Waltzing in the Rain
Chapter Three: Esthar Showers
Rinoa woke with a start when Angelo sprang up onto the bed and landed on top of her. Pushing the fluffy dog aside, she made a face and squinted at the bright sunlight streaming through the windows. Squall was already out of bed, not that she was surprised. He was up every morning before the sun, running, training, and doing whatever it was that early birds like him did. She brushed her hair back behind her ears and paused. Something smelled burnt. Squall had been cooking. Again.
Tossing her blankets aside she hopped out of bed and started for the door. Before she could open it, Squall stepped into the room, holding a tray in his arms. She stepped back and peered around him curiously.
"Have a seat," he told her, putting the tray down on her nightstand and lighting a lone candle sticking out of a donut.
She grinned broadly. "I get a candle? Squall I wouldn't have thought that you—"
"Selphie said you'd appreciate the candle," he replied before she could get too worked up and excited over something he thought was rather silly.
"Of course she did," she smiled. He was consulting people about what to do for her birthday?
"Yeah, I bumped into her in the cafeteria. Apparently she keeps a disturbing amount of candles stockpiled in the closet in her quarters. She keeps a lot of party supplies too. I'm not sure about it, but I think she might be breaking one of Garden's fire codes."
"I love it," Rinoa said quickly, afraid Squall was going to get distracted and start looking up regulations. He smiled just faintly as she picked up the donut. "But if you bought me donuts, what in the world happened in my kitchen?"
"That's classified," Squall told her.
She gave him a look over the frosting on her donut.
"It is. You'd have to have the highest level of security clearance to get access to that room right now…and you don't. So you can't see it."
She grinned. "Is it that bad?"
Squall grimaced as he nodded.
"Now you have to let me see it!" she teased him.
Rinoa pouted, causing Squall to give her a stern look. "Blow out your candle and eat your donut. I'll be right back."
Smiling broadly, Rinoa closed her eyes and blew out her candle. Squall watched her quietly. "What's with the look?" she asked him as she plucked her candle out and licked the icing off the bottom of it.
"What was with that big smile?" Squall asked.
"Just the thought of my birthday wish."
"…What was your wish?"
"That I can't tell you. If I do, it might not come true," she replied, playfully tapping the tip of his nose with her index finger before taking a bite of her donut. "Now go. Make my kitchen look clean and presentable before I finish eating and get dressed."
Once she had eaten, dressed, and spent half an hour primping in front of the mirror, Rinoa finally emerged from the bedroom. While the kitchen looked clean and tidy for the most part, she did walk into the room just in time to see Squall discard a pan in the trash. She crossed her arms, amused.
Squall turned around and saw her watching him. "…I'll replace that," he assured her.
She smiled. "You'd better," she said, raising a finger as if scolding him.
He looked away, searching the island for a moment before pulling out a box from a shelf under the counter. "Happy Birthday," he told her.
Rinoa smiled, coming over and taking the present from him. "…Wonder what it could be?" she grinned, making a show out of gently shaking the gift. Squall looked visibly nervous by her actions, only causing her to enjoy her game even more. "What's wrong? Is it breakable?" she asked.
"It might be," he admitted.
She smiled. "Ooh, now I really don't know what it is. Breakable rules out sheet music."
Squall smiled. "I couldn't buy you sheet music if I wanted. You've bought too much of it and I wouldn't know where to start."
Rinoa smiled, offering an innocent shrug as she got her present open and lifted the lid off. Placing it on the kitchen island, she pulled out the packing paper and paused.
"Every time we go to Ma Dincht's you always end up staring at her suncatchers," he explained when she didn't immediately say anything.
She smiled broadly. "You noticed that?" she asked as she carefully lifted up the rather sizeable stained glass piece. "It's beautiful. Which window should I hang it in?" she asked, looking around.
"I don't know…" he replied as he looked around. He didn't really care.
She held it up in front of one of the living room windows. "I think here…"
Squall smiled, pausing momentarily at a cheery, melodic knock at the door, before the knocks turned to buzzes as their visitor played out the rest of the melody with the door buzzer. He sighed. "…Selphie," he mumbled as he crossed the room to open the door.
"Hiya Squall! Where's the birthday girl?" Selphie asked, leaning to the side to look around him. She smiled broadly as Rinoa waved at her. She hurried around Squall, bounding over to Rinoa and holding out a gift enthusiastically.
Irvine offered a lazy shrug when Squall looked back at him.
"Might as well come in too," Squall stated.
Irvine smiled as he stepped inside. "The ship leaves out in an hour right?"
"Selphie has been up since five, rechecking our luggage. I remember a time when we trotted around the world with little more than the clothes on our backs and our weapons…"
Squall grinned. "So do I."
"Women can't pack lightly."
Selphie spun around and stuck her tongue out at Irvine.
"…What? I didn't pack that much," Rinoa stated as she looked over the little dress Selphie had bought her. "Okay maybe a few bags…."
"Irvy is just giving me grief for making sure we have everything we'll need for Esthar," Selphie rolled her eyes.
"You're going this weekend too?" Rinoa asked her.
Irvine looked over at Squall. "Rinoa doesn't know?" he asked quietly.
"She does now," Squall mumbled, holding his breath a bit.
Rinoa was upset but she didn't show it. She merely smiled and held the dress up to her chest. "Sounds like a blast," she told Selphie. "I'm going to go try this on."
"I'll zip you up," Selphie said, following her. She sent Squall a look. How could he have not told Rinoa that everyone was going to Esthar with them?
Squall gazed out at the buzzing Esthar City below. No matter how many times he came here, he was always a little intimidated. Between the foot traffic, the car lanes, and the intricate lift system, people were everywhere. The skyscrapers didn't help much either. From the ground, it could be a difficult city to navigate. He sighed. From his seat by the window he could see Laguna waiting out on the loading platform. Of course he was waiting. Smothering him was what Laguna did best.
He spared a glance over at Rinoa, who was staring right back at him. Standing, he walked over to where she was. "You can't be upset they're all coming along," he told her.
"Do you really think I can't?" she asked as she looked up at him. "I wanted this to be a family bonding weekend."
Squall frowned. "I know," he said quietly, trying to keep from being overheard. "But this is Esthar and you're a sorceress." He watched her for a long moment, weighing whether or not his reasoning required further explanation. "They're still scarred from Adel, I can't trust them not to try something. Call it…safety in numbers. I would rather you be safe so you can be annoyed with me, than frozen in a tomb somewhere."
Rinoa pondered this a moment and then smiled as she stood. "You're so sweet when you worry about me." He stood there as she pulled him into an overzealous hug. Rinoa could be dramatic like that sometimes. She gave his midsection a tight squeeze before letting go. He patted her head absently as he gazed out the window. It was a teasing but playful gesture that he knew amused her despite her complaints about it. She poked him in the stomach, causing him to step back away from her and grin. "You'd better hug me Squall Leonhart," she stated, placing her hands on her hips.
He made a face and held up his hands.
"Oh you're going to, or all the guys up front are going to find out just how ticklish you are," she grinned mischievously. Rinoa lunged forward, her fingers just barely grazing the side of his white t-shirt. Squall twisted, moving just far enough out of her reach that she couldn't tickle him. A soft laugh escaped his lips as Rinoa came after him again. He caught her wrists with his hands and pulled her in for a gentle kiss. Turning her around so that he still had a hold of her arms, he pulled her back up against his chest and gave her a hug. What could only be described as a happy squeal escaped her lips.
"Get a room," Irvine interrupted them.
Squall immediately let go of her and shot Irvine an annoyed look. Leave it to Irvine to make things awkward.
Beneath them, the Ragnarok settled down onto the landing pad. Squall took a deep breath. This was it. Once Selphie lowered the ramp, his weekend of fun family bonding was going to start. He just silently reminded himself that Laguna wasn't as bad as Fury. It didn't take much to be reminded of Fury right now either. He'd seen himself in the bathroom mirror. His eye was quite colorful today. All he could do at this point was be happy that it hadn't swollen shut. Picking up his black duffel, he reached over and picked up both of Rinoa's bags as well. With one bag on his shoulder and two in his left hand, Squall reached over and took Rinoa's hand with his right.
She smiled, giving his hand a squeeze as they stepped off the menacing aircraft. A salty wind greeted them as they made their way towards where Laguna was waiting with Ward and Kiros. Sparing a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure Irvine, Selphie, Zell, and Quistis were coming, Squall let Rinoa pull him closer to his father. He wasn't thrilled but he would attempt to make the best of it—for her.
"Hi guys!" Laguna called out to them, waving his hand over his head as if they might miss him. Beside him, Ward smiled broadly while Kiros just shook his head. "Oooh, nice shiner," he said to Squall once he was an arm's distance away. "Hope you won," he chuckled as he stepped up onto the Presidential transport. "Come on guys. Supper should be ready by the time we get back to the palace."
Irvine nudged Squall in the ribs as he carried all of Selphie's bags.
Squall shot him a brief scowl. Irvine enjoyed teasing a little more than he should. Letting Irvine and Selphie board first, Squall followed Rinoa inside and took a seat near the door. Laguna waited for Quistis and Zell before plopping down in the seat opposite Squall. Of course he'd chosen that seat. Squall tried not to look too annoyed even though he knew he was being analyzed.
"At least he bruises better than you do," Kiros said as he sat on the other side of Laguna.
Laguna shot him a look.
"It's true. One bad blow and you turn purple and puffy in an instant."
Across from them, Ward smiled as he took a seat next to Squall.
Looking up at him, Squall couldn't help but take in how large Ward was. Up until now, he'd felt fairly confident in his height—just last week he was measured and found to be up to five foot nine inches. His two inch growth spurt meant nothing compared to the seven foot giant next to him.
"So how did you get that black eye?" Laguna interrupted his thoughts.
Squall sighed and looked away.
"…It's not a big deal," Laguna conceded.
Rinoa scolded Squall through the bond they shared. He looked over at her. He had a feeling he was going to be getting a lot of telepathic reprimands from her on this trip.
"I fell," he muttered.
"You… fell?" Kiros questioned it.
"Wait, I thought Irvy elbowed you while you were bent down picking something up," Selphie stated.
Squall could feel them all staring at him.
"And then he fell down," Irvine laughed.
Squall grinned just slightly. Irvine was good at making stuff up, even if his statement was partially true. He'd also been picked back up by the cowboy, but much to his relief, Irvine left that detail out.
"The palace is beautiful when the sun hits it like that," Quistis offered as she gazed out the window, changing the course of the conversation entirely.
Laguna grinned, gazing at it with her. "It really is," he agreed.
Squall could've cared less about the sunlight; he was more interested in the dark rain clouds to their southwest.
"We're here," Kiros announced as he opened the door and stepped out of the transport. Ward was right behind him. Everyone else stood and quietly disembarked. "You guys can go on in and unload your things. We've got guest rooms waiting."
Rinoa smiled as she slid her arm through Squall's. This wasn't turning out so bad at all.
Getting inside, Laguna explained that there were three available guest rooms, with Ellone living in the fourth. There seemed a bit of hesitancy among the group as they tried to decide who would go in what rooms. As far as all of them were concerned, Squall and Rinoa would stay together while the others worked things out.
"Come on, Darlin'. I would much rather share a room with you than with Dincht over there," Irvine pleaded with Selphie.
"I know but… I can't abandon Quistis to share a room with him."
Zell listed to the conversation with crossed arms. "What? Do I smell or something?" he asked Quistis dryly as he sniffed himself to be certain. Quistis chuckled and shook her head no.
"But you can make me?" Irvine pouted.
"It's different, you're a guy."
"It's different because you're a girl," Irvine continued, determined to win this. "You're my girl."
"Oh like you'd know what to do with a girl anyway," Zell blurted, tired of feeling like the outcast.
A snicker escaped Quistis's lips. She brought a hand up to cover her mouth.
Irvine turned red. Before he could say anything, Laguna stepped in.
"How about we just put the girls in one room and the boys in the other?" he asked. Selphie and Rinoa lit up almost simultaneously.
"It could be like a slumber party!" Selphie exclaimed.
"I wouldn't know what to do at a slumber party," Quistis admitted.
"Oh I can show you. It'll be so much fun," Rinoa smiled, excited by this unexpected turn of events. This would give Squall time away from her to spend with his father— whether he wanted to or not.
"No," Squall shot the idea down before Irvine could.
Laguna smiled uncomfortably, scratching the back of his head. "I kind of think this is for the best. I mean, girls with girls and boys with boys."
"Rinoa sleeps with me," Squall told him flatly.
"Squall," Rinoa tried to stop him.
"No," he told her. "You're not going to be down the hall in another room. This is Esthar. They have a bad history with sorceresses. They've already tried to lock you up once without provocation, I won't give them the opportunity to do it again." He looked back over at Laguna. "She stays with me. I don't trust your people."
Laguna seemed a bit unsure of how to proceed. "Squall, I can assure you that she will be safe," he offered cautiously. "People can't just stroll into the palace. Kiros has guards and stuff."
"It's really okay," Rinoa said quietly.
"No it's not," Squall dismissed her before turning to Laguna. "Had I realized a weekend in Esthar meant being separated from her I would've never called you to come up here."
"Squall I…" Laguna winced, reaching down to grab his leg. This was one of the few times he was thankful to have a leg cramp. Things between him and Squall were awkward at best, and this was one of those times Laguna wasn't entirely convinced Squall didn't hate him.
Rinoa crossed her arms and walked over to a large paned window to look out. It was starting to rain. That fit her mood perfectly. Sure she could sense Squall's apprehension and annoyance but sometimes she needed a break from him always being there. He needed to learn that a little space between them wouldn't mean certain doom.
Squall sighed. And now he'd upset everybody, not that he cared.
"You really don't get it do you?" Laguna asked, cautiously standing back up on the cramped leg. "I'm not trying to be mean, it just, isn't appropriate for two people, who aren't, you know… married to stay in the same room. Things could happen," he said with a red face.
Squall buried his face in his hand. Laguna was afraid he was going to have sex? That didn't make things more awkward between them at all…
Beside Quistis, Zell chuckled. This was good entertainment. She elbowed him playfully and managed to keep a straight face. She could've spent her weekend in Balamb with Seifer, but there were some things one just couldn't pass up, and Squall and Laguna embarrassing one another was definitely one of them.
"I'm not trying to make a big deal out of this. I just… imagine what her father would do if he found out," Laguna stated.
"He'd probably sock him in the eye," Irvine grinned broadly.
Squall looked over at Irvine immediately, his hand falling to his side. "…"
Rinoa spun around, reading everything she needed to by the emotional response she felt from Squall. She took hold of his arm and turned him around to look at his face. "My father did this?! And you weren't going to tell me where you…"
"Squall?" she pressed. "What where you doing in Deling? You told me you were going into Balamb for the day."
Squall crossed his arms over his chest, glaring daggers at Irvine. "Fine," he conceded defeat to his father. If he was in the doghouse maybe he didn't want to spend the night with her. "Selphie, Quistis, you both brought your weapons right?"
"Affirmative!" Selphie smiled, knowing where this was heading.
"Yes Sir," Quistis nodded with a thin but knowing smile.
"Then you girls can have your slumber party," Squall informed them. "Irvine and Zell, you two are with me," he stated, staring at Irvine.
"Yay!" Selphie beamed. "Come on, let's get the room closest to Ellone's."
"You know, there are three guest rooms available," Irvine stated. "I could take the third one…"
Squall frowned. "Like he said, girls with girls, boys with boys. Otherwise, things might happen."
Zell leaned in towards Irvine. "I think you might want to keep witnesses around for the next twelve or twenty-four hours," he whispered with a grin.
"No kidding," Irvine mumbled.
"So how did it go down?" Zell whispered.
"I'll tell you in the room," Irvine said quietly.
Even though Quistis followed Selphie to their room, Rinoa did not. She stared at Squall, still waiting for an explanation.
"It was nothing, okay?" Squall told her.
"It was definitely something," Rinoa argued. "He hit you."
Squall looked back over at Laguna. This was all his fault.
Laguna shifted a bit awkwardly. "Alright kids, toss your bags in your rooms and lets go have supper."
Squall carried Rinoa's bags to the room she'd be staying in and sat it on the large bed in the middle of the floor.
Rinoa remained in the big lobby, looking out at the effects the rain had on all the lights below. There was a fog settling in and it blurred all the colors of the city together.
"I need to head home," Kiros told Laguna in the background. "Have fun."
"I intend to," Laguna smiled, even if he was still a little rattled from already butting heads with Squall.
"Don't let him get to you," he told him. "He's a teenager. It's his job to be headstrong and defiant. Believe me, I know." Kiros's tone emitted exasperation, something that caught Rinoa's attention but she didn't say anything. Kiros clearly had children. She silently wondered about Ward and then Laguna before letting her thoughts drift back to his and Squall's relationship. She wanted it to be better. She wanted some kind of extended family beyond Balamb Garden. Watching the rain fall outside, she took notice of a rooftop garden of some kind. Stealing a quick glance over her shoulder, she walked off.
Squall was out of the bedroom a moment later.
"Hey Squall, um, the food is ready if any of you are hungry," Laguna offered.
"Where's Rinoa?" Squall practically demanded.
Laguna looked around, baffled. "Well she was over at the window," he said, scratching the back of his head.
A brief panic set in as Squall blew past him and ran down the hall. She didn't seem to be in any distress but he couldn't see her, and in Esthar, that was frightening to him. Rinoa was coming back in as he was about to run out. He stopped dead in his tracks, observing her for a moment. Taking a moment to compose himself, he acted as if he'd never been concerned despite knowing she knew better.
"Didn't mean to scare you," she offered a smile as she tucked her hair behind her ear. "I just wanted to go see the garden out on the rooftop."
"In the rain?" he asked.
"Why not?" she asked. "Do you have something against rain Squall?"
For the first time since the Ragnarok, he smiled at her. "Nothing at all."
"Good. Now come look at these flowers with me before it gets too dark," she told him.
"Laguna said that the food is ready," he protested when she took his hand.
Rinoa pouted. "Pretty please? Just for a minute? They're so pretty with little rain drops dancing on their petals."
Squall's shoulders slumped. Regardless of his current feelings about Laguna, he was hungry.
"Yay!" she smiled as she tugged him outside and into the light rain.
"This is a garden?" Squall asked as they started down a path with flowering plants on both sides of them.
"I know right? It's like, an entire forest of flowers," Rinoa smiled, keeping hold of his hand as she tugged him deeper into the rooftop garden. "Its way up here on the roof so you can't hear the traffic below, and the vines and taller plants give us total privacy."
He smiled. He did enjoy being alone with her. Pulling her to him, he leaned down and kissed her. Rinoa slid her arm around his neck as she moved up to stand on her tiptoes. They continued kissing as the rain fell on them.
Gripping the front of his wet t-shirt with her right hand, she held him close as she kept her left arm around his neck. "I love you, Squall Leonhart," she whispered against his lips. He smiled that sweet and simple smile that he only smiled for her.
"I love you too, Rinoa Heartilly," he responded, stooping a bit to let his forehead press against hers. It was her turn to smile as she tilted her head up and recaptured his lips with her own. He slid his hands back to her hips and then down to the backs of her thighs.
She let out a squeal as he lifted her up into the air. Holding her up, he kissed her once more as she slid both arms around his neck and played with his hair. From her higher vantage point, Rinoa could see the all too familiar red light of Selphie's camcorder. Selphie was such a little snoop. She grinned, not telling Squall. Brushing his wet hair from his forehead, she rested her forehead against and leaned in just enough for their noses to touch but not their lips. "Dance with me," she whispered.
Squall opened his eyes, rain drops still streaking down his face. "What? Here?"
"I couldn't think of a more amazing place to do it," she smiled. "I can't imagine how beautiful it is in the sunlight."
"There isn't any music," he told her, not wanting to give her a flat out no.
"The rain can be our music," she told him.
Squall was quiet for a long moment, listening. "Alright," he told her as his stomach growled. "One dance."
"Then I'd better make it count then," she smiled, hopping down from his arms and taking his hand. "You're the best looking guy out here," she smiled.
"I'm the only guy out here," he pointed out, the rain flattening his hair against his head.
She poked him in the stomach before pulling him closer again. "Oh dance with me already!"
"Is that an order?" he asked as he placed his free hand on her hip and took a step back.
"A waltz?" she asked, feigning surprise. "I had no idea you were such an accomplished dancer," she smiled as he led her through the moves.
"It's the only dance worthy," he informed her as their shoes splashed in the water on the rooftop. "Of a sorceress and a knight," he added as they moved past one another.
She smiled broadly. Her life was a warped fairytale, but she lived for the moments like this. Coming closer to him, she laughed as they picked up the pace. They'd danced this dance so much around the apartment that neither of them had to even think about the moves, it just came natural. Moving flawlessly around an open area of the rain drenched rooftop garden, neither of them realized the sun had gone down until they bumped into one of the patio lights and nearly knocked it over. Their dance came to an end as they both silently took in their surroundings. The flowers were obscured by the dark, but the various decorative lights submerged the garden in a beautiful sea of color. "I could get married in a place like this," she admitted absently, taking everything in.
Squall gaped at her in the darkness. Where had that come from?
She looked over, sensing his surprise. "I was just saying," she clarified. "It's so beautiful up here."
He nodded, noting that it had stopped raining. "I went to Deling to ask the General's permission to marry you," he admitted.
She looked over, clearly surprised by his admission. "…You did?" she asked quietly.
"…And then he punched you?" she frowned.
He smiled. "Something like that," he admitted.
She took this in quietly. After a moment of deliberation, she looked up at him. "You don't need his permission to marry me."
"I know," he told her. "I just know how close Zell is with his family…"
"Since when are you worried about being close to other people in your life?" she asked him, crossing her arms to ward off the cold.
"Since I've been with you and I realized what I was missing."
She brought her hands up to her mouth. He was serious, nothing in his expression or emotions suggested otherwise.
Just inside the open door, Selphie stood silently and recorded everything. She wasn't getting much audio, and now that the sun had gone down, she wasn't getting much video either. Turning it off, she frowned faintly. She needed to upgrade her camcorder. Lucky for her, she was in the right city to do so.
Author's Notes: I apologize for the delay in updates. Things got a little busy around Halloween and it took me a bit to get everything caught back up. This chapter is quite a bit longer than my usual chapters and I wouldn't be surprised if most of the remaining chapters end up like this one as well. On that note, I'm going to apologize to Roarke Stratton. I dropped this chapter in her lap, asking her ever so sweetly to proof read it for me. After four rounds of editing and splicing scenes together, Chapter Three is about as done as it's going to be. I hope you enjoy. :)