A/N: I read the reviews for Dazzled and realized, as some reviewers pointed out, that it deserved some sort of closure. Thanks to all those who reviewed, and I hope this is enough to clean up the mess.
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em.
Chapter 2: Fire
Oh Hyne, mother of Sorceresses...
His feet were pounding the grass in a frantic beat--he wondered when he'd broken into a run. And how long had he been running, anyway?
A Jelleye popped out of the long grass at his feet; he didn't even slow his pace before drawing Hyperion and sliced the creature in half. He ran on as the milky drops of its life's blood exploded between the severed halves, sparkling with incongruous beauty before spattering to the ground.
He had no idea where he was, could care less where he was going. A fire burned inside him, as if his chest held an inferno where lungs should be. He had known the heat of lust, battle, madness, and pain, but this would surely finish him, this hollowness inside.
Have mercy, please.
At last his legs gave out and he stumbled to his knees. He threw his gunblade down and keeled over into the grass, burying himself in the swaying green scent of it. He held fistfuls of it as he tried to breathe, just get some air in and out his shaking frame.
She loves me. Hyne, she loves me.
He turned over on his back. Sky framed by points of grass was all he could see. There was nothing in the world but himself and the slowly-dimming sky above, the rustling of grass, and the warm fragrance of the earth below him.
Spent, he covered his eyes with a forearm. Why not keep pining for her Puberty Boy and be done with it? Why did she have to do this? He felt a little dead, like burnt coal that had kept its shape but would crumble at a touch.
Gradually his arm relaxed and fell from his face; his head rolled to one side, and his ragged breathing turned regular and even. Blessed darkness took him as his eyes closed against the world.
"Seifer!" Quisty's hand flew to her mouth. Sunbeams drifted through dusty kitchen window and turned her hair golden, shadowing her face.
"Don't go with them."
"I thought..." Her eyes became bright with tears. "You'd be happy for me."
"Well, I ain't."
"Don't use that word."
"Stop being Big Sister for once, Quisty!" He leaned closer to her, not understanding why he felt like this. "Do you want to go?"
"I..." She turned her face away to look out the window. "Squall needs me, but.."
"Squall, Squall, Squall!" Quisty turned to look at him again, her eyes wide with surprise. "It's all Squally for you, huh? Lemme tell you something, Quisty." he clenched a fist. "Squall don't need anybody but Squall. He doesn't need you! Get that?"
Quisty's lips trembled, and a little of the brightness in her eyes slid down a sunburned cheek.
"Then..." She turned her back to him. "I don't need to stay here anymore."
Seifer was glad she wasn't looking at him. He didn't want anyone to see the look on his face, least of all her.
"But..." He shook his head, trying to clear it. "What do you wanna do?" Quistis refused to look at him. "But of course, you're Goody-Goody Quisty," he mocked, his cruel streak rising like it always seemed to do when he was stuck. "You don't ever want anything, you just do what you're told..."
She spun suddenly around, hair flying. Her eyes glittered like ice, making him take a step back.
"Then let me tell you, you...you... dummy!" It was the very worst insult Quisty ever used. "I want parents too, like the village kids have. I don't want their parents calling them in because they're talking to an orphan. I just want to be normal like everyone else! Is that good enough? Is it?"
She ran out sobbing before he could reply. Like he was going to let her have the last word. "Fine! See if I care!"
A door slammed upstairs--Quisty never slammed doors--and Seifer hung his head.
He wouldn't ever admit it, but he was ashamed. He walked out the kitchen and out of the house, his feet as heavy as his heart was.
He found them all by the roadside when he came back. Sefie and Zell were crying, and Irvine kept drawing a hand across his eyes. Matron had a comforting arm around them and Squall stood on one side by himself, looking thoughtful but not really upset.
"Hey, where's Quisty?"
Everyone except Squall looked up, startled. Matron bit her lip.
"Where's Quisty?" Seifer repeated. His closed his right hand tightly around the bundle he'd brought, suddenly chilled for no reason he could think of.
"Seifer, dear..." Matron shook her head. "She wanted to see you. We all looked for you but the Trepes had to catch the ship to Galbadia, and-"
Seifer spun around, and there it was just over the hill, a cloud of dust rising up behind a car.
"No," he tried to say, but nothing came out. He went a few steps forward, almost falling, and started running. He heard Matron calling him but he couldn't stop, he didn't tell her he was sorry, he never said good-bye--
"QUISTY! Quisty, wait!" His legs ached and his chest burned, but he forced himself to keep running. "Quisty!"
He stepped on a loose stone and went sprawling, his right hand opening as he fell. Flowers went flying everywhere in bright confetti colors, the bunch he'd gathered for her at the flower field.
He sat up after a moment or two, hurting everywhere. He looked at the road again but the dust cloud was gone, and so was Quisty. He tasted sand in his mouth, hot and dry. He didn't realize he'd skinned both hands until he rubbed them absently on his shirt and smeared blood over it.
"My child, are you all right?"
Matron caught up with him, out of breath, the others tagging along. Squall was following slowly, looking bored.
Squall needs me... Then I don't need to stay here anymore.
And something hot surged up inside him until Seifer stood up from the sheer force ot it. Not caring about the pain, not caring about anything anymore, he leapt at Squall with a wild cry.
They fell to the ground together with Seifer on top. "You-" he gasped out between punches, "you don't even- care- do you? Quisty gone- and you- don't- CARE!" Squall needs me.
Squall shoved him, hard, and he tumbled to the ground on his back. They stood in a flash to face each other, and if Seifer could have he would have killed Squall then and there. But Matron came to stand between them, terrible anger in her face.
"I am very disappointed in you, Seifer. Apologize to Squall."
On most days that tone of voice would have left Seifer squirming, wishing the ground would open up under him. But now he hardly heard her. Selphie's sniffling caught his attention: She was carefully gathering up the flowers he'd dropped, tears in her eyes. Before Matron could stop him he went and stomped down, crushing the fresh blossoms into the dirt.
"Don't touch them!" Fresh tears sprang to Selphie's eyes at his shout. "They're not for you!"
Little Irvy was at her side in an instant. "Don't be mean to Sefie."
Seifer pulled his fist back and swung. Selphie's shriek rang in his ears as Irvine fell to the ground. The auburn-haired boy's hand came bloody away from his nose, and Seifer was frightened by the sick sort of satisfaction he felt at the sight.
"Stop it!" Zell screamed. "Stop it, Seifer! Leave us alone!"
"No, you stop it." Seifer grabbed Zell by the front of his shirt and pulled him close to his face. "Stop crying all the time and getting on my nerves. You're a crybaby and you'll never be nothin' more'n a crybaby, Chicken Zell." He pushed Zell roughly from him and walked away. Gradually he broke into a run again, running from the things he'd done, the people he'd hurt again.
Hurts, he thought. It hurts, Quisty. I'm so sorry, Hyne I'm sorry... He clenched at his chest as he ran. It burned, how could it burn so much? He had to put the fire out before it swallowed him whole.
I'm gonna hate you, Quisty, he thought as he ran to the beach, pain snapping at his heels. I'm going to hate you for leaving. I'll hate you for liking Squall better. I swear I'll hate you. I swear...!
He hit the water running, let himself sink into its cool embrace until his lungs burned. Quickly he came back up, sputtering as he broke the surface. He sobbed drily, striking the water over and over with his fists in impotent rage. Salt water ran down his face in bitter streams as he sent wordless screams into the uncaring late-afternoon sky.
Edea sighed in relief when she finally found him wading slowly out of the small bay. He was soaked to the bone and obviously tired, but there was control in his eyes again. The crisis was over and it was time for the hard part--aftermath.
"It's going to be dark soon, Seifer." She spoke as gently as possible, rather like handling a lovable but wild beast of prey. "Let's go in before you catch cold."
But the boy hung back, unsure. "I never said sorry to Quisty."
"It's all right." She went down on one knee so they were eye to eye. "I'm sure Quistis knows you're sorry."
"Uh-huh, but you know how things feel more real and stuff if you say them?" She nodded encouragingly, and he continued. "If I said sorry and good-bye to her it might've been easier to take. I don't know." He looked at the ground and kicked the sand with the toes of his squelching wet sneakers. "Is that selfish?"
In spite everything Edea felt touched. This side of him, the uncertainty and vulnerability, was for her eyes alone. She had really tried not to love him too much, for when he first came to her the child had smelled of blood. Yet here she was, loving above all others this deeply flawed soul, this child wild and beautiful.
"No, Seifer." She spoke very softly, hardly louder than the lapping of waves at the shore. "It's not selfish. I think it's very honest."
He came to her then, and she folded her arms tenderly around his bedraggled little form.
"You do realize you have to be punished." They walked back to the house under a rising moon, the child's warm hand secure in her own. She knew he would quietly slip his hand out once they came within viewing distance of the house, but for now he seemed content.
"Yes, ma'am." Seifer hung his head and held her hand tightly.
"And you need to apologize to the others."
He flinched a little at that.
"Seifer?" She paused in her walk to look at him.
"Not- not today, Matron."
"Why not?" She asked, more curious than annoyed.
"Because," he took a breath, "I don't feel sorry. I'm still too mad at everything. If I say I'm sorry now, it's lying."
Edea nodded slowly, then resumed walking. "Tomorrow, then."
"Okay, Matron." he said gladly. "I know I'll be sorry tomorrow."
She watched him with a measure of pride and a measure of despair.
What will you do, Seifer, in a world as dishonest as this? She thought. How will you live the lies and bow to falsehood as we all do?
Help him, what deities or demons that watch him. Please help him find his way. So she prayed, strangely afraid for the most imperfect of her children, and the most beloved.
He became gradually aware of his surroundings. Everything was darker than he last remembered, and a cold wind rustled through the grass.
And a pair of black boots stood before his eyes.
His eyes traveled upward as he tried to decipher the mystery. The boots ended and to his pleasure one hell of a pair of legs topped them, and higher up the hem of a dark peach skirt...
"I catch you staring up my skirt, and I stomp you on the nose."
His eyes followed the source of the voice and finally resolved the image of Quistis Trepe standing over him, the look on her face unreadable.
"Improve the view, wouldn't it?" He grinned lazily up at her.
She rolled her eyes, but her lips twitched at the corners.
"What were you thinking, running off like that?"
He stood, stretching leisurely. "I wasn't thinking. That's the problem."
"I've heard of men running from emotional situations, but this is ridiculous." She rubbed her forehead tiredly, her eyes betraying anxiety for the first time.
He cleared his throat. "So what about Mr. Leader and his stooges?"
"All out searching for you as we speak." She took a radio transmitter out of her pocket--a newfound blessing since the unsealing of Adel--and was about to turn it on when Seifer snatched it out of her hand.
"What in-" she reached for the radio, but he held it out of reach.
"Let them suffer a little longer." He tossed it over his shoulder.
"Oh, God." She put her hands on her hips, glaring at him. "How am I supposed to find that thing in all this grass?"
He watched impassively as she walked towards him in search of the transmitter. Just as she brushed past him he reached out and put his arms around her, pulling her close.
"Seifer." She sounded surprised, but made no move to break away.
"Hyne knows, Quistis," he buried his face in her shoulder, inhaling her scent. He felt lost, somehow, and very frightened. "Hyne knows I've screwed up before. Never cared before, I thought I had nothing to lose. But now..." He drew back to look into her astonished eyes. "Now the stakes are so high, I can't afford to fail."
"What...do you mean?" He could feel her tremble a little against him.
"I mean, when you... told me... you loved me, I was afraid for the first time of the consequences of my actions. Afraid of hurting you."
Darkness had fallen. An alabaster moon rose to light the folds of evening, its light encircling two people lost in the night, lost in the wonder of each other.
A loud squawk erupted from the ground, effectively shattering the moment.
"..tis...you... there?" A disjointed voice called from somewhere in the grass. "Quis.. do y... copy!"
Quistis' eyes widened. "The radio!"
The next moment the two of them were on their hands and knees on the ground, trying to track the source of the sound.
"I knew I shouldn't have let you throw that away!" Quistis parted the grass frantically here and there.
"Correction: You didn't let me. I just did it." Seifer crawled through the growth, looking for the elusive piece of equipment. "Relax, we'll find it. Just follow your ear."
"You'll be doing that soon enough, when I drag you by it back to base camp."
"Found it." He held it up triumphantly. Their eyes met and they shared a smile. There was again a comfortable equilibrium between them, though subtly different than before.
"Quistis!" Squall's urgent voice erupted from the transmitter. "Quistis, do you copy? Have you found that irresponsible jerk anywhere? Is everything okay? Come in, Quistis!"
Grinning devilishly, Seifer flicked the transmitter on. "Why Squally-poo!" He said in a high, squeaky falsetto, "does this mean you don't love me anymore?"
"Almasy?" The note of relief was palpable despite background static. "Where the hell were you?"
"A-aren't you glad to hear from me, dahling?" Seifer gave a high, screeching wail. "Does this mean we're over, honey-bunny?" Quistis choked back her laughter behind him, while Rinoa's giggles came loud and clear over the airwaves.
"Argh!" Squall raised his voice over the kissing noises Seifer was making into the radio and Rinoa's laughter in the background. "Quistis, just haul this lunatic back to camp, will you?"
Quistis leaned in to speak. "Sure...honey-bunny."
Squall groaned as Rinoa laughed even harder. "Leonhart out." Click.
Quistis shook her head as they helped each other up. "Why do you always torment him?"
"Because it works." Seifer brushed bits of grass from his coat and bent down to retrieve Hyperion. "The man may not be a zombie anymore, but he still can't take a joke. Man, I wish I could've seen the look on his face."
"You're nuts. A complete nutcase," said Quistis as they walked companionably to the jeep she had parked a few meters away.
"I know. That's why you love me," he said lightly.
"As a matter of fact, it is." She looked him squarely in the eye before she climbed into the driver's seat.
"Um." Speechless, Seifer went meekly around to the passenger's seat. Mother of Sorceresses, why did the woman have to take his breath away?
She had just started the engine when he climbed in. His hand closed over hers as she let go of the keys.
She smiled easily at him. "Squall will have a fit if we don't hurry back."
"Really? I'd pay to see that."
She laughed. "You were saying?"
He became serious. "I know it's going to take a lot of work, and time. I have no delusions of someone waving a magic wand to make everything perfect. Will you still bear with me? Do you want to?"
Quistis slowly entwined her fingers in his. "No one can guarantee the future, Seifer. But I do know one thing." She leaned in to kiss him briefly, a moment stolen from heaven. "If there's anything you and I are good at, it's struggling. We'll struggle together. To make it work."
Seifer couldn't speak; he could only gaze at her, his reason, his insanity, his fire.
She looked down at their hands locked together. "Incidentally, I can't drive with you holding my hand."
He finally found his voice. "Damn." Smiling, he released her.
"By the way," he said as the car rumbled into motion, "why do you always take the keys out of the ignition? It's a waste of time."
She gave him a scandalized look. "Of course I keep the car keys with me! What if someone made off with the car?"
"Who? Some random Jelleye? Now that would be a shame."
"Don't start with me, Seifer..."
The jeep sped across grassland, through a palely-lit landscape somehow more beautiful and alive than ever before. And perhaps, if one looked closely one would have seen them, the little golden-haired boy and girl laughing and running through the grass under the moon, swept away on a passing wind like phantoms from a long-gone past.