A fairly harmless chapter. Hints of naughtiness, well hidden. A boring chapter, but necessary. Think of it as the green vegetable of this story dinner. Eventually, there will dessert.

Again, I don’t own, all that. Thanks to Pix and Rain for letting me bounce ideas until their eyes crossed.

Once a Knight

Chapter 4

By Race Ulfson

“Squall, I did not summon you here to run off one of my few remaining friends.” Rinoa sighed and looked away. Angelo bumped her leg and she distracted herself by petting him.

I waited. Rinoa hated silence and would talk just to fill it. She talked enough for both of us, something I had liked about her. Until she started putting words in my mouth.

Reluctantly, Rinoa said, “Maybe I did summon you, Squall. I didn’t mean to. I know you have your life… but I need someone to talk to.”

Why women have the burning need to unload their inner demons on me I’ll never understand. I fished around in my wallet and found the card I wanted, which I passed to Rin.

“What’s this? One of those help centers?” She glanced at the card, which is engraved simply with my name and a number.

“It’s my phone number. Next time, call me.”

“You ass.” The corners of her mouth twitched up. Rin was always prettier when she smiled. “A business card? For mercenary work?” She was teasing now. “Or, I know… you had to have them printed up so you could remember your name and phone number, right?”

That hit close to home. Coldly, I said, “So I don’t have to remember it.” Why should I? I never call myself and if I want Seifer, the number is right there on the card.

Rinoa laughed. “You’re here now, and it is good to see you. You’ll stay, at least the night, won’t you?”

I ignored the hope in her voice and the look in her eyes, but my weary body voted against my better judgment. And I still had the feeling of danger coiling in the back of my mind. “Mind if I take a quick shower?”

By the time I got back downstairs Rinoa was in full hostess mode. Her father had come home and I was roped into a family dinner. I chafed at the thought of spending an evening socializing and dodging Caraway’s casually pointed questions about the political climate in Esther. I’m better at playing those sorts of games than I was. Even so, I was floored by the simplest question of all.

“So,” Caraway said, “What brings you here?”

I suspected the truth was not my best option. I ran through my other choices. Business was just as bad an answer, considering my line of work and that Caraway knew all about it. I knew saying I had come to visit Rinoa would have all sorts of repercussions.

“He’s here to represent Esther at the Festival,” Rinoa said suddenly. “There was a mix up at the Hotel, and Squall called me to recommend another one. But you know everything’s booked, so I insisted he stay here with us.”

My gratitude to Rinoa for the save warred with annoyance that I had been tricked into going to some Festival with her. Wasn’t that dear Hayward’s job? I moved to cover the obvious hole in her story.

“I could have bunked at the Garden… but Selphie and Irvine just had a baby.”

Caraway chuckled, proving that all fathers were not as rabidly baby crazy as Irvine and Laguna.

Rinoa sighed. “I bet he’s a doll. I must get a baby gift over to Selphie… I’ll procrastinate until the baby’s in college if I don’t do it soon.”

“You’d have to get private transport if you did, anyway.” Caraway said, ignoring Rinoa’s attempt at subject change. “All the trains are being shut down for the festival. We’re opening a new public transportation system as part of the ceremonies. We couldn’t have done it with out Estherian technologies – I imagine that’s why you’re here, to take the bows?” Caraway sipped his port and looked at me expectantly.

This kept getting worse and worse. I was here to save Rinoa, not make speeches at the dedications of a new Public Transport System. Just the thought was enough to make me hope for some sort of large scale SeeD emergency.

“Don’t be silly, Daddy. Squall? Make a speech?” Rescued by Rinoa again.

Rinoa dominated the rest of the dinner conversation by telling her father his opinion of some fete she was hosting. It sounded dismal. Rinoa was bound to be 20 years younger than anyone at the thing.

Why was she hosting parties for crusty old warriors? Rinoa was a pretty woman, intelligent, well educated, social. She could do better. She deserved better than keeping house for her father. She deserved better than Hay.

“You have no right to talk about my boyfriend like that,” Rinoa hissed at me.

I must have said that last out loud. I blinked and looked around. Caraway had left us alone at the table.

“You left me,” I defended myself.

“Only physically.”

Point. Had we ever been together emotionally? “He’s not good enough for you, Rin.”

Her eyes softened. “Maybe not… but he’s the only on who asked, Squall. …It’s been very lonely.”

“You have crowds of friends.” I remembered being drug around, introduced, and displayed to what felt like most of the population of Deling City. Maybe it was Esther. At times, Rinoa and Laguna have a lot in common.

“Had,” Rinoa corrected. “Being a sorceress is not… quite the thing in our set, you see.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, and meant it.

“Everyone was very nice about it at the Garden. Considering you were trained to kill us, and all. But I never fit in.”

Neither had I. I learned not to care.

Rinoa toyed with her wine glass. “When I first got back home, I saw in the social columns a girl I went to school with was getting married. The event of the season. Big outdoor thing, all pink silk pavilions and fancy dress. I was so excited for Ultana. I ran out and bought her a wedding gift right away. …but I didn’t get an invitation.”

She smiled at me and shrugged. “I thought, well, we weren’t that close, sure we ran in the same crowd, but she wasn’t my best friend or anything. And I’d been gone over a year, really. I put it out of my mind – I honestly forgot all about it.”

“On her wedding day, it was the storm of the season. Terrible unseasonable weather. The news coverage had this really funny – not to them, I’m sure, but – okay, hilarious clip of Ultana’s mother trying to save the cake as the pink pavilions collapsed from the wind and rain.”  Rinoa laughed at the memory.

“That reminded me – you know how I procrastinate – I’d never sent the gift. I shipped it along with a note. I couldn’t exactly say, ‘sorry I couldn’t make your wedding’ when I wasn’t invited, so I just said ‘Best wishes’ and I added a little comment about how I was sure it was a beautiful wedding despite the weather.”

I waited for Rinoa to get to the point.

“You know, next was Selphie and Irvine’s wedding. That was in the social columns, too, since Irvine is a local boy, and I was Maid of Honor. You remember how perfectly lovely it was.”

I remembered nothing of the sort. I remembered losing my virginity to Irvine at the Stag party, being utterly unprepared to see Rinoa again and deal with the knowing looks and smirks of my so called friends, getting puking drunk, and, to quote Zell, “Making a perfect ass” of myself.

“After that, I got a lot of invitations. I went to a couple of things, and the girls fawned on me. It was… weird. Daddy wasn’t well then, so I started turning people down. They seemed… relieved. Then one girl I hardly knew called me up in hysterics saying she just couldn’t afford a big wedding and would I please not be offended and ruin her day?”

I blinked at her, clueless.

Rinoa laughed mirthlessly. “Don’t you see? They thought I’d conjured the storm on Ultana as revenge!”

“Did you?” Rin had a temper, after all.

This time the laugh was more amused. “No, Silly. I don’t have that kind of power… what little I did have, I gave to you, at the end, you know. I can’t even summon Angelo anymore.”

“Rin. You can’t summon Angelo because he’s your limit break, and you haven’t been hurt.”

“That’s what you think,” she muttered.

“Why would you give me your powers?”

“I wanted to be normal! I didn’t have much power on my own, only from the Gift of Hyne Edea transferred to me, and I lost that during time compression. I thought you wouldn’t mind. Wouldn’t notice, actually. And if you did, you were more likely to need the extra healing than I was.”

Was it possible I was holding Rinoa’s sorceress powers? I knew Knights could act as batteries for their sorceresses, feeding excess power to them. I had so much magic on me, all the time… could I have not noticed?

I reached out and took Rinoa’s hand, transferring her powers back to her. It’s an oddly intimate feeling. We held hands longer than necessary for the transfer.

She was right, there wasn’t much.

“Is that all?”

Rinoa took her hand back, blushing faintly. “Yes. I told you. I wasn’t much of a sorceress to begin with.”

“What happens now?”

“I marry Hay, I suppose. I can’t have children – another bonus of being a sorceress, thanks a lot, Hyne – but he’s encouraging about my work at the orphanage, so maybe we can adopt.”

“I don’t like him.”

“You don’t have to marry him.”

“Neither do you, Rin! He’s a phony.”

“Hay comes from a poor family. He worked hard to get where he is. I respect that. He’s nice to me, Squall. He pays attention to me. Is that so much to ask?”

More than I could give her. “Do not summon me to kick his ass when he turns abusive or runs around on you.” I shook my head and sighed. “On second thought, do summon me. I’d love to introduce him to Lionheart.”

Rinoa giggled. “He cheats on me, I’ll make his wang fall off. I have some powers.”

Helpless and hating it, I said, “I will always be your Knight, Rinoa.”

“I know.” She leaned forward and kissed me on the nose, something I used to find endearing. “Thank you.”



And thank you for reviewing Next chapter: Plot! Action! Angst! Less talking heads. I hope.

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