it's at your knees…?" she looked at him expectantly, hoping he would buy her bullshit.  She casually spun them in slow circles as they were talking.

Hmm… she's got a point.  It's the area under the knee.  Like an armpit is the area under the arm—wait, it's under the shoulder, actually, so wouldn't that be a shoulderpit—why am I analyzing this??

He held up his arm and pointed to the sensitive area on the inside of his elbow.  "Does that make this my elbowpit?"

If she had a free arm to smack him, she would have.  Instead she rolled her eyes, shook her head, and said, "Shut up."  With that, she started to trot in the water, still carrying Squall.  "Jog, jog, jog, jog, jog, jog, jog, jog…" she chanted, imitating a locomotive.

Looking like geeks playing that push-off game moments earlier was one thing.  And now being carried around by a woman in her arms looked utterly idiotic to the public eye.  Squall was glancing all around to ensure their privacy.  This was one thing he did not want to be teased about later.

"Rinoa, how much of Laguna's beer did you drink?" he asked jokingly.

She spat out a laugh, "What?!  One!  I don't have to be drunk to have a little fun."  She was approaching the shallow end and his body was leaving the buoyancy of the water.  Gravity was quickly pulling on his weight as Rinoa challenged herself to see how far she could continue to carry him.

Sensing her struggle, Squall quickly wrapped his arms around her neck and clung to her like a baby, "Don't drop me!"

She gave him an odd look and queried, "How much of Laguna's beer did you drink, Squall?"

She finally gently put him back down much to Squall's relief.  Their arms slid away from each other, fingers brushing.  At the very end of his fingertips, he felt a slight pull from Rinoa's own, and took the hint (he hoped it was a hint anyway) not to let go altogether.  Under the water, he held out his hands, the hooking of their fingers the only physical contact at the moment.

Silence, except for the tune of fiddles and flutes in the background from the music disc that was still on.  Playtime was over.  A quiet awkwardness had set in as the two friends nervously exchanged glances.

"I missed you… --guys," Rinoa said.

"…We missed you too," Squall said in a quiet voice.

One moment, one second of pure gaze into the other's eyes and Squall forgot to breathe.  He cleared his throat before continuing, "So, did you find your friends?"

"Yes, I met up with Zone and Watts in Timber actually.  We reminisced about old times, that sort of thing."

"I'm sorry I couldn't come with you.  I mean, being your knight and all—you know, that whole duty thing…"

Rinoa laughed like he was ridiculous for thinking that.  "Oh, that's ok.  I didn't expect you to just drop everything and hop on a train with me."  She paused, asking a question that was bothering her from the start.  "Squall, you don't feel obligated to be my knight, do you?  I don't want you to feel forced into doing things or act a certain way just because of me--"

"No!"  Squall said with determination, cutting her off.  "I have no regrets to accepting that responsibility.  I'm—I'm honored you chose me," he added softly, throwing in a small smile.

"And I'm honored you accepted."  Rinoa returned the lip-turned gesture.  Letting her free mind run away with her, she commented, "You have the sweetest smile.  How come I never saw it on you before?"

No, Rinoa, you have the best smile I've ever seen.  And you seem to have no problem showing it.  As an afterthought, Come to think of it, I never have seen what I look like when I smile.  Mental note: look at smile in front of mirror later.

Squall's cheeks felt hot.  He didn't know how to take such compliments.  He grunted, rolled his eyes, and scrunched in that present smile, trying to hide it.

"No, no!  Don't cover it up!" Rinoa let go of one of his hands to use her fingers to form his grin once more, using her wet thumb and forefinger to raise the corners of his mouth.  "Oh, shit.  I embarrassed you.  Ok, end of subject."  She removed her hand, leaving his mouth kind of crooked from her trying to sculpt it back to its sweet former smile.  Changing the topic, Rinoa looked up to the cloudless desert sky.  "There sure are a lot of stars out tonight."

Thinking back to everything they just did since this afternoon: the playing, teasing, joking, laughing, talking, holding, Triple Triad strategizing, swimming, dunking…  This girl-- this woman is completely amazing.  I wish I could be half as spirited as she is.  She just--she has the ability to just throw all her inhibitions out the window and not give a second thought to any negative consequences.  To the outsiders, she can portray her calm and mature sorceress side.  But behind closed doors, she can act from her heart again and not worry about the attention she gets from those who fear her, or give her forced respect.  She can do what she wants.  If she wants to splash around in a pool, then she'll do it.  If she wants to pick up her knight and jog through the water, more power to her.

Squall glanced up at the dark blanket of atmosphere, dotted with hundreds of twinkling lights, only to look back down at the young woman in front of him again.  She was gazing at the sky like it was the first time she ever saw it, finding infinite fascination with her upper surroundings.

Déjà vu, almost.  This time Squall didn't need the help of a shooting star to act as catalyst for his spontaneous action.  The sky had been completely calm, but his heart and mind were swirling with emotion and a physical need to pull her closer.

Slowly tugging onto her fingers that were hooked onto his, he pulled their bodies closer together. Their hands rose out of the water as their arms bent at the elbow, forearms touching.  Rinoa had looked down from her obsession with the heavens at the movement, to see her knight's partially open lips slowly advancing on hers.  Her instant reaction was to lick her already wet lips and draw in a short breath before contact.

Squall closed his eyes at the gradual impact, slightly cocking his head to avoid bumping her nose.  He froze, not wanting to spoil the feel of her soft full lips against his; trying to do everything like he did the first time he kissed her, since it seemed to have gone quite well that time.

They parted as slowly as they joined, Squall letting out a controlled breath of air that he wasn't aware he had been holding in.  Rinoa stared at his leaving mouth, also appearing breathless. 

She tore her gaze away from his lips to rest at his eyes as Squall confessed, "I've been wanting to do that all day."

She answered, "You're not the only one."  Squall only had a second to look surprised until she initiated their next kiss.  This time he felt her varying the pressure on his lips, adding a little movement from her mouth.  He responded by doing the same, realizing she was kissing a statue if he didn't show a little animation.  A part of him was still nervous, and concentrated on loosening the tension that caused him to freeze up.  He had to remind himself to breathe again as this kiss lasted longer than the last. 

He never realized how coordinated you had to be to enjoy a great kiss.  There's the touch of the lips themselves, what you decide to do with the lips once their together, how to remember to breathe in and slowly out your nose, what to do with your hands-- Oh!  My hands! 

Letting go of the tight grip they had around each other's fingers, I don't remember consciously clutching them like this, he wrapped his arms around her waist and lower back.  A stifled moan from Rinoa vibrated against his mouth as she found a place to rest her arms also, hung around his neck.

Just when he thought she was about to pull away and end their third ever official kiss, she would add a few quick smooches, almost like an encore to the master performance.  Squall was letting her inadvertently teach him every movement she was making, that his mind was too lost in mush to think of himself.  Just like when she taught me how to dance, first-hand training, showing me each step along the way as it happens.

Their lips opened further and further with each encore, taking each other's mouths with extra intensity as they clamped down on the swollen pink flesh.  The passionate pecking finally ended with a slow pucker being stretched out as they drew back to look at each other once again.

Rinoa spoke, "You know one aspect that I really like about a kiss, is that sound that it makes right when we part.  That last (smoochtsk)," she demonstrated by kissing the two-inch space of air between their faces.  Squall playfully leaned in trying to catch it, but was too late.

"You mean this sound?"  He captured her bottom lip in his and lightly sucked on it as he pulled away, making a similar noise when his mouth let go.  He pulled back to gaze at her expression, not really expecting an answer.  Rinoa's eyes remained closed, lips parted, unwilling to let go of that sensation.

I think she liked that.

She slowly opened her eyes and uttered a shaky "Uh-huh."  Nearing his mouth once more, her eyes remained open and widened her lips farther apart.

Ohh, yeah, she liked it.  He followed her example and did as she did, tentatively parting his lips, waiting in anticipation to find out what she was going to show him next.  Their wet lips met, open and moving across the others.  Half-lidded eyes speaking to each other in words their lips were too busy to verbalize. 

Nudging, teasing, his tongue accidentally brushed against her lips, tasting traces of chlorine on soft skin.  Or he thought perhaps it wasn't an accident.  Either way Rinoa took it as an invitation for hers to join the party as well.  Their eyes continued to exchange nonverbal replies as they cautiously explored the next step of their kiss.

The passion was increasing, the timidness of their actions diminishing.  Almost simultaneously, the two melted into each other, creating a closed liplock to conceal the fervor of what was going on inside.  Rinoa played with his hair at the base of his neck. 

Oh, yeah, I got distracted again.  The hands!  Gotta remember to move my hands once in awhile.  Squall moved his hands along the tight wet back of her swimsuit, making sure he was still concentrating on his tongue movements at the same time.

He couldn't help but listen to the soft clicking sounds produced by their slick mouths, thanks to Rinoa pointing out that particular 'smoochy' noise before.  Hyne, she tastes good.  I didn't ever think I would enjoy the flavor of a woman's mouth until now.  It doesn't really taste like anything… just, Rinoa.  I wonder if she ever kissed Seifer like this.  Squall refused to let himself tense up at the thought.  It doesn't matter.  I'm the one she's with right here and now.

Finally, after what had to be the most intense experience they shared together romantically, they parted to take much needed breaths.  Rinoa nervously glanced at the patio area, "Maybe we shouldn't be doing this right out here in the open, in the center of the pool like this.  I heard Selphie brought along her camcorder again."

Squall quickly looked in the same direction.  He had been terrified the last time she had it at the celebration party, and definitely wanted to avoid it this time too, especially since his behavior today would betray his aloof reputation if any of the public outside his circle of friends would happen to lay eyes on it.

"Good point."  But I don't want to stop kissing you either.

"What if we were to go over there by the ladder?" Rinoa gestured to a corner where they would be obstructed from view in case anyone was to peek from inside the kitchenette area.

"Another good point."  He nodded his head to the side as to say 'come on'.  They swam to the designated corner, which happened to be housed in the deep end.  The two nervously treaded water, all their limbs waving to keep them afloat. 

How are we supposed to continue what we were doing if our feet can't even touch the ground?  There's got to be a way.  I'm dying to touch those lips again.

Squall looked at what was around them.  Grabbing the side of the ladder, he remembered the buoyancy factor from when Rinoa had been carrying him around with ease. 

Reaching out an arm to grab onto the ladder also, Rinoa said timidly, "I am really glad that you decided to make it.  We would have missed out on so much.  I definitely wouldn't have had as much fun today without you here."

"I'm glad too," Squall smiled shyly.  "Actually, can I tell you something?"  No!  You can't tell her!  What am I saying?

"Of course!" Rinoa giggled at his coy openness.

I already started the subject.  Now I have to follow through.  Fighting with his pride, he continued, "When I first arrived here today, Selphie told me that not everyone could make it."  I'm never drinking again.

"Uh,huh."

Stop speaking right now!  Change what you're going to say.  Don't confess this to her, she's going to think you're so corny!  Squall gulped down his inner argument.  "And…  I was so worried that she was going to say you were that person.  So…  I'm really glad that you're here too."  There.  It's done.  I said it.  But he decided to not elaborate and add that she was the main reason that he decided to come in the first place.

Rinoa smiled sweetly at his admission.  She took her free hand and placed it behind his neck to pull him in for a quick kiss.

Squall licked his lips and offered, "You can hold onto me with both arms…  That is, if--if you want."

"Can I trust that you're going to support the both of us from sinking?" she teased as she wrapped her other arm around his neck also, holding on tight since she didn't have a grip on the reliable ladder anymore.

"The gravity resistance is different in the water, remember?  I'll hold onto the ladder for the both of us."  Rinoa was comfortably sandwiched in-between her knight's solid body and the ladder behind her.  Squall also placed his feet on the bottom rung for more stability.  He was surprised when he felt Rinoa wrap her legs around his waist in order to balance the steadiness.

We've never been this close before.

"Does your ring tarnish in the water?"

'"Huh?  Oh, my ring on your necklace?"  Squall looked down to find that she had been wearing that special piece of jewelry this whole time.  He stiffened at the view that his angle was giving him, right past the necklace to her obvious cleavage pressed into her embrace around his body.  Dang.  I've been staring at that goddamn zipper all day I didn't even notice she continued to wear the necklace like that.

He forced his gaze back up to her close face and stuttered, " Uh, no,--not that I know of…"  They continued to stare up close into each other's eyes.  Hyne, she is… he thought as he moved his face closer.

so…

incredible…

Their lips met cautiously again at first, having that brief intermission since the first act in the center of the pool.  However, it did not take long to get back into the rhythm.  They continued where they left off, tongues curiously exploring the new discovery.

I'm actually 'making out' with Rinoa, as the guys would call it.  Let's see, is everything in check? 

Breathing? Yes. 

Hands? Busy holding to ladder. 

Consciously aware of what I'm doing with my mouth? Yes. 

Enjoying this? OH yes.

The heat was building, the pressure on their mouths becoming more aggressive. 

"Are you guys ever coming in or what??  I can't even see you!" Selphie's shout was heard from the sliding patio door.

Squall and Rinoa abruptly halted their hungry appetite and stared at each other in scared shock at the interruption.  They turned their heads toward the voice of the intrusion, but Selphie couldn't see them behind their little barrier.  With Rinoa still wrapped around Squall's upper body, and his feet still on the bottom rung of the ladder, he lifted them both so they could peer over the pool's edge to find Selphie scanning the landscape with a hand perched above her eyebrows.

"We'll be right in," Rinoa called.  They waited for Selphie to disappear and close the door behind her before Squall lowered them back behind the sanctuary of their hiding spot again.  Immediate silence followed, small waves caused the knight and sorceress to bob slightly in the water like buoys.

"I guess we should go inside the house."

"Yeah, you're right."

Yet, Rinoa didn't loosen her grip around his body nor did Squall attempt to crawl up the ladder.  Instead, he admired her slicked-back hair, perfectly controlled around the contours of her head.  Framing her wet glistening skin on her face, a few water drops hanging at the bottom of her alluring chin.  So close to those tempting full lips of hers that he had been entertaining before the disruption…

They met with gruff ferocity, licking, tasting, craving each other now that they knew they had to stop and eventually join the rest of the group inside.  Squall couldn't stand not to be able to use his hands while she had the opportunity to press her entire body against his.  He let one of his hands on the ladder go and stroke the back of her hair.   It wasn't until he heard Rinoa's involuntary short moans that he noticed how aroused he had become. 

Darn this heated pool.  It can't keep me down.

Rinoa's legs that were holding her up around his waist were beginning to slip and slide lower, innocently making her body sag lower onto his hips.

Squall's eyes opened huge as he realized her drooping bottom would eventually feel his current problem inside his shorts.  No!  I can't let her feel that.  That would be so embarrassing!

Rinoa hadn't sensed his immediate panic and continued to kiss him passionately one more time before they had to inevitably quit.  Squall took his hand that was caressing the back of her head and quickly placed it right on the bottom of her rear so he could position her from falling farther down.  Rinoa let out a surprised, but compliant moan without pausing the kiss in response to where Squall had grabbed her.

Fuck, that was supposed to be a solution.  We should really stop before anything happens next.

As the session was coming to a close, Rinoa was reluctant to let go of his mouth, sensuously hanging onto his tongue with her lips, using a slight vacuum as she pulled away.

We really have to stop now.

Slowly letting go of his shoulders, Squall helped Rinoa get off of him, being very careful how he unwrapped her from his waist to avoid bumping against 'that area'.  He waited for her to climb out first and noticed her suit had ridden up on her again like before, catching a nice eyeful of rounded flesh as he stood on the bottom of the ladder just below her.  He resisted an urge to reach out and smooth the creamy white skin with the palm of his hand.

Damn, this just doesn't get any easier.

Climbing up the ladder also, water poured off Squall's body and his shorts sagged and clung to his skin.  He took on a frightened expression as he glanced down. 

Shit!!  I can't get out looking like this!!  Shit!  Shit, shit, shit…  He quickly splashed back into the refreshing concealment of the water before Rinoa had a chance to turn around.

She laughed, "Aren't you coming?  Come on."

Squall was panicking on the inside, but was determined to remain calm and collected on the outside.  "I'll be right there.  You go ahead."  Just give me a moment.  Alone.  Having your body stay out here to distract me won't help.

Rinoa looked calculative, trying to start a few sentences, not sure of what to assume.  Finally, she asked, "Why aren't you coming?"

Agh!  This is not the time to be getting all nosy.  Please just drop it, don't worry about the details, Rinoa, please!  "I—just want a few laps before I go in for the night.  I didn't get a chance to all day yet."  Yeah, that should work.

Rinoa shrugged, "Okay," grabbed a towel, and turned back to the door to the kitchenette.  After a few steps, she froze and twirled back to look at Squall who had already started his laps, unaware that she was still there.  She touched her mouth with her fingertips pondering, "I wonder…" then shook her head, a private smile on her lips as she turned to enter the house.

After composing himself with some brisk exercise, Squall dried off, snatched his card deck, and headed to the changing room.  Everyone's suits were hanging on various fixtures to air dry.  He combed his hair, changed back into his normal attire, and hung up his trunks on a towel bar.  He snuck a peak at Rinoa's dripping blue tropical one-piece and gazed at the neckline.  Being the only one in the room, he slowly lowered that tempting zipper that had distracted him so many times earlier, until it was opened as far as it would go at the middle of the torso.  He smirked and exited the room.

Several pairs of boots were strewn about by the door, his along with two brown sets and another black petite pair.  There also was a pair of scruffy black and red high-tops.  Realizing the others must have opted to leave their footwear off, he decided to not put his back on yet either.

Squall padded barefoot into the next room, which seemed to be a living or family room.  The lights were off but the TV was on playing an old black and white show.  Zell was alone in the room, sitting on the couch munching some chips and laughing at the TV, periodically relieving himself of gas, in more ways than one.  Squall was unsure of where to go, he didn't want to look like an idiot walking around the large mansion getting lost looking for the others—or more specifically—looking for her, in particular.

Plopping down in a big cushioned chair, Squall asked, "What are you watching?"

"Oh hey, Squall.  I came across that old movie that I was talking about earlier, the first of the 'Ma and Pa Kettle' series, you know, that comedy where they move from their tiny shack on the farm to a new deluxe house that they win in some drawing with these cool inventions and everything goes wrong?!!"

Squall nodded and looked at the screen.  'Ma' was apparently putting her children to bed.  There were all sorts of buttons on the console in the wall.  She was pressing all of them trying to turn off the lights, but instead created slapstick havoc in the children's bedroom.

Zell bounced up and down, sending potato chip crumbs flying, laughing, "Oh, man!  That was classic!" 

"Hey, guys," greeted Rinoa as she entered the room, fully dressed also.

Ah, there she is.

She looked at Squall and flashed a smile, looking for a place to sit.

Argh, I wasn't thinking when I chose a single chair.  If I would have taken a sofa, she could sit next to me.  I'll have to remember that next time.  I'm not used to thinking of these things.

Rinoa brushed some chips off the cushion and took a seat next to Zell, who was slapping his knees and laughing loudly at the movie.  She asked, "Where is everybody?"

Zell said, "What do you mean 'everybody'?  The majority of the people in this house are right here."

"You know what I mean, where's Selphie and Irvine?"

Judging by what Irvine had told Squall earlier in their card game before the girls arrived, he hoped they were not doing anything that could get them all in trouble, especially being in such an important person's house.  They wouldn't be that risky, would they?  If they get caught, I'm not going to be responsible for them.

"They're playing pool or something in the game room.  Oh, here's another funny part!"  Zell guffawed, followed by an enormous belch.  "Excuse me," he said in a small, embarrassed voice.

"Oh, now you excuse yourself," Squall remarked dryly.

"There's a lady present!  I don't worry about offending you."

Rinoa's face took on a grimace, waving her hand in front of her nose.  "Oh, Zell!  That carried over."  She immediately got up and sat on the floor in front of Squall in-between his feet.

"Sorry," said Zell as he sniffed the air.

Squall became aware of Rinoa shifting where she sat on the floor.  She doesn't look very comfortable down there.  What should I do?  He noticed how roomy his chair was.  Should I ask her to share it with me?  Maybe if we were alone…  I don't want the others to tease us.

There I go, worrying about my image again.  He looked down at Rinoa, changing positions once more, tucking her legs to the side to angle her butt off the hard floor.  Stifling a yawn, she rested her head on his calf.  Squall could feel her body heat on his leg.

She looks tired.  I wonder when we'll see each other again after tonight.  And even when she is back at Garden, how much will I get to see her?  My job has kept me so busy.  Will I be able to live up to my other responsibility as knight at the same time?  Maybe if we shared the same dorm, I could watch over her better…  Whoa.  That's getting ahead of myself.  First things first.

Squall bent down and tapped her on the shoulder, asking her if she wanted to share the chair with him.  Rinoa smiled and got up off the hardwood floor.  As she was crawling into the space Squall gave her, the top of the chair arm popped open, displaying a small control panel.

"Aw, cool.  Did you see this, Squall?"

The possibility of more buttons to push intrigued Zell.  "Rinoa, push the big black one at the top!"

"Okay!"

Squall panicked, "No!  You guys don't even know what it does!"  However, he spoke too late, and a padded footrest extended from the foot of the chair, raising Squall and Rinoa's feet off the floor.

"See, these are just harmless buttons for the chair's functions," Rinoa explained.  She continued to fiddle with some of the other smaller buttons, making their chair recline into several different positions.

Zell said, "Okay, now push that bright red one at the bottom!"

Rinoa agreed immediately, "Yeah!  I wonder what that one does!"

I…  guess that couldn't hurt.  Everything else seemed to be undamaging.

Rinoa pressed the anticipated button and the chair instantly dropped back so that their backs were parallel with the floor, their legs still elevated above the surprised couple.

Squall said out loud, "What's does Laguna use this for?  Dental work??"

Rinoa nervously futzed with the control panel again to return them to one of their previous positions.  "I'm sure that one was supposed to turn into a flat-out bed, but I must have screwed something up with the leg section. 

Meanwhile, Zell was finding his friends' predicament more hilarious than his movie. Rinoa finally fixed the chair's pose to a standard 50-degree recline with the footrest up, and innocently closed the control panel back up. 

"All better," she squeaked out shyly.  Zell continued to chortle, trying to convince Rinoa to play around with it some more.

Squall said in a semi-threatening manner, "Go back to your movie, Zell."  He then softened his expression and automatically wrapped his arm around the young woman who had cozied herself against his reclined body, "You're right, this is much better."

She squeezed him in return and brushed her bare feet with his.  He could feel her smile against his chest.  He, in turn, squeezed her tighter.  She half-blocked his view of the TV set, but he stopped focusing on the movie anyway.

That's it.   I am so CRAZY about her!  So, now, is she my girlfriend?  Would I call her that if somebody asked who that girl with me is?  What would she call me?  Easily, she could just say I'm her knight.  But I can't say, 'This is Rinoa, my sorceress.'  No, that doesn't sound right at all.  Or maybe she would call me her boyfriend… hmm…

I thought Laguna would have returned back by now.  Didn't he say something about needing to talk with me after the Ulti-fiasco was over?  It must be a security issue that he needs to hire SeeD for.  But he also said he would understand if I don't want to hear it. 

What does that mean?  Oh, great.  It's probably a long-term high-risk job.  Although that would mean more money for Garden… whatever, I don't care about any of that right now.

He glanced down at his… whatever he was going to call her—he hadn't decided on that yet.  She had turned her face away from the TV set and was fast asleep.  Squall had to breath out a laugh and smirk.  Zell had also settled down and was tranquil on the couch, fighting to keep his eyes open.  Feeling quite drowsy himself, Squall let out a relaxing yawn.

I guess all that swimming wiped us all out.  Not to mention being outside in that hot sun.  What are Irvine and Selphie up to?  I wonder if Rinoa and I will go as far as they have.  But I think that's a ways off yet.  Who knows, maybe she'll be my wife someday.  What kind of future does she want?  Does she even know that answer herself yet?

Squall rolled his eyes at how he was thinking too far ahead again.  I just like the way things are right now: friends nearby, an old movie flickering on in the background, and with her resting against me.

…I guess we'll see where this takes us.

@^@^@^@^@^@^@^@^@

It was late when two middle-aged men stepped into the dark house.

"Looks like the kids are still here."

"Probably waiting for you, you were supposed to be the host, after all.  This is your house."

The Estharian president and his aide spotted the sleeping teenagers in the glow of the TV set.  "Look, he's over there in the chair with the young sorceress.  I told you you would have missed him when you left the party too early—chicken."  Kiros added seriously, "So, since you copped out today, when do you plan to tell him the news?"

Laguna gazed down wistfully at his snoozing son and the dark-haired girl resting on his chest.

"There's always tomorrow."

THE END

Sorry if you were waiting for the expected Laguna-Squall father-son talk.  You know how many of those are out there??  If you need closure, just search through the list and I'm sure you're bound to run into one.

Acknowledgements:  First, I would like to thank my husband for doing some of those crazy stunts in the pool, which gave me the idea to incorporate them in this story; also, for enduring my pestering questions on how the mind of a teenage male works.

Credit needs to be given to RobertDogwood for his much-needed help on the Triple Triad strategies.  I wouldn't have been able to write that section at all without your assistance!

Also, to Zidanes NEW Princess to be the most to bug me (in a good way) to write another Squinoa.  Your inspiration was the last straw where I said to myself, 'Yeah!  Why not?'

And also all the others that rooted me on to do another fic.  I'm afraid to list any more names, 'cause I don't want to leave anyone out!  You know who you are ;)

Oh, and last but not least, thanks to the big picture menu on the wall at Orange Julius of their deluxe loaded hot dog.