Chapter 20 - Serenade

"I knew that I would find you here," Seifer said squinting in the sunshine. He brazenly walked onto the dock kicking their cooler which was empty because they had caught no fish.

"We thought you were a goner, ya know." Raijin began before he caught sight of a mysterious woman standing behind Seifer. She wore a broad straw hat and sunglasses as though she was trying to hid her features from sight.

"That's my new sugar mama," Seifer replied smirking. "Hey your majesty, come over here and meet my posse."

She scowled as she removed her hat and her glasses, seeing no danger here among his friends.

"Hello." she said simply as Raijin smiled brightly back at her. Fujin said nothing. Raijin nudged Seifer.

"I thought you were through with falling in love after Rinoa."

Seifer chuckled happily as he wrapped his arms around Quistis and pulled her close.

"Well, I think I'll make an exception for the queen of Esthar."

"QUEEN!" Raijin asked as he backed away. Unfortunately he backed too far and fell off the edge of the pier.

"Are you okay?" Quistis asked as she took a step toward the large man. She was about to reach down to help him up when Seifer grabbed her.

"Naw don't bother. He does this all the time. Saves bath water."

'Oh," Quistis said as she snickered.

"Yeah," Raijin said, glad that he had drawn a smile out of the queen. "This is great fun. Fujin, come, join me." Fujin scowled viciously as Raijin tried to pull her into the water. She kicked him on roughly his shoulder which put an end to his efforts.

Quistis laughed. "I like them already."

"Hey idiot," Seifer said as he glanced down at Raijin. "How would you like a new job working for the queen?"

"Whoa." Raijin said with a look of shock on his face, "Fujin did you hear that?"

Fujin grumbled under her breath and looked away.

"You've really hit it big, Seifer." Raijin said to his old friend.

"I want something in return, of course," Quistis said smiling at the two of them. "I want to join your posse."

Seifer chuckled.

"A queen in the posse?" Raijin asked incredulous.

"Well, I can pretend that I'm not queen when I'm with you," Quistis offered.

"No, no!" Raijin said a broad smile on his face. "Welcome aboard your majesty."

Quistis laughed heartily as she suddenly caught sight of something flying over them. The Ragnarok. She turned her face to the sky and smiled. He was here.

Reaching over, she grabbed Seifer's hand.

"Come on, we need to go."

"Aw, already?" Raijin asked.

"We'll be back," Quistis said. "You'll see. I'll be stuck to your buddy Seifer like glue from now on."

"Oh no, whatever shall I do," Seifer asked mockingly as he allowed himself to be dragged away by Quistis.

oooooooo

Quistis and Seifer met Squall as he stepped from the landing zone next to the Mayor's house.

"Squall," Quistis said, glad to finally see him in person. She reached over and hugged him. "I'm so glad that you are alright."

"Where's your lady?" Seifer asked smirking.

Squall shrugged. "She's somewhere safe, far from anyone who would recognize her as a sorceress."

"Are you going back to that safe place too, pansy boy?" Seifer asked in good humor.

"Yes." Squall replied.

Seifer chuckled and hugged Quistis to his side.

"I'm gonna be in Esthar in case you ever have an incredible urge to spar with someone."

"Whatever," Squall replied and folded his arms.

"I'll take it easy on you next time. I didn't know that you scarred so easily, baby face."

Squall waved his hand nonchalantly at Seifer. "If you ever build another boat out of twigs and junk, I'll still take you up on that offer of being first mate."

Seifer nodded. "It's a deal." With that Seifer extended his hand in a gesture of amity. Slightly surprised, Squall reached over and took his hand. The two men shook on their deal, on fourteen years of strife. Finally Seifer drew back and smirked happily.

"Good luck with your lady, Squall. May she drive you to an early grave."

"Whatever." Squall replied in a tone of good humor.

Chuckling, Seifer turned and left to rejoin Raijin and Fujin.

"We're leaving soon," Quistis said quietly to Squall. "You know where to find me. This place isn't good for Seifer or for myself. I've never been comfortable around SeeDs," she admitted.

"I know." Squall replied."I'm here to see Ellone," he told Quistis quietly.

"Squall," Quistis said. "I guess in the end I realized that not all evil has to be destroyed through force. I think when I saw Seifer and what he had become something snapped in me and I came to understand how you could love Rinoa despite her faults."

"So my point is," she continued. "I won't seek out your sister or Rinoa anymore. I'll leave them to your hands because I trust you and your judgement. In the end, I think you were right all along. I may be queen now but to you and Seifer I'll always be Quistis. I promise. Never hesitate before coming to me because I am still .. your sister."

Squall nodded. He hugged her once more before he turned to leave. She caught his arm suddenly.

"One day, we need to play triple triad again." She said with a smile. "You won't get lucky twice in row."

"Yeah," he answered quietly. "I'm sure that Gilgamesh card won't be in my possession for much longer."

oooooooo

He found Ellone by the ocean. Her shawl was ballooning in the wind as she brushed her hair away from the soft expression on her face.

"I did some thinking while you were gone, Squall," she told him quietly. "I thought about my life and how much of a burden I am to you."

"Don't say that," he told her as he leaned up against the rail. "You know that's not true."

"But it is," she continued, "I left you for the white SeeD ship while you were a child. I thought that I could come back anytime and you would want to see me. I realize now that you could only wait so long."

"Did you really think that I hated you for what happened to Quistis?" He asked her curiously, referring to her comment in Lunatic Pandora.

"Quistis was always what you were searching for Squall, even if it was not the person than it was the symbol. She was the childhood you could never return to. For a while I thought that if you were with her you would return to the warm caring child you once were but then I realized that that too was wrong."

"What do you mean?" He asked.

She pulled her shawl tighter around her narrow shoulders and looked over the ocean with a forlorn expression.

"I realized that once childhood was lost it could never be returned. Even if you had Quistis you could never be with her the way you had before. You and Rinoa, although you two are as different as good and evil, you are in fact the same inside. I didn't see that until Winhill, until it was too late."

He nodded at her but said nothing in response.

"I'm going back to white SeeD, Squall." She said. "You won't need to take care of me anymore. Don't object to it. You've done enough. Go home to Rinoa and she'll help you take back all the things I've taken away from you."

"Ellone, what I said to you in Lunatic Pandora I didn't say just because I knew that I was going to die."

"Liar," she said with a quiet smile. "Liar."

oooooooo

"The sorceress Rinoa is dead," the queen informed her officials. She sat on her throne dressed in velvet and gold. Her face was drawn and emotionless as she gave her orders to willing followers. "She is no longer a threat to Esthar."

"What about Ellone, your majesty?" a elderly official asked.

"Ellone is no threat to us as long as there are no sorceress seeking to use her for dark purposes."

"But your majesty wouldn't it be wiser to eliminate that threat once and for all?"

The queen paused, allowing silence to fill the chamber. When she spoke next it was in a tone of certainty.

"No, Ellone is an innocent. We are here to destroy sorceresses, not innocents. There will be no further discussion on the topic."

"Yes, your majesty."

"Dismissed." She said as she slowly got up from her throne. Thrusting her cape back in a dramatic gesture, she walked out of the throne room with two attendants following eagerly.

"Your majesty, there is a young man here to see you," Daniel said, keeping his eyes down, as he pointed to the reception room.

Quistis motioned for them to leave her as she walked into the room alone. Seifer was standing there, looking out the window the way he had the last time she met him in this room beside the sorceress Edea.

"You look . .regal." He muttered with a uncomfortable look on his face. She walked over to him, taking small steps the way she was used to in this attire.

"Should I bow or something?" he asked curiously.

"No." She responded standing unmoving beside him. "Just come tonight, where we agreed. I'll meet you there."

oooooooo

"Are you sure you want to hear this Irvine?" Cid asked the gunman carefully as they stood in his office. Irvine pretended to be nonchalant but he could tell by the look on Cid's face that the news was not good.

"Yeah," Irvine said. "C'mon, tell me, I can handle it."

"She's not Selphie." Cid said as he picked up a stack of files and placed them before Irvine. "The girl you knew was adopted by a couple in Timber, she never entered Garden. Selphie Tilmitt spent her life in Trabia. She was never in our Orphanage."

Irvine nodded. He swatted the papers aside. There was no need for him to read those.

"I understand." Irvine stood up to leave when Cid caught him by arm.

"I'm sorry. I know that you loved Selphie."

"Yeah," Irvine whispered as he tried his best to smile. "I did, didn't I?"

Irvine broke away from Cid and left the room. He slammed his fist into a wall as soon as he was out of range and stood still. What a fool he had been all along, trying to force her to remember a past which wasn't even hers.

"Irvine?" Someone asked behind him.

Irvine turned to see her standing there.

"Are you okay?" Selphie asked as she danced around him.

"Yeah," he said. "Perfect."

"You look upset. You know I think I'm starting to remember something about our lullaby."

"No," he said as he placed his hand on her. "Don't worry about it."

"Don't give up on me Irvy!" she said suddenly distressed.

By the look on her face he couldn't help but laugh. Yet a realization came to him suddenly he loved her too, this Selphie. Perhaps once upon a time he had loved the other Selphie with all the affection and loyalty a child was capable of giving. Now however, he loved this girl in front of him, Selphie Tilmitt, just as much.

Ever since he had rejoined the orphanage group he had been trying to bring back the past. When Squall, Seifer, and Quistis stood together, it brought such joy to his heart because for a moment the days bygone were still here. He just wanted those things back but now he realized that those days could never come again.

Life was like a river flowing swift and sure. However, just like a river, it was impossible to step in the same water twice. Home was in that river, once he left it, can never return. He could never go back to the same home twice. Squall, Seifer, Quistis, back together but never the same. And he had changed as well, standing here beside Selphie Tilmitt, he knew that it was finally time to let the past go. He can't catch a handful of water and force it stay. All he could do was sit back and admire the ever changing stream.

"Forget about the lullaby, Selphie my dear." Irvine whispered as he hugged her. "It's all in the past."

"I thought the past was the only thing that made you feel whole," Selphie remarked.

"Yes," Irvine said, "but now you do. I don't need the past anymore."

oooooooo

Seifer walked into the darkened bar searching for Quistis. The place was crammed wall to wall, with boisterous elders, quiet onlookers and glitzy dancers slowly moving about the floor. He wandered through the place looking. How was he supposed to find her in this sea of human flesh?

"Are you lost?" Someone asked.

"I'm looking for a girl," Seifer responded.

"Who?" The man asked.

"The queen."

"Sssssh!" the man scolded him. "No one calls her that around here. Don't let anyone catch you saying that."

"Yeah yeah," Seifer responded nonchalantly as he made a mental note to piss off these Estharians by calling her queen.

"Over there," the man pointed at the table to the side. "She always sits there, alone."

Seifer followed the man's hand as he saw Quistis in her pink dress sitting there sipping a small cup of tea. She laughed as a man beside her whispered a joke into her ear. Someone tried to coax her into dancing but she shook her head.

"Next time," she promised.

Seifer swaggered over to her and took a seat beside her, shocking the best of them. Whoever had the guts to take a seat at the queen's table without permission was bound to find his head in a social guillotine.

"Do you often mingle with your subjects this way?" He asked.

"I am not the queen when I am out of my robes, Seifer. I am just a girl. A girl who has fallen in love with a boy."

"Oh and what does the sorceress think of this new love?"

"The sorceress loves her knight," Quistis replied gently. "The queen loves the valiant hero and the damsel loves her childhood friend. Do you think they will have the one they want? Or is it too much to hope for?"

"I don't know," Seifer replied. "It looks like they may all be disappointed unless. . "

"What?"

"Unless this beautiful lady before me agrees to give me one dance."

She laughed softly with her crimson cheeks flushing with flattery.

"Would you dance with me tonight?" He asked her reaching over to take her hand.

"Yes, Seifer," she said "tonight and every night hereafter."

Knowingly, he led her onto the dance floor. He pulled her close to his chest on the crowded floor. In quiet understanding, the respective Estharians subtly made way for the queen. Quistis placed her head on his shoulder and allowed her loose hair to flow down his broad shoulder in a waterfall of gold. He held her tightly and whispered some sweet words into her ear, the way lovers were always meant to.

To the side numerous onlookers watched with jealousy. Who was this mysterious young man who managed to charm a dance out of the ever reluctant queen? And she was holding him so close as though she had waited all her life for this one dance. He must have been a general, a god or a prince. The answer to their questions was of course was more simple than one would think.

He was a future king.

oooooooo

"Would you like some hot dogs Zell?" Antha asked as she placed a tray before him.

"Whoa!" He exclaimed. "Thanks." Zell dug in and began to gobble up the food. However he stopped suddenly as he looked at her sad eyes.

"Antha. I think I love you," he told her quietly.

"Hey!" Someone yelled in the distance. "Smile and wave!"

Turning, Zell and Antha saw Irvine with a camcorder pointed to them.

"Aaaw! They look so cute," Irvine exclaimed.

"Shut up!" Zell yelled as he threw a hot dog at Irvine.

Irvine laughed and pointed the camcorder away at Edea who standing happily beside Cid. She nodded and waved with Cid's arm firmly around her shoulder.

"Hey kids, help yourselves to the food," Cid said gesturing to the tables laden with piles of refreshments. "If you don't hurry up and finish it the lunchroom will be serving leftovers for months."

"The lunchroom food always tastes like leftovers," Zell complained.

Cid smiled as Xu walked up to him. With his free arm he wrapped it around Xu and patted her proudly on the shoulder. Irvine's camcorder didn't catch it as Selphie pointed to the balcony. Irvine quickly followed her lead as he saw the battery running out.

But it didn't matter.

Standing there he realized something.

The balcony was empty.

oooooooo

Across an ocean, over a continent the moon hung large and pristine in the glittering darkness. Fireflies twinkled over the peaceful grassland in a silent dance for the two visitors. A boy and a girl, no longer children, not yet adults, they were suspended in the void in between. However, finally in this undefined state of existence, they had found a strange serenity.

"I knew I would find you here," Squall said tenderly as he approached her.

Rinoa turned smiling and pointed up at the sky. He looked up and saw a shooting star streak across the darkness.

He took her hand suddenly, caught her cold fingers in his own. He wore no gloves tonight because there no longer a need to place a barrier of leather between his own hand and hers. In a moment of impulse, he slide a band of silver over her ring finger.

She stared speechless.

"Why?" she asked with tears coming to her eyes.

"Would you have it any other way?" he asked, slightly embarrassed.

"I don't deserve this," she muttered. "Not me."

"Will you wear it or not?" he asked cutting to the point.

"I don't know." she replied, staring at her finger.

"Rinoa, love courage and friendship were all needed for us to survive. It was not just courage that brought me to you, not just friendship."

She giggled suddenly.

"If that's the closest you will ever coming to telling me that you love me, I am satisfied."

"Then tell me you will wear that ring."

Slowly she nodded.

"I'll wear this ring not just for this timeline but every one hereafter. Every turn of the wheel of time, I'll always keep this ring on my finger, in my heart."

Smiling, he pulled her close and held her under the midnight moon. Finally, in complete understanding, she reached up and kissed him.

oooooooo

And now my dear reader, we shall leave them there on the Winhill bluffs. Slowly we will retreat with only the memory of what we have seen. This is the end of my journey and I can only hope that you will leave as satisfied as I am because in the world of SeeDs and sorceresses, one can only see so much and still live to share the tale. I'm afraid that if I were to wander over once more I may not be so lucky as to return. Therefore, even though Squall and Rinoa and their friends will continue on with their lives, for us the story has come to an end.

The End

Kate Lorraine

11:15 am.

February 22, 2000