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Ten Tiny Toes

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"creak…creak…creak…creak…"

Rinoa loved that sound. She carefully cracked open the door to the dimly lit room. The smell of baby lotion gently made its way into her nostrils, making her smile ever so slightly. Staying out in the hallway, her eyes scanned the room to the corner. The blinds on the open window were up, allowing not only a light summer breeze in, but also the soft light of the full moon high above.

Her eyes rested upon her husband Squall, rocking in a rocking chair, cradling a tiny bundle wrapped in a light pink blanket. The pair was illuminated by the moonlight, bathing them in a cool bluish glow. His eyes were closed, but she could tell he wasn't asleep. He had a look of utter peace on his face, like all that mattered to him in that moment was nestled safely in his strong arms.

"creak…creak…creak…creak…"

She shifted her weight out in the hall, causing a floorboard to pop under her feet. Squall startled at the noise, eyes fluttering open to try and locate the source of the disturbance.

"Sorry!" Rinoa whispered, stepping into the room. She tiptoed over to the corner, hoping she hadn't bothered the baby. She sighed in relief when she saw the sleeping face of her ten-day-old daughter hadn't even twitched.

Squall continued rocking as his young wife knelt down beside the chair, steadying herself by putting her hands on his thigh for a moment.

"How's she doing?" she asked. She noticed the little naked toes of the baby poking out from inside the swaddling blanket.

"She's wonderful," Squall replied, repositioning himself carefully, trying not to disturb his tiny child. He sighed with content.

"You should really put her in the crib and come to bed," Rinoa suggested. "It's past midnight."

His rocking never wavering, he replied, "Soon. We're both really comfortable right now. I promise I'll come to bed in a little while."

Rinoa forced herself up off of the plush carpet and waved a finger at him in mock scolding. "I mean it, "she said, smiling. "Not too late or you'll fall asleep in the chair."

As she started to make her way to the door, she heard a tiny sniffle behind her. She turned to see her tiny daughter shifting in her father's arms. He patted her back lightly as he comforted her with a soft, "shhhh." She closed the door behind her and she could still hear the chair rocking.

"creak…creak…creak…creak…"

She leaned against the hallway wall, thinking to herself just how lucky she was to have such a wonderful family.

XxX XxX XxX XxX

Squall watched as his beautiful wife closed the nursery door, leaving him in the moonlight. He looked down at his infant daughter cradled in his arms, amazed that she was really his. She had the tiniest covering of soft brown hair on her head and deep blue eyes, just like him. Everything about her was perfect. She was a very happy baby, hardly ever crying except when she needed feeding or a new diaper. He shifted in the padded seat, causing the loose blanket around the baby to slip off, revealing tiny little feet, with even tinier little toes. Squall would never admit it to anyone, but he loved her toes. They were so small, so delicate. The skin on her feet was so soft, and he was astonished by the fact that he could hold her entire foot in his hand, with room to spare.

Instead of covering the baby's legs back up, he grasped her foot gently, and in a soft voice, started counting her toes. As he rattled off the numbers, his mind wandered to a time that didn't include cribs, bottles or pink blankets.

"One…two…three…four…"

XxX XxX XxX XxX

*Eight months prior-December*

"Rin? You okay?" Squall questioned the closed and locked bathroom door. His young wife had been in there an awful long time, longer than her usual beauty routine allowed. When he received no response, he knocked and asked once again, a more urgent tone to his voice. "Rinoa? Answer me! Are you alright?"

The door cracked open a smidge, just enough for two chocolate brown eyes to peer out at him. "Y-yeah. I just don't feel so great. It must have been the eggs for breakfast," she admitted. "I'll be out in a while." Her eyes widened and she clasped her hand over her mouth, quickly slamming the door in her husband's face.

Not knowing how to respond, he rested his palm on the door and soothed, "Well, call for me if you need anything, Rin."

"O-okay," came a trembling response from behind the door. He excused himself to the living room, suddenly thinking that he, too, ate eggs for breakfast.

Thirty minutes had come and gone, and still Rinoa had not emerged from the bathroom. Squall once again entered their bedroom, and made his way towards the closed door, glass of water and some crackers in hand.

"Rin, honey?" he called, knocking. "I brought you some water and crackers to settle your stomach." He heard shuffling behind the door, followed by the "click" of the lock being disengaged, then the door opened slightly. "Come in," she replied, still sounding a bit out of sorts. He pushed the door open with his foot and saw Rinoa slumped over on the edge of the bathtub, head in her hands.

He set the crackers down on the counter and then moved to sit next to her on the tub. She accepted the water he offered her and sipped it gingerly. He rubbed her back, feeling her relax at his touch. They sat for a moment in silence before Squall finally spoke up.

"I don't think it was the eggs, Rin." Her head rose slightly and she questioned, "Huh?"

"The eggs," he continued. "I don't think they made you sick. I mean, we both ate eggs, and I'm…"

"I know it wasn't the eggs," she interrupted, sighing. She got up and crossed the bathroom, heading towards the counter. She put her glass down and took a cracker off of the small plate Squall had left for her. She bit off a corner and swallowed with caution, testing the temperament of her rolling stomach. Satisfied when the cracker didn't immediately come back up, she ate more and grabbed a small object out from behind a jar of cotton balls. She had obviously hidden it, as he husband was none the wiser when he had set down the plate of bland crackers.

She reclaimed her spot next to him on the tub's edge. She took his hand with her free one and pried open his fingers, placing the object in his hand without saying a single word. She sighed and looked down at her feet.

Squall took one look at the object in his hand, and had no doubt about what it was. He could feel Rinoa trembling next to him as he examined it. There was a small digital readout near the top with one word glaring at him: pregnant.

Closing his eyes for a moment, he exhaled deeply. He knew Rinoa was waiting for him to say something. He finally looked to her, seeing that her eyes were puffy and moist. She looked at him with one eyebrow raised and a small crooked smile on her face, as if she was hoping for a good response.

Rinoa studied his expression, trying to read him. Was he mad? Happy? Terrified? His emotions were so hard to read sometimes, even after five years of marriage. She watched as he got up, pregnancy test still in hand, and began to pace back and forth, running a hand through his chestnut locks. He finally spoke, after three passes along the counter.

"A baby?" he croaked, his voice suddenly not working properly.

Rinoa couldn't tell for sure, but she thought he was mad. She drooped her head in defeat, trying to come up with a response. She sensed him kneel down in front of her. She couldn't bring herself to look at him. She startled when his hand snaked in through the raven hair that obscured her face, and cupped her chin, lifting her head. Their eyes met and she saw that his shocked countenance had changed…to a smile.

"A baby!" Squall beamed. He guided her up into his arms. They embraced tightly, Squall nuzzling his cheek into the hair on the top of her head.

"You're not upset?" She questioned, although she knew what his response would now be.

He broke their embrace and pulled away from her slightly, hands still around her arms. "Why would I be upset? We wanted this, Rin!" he answered.

Rinoa sighed in relief and apologized, "I'm sorry. I don't know why I'd think you would be unhappy. I guess it's just because this happened kinda fast." She shifted her weight and continued. "I mean, I've only been off the pill for a month. I thought we'd have more time before this became a reality," she said, patting her belly. Squall held her close once again, reveling in the fact that he was going to be a father. "We're going to be parents," he whispered to his wife.

"Yup," she answered, still in disbelief. "You scared?"

Squall sighed and answered with the truth, "Terrified."

Rinoa merely smiled and snuggled closer to him. "Me too," she sighed.

XxX XxX XxX XxX

*June-Seven months pregnant*

"Oof!" Rinoa grunted in response to a rather hard kick, rubbing her growing belly. "Take it easy, little girl!" She lounged on the couch, a pillow wedged between it and her lower back, feet up on the coffee table. She was finding it increasingly difficult with each passing week to get comfortable-in any position. The constant kicking and punching from the inside didn't help either. It seemed like whenever she was victorious in finding momentary comfort, her unborn daughter would make it perfectly clear –with a swift kick- who was in charge.

The baby squirmed and kicked again, this time jabbing Rinoa square in the ribs. "Ouch!" she yelped. "Squall!" she called towards the kitchen, "I think your daughter wants her ice cream!" Right on cue, the young Commander appeared, ice cream in hand.

"Here you go, ladies," he chimed, handing his eager wife his creation. "One hot fudge, peanut butter, pecan and…" he hesitated and tried not to gag, "…hot dog sundae." Rinoa snatched it from his hands and immediately began to devour it.

Squall tried to keep his dinner from making an encore appearance as he watched his wife eat a heaping spoonful of ice cream, topped with a whipped cream-covered hot dog slice. "Are you sure you don't want some?" she offered, the hot dog piece almost falling out of her mouth.

"Hyne, no," he responded. "You've been spending too much time around Zell. He's starting to become a bad influence."

"Suit yourself, more for us," she quipped, patting her tummy before downing another spoonful of the disgusting mix.

After all of five minutes, Rinoa had decimated the bowl of ice cream, even going so far as to scrape the remaining hot fudge sauce from the bowl with her fingers. Sighing in satisfaction, she set the empty vessel down on the table and closed her eyes in fulfillment. "Thanks, Squall. That was incredible," she breathed.

"Anything for my girls," he responded, placing a strong hand on Rinoa's stomach. "Did she like it?"

As if she heard her father's question, the baby promptly kicked his hand. He moved in closer and responded to her bulging middle, "I guess that means 'yes.'" He sat back, hand still in position on his daughter, and changed the subject. "Cid asked me a question today."

"Oh?" Rinoa responded, swinging her feet from the coffee table to rest on Squall's lap. As he began to rub her swollen feet he continued, "Yeah. He asked me if I was scared to be a father."

He sighed and began again, "To be honest, I didn't know how to answer him. I guess I have been conveniently not thinking about it."

Putting a hand behind her head to raise it, Rinoa queried, "Well, are you?"

Squall stopped his massage for a moment and gathered his thoughts before responding. "Yeah. Really scared," he replied.

Rinoa sat up, moved to sit next to Squall and crossed her legs under her. "What are you scared of?" she asked, placing a calming hand on his knee.

"I don't know the first thing about babies, Rin. I've never even held one. What if I don't do it right?" he admitted.

Rinoa smiled and patted his leg. "Squall, you'll do it right. Every new father is scared, hell, every new mother is scared," she cooed. "We're in this together, we'll help each other. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared out of my mind."

Their eyes met as he turned his head to face her. She continued, as she moved to sit right next to him. "I won't lie, we're going to make mistakes-a lot of them, but she won't remember or hold it against us if we put a diaper on backwards in the middle of the night."

"Thanks, Rin," he responded, taking her small hand in his and squeezing it tight. "I guess it just freaks me out that we'll be responsible for this tiny creature that depends on us for everything. I don't want to mess her up, you know?"

"We would never 'mess her up'," Rinoa retorted, using mid-air quotes with her fingers for emphasis. "I think she'll have you wrapped around her little finger."

"Yeah, I think you're right about that," he responded, putting one arm around Rinoa and the other on her tummy.

XxX XxX XxX XxX

*August 22 nd , 9am. 8 ½ months pregnant*

"I'm not leaving you, Rinoa, and that's final," Squall told his wife with a stern tone to his voice.

"Squall, it's only for two nights. I'll be fine. It's your birthday celebration…go!" she responded. " I have two more weeks before the baby comes, anyway. Go with the guys, they want to take you out."

"What if she decides to come early?" he asked, gesturing towards Rinoa's enormous belly. "I can't leave you with that thought in my mind. The answer is 'no', Rin."

"You have the use of the Ragnarok, so Dollett is only a two hour flight away. You can be back in a flash if I need you. Please go and have fun," she pleaded.

Squall, knowing he wasn't going to win the argument, slumped down on the edge of the bed where Rinoa was relaxing and asked," Are you sure you're okay with this?"

"One hundred percent," she replied. "Selphie and I are going to watch romance movies, eat pizza and give each other makeovers. I promise we won't leave the apartment. She'll take good care of me."

"If you're really sure…" he hesitated.

"I'm sure!" she screeched, exasperated. "I even packed your bag already, see?" She pointed to a duffel bag by their bedroom door. He rose and went to the head of the bed. "Call me if anything happens, even if she kicks you too hard, I mean it," he demanded. "And you," he scolded as he patted her tummy," be good to your mother."

"You'd better go. When Zell and Irvine get impatient, they tend to misbehave," Rinoa chided. The doorbell rand and she added, "See? There's Selphie now. I won't be alone a single minute until you get back."

He kissed her lips tenderly and turned to leave. "I love you," he called out. "I love you more," she responded. The doorbell kept ringing, in fast impatient bursts. "Now go let Selphie in before she combusts! Have fun and be good!"

"I'm always good, it's those two yahoos that you have to worry about," Squall snorted as he headed to the door.

XxX XxX XxX XxX

*August 23 rd , 3:45am*

Cradling her newborn daughter in her arms, she could almost see the one-man bulldozer that was her husband pushing his way through the hospital hallway. Hyne knows she could hear him screaming into his cell phone.

"Remind me neverto let you clowns talk me into leaving again," he yelled. The door burst open and a flustered-looking Squall all but fell into the room, snapping his phone shut as he did. His eyes immediately rested on an exhausted Rinoa, who put a finger to her lips to quiet him before he could speak, for the baby was sleeping peacefully.

Squall carefully sat down on the side of the hospital bed a look of total guilt on his face. Leaning over to kiss the top of her forehead he stated, "Rin, I'm so sorry. I can't believe I missed it."

She noticed he had tears forming in the corners of his eyes as he continued to speak. I should have never left you. I knew this was going to happen. I should have listened to my gut."

She nudged his elbow with her hand to get his attention. "What matters is that you're here now, and there's someone who wants to meet you," she said. She held the bundle out slightly but carefully, and he gingerly accepted his new daughter into his strong arms. He felt very awkward as he asked, "Am I doing it right?" I'm not hurting her, am I?"

Rinoa lay back on the pillows and assured him, "You're a natural." She closed her eyes for a moment and sighed, "Happy Birthday, Squall. Let me introduce to your new daughter."

He stared at the sleeping baby nestled in his arms and felt the tears start to fall from his eyes. He didn't even attempt to stop them. "You're beautiful," he whispered into her ear. "Just like your mother."

"When she opens her eyes, you'll see what she inherited from you," Rinoa answered, sounding quite tired.

He dug inside the blanket and retrieved a tiny hand, which he instantly held in his. "She's so little," he wondered aloud.

"Five pounds, four ounces," Rinoa answered. "And just because she's little don't think for one minute that it still didn't hurt like hell. She came so quick, Kadowaki didn't even have time to give me an epidural."

A pang of guilt once again washed over Squall. "Oh Rin," I'm so sorry I wasn't here. What happened?"

Rinoa shifted her position and replied, "I guess the old wives tale about spicy foods inducing labor is true. We got hot peppers on the pizza, and within an hour, I was having contractions," she admitted.

"Why didn't you call?" Squall asked, a little hurt.

"I didn't want to ruin your fun. I thought they were false contractions, honest. By the time Selphie convinced me to go to the hospital, it was almost time, and that's when she called you," Rinoa confessed. "This little girl has a mind of her own, and wasn't going to wait for anyone, even her Daddy, the 'all powerful SeeD Commander'."

Squall chuckled and looked down at his daughter, who he swore had a smile on her face.

"All that matters is that you're here now and we can be a perfect little family," Rinoa said, a very sleepy tone to her voice. She was starting to fall asleep. Squall got up, baby in arms, and leaned over to kiss his beautiful wife. "Get some rest," he said. "I'll stay here and sit with you both."

"Okay," she answered, slipping into sleep. "Squall, I love you."

"I love you too, Rinoa," he replied. "Oh, and Rin?" he questioned, causing her eyes to flutter back open. "Her name? Is it still the one we chose?"

"Of course," she said, almost deep in dreamland.

Squall walked his newborn daughter over to a window overlooking the Balamb Harbor. He gazed down at the angelic face and said, "Happy Birthday, little Raine. Daddy loves you."

XxX XxX XxX XxX

"seven…eight…nine…ten."

As he finished counting his teeny daughter's little pink toes, he smiled in the darkness. Rocking in the night, cradling the newest Leonhart in his arms, he couldn't help but be amazed at his life. He had a great job, a wonderful wife, a father that he was getting closer to every day, and a precious new daughter. Everything in that moment felt right, perfectly placed in the Universe.

He felt the telltale feeling of impending sleep creeping up on him. Looking out at the full moon, he allowed his eyes to start closing. In utter peacefulness, he broke his promise to Rinoa, and fell asleep in the rocking chair.

"creak…creak…creak…"