DAY 2 – TUESDAY
Squall woke up early, before the alarm went off. Hazed out of his sleep, he had no remnants of dreams or inclination to get back to bed - fortunate for him, as he usually strived to stay under the covers as long as possible. Then he remembered what had happened yesterday. Selphie and Irvine were still getting married. Selphie was still pregnant. Great. There was this to deal with, and he still had a full day of work ahead of him.
It was still dark as he pulled off the sheets, just before sunrise. Probably six in the morning. He put on the clean clothes he found in the dresser and walked out to the bubbling coffee pot in the kitchen. Trying not to think as he pulled a ceramic mug from the cupboard, he peered through the darkness at the level of the coffee. Still not done yet. He was surprisingly awake for having gotten very little sleep that night. Only about three or four hours, he calculated. He would have a ton of work to do today, just having come back from a week away from his duties. It's not that there weren't people to do his work, they just had a lack of applied knowledge that was the killer. If they didn't know the subtleties of how he liked things done, or the most efficient way, they got screwed up. So they'd sooner put off the thing rather than make a potentially consequential mistake. So he'd be swamped today, probably work late. Just as well, anything to get his mind off the current events.
Agh, that's just what he didn't want to think about. Every time he thought about it there was a twinge of something in his stomach, like he had just drank a shot of some emotion. And it was something everyone was going to be talking about today. And he just wanted to avoid it. How was he supposed to cope with something like this? It felt like Selphie had just died.
The coffee machine's burbling slowed to a few sporadic pops and Squall turned it off. Holding his cup out, he took the pot and poured it close to the rim. Finished with this, he took a collection of papers he had set out on the counter the night before and quietly exited the room.
Garden at six in the morning was deader than dead. Disconcertingly silent. Hallways were big enough that they were supposed to have an abundance of students wandering between sections of garden. Classes didn't start until 7:30. Students didn't wake up until 7:29.
Logically, people were going to want to see how he was going to react, what his treatment on the Selphie situation would be. He was the figurehead of Garden and his view might affect how a lot of people thought on the matter. That was the last thing he wanted, for people to take his opinion just because it was his own, trying to emulate him because he was in power. The best way to treat the situation would be professionally, not personally. A good leader had to remain emotionless and opinionless, just like he had been doing in the beginning. This was to show he was not vulnerable to little things affecting him. Just as on the battlefield, being emotionally swayed during the heat of the moment was a nasty weakness, potentially devastating. It was better if he just treated it rationally and logically. Since Selphie and Irvine had nothing to do with his immediate job, it was a non-issue as far as he was concerned. He had no opinion.
The elevator dinged as it reached the third floor. At one point he needed special permission to come up here. Now he did it everyday. This floor had been renovated as well, especially to accommodate the piloting mechanism for mobile Garden. Now, Xu's secretary desk was the first thing one saw once they got off the lift. Beyond that was Cid's office. Squall's was to the left.
Xu was apparently an early riser as well. She was working busily at her desk as if it was the middle of the day.
"Morning, Squall," she said politely.
"Morning. Here's my report from the mission," he said, handing her the folder full of paper.
"Oof, already?" she said as she took it and put it on her desk.
"I did it on the train on the way back."
"Did you hear the news?"
"Yeah, I heard it."
"It's gonna be great. I haven't been to a wedding in a long time."
"What-" Squall halted himself. He was trying to stop saying 'whatever' anymore, part of his rehabilitation from being so distant and rude. "Yeah, me too," he said instead.
"Cid let me take most of the day off so I could go shopping with all the girls."
"Uh-huh. Is there anything that happened while I was gone that I should know about?"
Xu picked up a mass of papers in a tray on her desk. "Nothing too major happened while you were gone. Here's the business for today."
"I probably have a lot of clients that need reviewing."
"Yeah, there's a pile on your desk."
"Thanks," he said as he took the work and headed to his desk. The cluttered, but organized office was like a smaller, less grand version of Cid's, made from part of a closet and Cid's old office. Squall sat down at his desk and turned on his computer console. While waiting for it to boot up he took a look at the heavily laden 'in-box' for paper. In it was an assortment of SeeD request applications by various clients. The first job in choosing to hire out SeeDs was researching the hirers, finding out whom they worked for and their political ties. Then they would arrange an interview to see what kind of job they needed done, perhaps finding out what skills were needed, negotiating the fee and terms of the contract, possibly whether it would be a good candidate for a SeeD test. The underlying objective was to find out if one could trust the client, whether it wouldn't simply be a case of sending good men to their immediate deaths or conflict with other clients. Mercenarianism was a dangerous job, but that didn't mean it had to be suicidal. Squall picked up the first page and started reading.
Selphie and Xu took their tubs of ice cream away from the counter and went to find a seat. Rinoa and Quistis stepped up and looked at the clerk.
"I'll have a small chocolate with sprinkles," Rinoa said.
"I'll have a small vanilla," Quistis said.
The man went to work filling their orders, first Rinoa's. The raven-haired girl turned to her friend and continued their conversation. "I guess I could just blame it on the lack of sleep. But even on the phone. I mean, that doesn't explain the way he acted on the phone."
"He's just being standoffish."
"But he didn't say a thing. Don't you think that's a weird reaction?"
Quistis thought back to all the interaction she'd had with Squall over her life.
Rinoa stammered, "Er... don't answer that."
The clerk put two paper dishes of ice cream, one dark brown, one white, on the counter. The two girls replaced them with a few coins each and turned around to see where Selphie and Xu had sat down. The outdoor dining plaza in Balamb City was very beautiful. It was right in the middle of the city and surrounded by a variety of food kiosks and green potted plants. The four girls had chosen a round metal-grated table in the middle of the eating area.
"I just thought it was different from his usual standoffishness," Rinoa said as she scraped out the hard plastic-mesh chair and sat.
"Are you guys talking about Squall?" Selphie said.
Quistis then explained for Rinoa what had happened concerning the phone call she made last night and his behavior once he got home.
"Wow, that's weird," Selphie said. "And he was doing so good."
"I know. It's like he closed up all of a sudden," Rinoa said.
"I thought it was just a fluke," Quistis said, "You know, the shock. It'll wear off sometime."
"You know what I think," Rinoa said. "I think Squall is worried that I'm going to get the marriage bug. Cause we've been together for long enough, he's afraid that this is gonna put ideas in my head." There were some slight nods to that statement. "But that's way off. I told him I'm not even thinking about that yet."
Xu said, "If I was a guy I'd probably be worried about that. You guys aren't ready for... oh, I mean..."
Dead silence. All their eyes turned downward to their ice cream. Everyone felt like somebody needed to say something right now.
"Anyways..." Rinoa tried.
"Come on guys, don't be sad," Selphie chirped. "I'm getting married! I know what you guys all said about the train, but I still don't regret anything. This is a good thing. If you mention bad things, they're going to happen. Right? Now..." She pulled out her notepad and pencil from her yellow sundress and put them in front of her ice cream. "What other stores do we need to check out? We've still got Michael's and Glamour House to go."
"I think we can cross off Priceless Apparel," Rinoa said. "They were so rude to us."
"I know, they wouldn't even help us out." Selphie laughed as she crossed out their name on the list. "Well, screw them, they don't get none of our business. Ha."
As the girls talked about their experiences in the previous shopping establishments, Quistis quietly nibbled her ice cream, thinking about the sweet subtle taste touching her tongue. The white vanilla color reminded her of the first dress Selphie had tried on. She perched in front of a box before three angled mirrors, looking at herself. Not swishing around to see the different angles of the dress, just herself. Her face, staring directly at her face, the pale peach of her skin lightened by the pallor of her dress. The expression on her face was... indescribable. It was a somber combination of incredulity and sadness. Once all the girls saw that face, they knew Selphie realized the magnitude of what she was into.
The aching pain in her feet roused Quistis back to the table conversation. She reached down to rub her ankle while Selphie continued listing her shopping itinerary breathlessly. "Okay, next time, tomorrow, we're going to have to shoe shop."
"I have a test tomorrow," Quistis said.
"No, I'm giving a test."
"Oh, right, duh. I keep forgetting we're out of school now. Heh, it's only been a year, you'd think I'd stop doing that by now," she laughed. "Okay, how about Thursday then?"
"That sounds good."
"Ugh," Rinoa said. "I can't believe we've been shopping for so long." She slumped back in her chair in fatigue.
"And there's still more to go," Selphie said excitedly. Quistis looked at her in disbelief. That girl had tons of energy to spare, like she ate sacks full of sugar for meals.
"Just how much are you willing to spend?" Xu asked.
"Well, I'm a 22-rank SeeD. I got enough salary coming in to spend on this. You only get married once, right?"
An awkward pause shrouded the table. The four girls quietly ate their ice cream, relaxing their weary legs. Every one of them had a thousand questions on their mind, all too inappropriate to ask. Neither did they want Selphie to feel like she was on an interrogative game show. She was their friend, so they were stuck in between seeming tactless or satiating their curiosity.
Xu broke the silence. "Did you ever think about waiting? I mean, you don't have to have the baby while you're married. You could wait."
"Yeah, that's true," the two other girls agreed. Xu was secretly relieved. Fortunately, no one in the group was fundamental enough as to not consider this at least as a possibility.
"We're getting married mostly for the financial reasons. Cause of the insurance money if Irvine dies on duty."
"Oh, yeah, I suppose," the girls agreed again.
"What about your future plans?" Quistis asked.
"Well, I don't know. I think I'm gonna keep working until I have the baby. Not on missions, of course, but other things in Garden probably. And then I'll take a year off to take care of it."
"Where are you going to stay?"
"Yeah, Garden doesn't have daycare facilities," Rinoa said, "Or anything set up to take care of a child."
"Right," Quistis concurred.
"No, no, I know. We talked about getting a place on Obel Lake, maybe, if we can find something affordable." Selphie popped her pencil in her mouth and studied her notepad. "I can't decide whether I like the formal or the informal dress."
"Quistis looked better in the formal than you did. I think she should be getting married instead," Rinoa said. To make things go faster, each of the girls had been trying on dresses, which led to many giggles.
Xu said, "I think you should go with the formal. Everything else about this is just about as informal as you could get, so you should try and get what traditions you can in there. Maybe. I was just thinking."
"That would mean Irvine would have to wear a tuxedo," Rinoa said delightedly.
"He doesn't wear his SeeD uniform?"
The three girls looked to Quistis for an answer, as if she was the leading authority on all things Garden.
"Um, I'm not sure. I'd have to check the regulations. I think he has to wear his SeeD uniform. It applies to boys, not girls."
"That sucks. I always wanted to see Irvine in formal wear," Rinoa said. "He always wears that duster all the time."
Selphie sighed, "Yeah, believe me, I've mentioned it many times."
"Hey, at least it looks good on him," Xu said.
The three helper girls blinked at each other. They all knew what they wanted to say, but they were trying to choose a spokeswoman with their eyes. Rinoa decided to volunteer.
"So have you... picked out a maid of honor?"
Selphie rocked back in her chair and laughed. "I was waiting for one of you guys to ask that," she snickered. Returning upright she said in a more serious tone, "OK, I've given it a lot of thought. And I wish I could have all you guys up there, but then there'd be no one in the audience," she smiled. "But I decided I want Quistis to be my maid of honor."
Xu and Rinoa smiled at Quistis. The blond was so surprised she nearly choked on her ice cream. "Me?" she asked.
"Yes, and I'll tell you why. When I was taking Strategic Tactics in classes, I was failing miserably. Remember? And Quistis helped me through it. She took time out of her day to tutor me. She even stayed up all night and studied with me for the final exam."
"Aw," Rinoa commented.
Xu said, "I can't deny you wanting her then."
"Yeah, so I figured if any of you guys deserve it, it's Quistis."
"I'd never stay up late studying for a test," Rinoa said. "Wow."
"Thanks," Quistis said.
"Ooh, that means we have to get you a dress too."
"Oh." Quistis thought of her aching feet. "Goody."
Squall entered his name into the computer panel log next to the entryway to the training room, slightly below the large green stripe that encircled the doorway. This had been newly installed to tell where students were, purely for safety reasons. In case a cadet went missing, and was injured in the training center, he or she could be found. It was not, as many students thought, a way for the administration to survey and monitor them. Just something so they could keep tabs, since the training center had its risks, no matter what skill level one was at.
Without much more than a cursory glance at the panel confirming his entry, he walked off into the heart of the jungle, fingering the sheathed gunblade on his belt. He followed a cut dirt path, brushing against the ferns and palm trees encircled by metallic wire fencing. This tropical environment was quite humid. He would be sweating before long, which was fine by Squall. He came here to sweat, to work off some steam. Maybe that would help him with this unnameable feeling.
His keen eye caught some movement behind a bush just before he crossed the metal bridge. Quick as a whip he pulled out his gunblade and spun to face it. It was a grat, wriggling behind the foliage, dragging its tentacles behind its sickly green pitcher plant body. Squall lowered his weapon and continued over the bridge. The grat was so weak it wouldn't be worth his time to fight, so he ignored it and continued over the breeding pit chasm.
He kept on his way, farther into the center. It was basically designed as a circle except for one stem-off, a thick gray door Squall was searching for. He found it before long and flipped open the lid to reveal the keypad lock.
Suddenly, two junior students ran up to him. He groaned inside.
"Commander Leonhart, Commander Leonhart!" they shouted, trying to get to him before he disappeared behind the door. Squall slapped the lid back down and faced the two encroachers.
"Yes?" he asked.
"We have a question about an assignment. We were hoping you could help us."
"What's the assignment?"
"We have to develop a combo attack for class, but we have no idea how to set one up."
"Didn't your teacher give you any more specific instruction than that?"
"It has to involve us using two enemies to our advantage. And we can't use black magic of any kind."
The other student piped up, "I was thinking we had to use some sort of draw attack, but I'm not sure that's what the teacher is looking for."
Squall grumbled. He had hated these sorts of creativity-based lessons when he was a student as well. Trying to figure out what the teacher wanted to see was like pulling teeth. Too little work to find the answer and you failed, too much work and it was a waste of time you needed for other studies. But Squall was a commander and that meant also being able to teach those under him when they needed help. Fortunately he had a strategy in mind.
"All right, follow me," Squall said, walking back into the training center. "Find a pair of grats."
After a short while, a student yelped, "There's two."
"All right," Squall said, pulling out his gunblade once again. "Engage."
The three rushed at the pair of monsters. The botanical fiends whipped around to their attackers and threatened harm by flailing their ridiculously long tentacles. One of the students almost tripped backwards as a vine snapped at his feet.
"No fear," Squall commanded. He was in a relaxed battle stance, not apprehensive at all of the monsters. "All right, now, if we can't use black magics, what does that leave? White magic and status ailments. Since white magic doesn't really do any good here, we can use ailments to our advantage. Lots of ways we can do this, but I'm going to show you my favorite one. Do any of you have a Confuse spell?" Squall hoped, as he remembered he carried no magic.
"Fine. Cast it on one of the grats, then follow it up with a Blind on the same one."
The student did as he was told. First he waved his arm out and shouted the spell's name. The plant-beast began wobbling back and forth like it was drunk. He then cast a Blind spell and an inky cloud formed over the monster's head, presumably where its eyes were, or whatever it used to sense the outside world. The grat, falling into a panic, began whipping its vines dangerously to and fro, hitting its partner grat in the process, as it was the closest strikable object.
The students smiled as they began to realize what was happening. "Do the same thing to the other grat," Squall commanded.
The student who had performed the magic before did the same to the second enemy.
"Don't suppose any of you has a Haste?" Squall asked as the grats began to combat each other.
"I actually do," said the second student.
"Good, cast it on one or both of them. It'll speed up the process." Most junior classmen would never think of using a spell that would give an advantage to an opponent, but in this case, it worked wonders.
The student did so, casting it on both. The temporally enhanced beasts shredded each other to ribbons with their lacerating vines. In no time they collapsed, peeling apart like bananas, bleeding acidic green liquid.
"The Blind magic combined with the Confuse blocked them from sensing our presence. The Haste added to the mix. Then they found the nearest object to fight, each other." Thus endeth the lesson, Squall thought curtly. He put away his gunblade.
"Wow, that's really cool. Thank you, sir."
Squall didn't bother fully acknowledging the praise, he simply nodded and headed back to the gray door in the back of the training center.
"Hey, what does that door lead to?" the students asked.
"It's a forbidden area," Squall responded.
"Well, we know that, but what is it forbidding?"
"It's an advanced training center for graduated SeeDs. It's restricted access, and believe me, you do not want what's beyond that door to break through to here."
That bit of scare tactic shut them up. Squall freely entered his access code into the numeric keypad as the students left to wander the rest of the training center. The pneumatic lock released and Squall pulled the heavy door open and closed it quickly.
This terrain was vastly different compared to the tropical jungle he had just come from. This was a strange dry wasteland of a forest. Thick stone-like trees peppered the landscape, their tops shrouded in humid white mist that obscured the ceiling. The trunks descended into hard gray soil, cracked into veiny apertures where they were implanted. This environment was conducive to the beast life they had transferred in. Desert for the chimera, forest for the hexadragon, and both for the death claw. Metal rings had to be used to reinforce the trunks as the soil was not very supportive. He wondered how the trees kept from drying to death. The faculty probably had to come in and water them manually, another one of their mysteries.
This was originally the 'secret area', where students met and hooked up after curfew, and was clearly against regulations. It was something Squall didn't care for very much, but he tolerated it, because he knew with the pressures of the work, kids needed some therapeutic way to lash out against authority. That's why he let it stay, until the opportunity presented itself with the remodeling. He then used the secret area and turned it into the advanced training center. Its geography made it the perfect place to have a part of the training center that was secured and sectioned off to normal students so they wouldn't be attacked by the stronger creatures. After the time compression incident, Squall found he could no longer keep sharp on T-Rexaurs, so he built this.
Before he got very far in he heard a rustling in a dry bush behind him. Squall took out his gunblade, expecting a death claw to barrel out with its talons ready. Nothing happened though. He reached out the end of his weapon and poked into the bush.
Zell careened out, bringing his fist down in a hammer strike, screaming a kiai. Squall staggered back, bringing up his blade to defend himself as he fell back into the dirt. Zell quickly pulled away once he saw who it was, and stepped back to avoid a potential strike.
"Whoa. Sorry, Squall. Didn't see ya there," he apologized, bouncing up and down in a fighting stance.
"Likewise," Squall said as he stood back up, dusting his pants off.
"Hey, big news about Selphie, huh? I didn't even know they were going out. Our little girl's all grown up now."
"She's not a little girl."
"Oh, yeah, I suppose."
Squall heaved his gunblade to his shoulder and started to walk off into the forest. Zell followed behind him as Squall knew he would. He was obviously pumped from fighting and couldn't bear to stand still.
The blond asked, "Hey, have you heard who Irvine's picking for his best man?"
"No, I only heard about it yesterday."
"Yeah, but it's coming up soon. I can't wait. I've never been to a wedding before. Have you?"
"Not that I can remember."
"I wonder who else knows about it. I don't think it'll be a big wedding, like they usually are, you know?"
Squall kept quiet, keeping himself from saying the 'W' word. He really wasn't in the mood to put up with the energetic Zell today, but he was still a good friend, so he wasn't letting his temperament snap back at him. He just used the cold shoulder technique.
"Are you doing all right?" he asked. Squall again didn't say anything, just kept scouting for a monster to fight. "I mean, I was pretty shocked when I heard about it. Really nervous and excited and kinda overwhelmed. Heh, that's probably how Selphie feels. It's kinda hard to know how to react. One side of you says 'yay!' and the other is all sad to see her go." There was a short pause where neither one of them said anything. "I wonder if they're gonna name the baby after one of us."
Squall finally couldn't take it anymore and turned to Zell. "Did you ever think about what this means for Selphie? It means she's having a baby and she's marrying Irvine. Don't you think she's kind of young for that? She just turned eighteen-" Squall caught himself before he regretted it and clammed up. He was sharing his opinion, and he had to be impartial on the matter. "Never mind."
Zell scratched behind his head. "I guess it is kinda sudden. I dunno. I never thought about it like that."
"Well, just imagine yourself in either of their shoes."
Zell looked curiously at him as Squall moved off.
"Squall, is there something you're not telling us? Rin's not pregnant, is she?"
"No," Squall sneered, "Of course not."
"You seem kinda, I don't know, weird. I'd have thought you'd have a lot to say about this."
"Well, I don't."
"You are going, right? To the wedding?"
"Of course, I am." Rinoa wouldn't have let him skip out on it, even if he wanted to. "She'd make me go if I had something else I had to do. Girls love weddings."
"Oh, man!" Zell suddenly exclaimed and slapped his forehead. "I need a date for the wedding, don't I?"
"What?" Squall had completely derailed from this train of thought.
"How stupid is it gonna look when I show up there all by myself? Everyone else is gonna be with someone. Geez, I gotta get going. See ya, Squall."
"But you don't need..." Squall gave up. It was too late anyway, as he watched Zell's animated form jump away into the mist. He sighed and headed off into the forest, frustrated by his friend's glib take on matters. Sometimes, he just couldn't tell if he was dense or just didn't like to think about serious things like that. Some people tried changing the subject to something lighter if they didn't like the current discussion. Selphie was like that too. These people were having a problem seeing this for what it really was. It was frustrating dealing with a load of people afflicted with Blind.
The cheese was finally starting to bubble, Rinoa noticed as she peered through the dimmed clear paneling of the microwave. The delicious smell also hit her, that sweet smell of cheese and baking bread. True, microwave pizzas were rubbery and a pale, pale shadow of the real thing, but she was way too tired to cook tonight. A microwave pizza was just what the doctor ordered. With their new apartment they could cook for themselves, not needing to suffer the whim of whatever the cafeteria wanted to serve. They had to buy their own food, but being able to have a choice in cuisine was much better. Squall could probably go either way, but Rinoa loved it. Self-sustenance was one of her prides, having been daughter of the Galbadia general.
Rinoa sat on the stool next to the breakfast bar to wait for the rest of the cooking time. Her feet were killing her. Shop till you drop really had a literal meaning, not just a cute rhyme. She was exhausted both physically and mentally, having rarely gotten a moment to herself all day. Now that she had, she found her mind ironically still latched to the current events. Selphie with a baby. Irvine with a baby. Both of them holding a cute little cherub wrapped up in a blanket and smiling over it. These strange images floated through her mind. What were their daily lives like now? How do you go from one minute being free and easy, and then having to plan a wedding and a baby. It must have been stressful. Was Selphie perched over a toilet with morning sickness while she was trying to pick out flowers?
She couldn't help but turn inward to herself in order to sympathize or identify. How would she deal with things if she were in the same situation? Would she get married? Would she tell Squall? Would she tell Cid? Or the others? Would she run away? Imagining herself with a full belly, walking around Garden like she had a package under her dress would be pretty shameful, she decided. Would she... would she...? She couldn't even bring herself to think the word. In Galbadia, that sort of thing was oppressively taboo. Here in Balamb, the population was a bit more liberal, so she would feel less scared about taking that option. But still... she decided that was a choice she couldn't make unless she was confronted with it. And she breathed a sigh and a prayer that she never would be.
What would her friends say? How would she even break the news? She could imagine Squall and herself walking down to the cafeteria arm in arm, happy as jaybirds, sitting down. Zell could make some comment about how the hot dog buns were never warm enough, they should put them back in the oven. Then Rinoa could make the quip that the cafeteria wasn't the only one with a bun in the oven. Then they would all stare at her, shocked. Quistis would drop her jaw open. Selphie would probably squeal with glee. Irvine and Zell? Who knows how they'd react. Well, Irvine would probably say something like 'you old dog' to Squall, nudging him in the side.
And then what? What about after? What about getting married? What about where they were going to live? Their jobs? How were they going to pay for things? Bills, doctor visits, groceries, toys, school, a place to live, and probably a hundred other things Rinoa couldn't even think of. They wouldn't be able to go out anymore. Who would they use for babysitting? How would she and Squall still maintain their relationship with a third wheel in the way? It was hard enough just now finding the time and motivation to do things together, with just the two of them, without some diplomatic invitation or Garden business getting in the way. All that nice couple stuff, that intimacy, would just float away with a child, because then they would no longer be a couple. They'd be a family.
She thought, just thought for the sake of thinking, what if she didn't tell anyone for a while. It seemed like she had just gotten Squall to warm up to her romantically, she didn't want to give him up as a father yet. That may have been selfish, but she just couldn't see Squall having a baby yet in his current state. He just wasn't 'mature' enough. Or maybe he was overly mature, she didn't quite know the right word. Either way, she just couldn't see him holding a baby, at least not at this point in time. Maybe someday. Squall seemed to be having a hard time dealing with just being around the idea of that. And talking with the girls today didn't really assuage her fears that he was regressing. She loved him so much she couldn't bear the thought of him becoming how he was when they first met again.
Squall walked in then. He looked tired and worn out, like he was carrying a camping backpack.
"Hi, hon," she chirped. "I haven't seen you all day. How was your mission?"
"It was fine." He hung up his ruffed leather jacket on the hook. Rinoa tittered at seeing his bare shoulders and white tank top. "It was just more security stuff. Nothing happened."
"You didn't mind that I called you last night, did you?"
"No." Squall sat down on the couch. "I wasn't in the middle of anything." He picked up the copy of the Balamb Gazette on the table. Truthfully, it did kind of bother him, getting interrupted by that damn PHS, even when he wasn't doing anything. But he had to have it on in case of emergencies.
"Do you want me to make you something?" Rinoa asked, gesturing to the kitchen.
"No, I'll get something later."
Rinoa bit her bottom lip. The behavior was really worrying her, but she couldn't do anything about it. She took the single-serving pizza out of the microwave and put it on a nearby plate. Licking her fingers of pizza grease, she came next to Squall, put her pizza on the coffee table and snuggled into his shoulder awkwardly as he was still holding the paper.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Needed a cuddle," she responded.
Squall was more than happy to oblige this display of cuteness. He released his grip on the paper and put his arm around her, tucking her in closer. Rinoa just needed a reminder that Squall loved her. He may not have acted like it sometimes, but he did.
Rinoa sniffed. "Were you fighting today?"
"Yeah," he said, a little embarrassed. "I'll take a shower before bed."
Rinoa giggled a little. It was nice just sitting in the crook of his strong arm, enjoying his essence while he read the paper oblivious. These were the kind of moments Squall would never understand, but it was okay, as long as he was there.
"Today was really hard," she said. "Doing a lot of thinking about Selphie and Irvine and the need to shop, trying to get as much of the shopping done in one day. It was really taxing."
"Uh-huh," Squall nodded. "Who else knows about the news?" Squall asked.
"Uh, all of us. Cid and Edea, Xu, Nida, I guess. That's all I know." Squall nodded affirmatively. Rinoa tried to keep the conversation going. "They told Cid and Edea first, and then the rest of us. Which makes sense. They didn't want any rumors to reach them first." Rinoa could only imagine how she would have told anyone she was pregnant and engaged, let alone Cid and Edea, let even more alone her father. She thought that sort of thing would have occurred to Squall and he would have said something, but he stared at his magazine wordlessly, listening but not responding. "I think everyone who needs to know, knows. And I'm sure it'll get around Garden. I don't think anyone's told Laguna or Ellone yet though." She looked up at him, no response.
She picked up her now cooled pizza off the plate and held it up to his mouth. "Pizza?"
Squall barely smiled and leaned forward, ripping a bite out of the pizza.
Rinoa looked up at Squall. "Do you wanna play some Triple Triad?"
"K. I'll get the decks," Rinoa freed herself from Squall and went to their room. At least he wasn't so withdrawn he didn't want to do anything with her. But still...
Edea, leaning on Cid's desk, picked up a pyramid paperweight, and bounced it playfully in her hands while her husband shuffled papers on his desk. The pyramid was made of some dense heavy plastic that looked like solid water. As she heaved it back and forth she looked out the wall window at the back of the office. The vast ocean covered everything from this height, broadening over the landscape like sparkling blue diamonds.
She turned back to Cid still filing papers. "Are you even working?"
Cid smiled, "No, I was just doing this to make you think I was working." He pushed his glasses up as Edea smiled.
"Dear, you aren't nervous, are you?"
"No, why, should I be?"
"Good question," she said as she put down the pyramid and picked up a snow globe. Shaking it up and staring out the picture window she said, "I don't know why she wanted to see both of us. She called me up from the lighthouse even. It's hard to get a boat from there to here."
"She knows I would certainly have contacted you with any information."
"Well, I think then it has to be something extremely good or extremely bad."
"You can't help but worry," Cid sighed.
The speakerbox clicked on with static. Xu's voice came through, "Sir, Selphie and Irvine are here."
Cid pressed the talk button. "Send them in." These were mere formalities forced by the lock on the door. Selphie and Irvine were always welcome in his office.
The doors opened and the two came through. Selphie bounced in wearing a little yellow sundress, Irvine swaggered in typical fashion, sporting his tan suede coat and cowboy hat like usual.
"Hello, young SeeDs," Cid said. "How's life been?"
"Can't complain," Irvine said.
"So what's this about big news?" Cid grinned with his hands clasped on his desk.
Selphie and Irvine looked at each other. "Well," Irvine said, "Do you wanna tell them or should I?"
"We already talked about this." She turned to the older couple with a quick breath. "Me and Irvine are getting engaged."
Edea clasped her hands together and gasped. "Oh, that's wonderful!" she yelped. She started thinking of all the elements of a great wedding she could start suggesting. It would be a great project for her. Cid sat back in his leather chair, swaying back and forth slightly, and smiled widely as if he always knew this would happen.
"When's the date? Or when-abouts are you planning?" Edea asked.
"Wait," Irvine, still grinning, said. "Also, Selphie's pregnant."
Cid froze in his chair. Edea gasped and covered her mouth. Their expressions solidified as if caught in time, their eyes glossed over. Even their thoughts stopped working, like their biorhythms had skipped a beat. For a brief second they were statues. "That's..." Edea said. "That's even more wonderful." She recovered her dropped jaw and smiled broadly. "Oh... what am I saying? Of course, this is wonderful!" Edea got up off the desk and hugged both of them. "I have tons of baby stuff at the lighthouse for you to use."
"Oh, we're gonna need it," Irvine laughed.
Cid stood as well and walked around the desk, patting his vest absent-mindedly. "I wish I had some cigars here or something."
Edea took Selphie's head in her hands. "Oh, my little babies are really growing up." She held Selphie tightly, tears streaming down her face. Irvine noticed that. But Cid approached him and touched his shoulder to get his attention.
"Congratulations, son," he said.
"Thank you, sir,"
"So, um, not to put a damper on this event, but what about... the mission?"
"Actually, that's something I need to talk to you about too."
"Good, no doubt, no doubt."
Rinoa looked up from the article on 'I Lost My Virginity to My Foreign Language Teacher' in the magazine when Squall walked in, wearing his white undershirt and boxers. His brown hair was matted down from the shower water. Rinoa put down the uninteresting magazine on her nightstand and pulled back the covers for him. He hustled into bed, curling up under the satiny sheets and rolling over on his side immediately.
"Hey," he responded.
Rinoa draped her lithe frame over his side, and ran her hand down his brawny arm, traveling down his smooth, tight bicep down to his forearm, and fitting her small fingers into his. The soft velvety touch of his skin ended with a harsh, jarring sandpapery patch as she ran her fingertips up to his knuckles. She grabbed his hand and pulled it towards her to look.
"Oh my god, what happened to your knuckles?" she asked. The backside of his hand was marred with round patches of clotted blood at his finger bones, like stickers taped on.
"It's nothing." Squall turned to her and pulled his hand away.
"Oh, god, that's weird," she said as she put up her hand to touch them.
"It's just a funguar bite," Squall said as he settled down into the mattress, covering himself up and turning on his side. "He jumped up and bit me in the hand."
"But we don't have funguars in the training center."
"No, it was from earlier."
"They don't have them in Esthar either."
"No, I mean outside Garden, when I was coming home from the train station."
"But I thought you took a car."
"No, I walked home. I took a shortcut through the forest."
"Oh," she sighed. "Does it hurt?"
"No, it doesn't."
"You can take a potion."
Squall turned up to her. "Look, if you're so worried about it, I'll put my gloves on," he griped angrily.
"No, no, that's all right," Rinoa acquiesced. She turned over to her nightstand. "Ready for the light?"
Squall shrugged into his pillow. "Sure."
Rinoa twisted over and pushed the button under the lampshade. Then she twisted back and put her arm over Squall's torso, spooning her body with his. The noises in the room reduced to quiet breathing. Rinoa's hot breath reflected off of Squall's back. She moved her head out of the way. Getting comfy in the pillow, trying to get settled and not irritate Squall. She couldn't help but stay worried about the scabs on his knuckles. Something seemed very unusual about them. Especially since whenever Squall was in battle, he always wore leather gloves to protect his hands when he held his gunblade, and funguar teeth would not bite hard enough to penetrate them.