Light on the Water

by Dragonbait

Chapter Two

The Care and Recovery of Laguna Loire

Many women do noble things
But you surpass them all

Proverbs 31:29

Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VIII. If I did, would I be writing fanfiction? Nor do I own Thomas Crichton, who belongs to Gauntlet Challenge, and has kindly given me permission to use her character. I own Colum O'Donahue, Daniel Faulkner, Agnes Flannighan, and Rose Moore, however.

Author's Note: A humongous thanks goes to my fabulous friends at TNG...Those guys over there rock my world! To GC, Juls, Brian and Liv, especially, thanks for putting up with everything!

----

Four weeks had gone by since Laguna had arrived in Winhill. It was apparent to all but Raine and Agnes that with Laguna had come more news of the outside world which they'd isolated themselves from. War was on the horizon. It was rumoured that the King of Esthar was dead, and that Adel had struck whilst the iron was hot and seized power from the unsuspecting monarchy.

Nursing took a great deal of Raine's time and patience, but she did it without complaint. Knowing it was only a matter of time before the wind of change began to blow, Raine threw her energy and time into nursing Laguna back to health. She wasn't sure what compelled her to do so, but whatever it was, she enjoyed talking to him, learning about his past--and his infatuation for the beautiful Julia Heartilly, the singer.

"I met her once," he said, propped up by pillows. Raine was feeding him broth, made up from an old recipe found by Agnes in one of her cookbooks. It was a good, hearty soup, made with hocks of ham, chickpeas, lentils and all other types of things that were supposed to help ensure a swift recovery. "She was beautiful--but my leg cramped up, and, ah, I slunk away, back to the bar where I sat with my army buddies, Kiros and Ward."

Raine nodded, and found herself drawn to what he was saying. "It sounds like you had quite the number of exploits while in the army--enough to write a novel on."

Laguna smiled at Raine. He'd had a lot of time to think over what he'd seen and done during his stint in the Galbadian Army while convalescing. Parts of him wondered if he'd ever see those two again, Kiros, the tall one, with the coca-coloured skin, moving like he was liquid during battles, his Katals flashing as he swiftly disposed of the enemy. That was Kiros for him. Silent mostly and sarcastic when he did speak, yet always a voice of reason. Then there was Ward. Big and bulky, and hefted a massive-sized anchor as a weapon, he was one who stopped Laguna from going too far over the edge. They'd been the ones to encourage him that fateful night that he met Julia.

"I only joined the army to travel," he said, sipping the offered spoon of soup. Swallowing it, he continued to talk. "Like, there was this one time, when we were in Timber before Galbadia formally invaded, I'd brought along the wrong map. So we were standing in the middle of a clearing, and all of a sudden, these fungi things start attacking us," he laughed.

Raine smiled, and laughed along. Their conversations usually consisted of exchanging stories about various locations they'd been to. One conversation, in particular, had brought a smile to her face that had been there for three days after.

"You've been up into the Kashkabald Mountains, I take it?" Laguna asked one day, as he watched Raine with the cards and the harp. Raine nodded, continuing to shuffle the cards, not distracted by his questions.

Laying the cards out, she answered his question. "My family is from a tiny village in the Kashkabalds called Tingha," she said, her brow furrowed in concentration as she interpreted the tarot reading for the day.

Laguna had, it transpired, visited Tingha and knew the village well. "I'm guessing because of your surname that you're related to Luik?"

Raine blanched at the name of her brother. She'd not heard anything on her family for years, and suddenly a man named Laguna had not only visited Tingha, but had met her brother, Luik. It was far too coincidental to be dismissed lightly.

"How do you know him?" she asked, her emotions carefully guarded by a mask that had slipped on unconsciously.

He caught the fact that her question concealed any answers she might have given. Knowing not to pry too deeply from a previous experience, he replied cautiously. "He saved my life there. I was attacked by an angry Chimera, and it transpired that Luik had been tracking this Chimera for a week. I'd just been a fortunate victim, in Luik's eyes."

Raine smiled. That was like her brother. He'd spend weeks tracking animals to research them further. He claimed it was all in the interest of understanding monsters and their psyche. Luik had often fought with the elders of Tingha, who believed that the monsters should be killed, and he argued back, claiming that humankind was no better than the monster if they killed for the sake of killing. Often those disputes had led to him being excommunicated from the hall for a period of days, before the elders admitted, (grudgingly), that he had been right.

"He's my brother," she replied at last, as she returned her harp to the cupboard after tuning it. "And I haven't heard from him in years."

To herself, she said quietly, "And isn't it strange that you should meet someone who bore news of Luik?"

At that, Laguna let out a sharp bark of laughter. Luik had mentioned a sister named Rania, who had vanished into the forest when she had been fourteen. Luik related how one day, his sister had said she was going for a walk and never returned. He'd showed Laguna a portrait of Rania, painted by one of the master artisans of the town. The image swam before his eyes now, as he looked at Raine.

"Your name is Rania, isn't it?" he gently probed.

Alarmed, Raine glanced up. "How do you know that name?" she asked, alarm apparent in her voice.

"Luik showed me a picture of a girl at fourteen who looked like you. He claimed that she'd disappeared one day, and that in all likelihood had gone to Esthar. He also said that his sister was exceptionally talented with a harp, and I know for a fact that you play one," Laguna said. He knew that his journalistic mind would be proud of the deduction.

"Those are just coincidences," Raine said dismissively. "And if Luik's sister had gone to Esthar, then wouldn't she have been killed?"

Laguna scratched his head, the bones in his arms mended. Although he was yet to regain full strength and mobility in his body, he was well on the way to recovery. "I'm not too sure," Laguna responded after a few minutes. The portrait he'd seen of Rania seemed to hang before his eyes, like MacBeth's dagger hung before him. Deciding not to push the matter further, he let it drop. If she wanted to talk about it, he'd let her do so in her own time, and under her own conditions.

Scratching his nose slightly, he smirked. "Is there anything to do? I'm getting rather bored," he said petulantly, longing to be free of the confines of his bed.

Raine frowned, her mind still on the discussion as to how Laguna knew Luik Leonhart. With a shy smile, she turned to him, looking over at the growing pile of mending that needed doing. "How good are you with a needle and thread?" she asked.

Laguna soon found himself mending things while Raine worked on a quilt. It was almost winter again, the leaves falling from the trees in splendid orange and crimson patterns, littering the town square as they fell. Her quilt design was inspired by the falling leaves, watching each day as more fell from the trees onto the waiting ground. Ellone's sixth birthday came, and with it, came the Winter Solstice celebrations.

To Raine, Winter Solstice was a time of reflection--a time to think over the past year, on her mistakes and triumphs, over her successes and failures. To many, Winter Solstice was a time for eating the scrumptious fare of the season. Ham, glazed with marmalade and spiced with cloves was eaten, along with the fatted geese and turkeys that had been some child's unfortunate pet. Poverty would see many lined up outside shelters in the big cities, vying for food, warmth and shelter from the cold icy wind that blew shrilly.

The town of Winhill celebrated the Winter Solstice with feasting, churchgoing and merrymaking. One of the town's famous traditions was its tree, which had been planted from a seedling by the founder of the town, a woman named Talliana deGroot. Each year, the townsfolk would decorate the tree with their favourite decorations, carefully hoarded by families for generations. It would be Raine's first true celebration of the Solstice since coming to Winhill four years ago. That night, she lit candles in the window, the old traditions and ways returning.

For the first time in years, Raine felt truly at peace with herself. She'd found a town where she felt like she belonged--where she meant something to the townsfolk. She wasn't just a nameless face amongst the crowds, like she would've been in Esthar, nor was she the daughter of the Chief--and therefore required to do her duties as the "Princess of Winter," as they dubbed her each year.

The days grew shorter, and the nights grew longer. Snow began to fall in soft, powdery flakes, and Raine watched as Daniel and Colum, married now, with children of their own, shared the delights of lighting the first candles on the tree with their firstborns. She did that with Laguna and Ellone that first Solstice. But, although there was much rejoicing, there was also sorrow. Agnes Flannighan's husband, Paidrag, had died suddenly, and Agnes was now alone--her children scattered like grains of rice to each corner of the globe.

The cheery atmosphere of Raine's pub was enhanced further with the open fireplace housing a crackling fire. The regulars, along with most of the townspeople gathered on Solstice Eve for the traditional opening carols that were a prelude to the dawn sermon the next morning. Holly boughs and mistletoe adorned the walls, and over the fireplace hung the wreath of red holly berries, mistletoe and holly. The tradition of Winhill was that if presented with a sprig of Mistletoe, the person had to accept it, or be branded the Solstice Fool. That year, the Solstice Fool was Colum's small son, Matthew. He was five years old, and a bright, intelligent chap. Always seen far from his mother's skirts, he would climb into Agnes' lap unbidden, where he would receive treats and caresses. He didn't mind the treats, but the caresses he protested manfully against.

-----

Rose Moore stood at the town gates of Winhill. She'd caught wind that Rania was still alive, and was now living under the assumed name of Raine Leonhart. Her icy blue eyes scanned the town, and a hand went to her cropped caramel coloured hair. Standing at five foot, nine and a half, she was taller than most women, formidable to look at. Hoisting her rucksack over her shoulder, she stepped forth, her boots making diamond patterns on the untouched snow.

Rose also knew about the child. Through links with people in the hospital, she'd learnt that Raine had given birth to a daughter--obviously hers and Richard's. Rose wanted to see the child for herself, to know whether or not the daughter held more of Richard's features than Rania's. It would be interesting to see her again. Taking steps towards the church, she wasn't sure what drew her to the hallowed building. Rose pushed open the door and breathed in the scent of incense. It smelt like frangipani and sandalwood, the exotic floral scent mingling with the more homey scent of wood. The church itself was old, built approximately three hundred years ago by stonemasons and carpenters when the town was first established. Now, the church stood as a monument to the many lives that had been sacrificed to the slaughter of innocents, and to the lives that had been dedicated to the worship of the goddess.

She walked halfway down the church, pausing when she reached the middle pew. She didn't know what drew her there, but she knelt down, hands clasped in front of her and pointing heavenwards.

For the first time in many years, Rose prayed. The simple action of asking for forgiveness for her sins had not been done since she was young. "Forgive me, Goddess Mother, for I have sinned so horribly beyond all retribution. For what I have done, I deserve to go to the Ninth circle of hell..." she whispered, feeling her cheeks wet with tears. "I killed a man who didn't deserve to die, who had a family of his own to care for.."

She didn't hear the words of the priest who had overheard her confession. Rose, blinded by the tears that had fallen, stood up. The confession had drained her, both emotionally and spiritually. The priest placed a hand on Rose's shoulder. Startled, Rose's hand went to her pocket, where she felt for her gun, drawing it. Spinning around, she calmed visibly when she saw it was a priest.

"Please, don't scare me like that again," Rose said, her gun still trained on the priest. "I won't hesitate to kill you."

And the bullets aren't meant for you, she thought grimly.

"Put the gun down," the priest said, "And tell me what's troubling you. This is a house of Hyne, and I will not have it be defiled by murder."

Rose looked at the priest in amazement. "What makes me think I'd tell you. What do you know about being a fugitive from Esthar?"

Blanching at the name, Esthar, and remembering the night that Adel had almost torched Winhill because of young Raine and her child, he frowned. It was too coincidental that three Estharian fugitives had made their way to the town. He wasn't frightened, but he loved his flock too dearly to let any wolves attack them. Father Gavin Rourke had seen it happen before, and would die before letting it happen again.

"You'd be surprised," he said dryly. Father Gavin had seen the days when Esthar had been ruled by the King. Now, however, it was under the control of a megalomaniac sorceress hell-bent on finding Raine Leonhart and her daughter. Remembering that fateful day when Raine had come seeking sanctuary in the Church, he couldn't help but wonder if this young woman standing before him was the same.

"Oh, would I?" Rose replied, her hands still clutched tightly around the butt of the gun. "Tell that to Richard Tudor, tell that to his wife and child... They're dead because of Esthar, and I want to know if Rania is still alive."

"Rania?" Father Gavin repeated, "There's nobody of that name in Winhill. Do you have a surname to go with that?"

"Leonhart."

Father Gavin now understood why Adel had stormed the town several years earlier. It had been to do with the gypsy woman, Raine. Also, he knew the truth. Raine had confessed to him in the privacy of a confessional. She'd received an absolution from him for those sins.

Nodding, he smiled. "I know her...But if you're on Adel's side, I can tell you she won't welcome you with open arms," he warned. Motioning for Rose to follow him, Father Gavin walked the mile to the pub.

Rose followed him, her boots crunching in the snow. She could see the diamond-pattern her shoes made, and knew that they'd be covered by the time she reached the pub. The snow was falling, some falling on her eyelashes, other flakes made their way to her jacket, melting instantly combined with the heat from her body. She stuck out her tongue, catching a few snowflakes on her tongue. When they reached the pub, Rose could hear a familiar voice singing along with the distinctive sound coming from a harp.

Pushing open the door, Father Gavin stepped in, holding the door for Rose to follow in. Father Gavin walked over to Raine, and smiled paternally at her. "There is someone here for you to see," he said, while Raine took a sip of water.

Raine glanced around, before seeing the distinctive caramel-coloured hair, standing at the back of the pub, looking uncertain. Rose? How did you find me?

She looked at Father Gavin, then back at Rose. Standing up, and handing the harp to Laguna, she walked over to Rose. "Rose?" she asked, "What are you doing here? I thought you were dead..."

"I thought you were dead, too, Rania," Rose replied in dialect. They had switched back into dialect known to the Estharian region. It was always a saftey precaution. The dialect was very similar to the dialect Raine knew in Tingha. She looked around, seeing that Laguna was entertaining the crowd.

"Rose, you didn't answer my question. I want to know why you are here," Raine snapped. She hadn't parted on good terms with Rose, as they'd argued over who was more deserving of Richard. It was a stupid argument, in retrospect. She glared at Rose, waiting for Rose to answer the question.

"I'm here because I heard that a woman from Winhill defied Adel. I had reason enough to believe it was you who did it. You're the only person she really fears," Rose explained in a low undertone, making certain that they would not be overheard, even if they were conversing in dialect.

-----

From a side corner in the bar, Laguna watched Raine converse with the woman. He didn't know what they were talking about, because he couldn't lip-read. But he thought it was important, gathering from the way they were using hushed voices and standing quite close to one another. He scratched his head, and poured another glass of beer for the men.

"Who's the chick Raine's talking to?" Fergus O'Donahue asked Laguna. Laguna shrugged.

"Dunno," he replied, handing the schooner of beer to him. Little Ellone was standing next to him, hidden out of sight. He loved the child as his own, and would do anything to save her. Perhaps that was the reason he stayed in Winhill, to look after the child and repay the kindness shown to him by Raine, Agnes Flannighan and several of the other women of the village.

The wood fire crackled merrily in the grate, casting a warm glow of light around the merrymakers. The flames caught the highlights in the women's hair, and the flecks of grey in some of the men's beards. The light played upon the walls, casting eerie shadows that would've looked sinister if Laguna hadn't known better.

Laguna sighed suddenly, sad. He wasn't sure why he was sad, but it seemed so depressing, watching the families sing carols and exchange gifts. He had nobody to go home to. If he went home to Deling, he'd be going back to an empty house, and no friends there to speak to. For the first time since he came to Winhill, Laguna felt envious of Raine. He didn't know why. He assumed that she would have married, had the opportunity came up, and for that, he wanted her for himself. It was not like his infatuation with Julia.

I wonder how Julia is...Whether she's written that song she was trying to write...If she married, and whom to... His thoughts were jumbled. I'm not jealous if she's married...She deserves happiness...I, on the other hand, am alone in the dark...There's nothing and nobody left in Deling City for me...Even my mother is dead...

Unconciously, Laguna began to sing a song he'd heard Raine singing. Carrickfergus.

When he reached the end of the verse, he felt his throat constricted by a sort of longing. He wanted to see the gravestones of his parents, but remembered that he didn't know where they were buried. He'd been gone on a mission with the army, and one day, he'd returned home to an empty house, and a note from the parish priest, Father Heffernan, saying that his parents had taken ill, and suddenly died. Laguna had not wept for them at the time, but in private, in the dark hours of the night, he'd cried. They'd only been in their early sixties. He'd been twenty one.