Disclaimer: I make no claim whatsoever to the characters or world of Final Fantasy VIII, which is the property of Squaresoft/Square Enix.
She heard Ellone's scream of triumph reverberating inside her skull, and that was when she knew it was truly over.
The last thing Rinoa saw before the particles of her being ruptured and dissipated was Squall's face. His eyes, still so young, with an unwritten future now lying ahead of him. That was enough for her to know it was worth it, and she submitted to the pure white light with no regrets.
And then... nothing.
Nothing stretched on and on, welcoming her, cradling her.
Nothing isn't so bad really, she thought with dimly registered surprise. Was this all it was? It felt just like... sleeping.
One violent, shuddering gasp forced its way out of her mouth, and she was awake.
Her first sight was Squall's dark head, craned over a book, his face angled away from her.
Her teeth chattered from residual cold as her disorientation was swept aside by the tide of relief that coursed through her. "You're alive, you're alive, you're alive," she stammered, and he closed the book and turned to look at her.
Squall took off his reading glasses, folded them and placed them on top of the book he was reading. The title, in large white print on a dark cover, was Falling Through a Hole in Time by Ellone Loire. A calm, sleepy part of Rinoa's mind thought, oh right, I forgot Elle's third novel just came out, while the other, bewildered side of her wondered why on earth Ellone's name was on the cover of a book. She stared at it, then at Squall. He was smiling at her, his eyes crinkling at the edges. The beginnings of lines were settled comfortably in his face, lines that had not been there when he was nineteen. There was an easiness, a peace to him.
"You okay, Rin?"
"I don't - I don't know." She sat up in the bed, and looked around the bedroom of their Balamb townhouse. Crumpled sheets, pale blue pillows dented from her own head. A wedding photo on the wall, a discarded dog toy on the floor. No clock on the bedside table. "What time is it?"
Squall looked at his watch. "About one-thirty. In the afternoon, I should add."
It came then, the huge rush of realization, as the half-asleep side of her consciousness crashed into the other, and the schism between the two closed. Rinoa woke up fully, and started to bolt out of the bed in panic. "Oh holy Hyne! The kids!"
Squall reached out to grab her arms as she lurched towards him. "It's all fine. I asked Dad to take them to school." He pushed lightly on her shoulders until she was sitting back down on the bed, and she stared at him in incomprehension.
"But... What about Garden?"
"Quistis roped Seifer in to cover my classes."
"Seifer? Are you okay with that?"
Squall shrugged. "It makes sense. He's the only experienced gunblader on the SeeD roster who's not out on a mission right now." He smiled at her worried face. "Rin, I think my pride can handle it. We've put enough years between everything to be civil to each other, at least."
Rinoa attempted to comb a hand through her hair; it got stuck immediately. She wondered what kind of bird's nest-like disaster had developed overnight. "How could I sleep so long? Why didn't you wake me?"
"I couldn't. I tried. Something wasn't right. You were thrashing around a lot. I phoned Dr. Kadowaki, and she said to just let you sleep it off."
"You've been sitting there all this time?"
"Mostly I was lying next to you." He crawled onto the bed, slipped an arm around her and kissed her on the forehead. "Remember anything? From your dreams?"
"I was dreaming about being the other me. The one with your scar."
Squall took her face in his hands and studied her carefully. "Just dreaming?"
"D'you think it can have been more than that?"
"It's more than nine years now, isn't it? I've always wondered... I always hoped she wouldn't just fall out of existence. Maybe she'd join up with you somehow."
"Maybe she has." Rinoa ran a finger down her forehead, and felt an odd jolt of shock at the uncut skin. "Everything felt so real. All those memories, they're still there. I saw your dead body in Garden's morgue. I went crazy. I hurt people. That all happened. I..."
Squall's arms were wrapped around her now, and she inhaled the scent of his t-shirt. "I saw you... dead... and I remember being frozen in the Memorial. The cold of it..." She shuddered. "I still feel it in my bones. Even though I remember marrying you, being pregnant, giving birth, moving to this house... all of it, at the same time as the other half. It's like I have two sets of memories, all of a sudden. It feels so strange."
"Then it sounds like she made it back."
"I guess she did."
He pulled back from her, his face sincere. "Thank you. Both of you. I never got to say it to her before she disappeared."
"Oh, Squall. My head hurts to think about it. Am I both of them now? Both of me?"
"You're Rinoa." His smile grew crooked. "Do you remember what you said back then? When you teased me about having two of you at the same time?"
She poked him in the chest with one finger. "Oh, I get it, mister. You think now's your chance?"
"Well, all three of us are finally in the same room. Which, conveniently, has a bed in it."
"Logical as always."
He leaned in, his eyes twinkling with suggestion. "Plus we've still got a couple of hours until school finishes."
Rinoa removed his wandering hands from her hips and yawned. "Fix me up some breakfast and I'll consider it."
He smirked at her and left the room. Rinoa lay her head back on the pillows and listened to the sounds of her husband shuffling around the kitchen. The whistle of the old-fashioned kettle she'd bought in Dollet. The crackle of eggs sizzling in the pan. Squall hated eggs, but he still cooked them for her without fail. She could never count all those little things, the ways in which he showed her his love without even thinking about it.
The half of her that had been frozen in time, the half that was beginning to thaw and feel alive once more, breathed out a long sigh of contentment. Here she was at last. This was their future, the future that had been stolen from her for nine years, and it was peaceful, unremarkable and resoundingly glorious.
Thank you to everyone who read this fic. I hope you enjoyed it. With special thanks to all those who took the time to write reviews - you encouraged me so much. It's been so fulfilling for me to read other peoples' thoughts about what I've written. So you, dear reader, even if you're reading this months or years down the line, I'd love to hear what you thought. I always do my best to reply.
It's been... insane how much the world has changed while I've been writing this. I uploaded Ch1 in late December, a week or so before Covid-19 was identified... then by the later chapters, we were all in a full-blown global pandemic. It began to feel kind of inappropriate, frivolous I guess, to be posting a fanfic while most of the world was going into lockdown. I hope, if you've been reading this as I've been uploading it, maybe my silly story took your mind off the coronavirus situation for a few minutes. Take care everyone.
Thanks again for reading! -colobonema
P.s. If you're a reader of my other stories, you've probably noticed that this epilogue dovetails with the fluffy happy-ever-after-future I envisaged for Squall and Rinoa in "Three Anniversaries". (With a bit of retconning over the ages of their kids. Feel free to imagine that they had two children in their twenties, and two more in their thirties - more Squinoa babies is never a bad thing, right?)