Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VIII and its characters, places, weapons, and ideas are owned by Square Enix, formerly SquareSoft. I am merely a fan who enjoys escaping to their world of fantasy when I need a break from reality.
To Be Her Knight
Ultimecia had left the world in a tattered, tumultuous state. A new superpower had quite literally appeared from nothingness in an instant, overshadowing the shaky realm that encompassed Galbadian Territory. While half of the world was enthralled by Esthar's surprise return to world politics, others reacted with a suspicion. Some territories, most of which were Galbadian, went as far as to accuse Esthar of using the sorceress to destabilize Galbadia. Other territories used the fallout after the war, the lack of a Galbadian President, and the world's distraction with Esthar to make a push for independence.
Timber had been one of the territories to start aggressively pushing back against Galbadia's hold. It was joined by the small rural territories of Anhill, Blue Gales, and Deadwood. As if holding a Presidential election in the midst of so much swirling suspicion and uncertainty hadn't been bad enough for Deling City, General Caraway had his hands full trying to get enough soldiers in key locations to help keep control of Galbadian lands. At the risk of ruining his career and being charged with treason, he pulled back troops from Timber, relinquishing Deling City's hold over the town's residents. It had been an abrupt and unexpected decision, winning him both praise and condemnation from different parts of the region.
For the most part, life in Balamb wasn't too affected in the fallout over the Sorceress's defeat. Balamb Garden went back to her home base and SeeD began assessing and addressing the repairs she required. What had changed was an increased interest in not only Balamb Garden, but the heroes who'd saved the world from the evil Sorceress. In the beginning the media was merely an annoyance. The first time a member of the media had shown up at the gates of Garden, the security guard on duty hadn't been entirely sure how to address them. By the time a few months had passed, their presence had become borderline disruptive to the flow of regular Garden traffic. Balamb City had done what they could to put limitations on the media's harassment of Garden but there had really been only so much they could do while still ensuring the freedom of the press. To address the issue, Garden had posted their own guards outside of the gates and along the main road for as far down as Garden property ran.
Reporters had made readjusting to normal lives a bit tricky for everyone in Balamb Garden. They made simple shopping trips and social gatherings difficult, and it wasn't uncommon for regular first and second year cadets to get stopped by overzealous reporters hoping to get some kind of scoop. Despite having to practically sneak out of Garden to go on simple dates, Squall didn't complain. He did it out of respect, knowing that Matron hadn't set a foot outside the front gate since they'd returned to Balamb. While she would never admit it, he knew she was afraid.
To help combat all the negative attention Deling had brought Galbadia, the country was calling for the heads of a few of the 'war criminals' that were still alive. Matron, along with Seifer, Fujin, and Raijin had all been named by the Galbadian Government as being enemies of the state. Convincing them that Matron was innocent of her crimes had been tricky, but it their argument had also helped to protect others. While they had reached a tentative agreement to keep them from being taken into custody and put on trial, tensions were still very strained and they still received death threats.
The morning after one of his and Rinoa's stealth dates, Squall woke up lying on his back in his quarters. Sneaking out of Garden had almost turned into a game by this point. After going out a back exit and driving a few miles through the acres of wilderness Garden used for training land, they would come out on the main road, well beyond where the reporters would be waiting. They'd stayed out late last night, much later than they usually did. He was fairly confident that they'd both had a good time. Despite Rinoa's fears that someone would realize she had Edea's powers now, even she had been nothing but smiles during their date. He stretched a bit, still thinking about the date when he felt a heavy weight shift on his stomach.
Opening his eyes, he hesitated before moving again. Rinoa lay sleeping on top of him, her ear pressed against where his heart was. Her palm lay across his shoulder and her body moved ever so slightly with her breathing. The sheets were draped lightly across her lower back, leaving most of their upper bodies exposed. He was still processing everything that had led up to this moment when she started to stir. He watched her silently. They'd danced, kissed, and had a glass or two of wine. He'd told her how he'd felt about her but he'd never intended to take it this far. Last night he'd been very happy with the kissing they'd been doing, even the kissing that had happened out in public. A brief panic started to set in. They were just settling in to their respective roles in their relationship. What did this mean now? Had he crossed a line? Had he initiated this? Had she seduced him into this? Did he really care if she had? Did he need to talk to Irvine? No. He would never speak of this to Irvine.
"Good morning." Her voice was soft and sweet as she watched him with her big beautiful brown eyes.
Squall still felt like he'd crossed a line but her smile melted him a little inside. All he could manage was a slight goofy smile. "Good morning," he managed.
She smiled. "You were really something last night," she admitted. "For someone I couldn't even get to hug me a few months ago you really swept me off my feet," she teased, pulling herself up higher on his chest so she could lean in and lightly kiss his lips.
The thought crossed his mind that at some point she had probably seen him naked and that embarrassed him a bit. When she kissed him again, he welcomed it. Kissing seemed like a safe alternative to trying to talk things out with her. Returning her affections, he closed his eyes and slid an arm around her waist while he slowly processed the night before. He remembered all of it but he was still in shock that it hadn't been a dream. He had clearly gotten caught up in the moment and hadn't even questioned her when she'd taken the lead once they'd gone to his quarters. He felt her lips pull away and he opened his eyes.
"Stop processing things," she said softly. He managed a small shrug. "I mean it," she whispered. "After everything we've been through. After everything we survived," she said quietly. "I don't want to have to analyze the appropriateness of the intimacy I share with my knight."
Her words gave him pause before a smile crossed his lips. That had been the line she'd used last night to tell him what they were doing was alright. Reaching up with his free hand, he tucked her hair back behind her ear. Her words made sense. He'd been willing to die for her numerous times, why was he worrying himself over this? He smiled a bit more broadly. "I'm not analyzing anything," he lied to her. "I was just taking in the moment," he added, noticing for the first time how petite and delicate her thin frame felt against his. How had she survived the war? She was tiny and not in a Selphie kind of way. Selphie at least had a significant muscle tone.
He slid his arm around her a bit more. She was a sorceress now…it would be his place to keep her safe. She was his sorceress. The thought brought chills to his spine. Would the world even accept her now? Did the world need to know? Could they keep it hidden? Was it her powers or the knowledge that he'd die for her that scared him? Squall wasn't entirely sure but he suspected he'd have to have a talk with Cid at some point on the subject.
An unexpected pounding on the door startled them both out of the moment. "Squall! Wake up man!" Zell's voice was muffled but still audible through the steel. "As Commander you have to be at the meeting that's starting in twenty minutes! Cid is waiting on you!"
Squall let out a groan as he slowly sat up. Rinoa sat up with him, pulling the sheet around her thin frame as she stood up and grabbed her clothing from the floor. She blew him a playful kiss as she disappeared into the bathroom and shut the door. Left alone on the edge of the bed Squall shivered. Grabbing some clothes from his dresser, he ignored the sound of Zell's voice as he droned on about responsibilities and duties. Grabbing the comforter off the floor, he tossed it over the mattress and hit the door release.
"I'm almost ready," Squall told him as he sat down and laced his boots. "Is the pounding really necessary?" he complained.
"No but I find it very effective," Zell smiled broadly. Squall just stared at him. That smile was almost infectious. Almost. "The meeting is going to address the state of the post-war world and Garden's role in it," he told him. "Cid wants to consult with you in the direction Balamb Garden will be taking and what respective roles the two of you will hold."
"So he's still going to be Headmaster?" Squall asked.
"Sounds like it," Zell smiled.
"Good," Squall replied as he stood. He ran his fingers through his hair and started out. "Let's go then."
"Dude," Zell said quietly, pointing out Rinoa's boots under the bed. His face broke out into a small grin. "…Is Rinoa here?" As if on cue, Angelo came over and licked his hand.
"Zell let's just go," Squall stated from the doorway.
Zell's grin grew a bit broader. "Where is she? In the bathroom?" Squall didn't respond to his question but he could feel his face growing a bit warmer. "You dog," he teased.
Squall opened his mouth but no retort came out.
"You're blushing," he teased.
"I'm going to head out for a bit and meet up with Selphie…" Rinoa said as she came out of the bathroom. Squall looked over at her; she was good at pretending nothing had happened between them. She was even better at pretending they hadn't almost been caught. "Hey Zell," she smiled.
"Hey Rin," Zell waved with a broad smile.
"I'll be back for lunch," Rinoa told Squall as Angelo followed at her heels. "Have a good day," she smiled, raising up on her tiptoes and kissing his cheek quickly. "Bye." She glanced over at Zell and offered him a little wave. "Bye Zell."
"Bye Rinoa," Zell replied, watching as she half trotted, half skipped down the hall as she played with the dog. He cleared his throat, looking over at Squall after Rinoa was out of sight. "Sooo," he grinned.
"We're late," Squall brushed off Zell's expecting and inquisitive look.
"Don't duck the subject man," Zell grinned as they made their way to the elevator.
"Not ducking anything Dincht," Squall said over the sound of the fountains as he waited for the elevator to come down to their level.
"Mhm," Zell teased as a few cadets stepped off the elevator and walked past them. Squall stepped inside and waited for Zell.
Meanwhile, out on the quad, Rinoa and Selphie enjoyed some breakfast muffins while sitting out on the ledge. Rinoa licked the crumbs off her fingers. "I can't believe so much damage was done," she admitted, looking past Selphie and towards where a team of SeeD contractors were assessing damage and beginning to make repairs.
"I can't believe Squall said that to you last night!" Selphie exclaimed with a broad smile. "That has got to be the sweetest thing I've ever heard! And it came from Squall! Are you sure you weren't hallucinating?" she teased.
"I did not, and shush," Rinoa smiled, her cheeks giving away the rosy hint of a blush. "I don't want it getting around and him getting embarrassed. He's hard enough to talk to as it is."
"Oooh come on," Selphie pleaded. "A line that sweet needs to be repeated, so all the other boys know they need to step it up in the romance department."
Rinoa chuckled and shook her head as she scratched behind Angelo's ears. "Do you think they'll let me keep him?" she asked, wanting to change the subject.
Selphie looked up. "Let you keep who? Squall?"
Rinoa gave her a look. "No. Angelo," she stated. "Garden has a no pets policy. Right now he's being treated as a war hero, but eventually, someone might complain."
She was quiet. "..I don't know," Selphie admitted. "Surely they won't be able to make you get rid of him. You're dating the Commander for crying out loud," she nudged her playfully with her elbow.
"But then other SeeDs might accuse Squall of giving me special treatment," Rinoa countered. "I don't want that either." Sliding her fingers through Angelo's hair, she offered the dog a smile. Angelo's tail whipped and thumped around in response as she leaned up against Rinoa's leg. "..And I can't just leave Garden with her."
"Wait what? No you can't leave," Selphie said quickly. "No. We are like sisters now. I would miss you too much."
Rinoa smiled. "I meant move outside of Garden. You know, to Balamb," she chuckled.
"Oh," Selphie smiled sheepishly. "Don't scare me like that."
"I'd be too afraid someone might realize what I am," she admitted quietly. "I don't know how many people know as it is. With everything that has happened during the war, I would understand their fear of me."
Selphie wet her lips, her expression growing more serious. "That's why you're going to stay with us where it's safe," she told her. "We're all your friends here. And given enough time everybody in this Garden will probably feel the same way," she smiled. "You'll just have to show people they can trust you. You're a sweet person, so it won't take too much to convince them."
Rinoa smiled. "Thanks," she said, tucking her hair behind her ear.
"And Angelo will stay here with you. If anyone wants to make a fuss over it they can deal with me!" Selphie proclaimed proudly as she hopped to her feet. Rinoa smiled as she watched her. Some people spoke with their hands, but Selphie spoke with her entire body. A little alarm sounded off from inside of Selphie's pocket. She reached in and pulled out a little timepiece. Rinoa looked at it curiously.
"That might be the prettiest pocket watch I've ever seen," she stated. "Where did you get it?"
"I picked it up in Esthar," she admitted with a grin. "What's the fun in traveling the world if you can't pick up souvenirs every now and then?" she asked as she turned the alarm off. "It's pretty spiffy," she admitted. "I was going to give it to Irvy, but then I caught him flirting up some barista in Dollet…" she trailed off a moment, a brooding expression crossing her face. "So I kept it, and got a little attached to it," she admitted with a grin. "But I need to go."
Rinoa smiled. "I don't think Irvine means anything by it," she offered. "I think it's just his nature to talk like he does."
Selphie shrugged it off. "Maybe," she said, tucking the timepiece back into the pocket in her uniform jacket. "I'll talk to you later though okay?"
"…Where are you going?" Rinoa asked.
"Squall didn't tell you?" she asked. "Cid has arranged for some promotional pictures to be taken for Garden recruiting. He's having us all photographed. Well, not you, since you aren't SeeD. I mean, you were technically our client."
Rinoa smiled. "I understand," she assured her. "Believe me I don't want my picture all over brochures and pamphlets. I don't think Squall is going to want it either though."
Selphie smiled. "Yeah, I'm not sure if Squall knows it's happening yet. I have to go; I don't want to miss it when he finds out."
Rinoa offered a wave, watching as her enthusiastic friend bounded off to wherever the photographer was set up. Angelo nudged her arm. She looked down and scratched behind the dog's ears. "Mama's not going to let them take you away from me," she smiled. She wouldn't admit it, but she had seen a cadet complaining on one of the forums on the Garden computer system.