Chapter 1- A Bright Future

The day was warm and bright; the sky sprinkled with soft, fluffy clouds and blue as a jay bird. A soft breeze rustled through the long, lush green grass, rustling up loose flower petals that swirled and wove in their own, wind-carried pattern. "Uncle Laguna!" a small but sweet feminine voice called out as a man clad in a light blue button down shirt, and khaki pants sat crouched in front of a gravestone. He had long, black hair, now streaked with wisps of grey, tied back into a low ponytail and a dog tag necklace dangling from his thick neck.

The man known as Laguna inclined his head and looked toward the source of the voice. A thin, young woman wearing a blue and white dress, with chin-length, dark hair, kind, chocolate brown eyes raised a dainty hand and waved at the man before her. He turned around to face her, noticing his two war buddies that were now his dear friends, standing behind her as she made her way down the small hill toward Laguna. They stood on the hill and waited, while the girl worked her way carefully down the grassy hillside.

"Uncle Laguna!" she called again. More cheer spread through her tinkling voice. "I've missed you! Kiros and Ward told me I'd find you out here!" Her small feet clad in white shoes, picked up speed now as she raced down the slope and threw herself into Laguna's now outstretched arms. A goofy smile curved up his lips as he felt the smaller girl's embrace around him. It took him back, to a time when she was just a little girl, dancing barefoot around Raine's flowers on the stone streets of the small, rural village of Winhill. She pulled back from the embrace and mirrored her uncle's smile. "So, is it all over? Did they do it?"

Laguna's soft, green eyes shone with pride as a heavy wind gust brushed past them and flying object known as Balamb Garden, flew overhead, the afternoon sun glinting off it brilliantly. He glanced upward, thin laugh lines curving the sides of the older man's mouth as he smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. "They sure did." Was his answer. "Ultimecia is gone and the world is safe once more from the sorceress, which means you're safe now too, Ellone." He added with a wink and placed his hand on top of the girl's head.

"So Squall and everyone? They're all alive and safe?" Ellone questioned, the curiosity and concern evident in her tone. Laguna knew of how important that Squall, Quistis, Selphie, Irvine and Zell were to Ellone. They had all grown up together in Cid and Edea Kramer's orphanage. Ellone was also, Squall's adopted sister, and she cared deeply for her younger brother. Almost maternally so. So, it was only natural that the girl would be worried for their safety. Especially after traveling through the time compression... into Ultimecia's realm, which had resided in the extreme, distant future where none of them no longer existed. Updates and reports had come through that all of the SeeDs, Rinoa and everyone was home safe in the Garden. This made Laguna's heart swell with happiness and pride that they managed to rid the world of the evil that had plagued it, starting with Edea being the first victim. Adel and Ultimecia were gone and they no longer had cause to worry.

"They are, Elle. They're all safe and sound and healthy!" Laguna told her enthusiastically, thrusting an excited fist inward. He rose to his feet and scratched at his chin, that familiar, silly expression on his face. " Ya know, I imagine they're probably wore out and starving to death though if you ask me. I mean traveling through time like that? That had to of been exhausting on their bodies. I mean can you imagine the-"

"Uncle Laguna," Ellone interrupted the babbling man, raising a thin brow at him. She folded her arms, draped in sheer, silk green scarf and looked at him somewhat disapprovingly. "Do you remember what you told Squall in Esthar?" She tapped her foot a bit as Laguna's face went red and a hand went up to the back of his head. "He needs to know, Uncle Laguna." Ellone told the man gently, her voice softening. She reached out a hand out to place it on his arm. "He deserves to know. You told him that once it was all over with, you two had a lot to talk about."

Laguna sighed as his hand went from the back of his head to the back of his neck. "I know, Ellone. I know... but, I mean, he's my son! How do I even begin to tell him that he's my kid? That Raine was his mom and I mean... it sounded all great and stuff when you told me that I had a son, but the more I think about it, the more it scares the hell out of me!" The former Galbadian soldier fell silent and placed his eyes directly on Ellone. "How do I explain to him that for 17 years, he's had a dad and he never knew? That I never knew?" Laguna's voice softened and worry creased his brow.

"C'mon, Uncle Laguna," Ellone encouraged him. "The first step is to at least arrange a meeting with him. Let's head back to Esthar. People are probably wondering where their president took off too anyway. We can send out a request to Headmaster Cid. It'll be a special one requesting just Squall. Cid will understand. He'll dispatch Squall immediately. Especially at my request," the girl stated, giving the man's arm a squeeze. "I'll be right there with you too, Uncle Laguna. You don't have to do it alone. I promise," she added. "Somebody's gotta be there to either kick you or Squall if you don't behave yourselves, right?" She placed her fingertips over her mouth to suppress a giggle.

"YEAH!" called out a drawling voice from up the hill. A dark-skinned man with long braids tied back into a ponytail was walking toward them. "And if worst comes to worst, we'll be there to kick Laguna in the butt ourselves!"

Ellone and Laguna exchanged glances and then laughed openly. "Alright, Kiros. Alright." Laguna shook his head. "Looks like I'm outnumbered." He rubbed the back of his head and turned to glance once more at Raine's gravesite. Ellone linked her arm with Laguna's and pulled him along with her. The trio headed back up the hill where a large man by the name of Ward stood with a vehicle waiting for them. As excited as Laguna had been to reveal to Squall that he was his father, he couldn't help but shake the nervous feeling that had taken over him. He felt uncertain that this meeting with his son would be a good thing or not, but Ellone was right. He needed to do this and he needed to do it soon. With a sigh of defeat, Laguna loaded himself into the car as it made way back toward the futuristic city of Esthar.

The night had been magical and filled with something that everyone needed. After all the battle of the Gardens, the Sorceress War, everything, they were ready for a little leisure, so Selphie had taken it upon herself to organize a big, celebration party at SeeD's defeat of the wicked sorceress from the future, Ultimecia.

The Garden's ballroom was filled with students, SeeD cadets, Junior classmen, SeeDs, staff, friends, music, food, drinks, and happiness. Something Garden hadn't seen since forever and a day ago. There was nothing better than Zell stuffing hotdogs so fast down his throat that the blond man nearly choked himself to death. Selphie had gotten her hands on one of faculties video cameras, hidden in one of the many supply rooms.

Now, with the video camera out, and the girl was excitingly recording all of the shenanigans, whilst running around and scolding Irvine for flirting with other Balamb girls. Quistis, more than once, had tried to shove the flirtatious gunman off of her and retreated to the safety of speaking with the headmaster and his wife. The sounds of laughter, voices, music, and happiness emanated from the ballroom. Sounds that most thought they'd never hear again. Finally, Selphie had had enough of Irvine's womanizing and snatched his hat, placed it on her own head and forced Irvine to record them all. She followed him around, commentating loudly enough that her voice could be heard at times over the music, before she stood in a doorway and began pointing her finger excitedly.

"Irvy! Come here! You gotta see this!" the girl in yellow spoke in a girlish, excited whisper as if she'd just found something she shouldn't have.

Dressed in a blue, ribbed duster with matching arm warmers, black tank top, denim blue skirt, biker shorts, her dark brown hair flying out from behind her as Garden took to the wind, another young woman stood against the balcony, her folded arms resting against the cool steel as she watched the stars slowly roll by through the night sky while Balamb Garden made its voyage over the grassy plains. Destination unknown, but that was okay with her, or so it seemed. They could fly forever and she could watch the twinkling stars and vivid, full moon. Her dark brown eyes widened as a shooting star cast it's descent through the blackened sky, leaving a trail of light and stardust trailing behind in its wake. She glanced to her right, squinting her eyes and pointed toward the sky with a playful smile on her pink lips.

A young man with brown, slightly unkempt hair, dressed neck to toe in black leather, standing beside her smiled, tenderly and lovingly. His bright blue eyes showing with a love he never knew existed within the depths of his heart. Cold, introverted, unfriendly Squall had certainly changed in the passing months. He could feel the warmth billowing in his chest. His heart fluttered against his ribcage. It was the same feeling he had when he jumped carelessly into space to rescue this girl. No other thought was in his mind as leapt into a never-ending, black sea of stars. It was the same feeling he had when he rescued her once more from the sorceress memorial. She had told him on the Ragnarok that she needed a hug. She had needed to know she was alive, and he had refused her. Finally, it had come full circle and she was in his arms.

The feeling blossomed forth once more, nagging him and he reached for her, wanting her in his arms again. Maybe even wanting something more. They were totally alone. The solitary twosome standing on the balcony of the magnificent Garden. "C'mere," the blue-eyed man said softly as he took the dark haired girl's hand into his own and pulled her in close, lowering his head toward hers for a long awaited kiss. "Squall," the girl breathed against his lips as they met and their heads titled, drinking in the passion of one another, caressing soft lips and massaging damp tongues. They pulled back to look at one another. "Rinoa," his deep voice spoke back in barely above a whisper as a gloved hand reached up to brush back some strands of hair that had fallen into her eyes.

"AHAAAA! OH MY GOSH!" came a squealing voice, now grasping the video camera. "WE GOT THE WHOLE THING!" Squall and Rinoa, startled by their intruder, whirled around to see a small, young woman clad in yellow, waving a video camera in her hand wildly and dancing happily in the doorway that led to the balcony. She pranced from one foot to the other tauntingly, holding the camera up high. "The WHOOOOOOOOLE thing!"

"Selphie! Why don't you let them be and c'mere with me, eh?" came a drawling, southern-accented voice from the doorway. Squall shook his head as his eyes caught sight of the long, pale trench coat adorned on the man's body. He placed a disproving hand on his hip.

"Have you guys never heard of privacy?" Squall grumbled, clearly embarrassed about Selphie and Irvine catching him and Rinoa in a very personal moment.

Rinoa giggled and shook her dark head. "Selphie, how about we just... not show that to anybody, okay? Squall needs to at least be spared some of his dignity," she added with a playful wink and poked Squall in the chest. He folded his leather-clad arms and turned his head away, huffing indignantly.

"Ohhh, right right! We can't let Garden know that big, bad, studly, introverted Squall, the Commander of SeeD himself, has fallen in love and gotten all mushy and soft now!" the hyper, yellow-dressed girl giggled. "Hee hee! I won't show anybody. Don't worry, Squall. Not unless you give me a reason!" she added with a squeal and a wink, before turning sharp on one heel and racing off.

Who said I've become... mushy? And... soft? Squall thought to himself and started to move toward Selphie's direction, but Rinoa had already stepped out in front of him to chase the girl down.

"Selphie, c'mon!" Rinoa called out, and Squall knew Rinoa could sense his annoyance. Rinoa Heartilly, the girl who seemed to know him better than anyone. She could easily read any of expressions, and what had previously bothered him most about this is that he did his best to make it seem as though he had no expression, no emotion and completely taciturn. He felt a twinge of irritance that Rinoa seemed to read him so easily, but then decided, it really wasn't too bad. As long as it was just Rinoa and nobody else. He didn't need everyone figuring him out. He liked remaining somewhat of a mystery to people. Not everyone had to know exactly what he thought or felt at all times. He liked it that way.

"It's really not a good idea to blackmail the leader of SeeD! Squall knows where you live!" she yelled for the girl and chased her through the crowd of people. Squall shook his brown head, causing locks of hair to fall into his eyes and rubbed his scarred forehead. Oh well. Who cares of Selphie caught them kissing on video and showed everyone in Garden. Everyone would eventually find out he was with Rinoa right? Brushing it off, Squall followed Rinoa and grabbed her arm as Selphie did another squeal and turn, sprinting through a sea of dancing people on the ballroom floor, breaking their concentration, holding the camera way up above her head and out of arm's reach. Or at least as best as her petite, short self could at any rate.

"It's not a big deal, Rinoa. I doubt Selphie is going to do anything too extreme," Squall stated as he slowed Rinoa into a walk and pulled her back toward him. "It's getting late anyway, and I'm ready to head up and get some sleep."

Rinoa tilted her head at Squall and laughed lightly. "Well, I suppose you would be tired after we've been through. Why don't we go up to your dorm anyway? It's private and people won't be up there bothering us with video cameras. Unless of course, that's what you want?" Her eyes twinkled at her evident joke, while Squall's eyes widened in alarm. Sure he finally started being with Rinoa seriously, but her? Up in his dorm? With a video camera!? It was awkward enough when he'd wake up and find her leaning over him, but now? "Don't get the wrong idea! I'm just kidding!" Rinoa stated, stepping back and putting both hands palm up in front of herself. "That's not what I meant! I just meant we could go up and talk privately and when you get tired and you're ready to go to sleep, I'll let you be. And I promise," Rinoa began leaning toward him, hands behind her back, making her look even cuter than what she already was. "No video cameras."

Surprisingly, Squall smirked at Rinoa and took her hand in his own. "Alright then. Let's go." The two walked out of the ballroom, away from the crowds and music, and down to the cavernous, central hub of the beautiful Balamb Garden. The water fell and splashed around them from the hand-crafted falls that carried into beautiful pools of crystal clear blue as the twosome made their way down the winding hall of the Garden, and to the corridor that led to Squall's dorm room.

They approached silently and Squall stood in front of his bed, glancing at it longingly. The sheets and soft mattress were calling his name. He was starting to feel more tired by the moment and couldn't wait to lay back on his bed, stretch his arms and legs out and let his head sink into the pillow so possibly a peaceful sleep may finally take him. Rinoa stood in front of him, her hands placed behind her back, the toe of her boot making small circles on the floor as she stared downward, not looking at the SeeD.

Squall had to hold back a snicker at this. Rinoa's signature 'I-have-something-I-really-want-to-say-but-I-don't-know-how-to-say-it-and-this-feels-awkward' gesture he'd come to realize. It was funny at how easy she was to read to him, and how easy he had become to read for her. "What is it, Rinoa?" The Commander of SeeD questioned the young woman. He'd never been all that good when it came to talking about his own feelings, but at his own behest, he had to admit he was curious as to what was on Rinoa's mind.

"Squall, honestly...," Rinoa hesitated and he noticed the furrow in her brow creased. She shook her head and forced a smile. "No, nevermind. This is supposed to be a happy occasion, right? I don't want to ruin that for you. You've not had much happiness up until now." She added and looked him full on in the eyes, but Squall was not fooled for a moment. He shook his head at the girl and placed a hand on his hip.

"Rinoa, I know you. You'll eventually spill it anyway, so why don't you just say what's bothering you?" I really don't want you to decide to tell me what's bothering you just as I'm falling asleep... Rinoa looked slightly taken aback by Squall's bluntness, but quickly recovered as this was something she had grown used to, and Squall was right. Rinoa usually always did say what she wanted to say. She could only remain quiet for so long. Squall noticed the look on her face but said nothing. Errr... I didn't mean for that to sound as harsh as it did...

"Okay, well... it's just that, you defeated Ultimecia. The sorceress is gone. Adel is gone, but there's still... me," Rinoa cast frightful eyes at the man she had fallen in love with and Squall reached out to grab both of her hands. He tugged her toward him and pulled her down to sit on the bed beside him. "Squall, what if.."

"That's enough, Rinoa. I'm serious. How could you even remotely think something like that would happen to you?" Squall questioned, eyeing the young sorceress at his side. "Think about this. The only reason Edea became evil was because she was possessed by who? Ultimecia. She's gone. She's dead. She's not coming back. We saw to that. Adel is gone, dead and not coming back. There are no sorceresses here to possess you now, Rinoa." He tucked some hair behind the girl's ear. Besides that, your heart is too full of love, life and happiness for you to become evil all on your own accord. No, Rinoa wouldn't become corrupted or blinded by her own power. Rinoa isn't like that. If she had her way about it, she'd get rid of her powers for good.

Rinoa shook her head and grasped the rings on her necklace tightly in her hand. "It's not just that... I mean, haven't you noticed the way people... look at me? The way they stare at me? They know I'm a sorceress. They're being trained to defeat the sorceress, just like you did, Squall." Rinoa gulped quietly. "That sorceress is me now," she whispered.

"I haven't noticed," Squall answered honestly and truthfully. Then again, Squall was normally oblivious to such things, but Rinoa was working on that with him. He shook his head defiantly, as he gathered his thoughts once more and frowned. "No, that's not the case, Rinoa. I know it's not. Just give them time. They just need to get to know you. They just need to understand that you're not like Adel was or Ultimecia. They'll get used to you. They'll understand." They have to. I'll make them. Squall didn't like the idea of Rinoa being uncomfortable at Garden. He wanted her to live a happy, normal life, or rather as normal as it could get being Commander of SeeD and all. It bothered him somewhat, but he chose to push the thoughts into the back of his mind. He'd leave them there for another day.

"So, you think I shouldn't worry then? That I should just carry on living normally just like everyone else around me? Do you think... you don't think they'll be frightened of me, do you? Or angry at me?" Rinoa asked, the crease in her brow softening a little, but the doubt still evident in her tone.

Squall remembered back on the Ragnarok, when he and Rinoa were lost in space, how she had voiced her fear that nobody would want to be around her. It would seem that fear hadn't left the young sorceress, that she was still worried people wouldn't want a sorceress near them or that they would be angry, accusatory, maybe even blame her. What if Rinoa were consumed by fear? What would happen then? But... it wasn't Rinoa's fault she became a sorceress. It didn't happen of her own free will, and Rinoa's not like them. She's...different.

Squall shook his head once more. "They might be...," his icy blue eyes scanned hers, expression changing into his 'I-know-what-I-want-to-say-but-now-I-have-to-figure-out-to-word-it' face Rinoa had figured eventually figured out. "Uncomfortable at first maybe, but I think once they get to know you, everything will be fine. Quistis, Selphie, Irvine and Zell don't hate you. They like being around you," he began, turning his head away from Rinoa slightly embarrassed. "Besides... I'll be here for you. Right? I'll... I'll be your knight," he finally said the words he carried with him since they made their promise out loud and could feel his cheeks burning hot. Squall resisted the urge to smash his palm into his face. God, saying that out loud just sounds ridiculous and corny, but... it's true...

Rinoa smiled and pulled the SeeD Commander's face back toward her own. "You're right. Besides, if I can have Squall as my knight, then I won't complain." The dark haired girl laid down on Squall's bed, her back against his wall and pulled him down onto the bed with her and snuggled up against him.

"Rinoa, isn't this-," Squall began nervously but sighed and laid down next to her, awkwardly placing his arms around the girl. He'd never really sat down on a bed with a girl before until now, but now they were laying together? Relax... she's just laying here with me. Nothing is going to happen. I just don't want anyone to find out. Do I? I don't know. Is this right? What would Headmaster Cid think of me if he saw me laying in bed with a girl? Would we get in trouble? Would I get kicked out of Garden? Does having a girl in my room go against Garden protocol?

Squall's thoughts abruptly changed as the idea of Garden and SeeD flit through his mind. Wait.. Garden... SeeD... What's to become of Garden now that we defeated the sorceress? Rinoa...? No, no! Don't think about that. That's not going to happen. We won't end up having to fight Rinoa ever, so we can't even think about that. Will we still fight though? For other purposes? There's always going to be fighting. Always going to be war and conflict. Someone is always going to raise his weapon first. We fought and defeated the sorceress. We're still elite mercenaries. We still fight... Will Cid disband Garden?

Squall's thoughts trailed off as Rinoa's body began shaking with laughter at his giggled and brushed back some of Squall's hair back from his forehead. "You're thinking too much again." She traced her fingertip down his thin scar that ran diagonally across his face, breaking the young Commander out of his reverie. Squall didn't know it, but Rinoa had always loved his scar. She felt it gave him character. It set him apart from everyone else. Scarred but strong. His scars made him stronger. She placed her hand around the rings on her necklace once more. Maybe her scars could make her stronger too. "Squall as my knight. Yeah, I think I can go with that." She snuggled closer into his chest and closed her eyes, breathing in his unique scent, a mixture of leather, sweat and a hint of cologne. "Just let me stay here with you... just a little longer," she breathed.

At last, Squall gave in, tightening his arms around Rinoa and held her close, feeling a sense of warmth and comfort wash over him like the summer air and for the first time in a very long time, Squall Leonhart, Commander of SeeD, military mercenary, destroyer of the sorceress, felt at peace. So... this is what true comfort and happiness feel like... I had almost forgotten... I love this girl... I really really love her. Rinoa...

Garden was safe. His friends were alive, Rinoa was alive and Ultimecia was gone. Granted he was still the leader of SeeD, and that there would be times when his group would be dispatched to places all over the world, but at this moment in time, he could appreciate the fact that he was just a normal, young man who'd fallen in love, and that was okay, wasn't it? Rinoa's deep breathing had fallen steady and slow, indicating sleep had finally taken her. The knight closed his eyes and fell into an easy slumber, his snoozing sorceress tucked in tightly against his chest. For now, all could be okay with the world.