Title: Imperfect Time (Part One of Three)
Author: tuatha danaan

Summary: A perfectionist can snatch failure from the jaws of victory, it's
all a matter of perception. What if two perfectionists can learn through
each other to accept that 'failure' isn't necessarily personal?
Rating: PG-13 for adult themes
Category: FFVIII Story, Angst, Cid/Quistis Relationship
Disclaimer: Squaresoft own the characters and the game. I just made up this
story.

See Author Notes at the end of part three. Feedback, CC and suggestions
would be very welcome at tuatha@caloundra.net or please R&R.
Part One: Past Imperfect
"The request for nominations for student council positions need to be kept
open for two weeks, according to the endorsed rules for election to
non-stipendiary positions. The accepted method of advertisement is via a
notice posted on all bulletin boards, but I recommend that in addition a
notice be placed on the network bulletin board."

"Thank you, Xu. I put the motion to the vote. Those in favour?"

A chorus of aye's and raised hands followed.

"Against?"

Cid Kramer looked around the table and after a brief pause continued.
"Carried Unanimously. Any other items of General Business?"

After a further appropriate pause, he looked down at the agenda papers.
"Last agenda item, nominations for the SeeD exam. Closing date was last
Friday and nominations are now closed. As I'm sure you're all aware, aside
from nominations by instructors of students who have passed the written exam
and completed all the prerequisites, the student council is also able to
nominate students who have met the same prerequisites. Seifer Almasy will be
participating in the next exam."

There were audible mutterings from around the conference table. Everyone was
aware that the student disciplinary committee held three seats on the
student council automatically, and Seifer Almasy had been nominated
consecutively three times as a result. This was sufficient explanation for
why the faculty was wasting no time in preparing for the next cycle of
elections for the student council.

"We'll need to allocate the nominees into teams for the next field exam, to
be carried out prior to the end of the current month. I'll prepare the
allocations and the agenda item will be carried over to next week's meeting.
I'll report back then."

Xu duly noted the minutes, and declared the meeting closed. Cid rose and
cleared his throat apologetically. "Quistis, could you wait for a moment, I
need to discuss some matters with you."

The blonde looked up, maintaining a composed look despite her surprise.
She'd been gathering up her agenda papers, but her movements slowed as she
waited for the other instructors to collect their own items as they casually
concluded the meeting. Snatches of conversation, many of them including
Seifer's name and the infamous activities of the disciplinary committee
could be heard as the other instructors departed for their next activities
for the day.

Quistis had a lecture prepared for her next tutorial, and although she was
fully prepared she hoped that whatever Cid wanted to discuss would not take
most of her forty-five minutes of prep time. She hated rushing into class or
being late. It seemed unprofessional to not be in class awaiting her
students arrival.

Xu was the last to leave, clarifying some order of business, but finally she
too left and Cid turned to her. "Come to my office, we'll talk there. How
long until your next class?"

"I have until two."

"Perfect. I don't want to hold you up, but it's about the assignments for
the exam."

As they talked he had led the way to his office, holding the door open so
she could precede him. "Sit down, sit. Would you like some tea or coffee?"

"Thank you, I'm fine."

Instead of crossing to his desk he took the other visitors chair and drew it
closer to hers.

"Now I'm sure you're aware of Seifer's history, I don't have to explain it
to you. But it's a rather delicate situation. He has failed three times
already, not because of a lack of initiative, rather the opposite. The
handbook is extremely clear on these situations, and reviews of the decision
to fail Seifer in the past have always been upheld."

He cleared his throat once more. "Regardless, Seifer has alleged impropriety
on the part of his instructors in the past, and has again requested to be
assigned to a different instructor. Which he has every right to do."

Quistis nodded. The reason for this meeting was self-evident to her, she was
the only instructor who had not failed Seifer in the past.

"So you see, I wanted to let you know that you'll be assessing Seifer. He'll
be assigned to your squad in the upcoming exam. I recommend that you review
the instructors handbook."

"I understand."

"There is no question of there being special treatment given to Seifer. I'm
expecting you to follow the handbook and the rules for assessment. You need
to be aware that in the event that Seifer fails the exam again, it is highly
likely that he will exercise his right of appeal."

He paused, examining her face. Finding no discomfort there he allowed his
thoughts to turn to another consideration. "I also have to consider the
safety of the other cadets assigned to your squad. Because of Seifer's
seniority in the garden, and the likelihood of him disobeying a direct order
from any of the other students he will again be named as Squad Captain.
Anything else would be too dangerous for the other cadets in your team. Do
you have any suggestions?"

The young woman frowned, not because the question caused her concern but
because the situation was not particularly palatable. She had been an
instructor for several years but had only recently been promoted to field
instructor level. The last thing she wanted was to deal with Seifer's
insubordinate behaviour during her first field exam as an assessor.

"Squall Leonheart..." Squall and Seifer were rivals and their animosity
towards one another obvious to everyone in the garden. But Squall was her
best student, and her first nomination to take the exam.

Cid seemed unsurprised by her choice. "I doubt that Seifer will be able to
cause too much trouble there. Squall should be fine. Nida on the other
hand...well, I think he'll be better off in one of the other squads. I'm
considering putting Zell Dincht into your squad as well. If it comes to the
crunch I think he'll follow Squall's lead if there are any problems on the
mission."

"Yes sir."

"I think that there may be a problem with prerequisites for Squall. He
hasn't yet completed the fire cavern exercise."

"Oh! I'll make sure I remind him to do so."

"Good, good. I'm sure you're aware that I have to complete your appraisal
form and that's going to come up for review before the end of the term. I
just wanted to make sure that if there were any issues we could address them
progressively. How are you coping with the additional coursework this
semester?"

"Well, we've kept up so far on everything except the Chemistry lab, but that
was put back because of the shortage of lab materials."

Her answer was expected. What he had hoped for was a more personal account
but Quistis consistently failed to confide in him. He changed tack.

"I told the faculty at the last syllabus meeting that it was too much to
expect, when we already have Social Studies and Political History as
compulsory subjects. At the last meeting they were discussing adding an
additional Pol-Sci course as a compulsory subject and two electives, on the
'Science of Conditioning as a Propaganda Tool' and 'Art As Political
Dissention'. I told them that if we had to schedule any more classes we'd
have to shift the curfew to midnight to fit them into the syllabus."

Quistis smiled politely at his disclosure. If he'd hoped to create a bond
between them by discussing such matters it had failed. He felt discouraged.
"What about interpersonally. Are there any problems there?"

"No sir."

"You're sure?"

The young woman shook her head.

"Well, you know you can talk to me if there is anything."

At Quistis' affirmative Cid gave up. "Alright, then. Don't hesitate to come
to me if you do think of anything in the meantime."

He smiled, dismissing her, but when she'd left the room his face fell into a
worried expression. He had his own reasons for concern, but he did not
elucidate them. It was wise not to pre-empt Seifer's likely response to
being failed by the youngest instructor in Balamb Garden, since he wanted to
avoid any implication of improper process.

He also had other matters of concern, larger matters that were his alone to
deal with. If he could have shared them he would, but there was no one who
could help him dig his way out of the hole he'd unwittingly put himself in.
XxxxxxxxXxxxxxxxX
"Sir?"

"Ahh, Quistis. Come in."

She entered the office and handed him a typewritten letter. The ink on her
signature was still fresh. He tried to hide his disappointment. "I was
hoping you'd reconsider your decision."

"I...can't."

"I'll be sorry to lose you as an instructor."

He patted her hand, feeling that it was only reasonable since her usual
poise was far from evident at that moment. Not that she seemed particularly
upset either, but for Quistis to show any negative emotions at all was rare,
so he felt her uncertain expression indicated severe emotional upheaval.

He also wondered how to gain her confidence. In her own way she was as
remote as Squall, unwilling to express her emotions and innermost thoughts.
Sometimes he wondered where they had gone wrong. He and Edea had done their
best to provide emotional stability for the orphans in their care, but
perhaps they had simply provided a blueprint for repression, a way to cope
with the traumatic events of the war without providing relief from the
effects.

"I think it's only fair that I should tell you...there is no question of
course that the exam result will be upheld. Regardless of Seifer's appeal,
he directly disobeyed the directive and that's an automatic
disqualification. You wouldn't have had to address the charges he made."

"I know. I understand that."

"Why resign then? It's not like he didn't make the same kind of
unsubstantiated charges against Xu."

"I'm afraid...they're true." She looked directly at him, her blue eyes
described unbearable sadness. He had not seen such direct emotion from the
young woman before him since she was a small child. "I did favour Squall.
Not because of what he said of course...but..."

Her words ceased, and she had looked away once more, her gaze fixed on the
floor. Whatever window of opportunity he had to change her mind had fled.

"Well, I guess that's one less instructor review I'll have to complete this
year."

His levity was not intended to seem insensitive, on the contrary he hoped to
demonstrate that he did not expect her to bare her soul, or explain her
feelings if she was not comfortable doing so. That he would dearly love to
have her confidence was not in question, but he felt that trying to push her
to unburden herself was counterproductive, and a soft approach was
preferable. "You'll return to SeeD status of course, and I'll seek a
replacement tutor for your classes."

He pushed his glasses up, an unconscious gesture. "I really wish that you'd
fight this, Quistis. Seifer has caused far too much trouble in Garden, the
last thing I wanted was for you to become a casualty of his maliciousness."

"I...know that, sir."

"Well, don't hesitate to speak to Dr Kadowaki or myself if you want to
discuss this further. We'll do whatever we can."

When Quistis left the headmaster slumped in his chair dejectedly. Things
could hardly have gone worse for the ex-instructor, a result that he had
hoped to avoid when assigning Seifer to her squad. He'd expected the
accusations of impropriety when Seifer failed yet again, the implication
that Quistis had given Squall a better assessment because of her 'improper'
relationship with him while withholding a pass from Seifer because of
personal differences.

Seifer had made the same kinds of allegations against Xu when she had failed
him last time, and they had been completely disproven. He had no doubt that
if Quistis had been willing to defend herself the same result was never in
question. That Quistis felt that she had failed to live up to her own
expectations as an instructor was not generally felt within the student body
or the faculty, a fact that Quistis seemed unable to recognise. She was much
harsher on herself than anyone else could possibly be.

While he wished for a better outcome he recognised that Quistis herself had
the right to choose to resign from her instructor position rather than
defend herself from Seifer's allegations. It would make no difference to the
appeal and Seifer would soon be forced to leave the Garden. While Cid had
never been willing to give up on any of his special charges he recognised
that Seifer would be better off making a way for himself in the world, and
the Garden would be better off without Seifer, much as he was loathe to
admit it.

And Quistis was more than capable of fulfilling her role as a SeeD without
the additional burden of teaching. Satisfied with his rationalisations of
the situation he again turned his mind to more pressing matters. He was
preparing to meet with the Garden Master, never a pleasant prospect even at
the best of times.
XxxxxxxxXxxxxxxxX
He was not a particularly brilliant man, his failures were more than enough
evidence of that fact, but he was capable of insight, and he could review
his own shortcomings just as easily as he could anyone else's. He was
indecisive. He was sometimes overly emotional. He was able to be swayed by
reasonable arguments, and willing to make compromises in order to secure
agreement. The last two weren't by any means faults, but they had been just
as instrumental in bringing about the nearly disastrous civil uprising
within Garden as the first two were.

He had however acted decisively enough in making Squall Garden Commander.
With that taken care of he had expected he would be able to concentrate on
the day to day issues of running an educational institution and providing
for the students in his care. He hadn't counted on Edea's plea for help.
They had been apart for so long. It wasn't that he was unwilling to help, he
just couldn't imagine any way he could be of assistance to her in her
present predicament.

But it couldn't be helped. His conscience wouldn't allow him to beg off,
since Xu was more than capable of taking care of the logistical side of
things, and the faculty could share the burden of maintaining the
coursework, syllabus,and other training issues. He was no longer needed
here, and that might have made him feel inadequate if he hadn't desperately
wished he wasn't needed elsewhere. Instead he just felt accursed by fate.

All that was left was to explain the situation to Squall, and leave. He
picked up the intercom, hoping that it would be easier to explain than to
accept.
XxxxxxxxXxxxxxxxX
Stuck on the peninsula, cold, and growing colder. Edea spent most of her
time staring out to sea from the clifftop. She'd return to the orphanage
windblown and shadowed, no longer the woman he remembered fondly from the
past.

They would sit together in the evenings most of the time in silence. He
would read, but every so often she would begin to talk, and he would put
down his book and listen in silence.

Her confessions only served to make him feel more remote, not less. She had
been aware of what was happening as though it were a dream. She had shared
the lust for power that ran through her body, desired to hold everything in
her fist and crush it into powder. Destroying everything then unfurling her
fist and watching the dust blow away into infinite nothingness. A
bloodthirsty desire for retribution on the past that had stolen her
supremacy. Her blood had stirred when the sexual predator emerged, drawing
her ex-student into her quest for power, for dominion over everything.

He listened and understood, but could not empathise. Her experience was too
remote for him to overcome his revulsion. He didn't blame her, but he also
couldn't forgive her.

He said none of this of course, but it became apparent that there was to be
no reconciliation. Finally one evening after supper he looked over after
turning the page. Her face had not changed, but the skin below her eyes was
wet with the silent tears she must have been crying for some time while he
was unaware.

She did not ask for forgiveness. She did not beg him to surrender his
indifference. But he understood that he was free to leave. He was not
anxious about it. Winter came and went and he made no sign. Spring
lengthened into Summer, but the lengthening days were masked by storms that
blew in from the sea and there was little perceptible warmth accompanying
the change. There was no thaw in his feelings toward her.

Time continued to pass, and at some point it must have ceased passing,
compressed into *everything-at-once* and *past-present-future* collided at
the end of the world and then when the Garden returned he knew that time
must have separated at the beginning of the world and continued again
although he had been unaware of the interruption.

He went to Squall and told him he would like to resume his position as
Headmaster, and no objection was made. He had not resigned but instead had
requested an indefinite leave of absence, so there was no question of him
being able to return whenever he wished.

There had been changes of course, not the least in the SeeD who had returned
from the end and the beginning of the world. He bided his time, and did his
best to resume his role as headmaster, encouraging students to do their
best. He helped to form a syllabus that would provide a starting point for
the future for the many young people under his care, and he tried to find a
way to reach the hearts of the orphans who had saved the world, but perhaps
lost their own way to find a stable and happy future in the process.
End of Part One