A/N: *sniff sniff* Last chapter...
"You are the strength that keeps me walking. You are the hope that keeps me trusting. You are the light to my soul. You are my purpose, you're everything."- Lifehouse
Chapter ??: Magic
Cid gave the bottom of his sweater a firm tug and licked his lips. Behind his wire-rimmed glasses his eyes were cast downward, inspecting some unimportant facet of his desk. The skin covering his knuckles was pulled tight and quickly turning an unhealthy shade of white as his hand wrapped around a stubby pencil, the end of which had been long chewed on.
"Quistis." He finally managed to choke out her name. Ignoring the now dull pain in her shoulder, she straightened out her back. The action pulled slightly at the scar tissue where her stitches had been. She remembered little of the trip back to Garden. Certainly, she didn't remember how Seifer had acted in the time, although she was assured that he'd become increasingly difficult to deal with. He'd even refused to leave her side, offered his own blood for a transfusion.
"Sir," she barked, feeling a shutter race through her body. Her hair was pulled harshly back, and her glasses sat upon her nose. The SeeD uniform she wore was spotless, groomed with a fine-toothed comb.
"I'm sure you've learned the news by now," Cid announced, dragging his gaze up from glossy top of his oak desk.
"I have," she nodded.
Krik had been executed as a spy. Galbadia had taken their sweet time releasing the information regarding Krik's demise, and it was evident that the actual event wasn't hindered in the least by bureaucracy. His punishment had been delivered swiftly and without pause for reconsideration. Whether he had divulged any information or not was still under scrutiny.
The war itself had settled in the months following Quistis' injury which took her out of battle. Seifer had been dispatched into the depths of Galbadia, his work being particularly efficient considering his desire to finish the mission at hand and return to Garden as soon as possible. However, tension was still high in the area. Timber and Dollet, unable to take the financial burden of SeeD any longer, had dissolved their contract with Garden and were fighting off the still restless Galbadians with their own forces.
"Krik was a good man," Cid nodded, dropping the pencil to bury his hands in his pockets. "Not the kind who stood out in a crowd, but a good man nonetheless."
"Yes, he was," she agreed.
Cid paused, taking a moment to scratch the top of his head with his free hand.
"I suppose you know why I called you here today," he finally said, letting out a long breath.
"I have an idea," she shrugged.
"Considering the injury you suffered while returning to Garden, I felt it was best not to impose this upon you until you were well again," he replied.
Quistis frowned. People had been using her injury as an excuse to do, or not do, all sorts of things. Not that she completely minded some of them. Seifer had been especially attentive. It was a whole new feeling to have someone who really cared about her in times of need. She was sure that he loved her now as much, if not more, than he'd hated her in the past. She could never be sure of that, but she no longer felt the insatiable need to question him about it. If he suddenly had a turn of feelings, she was sure that he wouldn't hesitate to tell her. If Seifer was anything, he was honest.
"Yes, Sir," she nodded.
Cid motioned toward a plush chair across from his desk. She obediently perched on the edge of it, her knees clasped tightly together and her hands resting on top of them. The room was filled with tension, thick enough that whenever Cid talked it seemed to spider web and crack like sheer ice on a pond.
"We keep finding ourselves here, don't we, Miss Trepe?" he asked as he too sat down. His humor was dry and unappreciated.
"I suppose so," she replied, not even pretending to be amused by the comment.
Cid cleared his throat, reminding her of so many times in the past when he'd had to deliver bad news upon her. He was the reigning legislative body in Garden, but with Quistis he lost all of his bravado. She supposed that was because Edea had been her surrogate mother for years; she was practically his daughter. At the same time, she was his employee, and he was her superior officer. Only recently had she found out how difficult the burden of leader could be to bare.
"When you were sent off on your mission," he started, "you were promised a promotion if you were able to prove your leadership skills. Although I realize now the incredible scope of the mission, you have to understand that in light of the outcome, I cannot possibly grant you that promotion."
They were the words Quistis had been dreading for so long. She'd lost her battle, would probably never be an instructor again.
"It isn't that I don't respect your skills, Quistis," he said, leaning across the desk with a pained look in his eyes. "However, with Krik's death and the attack on Balamb...I don't have any ground on which I could justify giving you such a placement."
"Yes, Sir," she nodded, looking down at her hands to see if they were shaking. She'd given up on becoming an instructor the moment the missiles went over Dollet on their way to Balamb. Hearing the words out loud solidified everything, but she was surprised how little it seemed to hurt her. Filling her lungs, she waited for the sting of failure to ring through her body.
"I'm sorry," he shook his head. "I wish I had some good news for you."
"Is that all?" she asked, realizing she sounded harsh asking him if he were finished, but wanting to move on in the discussion before her determination folded in upon itself.
"I don't have any more life changing information for you, if that's what you mean," he shrugged.
"Then perhaps I could provide you with some," she replied.
"Oh?" He tilted his head, and she could tell that she had caught him off-guard.
"In light of my massive failure, my injury, and the changes that have taken place in my personal life," she began, her muscles stiff with resolve, "I have decided that SeeD is no longer something I can place in my future."
She was sure that Cid's jaw would have dropped had he not been resting it in the palm of his hand. Once he opened his mouth to give a reply. Apparently finding himself at a lack of what to say, he closed it again.
"If this is because you're not going to be an instructor again..." he started.
"Not at all," she shook her head firmly, needing him to understand her reasons for resigning. "I just finally came to the realization that I don't want to be a mercenary for the rest of my life. There are so many other things that I want to do, and SeeD just doesn't fit me anymore."
"Should I be expecting a similar announcement from Seifer?" he asked, arching an eyebrow. Everyone in Garden knew about them, and those who didn't certainly had their suspicions. While Quistis and Seifer weren't yet publicly a couple, they weren't often without one another. They weren't like Squall and Rinoa who fit like matched puzzle pieces. Quistis and Seifer had to chisel away at themselves in order to fit, and Quistis wasn't yet sure that he was the right one for her. There was still that one thing that she was waiting for - that magic.
"I haven't discussed it with him," she announced. In reality, she'd still held out hope that someone would smile down upon her and she would regain her former position as an instructor. The moment that the rejection had left Cid's mouth, she knew that her resignation was written in stone. Had she gotten the promotion, she would have been torn at what to do, and the single obvious course of action was something that she was grateful for.
"You've filled out the paperwork?" Cid sighed, leaning back in his chair to rest his hands on his curved belly.
"I have," she nodded.
"And if you had gotten the position?"
Quistis hesitated before answering.
"I can't say that it would have changed my mind," she replied slowly, methodically. She didn't want him to misunderstand her. She wasn't rejecting SeeD, and she wasn't exactly running from her failure; she was moving on.
"You may continue to live in the dorms until you find somewhere to stay," he announced, calling forth the headmaster air that so often failed him in her presence. "Your uniform and paperwork can be given to Xu."
"Thank you." She stood up and brushed down the wrinkles sitting had created in her skirt.
"SeeD will miss you, Quistis," he said, emotion bleeding into his voice. "You are an excellent SeeD."
She smiled, knowing that she would miss Garden. For so many years, the life of a SeeD was all she had known. Going out into the world without the veil of the institution over her head was a slightly intimidating prospect. At the same time, it was fresh and exciting.
"Thank you again, Sir," she bowed her head a little, allowing a loose piece of hair to fall into her eyes.
"Cid," he corrected her with a low grin.
Quistis stood in front of her bathroom mirror and stared through a window she'd made in the steam with one fisted hand at the long scar running along the front of her shoulder. In retrospect, she knew that she had been lucky that the soldier's sword hadn't torn any major tendons or hit any arteries. In fact, all things considered, the damage he'd done was minimal. The scar was a minor thing to have to deal with, but she couldn't help but feel animosity toward the mark.
Peeling her eyes off the image of her new self, she quickly pulled on some clothes. Her SeeD uniform, which was carefully folded and laying on her bed stared up at her when she walked out of the bathroom. She was already regretting the decision she had made in the Headmaster's office early that morning. Seifer was anything but a permanent fixture in her life, and she didn't like to think of where she would end up without SeeD if he left her.
Mindlessly slipping on a pair of sandals, she walked over to the uniform. It had single-handedly represented her entire life. After parting ways with her adoptive family, SeeD had been her major life goal. When she'd finally got her uniform, it had taken her over. Although she still distinctly remembered laying in Dr. Kadowaki's infirmary, blood gurgling out of the gaping hole in her shoulder. It was during that time that she had decided SeeD was no longer for her. For as far back as she could see, it had brought her dull misery.
Presently, she thought of the good things it had brought her. Not among the least was friends like Selphie and Zell. SeeD had brought her to Seifer and showed her the world. None of those things, however, were ones that she had to give up; and she was ever more feeling the desire to settle.
Her hand clasped tightly around her hairbrush as she combed through her lanky, wet hair. It began to dry quickly in the dry, Garden air, curling slightly on the ends. He would be expecting her soon, and she didn't wait for it to dry completely before she found herself stepping out of her dorm room and into the brightly lit hallway. People rushed by on either side of her in a blur of silver and gray, black and gold.
"Hi, Quistis," one of them smiled as he went by, a SeeD whom she assumed had once upon a time been a Trepie. Their adolescent cult to her had mostly disbanded, as most of its members had moved on to bigger and better things. There were still a few individuals who were frighteningly, and even obsessively, devoted to her. She wasn't yet sure how she felt about that.
The floor echoed voices back and around her, filling her deep with the rhythmic heartbeat of Garden. Silence would never be quite the same.
She walked in in somewhat of a daze, not really remembering all of her trip to the Training Center once she got there. He was standing just inside the doors in the shade of a tall, faux tree. His wide shoulders filled the back of his gray trench coat and his head was leaned slightly back, making his honey, blonde hair brush the collar.
He turned when he heard the door shut, his eyes a deep, sandy aqua. They met her own with the sort of wild, animalistic adoration that never ceased to thrill her. A slow, sexy grin spread across his lips and with a lithe turn, he walked toward her.
"Hi," he smiled, taking her hand in his grip. He wasn't wearing his gloves, which surprised her. They were practically an extension of his body, and he never was without them in the training center. His gunblade hung heavy as his waist, foreboding and full of sheer strength.
"Hi," she offered him a small smile, and he leaned over to press a quick kiss to the corner of her mouth. She had to admit, she'd never imagined Seifer as a generous man. With his affection, which he seemed to have in spades concerning her, he was more openly giving than anyone Quistis had ever met. He never let her out of his site without some sign of the way he felt, whether it was a long kiss or just a casual smile.
Together, they started through the tropical terrain of the Training Center. Leaves and twigs crunched under Quistis' sandals, filling the easy silence between them with the sound of their paced footsteps.
"How was your meeting with the Headmaster?" he asked.
"Alright," she shrugged. "He can't make me an instructor again."
"That's okay," he said, squeezing her hand to reassure her. "There are better things than being an instructor."
"Actually, I'm not as upset as I thought I'd be," she announced, looking up at him. "It's ruled my life for so long, I sort of feel good now that it's gone."
"Oh." He seemed surprised, and paused for a moment to chew over what she'd said. "You've changed a lot since we left on that mission together," he announced as they neared the secret area.
"Me?" she laughed. "How about you? When we left you did all you could to torment me. You were bitter, and hard."
"And now?" he rose an eyebrow.
"I think now you're finally starting to heal," she replied, knowing all the while how stupid she sounded but also knowing that it was exactly what she wanted to say. She'd never even noticed how broken Seifer had been until he started to slowly mend. She suspected that he'd never known anything like what they had together - or, at least, what she thought they had. Seifer had seen much of what was terrible about the world and so little of what was wonderful. She wanted to bring out the Seifer who hid behind the bitter wall of resentment and anger.
"I suppose that's true," he laughed, motioning for her to enter the secret area ahead of him. She did, and was immediately enveloped with the heady scent of the warm, night air. The sky above was studded with stars and sewn together with one soft, satin ribbon.
"I resigned from SeeD this morning," she announced, letting the words tumble from her mouth without warning.
"You did?" Seifer was suddenly behind her. "Why?"
"I don't want to be fighting wars when I'm 30," she announced. "I don't want to really start into life when I'm forced into retirement. I want to move on, Seifer...start something new."
"Like what?" He came around to the front of her now and stared down into her eyes. It was almost hard for her to choke out the words as she looked up at him. In all of her memory, she couldn't remember ever seeing Seifer cry. As he carried her, bloody and weak, to Ragnarok she'd looked up to see tears in his frightened eyes. That had been the most sobering experience of her life, and seeing him dissolve before her eyes had broken things within her she didn't even realize she had. Presently, as she looked up into those same eyes, she remembered the way he'd sobbed for her, and she wanted to give him everything.
"A home, a family," she smiled a little.
Seifer blinked a few times, then brought up a hand to run his fingers through her hair.
"Am I a part of this vision?" he asked, resting his forehead against hers. Without waiting for her response, he leaned in and kissed her. His lips were soft against hers and it became a slow, emotion laden kiss that radiated through all of her senses. As he touched her, even so simply, his presence filled her and fit into every hollow and groove. The world melted away, leaving only them, and time came to a winding stop.
Quistis felt her body tremble and a flood in her head. In that moment, they fit. She and Seifer were one entity, and it fed her soul, bolstered her strength. He was everything, and this was it - this was magic.
By the time Seifer pulled away to hear the answer to his question, Quistis almost couldn't remember what it had been. She found, however, that she didn't need to remember. She nuzzled her face close to his and buried her fingers deep within the sun-spun gold of his hair, shaking and tingling with what she was feeling.
"I love you," she whispered, her lips grazing his ear.
He let out a long sigh and gathered her up in his strong arms. His embrace was warm and gentle, yet firm. There was no place she felt safer than locked in Seifer's embrace. She could almost see the road ahead of them, a blissful winding ribbon of everything she had ever dared to dream of. She'd found her knight, and in the most unlikely of places.
"I love you, too." His voice curled with emotion, a dam somewhere within him breaking. She felt his hot tears first on her neck as they trailed down to her shoulder. The second time she'd ever seen Seifer cry, but this time it was a wonderful thing.
He kissed her again, tasting sweet with the salt of his joy, and she knew for certain that the wait was over. Seifer was part of her - part of her destiny - and a deep, shimmering magic that twined through their very souls into eternity.