Chapter 20: …Is The End

Laguna sat in the main library in the presidential palace complex, perusing yet another dusty, all but forgotten document, much as he'd done nearly every evening since returning from Balamb. He was searching the oldest records he could find, and thus far, they had all provided him with the same information. Not one sorceress recorded had ever given birth, or even become pregnant. Not one.

So, that left him completely baffled on two fronts: How had Rinoa become pregnant, and what would the result be?

Laguna didn't know, and he didn't have enough information to even speculate on it. The records in the Estharian National Library were as complete as it was possible to get. Laguna had found chronicles here of Ancient Centra that he hadn't thought existed. He had even learned, much to his surprise, that the Leonhart family had once been nobility in that ancient empire before it had fallen. So, if any record existed at all of the earliest of sorceresses, the direct descendants of Hyne herself, it would likely be found here. If it existed at all. He had not yet found those chronicles.

Still, he continued searching, looking for anything at all that would answer his questions and ease the worry that nibbled away at the back of his mind on the behalf of his son and daughter in law.

Finally he sighed, closing his eyes and rubbing at his temples to soothe away the headache that was beginning. He knew it for eyestrain, and reflected ruefully that he would have to start wearing reading glasses if it was starting to bother him that much. Yet another sign of advancing age that Laguna was less than happy about.

"Ah. Zhere you are. I haff vondered vhere you haff been." Odine said, wizened face and jet black eyes alive with curiosity.

"I'm researching something." Laguna said noncommittally.

"How are your son and his vife? They are vell?" Odine asked.

Laguna nodded wordlessly. He wasn't sure how much information had filtered down to Esthar yet from Balamb, and he didn't know if Rinoa and Squall had made a formal announcement of their impending parenthood yet, so he decided to keep mum on that subject for the moment at least. He knew the news couldn't be kept secret for long however, Rinoa's condition would eventually become obvious.

And he had no idea what would happen once that information reached the ears of the little man standing before him.

We're going to have to keep a closer watch on him. No telling what he may decide to do once that miraculous bit of news reaches him. Laguna thought.

"Vhat are you researching?" Odine asked.

"Sorceresses. I've always found it curious that there is no record of any sorceress bearing children. I'm just trying to find out why." Laguna answered.

Odine's dark eyes sparkled with interest at Laguna's mention of his favorite subject. He still pulled his unnaturally black hair (Laguna suspected he dyed it) into the odd topknot he favored, and still wore the voluminous, multicolored clownlike outfit that made him look more than a little ridiculous. But Laguna knew that the silly, slightly odd appearance hid a mind that was far more cunning and dangerous than even he had believed at first. Until he'd seen it in action.

"Ah. I haff a theory on zhat. Vould you like to hear it?" Odine asked.

Laguna nodded. Any little bit of info would help.

"Okay. In your studies so far, haff you noticed any sort of pattern in zhe manner in vhich zhe sorceresses receive zheir powers?" Odine asked.

"No, not really, aside from the fact that they all seem to choose girls younger than five to be their successors." Laguna answered.

Odine nodded enthusiastically, "Just so. Zhey alvays choose young girls. Vhy is ziss, do you think?"

"I don't really know, to be honest." Laguna said.

"Zhe tradition states zhat zhe younger zhe girl, zhe easier it iz for her to adapt to zhe power. And also, it iz easier to train her in its use. Zhe girl's body and mind is more able to absorb zhe power and make it part of her. Zhat is vhy no girl older zhan ten has ever become a sorceress. Aside from one." Odine said, studying Laguna intently.

"Rinoa." Laguna said.

"Yes." Odine confirmed, continuing, "She was seventeen vhen she received zhe power. Zhe shock, along vith Ultimecia's attempt to posses her, vere vhat caused her to fall into zhe coma she vas in vhen she vas brought here. Her body and mind vere not only fighting Ultimecia, but also the new power she vas granted as vell."

"Okay, but that still doesn't fully explain sorceress infertility." Laguna said.

"Listen carefully zhen, and I vill outline my theory to you. All of zhe sorceresses receive zheir powers at young ages, yes?" When Laguna nodded, Odine continued, "zhey all of zhem, became sorceresses before zhey reach physical maturity. My theory iz, zhe power somehow changes zheir bodies as zhey grow, slowing and even halting zheir development. Zhey never become completely mature, physically. Zome, like Adel, do not even develop secondary female characteristics."

Laguna nodded. It made sense. Adel had been monstrous, and it had been hard to believe that the towering creature that called itself a sorceress was in fact, female. From what he'd learned of Adel's own history, she had been chosen and given her power at a very young age indeed. She'd been barely two years old when the power was conferred to her. If Odine's theory was correct, it would go a long way toward explaining how she'd turned into the creature she had become.

"Zhere is again, one exception to zhiss pattern." Odine said, watching Laguna carefully.

"Rinoa. Again." Laguna said, realization dawning on him.

"Indeed. She vass already physically mature vhen she received her power. She vass already fertile, capable of bearing children. Based on ziss, it is not impossible zhat she could become pregnant. Making her zhe first sorceress ever to achieve zhiss miracle." Odine said, eyes gleaming in excitement.

"But, if the power changes their bodies…" Laguna said, beginning to worry in earnest for Rinoa and her unborn babies.

"I do not think it vill haff zhe same effect upon Sorceress Rinoa. It may slow her aging, but her body has already finished growing, and were she to become pregnant, I think ziss process vill not be interfered vith. But," Odine raised a finger, dark eyes boring intensely into Laguna's. "ziss is theory only. I cannot prove the truth of it unless zhe Sorceress Rinoa does become pregnant. Zhat is vhy I must see her zhe moment she does. My research depends upon it!"

Laguna swallowed nervously at that, and hoped his poker face was good enough not to give away the news that she had already become pregnant. Listening to Odine, Laguna acknowledged that what both Squall and Rinoa feared might indeed come to pass. If Odine learned of Rinoa's pregnancy, he would do everything in his power to bring her to his lab for his precious research. And Laguna already knew that Odine wouldn't care who he hurt in the process.

Laguna also knew that Squall would not hesitate to kill Odine if he had the audacity to attempt to use his wife like he would a lab animal.

The problem was, they only had a few short weeks before a blind man could tell that Rinoa was with child. It would only take one good photograph of her for Odine, and the rest of the world, to know.

Swallowing again, Laguna said, "That's a fascinating theory Odine. Thank you for sharing that with me, it was very informative." Sighing and stretching, Laguna stood to leave.

"You vill tell me, yes? If your son's vife becomes pregnant?" Odine asked eagerly.

Laguna grimaced. It wasn't as though he could hide it completely…but he could buy his son some time to prepare for the inevitable challenge to come.

"Yes." Laguna said. He wasn't lying, precisely. He just didn't specify when he'd tell Odine.

He needed to speak to Squall first, and they needed to work out a plan together.

"How was the honeymoon?" Squall asked.

Irvine grinned, "It was great. Thanks a lot buddy, I really appreciate it."

"Thank my dad. It was his villa." Squall said, smiling slightly.

"I already did." Irvine replied.

They both sat on surfboards just offshore of Rinahl beach. One of the rare times that Squall was able to come out to surf with Zell and Irvine. The waves were setting up beautifully but they hadn't yet found one that they wanted to ride, so they simply sat and waited for one. The weather was beautiful, just warm enough to make the cold seawater refreshing by contrast.

Rinoa and Selphie were both walking along the shore, deep in conversation, with Selphie wearing her little yellow bikini and Rinoa in a black one. It was still early in Rinoa's pregnancy, so the signs were subtle, but they were there, if one knew what to look for.

"How's Rinoa doing? She's looking pretty good." Irvine commented.

Squall raised his eyebrows and said in a warning tone, "Irvine…"

Irvine laughed, "I love Selphie, but you have to admit Squall, pregnancy agrees with your wife." Irvine hoped Selphie looked that good when she got pregnant. Whenever that would be. Neither of them was in a hurry for that just yet, they wanted to get settled into their lives first.

Squall smiled, saying softly, "Yeah, it does. She's doing fine, so far." Squall watched Rinoa as she walked along the beach, agreeing with Irvine's observation. She was still slender, and from far off no one could tell, but the changes her body had already undergone thus far were nothing less than fascinating. Particularly the way she suddenly seemed to be outgrowing her bikini top. That change was one that Squall was very happy about.

"Well, that's good to hear. You guys think of names for the babies yet?" Irvine asked, curiously.

Squall shrugged, "We're still working on that. I already know what I want to name my son, but my daughter's going to be a little tougher to figure out."

Then Squall paused, laughing slightly before adding, "My son. My daughter. It sounds weird for me to be saying that."

"How do you feel about it? About becoming a father?" Irvine asked. Squall wasn't terribly forthcoming about his feelings most of the time, and Irvine wanted to know how his friend was dealing with such a huge change in his life.

Squall sighed, running his fingers through his hair before answering, "I'm terrified, and worried, and…excited. I worry about Rinoa, about how she's doing, and I worry about how I'm going to do this. Me? A father?" Squall shook his head, continuing, "I have no idea how to raise one child, let alone two. I have no idea what kind of father I'll be."

"You know, they have books for that. Might want to study up on it." Irvine suggested.

Squall nodded, "Yeah, I've already gotten a couple. So far, I'm still confused."

"So, what do you want to name your son?" Irvine asked.

Squall paused, and then answered, "Saber."

"You're kidding, right? You're going to name your son after a sword?" Irvine asked, incredulous.

Squall shrugged, "I was named for a type of rainstorm. So was my mother. I couldn't think of any weather related names that didn't sound completely stupid, and calling him 'gunblade' is just ridiculous. Saber at least sounds cool."

Irvine considered that for a moment, then tried it out, "Saber Leonhart. You know? It works. What about the girl?"

"Rinoa and I agreed that I'd name our son, and she'd name our daughter." Squall answered.

"Hey! You guys gonna surf or what?" Zell called over to them as he paddled toward a cresting swell. It looked like a nice one, and Squall exchanged a look with Irvine, who shrugged.

"Yeah! Right behind you Zell!" Irvine called back. He and Squall began paddling toward the swell and they split off to give each other enough space to ride the wave properly.

They rode the waves until the sunset began pouring its golden light all over the beach. While he was surfing, Squall had opened his connection to Rinoa and shared his exhilaration with her, which she enjoyed immensely. About mid-afternoon, Squall felt a curious queasy hunger and sent a query to Rinoa who confirmed it was coming from her.

Why don't you go home and get something to eat? We'll be done here in a little while. He had told her.

They were walking back to Irvine's truck after they were done, with Irvine carrying his surfboard under one arm and with the other arm draped over Selphie's shoulders. The evening breeze had picked up, drying the seawater from their bodies and cooling them.

"Rinoa and I are moving to Deling City." Squall said.

"What?" Zell exclaimed, "You're leaving Garden?"

"You're not quitting on us, are you?" Irvine asked, worried.

Squall shook his head, "No. I'm still Commander here and that's not going to change. But the medical facilities are better in Deling City than here, so we've decided to relocate there temporarily. At least until the babies are born and able to travel."

"So, what? You're going to commute back and forth every day?" Zell asked.

"Yeah. I'll have to fly the Ragnarok back and forth, the train would take too long." Squall answered.

"Do you know when the babies are due?" Selphie asked.

"Midwinter. January." Squall said.

"When are you going to move?" Irvine asked.

"Next month." Squall answered.

Irvine fell silent, thinking. His Instructor training would be starting at about the same time. It couldn't be a coincidence. They reached Irvine's truck and loaded their surfboards into the back.

"Selphie and I are transferring down there at around the same time." Irvine commented, leaning against the tailgate.

"You guys are going too?" Zell asked, incredulous.

"Yeah, I put in for my instructors license, and the training for it is at Galbadia Garden. Selphie and I are transferring there temporarily while I'm taking the classes." Irvine explained.

"Its not a coincidence that we're all going to be there at the same time, is it?" Selphie asked.

Squall shook his head, answering, "no, its not." Then he hesitated, looking from Irvine to Selphie.

Turning and leaning back against Irvine's truck and gazing back out to the ocean, Squall took a deep breath and said softly, "I need you guys to do me a favor."

"What? Anything you need man, you know we're there for you." Irvine said. Selphie and Zell both nodded in agreement.

"I've arranged it so that Rinoa can work as the assistant to Galbadia Garden's doctor in the infirmary. She's done pretty well with her training, and even if she can't really use her magic right now to cure anyone, she's still a pretty good medic." Squall began, and then turned to Irvine and Selphie, continuing slowly, "I need you two to…keep an eye on her, while I'm at work here."

Irvine and Selphie both frowned, exchanging a glance, then Irvine asked, "If she's working at Galbadia Garden, she'll be safe, right? Nobody can get past a full squad of SeeDs, and she'll be surrounded by them."

Squall expelled a breath forcefully, raking his fingers through his hair in frustration. How could he explain to his friends the disquiet he felt about leaving Garden and moving to Deling City? How could he illustrate to them that the concerns he had for Rinoa's safety were unfortunately, very real?

"I know. I just… I have this feeling…" Squall said, trying to articulate his worries. It wouldn't be long until Rinoa's pregnancy would be obvious. Squall shuddered at the thought of what Odine might attempt when he found out.

"Hey, look man," Irvine said, gripping Squall's shoulder, "nobody would be foolish enough to take on all the SeeDs in Galbadia Garden just to get at her. I get where you're coming from though, I do. Selphie and I, we'll be happy to help in any way you need us to. You know I've got your back bro."

Squall sighed in relief, saying, "Thanks, both of you."

"What about me? Is there anything I can do?" Zell asked.

Squall turned to him and answered, "actually, yes. I need you to help monitor the intel contacts we have in FH and Esthar. Let me know if anything unusual comes up. Any increase in activity, movement, anything."

"So, you're anticipating trouble from that direction?" Zell asked, curiously.

Squall nodded, answering, "They know Rinoa's a sorceress, and well… we get photographed a lot. Eventually, everyone's going to know she's pregnant. Whether you love sorceresses or not, that's pretty significant news, especially considering that its never happened before. Now, it's still rumor here that she's a sorceress, but I don't know how long that'll last. I just want to be prepared if trouble does come."

Zell nodded, saying, "You got it man."

"Thanks." Squall said.

"You and Rinoa are coming to our reception tonight, right?" Irvine asked.

"Yes." Squall answered with a smile.

"We know it's a little odd to do it more than two weeks after we actually got married, but since nobody actually got to be there, we figured this would make up for it." Selphie said. Irvine opened the door of his truck for her and went around to the driver's side.

"You want a ride back with us, guys? I know you two came with Rinoa and I guess she's already gone home?" Irvine asked.

Squall shrugged, "sure, if you've got room." Zell nodded.

"Yeah, we do. Rinoa told me she had to get something to eat, she was feeling sick." Selphie told him. Squall smiled slightly and nodded. He already knew.

"Well, it might be a little tight, but I do have a back seat, so hop in guys." Irvine said.

They did as instructed, and were back at Balamb Garden in moments. They all parted company in the parking garage, Zell and Squall reclaiming their surfboards from the bed of Irvine's truck.

Walking back to his-their-rooms, Irvine kissed Selphie's temple and said, "want to share a shower with me? We've got a couple of hours to kill before our reception."

"Of course, silly. It'll take less time if we shower together. Besides, its much more fun." She smiled. Irvine chuckled.

"I agree." He said as they reached their apartment. It had taken several hours of intensive cleaning to restore it to its usual order when Irvine and Selphie had returned from their honeymoon two days earlier.

Someone, apparently, had gained access to his apartment and rigged it. He had to admire whomever it was that had done it, because it was a truly elegant piece of work. The manner in which it was done, the fact that there was no evidence of forced access, the sheer subtlety and deviousness of the booby traps employed, led Irvine to think that Squall may have been the culprit. Which was surprising, because he wasn't given to practical jokes.

However, Squall also wasn't one to issue idle threats either, and he had promised payback for his bachelor party.

When he and Selphie had gotten home, Irvine, as a grand, romantic gesture, picked her up and carried her across the threshold…. And nearly broke his neck as he hit a tripwire that triggered an air horn, startling him into stumbling over another tripwire that sent a stack of books cascading into his path. Both he and Selphie sprawled onto the carpet, which was knee-deep in cotton balls.

Before they got to their feet, they both cautiously surveyed the area and found a fine network of nearly invisible tripwires rigging canisters of silly string, shaving cream, more stacks of books and even an egg launcher. It had taken him and Selphie most of the night to disarm them all.

All but one…Irvine had missed the bucket of ice water rigged above the doorway to his bedroom. Which made him feel really stupid since it was so simple and basic that he should have caught it…but, and this was what made Irvine think it was Squall's handiwork… the manner in which it was set up was a masterpiece of misdirection. Something Squall excelled at.

It was the main reason why Irvine never bothered to play chess with him. He always won.

Irvine stowed his surfboard in the closet while Selphie began removing her swimsuit, and he turned to admire anew the slender figure of his wife. While he'd had two weeks to get used to the idea, it still felt odd to have that particular term applied to anyone; likewise with husband.

But, he was getting used to it, and was certainly enjoying married life with Selphie so far.

Sneaking up behind her, he slid his arms around her waist and kissed the side of her neck, whispering, "that swimsuit looks so damn good on you. You have no idea how badly I wanted to just hop off my surfboard and drag you back here."

Selphie sighed, smiling as his hands traveled upwards to fondle her breasts as he continued nuzzling at her neck and earlobe. Her knees went weak and she leaned back against him with a soft moan.

"You should have, you looked so sexy on that surfboard, with the sun in your hair and that gorgeous tan you got in Esthar, I was literally drooling. I couldn't wait to get back home with you." She said softly. Irvine tightened his arms around her, pulling her close and resting his cheek against hers for a moment.

"I love you." He whispered, kissing her cheek.

"I love you too." She responded to him, and then added, "You want to continue this in the shower? Or would you rather hold off until after the reception?"

Irvine laughed softly, asking, "Can it be both?"

"Of course it can." She smiled. Irvine growled playfully and started nibbling at her neck. Selphie shivered at the thrill that tingled up her spine as he did. Irvine slid both hands down over her ribs to her belly, coming to rest at her hips. Hooking his thumbs into her bikini bottom, he pulled them down, and Selphie obligingly stepped out of them as they fell to the floor.

Turning in his arms, Selphie pressed herself against Irvine's body and reached up, slipping her hands behind his neck and pulling him into a deep kiss. As she kissed him, she worked her fingers back into his hair and pulled off the elastic band confining his hair into his usual ponytail. His arms tightened around her, then his hands trailed downward to her derrière. Cupping her cheeks, he pressed her against him, and she moaned softly at feeling his excitement.

Stepping back, she took his hands and towed him toward the bathroom and into the shower.

The water was turned on and adjusted and Irvine quickly shed his board shorts and stepped into the shower letting the warm water sluice down his body and into his hair. When Selphie joined him, they continued from where they'd left off, the heat and steam of the shower combining with the heat of their passion.

Their lips fused and tongues caressed each other as their bodies came together, Irvine lifting Selphie as he entered her, pressing her up against the far wall of the shower, being mindful of the tricky footing as he did. Selphie wrapped her legs around him and held on with her hands around his neck.

"Don't slip," Selphie said between kisses, holding Irvine's face between her hands. She dragged in a deep breath of the steamy air. A moan was pulled from her as Irvine thrust and retreated.

"I won't honey," He replied breathlessly, adding on a laugh, "can you imagine trying to explain a shower-slip injury to Dr. Kadowaki?"

"Yeah, I think I'll pass…ooooh…" She replied, then lost the power of speech entirely as Irvine stepped up his pace, thrusting harder and faster. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the cool tile, biting her lip as each thrust brought her closer to the breaking point. She clutched at him when she reached it, shuddering with a gasping cry as she did. Irvine's release came moments later, and he crushed her close while riding the waves of pleasure that washed over them both.

Kissing her gently, he smoothed her now wet hair back from her face and smiled, "I guess we'd better actually wash up now, huh?"

Selphie smiled back and said, "Yeah, we don't want to be late for our own reception, do we?" Irvine merely chuckled as they disengaged from one another and concentrated on the other reason they'd gotten into the shower.

Two hours later they were both standing at the doorway to the main ballroom at Garden, greeting everyone that came in. Selphie had worn the dress she'd gotten married in, and just as before, Irvine had rented a tuxedo. They'd gone back and forth over that, Irvine thinking that his dress uniform would suffice but Selphie adamantly insisting on a tux just like he'd worn at their wedding.

He had to admit that with his hair slicked back into the braid that Selphie had done for him, he looked pretty darn good in the tux. Selphie of course looked stunning.

The flowers and decorations looked wonderful, and a beautifully decorated table stood off to the side with refreshments. Champagne was provided to all via servers that circulated through the crowd.

Cid and Edea offered their congratulations, as did all of Irvine's friends, Quistis, Zell, Nida, and other friends that Irvine had invited from Galbadia Garden. When Irvine's musician friend Mark had heard of his impromptu wedding, he insisted upon providing the music for the reception. Squall and Rinoa, also in attendance, gave their congratulations as well, even though they had already done so in private.

"This is a lovely reception Selphie, you've done a great job, as always." Rinoa said, smiling. She had worn a deep wine-red silken dress that suited her coloring perfectly. With her hair pulled up and her skin glowing from pregnancy, she looked amazing, and Irvine couldn't fault Squall for the intense attention he paid her. He wouldn't be surprised if they left the party early, judging by the look in Squall's eyes.

"Thanks, believe it or not, Irvine helped." Selphie said, glowing herself with happiness.

"How so?" Rinoa asked, leaning into Squall as he put his arm around her shoulder.

"The lead singer of the band playing is an old friend of Irvine's. When he heard we'd gotten married, he insisted on coming to play our reception." Selphie answered.

"They're good." Rinoa commented, and Squall nodded his agreement. Then she bade them farewell and towed an only slightly resisting Squall out onto the dance floor. Irvine chuckled quietly, knowing he was doing it just for appearances.

Turning to Selphie and holding out his elbow, he asked, "shall we dance darlin'?"

Smiling up at him, she took it and said, "I think we shall."

Later, Irvine walked out onto the balcony to get some air and was surprised to see Squall leaning against the railing, sipping at a glass of champagne.

"Hey there, where's Rinoa?" Irvine asked, looking around for her.

Squall shrugged, "she had to visit the ladies' room." Irvine chuckled. Moving over to the railing, he leaned against it next to Squall.

He looked over, curious, and asked, "Where's Selphie?"

"Same thing." He answered with a grin.

Squall laughed, "It's a conspiracy. Better watch your ponytail. You might wake up with a haircut."

"Never." Irvine said firmly. They lapsed into silence, enjoying the cool night air.

"By the way," Irvine said, slanting a sideways glance over at Squall, "nice work with the tripwires. Very elegant."

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Squall said flatly, but a twitch at the corners of his lips gave him away.

"I saw that." Irvine said. "You did do it, didn't you?"

Squall shrugged, chuckling, then said, "I had no choice. An idle threat is an empty one."

"Bastard." Irvine laughed.

"I prefer asshole, thank you very much. I know who my father is." Squall said, putting one hand into his hip pocket.

"Okay. Asshole then." Irvine said.

Squall inclined his head and said gravely, "thank you."

Pulling his hand out of his pocket, he studied what he held there.

"What's that?" Irvine asked, curious.

"Rinoa found this in some old stuff I'd forgotten I still had." Squall answered.

Irvine grinned, "So she's starting to pack already?"

"Kind of, mostly just sorting things and getting ready though. I didn't realize I had so much stuff." Squall commented. Irvine grinned again.

"It tends to accumulate whether you want it to or not. Me and my guns, you and your gunblades." Irvine said, Squall snorted at this observation.

"So what is it?" Irvine asked. Squall showed it to him. Irvine narrowed his eyes, studying it.

The golden light from the ballroom dueled with the dim starlight from above and the object, a small seashell, shimmered with rainbow iridescence. It was beautiful, and Irvine remembered vividly the day he gave it to Squall. It had been the day he'd left the orphanage for good, bound for the new school that the Kramers had built.

"Do you know what it is?" Irvine asked, wondering if Squall remembered where it had come from.

"It's a rainbow shell. They're very rare and usually only found in the waters of southern Centra. I had to look it up. I had no idea at first." Squall answered, frowning.

"Do you remember how you got it?" Irvine asked, watching him carefully. Squall frowned for a moment, then his expression relaxed and he focused on Irvine.

"You gave it to me." Squall sighed, relaxing back against the balcony railing and tilting his face back, staring at the stars.

"I remember now. You were… leaving. For Galbadia. They were throwing a party for you in the orphanage to send you off. But I…I didn't want to see you go. I didn't feel like celebrating it. So, I left." I was losing yet another person I cared about, and I couldn't handle it. Squall thought, retreating into silence again.

"They…we … searched for you for hours." Irvine said quietly. "I finally remembered this little cove with a sea cave in it that you showed me once. And I found you there." Then he laughed softly, "I gave you that shell so you wouldn't forget me. So maybe if we found each other again, we could still be friends. Brothers. Ironic that I was the only one out of all of us that you couldn't remember."

Squall looked down at his feet for a moment, and then looked up with a half-smile, "If you recall, it was both you and Ellone that I seemed to have the most trouble remembering."

"Yeah. I wondered why." Irvine commented.

"It hurt less, to forget." Squall said simply. Irvine nodded. That was what he had thought.

"So, it wasn't the GF's then, that caused you to forget?" Irvine asked.

Squall shrugged, "I don't know. Maybe not entirely… maybe they helped me to forget things that I didn't want to remember."

"You didn't forget everything though. And… and it came back. It took a few months completely unjunctioned, but some of it did come back." Irvine said. That was something worth remembering. The human mind was far more resilient than anyone had even a clue of. Squall's was proof.

Squall nodded, "yeah, it did." They fell into a companionable silence, enjoying the peace of the night and the cool breeze from the nearby ocean. That was how Rinoa and Selphie found them.

"So here's where you guys decided to hide out." Selphie said, smiling and slipping her hands around Irvine's waist. He obligingly hugged her close. Rinoa simply walked into Squall's arms and he held her close. It was almost eerie, how they seemed to communicate without saying anything. Irvine wondered about that. He could ask Squall about it, but wasn't sure that he'd get an answer about that aspect of their relationship.

Probably best to let sleeping lions lie.

"You want to go back in and dance some more?" Irvine asked Selphie. At her nod, Irvine turned to leave.

As he did, Squall said, "I think Rinoa and I are going to call it a night."

Irvine grinned, gave him a wink and held his hand out. Squall grabbed it and shook it.

"Thanks for coming man." Irvine said, adding, "You two have a good night."

"You as well. Good night Irvine." Squall said as Rinoa gave Selphie a brief hug. They parted company then, Squall and Rinoa making their way to the exit, while Irvine escorted Selphie out to the dance floor.

As they began to waltz to the slow tune that the band was playing, Selphie asked him, "So, what were you guys talking about out there?"

Irvine gently guided Selphie into a twirl and brought her back to him, pulling her close and answering, "Memories."

"Good ones?" She asked.

"Yeah. Mostly." Irvine answered. Selphie nodded and concentrated on the dance, following Irvine's lead flawlessly.

The last few months had changed them all profoundly, and Irvine for one couldn't wait to go back to Galbadia and learn what he needed to in order to become an instructor. It would be odd, to go back there married, something completely at odds with the person he had once been. But he at least, was willing and able to embark upon this new chapter of his life with Selphie at his side.

"Have I told you lately that I love you?" Irvine asked as he pulled her close, gazing down at her. The music still played, but they weren't dancing anymore.

Selphie tipped her face up to his and answered, "Not in the last couple of hours or so."

"I'll have to remedy that," Irvine murmured, bending down to kiss her.

Just before their lips met, he whispered, "I love you."