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It had all started with an innocuous gift — a set of simple but stylish onyx studs, a gift given to him for his birthday from Rinoa.

He hadn't expected anything (nobody knew when the date actually was), but she'd been insistent on giving him at least something this year, having ferreted a lead on the elusive date in question. She was slightly off — today was the 31st, not the 23rd — but it had been the thought ("I know I have a 1 in 31 chance of getting this right according to my sources, so since I'm probably late, happy belated birthday.") that mattered.

"Do you like them?" she asked.

"I do. It's been awhile since I last bought an earring."

His use of a particular word had inadvertently piqued her curiosity. "Oh strange. For some reason I had it in my head that you had both of them pierced. Guess it shows how much I've been paying attention."

"…Honestly, I'd be worried if you had some sort of strange fascination with my ears."

She swatted him. "You know that's not what I meant, Mr. Belated Birthday Boy. That glorious mop of yours makes it hard to tell sometimes. But now I'm kinda curious, what made you get the earring in the first place?"

He shrugged. "…Didn't have enough money at the time to get both done."

"No, no." she began to clarify, "I meant, what gave you the idea to get something pierced in general?"

A good hard second had passed before he said anything. "…You're going to laugh."

"No I won't. Just try me."

He eyed her with a skeptical look before setting down her gift on his desk. "Promise?"

"I promise." She extended her hand as if she was offering to shake on it. "I'll swallow my mother's ring if I break my word."

The skeptical look on Squall's face intensified as he raised his brows, leaving her handshake hanging. "Uh…you don't have to do that. I believe you." he awkwardly replied, remembering the time Angelo had done practically the same thing a few months ago with another ring of hers. …It wasn't a pretty sight to say the least. "…Seifer's the reason I have this."

"Oh." She looked more surprised than amused. "How come?"

He reflexively ran his hand over his unruly brown locks. "It's a long story but…the short of it is, when I was 16, he'd made a big deal about getting a cross tattoo in class. I'd made the mistake of telling him to shut up after the third day of him talking about it. Naturally, his response was to tell me I didn't have the balls to get one myself."

Rinoa looked at him quizzically. "…So you headed to the tattoo parlour because of that?"

Squall shook his head. "No. There was nothing I wanted, especially not for the amount of Gil it would have cost. I was underage so it wasn't an option anyway. I wasn't about to tell Seifer that though."

"So you let him go to the shop for nothing then?" she asked with a bit of a smirk. "You're evil."

"…I'm not evil. I'm just not his babysitter or teacher. He'd learn on his own. Which he did."

"Fair enough. So why do you have the earring then?"

"Honestly…as stupid as it sounds, there was a part of me that still wanted to prove him wrong." he admitted. "We'd gone to the shop at the same time and when he was couldn't get what he wanted, the guy behind the counter asked what I wanted. Next thing I knew, I was in the chair, getting my ear pierced. Ironically enough, Seifer was already long gone by then. Didn't really acknowledge that I had it done after the fact either."

Rinoa's smirk widened ever so slightly. "For the record, I'm not surprised at all. But why did you keep it in if that's the reason behind getting it?"

He shrugged. "…Guess I got used to it."

The sorceress tilted her head. "I'm…not sure I follow you there. Wouldn't it make sense to only keep it if you thought it looked good on you?"

"Not necessarily. The best way I can describe it is that it's like the scar across my nose. I'd probably look better without it, but it would be weird to have it removed because I'm used to seeing it." he explained.

"That makes sense." she agreed, now understanding where he was coming from. "So…was Garden mad at you for getting a visible piercing?"

He shrugged. "If it had been a ring, they might have told me to take it off but a stud wasn't going to catch on anything so there wasn't anything to have an issue with. Not when the handbook didn't have any kind of regulation on it."

"You really know that handbook inside out, don't you?" she teased, "Do I even want to know how exactly bored you were back then?"

"Probably not." he casually answered. After the words escaped his lips, a reoccurring — admittedly, it was now a bimonthly occurrence — thought surfaced another time, rearing its ugly head once more after being entertained by this coincidental choice in conversation. "…I've been meaning to get the other one done for a while now. Might as well now that you've given me a set of earrings."

Once again, her boyfriend had surprised her. "Oh. Yeah. Might as well. Um…we can go together if you want."

"You don't have to if you don't want to." he told her. "I know how much you don't like needles."

"No, no. I'll be fine." she reassured him. "Besides, I'm kinda to blame for all this. I should probably stick around…for moral support and stuff."

Squall couldn't help but give her a smirk. "If you say so."

-—-

To say the least, it was a strange series of events that had led Rinoa Heartilly to sitting on the sterile black chair she found herself on as she waited for the moment of impact she'd willingly paid for.

Her hair was tied back in a loose ponytail and her ears were already swabbed with disinfectant and marked up where the needle would go, sitting in the very spot she'd seen her boyfriend get pierced not even fifteen minutes ago. He'd made it look oh so easy, like a piece of cake even — the idea of her giving him moral support was a joke. He could have been blindfolded and get the thickest parts of his cartilage pierced without warning and it still wouldn't have made the slightest of difference — the man was obviously no stranger to the concept of pain and pain management.

In short, Rinoa should have known better.

She was a bundle of nerves already and the poor man burdened with the task of piercing her virgin ears hadn't even done the hard part yet, still in the back of the room gathering up his sterilized equipment. Even still, she'd already paid her money and she'd be damned if she'd leave here without a simple metal stud adorning each ear.

"You don't have to do this if you don't want to." Squall softly spoke into her still un-pierced ear.

Swallowing her anxiety as she turned his way, she shook her head and flashed him a sweet smile. "Don't worry, I'll be fine."

Funny how people didn't think she was like her boyfriend in the slightest. Just funny.

"Ok, I'm just about done prepping everything so we're good to go." the piercer stated, setting his tray of tools on the nearby table. "I'm going to start with your left ear here so I'm going to clamp that up. Like I told your boyfriend, it'll feel like a hot pinch when I pass the hollow needle through your earlobe so I'll ask you to take a deep breath and exhale when I count to zero. You ready?"

As good as his word, he put the small clamp shortly after she'd nodded back at him.

"Alright then. Here we go. Three…two…one…"

-—-

Opening her eyes, the light slowly filtered into the room. She didn't quite know exactly where she was, only aware that she'd been lying in a fully-reclined padded black chair in a hunter green room. But when the acrid smell of disinfectant hit her nostrils and the sight of Squall and a heavily tattooed man appeared before her through the tangle of hair in front of her face, she put two and two together and realized it wasn't some strange and wacky dream she'd just had — she and Squall were really in a tattoo parlour in Balamb.

She slowly sat up and was about to tuck a few strands behind her ears when Squall reached forward to keep her hand down.

"You might not want to do that for a while." he quietly told her, gesturing to the nearby mirror. Rinoa leaned forward and sure enough, there was a metallic stud catching her eye in the mirror — precisely one. The other was still only dotted with marker.

"The needle was already through your ear so I just put in the jewelry." the piercer explained, handing her a little appointment card with some scrawls on it. "I'm not going to do the other ear right now since I don't want you fainting again, but if you're feeling up to it another day, show the card there to the person behind the counter and they'll do the other lobe free of charge. Or if you don't think you can handle getting the other side done, I can also take the earring out altogether."

"I'll probably come back another time to get the other one done. Thank you."

As she and Squall calmly walked out of the shop, Rinoa's face started to burn with the fire of a million suns.

"God, I'm so sorry, I didn't think I'd—"

"It's fine."

"But—"

"It's fine Rinoa." he reiterated. "It's not unheard of for people to faint in these situations. You don't have to apologize."

Rinoa let out a great big sigh. "It's still embarrassing though. You'd think a 22 year old would have the ability to keep it together for a few seconds of pain, but nooo."

"It's because you went on an empty stomach." he flatly told her. "You're not supposed to. Makes you more prone to fainting."

"Squall, if you're trying to help it's really not working. I just feel like an even bigger idiot now."

There was a slight pause. "…Would it make you feel less like one if I said I was telling you this from experience?"

She stopped on a dime. "So you didn't just get the one because you were poor then?"

He nodded. "I was sent home and given a card like you were just now. Didn't have the time to get the second one done. Wasn't exactly fond of Seifer picking up on the fact that it took me awhile to get the second one done either…well, before I realized he never really gave a damn in the first place."

"Am I the only person you've told this too?"

With the faintest traces of a self-depreciating smile on his face, he replied, "I thought that was obvious enough."

Returning the favour with a warm smile of her own, she told him, "Thank you…for sharing that with me."

"You're welcome."

At that moment, they could have chosen to resume their walk towards a café to get something to eat in a relatively wordless fashion, but Rinoa had immediately opted against it, choosing to keep the silence at bay with a confession of her own.

"I…was supposed to get my ears pierced on the day my mom died. She'd thought that babies getting their ears pierced was kind of cruel so she'd never had mine done. I guess she wanted me to make my own decisions so she never really pushed it on me. I'd basically made the decision myself as a kid when I saw a beautiful pair of ruby earrings that weren't clip-ons and she'd told me that only girls with pierced ears could wear them. After the accident that day…I just never had the courage or the time to get it done 'til now."

"…What made you change your mind?"

She shrugged. "After hearing about your story, I just thought it was about time. 17 years is a long time to stay in the past, especially since I've grown so much since then."

Nodding, Squall replied, "Couldn't have agreed more."