Seven Months Later
"Laguna! Get out of here!" Raine threw one of her shoes at the door. "You're not supposed to see me in my dress, it's bad luck!"
Childish laughter echoed down the hallway as the President ran away.
Raine turned back to the mirror. She admired herself, the shimmering ivory gown dotted with hundreds of glittering crystals flowing as she twisted in place. Her only problem was that she was off-balance seeing that her shoe was on the floor adjacent to the door.
"Aunt Raine? C'mon and sit down so I can do your hair." Ellone beckoned her with a hairbrush.
"Just let me get my shoe. Your Uncle's lucky it didn't clock him in the face."
Ellone chuckled. "Either he's getting faster or your aim's starting to suck."
Raine narrowed her eyes and she retrieved her shoe, raising it in the air above her head. "You're next, young lady."
Ellone ducked behind the chair.
Raine sat in front of her vanity, smoothing out her dress. Ellone began to brush her long hair. Raine sighed. "It's hard to believe last time we did this, you weren't even four years old."
Ellone giggled. "Yeah, and I sat on the floor and made my dress dirty. I had a dusty butt the whole night."
Raine laughed. "Oh man, I was so upset. That dress cost me one-hundred Gil. That was a fortune back then, missy."
Ellone put her hands on her hips. "Take it out of my allowance, then." She carefully drew the brush through Raine's hair, pulling back a few strands on either side of her face. She fastened two small, diamond and emerald barrettes, assuring the hair wouldn't fall back into Raine's face.
Ellone stood back and admired her work. "You look beautiful."
Raine smiled and reached out for Ellone's hand. "Thank you, sweetheart."
They sat quietly for a moment, basking in the stillness of the room. Winhill was beautiful in autumn, and the cool breeze coming in through the window was laced with the scent of late-blooming wildflowers. Raine inhaled deeply, the aroma tickling her nose just as it had over twenty years prior.
The silence was broken by a tirade of expletives coming from the opening bathroom door.
"Holy shit, I look like a fucking Blobra." Jane stomped out of the restroom, shoes dangling from her fingers.
Raine stood and moved over to her. "Don't be silly, you're beautiful!" She took her by the hand and led her to sit on the edge of the bed.
Jane eased herself down, groaning as she sat. "Well, I certainly don't feel it. My feet are killing me and my ankles are so swollen I can't even bend them." She wiggled her puffy toes. "I can't even get my shoes on."
Raine patted her on the leg. "Well, by orders of the First Lady of Esthar on her wedding vow renewal day, I hereby declare that one Mrs. Jane Leonhart is exempt from wearing her shoes."
Jane laughed. "Hot damn! I could get used to this whole 'member of the First Family' shit!" She flung her shoes across the room, where they thumped against the dresser. She reached around and massaged her back. "Hyne, this kid's really putting the hurt on me today."
"Back still hurts, huh?" Raine worked her knuckles into Jane's lower back, just as her midwife had done so many years before. "Does that help?"
Jane closed her eyes and let out a low growl. "Like magic. That's incredible."
"It's an old trick my midwife used when I was pregnant. Your husband made me quite uncomfortable near the end." She winked.
Jane put her hand on her bulging belly. "I'm so sick of being pregnant. I don't even want to think about the fact that I still have five weeks to go…or that I actually have to get this kid out."
Ellone sat next to them. "It will go by super-fast, you'll see. We'll all be fighting over her in no time."
Jane sat forward and lurched off the bed. "It better. I'm about ready to evict this little girl. My back really fucking hurts."
Raine beamed at the mention of her granddaughter. Even though Jane and Squall had insisted that her name remain a secret, Raine still couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the impending birth. She was so excited at the idea of this little life coming into the world, one that she could nurture and help to raise. If you would have asked her seven months ago if any of this would be happening, she would have said "fat chance."
Seven months ago, her life was in chaos. Her son was fighting for his life; she and Laguna were desperately trying to make sense of the horrible event that threatened to tear their lives apart. Nothing seemed like it would ever be okay again.
And yet, here they were. Raine was moments away from renewing her vows with the man she loved more than life itself. Then, in a little over a month, a new Leonhart would make her appearance into the world. And before the next year was out, Ellone would be marrying Ryan and starting a life with him.
Ash was locked away in Laguna's secret prison, with no mention of how he was being treated by anyone. Raine didn't care anyway; she never wanted to hear his name again.
"Well, Aunt Raine, we'd better get a move on! It's bad luck to be late to your own wedding!" Ellone took her hand and pulled her up off the bed. She and Jane each took one side of the medium-length train trailing behind her dress.
Raine twirled the engagement ring Laguna had given her all those months ago around her finger. He had taken the wedding band from her that morning, claiming that he needed to put something on her finger or it wouldn't be right. She had laughed at him, of course, stating that they were already married and that this was just a wonderful way to celebrate their everlasting love.
The trio of women left the bedroom, Jane waddling behind Raine as she tried to walk without discomfort.
XxX XxX XxX XxX XxX
"Ward says that tonight is a very special night. We are together here as a family, to mark a new beginning." Kiros smiled broadly, the soft glow of hundreds of candles illuminating his face.
They stood in the old pub Raine had once owned. Laguna had purchased it from the previous owners right after the last Sorceress War, even though he never had any intention of opening it again. When it came on the market, he jumped at the chance to get a piece of his history back. The villagers had expressed their not-so-happy opinions on the matter, but when it came down to it, Laguna had spent an awful lot of money fixing up the building, and they were quietly grateful that it had been restored to its former glory.
Raine and Laguna had decided that the only place that was suitable to renew their vows was the place that had seen them married the first time. It was surreal to Raine as she stood there, face-to-face with her husband. Last time they did this, Ellone was only four, Ward wasn't present and she wasn't even pregnant with Squall.
She looked over at her son, his arm around his pregnant wife. She couldn't help but smile.
"Ward says that love is something that never grows old, and never dies. It's eternal." The giant man smiled broadly. "Our lives have been through hell and back this year, and the fact that we're all standing here today is a testament to that love. We aren't just here to celebrate the love that Raine and Laguna share, but the love that we all have for each other. As a family."
Laguna squeezed Raine's hand and whispered, "Isn't this great? This night is perf-"
"Ward says shut up, Laguna." He nodded forcefully and gave the president a stern glance.
Laguna looked like a child who had been caught red-handed at the cookie jar. "S-sorry, man." He smiled sheepishly.
"So, moving on. Ward says this union will only get stronger and that the love will continue to grow exponentially through the strands of time."
"Whoa, Ward. That's really deep." Laguna was astonished. "Are you sure that's what he said, Kiros? That's pretty heavy stuff."
Ward scowled and punched Laguna in the arm.
"Hey, watch it, man! It was a joke!" Laguna rubbed his aching bicep.
Raine giggled. "I just knew we wouldn't be able to get through this night without some sort of physical violence."
"You know, this would go a whole lot smoother if you guys stopped interrupting Ward." Squall crossed his arms over his chest.
"Ward says Squall's right and everybody shut the hell up."
Ellone snorted as she laughed. "This is exactly how a Loire family function should be."
"Ward says he would like to finish this before midnight. Do you two have your vows prepared?"
Laguna looked into Raine's eyes. "Can I go first?"
Laguna's voice was smooth. "Raine, the first moment I saw you in the precinct, it was like my life started over. I never in a million years thought that I would ever get to see your smiling face again, hold you in my arms, or introduce you to our son." He smiled softly. "This year has seen some awful times, but I know that life can only get better from here on out. I look forward to waking up to your beautiful smile every morning, and knowing that I get to have you forever. I love you more than life itself. The faeries truly gave our family a gift when they brought you back. But I'm gonna be selfish sometimes and hog you for myself. " He grinned and looked back at Squall and Jane. "Sorry, guys, she's mine."
Squall shook his head and sighed.
Laguna fished the petite wedding band out of his pocket. He grasped Raine's hand gently as he slipped in on her finger. "My love for you is eternal, Raine. Just like the ring says." He winked.
Raine beamed. "That was beautiful, Laguna." She squeezed his hand firmly. "Now it's my turn, huh?" She exhaled deeply. "When I was speeding toward Esthar the morning I came back, the only thing I could think of was how much I had missed you, and that I hoped you would still love me after all those years. Silly, I know. But when you came through that door and hugged me like there was no tomorrow, I knew that our lives would never be the same. Nothing could have prepared me for how right I was." She looked at Squall. "Everything that means anything to me is in this room with us. This night just isn't about us, but about our family. Everyone here tonight has invested in us having the life we were robbed of for so many years. We're going to make up for lost time. Nothing in the world could take my happiness away from me at this moment. Laguna, my love for you knows no bounds. From the moment the villagers brought you to my doorstep all those years ago, I knew I loved you…even if I didn't care to admit it at the time." She blushed and winked at Laguna. "Never again will we have to be separated. Our love will bind this family together and…"
All eyes focused on Jane. Her mouth was agape, a small puddle of clear liquid pooling at her feet.
"I think my water just broke…"
"Ward says gross."
XxX XxX XxX XxX XxX
The screams from the upstairs bedroom were almost too much for Laguna to handle. Nine hours prior, his vow renewal was cut short by his granddaughter, who was now, if Laguna calculated correctly, moments away from entering the world.
That, or Jane's swearing and yelling gave it away.
"Fuck this shit! Leonhart, you're getting a vasectomy the minute we get back to Esthar!"
Laguna sat at the bar, a cold bottle of beer cradled in his hand. He didn't care that it was three in the morning. He needed something to occupy him or he'd be pacing. Kiros and Ward sat on either side, calming the President's nerves. Ellone and Ryan dozed on the couch in the corner.
"Everything'll be alright, man. The midwife and Raine will take good care of her."
Laguna couldn't help but worry. "But the baby's early, guys. What if she's too little or something?"
"Ward says you worry too much. Jane's in really good shape, and the doctor said just last week that the baby's healthy."
Another scream erupted from above them, followed by a guttural moan.
"Sounds like she's close, man. You're gonna be a grandfather in no time."
Jane had insisted that Raine come with when they went upstairs with the midwife. She had become extremely close to her in the last several months, and Jane thought of her like a mother. And this daughter wanted the closest thing she had to a mother in the vicinity to be with her when she gave birth.
Everyone was surprised at how quickly her labor had progressed. Turns out, the back pain she had been experiencing for two days straight was actually back labor, and she had been closer to birth than anyone would have predicted.
"This is bullshitttttttttttttttt!"
The last scream was followed several seconds later by a lusty cry, strong and very loud. Laguna's eyes lit up and he jumped off of his barstool and ran to the foot of the staircase. He could hear laughter and weeping coming from behind the closed door at the top of the stairs.
"Guys! The baby's here! I'm a grandfather!" He ran to Kiros and Ward, pulling both men into a forceful embrace. Ellone and Ryan joined the trio, and they all shared one massive family hug.
Several moments later, a bleary-eyed Squall came downstairs. He looked exhausted, but couldn't keep the smile from his face. Laguna ran to him and almost knocked him down as he wrapped his arms around his chest.
"Hyne, Laguna! Watch it!" Squall pushed him away.
Laguna wiped the tears from his eyes. "Sorry, Squall! I'm just so excited! How's the baby…and Jane?"
Squall smiled softly. "Jane's fine. And your granddaughter can't wait to meet you." He clapped Laguna on the shoulder."
"Ward says we want details."
"Five pounds. Just like her Daddy, I've been told. Nineteen inches long and tons of brown hair. She won't open her eyes much so we really can't tell what color they are." Squall rubbed his neck, trying to loosen the knot that had formed. "You'll be able to see her in a little while. Jane's trying to nurse her right now. She's having a bit of trouble, but Mom's helping."
Laguna's heart melted hearing Squall call Raine "Mom." Even though it had been commonplace for months, it still warmed him to the core every time he heard it.
"I'm gonna go back upstairs, but I'll call you when it's okay to come up."
The group watched the proud, but dog-tired new father ascend the stairs and close the door behind him. No one could stop smiling.
XxX XxX XxX XxX XxX
"Laguna, meet your new granddaughter." Raine took him by the hand and led him inside the room.
Jane was sitting up in the large bed, holding a tiny wriggling bundle in her arms. They baby seemed fussy.
"Can I hold her?" Laguna scratched the back of his neck.
Jane smiled warmly. "Of course. Maybe you can do something with her. She doesn't seem happy right now." As if on cue, the baby let out a pitiful cry.
Laguna took the baby in his arms, in disbelief at just how tiny she really was. "C'mon, little lady. Tell Grandpa what's botherin' you." He rocked her back and forth gently, and the baby calmed down instantly. She opened her eyes and focused on Laguna.
"Oh man, little lady. I'm in trouble." He gently touched the tip of her nose. "I'm so in love with you already, how am I ever going to love you more?"
Squall sat beside Jane on the bed, his wife leaning her head on his shoulder. "She's already taken me under her spell, Dad. It was just a matter of time before she got you, too."
Laguna's eyes moistened. Raine wiped his tears away with her fingertips as she stood close. "What do you think, Grandpa?"
Laguna shook his head in disbelief. "She's perfect."
A knock at the door caused everyone to turn. Kiros, Ward, Ellone and Ryan stood crowded in the doorframe, Ward's giant head peeking out above all the others. "There room for four more?"
Jane smiled. "Why not? This kid's gotta get used to crowds eventually, right?"
The foursome filtered in, Ryan and Ellone taking a position next to the open window. Ward and Kiros stood on the side of the room, behind Laguna and Raine.
Kiros smiled. "Ward says she's really little."
Laguna looked down at his granddaughter. "She sure is. Wanna hold her?"
Ward shook his head. "…"
"He says no way. Doesn't want to break her."
Laguna cradled the tiny baby in his arms. "Nah, you won't hurt her. She's a Leonhart. She's tough." He leaned his head in close and whispered in her ear. "But tough girls can also be frilly. Remember that when 'ol Grandpa here buys you little pink dresses, okay?"
The baby yawned and snuggled into the floral-print blanket she was wrapped in.
Ellone spoke up. "I can't believe no one's asked yet."
"What?" Raine ran her fingers through the baby's soft hair.
"Her name? You two have been keeping it a secret since you found out she was a girl!"
Squall lay back on the pillows, stretching his arm around Jane. "You want to tell them or should I?"
Jane fought to keep her eyes open. "You can. I'm too fucking tired."
Squall kissed her on the forehead. "Her name's Emily. Emily Raine."
Raine immediately brought her hand to her mouth and began to cry. "Emily was my mother's name…"
Squall nodded with a warm smile. "I know. I looked it up in the records here in Winhill. We thought it would be a nice honor to you both."
"I don't know what to say." Raine rounded the bed and threw her arms around her son, then leaned in and kissed Jane's cheek.
"Say you'll change diapers at three in the morning, then."
Raine slapped her son on the shoulder and laughed. "Welcome to this crazy family, Emily Raine. You don't know what you're in for."
XxX XxX XxX XxX XxX
Author's notes: Well, here it is. Fourteen months in the making. When I first started, I never intended it to be more than twenty or so chapters. Here we are, 64 strong! I could have never imagined it morphing into what it has eventually become, but it's wonderful. I'm in shock that I actually did it.
I want to thank everyone who has read/reviewed/followed and favorited over this past year. All the support kept me going…especially when there were tantrums and tears. (yes, that happened.)
A special thank you to my beta, QuietRaine. This has been an incredible journey for us both, and Phoenix would never have become what it did without your tireless help. I can never thank you enough for everything that you have done for me.
Rydia Pryde, all your medical expertise made the gritty parts of this so much more intense. I could have never in a million years made those scenes as real as I needed them to be without your help. You put up with all my questions over those few months…you brave girl! Thanks for letting me be annoying.
And Ronin-ai for the beautiful cover art. It's exactly how I envisioned it to be. Absolutely perfect.
So, what now? The world of Final Fantasy VIII is still ripe with possibilities and I intend to explore many of them. Thank you to everyone who stayed with me on this long road and I hope I continue to entertain for a long time to come.
All my love,