Xystus (Tree-lined Road)

The train had been out of the Balamb for half an hour before Quistis finally tracked Seifer to a location within the confines of the Timber train. It was irritating that he'd managed to dodge her for as long as he had, playing hide-and-seek with her between the empty cabins and compartments. It was only the headmaster's admonishment to keep a low profile that kept Quistis from blasting Seifer with a sleep spell and dragging him into a securable cabin until she could take him back to Garden.

"I see you've finally given up," she called out as she approached him, the corridor devoid of other passengers. Seifer was leaning against the windowsill, staring out of one of the large, square windows that the train boasted. At the sound of her voice, he tore his eyes away from hypnotic sights they passed and turned them onto her.

"Well, there's really nothing you can do to me now," he pointed out. The still-new scar that slashed across his forehead stood out starkly against his pale hair and fair skin.

"I'm taking you back to Garden."

"Not until we get to Timber, you're not," Seifer said, nodding toward the window. "Unless you can hold your breath underwater -- for a very long time."

Quistis came to a rest within arm's length of him, mimicking his relaxed posture. Her eyes wandered from his closed expression over his gray-clad arms until they slid across the cool glass of the window that separated them from the blue-green water that surrounded the train. While she knew that strong Estharian-made materials comprised the outer shell of the underwater tunnel and that it had already endured over two decades worth of use, it was still unnerving to see that they were traveling miles under the sea's surface.

Something about his flip attitude in the face of what he'd done made Quistis' anger flare into life. "Of all the stupid, idiotic things you could have possibly done, this had to be the most unbelievable. What possessed you to do it?"

"What? Break out of the disciplinary room?"

"Yes, of course! Not to mention running off like this!" She watched him, waiting for an answer, incredibility in the surprised lines of her face.

"I told you why when they brought you in there to "talk some sense to me," don't you remember?" he asked, restlessly shifting his weight where he stood.

"What? Are you trying to tell me that this all about Squall?" Quistis shook her head in disbelief. "Nice try but I doubt you'd risk this kind of serious chastisement because you're worried about Squall and Zell and Selphie being on their mission alone."

"Who said I was worried about them? I don't give a damn what happens to them personally."

Quistis frowned at him. "But you just said..."

"What I said, Instructor, was that three rookie SeeDs on this mission were very likely to get themselves killed instead of completing it." Seifer gave her a disgusted look, as if he couldn't believe she didn't understand before he'd explained it. "It's the mission I'm worried about."

"Since when did you become a believer in the Timber Independence Movement?" Qusitis asked dryly. "I know you spent some of your leave here last summer, but really..."

"It's not that, either," he cut her off. He stared down at his hands, concentrating on them instead of Quistis's face as he spoke. "It's -- the client. I promised I'd help her and then you send a bunch of green rookies."

Comprehension dawned and Quistis's face darkened. "That girl," she said, more to herself than anyone. "The one Squall danced with, that was speaking to the headmaster last evening. I heard her asking around for you last night, at the ball."

"Her name's Rinoa," Seifer told her, his own face darkening as he added, "She was dancing with Puberty Boy?"

"A girl," Quistis repeated, irritation and disbelief and something like injury all touching the edges of her tone. "You risked all this for some...some girl?"

"No, Trepe, it's not about a girl," he sneered. He turned until they were almost nose-to-nose. "It's about keeping my promise and doing what I said I would and maybe doing something noble for once. I made a promise and just because you SeeD screwed it up doesn't mean that Rinoa should suffer."

He knew it was stupid, that it didn't even make sense to him but Seifer knew that he needed to be there -- in Timber, fighting with Rinoa and, yes, even his former fellow cadets. It was all a jumble of headstrong conviction and gut instinct inside of him and nothing could put it into words that he could make Quistis understand.

"Oh, I see," Quistis's voice was icy, cutting through the quiet with piercing precision. "Pardon me, but I didn't realize that you'd become such a honorable person. I guess a great deal has changed that I wasn't aware of."

Seifer made a frustrated sound deep in his throat and ran an agitated hand through his hair. "It's about keeping Rinoa and her people and your precious Squall from getting massacred by the Galbadian Army when they try to kidnap Deling in a few hours!"

"Seifer!" she hissed, eyes wide and much too stricken, he thought, for a veteran SeeD. "You're not...serious, are you?"

"As a heart attack," he swore, pale eyes glittering with fervor, with the truth of his words. "You've got to help me help them or else it's not going to be pretty for any of them, Trepe. This is bigger than just me breaking a few rules."

"Or a few bones," she said. "They were sending at least two cadets to the Infirmary when I headed out after you."

"Yeah, yeah. But if you don't help me -- don't let me help, this is going to end badly. You have to believe me."

He could see the indecision in her face. "I have my orders, Seifer," she told him sadly. "I'm sorry."

For the first time in a long while, Quistis was the one who walked away, leaving Seifer to stare helplessly at her disappearing back.


End Notes: This is a one-shot in a Seifer/Quistis arc called "Linea," the rest of which is available on my livejournal.