This takes place a few months after the game. Enjoy!

The Password
by Luna Manar
LunaManar@aol.com

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"Don’t frown, you never know who is falling in love with your smile."

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Cold…too cold.

Rinoa backed away from the rim of the balcony, folding her arms tightly and hugging herself for warmth even as she stepped inside the doors to the second floor of Balamb Garden. The synthetic heat helped, but it wasn’t that warmth she wanted. When does his class get out? She glanced wearily down the hallway, focusing on the door labeled 206. It was a Tuesday, and he didn’t have field training on Tuesdays. But god knew when regular classes got out.

"Why should anybody have to go to classes after they’ve graduated?" she groused, turning away and staring at the wall. "It’s so stupid." She played with the ends of one of her woven arm wraps, fixing an edge the blue cotton that had gotten folded underneath itself.

"What is?"

Rinoa jumped, whirling around. She came face-to-face with Zell Dincht. This further startled her and she almost fell over backward. Regaining her balance, she fixed Zell with a stare of mock disapproval. "Zell! You could have made some noise before scaring me half to death."

The young SeeD leaned casually to the side, one hand against the wall. "Tch. Sorry. So what’s stupid?" He grinned mischievously, very aware that he’d overheard something not meant for his ears.

"Oh, it’s nothing," Rinoa lied, smiling. "Aren’t you supposed to be in class, anyway? What are you doing out here?"

Zell shrugged. "Nature called. I can hang around for a minute or two. Why are you here?" He pointed at her, sporting a grin that showed pearly white teeth. "Betcha’ you’re waiting for a certain someone, ne?"

"Zell, you’re so nosy!" She giggled, crossing her arms over her chest and holding onto her elbows, seeming a little uneasy. "Go back to class."

"Sure thing." Zell waved a hand to the side and started for the classroom door, adding just before he went in, "I’ll be sure to tell Squall you’re waiting for ‘im." With a couple short cackles of wicked intent, he bounced in front of the door, walking in with melodramatic dignity as it opened for him.

"Zell, don’t you d—" Rinoa was cut off as the doors hissed shut. She let her hands down by her sides and balled them into fists. "Ohhh…darn it!" She stamped one foot, smirking despite her frustration. "There goes my surprise…" Muffled laughter from beyond the door confirmed Zell’s promise. She laughed a little herself, imagining Squall’s reaction to what Zell had no doubt made a public announcement. With a heavy sigh she set about waiting by the door again. Minutes dragged like dead weights when she stood around like this. She decided she wouldn’t be doing this much.

It was in fact only half an hour before the class let out, but that was long enough for Rinoa to get tired of standing up, and eventually fall asleep sitting up against the wall by the door. When it opened the students that filed out smiled and nudged each other, being particularly quiet so as not to wake the sleeping "princess." Even Zell stopped and stared silently for a moment as he stepped from the classroom. His pause earned him a light shove from behind.

"I’m gonna kill you," Squall snarled in a low tone, though his wry expression belied his threat. Zell cast him a wink-eyed grin and pointed meaningfully to the snoozing figure at their feet. Squall put his hand to his face. "Oh, man…"

"Eh, c’mon," Zell whispered conspiratorially, "how can you resist a sight like that? Even you gotta admit that’s sweet as anything."

"Yeah, yeah. Get outta here." Squall planted his hand against Zell’s head and pushed him to the side, kneeling once his classmate was out of his way.

"Hey, hey! Don’t mess with the do, man," Zell hissed, nettled, having to rearrange his thorny blonde hair as a result of Squall’s mistreatment of it.

Squall ignored the comment, looking up at Zell over his shoulder. "Quiet, would you? I don’t want to wake her up…"

Zell scratched the back of his head thoughtfully. "Are you kiddin’ me? She’s about as easy to wake up as a rock."

"With your babbling, anything’s possible."

Zell sneered at the insult, balling one fist in mock-threat. "Yeah? So what if I wake her up? You can’t just leave her here."

"I know that," Squall snapped, speaking in just such a way that to look at him, he may as well have bared his teeth and snarled.

"’K, ‘k! I was just sayin’…hey, what’re y—you gonna carry her?!"

Squall had ever so gingerly slipped his arms beneath the sleeping Rinoa, and now stood carefully, holding her securely, her head resting by his shoulder. He turned quietly, nodding a little. "She’s tired. She needs to sleep. I’ll take her back to her room."

"Tired! It’s ten in the morning. How can she be tired?"

"She was up late last night." Squall’s face was suddenly solemn.

"So?" Zell shrugged. "Why should that matter? I think she was just bored."

"Late, last night," Squall repeated, and his eyes narrowed in an icy stare, warning against any further questions of the sort.

Zell got the message. "Aaaaiiyy… Err, right. I’ll, uh, go hang out in the Quad. See ya, Squall."

As Zell trotted off down the hall, whistling blithely to himself, Squall allowed himself a faint inward smile that didn’t escape to his ever-solemn face. Poor Zell, he thought simply, leaving it at that. He only started down the hall once Zell was well out of sight and earshot.

His steps were slow, and he didn’t care particularly if anyone saw him. As long as people had enough respect not to make a big deal out of it, there was no problem. Time and again he looked down at the sleeping woman in his arms, and he couldn’t help but smile. Zell was right.

But—he caught himself belatedly. Woman? His smile faded and vanished. He had to stop to press the first floor button on the elevator. His thoughts continued as the doors closed. Be careful, he warned himself. That’s a dangerous thing…too soon for that now. He turned his head to the side, closing his eyes. Be careful…

The door opened again and he stepped out into the main body of Balamb garden, walking down the stairs to the lobby, the soles of his boots clupping softly on the smooth floor. The Garden appeared deserted; no one manned the walkways to the various areas. As usual, class time was everyone’s obligation, whether they were instructors, professors or students.

Except me. I don’t get this. If I’m the ranking SeeD of this place, I need to do something. I can’t sit around all day like I’ve been. He looked down at Rinoa again, though, and admitted silently he did enjoy the time he was allowed with her. Even when his days were busy, there was always night…

Like last night. Last night he’d never been so dangerously close to anyone, and even now thinking of it made him shiver. Logically, what had happened was nothing truly extreme…but the impact on his senses and his heart still jarred him, and not thinking about it was a task in itself. And Rinoa…to know how she felt, was almost beyond him. But he knew, and that understanding only drew him closer.

The lighting in the dorm hallways was dim as usual, and the corridors were quiet. Halfway down the hall leading towards the elevator, Rinoa opened her eyes, blinking sleepily and taking a moment to realize she was being carried. She looked up at her bearer and smiled. "…I guess I gave out outside the door."

"Good guess." Squall smirked a little. "I’m sure the class thought you were the cutest thing in the world, sitting there sleeping like an angel."

"I think I’ll take that as a compliment," she returned.

"If you want." He’d stopped where he was.

She clasped her hands together behind the nape of his neck. "Sorry if I embarrassed you."

"Don’t worry about it. I wasn’t really embarrassed… Why were you waiting there, anyway?"

She shrugged a little. "I…well, I was cold, for one." She curled up a little against his chest. "I missed you."

"I have all day, for once. Why didn’t you stay in bed this morning?"

Her answer was a whisper. "I couldn’t…" She took a slow breath, taking in his warm scent. Just sensing he was with her was encouraging. "I can’t stop thinking about you…"

Squall nodded and slowly started down the hallway again. He passed by the elevator. "I know…I can’t get it out of my mind, either."

"It means so much, to me."

"I don’t know what it means to me…"

"I fell asleep that close to you and…well… That says something."

He was a little pink in the cheeks as she said this, but tried to act like he didn’t notice. "Yeah…"

"Squall…what’s going through your mind right now?"

He stopped in front of the doors to his room, and looked up at them before they opened. "…Just thinking about what to say. I don’t handle words well…" He stepped through the door.

"It’s okay. I don’t mind if you mess up." She steadied herself beside him as he let her down, still holding onto him lightly. "Want me to guess?"

He put one arm around her, pulling her a little towards him. "Go for it."

"Okay…" She smiled, hugging him tightly for a moment. She said, tilting her head back to look him in the eyes, "I think…you’re wondering what you should and shouldn’t do. From what we said last night, I guess you could say we’re…serious." It was Rinoa’s turn to blush a little, though she reconsidered her phrasing. "Are we? Maybe that’s not the right word…"

His expression hardly changed, but he shifted his weight uneasily. "I think we’d qualify...in a sense. Not like anything happened."

"Still…that puts you in a position of responsibility. If anything went wrong, you’re the one people would look at. That’s what you’re afraid of, right? Or am I completely off?"

"No…that’s basically it."

Her expression saddened a little. "Squall…people trust you, and I trust you…you just have to trust yourself. Do what you feel is right, and don’t always stop to wonder if it really is or not. You can’t second-guess yourself all the time." She brightened a little. "I know you’re not as cold as you seem." Her stare was intense, her smile widened. "I wouldn’t even be here if you hadn’t come running to my rescue so many times. Now who’s the Sorceress’ Knight?"

A genuine smile. "I’d kind of like to think of it as being her guardian."

Rinoa giggled. "Squall the Guardian Force."

"Something like that. You know what I mean."

Sighing, she relaxed against him again, and he stood strong for her. "Yes, I know…can we go for a…a walk today? Or do you have things to do?"

"Actually, I don’t." He shook his head. "I told you, my day is free."

She hopped up and down giddily, threatening topple him in doing so. "Take me to the aviary…I’ve never been there before."

"Alright." He nodded, glanced behind him as though checking to be certain no one was watching. He saw only the wall. Then he looked out the window, as though still suspecting he was being watched. "You didn’t sleep much last night. Maybe you shouldn’t—"

"Oh, stop it. Neither did you," she shot back. "You had to listen to me."

No point in arguing any further. She’d made up her mind. Squall sighed into the palm of his hand and shook his head at her in the same motion. "You’re impossible."

"I know," she piped brightly. "Just deal with it. Are we going or what?"

"If you let go of me so I can walk."

"Nothing doing. Guess you’ll just have to stay here."

"We’ll see about that."

Without warning, he stooped to get his arm under hers and hoisted her off the floor and over his shoulder. She squealed and tried without success to right herself.

"Squall, that’s not fair! Cheater!" She was laughing despite her accusations, staring at his heels as he carried her out the door. She struggled half-heartedly.

"I don’t cheat," Squall said.

"Squall, put me d—ahh! That’s not what I meant!" He’d let her slip a few inches. Still laughing, she let her arms hang. "Two can play this game. "

"Hey—!"

Before he’d had a chance to guess what exactly she meant, Squall found himself quite unable to see—partly because his hair was now in his face, but mostly because the back of his shirt and jacket had been pulled over his head and his eyes. He stumbled a little, started to pull his hand up to push the shirt away, only to find Rinoa was holding fast to that hand with both arms. Since his other arm was occupied in keeping her from falling, this made matters very difficult.

He tried in vain to shake the blindfold away, Rinoa giggling madly behind him. He snarled through a smile that came to him unbidden. "Now who’s playing dirty? Traitor."

"Takes one to know one."

"I can’t see."

"Are you ticklish?"

"No."

"I bet you are."

"You think what you—oh, damn it, Rinoa, stop!"

Rinoa was relentless. "Say the password."

"What password?! Cut it out!" He was beginning to stumble.

"Not telling!"

"Please?"

"No."

"Now!"

"Nope."

"Oh, sh—quit it! I’m gonna fall!"

"Try again."

"But the Owls are still around!"

"What? Uh—oohh!"

Squall teetered to one side just as he managed to fling the shirt tail from his eyes and toppled like a felled tree, Rinoa landing atop him with enough force to knock his breath away. It didn’t really matter. He was laughing too hard to breathe in the first place. His head lolled to the side, hitting against the glass wall of the hallway in the process. His laughter calmed just a little. "…ow," he muttered drably, then was overcome by hoarse laughter again. His hand went to his forehead, the other arm flopping over onto Rinoa’s back. She’d fallen such that she was lying half on him, face down on his chest, and was laughing hysterically as well, her voice muffled by his shirt.

After a few minutes she finally managed to push herself up, still leaning over him and smiling happily. "Still up to challenging me, oh mighty SeeD?" She playfully flipped his hair into his eyes.

Squall’s face mirrored hers as he shook the lock from his face. "No…next time you might try that in public."

"Only if you carry me around in public," she retorted. "Besides, next time it might not be your shirt I try to get rid of."

This earned another short laugh from him and a wary glance around, again seeming paranoid of someone seeing or hearing them. "I can’t believe you."

She grinned. "Never underestimate a princess." Her smile softened. "So you can laugh."

"Yeah. I can." He smirked. "Don’t tell me that was a test."

"Of course not!" She hit him lightly. "I’m not that insidious."

"I was kidding!" He held up his arms defensively, still smiling. "No, really…" They were staring at each other again. "I haven’t laughed like that in a long time…"

"I know…" She blinked once, slowly. "Until now I never saw you laugh once…you have a wonderful laugh."

"Whatever. It’s your fault; you broke my composure."

"Good. Now what’s the password? Or I won’t let you up." She loomed over him, smiling wickedly.

Squall eyed her wryly, just now realizing something he should have known from the beginning. His answer was quiet and sincere.

"I love you."