Recovering The Satellites.
So why'd you come home
To this angel town?
It's a lifetime decision, recovering the satellites.
All anybody really wants to know is
When you gonna come down….
Recovering The Satellites-Counting Crows
Is it true that every man needs a satellite?
That's what they say…
I'm Not Down-Thea Gilmore(edit).
Welcome to RTS- the third and last fic in my Seifer/Quistis trilogy. The two previous stories are Government Bloodhounds and South Down The Coast. Small summaries are included at the end of this chapter for anyone who's interested.
As for the legal blurb, the Final Fantasy franchise is owned by Squaresoft who retain all rights to characters mentioned in this story. I have merely borrowed these characters to play with and promise to return them in good working order.
Chapter 0- Prologue.
"I'm not talking about this now."
Seifer Almasy's voice was angry.
Quistis Trepe bit her lip to avoid shouting back. She flicked dirty hair away from her face and wrapped her arms tightly around her stained shirt, shivering despite herself.
It was typical, really. They'd only been alone for five minutes, and already things were beginning to get complicated. Seifer tended to have that effect.
She sighed and hugged herself harder, leaning back against the stone and toughened glass wall of the Garden behind her. Seifer didn't seem in the mood for any romantic gestures, and the nights were cold this far north, even in mid-July.
They were both standing on the Training Centre balcony, several hundred feet above the ground. There was nobody else around, which was surprising given the balcony's reputation as a favourite rendezvous for young lovers. Neither Quistis or Seifer was feeling the love at this particular minute. Their situation should have been incredibly romantic, a few last snatched minutes together before returning to the Training Centre to face the music.
Their brief reunion had been going fine right up to the point where Quistis let them both back into the Training Centre to rejoin Balamb Garden's impromptu reception committee. Under the cover of the hum of the opening doors she'd suggested that they might like to discuss how they were going to handle their relationship from here on out. Seifer had never been very good at sorting anything out, starting with his life and moving upwards, so Quistis had decided it was up to her to make the first move.
Seifer's replay had been first noncommittal, and then, when Quistis pressed him, obscene. At which point Quistis grabbed him by the shirt and yanked him back outside, relying on the six-inch thick reinforced steel balcony doors to prevent his voice from carrying to anybody who might be listening.
Things had gone steadily downhill since. The silence was an amnesty of sorts.
Seifer fell silent, for the moment. Quistis drummed her fingers against the bricks and said nothing. After an appropriate pause which she thought much too short but which she knew her superiors would find far too long, she finally changed the track of the conversation. "We should go in."
Seifer leant on the balcony beside her, craning his head to track the path of his fallen cigarette. He spoke uncharacteristically quietly. "Huh. Could've sworn you insisted you wouldn't set foot back in the Training Centre till we finally got this sorted out."
Quistis tightened her lips. There was another long silence. She wondered whether it was late or early. She'd lost track.
Behind her the Garden's bustle muted, most of its inhabitants either asleep or pretending they were. She rubbed at a crack that divided the left frame of her spectacles in two and watched the lights that glittered from the windows of Balamb town. Steady blue flashing lanterns marked the line of the city's perimeter fence which kept the surrounding monsters out and the people inside alive. Further south the across the water the distant buildings of FH bled into the sky, hazing the darkness with the rosy glow of air pollution. The monster-haunted wilderness around the Garden's Balamb Island base spread out maplike before her eyes, veined faintly with dimly-lit roads. The roar of a stray T-Rexaur hung in the air a moment before it faded, raising the hackles on Quistis's neck.
Exhaustion loosened her tongue. "If we don't discuss this now, when do we talk about it? It's not going to get any easier, you know."
Seifer didn't turn around. He was holding himself much too carefully for someone leaning over a balcony and pretending to enjoy the view; tired, she thought, and trying too hard to not to show it. "Maybe we don't need to talk about it."
"Well, if that's what you think." Quistis turned away, disappointed and more than a little hurt as she tried to piece together broken resolutions in her head.
"Hell, Quis, I didn't mean it like that.."
She swung round. "So what did you mean?"
"Hyne, I don't know. Too tired." And as a follow-up, quieter, "Not now."
The air was thin, near the mountains, and his voice carried easily.
Quistis tapped her fingers on the hilt of her whip, thinking. She smoothed her hair and turned to stare at Seifer's back, really looking at him through the blurriness that was part exhaustion and part smears on her cracked spectacles.
The practical thing to do would be to get all this sorted out, right now. She entertained that idea for a second before she looked down at herself, then up again at Seifer, and recognised her own weariness in his slumped body. They'd been through too much already. It had been a long day, and it wasn't over yet.
"Fine. Have it your way. But some people are going to want to know what happened in
South Trabia, and they're going to want to know as soon as we step through those doors."
Seifer shrugged with one shoulder. "As long as we both give then the same story."
"Keep it simple. You were in the area and you just happened to hear a SeeD was in trouble. Apart from that.." I can't believe I'm doing this, she thought. "tell the truth."
"So I turned up to point and laugh? They won't believe anything else. Quistis, this is Garden."
"Even complete assholes are allowed occasional moments of sanity."
"Okay. I went to see what was going on and then you convinced me to help you. I said yes. Thought I'd vanish afterwards, and then along came the Famous Five to save the day."
Quistis frowned. "Those are my friends."
"They're still fuckwits."
"Look carefully at yourself, Seifer."
"You wound me."
"Yeah, well." he said, and twisted round to face her for the first time. "Anyway: boy meets girl, boy helps girl rescue herself from evil monsters, boy gets arrested by girl's friends…well, that wasn't exactly on my list of things to do today – but nevermind.."
Quistis considered. "The only problem with this plan is that it hinges on you having some kind of a conscience."
"It's been two years. I might have changed."
They both knew that there wasn't time for anything else. Quistis shrugged.
It's not like we have time to come up with anything more elaborate. And it's not like I have practise lying. It won't matter, because they won't believe a thing Seifer tells them anyway.
It felt like a betrayal. Quistis was horribly aware that she wasn't doing the best thing for either Garden or Seifer by lying. But she desperately needed time to think about the situation before acting. And time, regrettably, was the one thing they lacked.
She sighed, turned, and hit the button that opened the doors, almost failing to recognise her own gaunt reflection in the smoked glass. Seifer's head jerked round at the whine of the machinery and he took a couple of long strides across the balcony to stand beside her. Quistis saw his own hand go up to touch his face and wondered if he was thinking the same. Or maybe he was remembering. It had been an eventful day.
Quistis stood at ease while she waited for the doors to open, brushing smoke stains from her clothes with hands which were hardly better off. She took her spectacles off, polished them on her skirt and then put them back on, blinking through the resulting smears.
Seifer rolled his eyes, opened his mouth like he meant to say something, shut it again and then contented himself with placing one hand on her shoulder briefly before shoving both hands deep in his pockets. Quistis brushed absently at the mark he'd left, concentrating so hard on trying to look nonchalant that she didn't realise that the doors had hissed open until Seifer shoved her in the back, not gently.
They didn't talk or touch, though any casual observer might have commented that the silence between them both seemed slightly too easy for a soldier and her prisoner. However, this being Garden, anybody watching would have dismissed the possibility of the pair being more than slightly hostile acquaintances out of hand. And any unseen observer would have made a big mistake.
They started down the path into the depths of the Training Centre, while Quistis weighed up the pros and cons of talking to Seifer. She gained confidence as she went along, low voice muffled by the steam. She was prepared to bet her reputation that nobody else was near enough to hear, but kept her comment strictly noncommittal anyway. Living in a military base with a CCTV circuit as well as several hundred nosy teenagers bred honesty.
"Just don't get into any trouble."
"Look, Quistis; Garden has the best medic-to-soldier ratio for miles, I'm not sure I can get into much more trouble, and chicks dig scars. What's your problem?"
"I know you're not really good at keeping things quiet. This might present a difficulty."
There was no answer. Quistis turned her head, flicking condensation from her glasses with the tip of one finger.
Seifer watched the undergrowth restlessly, searching for the twitch of a monster's tail. There was no movement. For once the Training Centre rested quietly and nothing moved except steam, curling up slowly from gratings in the floor. Condensation collected on his arms, making his skin prickle. He brushed the moisture off irritably, caught the tiny movement of a shadow suddenly too straight and dark for its surroundings and froze.
Quistis didn't. She kept walking, turning slightly to speak over her shoulder. Seifer hissed at her to keep quiet, lunging forwards to stop her in her tracks as she took another few steps.
He missed, which was just as well, because two heartbeats later the shadow merged into a humanoid silhouette and Seifer cursed himself for being so stupid.
"Seifer? What's the matter?"
Of course Leonhart was going to have him watched. Seifer hated Squall, but he wasn't foolish. In fact, he hated to admit it but somewhere along the way Leonhart had made some very good career choices, starting with being on the winning side and working upwards.
Seifer's mouth twisted in a wry grin. Yeah, and I'm not jealous of that asshole at all.
The surveillance got on his nerves, but to tell the truth there was very little about Garden that hadn't got on his nerves two years ago. He doubted it had changed.
Shaking his head, he took a couple of long strides to catch up with Quistis. The metal walkways slipped under his feet as he kicked a couple of vines out of the way. All of the Training Centre plants were green, lush, and beautiful. You could literally see them growing with the sheer power of photosynthesis. Seifer trod on a creeping tendril snaking out from under his feet. It split with a satisfying squelch.
"What'd ya say earlier?"
"You're not good at hiding things. Or listening, apparently."
The first sentence tripped a switch in Seifer's head. "Hiding…you know there's people covering us, right?"
Quistis pushed her damp hair back. "What did you expect?"
Seifer shrugged, keeping half his attention on the shadows tailing them. He supposed he should feel honoured for the escort but it felt as if he wasn't even allowed to fight his own battles. He mentioned this to Quistis, who sniffed.
"You're not going to be fighting anything for at least a couple of weeks."
Seifer kicked at another vine. "At least I'll be remembered."
"Wait. You might find that living with hundreds of people who all know what you did is just as difficult as living with people who don't even know your name."
"Yeah, this is going to be fun. An action replay of my greatest mistakes."
"You came back." Quistis said, flatly.
Seifer noticed an unfamiliar tone in her voice, and took a closer look. She looked too thin, there were too many angles trapped under her threadbare navy uniform. The dusty print of his hand on her back stood out like a brand.
She looks pale.
She was fucking pale to begin with. Maybe I should say something.
Like what? It'll just come out wrong.
Quistis halted, swinging round to face him. Seifer pulled up, fast, to avoid tripping over his own feet. There was an almost pleading expression in her clear eyes. It was one he was unfamiliar with. It couldn't have been moisture, because Quistis never cried. Quistis would not cry if you gutted her three best friends in front of her.
Then she just shrugged.
The shadows closed. Seifer heard a loud roar of to their left, behind a clump of trees.
"T-rex, Quis. We need to go."
"They're not that bad." Quistis spoke dreamily. She moved away.
"'Cause they use their teeth to conserve body warmth and attract mates, right? You need to get inside."
"We are inside."
"Seifer, what are we going to do?"
"You're asking me?"
That didn't seem to be the answer Quistis was looking for, either. It was if he could see her switch off before his eyes. She shouldered him aside and started walking towards the door again. Seifer rocked back on his heels, momentarily startled, and followed her, catching up just as the heavy iron hatch of the training centre hissed open. A small crowd of people were gathered round the doors. It wasn't as big an audience as he'd have liked, but no projectile weapons were on display, at least for the moment.
Doesn't she want to be seen with me? By all her friends? Is that it?
He looked over at Quistis, trying to detect even a hint of embarrassment in her body language. It was just his luck that nearly fifteen years of military training had given Quistis a ramrod straight posture with certain interesting little modifications here and there, so any attempt to read her body language failed miserably.
He thought about kissing her, just for a minute, more of a way of choosing sides than any kind of romantic gesture. In Trabia, when they had both worn the façade of holidaymakers, he would have gone ahead without a second thought, but here and now the sunny beaches seemed miles away, under the bright lights of Garden. How the hell could you sleep with someone and not know even the most basic things about them?
It would be so easy, just to reach over to her.
Better not. She already looks pissed.
Quistis moved slightly away, hunting for faces in the crowd, and the moment passed without her even noticing. Seifer hesitated for a minute, for once unsure exactly what was expected.
She saw what she was looking for, raised one hand and turned away.
Seifer watched her go.
Quistis fought to focus. Her glazed gaze scanned people in the small crowd that had gathered. A welcoming party or a lynch mob? She didn't know. Maybe a little of both.
People shouted congratulations, a few, forgetting Quistis's hatred of personal space invasion, clapped her on the shoulder. She wished they wouldn't, but it seemed rather ungrateful to tell them to go away. Each contact jarred her bones and left her head spinning.
She glanced back, once, over her shoulder. Seifer stood surrounded by a few SeeDs, scowling like Christmas had just been cancelled. He looked up and almost met her eyes until a tall cadet moved between them and blocked Quistis's line of vision. She turned away and pushed between SeeDs, examining faces and uniforms on tiptoe. It was just about typical that she didn't even recognise one of the people that she was searching for until he was near enough to touch.
The SeeD suddenly found herself enveloped in a bearlike hug. On most other people she would have found it incredibly invasive, but Irvine was like a younger brother, for all that he was the same age, and annoyingly tactile. Stray strands of his sleek reddish ponytail tickled her nose and made her sneeze. Irvine didn't seem to notice, too intent on squeezing the life out of her. She made frantic little movements with her hands until the Galbadian let her go, abruptly.
"QT. What have they been doing to you, man? You look worn out."
Quistis scowled. "Don't call me that."
Irvine rocked backwards on the heels of his cowboy boots. He stretched out a hand to steady her and the replaced it in one pocket as Quistis unconsciously moved away. "You look like hell. Go and get some rest."
She sighed. "I can't." I have to make at least some attempt to explain all of this to somebody before I forget what actually happened…...
Irvine scowled. "Suure you can."
He was unceremoniously elbowed aside by a petite figure in meticulously correct Balamb uniform. A gentleman to the last, Irvine backed off, tipping his hat between thumb and forefinger.
Xu returned the gesture with a curt nod. She turned to Quistis, addressing her much more gently.
"Hon, I'm sorry, I think Squall wants to see you."
Irvine bristled. "Waitaminute….."
Quistis laid a restraining hand on his leather-sleeved arm. Suede prickled soft as butter between her fingers, patches shiny and worn with use. "I'm all right, Irvine. " She drew him off to one side, using the lanky sharpshooter's body to block Xu's field of vision and said "I need to ask you a favour."
The dizziness had passed, and she felt almost normal. Almost. She craned her neck a little over Irvine's shoulder, hunting for another glimpse of Seifer, but all she could see was other people's heads.
Irvine smiled, wickedly. "Anything to help a pretty girl."
Quistis rolled her eyes. Her icy façade was usually enough to deter Irvine, but maybe she was slipping. The cowboy's flirting was never serious (at least, Irvine and Selphie had been one of the great constants of Balamb's dating scene since the wars) but it seemed to be habitual. "Who's in charge of Seifer?
"Don't know. Don't care. Hyne, Quis, can't you learn to let go? He's not your problem any more. Take a break."
Quistis decided that that would be very good advice if she was ever in a position to take it. "Please."
Irvine groaned, reluctantly. "I think it's Zell. At least, he was moaning about something earlier."
"Can you pass on a message for him?"
"Tell him to go easy."
"What? Sorry, for one second then I thought you were telling me to tell him to go easy?"
"I did." Quistis said, noncommittally.
Irvine gave her a long, hard look. "So I heard you right, but why?"
"Look, I'm too tired to explain right now. Just do it, okay."
"Ah, you know me. I'll do anything. But just for the record, I think it's a bad idea."
Irvine grasped the brim of his hat between finger and thumb and flicked it down over his face. He attempted an elaborate bow, but was hindered by the sheer press of the crowd. "See ya later, QT." He shouldered through the crowd, revealing the rather out-of-breath face of Xu, who had been trying to fight her way to Quistis round Irvine without much success for the last few minutes.
Xu narrowed her eyes. "What was that all about?"
"That was a long nothing." Xu pointed out. She glanced up, searching Quistis's face for an answer and then shrugged as it became apparent that one was not forthcoming.
Quistis's exhaustion was making it hard to concentrate on anything. She hunted through her pockets for caffeine pills but found nothing except extra ammo, a spare Hi-potion, and the gritty remnants of beach sand, caught in the seams. Raising her head, she stared over the crowd and for a moment caught a flash of faded black T-shirt.
For a moment she regretted not making some kind of grand gesture, the type Seifer would appreciate. Maybe turning round and kissing him right there, in front of most of Garden. Let them say then that Quistis Trepe was some kind of ice queen nun.
When the truth was that there nothing more she wanted than to turn back to Seifer and get a really big hug. Her eyes were bloodshot, grainy with sand, and it felt like she hadn't had a decent night's sleep in year. She felt empty and told herself it was just the after effects of coming back to work after a long holiday.
Surely nothing more, right?
She turned around to join Xu and managed not to turn round and look at him before she walked through the doors.
Seifer swore under his breath as the crowd surrounded them both. He wondered what was happening and then told himself he didn't care. It was all of three seconds before he realised that that was a load of bullshit -Seifer had never been any good at lying to himself or to anyone else- and opened his mouth just in time to watch her step into the crowd and vanish.
Now that she was gone, nobody seemed to be singling him out. There was no chance of sloping off somewhere -everybody was not-so-obviously keeping track of him and there were a few whispers, but so far nobody had tried either to talk to him or shoot him, a state of affairs that suited Seifer down to the ground. He wasn't in the mood for either conversation or fighting.
He took one step forwards to chase after her. The movement summoned a group of SeeDs so quickly that you could have taken them for well-junctioned GFs. Seifer stopped before he bumped into them and tried to look like he'd just changed his mind because he wanted to.
He leant against the wall and thought about Quistis.
Quistis never lost her composure or raised her voice, but standing there on the balcony he'd known that she must have been perilously close to it. This worried him, slightly. She'd looked slightly frayed at the edges, and this worried him, too.
He raised his head as the crowd merged and split, catching a glimpse of Quistis standing slightly too close to the Galbadian sharpshooter. It made him bristle. Seifer recognised a charm offensive when he saw one. Next to him stood one of the other Seeds, sleek dark hair gleaming slickly under the fluorescent lights.
Irvine, and Xu. One was fairly high on his list of least liked people, the other he didn't know enough well not to like but hated him anyway, just out of principle.
Wonder what's happening there?
He watched as the Galbadian pushed away and Xu took Quistis's arm, shepherding her towards a set of double doors. They slid open and Quistis walked through them without even looking back.
Sometimes in combat, the best thing to do was to do nothing. Watching Quistis's sleek head disappear, Seifer realised that this was not one of those times. Doing anything would have been better than standing there in as non-threatening manner as possible and watching her disappear into the clean empty corridors.
Well, almost anything.
By then, it was too late, of course. It always was.
The Story So Far-a brief summary of my fic.
In Government Bloodhounds Seifer emerges from Time Compression and goes to ground in a Trabian city. When Galbadian posters featuring his face juxtaposed next to large sums of money appear on every street corner, he runs into Northern Trabia, for reasons that seem like a good idea at the time. Pursued by most of the Galbadian army as well as Quistis Trepe from Balamb, Seifer's chances of long-tem survival look doubtful. Luckily, Quistis reaches him before the Galbadians do, but unfortunately their presence alerts something strange and powerful in the depths of the forest. Seifer, Quistis and the rival Garden forces defeat the monster but not without considerable sacrifices-and Quistis leaves Trabia convinced that Seifer is dead.
The events of South Down The Coast prove her wrong. Sent for an idyllic seaside holiday by Squall Leonhart, Quistis is none too pleased to discover that Seifer is alive, well, and living just down the next street. The pair become lovers until a terrorist attack on Balamb forces Quistis to accept another mission. Seifer follows her and they discover that the leader of the supposedly peaceful Childrens Liberation Alliance is in fact a Dollet politician intent on eradicating the Gardens for his own political gain. The rebels turn from opponents into allies when monsters attack the hospital where they are hiding and Seifer and Quistis have to shepherd them to safety. Balamb forces storm the building, save the CLA and arrest Seifer. On returning to Garden, Seifer provokes a duel with Squall, which he loses. Squall, for reasons of his own, spares his life. South Down The Coast ends with Seifer and Quistis standing on the Training Centre balcony, unsure of what the future will bring.