The Exchange
Part II
By Aerika S.


"It looks awfully crowded in there. Maybe we should have stayed at Rinoa's party."

"Please, I'm the president of Esthar. I can get a table in a busy restaurant."

"Yes, Esthar - a secluded city-state that has deliberately eschewed international affairs for the past several decades and thus remains unknown to most of the world's populous."

"One - that's changing. Two - I have a way with people."

"So you've told me."

"Just wait. And watch."

...

"There, Quistis, a table for two. Just follow the nice waiter."

"That was easy."

"Must I repeat myself? A way...with people...how I seem to have one?"

"And the hundred gil you palmed him?"

"That would be where being president of Esthar comes in. I'm rich."

"Aren't you just a complete package."

"Why? Are you shopping?"

"Ahem. So, anyway...quite an impressive wine list they have here."

"Sorry about the shopping bit. It can be a little hard to tell with you when it's okay to ask personal questions."

"That was more an inappropriate remark than a question. Tell me, President Loire, do you always hit on women over half you age?"

"La-GOO-na. Come on, I've heard you say once already."

"All right. Tell me, La-GOON-a, do you always hit on women over half your age?"

"That would have been rather problematic when I was eighteen."

"You can be so frustrating, you know."

"Is that why you're laughing? It could be worse; I haven't always been this suave with women."

"Dear gods, you consider this suave?"

"Like I said, it's been a lot worse than this."

"Yes, Selphie mentioned something about getting leg cramps when you first went to talk to Julia."

"Ellone showed you THAT?"

"No, I wasn't there for that one. It seems like I'm catching payback for that now though."
"I remember how it was with Raine. We'd just stand there 'umming' and 'ahhing' between in-depth discussions of the weather and Winhill gossip. Kiros would be off to the side shaking his head in disgust while Ellone would have this big smile on her face. It was all pretty damn pathetic."

"You were friends first, right? It can be hard to make that transition."

"Well, it started out as dedicated nurse and really annoying patient. I've always had kind of this wanderlust and staying in bed for months at a time was driving me insane. She was so patient though. No matter how much I complained, no matter how many times a tried to get up, she'd stuff me back into bed and read me the newspaper, put on some music, or even just sit there and tell me about her day - whatever it took to calm me down. I was such a pain in the ass. To this day, I don't know how she put up with me. But that's just how Raine was."

"She sounds like a very compassionate woman."

"Yeah, and you should have seen her with Ellone. She was like a mother, big sister and best friend all rolled into one. Ellone used to tease her about the two of us and Raine would get all flushed and embarrassed. The one time she caught me listening in on them, Raine's face got so red, Ellone thought she was going to be sick. I was kinda worried myself."

"Serves you right for eavesdropping."

"Just part of the whole middle school vibe we had. I mean I had served in the army and jumped off a giant cliff and she had tended to every little broken bone in my body and we were still too scared and shy to say anything to each other."

"Maybe you should have had Kiros pass her a note."

"You kid, but I did actually write her a letter. It was probably the most inarticulate thing ever put to paper. I fancy myself a bit of a writer but all I could do is write some vague platitudes like 'you mean a lot to me' and 'I care about you'. As I said, pathetic."

"Look, I know you and Julia Heartilly had a...thing, and excuse me if I'm being presumptuous, but do you think the awkwardness with Raine was because she was the first woman you really loved?"

"No...I mean no, you're not being presumptuous. And you're right about Raine. I dated women before that, but nothing serious. Even with Julia, we just never had a chance to get to that point. I admired her from afar for long enough, but we only actually had one night where we really talked and connected. I got transferred a few days after that and there were phone calls and letters, but then I lemminged off that cliff and that was it. I never really knew her, not like I knew Raine."

"So when did you and Raine finally admit to each other how you felt?"

"That's just it. In the end, we didn't have to. It was like we both decided at the same time to drop all the stupid, nervous crap and just be together. We just...came together naturally. That's how everything was with Raine after that - natural."

"You two were on the same wavelength, huh?"

"Yeah, we became one of those annoying couples that always finish each other sentences or can have entire conversation just by looking at each other. We always knew what the other one was thinking. It was harder than hell to surprise her. Got her pretty good when I gave her the ring though."

"Engagement ring?"

"Wedding and engagement. I was working a little by then - monster patrol with Kiros and the occasional article I managed to sell to a local magazine - but I wasn't exactly rolling in the dough so I found these simple wedding bands. Raine wouldn't have liked anything fancy anyway. She was way too down to earth to go in for a ton of gold and diamonds. She liked things simple. For her, it really was the thought that mattered. Anyway, one of the articles I wrote drew some attention and the magazine wanted me to do a follow up feature, but I had to go out of town for awhile to research it. So the night before I left, I took her to the field we used to go for picnics and stuff. She had this big, bulky sweater on but she was still complaining about how cold it was so a turned to her with the ring in my hand and asked her if she thought this might keep her warm. Gods, the look on her face...Then I showed that I already had mine on and she just sorta collapsed into my arms like the moment was too much for her. Then I looked into those eyes of hers...Hey, I'm the one who's reminiscing, why are you crying?"

"I'm not. It's just...I mean, I know how everything turned out..."

"Yeah. When I was gone, some men from Esthar came and took Ellone away. So when I came back, we only had a little time together before I left again to go after Ellone. I had no idea Raine was pregnant then."

"Would you have stayed if you had known?"

"I don't know. I really don't. When I found out she had died, I kept asking myself the same thing. What if I had stayed, what if I had taken her with me, what if I had come back sooner? Let me tell you something, Quistis. You cannot beat yourself to death with what ifs. They don't change a damn thing and they will drag you down."

"Sounds like you speak from experience."

"One of our old neighbors had taken in Squall for a little bit, but she couldn't afford to keep him. Turned out she knew Edea Kramer. She didn't have the orphanage that you grew up in yet, but she had a few kids already so she added Squall to the group."

"You knew Edea had Squall?"

"How do you think Ellone got from Esthar to Edea's orphanage? I was a wreck back then, Quistis. I blamed myself for everything that happened - a part of me still does - and I didn't think I was much good for anything. Ellone couldn't even bring me out my depression. To top it off, whatever Odine did to her in Esthar had done something to that power of hers and she was having problems with that. I didn't have a clue what to do. Ward and Kiros finally took over and tracked down Edea for me."

"It didn't work out like they thought it would, did it."

"No. When I saw Squall, he was about three months old. Edea was holding him and he had a bunch of her hair in his hand. That was all he was interested in, he wouldn't even look at me. Why would he? He knew Edea, he had no idea who I was."

"So you thought he'd be better off with her."

"I didn't know anything about kids. I could hardly take of myself then. He had already bonded with Edea. Believe me, I had a million reasons for it back then. When I saw how Edea was also helping Ellone with her power, that just sealed it for me."

"Matron and Cid Kramer are wonderful people. My childhood memories are still a little hazy, but everything I do remember is warm and loving. They were very good to us."

"I know. And thanks for trying to make me feel better about my choice, but I came to terms with that a long time ago. I know Ellone and Squall have had problems because of it, but whose to say what kind of life they would have had in Esthar? Like I said, you can't play what if. You gotta except the past and try to move on. Do I regret giving them up? Yeah, I do. But all I can do now is try to find a way to be part of Squall's life."

"I'm sure Squall will let you in one day. If you could explain to him like you did to me, he might understand. Ellone obviously does."

"Well, the few times I've talked to Squall, he didn't really seem angry or anything, just indifferent."

"Hey, he didn't just get to know Raine during those trips to the past. He got to know you too."

"And you think he liked what he saw."

"I've been impressed so far."

"You must think I'm being silly now, spilling my guts out to you"

"Not really. When you were hitting on me, on the other hand..."

"Look, I was just playing around with you. I thought we had a good rapport; I guess I got a little carried away."

"I was going to say I didn't think you were being silly even then."

"You're a surprising one, Quistis Trepe."

"Do you like surprises?"

"I've liked this one just fine. To think, I was planning on spending the evening hanging around a bunch of teenagers with a fake smile plastered on my face."

"Heeey, that was how I planned on spending my evening."

"Don't fit into that target demographic. You are mature for your age."

"I would have said you're immature for yours, but you've shown me a whole different side of yourself."

"Don't tell anyone, I have a reputation to uphold too."

"You keep my secret, I'll keep yours."

"Agreed. You know, Quistis, I really have enjoyed talking with you, dredging up the painful past included."

"I'm glad you opened up to me. Everyone sees me as the serious instructor. People usually only come to me with physics problems."

"Their loss. But, um, what do you know about political problems? Say there's this secluded city-state that wants to get reinvolved in world affairs..."


Author's Notes -
When I wrote the first part of The Exchange, I really had no intention of continuing it. But there seemed to be a (very small) demand to keep it going and hey, I'm a sucker for faint praise. I luuuv writing dialogue, so I'm considering retitling this story to Exchanges and keeping it going with conversations between other FF8 characters. Let me know what you think. Hell, I might even take requests.
Hopefully, I managed to dig a little deeper into Laguna and Quistis. I'm not sure about them as a couple or anything, but they do seem to play well off each other, don't they?