Setting 02: 1427 DAY 1, Winhill Cemetery

"This is my sonÖWhen I am gone. He works his work, I mine."

-Tennyson, Alfred, Lord

Ulysses 33


"Well, Iím here now, and I probably should have come here a lot more often than I have, this being the first time, so Iím sorry."

Laguna Loire snapped his fingers to pass the time, unsure if what he said was coherent and clueless about what to say next. Heíd never seen his wifeís burial marker before, much less talk to it, and he was trying his hardest to keep a smile on his face. What he really wanted to do was plop down right there and beg for Raineís forgiveness.

"This actually isnít an awkward situation at all," he lied, "I can almost see you there looking skeptical. So, if itís okay with you, Iím going to rehearse what the one dialogue that Iíve always imagined that I would have with you once I saw you again."

He stopped to think about what he just said before struggling to rephrase himself, "Of course I wonít be saying your lines out loud cause youíll be saying them in my head, but itíll work, I think."

Taking a deep breath, Laguna tried to make some excuses, even though he knew there was no point. And yet, somehow, he was comforted by the fact that had Raine been standing there, she wouldnít have minded regardless. She would have stood there silently with that understanding, sympathetic smile, ready to laugh at him lightly and let him off the hook. Yes, he could see her standing there now, doing exactly that. It loosened him up a bit, but it also made him wish that she would just get angry at him, start calling him names, cursing at him, or beating himÖanything to let him know how she really felt.

It was getting harder and harder to keep up that smile. He realized at that moment that the coldest words were what Raine didnít say. She would never chastise him even if she were still alive. But now it was too late to hear her utter even a single word.

On the verge of cracking, it seemed like a good idea to change the subject. He thought about going off the script and talking about something that might not make him feel so guilty, but nothing came to mind. Then he remembered that he could always talk about their son whom he was sure Raine would be curious about. Yet, he was determined to save that topic for last.

Unable to come up with anything fast, Laguna could feel himself becoming more and more nervous. He even caught himself antsily tugging on the tails of his unbuttoned dress shirt and swaying back and forth. He kicked himself for not rehearsing it more times before actually coming, but it was too late for that now. Now he shook his head in disgust.

"Looks like Iíve botched another one, Raine," he confessed finally, trying to joke about it with a quick, exaggerated frown. He imagined Raine rolling her eyes, imitating that silly frown, and shaking her head, once again absolving him. He wanted so bad to have her throw daggers at him with her eyes.

"Laguna, you loser, you canít even make a figment of your imagination get angry with you," he scolded himself.

Raine chuckled and playfully kicked some dirt onto his shoes. Then she tried to mimic his swaying motion, which was making her dizzy.

This is embarrassing, he thought to himself, scratching his head.

"Can you tell me that Iím horrible, that I donít deserve to live?" he asked her.

Raine placed her index finger against her closed lips, shaking her head.

"Iím serious," he entreated, trying again.

She humorously covered her ears and pretended not to hear him.

"Well, fine then, be that way," Laguna conceded, slightly irritated at getting beaten in an argument with a speechless spirit.

Raine stuck her tongue out at him and pushed him lightly with the meanest face she could put on. It didnít look very mean to Laguna, and he told her so. Her features softened a bit, not expecting her husband to be so straightforward.

Laguna finally gathered his thoughts and enough courage to spew out clumsily, "I know it wasnít fair of me to leave you like I did, but that doesnít make it right for you to leave before I can say that Iím sorry. This was one time that you never gave me the chance to pay for my mistake."

That was what he wanted to say all along, how he felt on the inside, both guilty and cheated. In retaliation, Raine did her best to pull off a mischievous snicker.

"Why did you leave me?" he asked a little bit louder. He could feel the anger boiling inside him, giving him enough strength to press her more forcefully with his questions. "What was it? Was it a disease, something natural, or was it me? It was me, wasnít it? Tell me."

Before Laguna had finished his last question, Raine had picked up three rocks lying by her epitaph and begun to juggle them, finding them more interesting than her husbandís whining.

"Stop that," he said, trying to swat away the imaginary stones, not realizing how idiotic he looked to any third person.

Raine wasnít listening now, surprising herself with how many stones she could keep in the air. It was way more entertaining than Lagunaís confession, she decided.

Laguna was shaking involuntarily because he was mad at her for not listening and at himself for getting mad at a dead person when he was the one at fault. He calmed himself, realizing that this was exactly what Raine wantedÖan angry Laguna who wanted to project the guilt and shift the blame. She wanted to protect him from feeling as if he had wronged her, even if that meant making herself seem so heartless.

"Iíll stay in Winhill until you want me to go then," he suggested.

For the first time, Raine looked concerned. She shook her head, signaling to Laguna that he didnít have to do that.

Laguna realized that this was her weakness. She wanted him to stay, but didnít want to say it, just like she didnít want him to stay in her little town because of her. He wasnít doing this for the pleasure of watching Raine grow worried, though, but because he wouldnít be able to forgive himself if he left Winhill again so suddenly. He owed that much to her, and seeing how disconcerted she was, as well as knowing her nature of always letting him off easy, he knew he was doing the right thing by making that promise.

At any rate, she might have married him so she wouldnít have to listen to him beg her again and again to reconsider. Perhaps she was banking on his long vacation all long as a reprieve from all his droning. Had she known that he would have come back to whine after she was dead, she never would have agreed to marry him.

"I wonít leave you. I never should have," he added.

Unexpectedly, Raine let all the rocks she was juggling drop, visibly moved by his discovery and decision.

"I donít know what else to say except Iím sorry," he admitted, lowering his head.

Raine tried to comfort him with her puppy-dog look, walked over next to him, and caressed his cheek before retreating to her original spot.

"I guess we were both lucky that Squall is that strong," Laguna brought up suddenly, making sure to get it over with before he forgot. "I tried my best to take care of him, but he turned out all right on his own. Very independent, doesn't need anyone's help."

Raine looked confused, but Laguna was too caught up with his praises to notice.

"I mean, he grew up with all that opposition, but he never let it get to him. It's great that he doesn't concern himself with what other people think of him. Tries not to listen to anyone who tries to give him any garbage about his not being able to take care of himself or making the wrong decision. Squall understands himself and knows when he's right, and that's what counts. Doesn't want anyone else to distract him from that. Pretty strong, huh? Always trusts himself to make the right decisions and take care of everything personally-"

Raine was waving for Laguna to stop. She was totally lost, and regardless to whomever her husband was raving about, he didn't seem to be living a healthy life.

"You know, our son. Squall? The big success?" Laguna picked up, thinking her interruption was another joke.

Raine looked stunned, making it abundantly clear that he had better not die any time soon because she was going to make him pay for choosing such a dumb name.

Laguna held up his hands in defense, stammering, "I-I t-thought you named him, because I sure as hell didnít."

The realization that Ellone named their son hit them at the same time. The look on Raineís face spelled out that Ellone would do well not to die before her godmotherís wrath subsided, as she would surely pay for choosing such a dumb name.

Laguna rubbed his chin and asked, "You didnít name him in all that time?"

Raine shot him a "donít-push-me" look.

"Okay, okay," he said quickly, and shifted the subject back to Ellone, "What did you expect her to name him?"

Raine made a "duh" face and mouthed, "Cloud."

"Iíll get even with her for you, sweetie. Iíll name her son Irvine or something stupid like that," Laguna offered.

Raine nearly doubled over laughing.

Encouraged by her propitious reaction, Laguna took that chance to say that from what he had heard, Squall had turned out just like him.

His wife was unimpressed, thinking to herself, "I thought you said he was a success."

Instead of telling him that, though, she smiled tactfully, took a step forward, and gestured with a wave over his face for him to close his eyes.

Laguna closed them, but he could still see as if they were open. He was able to see the bright afternoon change into night, and all the stars lighting up against the dark velvet above. Looking down, he scowled in dismay as the grave marker vanished before his eyes. His brown slacks turned into black army pants, and his shirt into the sporty blue vest that he had worn when he was young.

"What did you want to talk to me about?" rang a familiar voice from behind him.

Laguna knew who that voice belonged to before he spun around. It was the same one that he had longed to hear for nearly two decades, but he was too amazed by this new development to lift Raine in the air. It was déja vue for he had seen all this somewhere before. He looked through every memory he had with Raine before he realized that she was replaying for him that sentimental scenario in which he proposed to her. Astonished as he was, Laguna allowed himself to relive the moment, enjoying the miracle without questioning how it was possible that they could go through the entire sequence again: He turns around, not sure how to pop the question, waving her off and telling her to forget it; she runs over and pulled his arm, asking him to stay; he swings around, grabs her hand, and fits her finger with a gold ring; she looks at him questioningly; he shows her the gold ring on his own finger and watches as her quizzical countenance melts smoothly into a heart-wrenching, near-whimpering smile; and finally they share the seemingly eternal embrace that made all his consternation about the proposition seem worthwhile.

Lagunaís feet were numb by the time this awesome experience was over and he had to make an effort not to collapse as night turned back into day. Once again he was in the present, staring at her marker, shocked that the illusion had vanished so quickly. He couldnít see Raine anymore, but some way or another, Laguna felt as if she was right there beside him, providing the same comfort.

"Uncle Laguna!"

Having grown accustomed to the unbroken tranquility of Winhill for the past twenty minutes, Lagunaís eardrums were nearly shattered by Elloneís soft but nevertheless splitting voice. For an instant Laguna was almost glad that Raine had left since Ellone would surely have been toast had she arrived a few seconds earlier.

There she was, Squallís "big sister," green scarf and all, trying to make her way down the grassy hill without spraining her dainty ankles. She waved in her usual blinding splendor so innocently that even Laguna had to gawk before grinning and raising his head in acknowledgement.

On the summit behind Ellone he could see Kiros and Ward. Kiros pointed at something behind Laguna. Just a short distance away, the brilliant Balamb Garden drew near, skipping from hill to hill.

Laguna stood up, feeling a sense of pride swell in him with the knowledge that the craft carried a true hero, his son. He almost felt giddy. I canít believe heís really mine!

And auspiciously, Raine was there to see it.


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