A/N: I posted chapters 19 and 20 at the same time, so if you clicked to the most recent chapter directly, there's a new one preceding this page.
March, four months later
From his seat in front of the cafe, Squall watched Winhill come to life. In the early hour neighbors greeted each other, children ran shrieking across the bridge, and merchants began setting up their stands, greeted by the rays of the first sun of spring that streamed through the buildings across the square. Squall sipped at a cold cup of coffee, half a bagel long abandoned on the plate in front of him, and nodded in greeting from time to time as people who recognized him walked past. After awhile he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, and absorbed the energy of the morning.
Hope, he thought. That was the emotion he associated with spring. The days taking their place as victor over the night, growth and new life pushing through decay.
He heard footsteps draw near his table, and Squall slowly opened his eyes as his sister's shadow blocked the sunlight from his face.
Ellone placed a cup of hot coffee on the table in front of him, and slid into one of the vacant chairs. "You've been out here for awhile." She raised an eyebrow, and dipped a tea bag into a mug filled with steaming water.
"Nowhere else to be at the moment."
"Where's Ri-Oh." Her hand paused above her tea.
"So you've said. I just didn't expect to actually see it."
"Sometimes I do actually tell the truth, you know."
"Forgive me for doubting. You've given me so many reasons not to, after all." She rolled her eyes, but her expression was gentle. "I take it you're finished?" She pulled Squall's plate across the table, and he nodded.
"Go for it." He rested both hands around the fresh coffee mug, the heat welcome in the chill of the morning.
"The final paperwork goes through next week, right?"
"It's already done."
"I thought you said-"
"We pushed it up. The decision was made, and we were both going to enjoy coming up here more without it hanging over our heads."
Ellone shook her head. "I just… It's hard to believe you actually sold it. You were so…protective? That's the wrong word. But you've built so much of your life around that place…"
"We all did. Even Selphie came out to see it a few times over the years."
"Did you tell her you were selling it?"
"No. The last time she came to Centra was right after Irvine got married. If she needed to say goodbye, she did it then."
Ellone grew quiet, and Squall thought back to all the memories he had signed away a few days before.
"It's really the first place I remember," she said, and looked to the cafe. "It's hard to think of where my memories started, since I've…since I saw them through you. I forget sometimes what I remember living through, and the things I've only seen through the eyes of others. I know I have…dim memories of living here. I remember Raine, of course. But the orphanage is where most of them really take form, as far as I can tell. It's weird to think of it just…fading away from us."
"It's still going to be there. The city likes it for some reason, I don't think anyone's going to tear it down. But…" The weight of is is gone.
"You're moving forward."
"I'm happy for you," Ellone said. "All sarcasm aside… I really didn't believe you. And then at solstice…"
"I wouldn't base much on that. Solstice was…" He thought of all the ways he could describe it. "A… An unmitigated disaster."
Ellone snorted. "Well at least you're honest about it."
"I told you I tell the truth."
"When you want to. But-"
"Sorry. I'm not trying to dwell, I just… That was the last time I saw you guys, and things weren't exactly okay."
"Things weren't okay with any of us that night. You included. In fact, if I remember correctly, you actually lost your composure."
"Oh, I did not."
"Because the window I was sitting next to shattered and glass flew past my head! Being concerned for my personal safety is not synonymous with losing my composure. And I felt really badly about that, and have more than made my apology. But that was just… A terrible night, wasn't it? I don't know who I was more scared for that night."
"After I knew I wasn't going to end up with part of the window in my eyeball. Wouldn't that have been a fun phone call home? 'Bastian honey, I'm going to need you to pick me up at the train station after all because my niece tried to make her apartment implode and now I'm mostly blind.'"
"Good thing he takes all of this in stride."
"Good thing. But…I worried about you guys after that. You've spent…a very large portion of your life telling other people you were fine when it turned out you were anything but. I didn't know how you guys would take that."
"We took it like parents. We worried. A lot. We called more, we visited more, we did…everything I've already told you."
"And here you are."
"And here I am."
"Calmly drinking coffee and watching the sun come up while your wife sleeps. Doesn't sleep. Did you ever decide on something to call that?"
Squall shrugged. "The door and windows are locked."
"I'm not saying I think you should be with her, I'm just…impressed."
"We've made it through worse. Solstice was proof of that. What happened that night-that was us once, and now it isn't. Something like that will happen to Noelle again. It might not be as bad, or it might be worse. We… Elle, you should understand this better than any of us. We moved forward. We learned how."
She smiled at him over her tea, and Squall turned to the fields, watched past the flowers to where his parents lay. He considered asking Ellone if she wanted to walk out there, but felt something that stopped him before he had a chance to speak.
"I never thanked you," he said instead.
Ellone started, and turned her attention towards him. "I'm sorry?"
Ellone blinked. "For… Confiding in me?"
"No," Squall said, and set his mug on the table. "For pointing something out."
"-Rinoa will be down in a minute."
Squall watched her, counting in his head until her face softened with realization.
"You. And Rinoa. You listened to me!"
He nodded. "It's not… It will never be like it used to be. And we don't know if it's just a residual effect of being bound together for so long, or if it's something any two people who love each other can do, only we know what to listen for-but it's there."
"It's about time you took my advice about something." She smiled, and the twinkling of the chime over the cafe door drew their attention. Rinoa stepped onto the patio, long skirt caught immediately in the breeze, and walked to their table. She wrapped her arms around Squall's shoulders, and kissed his head.
"Good morning," she said.
"Morning." He kissed her hands, and handed her his coffee.
"Morning," Ellone said. "Sorry I didn't make it out to see you last night."
"Sorry I didn't make it out to see you this morning."
Ellone looked between them, and Squall turned to Rinoa with a sly grin. "Ellone doesn't believe me when I say we're fine."
"She'll come around," Rinoa laughed. "We did, after all." She pulled her arms from Squall, and pointed towards the cafe door "Do either of you want anything? I'm going to run back inside for a minute."
"Actually," Squall looked to Ellone, and nodded towards the fields. "I was…thinking of going to see mom and dad."
The table grew silent.
"You two… You go on. I'll catch up," Ellone said. "I'll get you something to go, RIn."
She kissed Rinoa on the cheek, and they watched the door swing shut behind her. Squall stood up slowly, and threaded his fingers through his wife's.
"I guess we are in a good place when we still know what we don't joke about," she said softly.
"We're in a good place, Rin. It doesn't have to be measured by the way we talk about it, or anything else."
They started towards the fields, and the cemetery beyond, and walked in peaceful silence through the daffodils.
Squall spoke first.
"She asked about-"
"-of course she did." Rinoa's grip tightened and loosened, and Squall ran his thumb in circles over hers. "I mean-we knew she was going to. And I don't blame her. I'd be dying of curiosity if it were me. What did you tell her?"
"Same thing I have every time she's asked since then. That we're fine. Only this time, she might have believed me."
Rinoa stopped walking and looked around, and Squall watched dandelion puffs float past them as the sun burned off the last of the morning mist.
"Maybe because we finally believe it. Or maybe…"
"Because we are?"
Rinoa nodded. "Did you talk about the dreams?"
"She didn't ask. Why? Did you have one this morning?"
"No. I just assumed she would have. Ellone and dreams, after all."
"Heh," Squall smiled. "It's early. She still might."
"She talks to Noelle… I'm.. I hate to say I'm jealous of my daughter, but I am a little jealous. If I'd known during all those years that when I dreamed about Edea, she could see it too… What questions could have been answered? What could have been avoided? If we knew I could have learned to control them? But then…I'm not jealous. Not really. I don't know what Ellone could have taught me about dreaming, but it doesn't matter, because we learned about it in time for her to teach Noelle. We did what parents…what parents are supposed to do, right? We made things better for her than we had?"
"Are you asking? Because you know what my answer is."
"I know. But say it anyway. If we made a mistake by making her my successor-"
"We're making sure she has it easier. And she does. You had it better than Edea. Noelle has it better than you. The succession…"
"We did-are doing-as much as we can."
She squeezed his hand and Squall pulled her towards him and looked into her eyes. After nearly thirty four years of looking at her and seeing the witch-times when she was hidden, times when she was in command-six months, peppered with periods of absence, was so short a time to have her back. To look at her and see her, and only her-the difference still caught him off guard. He was, as he so often was, overcome with the intensity of how much he loved her, and how much that had grown since the transfer.
As he stared she leaned towards him, and he kissed her-kissed her in the spring breeze, kissed her in the flower field where she brought him back so many years ago, and kissed all of her, just as he always had. The good, the bad, the parts neither of them understood, would never understand.
He kissed her as the first morning of spring gave way to day: as the sun rose higher and the shadows grew smaller, and the chill of the air yielded to the promise of warmth.
More than anything he kissed her because he loved her, and because she loved him; because they were here, together, and alive. Not in the way they had hoped, but neither in the way they feared.
They were here.
And finally, time was on their side.
Warning: this author's note is kind of long. This is my first time finishing a full-length story, and as it turns out, I have a lot of feelings on it. I've gone through and deleted all previous author's notes, if that makes this a little less self-aggrandizing!
First off-this really always has been the intended ending. I've been increasingly nervous the closer I got to writing this part, and a lot of my delay on posting it once finished was feeling like it was going to be disappointing, and not being ready for how people reacted to that disappointment. But this was the end of the story I set out to tell. I went back and read it start-to-finish before posting the final chapters, and I can see a lot that could be-or should be-done differently, but this was how this story was meant to end throughout the whole writing process.
When I set out to write this, I didn't know how long it was going to be. I thought I would be lucky if I made 20,000 words-the minimum for it to qualify for Where I Belong Inspired. But the more I worked on it, the more I realized how much of this story I wanted to tell. And there's still more, so much more. I could have filled another 70 thousand words just with flashback scenes. As it turns out when you write for your OTP this far into the future, you can't help but imagine every possible moment of their lives and want to put it to words. I did try to only write in scenes that I felt were relevant to the story of the present. I don't think I entirely succeeded, but hopefully the scenes that weren't strictly necessary were at least worth reading.
I also learned that I am not a fan of posting a work-in-progress. I've already gone back and made minor revisions as I had new ideas, or realized I was starting to contradict myself-a couple of examples of this are the veining on Rinoa's fingers, and Squall referring to Laguna as his dad/father rather than by his first name (so if you started reading this from the beginning and never went back to read over previous chapters-some of those inconsistencies may have been corrected!). There are some scenes I would like to delete entirely, and others I would like to expand. There are connections I feel I could lay more groundwork for early on, and moments I had once thought might be foreshadowing that turned out to be nothing of import. I feel like with the loose, point-in-the-general-direction-but-let-the-story-tell-itself sort of way that I write, I am better suited for writing an entire rough draft, and then posting chapters as I edit them.
Finally, the inspiration for this story. The first, I have said before: I started drafting out notes for my 2012 NaNo story that October. I knew I wanted to write something that could be way way way post-game VIIII-fic, that had nothing to do with the cast but did have to do with the succession, and in writing my notes and trying to figure out the backstory of my main character, I ended up writing out the direction the succession went after Rinoa-as I'd recently written Fifteen Minutes Old for the WiB Challenge, it was a natural decision that she would pass her powers on to her daughter. But the more I thought about that idea, the more I got stuck on what happened to Rinoa and her daughter, and how the succession affected them. So if missed me saying so in previous author's notes/on my profile, yes-this is a sequel so to speak to Fifteen Minutes Old.
The second piece of inspiration is, as it quite common, due to irishais. So far back I don't know if she even remembers it, she and I were discussing the different paths Squall and Rinoa could go down, and how it was difficult to picture any scenario where they got a happy ending. I said I wanted to write that one day. In drafting out the aforementioned notes, I saw my opportunity. So despite the overall tone of this story, the ultimate goal has always been to give them what I believe is one of the happiest endings they have the potential to have. I know that's based around my headcanon for the succession, and that many other writers have envisioned far less bittersweet endings for them, and I'm not sure what it says about me that this is my idea of a happy ending, but considering in a good number of my favorite novels about lovers one or both of them dies at the end, this is pretty darn optimistic!
Lastly, I have a few thanks for this: to my fellow WiBi writers, but particularly to Emerald Latias and Ronin-ai, who have faithfully reviewed every chapter, and kept me motivated, because there really is nothing that motivates you to write like knowing there's someone out there reading it. To irishais for giving me an extra set of eyes on chapters I was unsure about, and for assuring me that just because my writing style isn't popular, doesn't mean it's without merit (and for cursing my name for killing her OTP, because as much as positive feedback is motivating, so is the soul-crushing, all-caps text you get after you kill someone's OTP…). To Ashbear for running the WiB challenge in the first place (whose fic is referenced in this twice, for those familiar with her stories). And mostly to Billy, my husband (Victor here at ). If not for the inspiration he provides, for his patience in listening to me talk. For the number of nights he allowed me to keep him up while I mumbled ideas to him half-asleep, and he mumbled suggestions in return; for the road trips that have been spent with me trying to work out writer's block while he would, I'm certain, much rather be napping, reading, or just listening to music; the dinner conversations lost to writing because "I just really need to get this idea out before it goes away," for reading every chapter (often more than once) and giving me feedback, and for probably knowing this story better than I do.
I'm proud of finishing this. It has flaws, though I don't know if I will ever take the time to go back and revise the whole thing. I have a lot of other projects queued up I've been waiting to start until this was finished, and I would like to actually dedicate some time to original fiction for awhile.
I would love to keep talking about this-it's an accomplishment knowing I wrote something this long from start to finish, and it's hard to let go of. I don't think anything would please me more than the opportunity to answer specific questions about it, so if you have any, don't hesitate to ask. I loved writing this, and I am sad to know it's over-I only hope that you enjoyed reading it.