Disclaimers: This is a work of fan fiction. Therefore, all characters and settings are not owned by the author but by a multi-billion-dollar corporation that doesn't share its wealth. The name will not be produced here, as the author has not received payment for advertisement by said multi-billion-dollar corporation. I don't work for free either.

This story features Raine and my personal perspective on her relationship with Laguna. This is my attempt to shed some clarity on a situation that was not given full development in the canon. I only hope I do well by them both.

"When you love someone all your saved-up wishes start coming out." ~ Elizabeth Bowen

Alone, I'll be yearning tomorrow
When sunshine brings memories of you
My sunshine will turn into sorrow
As a dream of the love you once knew

Why should I always be lonesome
When sunny and blue are the skies
While shadows and loneliness linger
I'm dreaming with tears in my eyes ~ U2, "Dreaming With Tears in My Eyes"

Ember Days

Seven months, eighteen days, and five hours. Laguna had left almost immediately after they had discovered Ellone's empty bed. Raine had not heard from him since. She was beginning to doubt that she ever would. A dangerous notion. For it was her faith that had gotten her this far without breaking. Her hope for Ellone's safe return that enabled her to go about her daily routine without shattering into a million pieces and crumbling to the earth ~ like the clay flower pot that had plunged from her window when Laguna had knocked it with en elbow. Seven months, eighteen days and five hours. Had it only been that long? She felt like she'd aged at least a decade.

Yet it had been less than a year since that wonderful twilight when everything in her life had seemed very nearly perfect. For the first time she could recall she had thrust all practicality aside. Had let her worries depart along the gentle evening breeze. To dance with the dandelions. For once she did not ruminate on the future, did not keep both feet firmly on the ground where she'd learned they belonged. Instead, she'd leapt from the earth and for a few breathless moments had known what it was to fly. Airborne, she had basked.

Quickly, however, she had also learned what it was to crash, to plunge headlong, face first, into waves of horror. The unrestrained happiness had brutally vanished with Ellone's absence.

Then she had been distraught; the logical mind she put so much stock in had abandoned her. She had jumped from one emotional high to the next without break. From pure elation to wretched anguish. All she had been able to think of was the protection of the little girl entrusted to her care. Of the little girl of the cheeky smile and speedy legs. The little girl who until recently had been her entire world. Madly-driven fear had taken over. And self-reproach.

There would be no vanquishing of the guilt.

Raine knew she had not been the only one to swirl in a pool of relentless panic. From the instant they'd found the small bed empty, Laguna's eyes had lost their ever-present twinkle.

It had scared her even more, the way he'd barely spoken a word as he'd gathered up supplies. The emotionless pallor that had taken over his typically expressive features had shocked her into reality. Raine had never seen him look that way before. She'd need him to be strong, to tell her everything was going to be okay, that it was just a bad dream. Her mind would not, could not, do so for her. But he'd spoken not a word at first. His face a mask of containment.

The delight that had danced in his eyes and curved his lips into a lopsided grin when she had agreed to marry him the night previous had been impossible to find. He had been all tension and fear when he'd gripped her shoulders and swore to bring the child home. He had held her tightly against him for just a moment, vowing to return with Ellone on his shoulders, giggling all the way to Winhill.

Straight away she had declaimed her intention to go with him. Had begun to pack her own knapsack, to move feverishly about the small apartment, making preparations. She could not endure the thought of being left behind to wait. But resolutely he had shot her down. It was the first time she had ever seen him looking truly serious.

And so she had obeyed.

Now, rubbing at the worn bar with a tattered cloth, Raine wished she had not. Regretted ever stepping aside to let him go off on his own. At least if she had gone with him, she would be that one step closer to having Ellone back, safe and sound. At least she would be aware of the stakes. At least she would know, one way or another, if it was even possible. If the child was still alive.

With a tiny sound she banished the thought. Could not let herself consciously admit the chance of never seeing her again. Faith was all she had. No matter what, until she heard for certain, she was going to keep it alive. As if she could indemnify their survival by utter will alone. She had no other choice.

Raine gripped the rag tighter in her ringless hand. Seven months, eighteen days, and five hours. She glanced to the old-fashioned clock on the wall, the one Laguna had said reminded him of his grandmother's. The one that had its chime broken after Ellone had climbed up on a table to investigate. Forty minutes.

She knew she would go barmy if she continued to go on this way. Some days were better than others, sometimes the pub would get so busy she could pretend everything had gone back to normal, even if only for a short period. She could imagine Ellone and Laguna playing one of their silly games upstairs or munching on cookies next door ~ even though she'd told them to wait for dinner. Other days it was not so easy.

It was too quiet. Rapidly, too rapidly, she had become used to having the man around, as frustrating as he tended to be. She had become accustomed to his childishness, his clumsiness, and his company. His idealism and everlasting optimism had struck a definite foil to her own pragmatism. There had been no reason his presence shouldn't have irritated. And it had, more times than she could enumerate.

He was nothing but a goof. The one time he had attempted to aid her at the bar had been a mess. Her lips curved now as she recollected the look of alarm on his face as dark ale formed a lake on the floor. His mathematical skills had been equally useless when running up bills. Within the hour she'd shooed him away with an exasperated shake of her head.

He also riled up Ellone. 'Uncle Laguna,' as the child had distressingly taken to calling him, wasn't the type of role model Raine had wanted her to have. His language and mannerisms were poor at best. Often she'd caught him indulging the girl in things Rained had explicitly warned her against. He made it difficult to instil any sort of discipline and made her feel like the wicked witch whenever she tried. For the most part he was just as mischievous as the five-year-old. And every time her back was turned she knew they were both getting into some kind of trouble she'd only have to clean up afterward.

But he also made the girl smile in a way she hadn't seen before. He made her giggle with all of his crazy antics. He was trustworthy and surprisingly responsible. She knew no serious physical harm would befall Ellone in his presence. The firm rules Raine was able to establish were adhered to with respect. He would them with stories of his adventures in places she had only seen in books and magazines. He encouraged Ellone to dream, to reach for the end of the rainbow. Raine herself had forgotten such a place could ever exist. Somehow he had been able to bring it all back.

The small Winhill pub had never been so full of life. Not for a long time had it ever felt so much like a home. Bit by bit, the emptiness had retreated. Before she could even recognise what was happening, Laguna had already etched a permanent mark upon both their lives. Raine had worried she would never be able to cover it up. That once he left ~ and he would leave ~ Ellone's grief would be too great to surmount. His impression on her life, at such an early age, was immense. Would the girl be able to understand his absence? As it had been, the child had thrown a fit every time he'd gone with Kiros somewhere she wasn't permitted. Would Ellone be able to forgive him leaving for good?

Would Raine herself? She mulled this over and found it was one more question she was not prepared to answer.

Standing amongst the wildflowers that long ago night, with the wind whistling its familiar melody in her ears, she had been able to believe in anything. In his gentle smile, his trembling arms, there was nothing that wasn't achievable. She could let herself indulge in notions of forever. In that moment, the man of the world, the incorrigible Galbadian soldier with the heart of gold and the grin of an imp, belonged to her alone. He had been willing to cast the dreams she knew he still harboured aside to be with them. To spend the rest of his days in the undisturbed rural town fighting the odd monster and keeping them safe. But even then it had been bittersweet. Even in the deepest moments of that heaven-sent night she had doubted.

Raine wasn't a child like Ellone. Nor was she a green village maiden. She wasn't young or full of wayward dreams. She was too old to believe in fairytales. Her twenty-sixth birthday had come and gone without notice several months back. In any case, Laguna himself was hardly a knight on a white horse any more than she was a damsel in distress. Her life may have been somewhat sheltered away from the events of the cities but she wasn't naïve. She knew her place in the world, knew how things worked. If it had just been herself, if she hadn't Ellone to cosset and care for, she would have followed him wherever he wanted to go until he tired of her company.

But Ellone was a dominant part of her life and she could not longer pander to adolescent fantasies. If she was in love with Laguna, and there was to be no denying of this fact now, she had to think of how her actions would affect the young girl. Ellone came first. She needed more than avowals of adoration and promises of a future if a relationship between them was to be continued. She required more than words to sustain her. It may be foolish, but she needed the concrete, the sensible, the steady. Laguna was anything but. She both loved and hated him for it. Above it all, she was a woman.

Slipping her hand in her pocket, Raine toyed with the simple gold band she'd carried around since that day. She couldn't bring herself to put it back on. The questioning glances of the neighbours would be too much to bear. Especially since she had no idea where he was. Nor could she bring herself to leave it in a drawer. The ring was all she had to remind herself of his affection. Might be all she would ever have. That and the child growing in her belly.

Fed up with herself and with the direction her thoughts had trailed, she growled and threw the cloth across the room. It hit the far wall and dropped to the floor, crumpled in the shaft of light admitted by a window. She cursed the man, her own self, the gods, and anyone else listening for allowing this to happen. Now. Of all times. It wasn't fair.

She wanted to be able to celebrate. Wanted to sing with the blossoming thrills she felt whenever she detected movement. And she wanted to share this joy with him, with Ellone. And even more she yearned to give the coming miracle a name. His name. But how could she when he and Ellone could be in mortal danger? When even now she wasn't sure it was what he wanted? Even if he did come back, would he be as pleased? Sure and he was terrific with Ellone. One would have to be blind not to see his high regard for her. But that didn't mean he desired little ones of his own. How could she feel such bliss amidst such dread?

Her unsettling reflections were cut off by the creaking of the front door. The shrill timbre had her jumping up and pushing at her hair, forcing a polite smile to her strained mouth. It had been a slow afternoon but it was only half one. Her business was all she had left to keep her mind attentive.

But the man that entered wasn't a customer. Her heart stopped and her fingers twined together, turning both sets of knuckles a stark white. Dimly, she heard the clatter of her stool as it knocked to the floor all else was a slight thrum at the back of her head.

"Kiros!" The name came out on a sharp intake of breath. The emotions in her dark eyes battled between exultation and desolation.

The man at the door gave her a deep nod, his expression revealing nothing. It was too much to hope…Her heart picked up again before it sank. The muscles of her stomach clenched painfully and her head felt as if it was drifting from her body. Wordlessly, Kiros stepped further inside. The narrow entrance now filled with the imposing frame of another man, this one she did not recognise. All too soon, she realised it didn't matter what his name was or how frightening he looked. For what he held in his arms was suddenly much more important.

"Ellone!" She didn't remember shoving her way around the bar, or tripping over the chairs that got in her way. Blinded already by tears and choking on sobs, she was kneeling on the floor and clutching at the girl who'd scurried into her arms once released. Raine closed her eyes, buried her face in the sweet-scent of her hair, and wept.

Unrestrained and unfettered she let herself give in to the tremendous emotional surf. Until this moment she hadn't permitted herself to lament. To do so would be to give up. But now she could let it all reign free.

Safe, she repeated over and over in her mind. Ellone was safe and unhurt. Everything really was okay. She stroked her back and murmured a hundred reassurances. 

Through the hurricane of relief she could sense that Ellone was also crying. Hot, wet sobbing tears soaked through her sweater to her skin. Still holding her close, but pulling back slightly, Raine took in the little girl's red-stained face. The sniffling nose and moist eyes were the most beautiful sights she had seen in her entire life. With shaky hands, she pushed back the girl's damp hair. Ellone was hiccoughing and trembling all over and Raine knew she must equally be a sight to behold. She held her for one moment longer, cascading kisses all over her face, before slowly rising, keeping Ellone tight against her hip. The girl clung to her side and wrapped one arm around her neck, still weeping. She stuck her thumb in her mouth with the other, resting her head on the woman's shoulder. Raine was too happy to have her home to scold.

It was a miracle. She would never ask for anything else ever again. The hole in the pit of her stomach began to decrease.

Facing the two men, she wiped at the remaining tears with her free hand and shook her head. This time her smile was sincere. "Forgive me for blubbering like that. I just wasn't expecting…I didn't know…." She trailed off and laughed at herself. "Excuse me. Please. I'll get a hold of myself eventually. Why don't you both sit down? Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee? Are you hungry? Whatever you like." She knew she was babbling but she couldn't stop herself. What did one say to the people who'd saved one's child?

"I'm afraid we can't stay long," Kiros answered for the two of them. Raine caught the subtle exchange of glances. "I'm sure you've heard the news from Esthar."

In all actuality she hadn't. She hadn't heard anything but trickled-down rumours that Sorceress Adel had been captured. It had seemed unbelievable considering she'd yet to hear from Laguna at all. Apparently, the rumours had contained more fact than she'd apprehended.

"Laguna's got himself running for president now, the resistance members talked him into it, the moron. We have to go back and help straighten things out before the chaos gets any worse."

Raine frowned. The information came at her fast and her mind raced to sort it all into categories. There was too much to handle at once. She had to concentrate on the most vital first. Ellone was back. Suddenly everything else she'd been agonising over seemed secondary in comparison.

Laguna was in Esthar. She knew nothing of the far-away land except that it had recently plagued the rest of the world with war and devastation. But it was typical of Laguna to wind up in a foreign city and worm himself into its heart without even trying. After all, that was what he had done in Winhill, with the majority of residents anyway. And it was also typical of him to want to help out where he could, to soothe the anxieties and fix things. He couldn't stand to see anyone suffer.

Laguna was closer to the role of the knight than she'd once imagined. He was a Paladian ~ born to wander. He had his own quest to follow; his own heart. Many more escapades awaited him, she knew, before he could lay down his sword. It was one of the reasons she loved him as much as she did. And her misfortune. If he was in Esthar then he obviously thought he could do some good. That would have to be enough for her. All that was left was for her to go on with her life, to wonder he had ever once dallied her way. A man like that belonged to no woman, least of all a country girl.

"I understand," she said at last, adjusting Ellone in her arms. "I appreciate you making the trip out here. If there is anything I can do, let me know."

The larger man nodded and smiled with his eyes, telling her it was his pleasure. He tipped his head and backed towards the door.

"Of course." Kiros smiled as well and held out his hand to shake. His long-fingered grip was dry and firm. Releasing his hand, she met his eyes and watched as they lingered fleetingly on her unmistakably pregnant form. Their gazes met and evenly held. "Is there anything you'd like me to report, Ms. Leonhart?" His meaning was clear.

Raine let his words digest. She knew her response held great significance. Not one to make rash decisions, she considered her options one last time. There would be no going back. She had to ensure there would be no regrets as well. If she had been alone…But she wasn't and there was no way she could transplant Ellone into a world of disorder and confusion, a world the too-young child had only just escaped. She had to do what was best for her. Hopefully along the way it would be what was best for all.

Briefly she closed her eyes and thought back to that night eons ago when everything had seemed perfect. The way he'd looked in the moonlight, the way he'd made her feel in his embrace, under his mouth. The fulfilment they'd reach together. The whispered endearments, the muffled laughter, the affectionate looks…The memories they'd made in the short time would last forever, even if time had not stopped for them. She would never forget those evenings spent by the fireplace. Raine sat at the table, working out accounts and bills and appointments. Laguna and Ellone lazing on the rug, making up stories and planning adventures. Or days spent in the garden, going shopping, sharing meals. The simple things. If a lump formed in the back of her throat, she forced it down. There would be time enough for wistful nostalgia later. She knew what she had to do. For her own sake, her own sanity, and, she could acknowledge, her own pride.

"It's Loire," she corrected, opening her eyes. "Mrs. Raine Loire. And no. We'll be fine. Thank you." Her eyes and voice remained level.

No regrets. That was essential. She could not force him to return even if she had wanted to. If he preferred to stay in Esthar then so be it. She was strong, independent, and resilient. She didn't want him to come back unless he was coming back for her only ~ never out of guilt. He would, she knew, if he found out, and the idea was abysmal. They had survived before he had arrived and they would survive after him. She could more than make it on her own. She would see to it with everything she had.

After the men had left, the door shut tight behind them, she moved forward to lock it. Ellone dozed lightly against her shoulder. She wondered how the girl would take to the news of having a brother or sister in just over a month. On a sigh, Rained pulled her closer, pressed her lips to her forehead, and with one hand to her abdomen carried her up the flight of stairs to bed.

A bed that would never be empty again, Raine vowed, for as long as she lived.