When she was younger and had only just come to Garden, Quistis would sit in the secret place and imagine that it was her secret place. In her secret place, she did not need a family, and she did not need to be accepted. She only needed to be still and be herself.

That stopped when she realized that other people had found the secret place before she had; they just usually came there later than she did. It wasn't her secret place anymore, and it never had been. She tried to avoid it after that, but sometimes she found herself telling someone to meet her there, or veering off the path in the training center and winding up there anyway.

One morning, she found the secret place deserted, and for a moment it felt like her secret place again. She sat down there, drawing her knees up to her chest, and let herself be silent and still.

For a moment, it worked. Then she heard footsteps.

"Hey."

She blinked once to push back to sudden sting of tears at the shortness of her moment of solitude. She didn't cry, and she wasn't about to start for something this silly. She stood, straightening her clothes, and forced herself to smile at the other visitor. "You're up early, Irvine."

"I heard this saying about the early bird and the worm," he replied with a smile of his own. "I'm not big on worms, but I thought maybe the early me could catch the pretty ladies. And look," he lifted his hat, tipped it at her, "I was right."

"I don't think so," she said. "I have work to do." She didn't, not really, but it was as good an excuse as any. "Shouldn't you be with Selphie?"

"What, you think I'm tied to her?" Irvine paused. "I mean--except when we both feel like it, and--oops, I've said too much." He winked.

She looked at him.

He sighed. "She's pitching in with the Trabia reconstruction effort this week. Took off without anything more than a note, but that's just her. It's no big deal."

Quistis wondered, and not for the first time, just what was going on between the two of them, but as before, she quickly discarded her thoughts on the matter. She could fight, and she could organize, and she could do many things, but what happened between two people remained a mystery to her.

"Are you okay?" he asked. "I'm not intruding or anything, am I? If you've got something to do here, I'll go. I just like this place, that's all."

"I like it too," Quistis surprised herself by saying.

"Yeah?"

"It's quiet. It makes me feel quiet."

"Yeah," he repeated. "That's it."

She turned away quickly. "Now if you'll excuse me--"

She left faster than she strictly had to.


It occurred to her over the course of the day, as she sorted through paperwork (most of which Xu had already taken care of), that there had to be other secret places. True secret places that really could be hers. Once she had the thought, she could not let go of it. Papers slid through her hands, and she found herself staring out of windows. Finally, she gave up.

Garden was skimming over the Centra continent when she discreetly stopped it long enough to climb down to the surface. Having access to the flight controls had its perks sometimes. She didn't bother to check where she was going, other than 'into a forest.' She just walked.

This paid off soon enough. She stopped as the forest opened up into a clearing. Crumbling ruins sprawled about the open space, but there was no indication of where they'd come from or who had made them. They were just there, as much as the forest around them was. She put a hand on one of the remnants of wall and slowly sank to a crouch.

That was when she heard footsteps.

She spun around, her whip instantly in her hand, and waited. Whatever it was would show itself eventually, and then she would be ready.

"If I come out with my hands up..." Irvine stepped out from behind a tree. His hands were indeed up. "...will you be gentle on me with that thing?"

Quistis stared at him.

He stared at her. "Um...sorry?"

She slowly rolled up the whip and put it back away. "Irvine. What are you doing here?"

He shrugged. "I saw you leave, and I wanted to know where you were going." He looked around as he walked toward her. "Nice place. Is this like the quiet place in Balamb Garden?"

"I hoped so," she said, a little sharply.

He stopped, a hurt puppy expression springing instantly to his face. "You're not mad at me, are you? I wanted to be sure you were okay, that's all...you don't even have transportation back to Garden..."

"I came here," she said curtly, "to be alone."

A few feet away from her, he hesitated. "Really?"

"Yes, really."

"I don't know," he said slowly. "You were looking for something like the quiet place behind the training center, right?" Without waiting for her to reply, he went on, "This is like that. But quiet isn't the same as being alone."

"It is to me," she said.

"Do you like it that way?"

She was silent, and when she made no move to break that silence, he leaned down and he kissed her.

She thought she would object, but she did not, and to her surprise she found she might even be enjoying it. She slid one hand over the small of his back and lifted the other to cradle his head to hers. He made a small, inarticulate noise, then pressed his tongue into her mouth and quieted.

When they parted, he looked slightly embarrassed. "What?" she said.

He looked down. "I--it's just this idea I had. I've always kind of wanted to start with a kiss, and before it's finished, have gotten all the clothes off, mine and hers. But I always like the kiss so much, I forget about the plan...well, maybe with Selphie someday..."

"Now is probably not a good time to talk about Selphie," she said.

"Yeah," he said, chastised. "You're right. I'm supposed to talk about you instead."

"Maybe you don't need to talk at all," she said.

"Okay," he said. "So...you want to?"

"What, talk?"

"No. You know--"

"Oh. Yes."

He tugged at her hands as he sank to the ground, and through no fault of her own she wound up straddling him. She bent over him, her fingers patiently inspecting his shirt and then his pants for weaknesses such as buttons and zippers, while he expertly removed her dress and the layers beneath it. He finished first, and then he occupied himself in creative ways with his mouth and her breasts, which made things more difficult for her.

"That's not really fair," she muttered as his tongue made her lose concentration once again, but he lifted one finger to her lips.

"No talking," he whispered, grinning up at her, and then he gave up on waiting and pulled his pants the rest of the way off.

She dug her hands into the soft earth around them, and he dug his into her shoulders, when she felt him inside her. He pulled one hand free for a moment and undid her hair. "Pretty," he said.

"No talking," she murmured back, dipping her head to meet his. Her freed hair fell in a blond curtain around his face, sealing them together in the moment of quiet.