Chapter Five: If Only
Rinoa went first into Squall's office and he followed, doing rapid damage control. She took off her bulky brown sweater, revealing a white camisole underneath, and dropped the sweater onto the floor. Squall placed Seifer's borrowed key on the table by the door and then hurried after Rinoa. He quickly stooped and picked it up, folded it and draped it over the back of a chair. Rinoa moved to the cabinets on the wall and opened one--Seifer made Squall keep food in his office because he often forgot to eat when he got caught up in work. She took out a box of granola bars, reached inside the box and took out one wrapped bar. She then put the box back in the cabinet and walked away. Squall pulled the cabinet door shut and followed her past his desk.
She unwrapped her granola bar, placed it between her teeth, and crumpled the plastic before putting it on the corner of Squall's desk. She moved on again and he darted forward, grabbing the wrapper as it started to slip off the desk towards the floor. He dropped it in the garbage can beside his desk, then swept a few crumbs off the desktop and wiped his hands over the trash.
Rinoa glanced over her shoulder at him in obvious amusement before sitting at the piano in the corner of the room. She began to play, her long fingers bridging octaves, gracing keys with her touch. Squall came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder carefully, afraid to disturb the magic of her playing. She leaned back against him but continued to play.
He put his other hand on her left shoulder and cupped his palms against her skin. She was so soft and cool and slender in his hands. He rubbed her gently, finally beginning to relax after the Debriefing session. The merest contact with her, the brush of her hand, the soft tickle of her hair against his fingers put him at ease.
The music swelled and wrapped itself around Squall, caressing him with a lover's touch. Rinoa played the piano with a sad beauty that caught at his heart. The pieces that she wrote were always mournful, flowing and cascading up and down a range of notes in a minor key. It broke his heart that she could have such sorrow hidden within that could prompt her to write such doleful music. The smiles she gave him always seemed so genuine, so full--but her music made him doubt.
He caressed her cheek and she looked up at him without stopping her playing. Squall began to sit beside her on the piano bench but then the vid-phone on his desk rang.
Squall sighed heavily and Rinoa smiled sympathetically.
"That'll be him," Squall said, getting up and walking to his desk.
"Try to be nice to him," Rinoa said, turning back to the keys. "He loves you, you know."
Squall raised an eyebrow but remained silent. He turned on the vid-phone and the screen immediately showed an officious woman glaring back at him. He sat back and tilted his head.
"Squall Leonhart, here."
"Yes, Headmaster Leonhart, please hold for a call from the President."
Squall pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger and leaned his elbows on his desk. The woman disappeared from the screen and then the picture was of the Esthar Presidential office. Squall could see the desk and the window behind it--but his father was nowhere to be found.
"I'm giving him one minute to get to the damn phone," Squall muttered, dropping his palms to his desktop. "Then I'm hanging--"
Squall pulled in a deep breath and then sighed inaudibly.
"Hello, Mr. President."
Laguna's moon-face lost its smile.
"Squall, it's me."
Squall resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Yes, Mr. President, I know who you are."
"Squall, I'm your father," Laguna grated. "Do you think you could drop that 'Mr. President' stuff and just call me 'Dad'?"
Squall pinched his lips together and folded his hands on his desk. "Is this a personal call?"
Laguna furrowed his brow. "Well, no, actually I wanted to talk to you about the contract I took out with you last--"
"Then if this is not a personal call," Squall interrupted, "I will conduct myself in a manner suiting the business at hand. I will refer to you as President Loire and you will kindly refer to me as Headmaster Leonhart."
Laguna's nostrils flattened as he sucked in a breath. "Fine. Headmaster Leonhart. I want to know what the hell this is about?"
"What's that, sir?"
Laguna's eyes narrowed. "My office just received a call from Commander Quistis Trepe regarding a new monster found on the stretch of beach on the west shore of Esthar which your Garden is currently inhabiting."
"Oh, did she call you already? Good," Squall said smoothly.
Laguna grunted. "Yes, she called us. Now what is this about your ordering all my citizens to stay near their homes and not leave their villages?"
Squall tilted his head thoughtfully. "I thought that was pretty clear, but if you want clarification..." Squall shrugged. "I've ordered your citizens to stay near their homes and not leave their villages."
The President pinched his lips together in an expression mirroring Squall's. Behind Squall, Rinoa's piano playing grew slightly louder as she hit the keys with more force. He could feel her eyes boring disapprovingly into the back of his neck.
"Look, Headmaster, when Esthar contracted Balamb Garden to clean our continent of monsters we thought you were going to do just that, not tell us to cower in our homes and let the monsters go happily about their affairs."
Squall did roll his eyes this time. "I am assuming that if you received that much information you also got the rest of the message the Commander told me she would be conveying to your office?"
"Oh, you mean that tripe about a monster that's immune to magic? You're not really serious about that, are you?"
Squall sighed out loud so that his father could hear his exasperation.
"Yes, sir, we are really serious about that. Now there is a monster out there that we as yet do not know how to fight, and rather than let your citizens get maimed, eaten and otherwise killed by the creature I thought that it would be best to advise them not to leave areas where they are safe. However, if you think that they would enjoy being speared by a hundred-armed floating monster with energy-draining capabilities that is immune to all kinds of magic, then by all means, please, tell them to go outside and have a picnic."
Laguna glared at Squall and Squall glared right back.
"I don't care for your attitude, Headmaster," Laguna growled.
"And I don't care for yours," Squall spat back. "You contracted us to do a job and to date we have performed it with full competence and unfailing success. Now we have reached what could be a setback, but it might not be. I am trying to be cautious, Mr. President, and make sure that no innocents are harmed before we can figure out how to handle this monster. But if you are unsatisfied with either my or anyone else here at Balamb Garden's conduct, we will be happy to leave. I remember well that we both made sure to include a clause in the official mission outline giving us the option to terminate the contract at any time. I can take my Garden and all my SeeDs and we can just fly on back to Balamb with very little trouble at all."
Squall paused, letting the threat hang in the air for a moment.
"That is, if you're displeased."
Laguna's eyes were narrowed into thin slits. He threw his shoulders back. "No, I am not in any way dissatisfied with your conduct. Please, don't think that I hold Balamb Garden in anything but the highest esteem. I merely wished to clear up some misunderstandings, not terminate our contract."
Squall was silent for a short while before nodding. "Of course. I was only reminding you of your rights as a contract-holder, sir."
"Of course," Laguna said, not even trying to hide the sarcasm in his voice. Then he laughed out loud. "Okay, Squall, you've got me by the balls on this one. Just see that you SeeDs get around to killing that monster one of these days, huh?"
Squall nodded. "We're working on that right now. I have the heads of our History and Science departments studying the creature. One of our SeeDs managed to bring back a severed tentacle from the monster this afternoon."
Laguna's eyes widened. "Really? Well, that's good news!"
Squall smiled briefly. "Yes, well. It shouldn't be long before we know how to defeat the monster, either with a magic we haven't tried yet or with a major weapons attack. It's only a matter of time."
"Well that's reassuring," Laguna said expansively. He leaned back in his chair. "What's that music I hear, Squall? Is Rinoa there?"
Squall glanced over his shoulder. "Yes, she came back this morning."
"Early, right? Wasn't she supposed to be in Timber until next week?"
The piano music stopped and Squall winced.
"Doesn't he know what happened to you this morning?" Rinoa asked accusatorily.
Squall sighed and looked down.
"Why didn't Seifer or Quistis call him to let him know?" she asked.
Squall rolled his eyes. "Because," he hissed at her, quietly so Laguna couldn't hear on the vid-phone, "they have standing orders not to alert him to anything that they wouldn't normally tell the President of Esthar."
"But Squall!" she gasped, turning on the piano bench to face him. "He's your father."
Squall merely stared at her.
"Well, tell him now."
Squall continued to stare at her, though it was hard to maintain stoicism under her icy gaze.
"Fine. Get up, I'm going to tell him."
Squall sighed but did as she told him and vacated his seat so she could talk to Laguna. Squall tried to block out the sounds of their conversation as he went over to the piano and sat at the bench.
He ran his fingers idly over the keys, making disjointed chords that made even him wince. When Rinoa moved to Garden with Squall he had made sure that her grand piano was stored in his office rather than in their apartment in the basement. He loved to hear her play while he worked--the sound of it put him at ease.
Seifer had laughed when Squall had first shown him the piano.
"Taking up a new hobby, Leonhart?" he snickered.
"No, it's not for me, it's Rinoa's."
"Oh, of course, I should have known you couldn't play."
"Not a single note," Squall agreed easily. "I'm completely tone deaf."
"No, that's not what holds you back, Leonhart. You just have don't have the soul. There is no romance in your heart."
Squall had taken minor offense to that comment at the time, though it was definitely true that he had no musical talent whatsoever. It had grated on him that Seifer thought him so cold, so lacking. He couldn't help but admit that he had once been that way, but it hurt that Seifer could not see the changes in him. That had been over a year ago, before the night when the Garden had gone black and they had found comfort in each other's arms. Squall did not know if Seifer's opinion of him had changed since then--he was afraid to ask.
Squall turned and winced at the expression on Rinoa's face. She pointed at the vid-phone and stood.
"Talk to him, Squall."
Squall sighed and lifted himself to his feet with great reluctance. When he faced his father again on the phone he grimaced at the other's agonized expression.
"Squall," Laguna gasped in horror.
"Gods, Rinoa, what did you tell him?" Squall shot a glare at her but she ignored his anger.
"The truth," she shot back.
Squall met his father's eyes and winced.
"Mr. President, it wasn't--"
"Squall," Laguna cut him off. "This call is officially personal, now." His tone was not to be argued with.
Squall gritted his teeth. "Fine."
Laguna raised his eyebrows. Squall looked away in frustration and met Rinoa's iron glare. He shrank a little under her eyes and frowned at the vid-phone.
Laguna grinned. "Great, I hope you didn't pull anything terribly important, there. Now. About this attack--"
"Father-- I'm fine. Really. I don't know why Rinoa even bothered to tell you about it."
Laguna rolled his eyes. "She bothered, Squall, because she knows that I care. If you had just told me to begin with that this--thing--had attacked you then I would have immediately backed up your order to my citizens and sent every spare platoon of Esthar Guards that I have your way."
Squall pinched his lips together. That was exactly why he hadn't wanted Laguna to know. "Look. Dad. I didn't tell you because I knew that was how you would react. If it hadn't been me that was attacked then you wouldn't do all that. You still would have been on the vid with me, chewing me out for overstepping my jurisdiction and presumably slacking off."
Laguna blinked, seeming a little confused. "But it was you, Squall."
Squall narrowed his eyes. "That shouldn't make a difference."
"But it does."
"Because you're my son."
Squall drew a deep breath and resisted the urge to drop his face into his hands.
"What? You're unhappy because I'm upset about my son being attacked?"
Squall didn't answer. He stared at his fists clenched on the desktop and breathed in and out and in and out.
"Squall. Say something, dammit, don't just sit there like a damn block of ice. Tell me what's on your mind, boy."
Squall narrowed his eyes. "Don't patronize me."
Laguna sighed and his shoulders slumped slightly. "I wasn't patronizing you. Squall, I--" He looked away, then back. "How are you now?"
"I already told you, I'm fine."
"And are you really?"
Squall rolled his eyes. "No, Dad. I'm dead. You're just hallucinating this entire conversation."
Laguna's lips pinched together. "I really don't care for your tone, Squall."
"And I don't care for yours," Squall bit out, echoing their earlier argument. It sounded just as childish this time around as it did the last. "Look, Laguna. I don't think this is accomplishing anything. Why don't we both just step back, relax, and talk again tomorrow?"
Laguna nodded. "That's not a bad idea. I--I'm glad you're okay, Squall."
"Thanks. Father. Good-bye."
Squall waved his hand over the vid screen and it went black. He sighed deeply and dropped his face forward into his hands.
Rinoa's hands were on him then, rubbing his back and stroking his neck. She stood behind his chair and he leaned back against her, resting his head on her stomach, relaxing into her touch.
"He loves you, Squall."
Squall laughed bitterly and closed his eyes.
"He was scared, Squall, when I told him how badly you were hurt."
"Oh? Is that why he acted like an overbearing asshole? God he's so--" Squall clenched his fists, searching for the words to describe the tight ball of emotion seething in his chest. "He's so controlling and overprotective and--and--and overprotective and--just--"
Rinoa sighed and put her hands on his head, petting his hair in a gentle, soothing motion.
"It's the only way he knows how to care for you, Squall," she said softly.
Squall snorted. "He might know if he hadn't--" He broke off and pinched his lips. If he hadn't left.
Rinoa sighed again and Squall knew that she was completely aware of his train of thought. She didn't say anything, though, she only continued to run her fingers over his hair and across his temples.
Squall reached up blindly and grabbed her hands, bringing them to his mouth. He kissed the tips of her fingers, then he opened his eyes and turned in his chair. She was looking down at him with a sad smile on her face. He let go of her hands and reached up to brush a few dark locks of hair from her cheeks before cupping her face and drawing her lips down to his.
After a long few moments, Rinoa broke the kiss and smiled at him slyly. He frowned and let go reluctantly as she pulled away from his grasp. She started to walk away, then reached back and tugged on his hand. She nodded towards the couch and Squall belatedly understood.
"Oh," he said stupidly and Rinoa laughed lightly. He stood and followed her to the sofa, where she pushed him a little roughly to the cushions and then straddled his hips.
"Oh," she echoed with another laugh before leaning down and seizing his lower lip in her teeth.
"Rinoa," he whispered softly as he spread his fingers over her sides. He ran his hands down the fabric of silk camisole, then slid his fingers up the hem of the shirt.
"It's all right, Squall," she sighed, moving her lips down his throat and unbuttoning his white shirt at the same time. "It's going to be all right."
Rinoa knew what he wanted to hear, even if it was a lie. He pulled her camisole up and she stretched her arms so he could tug it off. He reached around her to undo her bra as she pulled at the zipper of his leather pants.
"Damn, this thing is tough," she grunted, tugging hard on the zipper. "Why do you always have to wear these tight leather pants? I hate hearing a squeak every time I sit on your lap."
Squall laughed and reached down to help her. He sat up to get rid of his own shirt and then there was a rushed period of disrobing that ended with Rinoa wearing nothing but her panties, and Squall, a smile.
He sighed as she began tracing the path of scars on his chest and stomach with her lips and tongue. He gripped her upper arms and sat up, pushing her down and straddling her hips.
"Ooh, playing rough are we?" Rinoa giggled.
One loud bang on the office door interrupted the breath-laced silence and Squall's throat tightened as the door slammed open.
"Hey Leonhart, give me back my key--" Seifer announced as he walked in, his last word cutting off with a strangled noise.
"Seifer--" Squall blurted, frozen facing the door with Rinoa beneath him, desperately aware of the expanse of naked flesh he was displaying--even more aware of every inch of it that was pressed against Rinoa's.
"I'm--I--I'm sorry," Seifer stuttered, averting his face.
"It's on the table there," Squall muttered against Rinoa's shoulder, pointing vaguely towards the door.
Seifer continued to babble even as he stooped to pick up his key. "I, I just wanted to-- I came for my key, I--"
Rinoa laughed. "Oh, goodness, it's all right, calm down, Seifer."
He shook his head, still staring intently at the wall opposite the sofa. "I'm sorry, I should have waited--"
"It's all right, Seifer," Rinoa said, then she smiled wickedly and Squall got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Don't worry about it. In fact, come on, you can stay and watch."
Seifer's shoulders bunched up and Squall knew his eyes were bulging. Not too many people were aware of Rinoa's occasionally twisted sense of humor and her tendency towards exhibitionism. The number of times she's cornered him in the glass-walled elevators--
"No, I uh--" Seifer stammered.
"Aw," Rinoa lamented with a giggle in her voice, "no don't go. Honey," she said slyly, looking up at Squall, "couldn't he maybe join us?"
Squall's eyebrows shot up his forehead and his ears flamed red.
"Sorry for disturbing you," he blurted and rushed quickly out the door, closing it loudly behind him.
Rinoa called after him. "Prude!" She laughed so hard that she shook beneath Squall. "Oh Gods, poor Seifer. I'm going to have to apologize to him later, but damn if that wasn't fun!"
Squall was able to lift half of his mouth in a lopsided smile and then dropped his face into her hair as she nibbled at the skin of his neck.
Oh Gods. In the maelstrom of thoughts and images swirling in his brain, that one stuck out. Oh Gods, Seifer! What a rude awakening, to have Seifer appear during his time with Rinoa--not only that, but for Seifer to have found them in the midst of a naked tumble...
In the same office where Seifer and I had sex just this morning...
Suddenly Squall felt dirty, disgusting. He closed his eyes and let Rinoa take control, responding automatically to her caresses and letting her guide his movements.
When Squall was with one of his lovers, his brain tried to forget that the other existed--it was for his safety and sanity. It was how he dealt with his incredible guilt and the absolute baseness of his actions. To have them both in the same place at the same time like at the briefing was hard enough, but just now...just now Seifer had...while he and Rinoa...
It was so hard to push away the look of horror on Seifer's face that Rinoa surely attributed to embarrassment--that and the quick flash of pain that Seifer had quickly covered with stiff features and a politely turned face. Not so quickly, though, that Squall had missed it.
He could not stop a pained moan escaping his throat and Rinoa was there immediately, kissing his lips and cheeks, stroking his neck and hair and chest.
"Squall, Squall," she whispered gently. "It's all right, it's going to be all right. Don't think about him, don't let it hurt you."
She was talking about Laguna, Squall's father, thinking that he was still upset over their conversation. Oh, Rinoa, Squall thought in silent response. If only that were it.
"I love you," he sighed, holding her close, and stroking her hair.
If only I didn't.
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