*********

"He is absolutely the most adorable thing I've ever seen!" Quistis cooed as she scratched the chicobo on the head.

Lucky purred intently.

"Isn't he though?" Selphie said as she packed more snow on her snow rendering of the bird. "I swear his picture must be under the definition of cute in the dictionary!"

"Oh absolutely!"

Irvine and Zell watched the two girls as they fussed over the little bird.

"Zell," Irvine said. "It appears that a guy needs chocobo feathers to get the attention of the opposite sex."

"Nah," Zell replied as he folded his arms across his chest. "The chocobo "likeness" thing don't work…I've had this hairstyle for years and it still hasn't got me a date."

"Ah yeah, that's sad."

"Hey ladies! You know, I wouldn't mind if you came over here and ruffled my feathers. I can do a good chocobo impression you know." Irvine yelled over to the two girls.

Selphie and Quistis turned and gave him a spiteful glare.

"Hey, it was just a thought!"

They paused as the doors to the Garden opened and Rinoa and Squall walked out to join their comrades. They remained silent until the two walked down the short stairway and then began applauding and cheering. They blushed at their welcoming reception and waved shyly to their small audience. Lucky ran and jumped immediately into Rinoa's arms.

"Hiya Lucky," she said and hugged the bird.

Zell cleared his throat and walked to stand before them. "We would like to take this moment to welcome you two back to the land beyond the infirmary. Its really good to see you again," He smiled. "And to commemorate this happy occasion, we, your friends, would like to present you with an eight-snowball salute." Zell bent down and shoved both of his gloved hands into the snow, the rest following his example.

"Oh shit."

Before Squall could say anything else he was being bombarded with snowballs. When the assault stopped he wiped at his face to regain his vision that was being hindered by a wall of white. He heard laughter in front of him, and oddly, behind him.

"Very funny…you guys are hilarious…yes, I missed this so much," he droned sarcastically.

"That's a very becoming look for you, you know." Rinoa said.

Squall turned and saw her smiling gleefully behind him. Not a drop of snow on her.

"You used me as a shield?" He said with a mock pout. "That cuts me deep."

"Sorry," she giggled. "You were the closer than the tree over there."

She proceeded to scoop up some snow of her own and used it to recover his face.

"Ow! Hey! Whose side are you on anyway?"

"Why, mine of course!" She threw another handful of snow and attempted to quickly run past him. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back to him.

"Ah, well, sorry for you then," he said as he picked her up. "My side would have been better." He walked over to a snowdrift and threw the surprised girl in it.

"Hey!" She laughed as she tried to free herself.

"That wasn't very nice Squall," Selphie quipped from behind him. She picked up another snowball and threw it at him. Quistis was quick to follow with a snowball of her own. "Yeah, it isn't nice to pick on girls!"

"Hah! Squall I have an army!" Rinoa said and pummeled him with another ball of snow.

"Hey! No ganging up on the guy!" Zell said as he threw a snowball at the girls.

Irvine quickly approached. "Zell! Now you should know better! You never, ever, ever hit a la-"

His remark was cut short as a snowball plowed into his face. He spit the snow out of his mouth before continuing.

"Okay, scratch what I just said," he said as he reached down into the snow. "These aren't ladies!"

The battle turned into an all out war between the six of them, the girls facing off against the boys. Each team had a snowdrift for use as a makeshift fortress. They fought fiercely with laughter as the sun continued to rise higher in the sky. The chicobo watched with an amused interest, the humans who in a few minutes time had captured the glimpse of their younger selves.

The boys finally gave up in surrender. This was due to the result of Rinoa tapping into her sorceress powers turning one snowball into six in mid air. Yes, a sorceress is an asset on a snowball team. Even though the boys screamed illegal move, the girls were quick to point out there had been no rules to begin with. And they told the boys, that the price of losing would be to buy dinner for them that evening.

Their squabble was interrupted when a young cadet came out into the snow to greet them. "Um, excuse me sir, but we just received word that your ship is almost ready and the headmaster said you could take some of our snowmobiles if you like. The repair crew said they could bring it up here…but they're not so sure on how to fly it."

"Hmm, it makes one wonder if they're sure how to fix it." Irvine muttered.

"No, that's fine," Squall replied to the cadet. "We have to make a stop on the way anyhow."

"Have a safe flight back sir," the cadet said and offered his hand.

"We will, thank you, and please tell the headmaster that we express gratitude to him and his garden for their hospitality."

"To make it short," Rinoa said as she poked an elbow into Squall's ribs. "We're grateful for everything."

The cadet smiled. "I'll tell him."

"See ya later Evan!" Selphie smiled cheerfully.

The cadet dropped his formalities and waved. "Bye Selphie! Take care! Write me okay?"

"You bet!"

She ran to catch up with the rest of the group, along with an astonished Irvine as they walked over the embankment towards the vehicle garage.

"Write him?" He queried. "What do you mean write him?"

"What, is that a crime?"

"Well…er…yeah it is. Was he even old enough to read?"

"Irvine Kinneas! Are you jealous?!?"

"Me? No, of course not!"

"Oh my God! You are!"

"Am not!"

"I can't believe this!" She laughed.

"Stop laughing, why would I be jealous of a little grat like that?"

"Maybe because that 'grat' has more class than you!"

"Oh please, I've got more class in the tip of my pinky toe than that guy."

"Well I've never seen it."

"Would you like to?" He said in a sultry tone of voice as he pretended to start taking off his duster.

"Ugh! There you go again!" She yelled as she shoved him away from her.

"What? What'd I say? C'mon Selphie! You know I'd go to the ends of the earth for you!"

"Yeah, but would you stay there?"

"Ouch, you really know how to hurt a gu-- "

"Hey! You two coming with us?" Squall asked from behind them.

Both of them turned to see the others sitting patiently doubled up on two of the three snowmobiles that they had unknowingly walked past.

"Um, yeah," Selphie laughed. "Sorry."

"Whoa. Please tell me I don't have to ride with this meathead!" She said as she approached.

"Wanna drive little darlin'?"

"Nice try. Your driving cowpoke, I'll not have you groping me."

"Okay, but you better hold on tight."

"Jerk."

"Flirt."

*********

The three vehicles raced through the powdered snow with ease. It was quite an exhilarating experience for Lucky who had trouble sitting still in Squall's lap as he drove. He was fascinated that he didn't have to use his legs to travel.

"Lucky, if you don't sit down, you'll be eating a beak full of snow if I have to stop suddenly."

The chicobo whistled.

"Yes Lucky," Rinoa said from behind Squall. "That is his concerned tone. He only uses that for those select few he cares about."

"Ha, ha. I could throw you off too you know."

"Oh Squall!" She said overdramatically as she hugged against him. "You really do care!"

"Whatever," he said, trying to hold the serious tone in his voice, and failing miserably.

Rinoa laughed.

Suddenly Lucky leapt from Squall's lap and off of the vehicle. The bird hit the ground running as it darted across the terrain.

"Hey! Where's the little guy going?" Zell yelled.

Somehow, Squall was pretty certain where the chicobo was headed. He motioned for the others and turned to follow the retreating yellow form. They cut their engines as they caught up with him. They found him digging frantically at the icy ground, desperately trying to clear away the snow.

"What's he doing?" Selphie said as they approached on foot.

"Bird's gone crazy," Irvine alleged.

"No, he hasn't." Rinoa said softly. She knelt behind Lucky and placed a hand on his small back. The chicobo stopped its digging and looked over his shoulder.

"She's not there anymore little one," she said tenderly as she stroked his feathers. "I'm sorry."

Lucky looked down at the snowy ground and then back to the young woman. He sensed what she was trying to tell him. It was something he already knew. For his mind knew of reality, he remembered watching her die and knew that not even time could bring his mother back to him. But the mind is something that is quickly overclouded, by the heart that holds even the tiniest bit of hope. He sought comfort in the human once more as he walked over and nuzzled against her. Tears formed in her eyes as a mournful sound rose in his throat. She had known this pain before. Rinoa wrapped her arms around him and did her best to give him comfort as he grieved.

The group stayed for a few minutes and gathered rocks, branches and any other small items they were able to locate and made an intricate pattern on the snow where the chocobo had fallen. He did not understand the rituals of humans; they were odd creatures. However, Lucky was nevertheless grateful for the honor they bestowed upon his mother.

**********

The chicobo began to feel more at ease. He rode quietly in Squall's lap until the vehicle came to a stop. He looked up and gazed at the surroundings. He saw the familiar forest, and he began to panic.

"What's wrong?" Squall questioned as he held the fidgeting bird. "You're home."

Perhaps he had spent too much time with the humans. Perhaps he felt that he belonged to their family now, because he had none. Maybe he was afraid of being rejected by the rest of his kind. Maybe death had left him with the burdening thought that he could lose, all over again. Whatever the reason, Lucky refused leave them.

"This is where you belong little guy," Squall chided as he tried to release the chicobo gently from his arms.

Lucky chirped frantically and scrambled to cling tighter to the young man. Selphie walked over and took the bird into her arms and sat him down on the ground and began talking gently to him.

"Hey Lucky. This is where you need to stay. You have a lot of growing up to do, and it happens so fast, you need to grow up knowing what it was like to be young. Because it only happens once."

Rinoa reached into the sleeve of her long coat. She fumbled with something for a moment underneath and then pulled out to reveal her black armband. She walked over and bent down in front of the chicobo.

"I've had this now for a long time," she said as she began to tie the band loosely around his small neck. "I wore it, so I wouldn't forget. I want you to have it now, so you won't forget…okay? Don't forget to be brave Lucky."

The chicobo stared curiously at the ornament around his neck and then nuzzled tightly against its presenter. Rinoa smiled and patted him on the head. "Take care of yourself, we'll see you again."

Lucky understood now what had to be done. He turned from the humans and began a slow walk towards the forest. Several times he looked over his shoulder to the humans, who were encouraging him forward. When he was about half way to the forest's edge, a large figure stepped out from the trees. He stared at her for a moment and chirped warily. The chocobo warbled gently to the young one and lowered her head so that she could meet his gaze at eye level. And though he didn't see his mother in her eyes, he saw himself. He saw what he was. He saw acceptance. And at that moment he didn't look back as he broke into a fast sprint into the waiting wings of his new family.

***********

When they arrived at the crash site, Squall saw a completely different aircraft than the one he and Rinoa had walked from just a little over two weeks ago. Two mumbas were finishing the final touches on the replaced wing as they approached. The furry creatures were quick to greet them. Or rather, one in particular.

"Laguna! Laguna!" They squeaked in unison.

Squall frowned.

"No. Not Laguna. Squall."

The mumbas stared at him for a moment and sniffed the air again.

"Laguna!"

"Squall! S-Q-U-A-L-L."

They looked at each other and then back to him curiously.

"Laguna."

"Ugh, never mind," he said as he put a hand to his face wearily. His friends chuckled behind him.

"Hey! You the kids that's come to pick this thing up?" A repairman asked as he stepped up and stood at the doorway.

"That'd be us," Zell yelled up at the man.

"Okay, well, it looks like there was a fire down in the main computer's circuitry boards, fried the wiring all to hell. We're having to replace most of it. Stuff is so out of date in this thing. Ya know they say they don't make em like they used too, well, there's a reason for that."

"That's all fine and good," Squall said impatiently. "We just want to go home."

"Sure, sure," the man replied. "I understand, we're just gonna need a couple of more hours. And then you'll be all set."

"Hours?" Quistis inquired. "They told us that it would be ready when we got here."

"Yeah, it woulda' been, but, well, we've had some problems getting the system rewired. No big deal really, it won't take long."

"Hey Wally!" A voice came from the inside. "Are these red wires supposed to hang out of the terminal like this?"

"Er, uh, excuse me folks," The repairman said quickly before darting inside the Ragnarok.

"Great. Wonderful. Fantastic." Squall sighed.

"Two hours?" Selphie whined. "What're we gonna do for two hours?"

"Well, I can think of one thing," Irvine said as he grinned mischievously at Selphie.

"Don't cross that line Irvy," she threatened. "I mean it."

"Yes ma'am."

"I have an idea," Rinoa said as she walked up to stand beside of Squall wrapping one of her arms around his back.

"What's that?" He asked.

She looked into his eyes and smiled playfully. Her free hand shot up from her side and she whacked him hard in the chest.

"Tag!" She said before running past him.

The rest of them smiled and laughed as they turned and followed Rinoa out into the snow, leaving behind a perplexed Squall.

"You're it Squall!" Rinoa shouted back to him.

He smiled as he watched them bounce around in the snow up ahead, waiting for him to give chase. His subconscious told him they were acting very childish and immature. And he hadn't realized until lately, that it could be such a wonderful feeling. He cracked his knuckles and stretched his legs like a sprinter.

"You guys are in so much trouble!" He said as he began to run after them.

Laughter stretched for miles across the bitter hills of Trabia. As six young adults, put away their adult things as they grasped at something that had been taken from each of them far too quickly. For a few brief and precious moments they held on to their childhood as tightly as they could, and they relived it.





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Hi again! Yes, I know this isn't the last chapter of Sorted Laundry. Much apologies! heheh, its on its way next, I promise. I wanted to do a story for the winter season. A snow fluff story, if you will but wasn't really sure how I would play one out. My writing buddy gave me the idea to do a follow-up to Ice That Abandons Me, which I wrote a few months ago. I had a lot of fun with the two-part sequel, it required much less seriousness. ^_^ Thanks so much for reading! Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

I want to dedicate this to that writing buddy and dear friend, Ashbear, whose constant encouragement has kept me going. Thank you friend. And hey, if any of you haven't read Crimson Lies...what the heck are you doing in here?!? The next chapter is up! Quick! go read! It's a fantastic story!

Till next time! ~~~~~~~waves~~~~~~~~