Disclaimer: It's no more mine than it was in the first chapter.
Chapter Warning: I wrote this one in the present tense, just for a bit of a twist. Also, there is a bit of a hokey ending speech in your near future.
Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
A "FOR SALE" sign is firmly planted in the lawn of the Loire home. Now, there is a wide "SOLD" sticker plastered over it.
Winter has hit Balamb in full force. The weathermen are calling for a wintry mix of snow and rain, and the sky is the color of iron.
It is the day before he returns to the force. But today, he stands in the empty building that was once his house, with moving boxes at his feet. He stretches, feeling the strain on his back from lifting so many heavy boxes. He vaguely wonders where he's going to put all this stuff, but he pushes the thought to the back of his mind. All that matters now is that he took this step, that he could make it this far without collapsing entirely…
She is here, too. She carries an enormous box down the stairs, screwing up her face as if to demonstrate how weighty the box is. She puts it down at his feet with a sigh of relief. "Please tell me that's the last one!" she groans, but her face is almost cheerful.
"I haven't done the master bedroom yet," he tells her. He grins when her face falls. "Don't worry, I'll take care of it." He wants to do this by himself, just to see if he can.
He carries several empty packing crates upstairs to his parents' bedroom. He closes the door behind him, trying not to let the deluge of emotion crash into him. This was the part he was dreading the most. He didn't know why.
It must be because he can still see them here. He can still see them, their shocked and lifeless faces staring at the ceiling forever. He still feels the strange, waxy texture of their skin.
The movers had already hauled the bed and the dresser from the room, leaving massive bare spots and haphazard piles of things around the room.
He doesn't know where to start. He doesn't want to touch anything in the room, not yet at least. He'll just start by leaning against the wall and trying to breathe.
He feels so heavy, as if his roots are yanking him back down again. He knows it's ridiculous and impossible, but he can still smell his mother's perfume in the air. She liked to wear different scents all the time. One day it would be juniper, the next vanilla. He feels another headache coming on and decides to just start throwing things in the boxes before he just breaks down.
His father's countless silk ties are tossed unceremoniously into the box. So are his mother's dresses. As he absently piles random trinkets into the box, he wonders why this is so hard for him. He didn't feel like this when he was packing up his own room. He had packed up what remained of his childhood without blinking, but now it feels like there's something in his throat that he can't quite swallow.
In effect, he's saying goodbye to them forever. He never really had the chance to before. He had been lost in the foster home shuffle, and never had the opportunity to finish the grieving process.
What would have happened if things hadn't gone this way? Would he have gone to college, would he have kids now, would he still be a cop?
There was no way of knowing. And no need to know. There was only this final farewell, and then he'd be moving on.
He sighs and tapes the boxes shut after looking around the room one last time to make sure he didn't forget about anything. He inwardly says goodbye for the last time and heaves the boxes up.
She knows that something's wrong immediately as he comes down the stairs. His face is slightly pinched, his eyes flat and expressionless. He doesn't say anything to her as he carries the boxes out the open door and towards the car.
She falls into step with him. "Are you alright?" she asks quietly.
He pops open the trunk and places the boxes in one by one. "It was touch and go for a time," he answers, his voice a little harsher than intended. He exhales sharply and slams the trunk shut. "Sorry. It's just…I'm feeling pretty ridiculous right now."
She sits on the trunk and motions for him to do the same. When he does, she rests her head on his shoulder. "You shouldn't feel ashamed for missing them, Squall," she murmurs. "You're not supposed to stop. My mom died when I was five, and I still wish she was around. It's not supposed to end." She rubbed his back slowly. "It changes you a lot, but I think it's for the better, you know? Makes you a little stronger."
He turns to graze her cheek with his chapped lips. She always, always knew what he needed to hear. It took him a while, but he finally realized just how good he had it now. Getting accustomed to having something was strange after almost a lifetime of having nothing.
She gasps and eagerly outstretches cupped hands. "Hey, it's snowing!" she cries, her joy almost childlike. She pokes out her tongue, trying to catch some a fluffy snowflake.
He shakes his head and smiles at her, a grown woman of 25 trying to catch snowflakes on her tongue.
"God, I don't even remember the last time it snowed in this place. When I was a kid, I did the snow dance every winter, but it never worked!"
He just raises an eyebrow at her. "Snow dance?"
Her jaw drops and she giggles. "You're kidding me. You never did the snow dance?!" she asks incredulously, as if it was the single most important aspect of childhood. "God, I even did that when I was at college…"
He just shrugs and rubs his cold hands together. "I never really liked snow. Too cold. Gets on the roads. That kind of thing." His nose and ears are starting to turn pink from the cold, and his breath steams as he talks. The bass from a radio thumps overwhelmingly as a car whizzes down the road.
"Maybe I'll teach you the snow dance when we get home," she teases, leaning into him. "It involves a shower and a lot of ice cubes."
"Hmm. And then what?"
"And then putting your pajamas on inside out and dancing in the shower," she finishes, giggling.
"Who makes up this kind of stuff?" he wonders aloud. "And why do we need to do the snow dance when it's already snowing?"
She sighs and bats at him. "That's not the point. The point is, it's an excuse to dance crazily in your shower with your pajamas on wrong."
"Sounds like my kind of thing," he says dryly.
"Don't worry. You'll be an instant convert." She can't help but laugh out loud when she pictures Squall dancing exuberantly in the shower. She makes a mental note to check the batteries on her digital camera.
They sit on the trunk of the car, watching the snow slowly accumulate on the roads and frosty grass.
"You go back to work tomorrow. Team Rinoa and Squall finally get to make their debut," she says, snuggling into him and grinning. "Doesn't that make you haaaappy?" she teases.
He makes a face at her, but she smiles because when he wraps his arm around her waist, she knows just how happy it makes him.
Oh God…over half a year on this story and it's over already. I feel incredibly accomplished (this is more than 200 pages in Word!) not to mention incredibly indebted to my many reviewers who never failed to give me a piece of their mind. This is much better than my somewhat shameful excuse for a first fanfiction, and I'm genuinely happy that I've improved so much. Keep an eye out for my future works, and I'll see you guys soon!