Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or locations.

Author's Note: This story has been nearly 15 years in the making. Obviously, the first several chapters won't be anywhere as good as the more recent ones. If you want to get to the 'good' part, start around chapter 13, though some earlier parts will become important later on. (As an aside, chapter 9 is quite fun.)

This fic really shows how my writing has (or maybe hasn't) matured. But who knows...? I'll let you be the judge of that. One day, when I have enough time, I'll go back and refine everything...

Chapter I – Diamond Dust

When happiness fled…

Tears and dust were left behind…

All because of one man.

It was close to midnight as torrential rain pelted down on Quistis's head. The burdens on her mind seemed heavier than before in this downpour. She shivered once as she stepped out of the train station in Balamb Town, and pulled at her coat collar to keep the chilled wind from kissing her neck. Quistis Trepe hadn't expected such weather. She shifted the duffle bag at the end of her arm to a more comfortable position and began her walk toward Balamb Garden.

Her mission in Esthar had been simple enough. All she had to do was lead a team of SeeDs to guard Dr. Odine's Laboratory for a week while he, a few scientists, and his entire security crew went to conduct research at Tear's Point. Quistis hardly called it a mission. She could have handled it herself without the other SeeDs, but Headmaster Cid insisted that she take some newly instated SeeDs with her so they could get more field experience. After several boring reports to the Headmaster, Quistis received permission to relieve her squad of their duties a few days early, which explained why she was heading back to Garden alone.

Alone…I'm always alone. Nothing ever changes.

Before long, Quistis reached the Front Gate of the currently stationary Garden. It had only been a week but she missed the place. Her shoes made wet noises as she walked; water dripped from the tips of her hair and made a trail of droplets on the floor like the breadcrumbs of the lost.

Once inside her dorm, she dropped her bag on the floor and sighed. Cid's report can wait until tomorrow. Quistis wanted a long shower. Rainwater always made her skin feel sticky, and Quistis had 'comfort' written near the top of her mental list of favorite things.

After the shower, she changed into a white cotton nightgown, blow-dried her long golden hair, and collapsed onto her soft bed only to stare at the ceiling. One look at the clock on her small dresser told her it was late and that she should sleep, but she couldn't. She lay there and thought…about everything.

It had been three months after they had saved the world from Ultimecia's reign of terror. The world was at peace, or about as much peace as a world could have. Quistis had confronted Headmaster Cid one day to tie up some loose ends, and had worked up the courage to ask for the reinstatement of her Instructor's License.

The answer was a 'no'. Cid had explained that, though he brought up the subject with the Garden Executive Team (recently formed to better govern the operations of the three Gardens lest the chaos during the War happen again), the GET still felt that she lacked leadership skills based on her past record. The best they could do for her was to bestow Rank A SeeD status.

Quistis shut her eyes tightly. Her utter disappointment was stopped short when she was sent on various missions, more than she could remember. It must have been Cid's way of trying to take my mind off of the license and letting me believe that I'm useful.

Her thoughts eventually drifted to the others. Squall, Rinoa, Selphie, Irvine, Zell…

Squall and Rinoa had been together for quite a while, resulting in some commotion at Garden. "A top-notch SeeD dating a sorceress?" most said, astounded. But after time passed, everyone grew accustomed to the combination. Because of Squall's accomplishments in the war, Headmaster Cid permanently promoted him to Commander, and to be in charge if anything were to happen to Cid. Squall didn't seem to mind. I wonder if he even cares.

Selphie had gotten the Garden Festival Committee up and running, and was quickly elected as President, while Irvine (pulled in by Selphie unwillingly) was her Vice-President. He didn't object as much as time went on. "I get to spend more time with my Selphie this way," he once said with a wink while a blushing Selphie elbowed him in the ribs.

As for Zell, he was no different than he used to be, except that he began to notice things other than hot dogs: the library staff. Quistis never pictured Zell to be another Irvine, but she always caught him chatting to some of the ladies at the front desk of the library. The War had given him some kind of newfound courage. Not long after, he found himself a girl whom he really liked and bragged about often: a shy girl by the name of Lydia, who always wore her shoulder-length hair in a pigtail.

It was only typical that they were all paired off in some way while Quistis was left alone. But she preferred it this way: no hassles, no commitments, and no worrying about hurting anyone. Sure, there were the Trepies, but Quistis knew that most of them only watched her from afar. When the rare brave soul relayed his intentions, she would politely turn him down. Though she was no longer an Instructor, those very same Trepies still admired her for her intellect and calm demeanor. She would give them a wave or a pleasant hello whenever they addressed her in the halls, but the stoic expression she so often wore rarely came off her beautifully serious face.

A sudden noise in the hallway snapped Quistis out of her thoughts. She lifted her head. Footsteps…who could be up at this time of night? She waited until the footsteps faded then lowered her head back down to her pillow. Quistis tried to quit thinking like an Instructor, but sometimes couldn't help herself. I hope it wasn't a student breaking curfew. Surely they would've been caught if the Disciplinary Committee were still around.

The Disciplinary Committee. She hadn't thought of them in a long time. I wonder where they are now. Fujin, Raijin…Seifer. She sighed. Not that I should care, but what if he's getting into trouble again? He was my student, after all...my favorite student. Quistis had realized that out of all her students, it was Seifer whom she always thought about the most.

Seifer, not Squall.

Quistis had liked Squall because he gave her the least trouble. In fact, he didn't give her anything at all. Squall was introverted and anti-social, kept to his textbooks and studied hard, always thinking but never talking.

Seifer, on the other hand, preferred the hands-on approach to learning, and knew that direct experience and knowledge could not be found in textbooks – but that didn't mean that he didn't read his textbooks. Quistis had seen him at the library on some occasions, extremely close to curfew. She figured that Seifer was sure no one could catch him being such a bookworm that late at night. She saw how he would turn the pages carefully, to minimize sound so that he wouldn't draw attention. He was a fine man, even if he was arrogant. His written test scores were stellar, and yet the field exams were always no good. Quistis sometimes wondered what good the hands-on approach really did, but everything always narrowed down to one key point: He couldn't (no, wouldn't) follow orders.

Seifer… It's unlikely I'll ever see him again. He certainly wouldn't want to see his mediocre ex-Instructor anyway.

"…went smoothly. Dr. Odine was very happy when he returned, and said that he wished he had SeeDs as his security guards instead of his current team," Quistis finished.

Cid seemed more than satisfied. "Very good, Quistis. You always return from a mission with positive results. I'm consistently impressed."

"Thank you, sir," Quistis said with a nod.

Cid turned to the window before speaking again, somewhat awkwardly, "Quistis, my dear…are you happy?"

The question startled her. "What do you mean, sir?"

"I know you really want your old job back. You seem unhappy about not teaching. Edea and I…we love you like a daughter, and it hurts us to see you unhappy."

"Thank you, sir, but I'm fine," she lied.

Cid sighed. "All right, but if you need anything, please don't hesitate to let us know." He turned from father figure into the Headmaster again. "You're dismissed."

Quistis walked out of the office more downcast than usual. She allowed herself to be lost in thought as she stepped into the waiting elevator. She decided to visit the Training Centre to calm herself by hurting a few unfortunate monsters.

After a few Grats and Raldos, and drawing from them to stock up on spells, Quistis grew tired of fighting. Quistis coiled her Save the Queen around her waist and strode towards her dorm.

Is this all my life is now? Train, sleep, wake, eat, complete missions, and generate mission reports?

How utterly boring.

Quistis Trepe, I'm disappointed in you.