Disclaimer: Final Fantasy 8 and its characters, trademark, copyright, etc., etc. all belong to Square, good for them. This is only a bit of harmless fun.
A/N: The piece was originally written in response to Alonia's challenge at the Seiftis Forever Boards, but it mutated into something else. Thanks Al, for supplying inspiration, and thank you Starlight for writing the liquid sunlight image, which I stole shamelessly. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: Light
It was the kind of summer day when time stood still, when the unmoving sun wrapped its light around the world like long arms. The undying trees and evergreen grass hummed with joy, eternally.
The gentle swell of green hill was the throne of the season's glory. The hot, sweet breeze smelled of flowers in bloom and crushed grass, and sunlight spilled itself like honey in thick sticky layers.
A tall young willow swayed at the peak of the hill, its cool blue shade a startling contrast to the light all around. Inside the shifting shadow sat a woman in peach, pale as a flower in the grass. Before her and to her side stood a tall young man, his stance proud and his hair gold fire in the harsh light.
"It's so peaceful here," said Quistis, taking a deep breath of warm air.
Seifer shrugged. "Sure is. When can we leave?"
Quistis laughed. She raised her eyes to his broad back and strong shoulders, the gray material of his coat soaked in light. He had always preferred the sun, even as a child.
"I swear you've got something feline in your genes. Or reptilian. How can you stand the heat?"
"Reptilian?" Seifer's head turned halfway, showing his profile. He raised an eyebrow. "How charming. Of course, I have been called a reptile on numerous occasions."
A pang went through her at his casually sardonic tone. "Feline, then," she said with deliberate lightness. "You always seem to land on your feet."
Seifer turned his face away to look in front of him again. "And I can't stand dogs."
Her lips quirked upward. "Or members of the dog family?"
"Hyperactive mutts and lone wolves included." She could hear the grin in his voice.
Tiny golden specks floated still around them like particles of time. A bird trilled in the distance. She plucked at strands of grass until she could finally frame the question.
"Seifer, did you ever hate us?"
She could see his back tense for a brief second before it relaxed again. He plopped suddenly down into the grass, startling her. His back was still to her as he sat, contemplating, but this time he looked fully over his shoulder to look at her.
"You thought I hated you?"
"I--I suppose." Facing him at eye level alarmed her a little. She could smell the fiery tang of his scent and see the limpid, living light that danced in his cat-green eyes. She leaned into the bole of the willow, trying to put distance between her and his presence.
"Let me guess. You all kicked my ass time after time, you all supposedly have everything I ever wanted, and I insult you all the time, therefore I must hate you, right?"
"Yes..." Quistis hated herself for sounding so lame, but it was all she could come up with.
Seifer faced forward and chuckled to himself, the sound mingling into the lazy flow of sunlit air.
"So you don't hate us anymore?" She asked, almost timidly.
"That's where you got it wrong, Trepe. I never hated any of you. Disliked you sometimes. There are things about you people that bug the hell out of me. But hate you?"
He turned his head again to meet her eyes, lips upturned but eyes saddened. "How does anyone hate a real person, Quisty? I've never hated people, only abstracts."
Feeling suddenly dizzy, Quistis leaned her head back, letting it touch the roughness of the bark. She could feel the life of the tree she leaned against--the constant flow of the earth's water through its vessels was a faint throb of song. She closed her eyes.
She had always admired trees, their endless vitality, their quiet strength. She had wondered as a child about the secret of their fortitude and wished to be as silent yet strong as they. As a woman she now knew there was no great mystery. A tree didn't pity itself in rain, in snow, in tearing winds. A tree didn't hate the elements that buffeted it, that broke it, destroyed it. It was the only strength there was, and the greatest strength of all.
"Trepe? Hey, Instructor!"
She opened her eyes to the sight of light, falling through the leaves and branches of the tree in shards of brightness. Seifer stood above her, framed against the sunlight, calling to her. And light shattered against his hair, his shoulders, a rain of radiance, as if there were no darkness to him, no shadow. She felt the tears well up. It's the sun, she thought as she blinked back the stinging. The light's too blinding, that's all.
"Sleeping on the job?" Seifer crossed his arms. "We've gotta be heading back t-"
"I love you."
She began a mental countdown as his eyes widened. Five, four, three, two, one.
"Trepe, you out of your fucking mind?!"
Right on time, she thought. She would have been amused if her blood weren't pounding in her ears.
"I certainly hope not." Her voice was steadier than she felt, with a touch of affronted dignity. "Please don't feel burdened. My feelings are my own, and I don't expect you to reciprocate."
"Why?" He took a step toward her, an unexpected intensity in his eyes. "Then why did you tell me?"
"Because..." She stood to face him, leaning on the tree for support, and chose the right words to mask herself with. "Because you needed to know that, Seifer. Everyone deserves to know someone loves them. I had no right to withhold it from you, just to save face."
Coward, she thought. What do you care what he deserves? You're only shielding yourself from rejection, like you did all your life. She watched sadly as Seifer grew pale, his eyes flashing dangerously.
"Forget it," he snarled. "You can save face all you like. Because I needed it? Is that all you ever think about, Trepe? What other people need?" He turned his face away and ran a shaking hand through his hair. Then, "Shit!" he slammed his fist hard into the trunk of the willow, sending a deep shudder through the tree, and through her.
He left her standing there and strode down the green slope, away from their moment of peace and away from the lone weeping willow with its branches still trembling.
"And you can give your condescending 'love' to Chicken Wuss for all I care!" He shouted over his shoulder, and was gone.
And still the afternoon was bright and languid, the tree's sheltering shade cool and fragrant, the day so beautiful she could cry. She gazed almost reproachfully at the strands of light falling around her. It was the sunlight, she told herself. Because it dazzled me. Because he dazzled me.
A/N: And yes, Quistis' words about Seifer deserving to know she loves him is from A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, by Ursula K. Le Guin.