Icicle

As soon
Seek roses in December, ice in June;
Hope constancy in wind, or corn in chaff;
Believe a woman or an epitaph,
Or any other thing that 's false, before
You trust in critics.

--George Gordon Noel Byron, Lord Byron

Seifer was sitting at the end of the longest pier in the Balamb docks, watching listlessly as the water moved his fishing line back and forth. Fujin and Raijin were off somewhere, doing something or other. He had decided to stay behind--fishing was a mindless enough activity that he could completely lose himself in boredom and not really have to do anything. And, knowing that, he had geared himself for a long day of boredom--punctuated, perhaps, by a few bites that would swim away as soon as he tried to pull them up.

Therefore, he was a bit surprised when he heard the click of boots coming down the pier toward him. Not too surprised, however--what had probably happened was that Fujin had gotten fed up with something Raijin had said or done and had decided to come back to see how he was faring. It wouldn't have been the first time.

Acting in that assumption, he didn't bother to look up before he responded. "You're back early."

There was a minute pause. "...excuse me?"

(Ah, shit.) Cursing internally, Seifer glared at the water beneath him. "Oh. Hello, Instructor . Come to gloat?"

There was the usual two-second pause before Quistis responded. It was incredible--no matter how many times she tried to start a conversation, no matter how many times Seifer brushed her off, she always seemed to think that maybe this time he'd actually react as if he valued her friendship. "I heard you were at Balamb."

"Garden's impeccable intelligence services succeed again," Seifer jibed. "Well, it looks like you found me. Damn ."

There was a soft sigh. "You could at least turn to look at me," Quistis rebuked.

Seifer rolled his eyes, and twisted so that he could glance back at her without standing up. "That better?"

Quistis looked down, resigned. Gingerly, she picked her way over and sat down beside him. "I have to say," she said awkwardly. "This is the last thing I would have expected you to be doing."

"Tell me, Instructor," Seifer drawled. "Did it always take you this long to get to the point, or is this a recent development?"

There was another heavy sigh. "I heard you were here," she said. "I thought I should come see you."

"Well. Now you've seen me." The fish didn't seem to be biting much today. That was a shame. "You can go back to Garden now."

"Seifer," Quistis started. "After everything that's happened--well, now especially, I think you could use a few friends."

"You're perfectly right," Seifer agreed amiably. "Once I'm done here, I'll go and buy myself a dog."

"Seifer--"

"Instructor," he said flatly. "I'm not one of your students any more, and I'm pretty sure I'm not your friend . I'm doing pretty well for myself as it stands, and your time would be better spent at Garden chasing after Squall or whatever it is you do. If I need you, I'll call you ."

Quistis looked hurt. She stood wordlessly, and retreated back down the pier. Seifer stared at the inscrutable water, wondering if fishing was always this bad or if it was only him.

You didn't need to do that, you know, something whispered. A chilly wind whispered through the area, sending cold breaths down the back of Seifer's coat. It wasn't terribly nice.

Seifer clapped a hand to his collar irritably, blocking out the cool air. If there was one thing he was beginning to weary of, it ws rogue GFs hunting him down and berating him for something or other. He knew the entire Ultimecia affair was a mistake, already, couldn't they just leave him alone ? "Yah, what do you care?"

Aren't you going to ask me who I am? The voice was frosted with menace.

Seifer rolled his eyes. "Who are you?" he played along.

The air chilled noticeably--a pretty piece of magic that Seifer did his best to ignore. The Ice Queen, the voice whispered. The Frozen Lady. Mistress of the North. You'd call me Shiva.

Something snagged Seifer's hook and he began to reel it in, too preoccupied with his own bad mood to give a damn about anyone else's. "Charmed to meet you," he deadpanned.

The water around Seifer's line exploded into ice, spraying him with cold water. He flinched away from it, and then growled.

"Look, if you want to tell me how I shouldn't have helped Ultimecia or how Time Compression screwed up your life, get on with it. I have things I'd rather be doing."

Oh, I couldn't care less about all that, Shiva responded icily. It's hard to care about the distortions in the spectral plane when your existence is tied to a human's soul. But it begins to get very, very easy to care about that person--and to resent it when they get hurt. A woman's form materialized beside Seifer on the dock, slightly translucent like carved crystal and exuding cold the way a fire exuded heat. You know, she threatened softly, it's not too late to apologize.

Seifer gave a few experimental tugs at the fishing line, causing the chunk of ice to bob up and down in the water. "Why?" he asked. "In case you haven't noticed, she's the one who beat me and left me on the side of the road. Her and the rest of that... crew." He almost spat, but didn't.

The lower half of his face immediately went numb as Shiva took him by the jaw and turned his head to face her. Shiva's eyes were a piercing, cold blue, and they were narrowed dangerously. What do you plan to do? she asked. Well? What? Just sit here--fishing? The eyes narrowed another sliver, and the lips curled slightly. She offered you a lift up from the side of the road, and you bit the hand that offered it. You must have something wonderful thought out if you can toss away everyone who offers to be your friend.

Seifer pulled back, but was unable to extricate himself from the GF's grip. "I don't need the Instructor as a friend , he snapped. "And I don't need a hand up, either. I'm not a beggar ."

Then what are you? A Knight ?

Seifer jerked, and succeeded in pulling himself away. "What would you know?" he snapped. "Let me guess. You've been in the Instructor's mind so long that you've absorbed all the misguided feelings she has about me. So you want to have me go back and apologize to her, and then maybe I can be rehabilitated or something."

You have part right, Shiva admitted. ...the part about wanting you to apologize. As for the rest... I don't care. It would be gratifying to see Quistis whip you into shape, but then it would also be gratifying to see you fall in the ocean and drown. There was a tinkle of laughter. Or freeze .

Seifer glared for a moment. "Is that a threat?"

It can be.

Seifer glowered. "You think I've never killed a GF before?"

You think I've never killed a human before? There was another ring of icy laughter. We could kill each other.

"We could." Seifer tugged at the fishing line again, and finally set the rod down. "You want to try?"

Shiva leaned in a little bit closer, bringing her almost nose-to-nose with the erstwhile Knight. I can see why she's so tempted to give up on you, she whispered.

"Does that mean you're leaving?"

I can also see why she doesn't.

Seifer stood up, scowling. "Goodbye."

He had made it halfway down the pier before Shiva crystallized before him, blocking his path. It's not that easy, she said. You don't just get to walk away. It's not realistic, a nd I'm not going to let you.

Seifer crossed his arms. "Not realistic ."

When have you ever been able to just walk away? Shiva stepped closer in--she seemed to be one of those GFs who was woefully out of touch with the concept of human personal space. You can run, you know, but you can't just drop everything and forget it ever happened. Somewhere at your back there's still an angry nation calling for your blood, and there's still a lot of hurt people nursing their wounds. And if you close your eyes, they aren't going to disappear. You can run away from it all, but eventually something will catch up to you. There are people you've made enemies of that will follow you to the ends of the heavens and back if you give them half a chance to find you. You don't have a happy ending... Knight.

Seifer fought the urge to step back, fighting for words at the same time. Shiva smiled.

And you say... you don't need help.

Seifer straightened up, glaring at the GF with all the force of hatred he could muster. "Why should you care?" he spat.

I don't. She does. And sometimes it baffles me as much as it baffles you. The air cracked, and cooled a few more degrees. I don't much like you, she said. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that I truly despise you. But I'm willing to help you. For a price.

"Apologize to the Instructor?" Seifer guessed.

For everything , Shiva affirmed and clarified. Everything... Cadet.

For some reason, the label stung even more than that of "Knight."

Apologize for everything you've done to her. Let her see just one thing come out of all the years she's spent trying to help you.

"And after this little heart-to-heart? Then what? You're going to make Garden welcome me back with open arms? Going to talk to the Galbadian Judiciary on my behalf? What?"

What? Shiva's eyes were compelling. Anything. Anything, Cadet. She could get you into SeeD. SeeD could protect you from the Galbadians. Or--

Suddenly there were cold hands on his shoulders, chilling him to the bone even through his coat. He stiffened, flinching away. Shiva refused to let go.

What you want. What you always wanted, what you still want. I could get that for you, too.

She leaned in, cold lips a hairsbreadth from his ear.

Glory.

She pulled her head back, looking into his eyes again. Hers sparkled, icy malice combined with a feral eagerness.

Knight.

His stomach turned.

You know, Knight... Ultimecia hated you, too.

Taking hold of Shiva's wrists, Seifer lifted her hands from his shoulders and stepped back. "You don't know me too well," he said.

Shiva arched an eyebrow. Oh?

"I don't care what you want me to do, or why you want me to do it," he snarled, "if you think you can manipulate me into it. It worked once. It's never gonna again."

I see, Shiva responded cooly.

"So maybe I am sorry for a lot of what went on," Seifer continued. "And you can tell Quistis I said that, too. But I'm not going to let you jerk me around on a string like your own personal puppet. I don't give a damn about whatever glory you think you can give me, and I don't need your help. I'll get myself out of this mess, and I'll make my own glory, too. And you can go stuff yourself."

Shiva pulled herself up, and disappeared a moment later. As she went, she took the unnatural cold with her.

Seifer waited for three counts--then shivered.

He went back to the end of the pier, and took up the fishing rod. He reeled the line in, only to find the hook empty. Another fish had gotten away--but, really, he couldn't find it within himself to care.