Disclaimer- I hereby denounce any speculation that I am indeed the lawful owner of Final Fantasy VIII, Squaresoft, or the title to this chapter...That belongs to the Goo Goo Dolls.
Author's Notes- Yeah this chapter was supposed to be up on the 6th...for those of you counting that was 8 days ago. While typing this epilogue my keyboard went out and my computer tower started making the awfullest noises and the screen froze. Not realizing that it was something as simple as my keyboard doing this, I shut my computer off and lost everything. It took me three days to realize my stupidity, and by that time the 6th was long gone...and I decided I might as well take a little extra time to try and improve upon the chapter. Hope you all enjoy the last chapter of Red Strokes.
Oh, I almost forgot, Isaac from Leatherbound Secrets makes a cameo in this chapter. For everyone who's forgotten who he was, he's the child of Max and Jenny, two of Irvine's friends from Blue Gales.
Epilogue - Better Days
A dense fog rolled across the surrounding fields and blurred the shoreline to the sea. The sky lay under siege by the heavy grey clouds that smothered out all of the early morning sunlight. Alone on a warped fishing dock, she stood silent and watching as a few ducks swam by. With a coffee cup held between her two hands, Quistis marveled at the silence that surrounded her. It was almost as if she were alone in a strange land in some dark fairy tale. There was nothing; no noise, no distinctive sights, just a bleak grey sky and fog. It was a lot like the time compression. She shuddered at the thought. Perhaps coming out to the docks alone hadn't been a good idea. Absently reaching down to her hip, she made certain Save The Queen was there. Feeling a bit more secure, she began walking back along the wooden planks of the dock.
She sipped her coffee as her feet found the gravel of the main road. Continuing her morning walk, she poured the now cold liquid out and looked over at the ragged little flower shop. The fog didn't seem as thick here, yet it still seemed to hug the building in a possessive kind of way. She gazed at the illuminated windows of the nearby houses and sighed. Today looked to be as gloomy as the day before.
"Instructor Roe!" An auburn haired boy called from up the road. Quistis looked up and shook her head at the sight of his muddy overall's and bare feet.
"My goodness Isaac, you're filthy," She stated as he ran up to her side and joined her walk.
"Yes'm I am," He grinned almost proudly.
She stifled a smile as she imagined Irvine and Max acting just like Isaac when they were younger. "What are you doing to get that dirty so early in the morning?"
"I've been out playin' with the dogs. I wanted ta go fishin' but Ma said that I couldn't with all this fog. She said I'd fall right in an' nobody'd be able ta see me," He complained.
"Sounds like your mother's a smart woman. You should listen to her."
"Then how did you get so muddy?"
"Playin' with the dogs," He insisted. "I had just fed 'em when I saw ya walkin' this way."
Quistis smiled. "Do you know what time it is Isaac?"
"No ma'am," He answered.
"Its seven twenty one," She answered him. "Class starts at eight o'clock sharp."
"Don't worry I can get ta class on time," He assured her.
"I'm sure you can," She laughed at his enthusiasm. "But can you get yourself cleaned up beforehand?"
"Ya want me to go home and change don't ya," Isaac pouted as he shoved his hands in his pockets.
"I want you to go home and take a bath," She corrected him.
"Yes'm," He said as he continued to walk beside her. There was a lazy silence that took hold of them as they neared the edges of town. "Well I need ta go home," He announced as he stepped off the main road and onto the grass in front of his home. "Bye," He waved.
"I'll see you in class," She waved goodbye and kept walking.
With a few more passing houses, the gravel road turned to cobblestone. She couldn't help but notice that the village had in fact grown some. There were at least a half dozen new houses built along this road alone. A grin crossed her lips as she remembered how Laguna had tried to keep it hidden from the rest of the world. He'd been afraid that if people knew where it was they'd ruin it and its country charm. Well people had found his secret little town. People had found it, not realizing that they'd found it and had, for the most part, left it unaltered.
A flash of a memory crossed her mind and she'd remembered the first time she and the rest of the gang had come across this place. They were lost, and had at first thought they'd stumbled across a ghost town. Once she'd met a few of the resident's, she'd fallen in love with the town's solitude. Everything here was so calm, so slow, so quiet. There were no tabloids at the grocery, no big city newspaper to publish their images for all to see, and there were but a handful of fuzzy channels on the television that couldn't betray their identities if they'd wanted to. Winhill was very isolated. It made her feel small, like she was a normal person. That's why after she'd married, she came back.
Her musings left her at the doorstep of a small grey cottage. Gazing up at the dull wood siding and chipped paint around the windows, it was hard to imagine what kind of people would give up a more lavish lifestyle for this. At least at Balamb Garden, she'd had reliable heating and cooling, a brand new apartment, soft carpets and freshly painted walls. Here...here she had warped wood siding coated in lead based paint. Here she had creaky wooden floors that let in the cold winter's air. Here she had the piece of mind that she could live a normal life and her daughter wouldn't be raised in a military institution and expected to fight like she had. She reached out and placed a hand on the cool doorknob. After a moment she retracted her hand. She wasn't ready to go inside yet. Aside from the clouds, the air was warm and it was a nice day.
Carefully taking a seat on the edge of the porch, she watched as the wind blew the tops of her irises and day lilies. The flowers seemed to roll over each other in waves. The rich purple of the irises held her gaze as she remembered the Garden festival six years ago.
The quad that year had been extravagantly decorated with an unprecedented number of Garden Festival Committee members. Streamers, banners and balloons hung from every conceivable surface that they were able to stick an adhesive to. Quistis looked around at the bright spring time colors that surrounded her. The Garden Festival Committee had definitely out done themselves this year. The Garden Festival Committee or the Treppies, she wasn't sure which. As she looked around she slowly began to realize the large number of treppies that were helping out with the festivities. For whatever reason that year, a lot of them seemed to be involved. It seemed like everyone involved had put an extra effort into making the festival grand. She looked around in awe and took a double take when she spotted Selphie out of the corner of her eye. Apparently, even Squall had helped decorate.
She found herself slowly walking over as she watched him argue with Selphie about something. Still too far away to hear their voices, she could tell by the way he pointed up at the banner over their heads that he wasn't happy with.
"Squall it's fine," She could hear Selphie insist once she was closer. Selphie saw her and waved happily. She smiled in return.
"No its not," Squall argued. "This side is lower than that side."
"Squall you're nit-picking," Selphie said as she placed her hands on her hips.
He gave her a cold stare. Quistis bit her lip to hold back a grin as she walked over to Selphie's side. "I thought you had more pride in your work than this," Squall spoke in a disapproving tone. "I'll have you know that its the nit-pickers in this world that get their jobs done right."
"Its just a banner that's off by maybe a few inches," Selphie tried to persuade him. "I promise, no one's gonna notice but you."
Squall crossed his arms. "..."
Selphie's shoulders slumped. "What?"
"If I knew you were going to give me this much trouble over something so petty I wouldn't have volunteered."
Selphie looked to Quistis for help.
"It does look a little lopsided," Quistis confessed. Selphie looked at her in disbelief. Quistis grinned slyly.
"What?" Selphie asked as she looked at Quistis skeptically.
Selphie narrowed her eyes and turned to see Squall setting up a ladder. "Squall its fine," She protested as he began climbing the steps. "Quistis is just trying to tease me," She said as she grabbed for Squall's jacket and instead caught one of his belts. "Squall!" Selphie grunted as she pulled on his belt and then fell backwards when her fingers slipped off the leather material. Quistis watched wide eyed as Selphie hit the ground, and Squall landed right on top of her.
All of the last minute preparations ceased as everyone turned to look at the scene that was unfolding before Quistis. She looked around at the silence that had surrounded her, and then covered her mouth with a hand to stifle her laughter. Squall awkwardly shifted his weight over until he was leaned on one leg and then slowly stood up. He looked down at Selphie with a gaze that could've frozen Seifer in his tracks. Selphie just stared back up at him with a clumsy grin on her face. He shook his head in disbelief while he held out his arm to help her up.
"Thanks," She said as she took hold of his hand and stood up. She looked around at all the people staring and for an instant a light blush crossed her cheeks. That blush quickly faded away when she started laughing. Squall sent her an annoyed look, causing her to only laugh even harder. Quistis couldn't help but to giggle quietly. After a few moments a smile tugged at the corner of Squall's mouth and he too began to laugh quietly.
Upon seeing Squall's laughter, Selphie only proceeded to laugh harder as she looked over to where Irvine sat, holding their baby girl. Irvine just shook his head and whispered something to the whispy haired baby in his lap. Squall watched the wordless interaction between the two, saw his opportunity and took it. He soundlessly scaled the ladder in less than a few seconds and was already untying the banner before Selphie even noticed where he was.
"How does this look?" He asked as he lifted his end of the banner up higher. Selphie put her hands on her hips and tried to give him an intimidating glare.
"She sure has a lot more energy since she had Jace," Nida spoke from behind Quistis.
"You're telling me," Quistis agreed.
"Isn't pulling the Commanding Officer off a ladder by one of his belts grounds for demotion or something?" Nida joked. Quistis chuckled.
"I imagine it could be," She smiled. "She should've known better than to let him get involved with the Garden Festival. He's going to do it how he thinks is right."
"She'll figure it out eventually," Nida said as he took her hand and led her away from the scene. Quistis gave him a quizzical look but followed him over to the quad's edge. She didn't notice until he let go and leaned on the rail, that his hands were clammy.
"Are you alright?" Quistis asked as she leaned on the rail next to him. He smiled very faintly and leaned toward her. "What's wrong?" She asked as she put her head on his shoulder.
"N-Nothing," He swallowed as he looked down at the ground well below their position. "I um just wanted to talk."
Quistis looked up at him quickly. "Oh?"
He looked down at her face and smiled with some sense of renewed confidence. "I just wanted to talk to you," He spoke as he watched the wind play with her hair. "I've been so busy with the Garden Fest that I feel like I'm brushing you aside. I sure hope you don't feel like that," He said as he caught a few strands and tucked them behind her ear.
"Oh I haven't," She reassured him. "I think what you're talented enough to do is amaz-" Her words were cut off as he took her chin in one hand and kissed her lips. She closed her eyes at the contact and wrapped her arms around his neck. He deepened the kiss as she closed the gap between her body and his. The little space between them grew near intoxicating as neither one of them broke off the kiss.
"Oh why don't you two get a room," Seifer complained from behind them. At his words, Nida pulled away from her. Aggravated, Quistis turned to say something in response to Seifer but he was already walking away. She watched him leave and stood there with a perturbed expression on her face until she saw something out of the corner of her eye. Her gaze softened when she realized that Seifer had been nothing more than the deliverer of the small bouquet of Irises Nida now held in his hand.
"What's this?" Quistis asked.
"Shh," Nida silenced her. "I get to ask the questions," He smiled.
"Oh?" Quistis laughed. "And what questions would you ask me?"
"Only one question really," He stated and then swallowed nervously. For the second time that day, every last minute preparation on the Garden Festival ceased as all of her treppie followers hushed and watched silently. The silence that had overcome the quad was frightening as the crowd slowly crept closer to her. She held her breath as Nida carefully placed the bouquet in her hands and knelt down on one knee. "Would you be my wife Quistis?" His words were but a whisper as he shakily moved her right hand down to the metal band that held her flowers together. Suddenly aware, she turned the bouquet over to see a gold ring. Quistis slowly pulled it off the flower's stems and looked at if affectionately.
"I will," She smiled as she slid the ring on her finger. At her words, Nida quickly found his feet and pulled her into a hug. Around them, the treppies erupted in shouts and applause. Quistis jumped at their reaction but Nida remained unphased as he pulled her into a hug and brushed her hair behind her ears.
"Oh thank you so much," He half laughed as he kissed her. "I don't know what I'd have done if you'd said no-"
Quistis silenced him with a hand. "You worry too much," She smiled and then cried. "I love you," She said as she ran her fingers through his hair.
"I love you too," He smiled as he began kissing her again.
Quistis smiled fondly at the memory as she stared out at the flowers. Her gaze drifted up to the clock tower. If she didn't hurry she'd be late for her own class. Quickly finding her feet, she opened the front door and then tried to shut it quietly.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness of the small living room. She looked around until her eyes came to rest on the coffee table. Making as little noise as possible, she stepped over a creaky board, hurried over to the table and picked up her grade book and notes for the day. Quistis pulled out her glasses and slid them on as she flipped through her notes. A stirring from the couch caught her attention. She pulled the book and papers to her chest and watched as Nida shifted around in his sleep. He was quiet a sight with his now longer hair messily laying down on his forehead. She couldn't help but to notice how his features had hardened over the past few years. Long gone were his soft babyish cheeks and rounded face. Sarah'd said that he had grown into a near mirror image of his father. Quite frankly Quistis had to admit that if that were the case, his father was a handsome man. On his chest lay their daughter. Her raven hair splashed out across her back and onto one of Nida's arms. Quistis shook her head at the sight of the two sleeping in so late. It was as if neither of them had any cares or obligations in the world. She smiled as he slowly opened his eyes to see her standing there. From his place on the couch he smiled up at her. Quistis watched as he slowly sat up, careful not to wake Lucine.
"You get dressed to watch early morning cartoons?" Quistis whispered as he quietly walked to her.
"Well, that's what she thinks I did," Nida whispered back as he carefully held their 4 year old daughter in his arms. Quistis watched as Lucine lazily leaned her head against Nida's shoulder and continued to sleep. "I was hoping to finish the boat today. Mr. Fantini's supposed to pay 900 gil for it."
"Only 900?" Quistis asked. "I thought your prices ran higher than that?"
Nida nodded. "This boat's just a short little one. A gift for one of his sons I believe."
"That's an awful expensive gift," She whispered.
"I'm not complaining."
"Neither am I," She smiled. "We're going to get by alright."
"We're going to get by just fine. Don't you worry about that," He reassured her with a kiss. Quistis placed a hand on the side of his neck and stroked his cheek with her thumb. "I love you."
"I love you too," She smiled. Lucine stirred in Nida's arms. Quistis grew silent as she waited for the little girl to go back to sleep.
"She looks just like her beautiful mother," Nida grinned.
Quistis rolled her eyes. "I don't know about that."
"Not counting my hair, she's a mirror image," He assured her as he kissed her again. Quistis let the kiss linger and looked almost dejected when Nida pulled back prematurely.
"What?" She asked.
"I think u have class," He whispered.
"Oh!" Quistis laughed. "I better go."
"Be careful," Nida whispered after her. She stopped and then looked outside.
"I'm just going across the street."
"This is Winhill," He defended himself. "I've learned long ago anything's likely to be roaming these streets." Quistis rolled her eyes and waved playfully as she hurried out the front door. Nida watched from the doorway before slowly stepping out onto the front porch.
"Dad," Lucine yawned from his arms.
"Hmm?" He asked as he watched Quistis enter the school house.
"I'm hungry," She yawned again. Nida smiled as he held her to his chest and kissed the top of her head. She wrapped her small arms around his neck and looked around. "What're we doing Daddy?"
Nida was silent as he took in the silent town around them. Through the early morning fog he could make out a few people opening up their shops and walking down the streets. It still amazed him that he was where he was. Whatever happened to his dream of running Balamb Garden?
'It was replaced by a better dream,' He thought to himself.
"Daddy, I'm hungry," Lucine leaned back in his arms to see his face. He looked down at her face and smiled.
"Me too. What do you say we brush your hair and go to the cafe?" Her eyes lit up at the idea. "I'll take that as a yes," He laughed as he put her down. "Hurry up! Get inside," He shooed her. At his words she ran halfway across the living room and then stopped and looked at him expectantly.
"Come on," She motioned for him.
He stared at her big pleading eyes and outstretched hand before he melted. She was going to be just like her mother. Nida smiled at the thought as he stepped inside and closed the front door behind him.