Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters. They all belong to Squaresoft.
Chapter 1: An Announcement
It was sunset at Fisherman's Horizon, where the sunset had to be the most beautiful anywhere in the world. The colors tumbled into each other and melted into the most precious, most vibrant tapestry.
The sole occupant of the empty clean cafeteria did not appreciate the view as he looked out the wall of windows.
It was late. Why hadn't she come back yet? Night was dangerous. Heaven and Hell were dangerous. The combination was near lethal, if you weren't properly equipped. Of course, they'd all stayed there, once upon a time, for nights on end, training and training. But she was alone, and staying there was hardly as necessary as it had been before. He took out his comlink out of his pocket, and dialed her number.
"Yeah?" The greeting was brusque, abrupt.
"Trepe, what are you still doing out?"
An exasperated grunt. "Concentrating," she quipped and cut off the communication.
"She's still out?"
Squall turned to Zell who stood at the palm-tree flanked entrance. "Yeah."
"But it's Heaven and Hell," Zell said, swearing under his breath. "It's been three years. Why can't she just…"
Squall sighed. "It's been easy for us to move on. We have people to come home to, things to anticipate. For Quistis…"
"…There's no one. And nothing, because she refuses to look for other things," Zell sighed. "I don't think she's meant to be alone."
"When Seifer came back two years ago, I thought that maybe…"
Zell looked at his friend in shock. "Seifer? Are you serious? Seifer Almasy?"
"I mean, he's better than before. Heck, I'm even friends with him. But he's rough, abrasive-"
"Which is what Quistis needs. She needs to be the soft one, Zell," Rinoa joined the men at the table, with a soft handclasp as a greeting to Squall. She was about to continue when Squall's comlink blipped.
"Trepe?" he answered.
"Now can you tell me why the hell you had to interrupt a fight with a T-Rexaur to talk to me?" Irritation was evident, and he cringed, and felt glad that he was far away and safe from her.
"I was not aware I had a curfew, Instructor Leonheart," she said sarcastically.
"Not curfew, not rules. Concern. Got it?"
On the other side of the line, Quistis sighed, resigned. "All right I'm going. Where are you now?"
"FH. Be careful."
"She's coming," Squall told the two, who had been watching the exchange with interest.
"She's taken the most impossible, dangerous missions from us. Why? How can you even let her?" Zell asked, exasperated.
Rinoa considered. "She always knew if we were lowballing her in missions, and said so. We tried…and then…well…Quistis loves us, even if she doesn't show it. She wants to protect us. And therefore, she'll fight the battles for us…because she feels that she stands to lose less if she…"
Squall cleared his throat. "I think that's part of it. But I think there's a selfish motivation: I think she wants proof that she can feel, even if it's fear."
They didn't know how the hell she managed to do it, but she amazed them all by showing up in an hour at the gate, riding a baby T-rexaur, muzzled by only her whip.
She jumped off lithely, as if she hadn't spent the past 12 hours drilling herself in combat with the most dangerous beasts on the face of the planet. The baby T looked at her, and then ran away.
"What the hell was that? You could have gotten yourself killed!" Rinoa frowned.
"She's turning into you," Zell said to Squall with a sad note of amusement.
"Nice to see I have a family to come home to," Quistis said, half sarcastically, half appreciatively. If she had been more of a touchy-feely person, she might have even embraced them. But no. "I'm tired. Going to bed."
"She's clammed up," Rinoa remarked after Quistis had left.
"She's also much, much stronger than she ever was before. Did you see how she handled that baby-T?" Zell said with amazement.
She's clammed up. Squall repeated the words to himself as he readied for practice. She was indeed stronger. With all the training exercises, and all her missions, Quistis Trepe could probably whip his ass.
She's turning into you. Zell's words came back accusingly. He hadn't cared enough. It was that simple. If he, or anyone had shown her that she wasn't alone in that crucial time after Ultimecia, she probably would have been a lot more open now. But everyone had been so consumed in his or her own transition, there was no time, no energy to think of others…
Yeah…whatever. Her use of the phrase stung. He remembered when she used to tease him with her prediction of his use of the phrase. Squall laced his boots tightly, and checked his gunblade one more time. He then looked across the gym to where his practice partner entered and tossed aside his trenchcoat.
When Seifer Almasy had come to Balamb Garden two years ago and asked to be readmitted, Cid had worriedly consulted with Squall, hoping that the younger man would be all right with the idea. Squall surprised everyone when he volunteered to personally oversee Seifer's training himself; he'd been toying with the idea of being an instructor ever since he'd resigned as commander. And after Ultimecia, he'd gained in insight and a patience towards people in general that made him want to take a chance with Seifer.
"No catches," he had said to both Cid and Seifer.
Who could blame Cid if he wanted to make sure if Squall was being truthful? Squall even appreciated the presence of Cid in the beginning, to calm down both short-tempered gunblade masters. Eventually, and unexpectedly easily, the two developed a rapport, and Cid decided that he had other duties far more important and interesting than watching two people get along, even if they were amazing to watch.
Seifer had gotten his SeeD mark after six months of training. The night of the celebration, he surrounded himself with friends, the new friends that he had painstakingly made, the very ones that forgave him for his previous misdirection.
All except Quistis, Squall noted. No, Quistis was totally unaware of Instructor Almasy's existence in Balamb Garden. She'd been totally unaware of anything that happened in Garden in general. He wondered if she was even aware that his own wedding to Rinoa was in a few weeks.
Seifer approached Squall now. "Hey, ready to get trounced?"
"In your dreams," Squall threw a complacent grin at Seifer.
The bout was elegant and excellent to watch. Many students loved to watch the gunblade instructors practice with each other and were now trickling in to line the walls of the gym. Squall's was light on his feet, smooth, and his arsenal of gunblade maneuvers allowed for seamless attack. Seifer's creative footwork and his ambidextrousness with the gunblade allowed for colorful, inventive moves. They were equals and, mutually acknowledged, no longer rivals.
The gym door now slammed open, and both gunblade combatants jumped with surprise. The students all looked to the interruption with amazement; no one interrupted the instructor's sparring! An infuriated Quistis Trepe stormed into the gym. The students' eyes widened with the sight of the one heroine who was not ever in Garden. Quistis Trepe!
"Who the fuck do you think you are?" she pushed aside Seifer and walked up to Squall.
She was unarmed, so Squall dropped his weapon immediately. "Quistis…"
"Don't Quistis me," she punched him in the stomach.
Her move was unexpected, quick, and strong. Squall doubled over in pain. Seifer dropped his blade and moved forward to help but Squall gave him a look that said to stay back.
So that's what Quistis Trepe looked like now. Seifer took in the army boots, camouflage pants that sat low on her hips, and black tank top that revealed her sunburned, well-toned arms. Her hair was pulled back severely and pinned into a bun. She looked strict, soulless and unbelievably beautiful.
Seifer had always wondered in the past two years how his former instructor was. In a way, he was disappointed when he found out that she had not resumed her previous post. He had come back to Balamb specifically to continue his studies with her. For all his complaining, she really was the best instructor he could have ever asked for.
He quickly found out that she was a legend: beautiful, intelligent, cold. A-level SeeD, and always out on missions. They said she never even came back; she only called to debrief and be briefed. He heard snippets of her travels from the others, and mad exaggerations of her strength, but even Irvine had admitted that she probably could take Squall now.
And he could believe that, especially now, when she had him a pile at her feet. He was afraid she'd start kicking him soon.
Cid came rushing in.
"What are you talking about?" Squall asked between catching breath.
"You know," she hissed.
"I just told Cid how I thought that you needed a break."
"Yeah, a permanent one," she growled.
"Squall didn't tell Cid to cut you. I did," Edea stepped forward.
Quistis's eyes widened, "Oh." She held out her hand to Squall, and pulled him up, chanting a Cure spell in her clipped words. "Sorry," she said awkwardly.
Seifer wondered if she said it awkwardly because she felt embarrassed, or if she said it awkwardly because she wasn't used to apologizing. Her words were uttered in an abrupt tone, and she'd lost that polish and elegance in speech she used to possess as his instructor.
She then turned to Edea, flustered. "Why?"
"Show's over," Squall said brusquely to the students. "Out."
"Meeting in the conference room in 10 minutes. Squall, get the others," Cid said.
"Seifer, I want you to be there too," Edea added.
It was then that Quistis realized that the person who had been standing next to Squall this whole time was none other than Seifer Almasy. What the hell was he doing here?
She didn't recognize him, and previously her mind had been solely occupied on beating reason into Squall. Seifer's hair was longer now, as long as Squall's, pulled back with a handkerchief band, and mussed up from his practice. But it wasn't the hair that threw her off. It was the whole…aura, which explained why she did not recognize him at all at first. He was relaxed. She looked into his bright emerald eyes for a millisecond and knew he'd totally lost all contempt and hate he'd ever possessed, for anybody, and was at peace.
She was jealous. She turned away, and stalked out of the gym.
Seifer looked after her. Her eyes had gold flecks in them when she was angry. And they weren't blue, like her admirers had claimed. They were purple, and tumultuous, an infusion of moods, like a FH sunset.
She was late, but he expected it. After all, she was pissed off as hell and the last thing she probably wanted to do was to obey orders. Squall looked worriedly at Edea. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
"Don't worry. Everything will be okay."
She said in that same way that she had when he was a little boy, when those four words seemed to just…relax him. And so he took a deep breath, and believed, just for a second, that Quistis Trepe wasn't going to seriously kick some royal ass when she got up here.
Selphie asked, "How is she?"
"Hurt," Squall said softly.
"I should have been there," Zell said.
"We all should have been," Irvine sighed.
The door opened now and everyone lost the pitying look. Quistis would hate it if they pitied her.
She entered with smooth fluid strides. "Hello everyone." She was trying to sound pleasant. After all, she loved these people. Had never forgotten that. But this situation was driving her insane. "Sorry I hadn't gotten to hang out with you guys yet. I got in late last night, and I've been busy with a meeting this morning," she said accusingly, looking at Cid.
"Save it," Edea said. "We've got important things to discuss. Take the empty seat by Seifer." Edea had strategically seated everyone, leaving Seifer to Quistis's left, and Squall to the right, and her and Cid across.
Quistis warily seated herself, considering the man in the trenchcoat at her side contemptuously before focusing her attention back on Edea, who now looked at Cid with gravity. Squall watched her examination with interest, while Seifer played with a loose piece of string on his sleeve.
"We wanted you all to be here because we have something important to tell Quistis, and we think it's best if she had your support," Edea said.
Quistis remained silent.
Edea turned to Quistis. "As you know, after your last mission, we required that you return to Garden, two days ago. We would have told you this yesterday, on your birthday, but you disappeared to play with monsters."
Her birthday. She'd forgotten. Hurrah. I survived another year. She congratulated herself sarcastically. She'd never told the others her birthday. It was an unimportant little detail, like her shoe size or favorite color. So she felt guilty when the room's occupants shifted uncomfortably. "Look, I didn't tell you guys, so I didn't expect you to know. Hell, I even forgot."
"Well that they didn't know your birthday is not the reason we called you all in here," Cid said. "Because you are now 21, you are now your own person. You are not Garden anymore."
Quistis never thought about that. Would they turn her out? Is this what it was all about? But she was one of their best SeeDs!
"Now before you say anything about my decision to take your rank away, Edea and I wanted to let you know something else," Cid said.
Edea softly began. "Quistis, because you are 21, you have also gained legal possession of your name and fortune, which have up to now remained under our charge in secrecy for good reason. You will gain your past, Quistis."
Quistis looked startled. "I wasn't aware that you knew where I came from…I don't even…"
"You were given to us long ago, for protection."
"Your father, Killian Trabia, was an important, wealthy man, as well as one of my closest friends," Cid said.
"Killian Trabia? He founded Trabia Garden," Selphie remarked.
"Yes, when Edea first had her idea for SeeD, we wanted to start right away, but we lacked the funds to do so. Killian and his wife June liked our idea, however, and they founded the first Garden, Trabia Garden, where I first served as Headmaster," Cid said.
Edea continued. "Killian was also the President of Galbadia. He and his wife ruled in peace. They had a daughter, Quistis Trabia, a lovely little girl, with her mother's hair and her father's eyes."
"Trabia was also overthrown fifteen years ago," Squall said tersely.
"Yes, by his best friend, Vinzer Deling. In an effort to save her daughter, June Trabia took Quistis to me, and asked me to keep her safe. Killian and June were killed in an explosion a few days later in the presidential palace. Their daughter was rumored to have been killed in the explosion as well, but her body was never found, and neither were the documents for her fortune and land, which are waiting until this day to be claimed," Edea said.
The room remained silent.
Cid remarked, "Your father and mother were good people, Quistis. They loved you very much, and specifically asked us that we keep your identity a secret until you were 21, when the world, they felt, would be safer, and Vinzer Deling most likely out of power, which has also come true."
"What is so important about Deling?" Squall asked.
"At the time, it was important to Deling to gain funds. His own military campaign was costing a bundle, and he needed the money fast. He therefore pushed a promise his dead wife had once made with June: that Quistis marry his son," Cid said.
"A large dowry…" Irvine mused.
Quistis sat in shock. She had a family, and just as soon lost it again. She lost it because of one man, one sick and twisted man.
"Can we hear more about the promise the two mothers made?" Rinoa asked.
"It was more of a mothers' wish. Kayla was lovely and good, and one of June's closest friends from school. Deling's son and Quistis had been born on the same day. The mothers would always say that it meant that they'd always be together. And they'd always hoped that eventually, the children would find love with each other, and marry," Edea said.
"What happened to the son?" Rinoa asked.
"While Kayla Deling was beautiful, loving, and kind, her husband was not. She married him because she was forced to by her family, and appropriately produced an heir. She was then tossed aside, and died of illness." Edea paused. "Her son absolutely worshipped her, and was devastated with the loss. You see, his father did not love him at all, and only…"
"I can imagine what Vinzer Deling would be like as a father," Selphie shuddered. "No wonder his son ran away."
"He ran away only days after his mother's death. He was eight years old." Edea said. "And hasn't turned up since."
The silence was deafening, and shock permeated the thoughts of all the occupants. Ten minutes ago, Quistis was Quistis, but now she had a history, and a legacy that would become her future.
Quistis was the first to break the silence. "This still doesn't explain why I'm not SeeD."
"My reasons for wanting you off are not related to your legacy, and are the same as Squall's. I am concerned. We all are. You need to relax," Edea said, worriedly.
"So you want me to strut around the world on my trust fund? I don't think so."
"Actually, there may be an option for you elsewhere," Cid said carefully. "Trabia Garden obtained funds two years ago for reconstruction, and has finally been completely restored. It is opening up for classes soon. My friend, Guy Vincent, the headmaster of Trabia Garden, would like to retire before this change; he's getting on in years and feels that learning new things would be a waste of time for him, as he'd only retire in a few years anyhow. He's asked me to recommend some good SeeD to take over the new Trabia…"
"Headmaster?" Quistis asked. "No offense, Cid, but I think I'm a little overqualified to sit around all day and lecture students on behavior."
"There's a lot more to headmaster than that," Cid replied. "You have to confiscate hotdogs too," he joked.
Quistis smiled meekly. Headmaster? "It's an honor, but I'm not sure I can accept."
"What's left for you here, Quistis?" Edea asked. "You aren't SeeD anymore. You're retired, and we won't reconsider. As far as I see, the extent of your abilities here is to join the library committee…"
"I'm not joining the fucking library committee!" she angrily retorted. "No offense," she added grudgingly to Zell, referring to his girlfriend.
"None taken," he grumbled.
"Exactly. So what do you have left?" Edea asked.
"My fucking trust fund."
"And I'll bet you anything that you can get as far as two days before getting bored," Rinoa said. "You've been all over the world, Quistis. What are you going to use your money for?"
Quistis hated being taken down by reason. "I'll join the military. I'm sure the Esthar or Galbadia would take me."
"Don't be too sure. Laguna has ties…" Squall said stiffly, resolutely.
Her outs were being narrowed, and she sulked in silence.
"She can marry me," Seifer mumbled quietly into his chest. His head was spinning. It all moved so quickly, and he was afraid he'd get lost in it…
The room all turned to the sole occupant who had not spoken a word since arriving. He'd simply sat back in his chair, pondering the polish on the wood of the table, the reflection of the lights overhead.
"What?" Quistis asked.
Intrigued, Squall considered his friend. He had no idea what on Earth possessed Seifer to propose the idea, but he liked that idea a lot. He remained silent however, as from the look in Quistis's eye, she would bite off anyone's head who even seconded the notion.
"You strut in here, become all chummy with my friends and now expect me to marry you, when the last time I saw you I was almost unconscious?" Quistis asked.
He winced at the memory. Yes, he had almost killed her that battle. He shuddered, looking at his hands.
"Why on Earth would I want to marry you?" Quistis said bitingly.
"Because your mother wanted you to," he said frankly in a "so ha!" voice, looking up into her eyes. "Excuse me, I need to teach a class," he said to the room, with thinly veiled frustration.
His exit was deafening. Quistis tried to process the sentence, but ended up saying miserably, "He's an instructor now?"
Rinoa was the first to say it out loud. "Seifer is Deling's son," she said wonderingly.
"Kayla Almasy," Selphie said softly. "He used his mother's maiden name. I never even made the connection."
"I need to go out for a walk," Quistis said.
Edea took Cid's hand in hers, hoping everything would work out all right.
"You knew, didn't you?" Squall asked Edea.
"I knew when he showed up on my doorstep 13 years ago, asking for shelter from a storm. I knew when he didn't speak to anyone, and I knew when Quistis, only Quistis, managed to get him to take a bath, and rest for a bit."
She was pissed. Seriously pissed. Later in the afternoon, the words still circled and circled until they became a mess, and all she wanted to do was let it all out. She punched the bag with a vengeance.
Suddenly she was given some freaking fortune, expected to take over some fucking school and marry the jerk who almost killed her three years ago?
"Fuck it all!" she punched harder.
"Not exactly lady-like, Miss Trabia. You may want to consider finishing school."
She kicked the bag at the sound of her new name, and snarled at the new entrant. "Go away Almasy. I don't want to talk to you. Especially after the stunt you just pulled."
"I didn't come here to talk." He leaned against the door of the training room, then came in, taking off his trenchcoat, and approaching the weights. He selected two and started lifting.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Lifting, what else?"
"Not while I'm here. I came in here to be alone. To think."
"Well we don't get to put our names on doors and claim weight rooms as our own," he replied.
If it was possible to punch the bag harder, she did, "Dammit!" she punctuated the word with another blow to the bag.
She worked herself up to a frenzy until she felt the hand on her shoulder. She turned and instinctively punched, but her hand was stopped, and engulfed in his larger ones, which after stopping the punch clasped her hand softly.
Why did her hands have to be so fucking small? She felt ridiculous, a weak girl hitting a big man, and pulled away her hand from contact with his immediately.
"You're going to hurt your hands that way."
"I don't care. It doesn't matter. I'm not SeeD, and I'm rich, so it's not like I'm going to need to do anything with my hands anyhow. You shouldn't care either." She hated herself when she felt tears come to her eyes.
She felt his arms go around her, and she stiffened up, and moved away from him. "Leave me alone, Almasy."
Seifer watched her. Her eyes were just so…devastated. He couldn't ever forget them. Those mesmerizing eyes. Those very ones that kept him from delivering that final blow to her three years ago, and had him dropping his sword in self-disgust.
She saw the look in his eyes. It was unsettling. She shrugged off his touch, and moved away. She had no idea how she managed it, but she was a lot calmer. She took deep breaths. "When'd you get your instructor's license?" she asked, opening her eyes, clearer now, he noted.
"A year ago, six months after I became SeeD, under Squall's instruction."
"Squall did that? For you?"
"I wouldn't have."
"Pity. I wanted to study again under you," he said honestly.
"Yeah. Lucky me. Save it for someone else, Almasy. I don't even know why you asked, but my answer's no, and it'll stay no. Enjoy your weight room," she pushed him aside and went out the door.
Squall came in a moment later. "No luck?"
Seifer sat down on the benchpress, and looking out into space, deep in thought.
The question was answered with the silence.
Squall sat down next to Seifer. "Why'd you do it, Seif?"
"It's what Matron wanted me there for."
"You didn't have to."
"No, I didn't."
"You hadn't seen her before today…" Squall remarked. "I wanted you to see her. I had to find the right time to tell her though, and she was always out…"
"If she knew, maybe she wouldn't be so…"
"Abrasive was what I was going for," Squall said reprovingly. "Jeez Seif, you asked her to marry you and four hours later you're calling her a bitch?"
"Marriage made in heaven, or diplomacy, anyhow…" Seifer said sarcastically.
"I know you better. You were always into the knight thing. Noble. To marry for anything less than love isn't noble."
Squall's brow furrowed. "Crap, yeah. I'm sorry."
Seifer forgave his friend's temporary lapse into girlfriend mode. After all, if he ever was in love, he'd be bursting to always talk about her. "At any rate, I think she'd still be this way even if she did know me. It's all hitting her now, and she's upset at it all. I'm giving her an out."
Squall frowned at his friend. "You mean you proposed with the purpose to get her pissed at you?"
Seifer shrugged. "I've always been good at getting under people's skin."
"Damn, Seif, what if she accepts?"
"You know her, you think she'll accept?" Seifer turned to Squall.
Squall wasn't sure if Seifer wanted him to say yes or no, so he shrugged. "Never know with Quistis. She's gotten unpredictable as of late."
"I'll tell you what is going to happen. She's going to pout for a week, and after finding out that things aren't going to change, she's going to take Trabia and run it well."
"She'll blame the whole thing on me, and I'll be here, instructing students, doing my usual."
"Instructor Almasy, please report to the headmaster's office."
Seifer sighed. "I don't want to talk to Cid or Edea right now."
Squall knew. They'd only get upset. "I'll tell them that you went out."
"Sure, and Seif?"
"Don't worry, I don't think she'll accept."