(Cider)

"The year and the hour which snatch the kindly day from us warn you not to hope for immortality."

--Horace







The Dollet mountain range was tall and grey in the distance. By the Dollet docks the only shade came from the table umbrellas, under which rested cool drinks whose sides sweated in the sun.

Quistis sat at a table near the edge of the docks, very close to the lapping of the waves. A glass of iced cider rested on a felt pad by her hand. Across the table Seifer held a glass of scotch, two ice cubes almost melted within it. The day was very hot, and he was waiting for her to begin.

I wanted to talk to you, Seifer, she said.

I did wonder what you were still doing here, he said. But it makes sense that you'd want to make a sympathy visit.

She sighed. I heard all about it.

I didn't know it was in the news. His voice was unmistakably wry, and she ignored it.

I wanted to see how you were holding up.

He shrugged. Fine by my standards.

That's hard to believe, given--

I really just don't care, he said.

That's impossible.

I don't think so. He took a swig of the scotch. It's no different than when you go out on a mission.

I think it is, she said.



I never have to think about it.

Neither do I.

I can't imagine not. She swished her cider in its glass, and glanced up to find Seifer watching her.

You don't like the cider? he asked.

I guess I'm just not very thirsty.

Maybe you need something stronger to drink, he observed dryly.

Maybe you need someting weaker.

In a smooth gesture he reached out and exchanged glasses with her.

The cider was a deep amber that reminded her of autumn. It cast amber reflections on the table when he moved it.

I don't drink, she noted.

He shrugged. Try it.

She took a sip of the scotch. It burned as it passed down her throat. She grimaced.

Like it? he half-smiled.

It's strong. she said.

They sell good stuff here.

I can see. She frowned at it.

He looked out across the water. It was rolling in and out, in and out again.

You should come back to Garden, she said, on impulse.



Well, what are you going to do out here?

Well, I do have my whole life ahead of me.

You're so very cynical when you say that.

Is there a reason I shouldn't be?

She opened her mouth to say yes and said

he said. I'm perfectly all right.

She glanced down. There was a red pill on his white napkin, looking like a droplet of blood. she said. I don't think so.

It's nothing.

It's something.

A gull called out somewhere over the waves.

It's really not--

She took a gulp of the scotch and it brought tears to her eyes.

There are... things... I can do, he said.

Not to stop it.



The gull called again.

And you're all right with this? --how can you be?

He shrugged. Have any suggestions?

I don't know.

It's not that bad. Three years.

Give or take, she corrected him. Three years, give or take.

So maybe it's give.

It's still not fair.

That's life.

No, it's-- she stumbled. It's not.

So maybe it's karma?

Stop that. She shook her head.





The waitress reappeared. The train will be here in fifteen minutes, she said.

Thank you, Quistis replied, and the waitress left. She glanced up. Seifer was watching her.

It was nice of you to visit, he said.

I don't have to leave yet.

The clock on the bar was ticking. You'll miss your train.

I can catch another.

You don't have to stay here.

I want to.

It's not like it's your fault.

she had nothing to say.

You should get your bags.

With a moment's thought, she stood up and walked back to the hotel. He finished the cider and re-claimed the scotch. When she had returned with her bags, he had drained that as well.

The waitress came back when Quistis sat down. Would you like anything more?

she answered for both of them, and the waitress went away.

You look troubled, Instructor, he said.

She bit her lower lip thoughtfully.



I'm fine, she said. It's not me who's-- She choked, caught herself, and smiled. I'm fine.












(Author's Note:

This is the third one-shot I've ever written that's made me want to kill things, I was so frustrated with it. (It joins Grief and Djinn in that dubious distinction.) As the more astute of you may have noticed, I stole a lot of the stylistic choices in this from Ernest Hemmingway's Hills Like White Elephants--and used them to less effect than he did, too. I'm just that talented.

Ugh. This thing was a bad idea from the start--a recycled-angst topic (Seifer is diagnosed with some kind of terminal disease), a haphazard stylistic choice (Hey, maybe if I never mention the words terminal illness or they won't get that it's a recycled-angst topic) and characters who flat-out refused to stay in-character all made this a real fun ride for me.

I hope it was at least marginally more entertaining for you.)