Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Final Fantasy VIII.

Waltzing in the Rain


Chapter One: The Beast of Galbadia

It had started off innocently enough. Squall had been enjoying a very quiet, peaceful breakfast in the kitchen of their new apartment on the upper level. He savored his coffee as he gazed out towards the snow capped mountains beyond his kitchen window. There were only a handful of things Squall absolutely loved. They were, in order of importance, Rinoa, gunblades, hot dogs, the apartment, and his hair conditioner. He enjoyed not having to contend with hundreds of hungry cadets, and then another few hundred hungry SeeDs just to get a bite to eat. The peace and quiet was absolutely blissful. Too bad Rinoa had to shatter it with a request.

"Do you know what I'd like to have for my birthday?" she asked as she carried a plate of trabian toast over and placed it in front of him.

"….." Squall stared down at the plate suspiciously. Trabian toast was something she usually fixed when she was buttering him up for something he wouldn't want to do. After the last time she'd fixed it, she'd dragged him to go see a professional photographer. Sure the end result had been picture proof that he had a girlfriend who was willing to put up with his stubbornness, but the process had been awkward and annoying.

"Oh come on," she said as she sat beside him with her own plate. "You're supposed to ask what I want."

He looked over at her wry little grin. The longer he stared at her, the bigger her grin got. He wasn't sure he wanted to ask. "What do you want?" he asked cautiously.

She smiled broadly, tucking her hair back behind her ear. "I want you to go up to Esthar and spend some time with your father."

No amount of cinnamon, syrup, or powdered sugar would sweeten him up enough to agree to that. "No," he said flatly.

She started pouting instantly. "Why not?"she protested. "The man calls here constantly. He isn't a bad guy. You're just being a big meanie."

"That isn't a legitimate birthday request." He frowned as he watched her eyes start to well up with tears. She was seriously going to start crying on him. Why was she so adamant about this? "Rinoa, I just– "

"Are you annoyed by him? Embarrassed by him?" she asked.

"Smothered by him," he added to her list as he picked up his fork and started cutting his toast. "Anytime I go around him, he's always there, hovering. I can't get away from him. That, and he doesn't stop calling. He even had Ellone call twice."

Rinoa reached over and slid his plate away from him. He stared at her, holding his fork in his right hand. "He calls because he cares," she stated. "And he's embarrassing because that's what parents are supposed to be to their children."

Was that an expected role? No wonder most adults were so annoying. He gave her a frustrated look, really wanting to get his food back.

"I would understand if he was a bad guy but he's not. He's not mean or controlling or anything like my father." She was on the verge of tears again. Was this really about her father? He didn't dare ask her. "You have these good people in your family and you won't even give them the time of day."

Since shortly after he stepped up to be her knight, they'd shared a link. It allowed for them to share feelings and emotions with little effort or explanation. For the most part, he'd embraced it. The link allowed him to let her know how he felt without having to say it. Usually it was a blessing. Right now it was a curse, because she had the link between them on fire.

Women were difficult enough to deal with when they were emotional, and Rinoa was a very emotional woman. When she was happy and excited, she radiated her joy, but when she was angry or distressed she became practically engulfed by it. Squall had come to understand why it was that she sympathized with people in need of help. She was an amazingly compassionate person who had a capacity to care about people like no one else he had ever met. She could read people and understand their struggles. As much as he hated that she had to carry the burden of her powers, he couldn't have come up with a better person to have them.

Sharing a life with Rinoa meant experiencing her highs and lows, and not criticizing her for her natural openness about her self-awareness and her surroundings. They were practically opposites, but through their connection he was learning more and more about how normal, undamaged people thought and reacted to the world around him. Being with her made him a better leader and a wiser man… not that he was ready to embrace his adulthood yet.

He could feel her distress and frustration through their bond just as plain and clear as he could see it on her face. The emotions she was projecting through their bond were so strong he was starting to get affected by them himself. He was not going to let her make him cry. There was a brief but silent exchange between them. He adverted his eyes from hers but it did him no good. He couldn't escape her that simply. Nothing shy of one of Odine's amulets would sever the link between them. His shoulders slumped in defeat as she slid his plate back to him.

He ate his trabian toast begrudgingly, savoring its sweet, wonderful taste but hating it for the strings that came attached to it. Rinoa meanwhile, gleefully ate hers, very clearly pleased with herself and happy that Squall was willingly taking the initiative to contact his father. While she was washing off their dirty dishes, he called Esthar and made arrangements for a weekend visit.

Before going to Esthar, Squall had business in Deling. Leaving Rinoa behind made him uncomfortable, but he knew she'd be safe at Garden, even if he wasn't there with her. He stepped off the bus and out onto the curb outside of Caraway's mansion. He looked past the guard on duty and up at the looming castle beyond. Waiting for Irvine to join him, Squall offered a nod to the guard before starting his walk to the front door.

"All I can tell you is that Selphie is borderline ecstatic," Irvine informed Squall as they walked. "She went out and bought a spare battery for the camcorder."

Squall made a face. "Did she really?"

Irvine grinned. "Sure did. She said this time she wasn't going to miss anything."

He groaned faintly. "I really hate that thing," he informed him.

"I know you do," he smiled, glancing around them at the puddles that were forming out on the lawn. "Looks like it's been raining a lot here. Nothing like a cold Galbadian rain."

Squall gave him an odd look. "Whatever that means," he said, looking up as raindrops started falling again. He ducked under the overhang and hesitated at the door. "I need to speak with the General," he said quietly. "You're here to make sure he doesn't lock me in a dungeon or throw me in the sewers."

Irvine contemplated this for a moment before nodding. "Should've known there was an angle to you wanting to hang out with me."

Squall grinned as he reached out and rang the doorbell. "Should've," he teased. Irvine punched him playfully in the arm. "That hurt," Squall complained, pausing when a short woman answered the door with an apron on. She must've been the maid. He was instantly reminded of Rinoa's suspicion that the maid's daughter might've been her half-sister. "I need to speak with General Caraway."

The maid nodded, looking at Squall and then Irvine. "Alright," she said, stepping back to let them in. "The General wasn't expecting visitors," she warned them.

"We won't take up too much of his time," Irvine assured her as he removed his hat and smiled. She returned his smile. Squall didn't say anything as he observed her, but she seemed friendly enough.

Meanwhile, at a dainty bistro table in the back sunroom, a short, chubby little girl aligned an armful of dolls and stuffed animals in a row. Scurrying around both the table and the chair that the Caraway was sitting in, she grabbed a pair of plastic teacups before running back.

Fury pretended not to notice as she clamored up into the chair opposite his. His eyes never left the Deling City Times as he scanned it for any articles that might interest him.

"Sugar, General?" the little girl asked as she placed cups in front of her toys.

"Yes please," he said in an absent tone as he moved his pink plastic cup closer to her. Still reading the paper, he pulled his hand away to turn the page.

"There you go, Sir!" she said enthusiastically. "Be careful it's hot!"

"Thank you Buttercup," he replied as he reached around his paper, picked up his cup, and brought it back to his saucer. Lifting it up to his lips, he pretended to drink as the little girl giggled.

"My name isn't Buttercup," she laughed. "It's Azalea."

He put down his paper, looking at her seriously. "Are you certain it isn't Violet?" he asked. "Or Rose or Lily?"

She continued with her high pitched giggle. "No silly! It's Azalea, like your little flowers," she pointed out one of the rain streaked windows toward the back garden. His gaze followed her finger as she pressed it up against the glass.

"I suppose you're right then, Miss Azalea," he smiled.

She smiled but the smile was short lived. "Charlie Chocobo! You know Honey and Miss Wiggleworth don't like it when you crowd them!" she swatted the offending stuffed chocobo off of the windowsill and onto the floor. Plopping down onto the floor, she dragged the stuffed animal over by Fury, and propped it up against his chair. "Time out for you mister! The General'll make you walk the line," she scolded the toy with her hands on her hips. "And for being rude you can't have none of Mama's cookies," she added one last jab before returning to her seat.

Fury spared a glance down at the dejected little chocobo doll while Azalea assured her other tea party guests that they wouldn't be disturbed by him any longer. He was about to open his mouth to say something when he heard vaguely familiar voices echoing down the hall. He folded his paper, listening to the hurried footsteps of the maid.

"More party guests!" Azalea exclaimed, springing from her seat.

"No," he said sternly, dropping his paper on the table. He recognized the voices at the door. "This is official business," he stated, giving the girl a firm look before rolling up his sleeves a bit. "Sit, have some tea," he spoke to the guard in the hall. "Stay here," he ordered Azalea.

"Yes Sir!" Azalea saluted along with the guard. Shaking his head, Fury made his way down the hall as the guard took a seat across from Azalea's chair.

Left alone in the front foyer, Squall looked around, taking in the décor of the mansion. It was impressive, to say the least. Everything about it screamed that the General was loaded. Taking a step closer to the staircase, he stole a glance up, trying to imagine if Rinoa's childhood bedroom was as extravagantly decorated as the rest of the place.

Caraway's footsteps pulled him back into the moment. He looked over, seeing the taller man come into the room. "Let's go to my office," Caraway stated, leading them without question. Squall and Irvine both followed silently. "Can I get either of you drinks?" Squall felt like it was a forced social courtesy, so he shook his head. Caraway leaned against the front of his desk and loosely crossed his arms across his chest. It was a little odd seeing the General in regular clothes, even if those clothes were still dressier than any civilian clothes Squall owned. An awkward silence settled in the room.

Irvine cleared his throat and crossed his arms as well. Squall spared him a glance. This wouldn't go over well and he knew it.

"So what brings you to Deling?" Caraway asked. "You interrupted my tea time," he stated almost accusingly as some of his dark but graying hair fell onto his forehead.

Irvine looked over at Squall. He was at a loss for words but wished Squall would spit out whatever it was he'd come to talk about.

Squall slid his hands into his pockets as he watched Caraway. "I wanted to speak to you about Rinoa," he stated. Irvine looked over at him in surprise.

Caraway narrowed his eyes. "What about her? Is she alright?" he asked.

"We've been dating since the end of the war," he told him. "And I'd like your permission to marry her."

"No," Caraway said flatly as he pushed himself off the front of the desk and stood up straight.

"No?" Squall asked. "Why not?"

"For starters? She's still a minor."

"She turns eighteen tomorrow," Squall stated.

Caraway glared daggers at him. "Do all SeeD team leaders make it a point to get romantically involved with their clients?" he frowned.

"No, I –"

"I wasn't talking to you," Caraway cut him off. "I'm talking to Kinneas."

Irvine hesitated. "I… I am just a cadet," he shrugged it off. "I'm sure there's something in the handbook." Not that he'd ever read it…

"It's unprofessional," Caraway informed Squall.

Squall scowled at him. "So is sending away your crush's love interest to war to get him out of the way."

For just a moment, Caraway paused. Was that why Squall always looked so familiar to him? Surely not… "She's been staying with you hasn't she," he accused. "That looks real good on Garden. An underage runaway living with the Garden Commander." He looked past Squall and motioned for Azalea to go in the other room. Instead, she just stood in the main doorway, her little black pig-tails hanging a bit crooked.

"She's in Timber," Squall lied without effort. "She's helping some of the locals try to rebuild their lives after your army wrecked everything."

It was now Caraway's turn to scowl. Irvine grew distracted from the two angry men when he saw who the General had been gesturing to. If she didn't look like a spitting image of ol' Fury, Irvine didn't know what more it would take for her to.

Seeing that she'd caught Irvine's eye, Azalea scurried over and reached up to take his hand. "Want to come to my tea party?" she smiled sweetly up at him.

Irvine grinned. Whoever she was, she was adorable. Before he could respond, the maid rushed over and whisked the girl away.

"She's pregnant isn't she?" Caraway's words brought Irvine back to following their argument.

"No she isn't," Squall defended himself. The two men were practically standing toe to toe. Irvine stepped forward, a little uncomfortable with how this might escalate.

"Sure about that?" Caraway asked. "You're both too young to be considering vows."

Squall frowned. Somehow, revealing to Caraway that his daughter was a sorceress, and that their link made them incredibly closer to each other than any normal couple would probably ever be, didn't feel like an appropriate answer, even though it was the truth.

"She is pregnant, isn't she?"

"No," he argued. "She is not."

"Well then whatever the two of you have going on, knock it off," he told him. "End it. I know what's best for my daughter and you're not good enough."

Irvine thanked his lucky stars that Selphie didn't have a father for him to contend with—and then he felt guilty about it.

"How would you know? It's been so many years you can't possibly know her anymore," Squall stated.

Caraway glared at him. "Coming from some teenage boy who's known her for less than a year? She paid you to fight for her cause, don't fool yourself into thinking she would've ever given you the time of day if you two had just run into each other on the street. But then, after the war was over, instead of walking away, you took her back to your Garden where she's been your little live in girlfriend ever since. She's just with you to get back at me." He stepped closer to Squall, closing whatever small gap there might've been. "Don't lie to me. I'm a career soldier, I know your kind. You're a merc. You got your paycheck, you got her innocence, and when you get bored you'll move on to another woman. You're Squall Leonhart, savior of the world. You could have any girl you set your sights on."

Squall frowned as some of his hair fell into his face. If this was the way Caraway wanted to be, he was more than happy to pretend he wasn't a part of Rinoa's family and just give into her requests to deal with his annoying father. "Well I've got news for you," he stated. "You think you've got me all figured out. You think I've committed some unspeakable act by ruining your princess. You ruined her innocence back when you drove her so far away that she ran to another country and joined a resistance group to rebel against you. She lived with freedom fighters on a train," he said flatly. "I don't know what it's like to grow up with parents, but that sounds pretty extreme. She hasn't had it easy. She's seen more fighting than some of my SeeDs have. I've got news for you though. I didn't take anything away from her- she gave it away a long time before I ever came into the picture, probably as a result of some type of psychological scarring you gave her."

It had taken a moment for Irvine to process what Squall had said. Did that mean that Rinoa and Seifer… Caraway's fist had flown much faster than Irvine had been prepared to intercept. Getting between the General and his Commander, Irvine pulled Squall to his feet and pushed him back towards the door. "When fists start flying it's time to leave," Irvine said before Squall could protest.

"Fury!" the maid exclaimed, realizing what had happened. "Let me get him some ice," she said to Irvine as she started for the kitchen.

"Don't!" Caraway called out after her. "Let it swell," he frowned.

Irvine kept between Caraway and Squall as they made their exit. "Cute daughter by the way," Irvine replied dryly, knowing Caraway was guarding that little secret.

"She's the maid's," Caraway said flatly, despite the fact that both he and the near three year old shared a number of similar features.

Irvine followed Squall out the front door, and flinched only slightly when Caraway slammed it behind him. "That went well," he stated as they walked along the pathway.

Squall frowned, gently touching the place he'd been hit. "If anyone asks about my eye, lie," he said as he followed Irvine past the street guard and to the bus stop.

Author's notes: I would like to thank you for taking the time to read the first chapter of Waltzing in the Rain. If you enjoyed it, leave a review, if you didn't, you can still leave a constructive review, just please try to be kind. :) This is part of the Where I Belong Inspired By Challenge. The original Where I Belong Challenge was such a success that it was decided we'd have an "Inspired By" challenge in which we'd try to write much longer stories, still surrounding the Squall & Rinoa romance theme.