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Shore Leave

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They met at a seaside cafe in Balamb. The afternoon sun was warm but not hot, shaded somewhat by the occasional small cloud, and the waves were just that touch too small for surfing. A light breeze ruffled the fringes of the lilac table umbrellas, carrying the scents of salt and frying fish.

Rinoa had been there for the past thirty minutes, enjoying a brightly colored crushed-ice drink and watching the younger folk playing on the beach...but she had chosen to arrive early. It gave her time to get composed, to think about what she wanted to say and how to say it, and to settle it all in her mind so that her focus could be on the moment. She wore a sky blue, ankle length skirt, full and ruffled but of thin cloth, and its hem curled and billowed with any breeze. She'd chosen it carefully, along with her blouse and jewelry. She wasn't exactly the princess she'd once been accused of being, but she was pleased with the effect.

One learned to treasure moments, when one loved a SeeD. One learned not to waste time, or create later regrets. Squall might not show it - in fact, probably wouldn't - but she knew he would notice, and remember.

He came along the boardwalk, uniformed jacket unbuttoned, with a duffel across his shoulder. Slender still of build, time had worn the youthful softness into a more chiseled flexibility. He raised a hand in a gesture between a salute and a wave to let her know he'd seen her, and she rose to greet him as he approached.

Squall's arms went around her briefly, as he lowered the duffel to the ground, and she stood on tiptoe to give him a kiss at the same moment. "It's good to see you well," Rinoa smiled, and gestured to the table and the other chair thereat. "I take it everything went well, then?"

 

Squall nodded as he let her go, sliding into the chair she'd indicated, and picked up the menu with a dubious expression. "Do they serve any drinks that don't glow in the dark?"

"Turn it over, there's some Deling brews on the back," Rinoa replied, amused. She gestured a server over, knowing it wouldn't take Squall long to make up his mind. "I don't see any new scars. Resounding success, or did you get assigned a better medic this time?"

Squall snorted at that, a brief quiet bark of a laugh as he put the menu down. "Deling stout," he said to the server. "And broiled fastitocalon fins. And both," he answered Rinoa. "We nearly got caught in an ambush west of Timber, but Irvine saw them first." As the server bustled off, his gray eyes studied Rinoa and there was a quiet joy there. "You look well."

Rinoa grinned at that; from Squall such comments were rare effusive praise. "I got a pay raise," she said cheerfully. "We worked out how to infuse spells into transferable storage units. You should be seeing the results in a few months. In the meantime, I indulged." One beringed hand ran along the blue ruffles of her skirt, pleased. "How long do you have?"

"The weekend, I think," Squall replied, taking her other hand into his own; his thumb made small circular caresses in her palm. "I have some reports to go through, and assignments to make, but tonight and tomorrow at least are free."

"I'm glad you made it back in one piece this time," said Rinoa quietly, love behind the words. "And the weather's fine for now. We could go for a walk after you've eaten?"

"I'm going to need to stash my things first," Squall replied dryly. "Where are you staying?"

"Oh - the hotel near the Dincht's," Rinoa replied, blushing briefly. "Sorry. You'd think I'd remember, with the thing sitting at my feet and all. But - the hotel, yes. How long was the trip?"

Which was a roundabout way of asking how far he'd come; sometimes Garden opted to save a little money by sending him on smaller missions while he was on his way to shore leave. She'd learned to ask ever since what should have been a trip of a few hours had resulted in Squall arriving on time, but with dark circles under his eyes, an insomniac weave to his step, and the entirety of his shore leave spent buried under blankets catching up on his sleep. Squall was only guaranteed shore leave days - there was nothing in his contract that guaranteed he be awake or healthy enough to enjoy them.

The question got a brief half-smile from Squall. "Just half an hour by ferry from Dollet. I think the 'words' you had with the Master made an impression." He squeezed her hand gently, amused and approving. "I don't mind the missions. I do get annoyed when people try over-lawyering the contracts. So thank you for that."

Rinoa smiled, relieved. And a bit embarrassed. There weren't many places on the planet where she could unfurl her full Sorceress power and not have it automatically become a state of international war. Explaining to Garden that she would in future appreciate shore leave with her spouse to include such states as physical health and full consciousness had been a bit of a gamble. But all she needed to say was, "I'm glad to help."

Squall had to let go of her hand as his order arrived; as requested, fastitocalon fins and Deling stout to drink with it. He ate in silence, and Rinoa cheerfully filled him in on such news as was needed; how her work in Esthar was going, regarding the study of sorceress powers and potentially useful applications thereof. And letters she'd gotten from the rest of the team, as and when their schedules gave them time to write, and the expected invitation to dinner with the Dinchts since they happened to be in town. She chattered to fill the silence, to keep Squall from getting lost in his own thoughts as he ate, and sipped on her own drink as needed.

When he was finished, he left gil to cover the meal and tip and got to his feet, picking up the duffel as Rinoa also rose. "So. Hotel, huh?" he asked, and as he set out for it, his free hand took Rinoa's again.

She laced fingers with him and smiled. "Ocean view," she agreed. "King sized bed. They've remodeled since we were last here."

Squall cast a brief, amused glance heavenward at that. "Every five years, like clockwork. It's the owner's wife. Thinks she's a fashionista."

They walked in a comfortable silence along the boardwalk after that, fingers interlaced, and occasionally offering a light squeeze and a nod toward an interesting sight; kites on the sea-breeze, the new season of swimwear on the younger beachgoers. The hotel wasn't that far from the beach, and Rinoa led the way up to her room. She'd planned ahead, of course; king sized bed and a spare room key, and a balcony with a good ocean view that let the breeze fill the room.

Squall set down his duffel on a low table, shucked out of his uniform jacket, and - now ensured of privacy - promptly swept Rinoa off her feet and landed the pair of them on the bed with a quiet laugh. "I missed you."

Rinoa gleefully hugged back with a much louder squeal of laughter, and kissed him. "Missed you too. And I am glad you're all right this time." She poked at his chest, now covered only by an old white t-shirt. "We've got hours until dinner."

~*~

Rinoa closed her hands, letting the small vision fade. "That's about ten years from now," she said with a smile. "Would you like me to try further into the future?"

Squall leaned back, thoughtful and more than a bit stunned. "...How long have you been able to do that? Look into the future like that?"

"I don't know," Rinoa admitted. "But I found out that I could, when I was looking for you. You know...after Ultimecia. And I asked your Matron about it, and she said she'd seen a few things, too, but chose not to after the first time she saw...well, what was going to happen to her. She said it's because of the time loop. The future's not uncertain - at least for a while. So, because it's fixed, we can see it." She tilted her head. "I thought you'd want to see."

"So...that's definitely where I'll be, in ten years?" asked Squall slowly. "And...you'll be somewhere else? You don't mind?"

Rinoa shook her head. "Not really," she admitted. "I mean yes, it would be nice if we could stay with each other, all the time...but you can guess why that probably wouldn't happen, just as I can."

He could, really. His life had always been about the Gardens, about SeeD's work. He wasn't equipped, psychologically, for anything resembling civilian life; it would drive him crazy to try a nine to five desk job. At the same time, Rinoa as the world's sole remaining Sorceress had to be very careful not to make people afraid of her - in fact it would be better if most people didn't know she existed. The backlash of Ultimecia's attempt to take over had left a lot of sour feelings worldwide, and it wouldn't matter to most that Rinoa had been part of freeing the world from Ultimecia; she was still a Sorceress.

The two needs didn't really mesh. It was just...strange...to have it laid out like that, like the choices were already made. And even more strange that Rinoa didn't seem to mind. "What if we change our minds, choose differently?" Squall asked.

"This isn't like Cid giving you orders, you know," said Rinoa gently. "This is you and me, choosing. We just...get to see where the choices we make lead us. If we want to. Is...do you not like what I showed you?"

That was far too complex a question to be easily answered, so Squall just pulled Rinoa in for a hug to forestall her worrying while he thought about it. It wasn't, really, that he didn't like that future. It just hadn't been what he'd expected, and there was that knee-jerk feeling of the choices somehow already having been made for him. Thinking it through, though...he had made the choices already. He just hadn't then projected the consequences of those choices.

Time, like a row of falling dominos. Choices beget new situations and new choices, but if you knew the people doing the choosing, it wasn't hard to predict the direction the dominos would fall in. That was all the magic was doing; showing where the dominos fell. Nothing to be afraid of. But that did leave one part he didn't understand. "Why...do you not mind?" he asked. "If we're only together a few days at a time?"

Rinoa hugged him back, offered a small smile. "You came for me even when I was in orbit, Squall. And carried me across the Horizon Bridge. When I need you, you're always there...and I know you don't like having your life planned out for you, having choices taken away. It's like...hawks, I guess? You have to let them fly, you can't keep hawks in cages. But if they love you, hawks always come back. That was all I needed to know, when I looked at the future...that you'd come back."

Odd, really, that the one thing she'd worried about was the one thing he was quite sure of. But maybe those were choices that hadn't finished turning dominos, because he'd wondered whether his need to keep to SeeD would drive her away, and it seemed that that wasn't a question that had bothered her. They still had a lot of getting-to-know-each-other yet to do, a lot of choices to make before that distant future became the present. Which, if you thought about it, did make sense.

Still, there was one thing to say. "You really did look very nice in that skirt. Do you have have any skirts like that?"

"Ooo, time loop," Rinoa laughed. "I don't, yet. But I could. And I think I will. How do you feel about shopping later?"

"Only if you can talk Zell into helping with the bags," said Squall firmly. "I am not juggling - how many was it, fourteen? - in two hands again."