A/N: Hello all. Yes, I'm finally done with this piece of fanfiction. Sorry I took so long, but work was eating up my brain and I was being exceptionally picky about this last chapter... there are segments which I wrestled with and which, even now, still refuse to be 'correct'. Blarrgh. I do hope you'll still enjoy it, and at least drop me a long constructive review even if you don't. Arigatou gozaimasu for all your support! -bows- This won't be the last FF8 fic I ever write, not when Seifer and Quistis have taken up permanent residence in my heart...
lessons in ineloquence
#08: f i n e
Winhill had always irked Seifer. The place bored him to death all the time. It was filled with people who spent their days painting scenery and staring out windows, waiting for the time to pass because there was nothing to be done around. The air was always thick with flower fragrance and every single old lady he stopped to interrogate (for there were barely any young people) wanted him to compliment their flower arrangements. Each of these old ladies had a penchant for sighing about the recent influx of people into Winhill, and they made a point on remarking on Seifer's not-too-friendly appearance. By the sixth interview, he could barely restrain himself from picking up a vase of sunflowers and dashing it onto the floor, just to see how the lady's expression would look like.
The restoration project had worked somewhat, he supposed – there were more people – mostly SeeDs who gawked at the sight of him and then ran and hid while he stormed towards them to inquire of Quistis Trepe's whereabouts. There were more buildings, more kids – the hotel rooms were occupied, for once, and the café looked livelier, didn't look as though it were on the verge of collapse anymore.
Seifer was mentally half cursing and half thanking the heavens that Winhill was such a tiny area when he finally reached the cliff that overlooked the lake. The activity over on the other side was the most bustling – apparently the authorities were thinking of building some sort of lakeside resort here in Winhill to attrack tourists. One the cliffside, though, it was still empty and quiet enough to watch and feel the wind in your hair in peace. This was what Quistis Trepe seemed to be doing at the moment, sitting on one of the wooden steps that were part of the stairway that led you to the bank.
"Hello, Quistis," Seifer spoke quietly.
She turned and stared, wearing an expression of radiant astonishment that he was sure had never surfaced on her face before. Then her features spread into a smile.
The wind was blowing tousled strands of hair across her lips, eyes, cheeks; he realized that her bun was much looser than usual. Otherwise, she didn't look that much different from when they had last seen each other in his dormitory – but no - she was different somehow. He couldn't quite place it – unless he was very much mistaken, she looked peculiarly like – like Rinoa – she looked free –
"It's been a long time..."
- it took his breath away.
Quistis nodded up at him, patting the space next to her. "Come over here."
He obeyed, his boots thudding loudly and in a grumpy manner on creaky wooden stairs. He reached the step above hers, but didn't sit immediately. "This whole 'holiday' thing was your own stupid idea, wasn't it?"
"Perceptive as always, Seifer. Did you realize from the beginning?"
"Not really..." He was staring down at her fiercely. "What's with you? Why do you always have to test me?"
It was with a matter-of-fact tone that Quistis replied, "Because I really, really wanted to see you. And I didn't want you thinking that I was being whiny and needy all over again. I wanted to see you - if you really wanted to see me." She laughed wryly. "I have my moments of insecurity, you know."
Ther was a long pause before Seifer said gruffly, "That's a total understatement" and sank down heavily – as though his legs could no longer support him - into the space next to her.
Warmth surged through Quistis. He seemed overwhelmed; he didn't meet her eyes; only stared into the distance with that same semi-angry expression as though he was crossed with whatever lay on the other shore. An odd silence hung between them, and Quistis took the time to examine Seifer's side-profile. He didn't look any different, of course. Did she look different? She hoped so, hoped that he could see that she couldn't keep a smile off her face at the moment.
Quistis cleared her throat. "I forget my manners, don't I? ...How have you been?"
"Great, of course. Nothing daunts me."
She raised an eyebrow, her lip twitching in laughter. "Nothing? Not even the fact that your SeeD rank has dropped to nearly zero for misbehaviour and showing off? I've been hearing many things about you from Selphie."
He rounded on her. "Is this all about insulting me every chance you get again?"
"Wrong, mister," Quistis replied breezily. How she had missed their… conversations…! "Actually, I need a shopping companion – an escort of sorts - to Deling. I need something to wear to Squall and Rinoa's engagement party. I figured you'd be a good consultant, since you have so much experience with ladies."
"What an excuse. Fujin's not much of a lady, you know..." He fixed her with a hard gaze. "You aren't bothered?"
"The engagement party." Flowers bloomed everywhere in Winhill, Seifer noted, much to his annoyance; they even sprouted from the black rocks around them that framed the lake.
"Oh. Of course not."
"I'm thrilled with your level of confidence in me, Seifer."
"You know I have a damn good reason to wonder."
She crossed her legs. "You're probably right. It was really difficult for me when I first came here," she added softly, almost like an afterthought. "I did a bit of snooping around in my spare time when I was here, and I found out that this place's where Squall was born."
Seifer rolled his eyes, though his voice was serious. "I think I know what's coming."
"Are you going to listen to me or not?" Quistis demanded in indignance, but Seifer could tell that she was only half-annoyed. He threw her a look of utmost carelessness. In response she straightened, shot him a glare, folded her hands across her lap in a holier-than-thou position – on purpose, Seifer knew – and continued. "I came here, determined to kick the habit of thinking about Squall and being in love with him, and here I was, surrounded by bits and pieces of things that would bring him to mind... I was frightened, and I wanted to back out."
The pretentious, prim tone had slipped out of her voice.
"And then I thought of you, Seifer. The way you never did back out, even when you were scared... Some old sage who said that it's choices which define who we are was probably right. Sometimes our feelings and our decisions can lie in separate spheres."
Seifer snorted in slight derision. "Philosophy again."
Quistis shrugged. "So… I stayed on. Time and distance from Squall, from you, did me a lot of good. I was able to settle down and re-organize everything inside me, sort out how I really felt..." She looked at him. "You changed me, Seifer. Did you think you didn't? You're as unconfident as ever."
"And you were too damn confident," he said quietly, "so confident that every little thing shattered you, and over time it happened so much that nobody knew..."
Below them, gentle sun rays lured an old man to sleep. He lay almost spread-eagled on the tiny platform built on the water, meant for the rare fishing-hobbyists that resided amongst Winhill's already pathetically-tiny population. The book propped open on his belly turned pages in the cool, faintly-scented breeze.
"When Selphie informed me of the engagement, I called up Rinoa immediately and congratulated them over the phone. And then I felt so free... I waited for as long as I could until I – well - sent for you, you know? It could have driven me crazy."
A bitter smirk. "So I'm the rebound?"
"You really like to put things in the most unpleasant way possible, Seifer. Not an idealist, are you?"
"Yeah. Not anymore."
"We'd make a fine couple, though..."
"Perpetually bickering? Sounds fun."
"That's part of our charm, isn't it? It'd be scary. We probably wouldn't be blissfully happy 24/7. But then it'd be exciting. With a lot of bing boom bam. We might turn Balamb Garden upside-down. Wouldn't you like to try? Even a little?"
"You realize how bloody ironic this is, Quistis? You were the one who rejected me outright first, and now you're the one making the proposal. What if I don't want to, huh?"
It felt chilly all of a sudden, but Quistis managed to keep her voice light. "I would seriously consider setting Ifrit on your room. Or bribing Cid to bring you down to SeeD Rank zero and expelling you from Garden. Find some way to make beer prices soar… Seriously speaking, Seifer, I don't know. Are you asking me what I'll do if you turn me away? Guess what, Seifer – that thought's never really occurred to me. But goodness knows I completely deserve it. My behaviour was deplorable and I know it."
She paused to look at him directly in the eyes. "And what can I do other than get on with it? You tell me."
That blue gaze wasn't wavering anymore. It was true. She was true. He leant back suddenly against the steps, dropping all his weight on them as though he had been sucked dry of all strength – he did feel so. Like before, another strange wave of sensation, akin to relief, washed and overpowered him.
"Fine, I accept," he growled, putting an arm over his eyes. "I don't have a choice, do I? You never gave me a choice, woman."
"You don't have to make me sound like a tyrant when you're really one yourself," she returned. He could hear the laughter in her voice, barely suppressed. He felt the same way himself.
The old man below them hadn't stirred from his sleep. He was snoring, his mouth so wide open that he looked ready to swallow the entire sky. Across the lake, Quistis espied a number of people dragging out a boat and fitting it with sails. She should have been down there long ago as part of that cohort, offering suggestions for the boat's name and giving instructions… but she wouldn't have missed Seifer – no – Seifer-and-Quistis - for the world.
He was just what the doctor ordered, wasn't he? Practically speaking (for Quistis was really quite fond of practicality), they fit. He needed her to toe him in line, didn't he? And she needed him for his daily, less-than-comforting words of truth. She had missed them, missed him, him who knew her too well,with an intensity she knew she had never experienced, had never known she was capable of. They were a match made in heaven, that joyful realm which a certain sleeping old man below seemed so ready to devour right now.
"...Whatcha smiling for?"
"People smile when they're happy, Seifer... or didn't they teach you that in grade school? And I was just thinking that you'd have to live off me, since I'm a SeeD rank S millionairess and you're..."
He straightened. "SHUT UP."
"Gladly." The laughter broke free from Quistis, mirthful, inhibited; it loosed itself on the wind as she leant in for a kiss, the gleam in his eyes exactly reflecting that in hers.
of the beginning)