Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII is owned by Square-Enix.

In Memoria
By: SilverKnight

Laguna Loire was usually a happy man. Anger simultaneously blunted and sharpened the mind, distorting everything to fit a certain, spiteful skew. It was a tool for the small-minded and cold-hearted, and the concept of it went against his very core. In all of his life, he had never once seen anger serve any positive purpose that lasted beyond a five-second period. It was simply not an emotion he was used to experiencing.

Slowly sauntering down the main square of Winhill nearly two decades after he last left, his well-worn tracking boots thudding dully against the equally worn cobblestones, he couldn't help but feel slightly caught off-guard when small tendrils of that foreign, unnatural thing began to slowly coil up from deep within. He willed it away with ease, focusing on the hamlet that circled him.

Ellone smiled, her thin lips curved in bittersweet nostalgia, and started off towards the old bar that Raine once ran. Not quite ready to open that skeleton-infested closet, he plastered an understanding grin on his face and casually shooed her off, lingering by the town's entrance. Laguna Loire was also a self-conscious man. Seventeen years had not dulled the village's sweetly imposing nature, and he recalled acerbically how he had once thought that even the buildings were out to get him.

He halted by the square's center, slightly overgrown with weeds and ivy--'Raine would have a fit if she saw that...'--and let his eyes do the walking. They betrayed him too easily and rested on the bar that had been his home for over a year, and had been their home for less than two weeks. It looked like it had seen better days, and nearly laughed at the idea of it. He had seen better days, too.

His glittering emerald eyes slowly, reproachfully, moved from its foundation and made its way across the township, before halting sharply nearby. An old woman, back hunched over from too many years of housework, swept diligently at her rickety wooden porch. He listened to the quiet scraping of the bristles going against the grain, watching the small clouds of dust it kicked up into the early afternoon haze, and against his will, he remembered.

The foreign intruder returned with a renewed, dreaded vigor, and tightened into a thin cord of contempt twining around his stomach.

The flower lady, that spiteful old crone, slowed in her ministrations and casually glanced up. Obviously expecting her gaze to befall upon the same landscape that she saw every day, she blinked deep-set eyes in confusion when she met Laguna's intent stare. For the span of three seconds, she continued to gawk blankly at the middle-aged man twenty yards in front of her, bathed in the mid-day sun, until recognition clicked in her head like the flicking of a switch.

Or the cocking of a hammer.

He personally preferred the latter analogy, himself.

Her dark, almond eyes widened a fraction, and his in turn narrowed. 'Oh yes, little lady, I do remember you... Hah, long time, no see.' Hers then sharpened with contempt of her own, intermixed with pride and--something else? He watched her movements, her gaze flitting away every few seconds, as if to appraise her surroundings or find an escape... Fear of being caught. 'Gotcha.'

Laguna Loire was a horrible speaker, had no grace to speak of, and his ability to plan ahead was stunted at best, but he was perceptive. Frighteningly perceptive. Perhaps, if he'd ever tried dwelling on the thought, it might have explained his lacking communication skills. When a man could read a person's mood and intentions simply by the tick of a muscle or one too-long silence, words were something of a step backwards. It was that perceptiveness that had kept him alive during his lonely, unloved childhood, and it had never once failed him.

Oh, she knew. She was caught in a lie and she knew. But her eyes and her beliefs remained firm, and she hastily wiped the blood from her hands to look acceptable.

He didn't fall for it.

Seventeen years prior, during his last trip, he had returned to reclaim his beautiful wife and child, and bring them with him to Esthar. In typical fashion, he hadn't bothered with the details of how that would come about, and more than likely wouldn't have until he tripped over the roadblock on the way back. He had asked Kiros and Ward, who had been fairly coerced into accompanying him--something along the lines of, 'You could drown on dry land,' being spoken of him, at one point--to remain behind while he attended to his belated fatherly duties.

It had been a perfect day. Shining sun, wide blue skies, a pleasant warm breeze. Absolutely perfect.

Laguna, even with the weight of a country residing on his shoulders, felt free as a bird when he knocked on the front door of the bar and casually stepped inside. The elation lasted a glorious two heartbeats before innocent bewilderment set in at the silence. The bewilderment lasted another three heartbeats before concern usurped its position, and that lasted another ten heartbeats before the concern transformed into a nebulous, undefinable fear.

His pace had been slow and cautious at first, the dirt-covered soles of his boots echoing hollowly in the empty pub. But, as he made his way through the first place he had ever dared to call his home, checking every room, hallway, nook and cranny, the decorum he had kept for Raine's sake disappeared like another of his half-baked ideas. Doubt settled comfortably in the base of his skull, and fear curled up like a contented kitten in his chest. Had she left? Did she get sick of waiting and leave? Was she so worried that she set off looking for him and Ellone herself?

He wasn't ashamed to admit that he had been terrified by the time he reached their room and found it spotless. Spotless and empty. Scatterbrained and clumsier than normal, he'd made his way out of the bar and went to the nearest available source of information.

The cord of contempt in Laguna's stomach was snapped taut as he glowered past short black lashes. 'Don't you dare think I could have ever forgotten.' Her cool gaze wavered minutely; a mirage baking in the scorching heat. But still she did not give in, and still his memories did not cease.

That old witch, that lying, duplicitous hag, had stood there with so much carefully tucked away vindication--perching there like some exonerated criminal waiting with open palm to receive just compensation--and informed him, with only a little regret, that his beloved Raine and their child had died in childbirth. Seconds later, as she watched with no regret as his world crumbled around him, perfect blue sky and all, she chose to inform him where they had been buried. She hadn't been pressed to tell him, no; she chose to. Outsiders weren't ordinarily privy to such information.

If he hadn't have been too busy trying to force air into his lungs, an overwhelming surge of hatred would have enveloped his good sense. Luckily for her, he was never good at acting on his feelings.

Instead, he had wheeled around and sprinted out of the square, his legs carrying him with a strength and speed he never before possessed without outside aid. It had to have been a mistake, or a lie, or a nightmare, or anything. The adrenaline that had forced his body to move with nigh-inhuman haste evaporated from his wildly pulsing veins the closer he came; going from racing, to jogging, to plodding anxiously up the path along the gently sloping hill where he had proposed to Raine. His muscles tingling uncomfortably, he reached the sweeping crest of the hilltop, and such was the state of his distress, he almost tripped over the neatly placed headstone that laid silently in the grass.

More adrenaline flooded his system as he righted himself in mid-air, and it was then that Laguna's mind finally registered what his boot had thumped against. He stared at the name engraved in the marble, heartbeat pounding in his ears and denial screaming in every fiber of his being, and he sourly thought how completely wrong that cold, unforgiving tombstone was to honor the woman he had fallen in love with.

Perhaps he should have asked why they never made a second plot. Perhaps he should have wondered why his son's name had not been engraved along with his wife's.

Perhaps he should have been there, in the first place.

His nerves exploded into frenzied discord. Knees buckling, he collapsed in the field of sweetly smelling lilacs and daisies. Then, raggedly and filled with anguish, he cried.

(Kiros had found him much later that night, his friend laying sprawled, unconscious, next to Raine's grave. His keen eyesight immediately zeroed in on the man's bloodied and torn hands, several angry red welts and lines climbing up past his forearm and ducking underneath the tattered edges of his heavy blue denim jacket. He then noted the lack of blood anywhere else, neither on nor nearby the pristine tombstone.

Kiros had been too disturbed by the image to ever ask where he had gotten the wounds. Laguna pretended he'd never had them.)

Laguna remained perfectly still in the sun-lit square. The old crone held fast to her broom. 'You! You dirty, lying outsider!' her eyes sneered. Her mouth ground out, "What are you doing back here?"

"You lied," was his soft, succinct reply.

She tilted her pointed chin up in defiance. "That babe would have known only misery with a creature like you for a father."

His gaze darkened. "You lied."

Her wrinkled, sun-kissed face paled for a moment, his uncharacteristic vehemence proving increasingly difficult to withstand. Even so, she held her ground; her muscles stiffening beneath her worn clothing. "So did you. You promised sweet Raine you would return, and that fool girl believed you! That fool girl shared her bed with you, her heart with you, and you abandoned her!"

Laguna's green eyes narrowed further, slit jewels flashing in the sunlight. He would not be cowed so easily. "You ain't in any position to be tossin' stones, little lady. You orphaned my son."

"He would have fared no better with you, outsider!" she hissed, her glower spitting flames.

He clenched his jaw. "You orphaned Raine's son," he rebuked sharply. Her expression fell into one of muted indignation. "Forget me; that was Raine's kid you shipped off. That was her little boy you tossed away like--like some unwanted toy." His glare intensified, unwilling to give her a respite. "Didn't you ever stop to think about what you were doin' to him? Or to her?"

The woman's grasp on the aged wooden handle of the broom tightened until her bony knuckles were a stark white. Her gaze still didn't leave his, but he could see her floundering for some purchase, scrambling for a defense that had fewer holes than her damned misbegotten brain. He allowed her to try, certain she would fail.

Laguna Loire was not a vindictive man, unless pushed to the very limits of his patience and tolerance. Finding out his dead son was actually alive shoved him well beyond both. It boggled his mind; it was unspeakable that someone could loathe another so blindly and strongly that they would stoop to carving out their heart in some kind juvenile attempt at proving themselves better. It would have darkened his mood, in any fashion, but to drag his son into a petty feud? Deprive him of a father who would have died for him on a moment's notice?

Even he couldn't forgive that.

"You broke her heart!" she declared emphatically, her wrinkled face pinched in a reasonable facsimile of pain. "That girl begged for you to return, screamed to Hyne for your help, and you never came."

"Yes, I did!" he snapped in defense. Tense seconds passed, a warm breeze all too familiar to him rustling his hair, before the flames in his eyes slowly died down to embers of regret. "...I just came too late."

She harrumphed self-righteously. He grimaced darkly. "A day late and a gil short, boy! Sweet Raine was like a daughter to me, and you ruined her! I hope you're ashamed of what you did!"

"What I did?" Despite himself, he balked; mouth hanging slightly open in shock. The swell of spite that nearly toppled him over demanded he slight her as ruthlessly as she had him. With effort, he forced it back; knowing in his heart that whatever wound he could inflict would never even come close. Still, his words struck deep and drew blood.

"Like a daughter, huh? Well, you got a hell of a way of showin' it. I pity your real kids," he jibed tartly as his lips quirked into a sudden, humorless smile. Unable to resist the shot which had presented itself, he added as an afterthought, "Oh, yeah, that's right--" He pointed to her casually with his index finger. "--You never had any, right?"

It was her turn to balk, her stoic expression crumbling to shambles. He couldn't honestly say he felt any regret. "Funny how that one worked out, huh?"

Her mouth worked in wordless rage as the light creaking of underused hinges wafted through the too-silent square. Immediately dropping the glare, he pivoted his head and greeted Ellone with a wan smile; raising his left hand in a small wave. She, in turn, glanced between the two of them with quizzical brown eyes he had grown to love unconditionally decades ago. "Is everything okay, Uncle Laguna?"

He nodded amiably, shoving his hands into the pockets of his baggy brown pants. He inhaled deeply, smelling lilacs, and the grin became more genuine. 'Raine loved lilacs. Has anyone started planting them here? Now's the perfect time of year...' "I'm fine, Elle. Don't worry. I'll be along in just a second."

She returned the smile sweetly, her head teetering to the side. "That's what you said five minutes ago."

Laguna's head drooped against his chest, taking another deep breath and hoping the scent would ease his mind. "I know, I just, uh, was sayin' hi." He straightened his posture with a small pop--'You're getting old, Laguna; hopefully, she would've thought the gray streaks were sexy.'--and took an ambling step forward. "C'mon, Elle; show me around. Haven't been here in years, y'know."

Ellone giggled, and the cord of foreign contempt liquefied; returning to the nothingness from which it erupted. "Neither have I!"

"Well, then, let's go show each other around; how's that?" he asked with a lopsided grin, holding out a hand. "Deal?"

Her fine eyebrow arched as she took his hand in hers. "Deal! Come on, Uncle Laguna, remember this one spot...?"

As she led him through the square and out the other side, he spared a single glance over his shoulder to the old crone standing ramrod straight upon her porch, and winked. Laguna Loire was a happy man, once again.

The End