IA/N: Yes! It's back! I'm a bum, I know; I let this go for too long. This story will be reposted a chapter at a time, and there will absolutely 100% positively be a new chapter or two by the end. Those of you not willing to wait can hop over to my site and find it there. And now, on to Raine and Laguna's story...

Storm Front

by Arafel

These kinds of days (I really miss you now)
Seasons are changed again (I really miss you now)
I search in vain
I wonder where you are
Watching the rain
And it makes me remember
Things I tried to say

--"Rain," Concrete Blonde

I think of him when the storms come.

When the dark clouds gather on the horizon, I remember. I see him, running through the night with a child in his arms. When the wind rattles the windows of my home, I hear the storm-caught door slam behind him as he carries a little girl safely home. When I hold my arms out to the rain, I feel water slide down over my back and my face the way his hands found me in the silence, after. When I saw him, at last. When I let go.

It was a wind-wild night in fall when he staggered into my life. Rain lashed the windows of my pub, and the wind slammed the shutters so hard against the windows that I thought they would shatter. I was downstairs, cleaning up after yet another night of Galbadian revelry. As the only source of liquor in town, my pub was the frequent haunt of the soldiers stationed in town, who poured out their drunken lives to me nightly. I've had many a beer-soaked proposal. War is unkind, and these men were scarred with it; the machismo, the exaggerated fights, the lumbering drinking songs – they all hid fear, and anger, and loneliness. It affected me deeply at first, but my own experiences and constant repetition have inured me to it by now. I have my own memories to deal with.

Hours had passed since the last inebriated soul had been dragged off by two of his comrades to another night in the hotel. I totted up the damage – two chairs, several broken bottles, and yet another dent in the surface of the bar. A typical evening, in other words. The oil lamps flickered in the draft; my building is old and full of cracks. I peered out of the window at the storm; everyone else had long since retired, and my windows were the only ones to spill light into the street. Leaves skittered across the courtyard, hurried by the gale. I shivered and picked up the broom. Winter was coming.

I had just finished cleaning glass off the floor when I heard a muffled thump from outside. I swore, angrily; the age of this pub means that storm damage is a constant threat. Something scratched against the façade, moving towards the door. I thought I heard a cry, but the wind was screaming fiercely around the eaves, and it drowned out most everything else. My spine crawled with nerves, since monsters infest our remote town. I crept to the bar and pulled out the knife I had concealed there. Gripping it tightly, I shadowed the door, tense. Was Esthar back, again?

Something thumped again against the wall, and I heard scrabbling at the doorknob. My heart pounding, I thanked the powers that be that I'd had the good sense to lock it. The fumbling grew more desperate, then stopped. My knuckles were white on the hilt of the knife. The unknown presence banged insistently. I got closer to the door and put my ear up to the wood. Outside, someone yelled, "Raine! Open up! We need help!"

The knocking was getting stronger by the moment. I recovered my senses and threw the latch to the deadbolt. I turned the knob, and as the catch drew back, a powerful gust of wind pushed the door open. I stared, eyes wide, at my unexpected visitors.

Two Galbadian soldiers were dragging a heavily injured man with them, his arms draped over their shoulders. He was moaning in pain, and every time the soldier on the left resettled the arm in his grip, the man would scream louder, in agony. Involuntary tears of pain streamed down his face. I winced when I saw how one of his legs was twisted at an odd angle. They pulled the injured man up onto my stoop, and I recognized both bearers when the light from my door fell across their faces. Kev and Mallin, some of my better customers. They only tore the place apart on a semi-regular basis.

The soldier on the left – Kev – spoke up. "Hey Raine. We found this guy facedown in the mud. Ya think you can look after 'im? Ya take better care of us 'n anyone else around." His pal gave me what he imagined was a winning smile. I looked at them in disgust.

"God-damn it. Of course, you'd drop a problem like this on my doorstep in the dead of night." Their burden tossed his head and groaned. I stomped towards them and folded my arms, glaring. They slumped back but didn't back off. "What, did you have one brawl too many, and now you expect me to clean up?"

"Nuh-uh," Mallin chimed in. "We don't know this guy. Kev fell over him, didn't ya, Kev?" Kev nodded. "He's gotta be okay, because he's one of our own. Maybe got in a tangle with some of those Esthar bastards." He spat, bitterly. I didn't bother scolding him for the mess. I'd seem my fair share of brutality from the invaders, and to be honest, I agreed with him.

"Let me see this friend of yours," I commanded.

"I told ya, we don't know him!" Mallin protested. He and Kev dragged the man into the bar, and Mallin kicked the door shut behind him.

"Watch it!" I hissed.

"Sorry."

He was dressed in the ragged remnants of a Galbadian uniform. I could see that his clothes were stained with blood, and through the tears, numerous slashes gaped. He lifted his head to me, and I had one glimpse of deep green eyes before they rolled back in his head and he sagged into the soldiers' grip. Mixed water, mud, and blood ran from the wounded man onto the floor. He would need tending, and soon. The injuries looked severe, and if he did not get help, he might die by morning.

"You know his name, guys?" I asked.

Mallin looked at Kev. "I dunno. You know, Kev? Did he say anything to ya when you found him?"

The other soldier scratched his head. "Nope. He didn't wake up."

I looked more closely at the injured man and saw a glint of metal around his neck. "He's wearing ID, at least," I said, pulling the tags free of his ruined uniform. "Laguna Loire," I read, tilting the flat metal so it caught the light. "Does that name sound familiar?"

Both soldiers shook their heads. "We never heard of him, but we'll ask around," said Mallin.

I sighed again. "So you think you can get him upstairs for me, bucko?"

Kev perked up. "Yeah, sure! Where you want 'im?"

"First room on the left. Put him on the bed and I'll get to him soon."

"Okay!" Kev hoisted the injured man higher on his shoulder. "Come on, Mallin!" They pulled the man to the stairs, none too gently. Every time the twisted leg banged into a stair, the hurt man screamed. I covered my ears and gritted my teeth. I heard their footsteps as they hauled their charge into bed, then they clattered back down, looking pleased with themselves.

"Raine?" A little dark head poked out from the top of the stairs. "Who's here?"

In a low voice, I growled at the soldiers, "Now look what you've done. Ellone's awake."

She climbed down a few stairs on her knees, backing down one foot after the other in the manner of children who aren't big enough to handle stairs. The little face reappeared and pushed halfway through the railing. Ellone saw the two soldiers, still in uniform, and screamed.

"What's the matter with her?" asked Mallin, pointing to Ellone, who was white-faced and shaking. "She never did that before."

I ran up the stairs, scooped up the little girl, and hugged her tightly. She wrapped her arms around my neck and burst into tears. "It's okay, Ellone. They're not here for you. They're friends, remember? The blue guys are okay." She didn't look up, but I felt her trembling ease.

I walked back downstairs with Ellone on my shoulder, her head still burrowed into my neck. The two soldiers looked dumbfounded and uncomfortable. I leaned to them and whispered, "The last time soldiers showed up in her house at night, she lost her mother and her father. You didn't do anything, but I think you can understand."

Their faces went grim, and I knew they were remembering too. About a year ago, Esthar soldiers came looking for girls with special talents, since their ruler Adel required a malleable successor to her powers. They answered no questions and tolerated no defiance. Ellone's parents knew she was special, and they hid her well enough that the Esthar soldiers couldn't find her – but they paid for it with their lives. I took the little girl in after her parents died, much as Tallah had taken me in, years ago.

Ellone was not the only one to lose family because of a magical talent. My family, the Leonhart line, has a rogue talent in the blood that crops up once in a while. I was not so lucky as Ellone because the soldiers found me. My talent was too weak, too sporadic to be of any use – but the soldiers killed my parents anyway, because they'd tried to protect me. You can see, then, why it was not even an issue when the orphaned Ellone was brought to me. Tallah, the original owner of this pub, had done the same.

I rocked Ellone back and forth in my arms, trying to calm her. "I think you two had better go. I'll look after this Loire fellow."

"Uh, thanks, Raine. We owe you one."

"Whatever." I arched an eyebrow. "Is that all, gentlemen?"

"Yeah!" Mallin perked up this time. "How 'bout a beer?"

Kev smacked him in the back of the head. "Not now, dumbass. We got duty in the morning."

"Oh yeah. Well, bye, Raine!"

They hurried out into the night, dragging the door closed against the wicked wind. I brought Ellone back upstairs and into her room

I brushed my hair out of my eyes and tried to regroup for the next task. This Laguna needed help. There was a small stash of hoarded medical supplies in a chest in my room, and they would have to suffice. I dragged myself down the hall and pulled the potions and a med kit out from beneath some blankets. Good gil gone to waste, I thought ruefully. Medicine was very hard to come by these days – the Esthar raiding had taken its toll on everyone in Winhill. The Esthar soldiers left death in their wake. Ellone knew this better than anyone, and so did I.

Laguna was still only half-conscious; all the better, because I was going to have to set his breaks. He thrashed about, muttering to himself. I grabbed his broken leg, and he arched away from me in pain. The remnants of a makeshift splint stuck out awkwardly from his leg, and I pulled the wood and wrappings away.

His shoes would have to be removed before the break could be set. I picked at the laces of his boot, but it was no use; his leg was so swollen that it would have to be cut off. I trudged back down the hall for a pair of scissors. The foot, once freed, showed early signs of gangrene. Laguna's leg was broken and had swollen to twice its normal size, partly because he'd walked to Winhill on it. I gently felt the bone, and lucky for him, it was a clean break rather than a splintered one. Once it was set, it would heal without crippling him.

Do it fast. I took a firm grip on his ankle, braced my foot on the bottom of the bed, and pulled as hard as I could. Laguna's eyes flew open, and he screamed fit to wake the village. With a sickening pop, the bone aligned, and I let go. He panted shallowly, sweat standing out on his forehead. His eyes fluttered, and he picked his head up a bit to look at me.

"Who…you?" he asked.

"Your salvation," I returned, dryly.

"Where… 'm I?"

"In Winhill. You collapsed outside the village. Your pals didn't know where else to bring you." I put his leg down and started to splint it again between some stiff boards and bandages; he'd need a cast later, but this would do for the moment. He started to speak, and I shushed him. "Save your breath. We're not done yet."

He groaned. I finished with his leg and moved to the head of the bed to take up his outflung wrist. His arm seemed fine, but every time I moved it in the socket, Laguna would grit his teeth. Dislocated shoulder, probably. Great. "You have to sit up, Laguna."

He stirred weakly. "How… you know my name?"

"Your tags." I grabbed him by the torso and hauled him up.

"Don't know yours."

"I'm Raine. Owner of this pub, and the resident medic, I guess." I took his arm in a firm grip. "Brace yourself."

I tugged on his arm with all my strength. He howled, but I didn't let up till I felt the shoulder move back into place. Laguna sagged, pale as death. I pulled back the sheets to ease him back into bed and gasped at the sight of fresh blood on the covers. I fumbled for a Potion, one of the few I'd been able to stock away, and held it to his lips.

"Laguna. Drink this." He was fading fast. "Do you hear me? Open your mouth." His head fell forward. I pulled him back and forced his mouth open, then poured the medicine down his throat. Laguna coughed, but some of his color returned. Two for good luck, I thought, and poured another one in. Through his tattered uniform, I could see that the wounds were closing. They'd have to be stitched, though. I hung my head. I was exhausted.

Nothing to do but pull out the painkiller and start sewing. Laguna dropped off to sleep while I worked. My vision was blurring by the time I put in the last stitch and nipped off the suture. The light from the window revealed that it was almost dawn. Weary, I stripped the bloody sheets off of Laguna, and threw fresh ones over him. He was out of the woods, for now. I piled up was left of my supplies and went off to my own room, where sleep awaited.

My own small bed beckoned, and who was I to argue? I slung the med kit into the chest, pulled off my shoes, and crawled into bed without bothering to undress. Sleep claimed me almost before my head hit the pillow.