After The Rain

[02.16.00] » by Amara Enid Tarin

"Back on the street now

can't forget the things you never said

on days like these gets me thinking"

--'Blood Roses'-Tori Amos

"She's lost a lot of blood."

"So?! She can still live, can't she? What if one of us—here—gives her some of our blood, then will she--?"

"You /know/ we don't have the equipment for a procedure of that manner. For us to call anyone from the nearest town—hell, for us to call /anyone/ outside of Winhill—it would take them hours, days, to get here. I…don't think we can do anything. I think we can only wait."


"What kind of a doctor are you?"

"A small town one. One who knows when he's beat. Now, if there's to be any hope for her at all, she needs to rest. Although—I'll be honest, even though I love her as much as any of you here—this doesn't look good at all."

Every pair of eyes in the darkening room turned back to the young woman writhing restlessly on the bed. The bedclothes under her had been changed hastily, without moving her, because no one had been able to stand watching her lie there in a bed drenched with her own blood. The sky was darkening drastically to the east, and there was a cold wind that was beginning to pick up and blow with greater force in through an open window in the room.

"And for Christ's sake," the doctor said, glancing at the window in a sort of perverse annoyance, face clouded with about 10 different emotions, "someone close that window. She'll catch a cold."

Three different people scuttled to close the offending window, and even though it made the people standing feel better, the girl on the bed noticed it none. She tossed her head back and forth habitually, groaning slightly and clutching at the suffering pillowcase behind her. The first claps of thunder rolled towards the village of Winhill, suddenly small and seemingly abandoned in the wilderness.

"Shhsh," a woman sitting in a chair near the bed said, placing her hand on the girl's forehead, wiping at the sweat. "It's only thunder."

"Ask her what she wishes to name her child," the doctor asked, "in case."

"You don't sound very confident of recovery," a man sneered, glaring at the doctor icily.

"I'm not," the doctor replied with a sort of blatant truth that brought the storm closer, quicker, and with more intensity. "Ask her anything you want now. I don't expect her to live much longer. She's lost a lot of blood—"

"Ah!" the woman at the side of the bed clutched at the writhing girl. "Don't you listen to him, Raine. Don't hear any of it! You'll live! You'll live!"

…Live…? …No, I don't think I will.

I think I'm dying. Oh god, I /know/ I'm dying. Nothing even makes sense anymore. I can't see anything more than shapes, even though my eyes are open. Everything—not just my sight—is fuzzy.

Except my mind. Why? Why is this? Why does my mind get sharper while everything else gets duller? It's like it's some sort of odd torture, my mind knowing I'm dying and my body not being able to do anything about it. It's as if someone stuck a nozzle in me and turned it on full blast, and I can see myself bleeding all over the ground, but I'm too drained to do anything about it.

Bleeding. Blood. I bled a lot. …No, I'm not going to recover. There's no equipment here sufficient enough to give blood transfusions. And it's not just the blood—I feel like I'm coming apart at the seams. My whole body feels like it's being held together by…by…nothing. I guess /I'm/ the only thing holding it together anymore. Why am I still holding on? Let go, Raine. For the first time in a long time, it's OK to let go. No one's watching me. I can let go. I can be free.

And yet…I'm still holding on. Why? Is it because I still keep expecting /him/ to walk through the door, with /her/, and this will be like I always pictured it? Ellone, jumping around at the side of the bed, fawning over her baby brother. Part of me believes that if Ellone were here, I wouldn't be dying. My body would see Ellone, and realize that it still had responsibilities in this world. Then I wouldn't die. I have to wait, wait for Ellone. I have to see it through. I have to see Ellone grow into a woman. After all, who's going to tell her who she should marry, and how she should cook a turkey, and what she's to do with /her/ children when they have fevers?

Ellone. I wish I could see you before I die, Ellone. Can't always get what you want, I guess. Like me, look at me. Did I want to be lying here, hanging on by a thread just because I'm too damn stubborn to let go? No, I didn't.

And of course, if I think Ellone's going to come bounding through that door, she would have had to come back with Laguna. It's not like she would have just /found/ her way back from Esthar. Laguna…you lied to me, Laguna. You told me how this day would be. You told me you'd be right there beside me when I had our baby, and even if you passed out (you said you thought you probably would since you were such a ninny), you'd be passed out right there beside me and everything would be OK.

…No, wait. That's not fair. I can't say he lied to me. Who was Laguna? Not the prince from my dreams I'd had all my life, that one's for sure. He was a human being. He was only human—he couldn't have known that he would be leaving, and not coming back in time to see me die. I suppose it's better this way. I couldn't take it, knowing I was dying, and having him sitting there watching me die. It would kill him. He would die right there along with me in this room.

The baby. What will become of my, no, /our/ child?

"Baby." The word was tossed forth from her mouth, along with the groans and indecipherable mutters.

"Yes, yes, a baby!" the woman exclaimed, clasping Raine's hand tighter in her own. "You had the baby, Raine! And he's so beautiful. He's going to want his mommy, you know…so you need to snap out of this, hon. You need to wake up."

"Ask her what she wants to name it." Another woman looked up from the bundle she had been holding, the oddly silent bundle that seemed to know what was going on in the room even though it had just been born merely an hour ago. "Quick. I don't want her to—to—I want to know what she wants to name it."

"Raine, honey," the woman said, lifting her hand slightly, "what do you want to call the baby? He's a beautiful baby, he needs a name."

I remember I /hated/ him.

I used to have a list of reasons why Laguna Loire should have been thrown off a cliff at birth. In my head, of course. I don't know what people would have thought of me had I actually /written/ it down. But it was there, and it seemed like every day I would get at least two new reasons. It was like he knew about the list and made a mental note to himself every day to do more things to make me angry.

I didn't hate him at very first. The night they carried him in, broken, bruised, bleeding, and /crying/, for Christ's sake—I felt kind of sad for him. Of course, I saw him as less of a man because he was crying, but that was because I had built up this pre-conceived notion that a man was only a man if he was like the prince in my head. The prince that would, of course, come and rescue me from the backwater of Winhill someday and take me to Deling City on a white horse (or in a white car, at least) where I would be the social queen. Growing up in a tiny town like Winhill with little to do and even less people to do it with leads people to dream funny dreams. Mine just happened to be growing up, getting whisked away, getting famous, and then telling the world to kiss my ass.

"Raine! /Raine!/"

She recognized him right off; of course, he was the baby-faced soldier who had been stationed in town—he was in casual clothes, however. She cocked her head at him inquisitively and set her book down as Ellone came darting in from the other room.

"Wha—" He hurried through the door, not even letting her finish her word; it didn't matter anyway, because as soon as she saw what came through the door next her jaw fell open.

"Good /God/," she said as a motley group carried what /appeared/ to be the sobbing form of a very battered man in the door, the whole group dripping wet from that evening's downpour. "Who is that?" she asked, backing up instinctively as they flopped him (however delicately) on the bar in front of her. Ellone watched wide-eyed from the door, and stayed partially hidden behind the doorframe.

"No idea," the soldier replied gruffly, beginning to peel off some of the sobbing man's clothing. "Not one of the Winhill township, I'm pretty damn sure. But—he /is/ a Galbadian soldier."

Raine looked over the man closer and realized that he was wearing the trademark blue uniform, no matter how tattered and bloodied it was. "Yes, he is. What could have happened to him to make him like this? …Could it have been a warning of some sort from Esthar?! Should we contact—"

"The next nearest post to us in Winhill is the Prison out in the desert," another soldier who was in uniform replied, pausing for a moment in his attentions to the man and leaning heavily on the bar. "It's 'bout a days' trip from there to here. If Esthar was on the way—and close enough to drop this poor bastard off—then calling would be no help."

"/Shit./" Raine had never hated Winhill more at that moment. "So—what am I supposed to do with this guy? What about Doctor Rupert, down the—"

"He turned us out," the baby-faced soldier replied, yanking off the man's shirt, revealing a whole other lattice of bruises and gashes, and what appeared to be clear indicators of more than one broken rib. "Told us he didn't want nothin' more to do with us—us meaning soldiers." He refrained from spitting on Raine's already suffering bar, but just barely. "Bah! Imagine that! I tell you what, if Esthar is coming, I'm gonna let them burn that guy's house to the ground!"

"Don't say things like that," Raine said, stepping forward to the prone man for the first time since he had been brought in. "We're all here in Winhill—which means we're all Galbadian." She laid her hand on the man's forehead. "Hey—it's going to be alright now. Can you tell me your name?"

"We tried that," baby-face spoke again. "All we could get was him askin' about some people named Kiros and Ward."

"Oh." Raine looked from baby-face, to the uniformed soldier, to the third soldier who had yet to say a word to her. She frowned at the man lying on her bar, and sighed.
"Take him next door," she said, with a jerk of her head. "He can't lie here on the bar all night, and I don't have an extra bed. I'll be over in a few with all the medical stuff I've got. Meantime," she said, indicating him, "why don't one of you run and see if you can get him a dry change of clothes to put him in? Or at least a pair of pants or something. He'll catch pneumonia in these wet clothes."

"Will do." Baby-face nodded at the other two and began to lift the man's legs. "C'mon. You heard the lady. Let's get this guy next door, and you—Cary—go grab some clothes. You look like you're about his size." With that, the three men disappeared out into the storm-laden night again, leaving Raine standing behind her bar in a bit of a haze.

It was about a week before he would talk to us. I think it was about a week before he could get over being embarrassed that he was bawling in front of us. It was hard to believe that he was a man sometimes, looking down at him, unable to move and battered beyond recognition. I suppose I had seen a human being at its lowest at that time. He wasn't even able to feed himself or get up to go to the bathroom. Sure, it was a bit embarrassing for /me/ as well, at first, but I started to get used to it. It was just like dealing with Ellone when she was younger, except that he was bigger and older than Ellone. But it wasn't any different.

Once he started to talk to me, I think it got easier for me to deal with him. Before, he was silent, and the silence made me uneasy. I didn't know what he was thinking, or what he needed or wanted. I suppose I didn't make it easy for him at first, either, since I never spoke to him. I never made an effort after the first thing I had asked him in the bar, and I didn't even start talking to him until he started talking to me. I can't imagine what it must have been like for Laguna—to have me, every day, coming in and tending to him silently like he was some sort of a plant, or a pet.

It was almost dehumanizing, I suppose, now that I have a calm moment to look back on it. Funny that the calm moment would be my deathbed.

"Excuse me—"

Raine spun around, and dropped the bowl of oatmeal she had been preparing. She had been feeding him oatmeal for breakfast since she didn't know if he had a preference, didn't know what he was /able/ to eat, and basically because she lacked the motivation to make anything more now that she had been dragging herself out of bed an hour earlier. She regarded him as if he were some sort of miracle, and swallowed her own words for a moment.

"You can talk?" she asked him, and then mentally slapped herself. Of course he could talk if he had just spoken to her! He only looked up at her, his eyes small slits in his bruised face, and was strangely silent himself for a moment.

"Yes," he replied, "I can. Am I the only one?"

"Only one what?" Raine asked, not quite understanding. Offhandedly, she realized she had stepped in the puddle of oatmeal at her feet.

"Brought in. Weren't there—Ward? Kiros?"
"No, I'm sorry," Raine said, shaking her head. "Only you. What's your name?" She mentally slapped herself once again once she realized how callous that must have sounded. /What else can you say, Raine? You don't know him. He's just some guy. Not like you can grieve for his losses and have a eulogy for two people you don't know./

"Loire," he said. "I'm Laguna Loire. And…I'd like that water." His eyes slid over to the glass of water sitting on the tray that Raine had brought in with her. She stared at him for a moment before reaching over and grabbing the glass of water, and holding it to his lips.

"Now that you can talk," Raine said as he drank thirstily, "make some sort of noise or whatever when you want to stop drinking."

"Mm!" Laguna made a muffled little sputter noise, and then gave a weak cough as Raine pulled the glass away, accidentally dribbling some down his chin.

"Sorry," she said, reaching hurriedly for the towel she had laid on the tray. "I'm really sorry about that." Now that he was speaking, it had sort of reminded her that he was, after all, human and not some sort of plastic person lying there in that bed.

"'Skay," Laguna said as she wiped along his chin and down along his neck. "It's kinda hard when you're not—not one." He coughed weakly again, wincing. "Person, I mean."

Raine nodded, and discreetly rolled her eyes when he couldn't see. "Tell me about it."

He was bedridden for about five months, from what I can remember. Closer to six. During that time, he and Ellone got to be very close. I mean, Ellone's a curious girl. I can't—couldn't—keep her out of anything. I'd tell her time and time again—Don't bother Mr. Loire. He needs rest and he can't get it if there's a little ball of pure energy bouncing around the room. Did she listen? /No/, of course not. She went in there and bothered him almost every day. Much to my chagrin, she had started calling him 'Uncle' and had even insisted to me one day that we get married.

My reply was 'like hell' or something like that. Since he had been recovering for some time at that point, he was starting to go back to his true nature (or what I had assumed to be his true nature.)

My /god/, he was annoying. His speech habits were atrocious. He boasted, and bragged, even though he had nothing to boast or brag about. He swore around Ellone. He told rotten—and I mean /rotten/--jokes. To me, he was the antithesis of my prince. He drove me up the wall, and it only got worse once he started to walk around again.

"It's a beautiful day, eh Elle?" Laguna asked, looking down at Ellone (who had done herself up for the occasion, complete with huge floppy hat and pair of too-big sunglasses.)

"Why, yes it is, Mr. Laguna," she said, sticking her nose in the air and dragging Laguna off 'his' front step, however carefully. He had only been walking for a week, and still limped and went unusually slow. "I'd like to go for a walk!"

"Of course, Ms. Ellone," he replied cheerfully, smiling at the mixture of both kind and disapproving glances he got from the Winhill locals, who had heard much of him but only recently /seen/ this much. "Hey…" he said, steering her back towards Winhill's small bar, "but first, I think we'd better go tell Ms. Raine that we're going. Y'know how she gets when I take you away without tellin' her…" Laguna snickered and lowered himself (carefully, and a measure stiffly) down to Ellone's height. "I think it makes the bug up her butt angry."

Ellone giggled and looked over at Laguna, her eyes twinkling with the small, unobtrusive twinkle that only children could have. "Yeah…you're right. Let's go tell her!"

"OK!" Laguna took Ellone by the hand and led her towards the bar's entrance. "Plus, it's so early in the morning, you know that bug in Ms. Raine's butt might—"

"—Might what?" Raine asked coolly, and both Laguna and Ellone shot shocked looks to the bar door. Raine was leaned in the doorway, like some sort of slender gargoyle guarding the entrance. At least, that's what the look on her face made her out to be. She smiled at Ellone and then gave Laguna a look that would have torn him in two had looks killed. "And what nonsense are you filling Ellone's ears with /this/ morning?" she asked expectantly, arching a delicate eyebrow at Laguna, who grinned.

"Just the facts, ma'am," Laguna replied, giving Raine a rather saucy mock salute. "/And/," he said, dragging the word out and making it sound as if he were betting Raine something, "I'm actually /asking/ permission to take Ellone somewhere. It's a shame, really…d'ya think if I got you mad enough your head would spin around and you'd breathe fire?"

"I'd be glad to show you," Raine said, smiling sweetly at him through clenched teeth, "whenever Ellone's not around."

Laguna raised his eyebrows at Raine. "Whoa," he said, dropping a grin at her. "Is that a promise?"

"The only thing I can promise /you/," she said, clenching a fist and glaring at him, advancing, causing him to back away from her with his hands in the air. The scene was not totally unlike watching a cat stalking her prey, "is this. If you aren't out of my sight in ten seconds, I'm going to rebreak every bone in your miserable body!"

"Ah—Raine—" he said, as Ellone giggled from the side. "Let's not overreact here—"

"One!" Raine announced loudly, staring at him coolly. "One and a half! I'm counting, Laguna Loire! Two!"

"C'mon Elle," Laguna said, taking himself away from the peeved Raine as fast as his coalescing body would allow him to go. "Let's exit, stage left—before Raine starts breathing fire."

"Like a dragon?" Ellone asked as the two got farther away from Raine.

"You betcha," Laguna replied. "Like a dragon with a bug up 'er butt."

We were constantly at odds, sometimes with Ellone in the middle of us. It was like were a very unhappy married couple—bickering over this and that. He'd always run away, or surrender, even though sometimes I had begun the fight knowing he was right and somehow I had come out on top. I started figuring out that there were just some ones he let me win, some ones he just let slide—and I guess it made me see I had been somewhat of a tyrant. He wasn't a prince, most definitely, but he was a human being and had done nothing to warrant the endless harassment I dealt him.

It definitely made me see that maybe he wasn't just some bumbling idiot, the bumbling idiot I had seen do such /ingenious/ things—such as climb a tree during a lightening storm, and agree to let the soldiers stationed in town shoot apples off his head. There were just some times when I seriously wondered if Laguna Loire was mentally ill.

"/What/…do you think you're doing?" a very irate and shocked voice called from across the small square, and the figure in question looked towards her—not so much, mind you, as to make his head move. For there was an apple sitting on it, and a rifle trained on that apple.

"What's it look like?" he asked, not even flinching as the apple upon his head was blown into a small amount of applesauce with a loud crack and the stench of burnt gunpowder. "/Duh!/ The guys are havin' a little fun!"

Raine opened her mouth to berate him, sure the spectacle would have ended once all involved realized she was watching on, but instead she went slack jaw as Laguna picked up another apple from between his feet and gave a thumbs up to the small group of soldiers.

"Next!" he cried, and Raine saw another soldier move to the front of the cluster and prepare his rifle. She closed her gaping mouth by great force of will and hurried out across Winhill's main square, muttering the whole tirade she planned to give him once she got to him under her breath. She shoved her way rudely through the crowd of soldiers, who seemed a bit shocked to see a small woman such as herself shouldering them aside. Her tirade was lost in a huff once she finally reached him, and stood there at his side for a moment, glaring heatedly and having lost not just her tirade—but all her words.

Finally, "Are you /nuts/?!" Raine swiped the apple off his head, mussing some of his long black hair in the process. The disregarded green fruit rolled away inbetween the cobblestones, and Raine paid it no mind. "Well? Got an answer in that obviously empty head of yours?" As soon as he opened his mouth, however, she cut him off with her own words. "You could have been killed. Do you get it? /Killed!/" Raine grabbed his arm and yanked him up off the chair and began to drag him away from the group and the mess of newly made applesauce.

"That was the twelfth apple!" Laguna protested. "They know what they're doing, and besides, I told 'em they could do it!"

"So?!" Raine cried, still dragging him away despite the snickers from the group of soldiers. "Just because you tell them to do it doesn't make it OK!"

"Actually—" Laguna began, furrowing his brow.

"Oh, be quiet!" Raine spat, feeling her chest tighten in something that wasn't quite anger, and wasn't quite annoyance. It felt more like…/fear/, fear for what could have happened. "You could have died! Who cares if they're trained professionals. One slip and…you could have had a hole through your head!"

"Aw, Raine," Laguna scoffed, "that wouldn't have happened!"
"It could've!" She turned around and glared at him, and he just barely stopped himself from careening into the irate Raine. "I wouldn't have been able to fix a bullet in your brain! /That/ would have been something I couldn't just fix by giving you lots of soup and plenty of rest! And then what would I have done—" She turned away from him, waving her hands at him as if he were a bothersome problem, or a fly, that she could have waved away. The snickering soldiers were silent now, watching the scene unfold in front of them, and Laguna was equally as silent.

"Ah—hey, Raine…I didn't know it—I mean, /I/ meant that much--" he began, fumbling for words as she stormed up the stone steps towards the bar's doors.

"You don't!" She cried, before going into the bar and slamming the wooden door soundly, the crack of the splintering doorframe ringing out across the previously tranquil square.

Whether I liked it or not at the time, I was fighting a losing battle. It was inevitable, and I began to see that. Even if Laguna wasn't my faerie-tale prince, he was a human; a man, and I was in the process of falling hopelessly in love with him.

One day, a man showed up in town for him, a peculiar, spidery sort of a man who nonetheless was very friendly to us. He was quiet, thoughtful, reserved—everything Laguna had basically proved himself not to be. Ellone went to get Laguna and I stayed with the man, who told me his name was Kiros. I had finally met the mysterious Kiros that Laguna had babbled on about the night he was found.

I couldn't see why they were such good friends. Laguna was constantly leading Kiros off on all sorts of misadventures, talking over him, and basically just being Laguna in a nutshell. Kiros never really bought into the whole 'monster-hunting' thing like Laguna had, and he stayed in Winhill on and off. He'd occasionally leave for a week or a weekend to go to Deling City or where ever—who knows, leave Winhill and get out for a while. Laguna never went with him, always staying behind and pleading work.

Laguna seemed to have become afraid of leaving Winhill—at first, I had no idea why but then I associated it with his fear of having whatever had happened to him happen again. Even as he went on and on about his grand dreams of becoming a world-renowned journalist, he shirked away from the idea of going to Timber and getting a job with the Timber Maniacs. Everyone in the free world knew that going to Timber was the first (and usually only) step in becoming a journalist. Timber Maniacs was and is the publication of the time—and Laguna, for some reason, seemed loath to realize his dream.

However, with a little help from Ellone, Kiros, and basically everyone else in Winhill—whether they liked Laguna or hated him for being an outsider—I finally started to see why he wasn't leaving Winhill.

Just as I was falling down the ladder of love and hitting every rung on the way down, apparently, Laguna was too. I hadn't really noticed it until Kiros started advising me not to be so harsh on him when I yelled (which I was really beginning to hate myself for anyway; just because I didn't know how to handle things I took them out on Laguna because he was an easy target), and Ellone's requests for our marriage became daily things. Plus, when I threw in the small but endless clues that the locals were tossing at me, it all started to become clearer. They were really small, stupid things, like 'Laguna's been looking at you a lot lately' or 'Do you suppose Laguna's got a wife somewhere…?' but they all pointed in one direction anyway.

Plus, I started kicking myself for the signs that should have been obvious to me and me alone. The way he would constantly ask me if he could be of any help to me, even though he usually just ended up getting in the way. The way he would clumsily compliment me on tiny things, things large enough to compliment on but small enough to easily forget. The way he seemed to start trying not to make me so mad anymore. The way he would grin at me when he gave Ellone and I his 'report' on his monster killings for the day. The way he would /grin/ at me, period.

I was blind. Oh god, I was blind. To think I turned him out so long just because I was stubborn and blind.

"Ellone looks so precious!" The old woman who ran the flower shop down the road from the town square kneeled carefully before Ellone, who had ceased skipping and now stood in place, bouncing softly and giggling. A wreath of snow-white flowers with pale pink centers adorned her head, and some long, flowing white ribbons ran down her back from the wreath. Raine smiled.

"She /had/ to have those flowers," Raine said. "They're—the breeding isn't quite finished yet. I would have liked to have the pink in the centers a bit more pink, but she just /had/ to have them for this year's festival."

"I think they're lovely," the old woman said, adoring Ellone and then her wreath. "Too much more pink and they would have been too common. I think you did a lovely job in the breeding, Raine."

"Thanks," Raine said, watching as the old woman carefully righted herself and Ellone skipped away. "Ellone! Don't go too far!" Raine hollered after her, but Ellone paid her no mind and skipped away inbetween the bar building and the abandoned house that Laguna lived in. Raine turned back to the old woman and shook her head, but then lowered herself and allowed the old woman to grace her own head with a wreath made of blue flowers. "Thank you," she said, fingering the petals. "I—I'd assume it's lovely, I didn't get to look at it…" she laughed, and the old woman waved at her.

"Go ahead," she said with an old smile. "Look at it!"

Raine pulled it off her head obediently and smiled at the soft blue colour of the flowers. "They remind me of eyes," she said quietly, and then placed it back on her head carefully, so as not to muss her loose brown hair. "Someone's eyes. I can't place whose—"

A shriek from the alley made both women start and dart eyes towards the darkened area frantically. Raine ran to the edge of the darkness that was the shadow of the buildings, and peered in nervously.

"Ellone?!" she asked, scanning hard through the darkness, and feeling her heartbeat quicken. "/Ellone?!/"

"Boo!" Suddenly Ellone was there, bright-cheeked and smiling, eyes twinkling and face hanging down from /above/ Raine. Raine stumbled back with a shriek of her own, and almost tripped over her own feet. It took her a moment to snap back to reality and realize that Ellone was taller than her because she was riding on Laguna's shoulders, small hands twisted into his hair. She giggled and looked down at him, and he looked up at her with a grin of his own.

"I'd say we scared her pretty good," Laguna said, tugging on Ellone's feet.

"Goodness gracious," the old woman exclaimed, clutching at her heart. "What was that dreadful scream just a moment ago?"

"Me!" Ellone cried, bouncing up and down and /almost/ toppling forward off Laguna's shoulders with the force. "Uncle Laguna scared me and then I said we should scare you!"

"…Not funny…" Raine muttered, trying to make her heart beat at a regular pace again, hand clutched identically over her chest. "…Not funny at all…"

"Aw, c'mon," Laguna said, offering her a grin. "No harm done! Just a little joke." He jounced Ellone once and snickered when she used his hair as an anchor to balance herself. "Good thing I take excellent care of my hair…"

"Ugh." Raine placed her hand over her eyes and shook her head slowly, looking at the ground almost as if she were dizzy. "You two are enough to give me a heart attack by the time I'm twenty-five."

"Wait until your heart's as old as mine," the old woman said, beginning to walk away numbly, in shock. "/Then/ start talking about having heart attacks…"

"You guys are wimps," Laguna said, giving Raine a playful bump. "Promise you won't collapse into some sort of convulsion while me 'n Ellone go for a walk?"

"Ellone and I," Raine corrected, the grammar bug in her biting hard at her heart, stifling what she may have wanted to say.

"What-/ever/," Laguna and Ellone managed to say in unison, and then looked at each other and laughed. Raine smiled while neither one was looking at her, and then directed the smile towards her feet, and reduced it to a mere curve of her lips.

"OK, I promise," Raine conceded, still speaking to her feet. "After all you two are the only things that can throw me into convulsions, and you know that."

"Honoured." Laguna bounced Ellone one more time and then walked away from Raine, leaving her to watch the two fondly as they crossed the square. Eventually, her eyes dropped to her feet again, leaving her lost in a haze of her own thoughts.

"Hey!" Laguna's voice suddenly brought her back to reality, and she jerked her head up at he and Ellone, who were already quite some distance away. "I didn't tell you that you looked nice!" he shouted across the square, drawing stares, and then turning away.

The sixty-fourth annual Harvest Festival marked the point where I finally broke all the rungs off the ladder, and fell to the ground, only to look underneath me and realize that Laguna had reached the bottom before I had, and that we had inevitably collided. Just like I knew we would.

I suppose that's how love works. You can't fall in love until you find someone to fall on. I don't believe that people are predestined to be with one person, or can wait their whole life for one person before they fall in love. Once they fall in love, yes. But before—I think from day one, the day you're born, you start climbing that ladder. And at a certain point, you fall off the top of that ladder. No matter what your dreams or concepts are, you've only got a certain amount of time until you hit the ground from the top of that ladder. And when it all comes down to it, it's just whoever happens to be at the bottom of that ladder when you land. My prince wasn't there—but Laguna Loire was, and he was waiting for me.

"Ye /Gods/," the baby-faced soldier said, glancing up at the massive piles of flowers everywhere in the square. "This is—more flowers than I've ever seen in my entire life…"

Occasionally, you would see a person or a group of people, laughing, trail back into the square with bundles of flowers or armfuls or basketfuls, or whatever—all flowers were going to the same place. They were tossed into a huge pile and then grouped by colour and variety by the people who had remained in the square to help.

It was the Winhill Harvest Festival, and it happened every year. Flowers were the town's main source of income, and livelihood, so each year when the flowers bloomed, they were 'harvested' by the townsfolk and foreigners as well. Many a person came for the festival, and none left disappointed.

"That's because you're not out in the fields pickin' 'em," Laguna said, tossing an armload of various, colourful flowers onto the massive unsorted pile. Behind him, Raine carried her own pile of flowers, and she tossed them onto the pile as well, wiping her hands on her jeans and leaving slight bits of moist, crumbly brown earth stuck to them. She reached up and pulled a flower bud out of her long dark brown hair, and tossed it into the pile as well, totally unaware of the conversation going on between Laguna and the soldier. Raine carefully rearranged her wreath and looked over at Laguna, whom she realized was actually in an argument of sorts with the soldier.

"What are you two fighting about?" she asked, putting her hands on her hips like a scolding mother. Baby-face snickered and ignored Laguna's death look.

"Not a word," Laguna growled. "You'd better not say anything or I'll—"

"We were just talkin' about how Laguna there's so head over heels for—"

"You'd better can it," Laguna threatened, taking a step forward. "Shaddup or I'll do something I regret!"

"Like what?" Baby-face asked with a chortle. "Fall on your face in front of Raine? Laguna, man, sometimes you are too much!"
Upon hearing the comment about falling on his face in front of Raine; at the mere mention of Raine, Laguna turned a rather hot red colour, and looked away, folding his arms over his chest and making a 'guh' noise. Raine looked between baby-face and Laguna, and felt the awkwardness of the situation, feeling like she had been sucked back to grade school all over again and the boys were all trying to kiss her and all she could do was run away.

"Don't listen." She grabbed Laguna's arm and pulled him away, wrapping her arms around the arm that she had captured and used as a pulley. "It's dumb, anyway," she said, searching for words, wondering where her love and knowledge of them went when she needed them most. "It's a dumb thing to worry about. Let's just go."

"Raine—" He was going to say something, but she wasn't ready to hear it, even if he was ready to say it.

"I said don't worry about it, Laguna," she said, louder, in an effort to make it seem like it was nothing. But it was something, something enormous and invisible and intangible between them. She wasn't prepared for what he had to say. She wanted him to be there, but not for him to actually say it, because part of her was still afraid and confused. "It's dumb. Now come on—let's go and find Ellone and keep picking."

"…Alright, Raine. If you wanna."

"I do. I do want to."

What is this? This /is/ torture! Why? Why does my mind make it harder for my body to let go? Why does my memory suddenly become like a needle now, sharp, able to pinpoint things that would have been hazy?

It's because you're dying, Raine, hon. You're dying and your mind is trying to let you go out happy.

"This would make one hell of an article!" Laguna exclaimed, sitting up, wiping some of the beads of sweat off his brow. Raine looked over, and did the same, watching him scan the horizon. Ellone waved at him from some distance away where she was picking yellow flowers with other children.

"Go to Timber, then," Raine said. "Timber Maniacs is there—"

"Ah—" Laguna suddenly bent back down to his work. "…I'm not really ready to leave town yet. I've got to stay."

"Why?" Raine asked, even though she was sure of the answer that lurked in Laguna's mind. "Why waste your life here when your dream calls you to Timber?"

"It's…" He didn't look up, but kept at pulling flowers out of the ground gently. "…the monsters. I can't leave until I'm sure /none/ will ever come back again. And Ellone! She would be crushed if I left…"

"Ah." Raine felt something bitter in her mouth, she wanted to spit the words out herself, but for some reason she didn't feel like she could until she knew for sure, until she heard it from him.

I didn't really want him to go to Timber. I was just trying to get him to tell me he loved me, because I couldn't say it to him. I wanted to make sure he said it first, so I wouldn't be gambling without substantial proof.

"Say, what if I took Ellone and you to Timber with me?" Laguna asked her suddenly, as they were walking back to town, among the last people to come trickling back before the sun set. Ellone skipped behind them, waving her motley bouquet of flowers about in the air and singing.

Raine's chest tightened, but it still wasn't what she wanted, what she had been preparing herself all day for. "I—I don't think I'd like to leave Winhill."

"Oh. Ah. Well, damn." Laguna exhaled, however quietly.

"You…could take Ellone for a while," Raine said. "I trust her with you now."

"…Nah…" Laguna shook his head and looked back at the small girl over his shoulder. "/I/ don't trust myself with her. …And plus, wouldn't you get lonely? Here in Winhill? Nah, I can't. It was just a suggestion. I'll stay."

"When I was a little girl," Raine began, wondering why the hell she had chosen to spill what she was about to spill to whom she was about to spill it to, "I had this dream. Notion…expectation from life." She laughed slightly, and pressed slender fingers to her brow briefly. "I…wanted a prince to come for me. I hated this town. I wanted to get married to some rich prince on a white horse, and have him take me away to Deling City. I wanted to go to Deling City so bad…so I could be a movie star, or a princess, or a…someone famous. But now that I look at it…I wouldn't want to go anywhere. I love Winhill. It might not have a prince or a white horse, but it's good enough for me."

"Oh." Laguna was silent for a long time, which was unusual—for Laguna. "I've been to Deling City. You ain't missin' much. It doesn't have anything on Winhill."

"What about paved roads?" Raine asked suddenly, smiling over and up at him. He returned the smile earnestly and snickered.

"Well…yeah. You got me on that one."

I want to remember them like this. Like they were, because I don't know how they are now. I want to remember them, full of life and beautiful.

"Why do I have to go to bed so /early/?!" Ellone whined, kicking her feet and pouting as Raine tucked the sheets in snugly around the small girl. Early spring evenings still held winter's chill, and Raine didn't want the girl to catch cold.

"Because, you're a little girl," Raine replied, "and little girls need their rest."

"But you're staying up!" Ellone protested. "Me and Uncle Laguna—"

"Uncle Laguna and I," Raine corrected, softly, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"/Uncle Laguna and I/," Ellone snorted, "were havin' so much fun…can't I just stay up ten minutes longer? Pleeeeeease?"

"No," Raine replied firmly, yet kindly. "Because then ten will stretch into twenty, and then an hour, and then two hours…and then Uncle Laguna will be carrying you into your bed at three in the morning."

"But that only happened once!"

Raine snickered, and shook her head with a slight roll of her eyes. "Happened more times than that, if /I/ remember correctly." She made sure the girl was still tucked in, despite her squirmings, and then leaned down and brushed a kiss onto her forehead. "Goodnight, Elle. And don't be getting up out of bed. I'm going to come back up here and check on you every once in a while."

"Aww!" Ellone whined, but said no more. Raine smiled at her, and stood, heading for the door of the apartment above the bar she shared with Ellone.

"I'll be home soon," she said softly from the door, and turned out the light, then went down the steps and out the front door, towards the small crowd outside. Most of the foreigners left after sunset, since lodging was scarce in Winhill, but a few stayed, just enough to make a small crowd large enough for a party. She made her way to the center of the crowd and watched the man in the center with a clipboard and pen as he added up the total number of flowers that had been gathered that year.

"Thought you went to bed?" Laguna asked her, suddenly at her side and smiling at her. She smiled back. "I just laid Ellone down," she replied. "I'm probably going to go soon, too. I was up early today."

"Oh. You don't look tired," Laguna observed, and then cast a flickering glance at the man in the center adding. Raine did so as well, and then looked back to Laguna.

"I'm…not, I just figured I should go to bed early so I can be well rested for tomorrow, because otherwise then I /will/ be tired." She frowned at her odd excuses. "Ellone kept whining about how she wanted to stay up with you," she said, turning her frown into a grin, and Laguna snickered into a fist.

"Yeah…I promised her I'd do something tonight, and she probably wanted to stay up t' see it through," he said, watching as the man in the center cleared his throat and waved his clipboard in the air. Raine was about to ask him something, but he shushed her quietly. "Don't you wanna hear?"
"Yes, but—"

"Ladies and Gentlemen!" the man cried, still waving his board about almost triumphantly. "We have surpassed—"

"Laguna—" Raine actually punched his arm in impatience, staring up at him when he looked down at her a measure dazedly. "—What is it? I can always hear what the flower count is," she said, trying to pull him away from the crowd. "But tonight is tonight. After this moon disappears from this sky, tonight is over and you'll make a promise-breaker out of yourself."

"Alright." He followed Raine out of the crowd, and walked with her to some distance away from the cluster. "I did have this all planned out, but you've kinda put me on the spot."

"I don't care about plans or spots," Raine said, feeling the moment slip through her fingers, like water, and if she didn't act quickly and grab onto something she was going to lose it all. "I want to know."

Laguna sighed, heavily, and looked mildly flustered. He gathered one of her idle hands in his both of his own and sat there for a moment in unmoving silence, her own hand beginning to shake within his, which were still surprisingly steady. "Ah. What sort of journalist would I be…when words evade me so quickly? When I can't even call upon them when I need them? What sort of a person am I to you, Raine? I can't be your prince. I'm not gallant, or dashing…hell, I'm not even rich. And what's more, I don't even own a white horse."

"What you are to me," Raine replied breathlessly, "is Laguna. There's nothing more to you. Go on."

"But what is there to me that suddenly changed? You hated me. I saw it in you, heard it…you hated me, Raine. I'm just worried that you don't know me. I'm worried that all you've seen is the shell, and you don't know the true me. You don't know Laguna—therefore everything I am to you may be a lie."

"Nothing about you changed, Laguna. /I/ changed. I grew up. I realized that no prince was going to come, and that I didn't really need a prince after all. I know now that I need /you/, not a prince or money or Deling City or any of that. I need you, and Ellone needs you; and Laguna, if this is you, then you're everything I could have ever hoped for." Raine inhaled after her sudden burst of revelation, and waited in stitched silence for his reply, which, to her annoyance, was not quick in the coming.

"I'm not sure of where I go from here," Laguna said, finally, after the silence. "My sense of direction is horrible."

Raine let her eyes close and smiled mentally, with a heavy sigh. This was Laguna, all right. This was what he was. He erred, he had faults, and he was unabashedly truthful. He was /human./ "Say what you want to say," she willed him. "Because if you're lost, then I'm lost with you."

"I love…" He paused in the middle of his statement, as if he couldn't believe that it had come from him, from his mouth and that he was saying it to her. "…you, Raine."

"I have something to admit," Raine said, the tightness in her chest disappearing, reminding her what it was like to live without a cloud of worry once again. Laguna's hands tightened on hers.

"Yes?" he said, his voice betraying several different emotions that were having their way with him. Raine didn't take the time to sort them all out and identify them individually—all she heard was the hope.

"'Love you too, Laguna Loire," she said, throwing her arms around him and doing something she told herself she should have done months ago. She put her whole being into an embrace around him that felt like it could have never been broken by anything, not time, not death, not age, not even her prince were he to come then. Bliss, she told herself, was knowing that you loved someone and that they loved you back. She was experiencing bliss at that moment.

She sighed a little, and her lips curved slightly as he leaned his head against hers, eyes closed.

"You have no idea how frickin' /great/ it feels to hear you say that," he admitted a moment later, causing Raine to giggle quietly.

"I think I have an idea," she whispered just before their lips met, and their futures and decisions meshed solidly with each other.

The only promise-breaker turned out of the evening was Raine herself.

Despite what she had told Ellone, she wasn't home until early the next morning.

So I slept with him. If I could laugh right now, I would. I remember how the town went into such a state of shock that I would actually consider Laguna—no, not really Laguna—but a foreigner? It was the biggest controversy that Winhill had sunk its teeth into in years.

I wowed the town frequently after that, and I made it totally official that I wasn't going to take any shit from anyone. Why was it that anyone not born in Winhill was automatically evil? It wasn't like there were any men around my age, anyway—they had all gone off to war, and the only ones in town my age were the soldiers stationed temporarily. Sometimes I wonder what they would have thought a bigger sacrilege.

Falling in love with Laguna or sleeping with some random guy who would leave soon anyway?

"And when did this happen?"

"I told you this morning. I fainted while I was cleaning behind the bar." Raine shrugged the best she could while lying down. "Nothing tremendous. I probably didn't eat enough at breakfast or something."

"That could be it," Doctor Rupert said, smiling at her. "In any case, I want you to rest up for a bit—make sure you don't overexert yourself again."

"But all I was doing was cleaning the bar!" Raine protested in usual Raine fashion. "If /that's/ overexerting myself, then I don't know how I'm going to run the place."

"You'll find a way," Doc Rupert said, moving to his bag and placing some items back in it. "So like I said, no overexerting yourself. No running after Laguna, and definitely no running after Ellone. You're going to have to learn how to take it easy. And especially be careful, since we are in the middle of the summer. It gets mighty hot out there, Raine. You could faint easily in the heat."

Raine looked at the doctor like he was the one in need of a checkup, and not her. "Doc," she began, her dissension evident, "all I did was faint in the bar. It isn't like I faint regularly, or get light-headed easily. This is the first time that I've fainted in as long as I can remember. I don't think all your warnings and advice are necessary."

"Well, it's your choice as to whether you ignore or heed my advice," Doc Rupert replied with a sort of muted amusement, hitching his bag up higher onto his shoulder. "I'm just here to give it to you, not to make sure you take it." He shrugged. "In any case, good day, Raine. Hope to see you restored to your self again soon."

Doc Rupert left the room of the somewhat disgruntled Raine, and went down the steps into the bar, looking around the small and immaculate room. He sighed and shook his head, and then went out the front door, only to have someone pop up in his face almost immediately.

"She OK?" Laguna asked, following Doc Rupert like some sort of harbinger out towards the exit of the square.

"She's fine," he replied patiently, as if he were speaking to a small child. "Stubborn as ever, and that tells me she's fine."

"Well, you don't just up and collapse for no good reason," Laguna went on. "What'sa matter with her?"

Rupert laughed, and shook his head. "Nothing much at all," he said, squinting into the early afternoon sunshine, already he could tell that this day would be a hot one. "Just a little nine month disease."

"Nine month disease?" Laguna asked, stopping in his tracks and looking somewhat confused. The doctor kept right on walking, leaving Laguna behind with his thought. "Nine month disease. What the hell is a nine month di…" He went blank for a moment, and then in the blink of an eye he was running hell for leather back to the bar, absolutely ecstatic. He burst in the front door and shot up the stairs, whipping open the door to the upstairs and running in. Raine looked at him oddly from her dozing position on the bed, and raised an eyebrow at him.

"Has the end of the world come?" she asked dryly, and he shook his head fervently, grinning like a madman.

"Found out what's wrong with you," he said. "Doc told me. You're—"

"What? So he told you and not me?" Raine looked positively put out. "Isn't that illegal in most places anyway? Doesn't the patient have a right to know? I'm going to get myself up right now and go and give that old fool a piece of my good mind—"

"—pregnant!" Laguna finished undaunted, looking like he was ready to snap like a rubber band and go bouncing all around the room with his pent-up energy. Raine started to get up regardless and head for the door in a steamed haze, but then she stopped and looked at him.

"What'd you say?" she asked, suddenly very white and meek.

"I said that you're pregnant!" Laguna exclaimed again, watching her shuffle back to the bed and lay a hand over her eyes, suddenly exhausted. "Doc said that you had a 'nine month disease', and now it all makes sense, don't it?"
"Doesn't it," she corrected from under her hand. She uncovered her eyes and let out a deep sigh. "Me? Pregnant?"

Laguna looked suddenly unsure, worried. "Well…aren't you happy, Raine? Don't you want to have a child? I'm sure Ellone would be psyched about being an older sister!"

"No…I'm happy, believe me, I am…it's just…" Raine paused, and rolled her head to look outside, eyes flicking over the landscape but not really seeing it. "…a big revelation for little old me…"

"Aw, hey," Laguna said, coming to the side of the bed and crouching near it, resting his chin on the pillow next to her face. "It'll be OK. I'll be here for you. If it gets even a little bit tough, you can use me as a…whatever you need. I'll even sit there and let you throw things at me if you need to relieve stress."

Raine laughed a little and turned her head to look at him. "Can I shoot apples off your head?"

Laguna paused for a moment. "Get me drunk before that one," he said gravely, and Raine laughed again.

"I can see it now," she said, grinning at him. "'Laguna, you make a better window than you do a door…'"

"Personally, I think I make a better foot rest," he said thoughtfully, "but that's my own personal opinion."

"Why did she get quiet all of a sudden?" someone asked, and others shifted uneasily in their seats.

Raine's body lay unmoving in the bed, the only sign of her miserably continuing life was the gentle rise and fall of her chest. The rain and the wind were having their way with Winhill, the late afternoon storm flattening out the suffering landscape, and painting the sky a shade of deep night. The room had settled into shadows of grey and deep purple, midnight blue and ebony. Raine was shockingly white in comparison with the fleshy tones of the other people in the room, and even whiter when compared with the atmosphere of the room.

"Can't be long now," the woman holding the baby said, gazing out the window blankly.

"How do you know so?" someone asked her.

"Smell that?" she asked, not removing her eyes from the window. "That smell in here? That's death. Death has a smell, and it always comes around before someone dies. I know because I smelled Death in the room when my father died."

"Oh, hush," a voice said, from a person who was obscured in the shadow. "Your talk does none of us any good—you're settin' us all on edge. That ain't no 'death' smell or anything silly like that. It's just the smell of the rain on the dirt and the old wood of this place. It's mold and mildew, that's all."

"Hmm." The girl said nothing, only gazed her neverending gaze out the window placidly.

"Maybe you should ask her now," a man said, nodding at the old woman beside the bed. "Ask her what she wants to name the child, if she's even able to speak or hear us."

"Why? Why /her/? I don't understand!"

"It's because she's a little girl, Raine, and they want little girls so they can try and pass on Adel's powers—"

"/Don't/ try to make it sound like everything else, like some common case! I don't care if it's happening everywhere else too, she was mine! /Mine!/ And now she's gone." Raine heaved a heavy, teary sigh, and sunk wearily back into her chair. Laguna looked at her quietly, sitting close to her, but just outside her space.

"How do you think her parents felt?" he asked her finally, quietly, solemnly, quite possibly as solemnly as she had ever seen him. "How do you think they felt when they were dying and they had to hand her to you, some person they barely knew? She was theirs too, Raine."

"What's your goddamned point?" Raine asked him angrily, glaring at him through her tears; the world shifted and danced before her eyes. "What is she? Some sort of toy that gets passed around and when it happens to Esthar, someone will say to them, 'Think of the person who had her before'?!"

"That wasn't my point," Laguna replied, leaning over and resting his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together. "I'm not trying to hurt you, Raine. I miss her too."

"Then what was your point?" She knew she was letting out her frustration on him, and she didn't want to, but it was coming out anyway and she couldn't stop it from happening. It was like her levee had broken.

"…I'm not sure anymore," he replied, sounding lost. "I'm just—"

There was silence for a time, while Raine scrubbed angrily at her tearing eyes and Laguna stared off into space blankly.

"Just trying to distance myself so it doesn't hurt so damn bad," he finished finally, eyes fixing on something across the room and not leaving it. "She was my little girl too. And /I/ let her go. I shoulda been able to do something."
Raine stared down at her swollen belly, and frowned as the world seemed to tip when she closed her eyes; she had been overexerting herself the past few days, not eating enough and not sleeping as well. "Laguna…" She shook her head suddenly. "No. It's not your fault. You did more than I did, and she—she wasn't even yours to begin with." Raine covered her face and moaned. "Well, she wasn't /mine/ to begin with, either! Oh—"

"I know what you meant," he said, pulling her hands from her face. "And don't blame yourself, Raine. You're an unarmed, pregnant woman. What could you have done against Estharian soldiers?"

"/Something/." Raine didn't buy into his comfort. "It wasn't your fault, Laguna. It was mine. You were taking it all on yourself…you and the other soldiers—while I just sat there. I could have gotten her and hid her. I could have—"

"No," he said, loudly, brokenly. "What's done is done. We're only going to destroy ourselves on the inside if we keep lookin' back on it." He lapsed into another silence and leaned back in his own chair after long moments of thought.

"As soon as I can get Kiros to come," he said, eyes fixing on something on the other side of the room again, "I'm going to get Ellone back. We'll get to Esthar."
Despite her want to have Ellone again, Raine was not optimistic. "No one can get into Esthar."

"I /will/!" Laguna cried, his eyes not moving, but narrowing. "Me an' Kiros." For the first time in a long time, Raine did not correct his speech. "We'll go. And we'll get Ward, too. I'll bring her back to us, Raine. Make us all whole again." He sighed, and reached over to lay a hand on Raine's stomach. "He's going to need his big sister."

"Laguna, I think we need her more than he'll need her," Raine said quietly.

This is it. This has to be it. My body has finished its thrashing and unneeded expulsion of energy, so there can't be anything else left. Is this what death is? Waiting? Hoping?

I hear something. I think it's raining out. The room is pretty cold. It has to be raining out. I hear it on the windows.

Maybe that noise is someone talking. Or maybe it's rain on the windows. I'm not sure anymore. It could be both, or neither. Maybe you go insane in your last moments of life. Maybe your sanity is one of the things you cut the effort to in order to redirect all your effort to staying alive, reroute it, cut everything else off like sight and sound and sanity and movement.

I don't need to figure any of this out. I'm going to die. Even if I did figure it out, I'd be dead and who would I tell it to anyway? God? I'm sure he already knows how it works, so that'd be pretty stupid. I guess I should just sit back and enjoy the last of the ride.

"Raine? Raine? If you can hear me, please answer me. The baby doesn't have a name. You need to name it, Raine."


Why am I thinking of names on my death bed?


Side effect of the sanity loss, I think. Maybe.


Needs a name.


He needs a name. How could I have forgotten? I don't think I even have the energy left to say anything, let alone the name. I don't even know the name. I thought I'd have plenty of time to discuss it with Laguna after the birth. Funny how things turned out.

It's raining. At least I think it is. I hope it is.

"She said something!" the girl with the baby cried, freeing one hand to point at Raine. "Her lips moved. I saw them!"

Everyone in the dark room was suddenly alert, on their toes, and leaning forward to hear anything Raine might say or have said. She was listless again, no movement. Everyone looked at the girl skeptically.

"She didn't say anything. You're just hoping. Keep trying."

"What do you want to name him, Raine? Come on, Raine. Just one last thing, please."

The truth seemed to have sunken in to everyone, and they all watched the dying girl with dulled agony in their eyes. To watch a person dying was a bit like dying yourself, you watched them in every last little toss and turn as the life ran out of them, as a force pulled the proverbial plug in their aquarium.

"There! There! Her lips moved again!" the girl pointed. "I'm /not/ lying or seeing things."

"I saw it this time, too."

Raine's eyes stared straight ahead, and saw nothing, only glossed and looked like two twin pieces of light blue glass that had been taken away from the light and had no glitter. Suddenly, her pale purplish lips moved slightly, forming what appeared to be the first broken bit of a word. Everyone hung on edge, air suddenly seemed short in the room and only tiny breaths were taken by all.

"What, Raine? Come on, you can do it!"

The man knelt by her lips and waited, and with a cold exhalation of faint breath (it felt a little like winter), Raine's lips moved again and a barely audible whisper issued forth from them. He heard one more winter escape her lips, and then, silently stood when the next did not come. Looking down on her, she seemed to have turned into a porcelain doll, no colour in her face save her cornflower glass eyes and light lilac toned lips. She seemed to have passed while in a snow storm, on the verge of freezing.

"She's gone." He said it flatly, in order to bring closure. "It's over."

"What did she say?" the old woman asked, tears beginning to slip out of her eyes.

"She said Squall," he announced, and eyes turned to the small bundle now dubbed Squall.

The rain outside began to taper off, and was soon a grey drizzle. The sky refused to clear, and remained its churning mass of darkness, threatening to drop water to the earth again.

The man carefully wrapped Raine in the sheet she laid on, covering her ice-glossed face, and outside lightening struck once more, and a tiny rumble of thunder managed to squeak its way out of the soupy sky.

Townspeople of Winhill later said, to cover the pain, that it had rained so hard and destroyed so much because God was angry that Raine was dying. Rain for Raine, they said.

Things weren't quite the same after the rain passed.

Leftovers: I wrote this during a period of time when I was sick, and had this particular scene running through my head over and over again. Much repeating of Tori Amos CDs and many doses of codeine laden cough syrup later, After The Rain came out. I appreciate any feedback and or criticism you have. Also, if it's no skin off your nose and you didn't vomit after reading this, please visit my site:

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