"Don't lose sight, don't deny
We're leaves meant to fall
There's a meaning to all our
Seeds of eulogy to sow along with dreams
Fill the need that can leave us grieving alone
A symphony resounding in our minds
Guides us through what we knew would come all along..."
"Tides of Time" by Epica
Beloved mother and wife
Laguna stared at the words mother and wife. He'd been a lousy husband. He was an even lousier father. There wasn't even a wedding. He gave Raine a ring and promised they'd have a real wedding once he got the money. And then Ellone went missing, and he had to leave before Raine could ever tell him the news that she was pregnant.
And then she died.
Mother and wife.
She didn't really get to be either. Laguna chuckled bitterly. Whoever carved the tombstone was incredibly gracious; even the surname Loire was there instead of her maiden name. Although nobody had ever outright said anything, he knew that the busybody residents of Winhill never forgave him for Raine's death. They'd all gossiped about how terrible a man he was for leaving her pregnant and alone, and there were rumors that she'd had complications because of his disappearance. He closed his eyes and clenched his jaw.
Raine. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I wish I could have been there.
He knelt down and brushed away a few loose twigs and weeds, then stood back up again. He glanced down at his ring finger and thought of the night he proposed to her.
Such a long time ago…
Ellone's grown so beautiful, Raine. And she's doing fine. She's finally happy. I think she'll be safe now. After all these years, she'll finally be safe. I wish you could see Squall, too. He'd make you so proud. I…I wish I could have known earlier about him, then I'd…things would have been different. Would it surprise you that he travels a lot, like I used to? He's a soldier, too. Ward and Kiros say that he looks like me. I disagree, though. He's got your eyes, Raine. I can see how perfect and blue they are and I think of you every time I see him. He's so headstrong, like you. And quiet. I've never seen a kid so quiet.
Laguna smiled. Not like me.
Our children have grown up to be so beautiful and so happy, Raine. You would be so proud of both of them. Hyne, I miss you so much.
The sweet, singsong voice floated over the tall grass as the breeze softly blew warm air towards his direction, and he turned around and looked up.
Further up the hill was Ellone, smiling at him and waving. She still looked a little frail, and her skin still had a pale sheen, but she was recovering quickly. Ward and Kiros were in the distance, watching over her.
Laguna smiled and took a few steps forward. He was about to call out to her when a loud humming sound got closer and closer until a dark shadow engulfed the entire field around them. They all looked up.
Balamb Garden was hovering over them, slowing to a faraway spot in the field to dock. Laguna grinned and glanced at Ellone. She was looking up at Garden as well, pulling a piece of flyaway hair behind her ear. The sudden cool air without the sun made her shiver and she shifted up her green wrap around her arms as she watched the Garden float over them to dock. He continued to walk towards her and waited until the loud hum died down before he spoke. They both watched the Garden slowly sink down to the ground, and the gigantic golden rings at the base slowly rolled to a stop. Laguna glanced down at her.
"Elle...how are you feeling?"
Ellone smiled up at him and hugged him. "I'm fine. What about you?"
Laguna chuckled. "Me? What about me?"
She cocked her head at him and smiled sympathetically. "You look sad, Ungle Laguna."
Laguna rubbed the back of his neck. "Oh. I do?"
Her gaze darted towards Raine's headstone. "It's a beautiful day for her today."
Laguna turned his head and followed Ellone's gaze. "Yeah. It sure is."
"I miss her so much." Ellone sighed.
Laguna turned back towards Ellone and hugged her again. "Me too, sweetheart. Me too."
After a long pause, he straightened up and cleared his throat. "So, did you walk around town? Were you able to visit the flower shop?"
Ellone smiled and nodded. "Mm-hmm. Remember the old couple that used to run it?"
Laguna turned pink and shrugged. "Er…not really…but…"
"Well, their daughter runs it now. She has two small children with her…" Ellone trailed off and smiled. "Two orphans. They reminded me of…myself. They were so helpful; running around the shop trying to impress me. The little girl kept handing me daisies and would say, 'no charge!' It was the sweetest thing."
Laguna chuckled. "I remember when you used to hand me a pint of apple juice and say, 'drink up, sailor!' Except it sounded more like, 'dwink up, sailo!'"
Ellone laughed. "I don't even know where I learned that!"
"Thank goodness it was apple juice instead of something else."
"I think if Raine saw me get into the ale I'd get swatted in the rear."
"Come to think of it…I probably got a little tipsy off of the apple juice, didn't I?"
Ellone laughed again. "Uncle Laguna, I knew you were just kidding around with me."
"I wasn't faking it, Elle. I think you put something in it."
"Maybe it was the sugar."
She smiled. "That was always so much fun. Whenever you dangled me upside down by my ankles, asking for loose change so you could buy more apple juice…"
"Raine hated that."
Ellone giggled. "She was always stricter with you than she was with me!"
They both chuckled. After a long pause, Ellone added softly, "She really did love you, you know."
Laguna set his jaw.
Ellone looked at the ground as they walked. "She wanted to let you know that."
"Sometimes, I…" Laguna trailed off and licked his lips. "I don't deserve her love. I should have been there for her."
Ellone squeezed his hand. "Don't say that, Uncle Laguna! Don't blame yourself for what happened. It…it just couldn't be helped. There are a lot of things in life I don't understand, and I probably never will…but it simply won't do to dwell on them."
Laguna sighed. "I guess you're right, Elle. As always."
"Besides…" Ellone trailed off and glanced up at Garden. "Raine gave us something beautiful before she left. It's as if she's still watching over us. Protecting us."
Laguna followed her gaze and looked up at the enormous complex that towered over them as they drew closer.
He felt tears prick at his eyes and he smiled. "She sure did, didn't she?"
There was another long pause as they walked slowly towards Balamb Garden. Laguna cleared his throat and changed the subject. "Well…are you ready to pay Squall a visit?"
Ellone smiled. "Yes, of course. I'm so glad they were able to stop out here. I haven't seen them since Esthar."
"Their Garden party should be a lot of fun, but I don't want you to overexert yourself, Elle," Laguna patted her hand as he let her take his elbow and they started to walk towards the Garden.
Ellone chuckled. "Uncle Laguna, this is their party. Not mine. I won't do any heavy dancing or drinking, trust me."
"It's just that you've been through so much…I can't help but worry…" he began.
She squeezed his arm. "Don't worry about me," she assured him. "Everything is going to be fine. We have Squall and his SeeDs now. Besides, the worst is over."
Laguna smiled. "Yeah."
There was a long pause. Kiros and Ward were following them distantly, acting as both Laguna's and Ellone's bodyguards.
"That brings me to my next point, Elle," Laguna broke the silence with a nervous voice. "I…I want you to stay in Balamb Garden for a while."
Ellone looked up at him, surprised, but didn't reply.
"I think it's for the best," Laguna continued, staring ahead at the horizon. "You'll be close to Squall…and Cid and Edea…all the other children from the orphanage…"
"But…" Ellone looked slightly hurt. "I haven't seen you in so long!"
"I'll stay in Garden for the rest of the week," Laguna added quickly. "I'm taking some time off from Esthar so I can spend time with you. But there are lots of reasons I don't want you to return to Esthar quite yet, Elle. For one, I don't trust Odine, and I don't want him anywhere around you. For two, we've still got our hands full cleaning up the mess left behind from the Lunar Cry, and you won't have anything to do if I'm busy in the office all day. If you stay here, at least you'll get to be with all your old friends. I know you'll be safe with them. I know you'll have a great time catching up with all of them."
Ellone remained silent.
"Besides," Laguna added with a sad smile, "I thought you were sick of Esthar. You were up at the Lunar Base for so long…I figured you didn't want to have anything to do with Esthar after all you've been through."
"Of course not," Ellone shook her head. "As long as you're around, Uncle Laguna, I don't mind. I just wish I could see you more often, that's all."
"Oh, Elle, I promise to make up for it," Laguna replied in an apologetic tone. "There's so much I have to make up for…especially for you and Squall…I haven't done nearly as much as I should have…"
"Don't say that," she cut in. "You've done so much for me already, Uncle Laguna. I just wish…you just need some time off, that's all." She smiled playfully at him. "When's the last time you got a little rest and relaxation, mister president?"
He chuckled. "A long time. I hope I don't say anything stupid tonight. I'm a cheap drunk nowadays."
"I want to hear about your travels," Ellone grinned. "I'll get Kiros or Ward to loosen you up and then you'll be up all night talking."
Laguna chuckled. "Well, for you, Elle, I would. I'll tell you anything you want to hear."
She sighed and gave his arm a squeeze as they walked towards the entrance of Balamb Garden. "I'm so glad it's finally over. It feels so good to finally be with you, Uncle Laguna."
He kissed her forehead and squeezed her hand, holding back tears. "Sweet, sweet Elle…I'm glad too, honey. Together at last." He stopped walking and faced her. "Er…before we go any further, could I make a request?"
She cocked her head. "Hmm?"
"It's a lot to ask, and if you don't want to, I'd understand…you are, of course, not obligated to say yes or anything…"
"What is it?"
Laguna sighed nervously and pursed his lips. "Could you…do you think…you could call me 'dad?' You are, after all, like a daughter to me."
Ellone's lip quivered and tears immediately sprung to her eyes. She leapt towards him and wrapped her arms around his neck, sobbing silently. He hugged her back tightly. As she cried, he continued to hold her and rock her softly.
"I love you, daddy," she warbled softly into his chest.
He squeezed his eyes shut and hugged her tighter, letting out a breath. "I love you too. Oh…my baby, baby girl."
Author's Note: I intended for the "garden party" Laguna mentions to be the "camcorder party" at the end of the game.