Title: It Comes In a Whisper

Warnings: End of game spoilers

Disclaimer: Well, as much as I'd like to own Final Fantasy and its characters, I don't. Squaresoft does.

Notes: This's my first FF8 fic, so I hope y'all enjoy it. Basically, I put a big chunk of time in the game's ending, allowing for the characters' recovery from the final battle, and that's when this story takes place. SEIFTIS

I awake in a bright hospital room, all big glass windows and stark white walls, and I have to squeeze my eyes shut again as the brightness blinds me.

And there is pain. I've never been in this much pain. It centers in my head and chest, and radiates all the way out to my fingers and toes. I vaguely remember being dragged down into Ultimecia's time-compressed Hell, and I assume that someone found me, and that we must have won, or else I wouldn't be alive.

"Quistis?" An uncertain voice calls my name.

I know that voice. It's Squall's voice.

"I'm here," I say. My own voice is hoarse, and weak. I drag my eyes open once more, in time to see the look of relief on Squall's normally expressionless face. His head is bandaged and his sword arm is in a sling, but overall he looks a lot better than I feel. I briefly wonder how long I've been unconscious.

Rinoa approaches us, unscathed, and brightens when she sees I'm awake. Squall takes her hand, and smiles at her, a true smile that reaches all the way to his eyes. Somewhere, in all the fighting, and darting about the world, I came to accept that Squall would never smile that way for me. But I still can't help asking, "Were you the one who saved me?"

Squall shakes his head. "It was Seifer."


I don't have the energy to adequately express my shock, managing only to gasp, "What?" I can't possibly have heard him correctly.

"We were all trapped in Time Compression," Squall explains. "Rinoa found me, and we wound up in this field-" a blurry image of flower petals floats through my mind- "and then Selphie, Zell, and Irvine came running towards us. Then Seifer came, carrying you."

"Ultimecia had control of him somehow," Rinoa adds. "He snapped out of it when she died, long enough to bring you to us, but then he-" She stops.

"What?" I demand. "What happened to him?"

Squall and Rinoa exchange uncomfortable glances.

"He called for us to help, then he collapsed," Squall finally says. "He's woken up once or twice since, but he isn't there. He won't move. Or speak."

A heavy weight settles in my stomach. "Take me to him. Now."

"But, Quistis, you're not well enough," Rinoa protests in her concerned voice. "You've been unconscious for nearly three weeks!"

Well, that answers that question.

But I defiantly struggle to a sitting position and rip the IV out of my arm, repeating, "Take me to him!"

A nurse hurries over at my outburst, telling me that I must lie down, or I'll upset my injuries. Her ID tag says "Deling City Hospital." That answers another question. The infirmary must not have been equipped to treat us properly. Or maybe this was just closer.

I tell the nurse that I'm not lying down, and I had better get to see Seifer, or else this hospital's going to have a few more patients. After a few more minutes of arguing, she reluctantly fetches a wheelchair.

Squall volunteers to bring me to Seifer's room. It's in a wing that I know without asking is the psychiatric ward. Seifer has been put in restraints, and, I assume, heavily sedated; he doesn't stir at all when Squall and I approach his bedside.

Someone's bathed him, washed his hair, and kept his face clean-shaven, and for a moment I can block out the hospital room, and pretend that we're in my class, and he's simply fallen asleep during one of my lectures. If I call his name, he'll wake up, and flash that smirk of his. But the image blurs before my eyes and I hear myself scream, "Damn you, Ultimecia!"

My throat is scraped raw. But I am not crying. I do not cry.

Squall's steadying hand grips my shoulder, and I take a deep, shuddering breath. I tell him I'm all right, but he knows I'm lying. I'm not all right, and this situation isn't all right, and there's a voice in my head begging some higher power to make it all go away.

But life doesn't work like that.

"Where are Fujin and Raijin?" I ask when I've regained my composure. They should be here, not us.

But Squall tells me, "They left two weeks ago. They said they couldn't bear to see him this way."

I nod, understanding. To Fujin and Raijin, Seifer has always been in charge, always so strong. Now he's helpless, and they can't stand that. But they are his friends; they shouldn't have run away.

To my horror, Seifer suddenly begins shrieking as if he's in pain. He thrashes against his restraints, and the monitor tracking his heart rate beeps wildly. Squall shouts for the doctor.

He rushes in, taking quick surveillance of the situation, then says tautly, "He has to ride this one out. If I give him anything more, it'll kill him. Take this young lady, and-"

Before Squall can pull me away, I grab hold of Seifer's hand as tightly as my diminished strength allows, and call his name over and over again: "Seifer, it's okay! Seifer, I'm here!"

His fingers tighten around mine with bruising force as the spasms wrack him, but I keep talking. His skin is slick with sweat, and his eyes are rolling. I plead for him to fight it. Fight her. It seems like an eternity before he calms, but he does, sinking back on his pillow, whimpering quietly. I lift my free hand to gently smooth his hair.

The doctor is looking at me in awe, his mouth hanging open. "Young lady," he says softly, "you have a great gift for healing."

I accept the compliment with a nod, but I don't believe it. Seifer is simply too weak to struggle anymore; I've done nothing for him.

I was trained to kill, and I've trained others how to kill.

What do I know of how to heal?

I am exhausted when Squall brings me back to my room and helps me from the wheelchair to my bed, a testament to the ordeal I've been through. Squall's eyes are tired, as well, and I wonder how he suffered in the void that trapped us when Ultimecia died. He said Rinoa found him. But if she hadn't- and if Seifer hadn't found me...

How did they find us?

How did we survive?

Squall bids me a good night, and I watch him go. It's only a minute later that the door bursts open again, and Zell and Selphie come tumbling inside. They both bear some scrapes and bruises, but it doesn't seem to hinder their exuberance.

"QUISTY!" Selphie squeals, pulling me immediately into a hug. I wince, even though she tries to be careful of my battered body.

"I'm sorry!" She apologizes. "I'm just so glad you're okay! Rinoa told us you woke up, and we had to come see you!"

"Yeah, we've been waitin' forever!" Zell agrees.

"Hey, y'all, she still looks like she could use some rest," a new voice says. It's Irvine, in my doorway, leaning on a pair of crutches. His violet eyes sparkle warmly as he looks at me. "But it is good to see you, darlin.'"

I am touched by their concern, but Irvine is right; I am tired, and I want to be alone. Selphie and Zell pout for a minute, but allow Irvine to usher them away.

I lie down and shut my eyes, feeling the hot tears against my lashes. Now that I'm alone, I can't stop them. I cry from the pain, and the fatigue. And I cry for Seifer. My troublesome student. My enemy. The man who saved my life.

Within a few days, I am feeling better. Rest and a few good meals- as good as hospital food can be, at least- have made me well enough to try walking around. Under a nurse's guidance, I make my way from my bed to the door and back five times, smiling in satisfaction when she tells me how strong I am, even for a hero of SeeD.

I am uncomfortable being called a hero, though. Zell and Selphie love it; Irvine and Rinoa grin and take it in stride; Squall and I cringe as though it's an insult. Neither of us wanted to be heroes. All I wanted to do was be an instructor, and try to help a few cadets along.

I am going to be an instructor again. Cid came to see me, loaded with cards and gifts from the Trepies, and told me my license would be reinstated as soon as I was well. But all I can do is picture an empty desk that should be Seifer's.

He is awake when I sneak into to his room, but he does not react at all when I take his hand. Still, I begin speaking, "I know how you saved my life, Seifer." And it's true. I've recovered my fragmented memories of Time Compression.

I was alone, seemingly for eternity, and I couldn't move. I couldn't cry for help. But Seifer came stumbling towards me through the swirling gray mist. He fell twice before he reached me; I watched him fearfully as he summoned the will to stand up again, thinking he was coming to do me harm. Then he lifted me in his arms, cradling me protectively against him. I remember how clear his eyes were with the madness of the sorceress gone. He told me to hold on.

"I owe you everything," I tell him, "and you owed me nothing. I couldn't save you when Ultimecia came and took you away. Then you saved me."

I talk for hours when Seifer is awake, or simply watch him as he sleeps, soothing him when his demons assault his mind.

Sometimes, Selphie or Rinoa join me, though I can tell they don't share my faith that he'll recover. Irvine's leg is giving him trouble, and the doctor makes him stay in bed, but he asks me to give his regards. Zell never comes; he isn't ready to extend his forgiveness so far yet.

Squall is with me today. Characteristically, he says nothing, but stands against the wall, watching Seifer with a look of sadness- and even guilt- in his eyes. No love was lost between the two, but looking at the mirror-image scars on their faces, I understand that Squall and Seifer had an empathy, if not a friendship. Squall would never have wished for this to happen, not even after what Seifer did- what he was made to do- to Rinoa.

Noting my gaze, he haltingly breaks his silence. "I sometimes wonder if killing Ultimecia is what did it to him... Because it must have snapped whatever was binding his mind to hers. But what else could I have done?" Doubt clouds his gray-blue eyes. "What else could I have done?"

He is turning to me, his teacher, in hopes I'll have the answer. "There was nothing," I assure him. "You did what you had to. You saved the world."

There is bitterness in my tone, because I used to believe that things ended happily ever after, but here in this sterile little room I know better. And I know what Squall is thinking because I am thinking it, too: he saved the world, and it only cost one person's mind.

I talk to Seifer about everything I can think of, desperately hoping for a reaction. I tell him about all of us, about how Irvine's recovering once again; and Selphie's on the phone with her committee everyday, planning a celebration for when we all return to Garden; and even Zell's started asking how he's doing now and again.

I talk about our memories, too, everything I can think of from the orphanage and everything that Irvine supplies for me. Then I talk about Garden, and I am surprised at how many memories make me smile now, if still a little ruefully. Seifer and I were never rivals the way he and Squall were, but we had our share of moments.

"Do you remember the fight we had after you tore up a quiz sheet in class?" I ask him, some irrational part of my mind hoping he'll answer. "I'd decided to give the quiz because some members of the class kept on being disruptive, and you said you wouldn't take it because I'd be punishing you for something you didn't do."

I laugh softly and shake my head. "I said you'd gone unpunished enough in the past to more than make up for it, and that if you actually paid attention in class, you wouldn't need to make excuses to try to get out of the work. Then you told me that only mediocre instructors resorted to mass punishment, so I threw you in detention. And the next morning I found you'd written the answers to all the quiz questions on my board. You had been paying attention."

I tell him of the one regret I've had since the whole crazy mess began. It wasn't that I lost my license, because- in retrospect- I know I deserved that. It was that I didn't make Seifer pass the SeeD exam; I was too busy falling over myself to impress Squall. But if I'd pushed Seifer harder, forced him to toe the line, maybe he wouldn't have failed.

When I run out of words, I begin to sing. I don't have a voice like Rinoa's or Irvine's, but the tune is a simple one and I know it by heart. It's one of the few childhood memories the GF's didn't take away from me, an old lullaby Matron used to sing.

And I know Seifer remembers it, too, as I find myself looking into his lucid, emerald gaze. "Seifer?" I breathe, my heart pounding wildly with hope. "Do you know the next line? Will you sing it with me? Please, Seifer, I need you to sing it with me."

But he sinks back into himself and does not reply.

Zell and Selphie are discharged from the hospital. Watching them leave makes me feel slightly homesick. I miss Garden and my ordinary life, but I suppose nothing's going to be ordinary now that I'm a "hero," and that will take some getting used to. But I'm tired of being here. I know Squall and Irvine are restless, too, especially Irvine, a drifter by nature. Squall, at least, has Rinoa to keep him anchored.

Seifer hasn't looked at me since the day I sang to him; sometimes, his fingers will tighten briefly around mine as I'm speaking, but there is no further reaction. I tell him how I wish he would just say something- anything- because I know he's still there, and I know he can hear me. I even resort to using my "teacher voice" to yell, "Damn it, Seifer, I'm your instructor, so you have to do what I say!"

But that the line never worked before the war; why should it work now?

I laugh at that because I need to laugh at something, and it is rather funny. The doctor hears me and raises his eyebrows, as though wondering if I've become so emotionally distraught that I've gone into hysterics. I quickly get a hold of myself and try to explain it to him, but he still looks rather skeptical. But he shrugs, and tells me, "Keep talking to him, young lady. He may come around yet."

The doctor allows Seifer's restraints to be removed, and each day I put my hand on the edge of the mattress and wait for Seifer's fingers to close over mine. It becomes almost a little game we play, and in it, I am never disappointed.

But there is nothing else.

One day, I am studying the way his big, tanned fingers are laced with my thin, pale ones, and I realize how much I care for him. They say a revelation like that is supposed to come in a dramatic way, but it doesn't; it comes in a whisper, at the most unlikely of times. And, just like that, I know that I love Seifer Almasy.

And then the tears come. I put my head against his chest and sob uncontrollably because my heart is breaking. Rinoa's love saved Squall; is mine not good enough to save Seifer?

There is a gentle touch against my cheek, and, startled, I pull backwards. Seifer's eyes don't move from mine, and he lifts his free hand to my face again, wiping away the tears, then his fingers travel down through my hair.

"Hello, Seifer," I say softly. My voice is shaking.

He doesn't answer, but when he sees I've stopped crying, he smiles.

Today is my nineteenth birthday. It seems like it ought to be my hundredth. I get a book from Squall- which I suspect Rinoa chose- and flowers from Irvine, both from the hospital gift shop. Selphie and Zell come to visit, bearing a giant card that must have been signed by nearly every person in the Garden.

Selphie and Rinoa insist on doing my hair and applying some make-up, and then bring me to a mirror. Haunted eyes stare back at me from within a porcelain doll's face. Is that truly me?

"Quistis, don't you like it?" Selphie asks worriedly.

"Of course!" I smile and turn away from my reflection. "You've done a wonderful job. Thank you."

That seems to satisfy her; she beams at me, and then she and Rinoa take my hands and lead me back to my room. The rest of our friends, plus the doctors and nurses who have taken care of us, are waiting there, surrounding a huge, double chocolate cake complete with nineteen glowing candles.

I grin, and vaguely wonder who discovered that chocolate was one of my vices.

"C'mon, Quistis, blow out the candles," Zell calls. "I'm starving!"

"First you have to make a wish!" Rinoa chirps.

I don't believe in wishes coming true anymore. But I shut my eyes and pretend that I do, and then blow all the candles out in one deep breath.

"Booyaka!" Selphie cheers.

I cut the cake and pass slices around to everyone before taking my own. It's delicious, and I am happy here in the company of my friends. But then the doctor announces that he is discharging Squall, Irvine, and I in the morning, and we can all return to Garden.

The room erupts into a celebration that I do not join. My thoughts are on the one of us who won't go home.

I go to see him that night, after everyone has gone. I take his hand and search his face for some sign of recognition. "The girls made me all pretty," I remark. "Do you like it?" Nothing. I tell him about my party, and the gifts I received, and the fact that I'll be leaving in the morning.

"Will you miss me?" I ask. "Will you be all right alone?"

His eyes shift away from me, losing focus.

I sigh and release his hand. "Good night, Seifer."

I am halfway to the door when a sound stops me.

Seifer's voice.

"Don't go, Quisty," he whispers.

And I know in that instant my train ticket to Balamb won't be used. "I'll come back in the morning," I promise him.

Seifer has said three words.

Tomorrow, he'll say four.