Author's Note: Back to my favorite Final Fantasy pairing! Thank you for being patient with me.
To answer some questions I may get: Yes, I plan to continue Not to Be Trifled With, my Princess Diaries story. It will be updated in June.
I'm not yet ready to handle Nothing to Lose.
I hope to update this story once a week, but I'm really picky.
Thank you for bearing with me and please enjoy.
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VIII does not belong to me. It belongs to Squaresoft.
Note: The story starts out parallel to plot, with one exception: Quistis is not an instructor at Balamb. It starts in the middle of the game, but does not stay there for long.
Spoils of War
Chapter 1: Loud Red Cinderella
Quistis Trepe Carroway was an excellent judge of character. Within seconds of first meeting anyone, she'd have the person assessed, categorized, and when necessary, condemned.
The first time she saw Seifer Almasy, there was very little to recommend him. A girl, no, a ruddy-haired jewel-eyed siren, had run out of his quarters in nothing but a smile and a bedsheet. She turned around, and blew a kiss to the handsome young man standing in the doorway, who was sporting a smug grin of his own and a towel.
His body attested to the fact that Hyne was definitely a woman.
No male deity would be that generous to the human race.
She concluded disgustedly that he probably knew he was all that, too. All that, and a bag of chips.
He turned to focus his gaze on her now, and allowed his smile to settle upon her, finding a cozy spot in her stomach, where it threatened to eat away at her inner balance.
She frowned back at him.
The blonde looked further down the hall to see the brunette smiling and waving at by the wall-spanning windows at the end.
She smiled with relief, and proceeded down the hall to meet her stepsister.
The next time she saw him, he was fully clothed.
Her stepsister noticed her gaze. "Interested?" Rinoa asked, eyes alight with interest and humor.
Quistis scowled. "He walks around as if he owned the place."
"Well..." Rinoa giggled. "He doesn't, but he would have everyone believe it."
The subject of their musings walked across the cafeteria. He wore clothes appropriate to his style, she concluded, taking in the gray trench coat stretched across his broad shoulders, the fitted black underneath that skimmed his athletic posture, and of course, the annoyingly curious charm on the leather string that hung from his neck. He greeted a girl (not the same one from the morning, Quistis snidely noted) with a more than friendly kiss and settled at the table next to her, taking up entirely too much of that poor woman's personal space. Quistis was almost disgusted.
She watched his operations silently. Rinoa watched her stepsister with growing curiosity. At length, Quistis focused her eyes on Rinoa. "Just how close are you to this guy? Does Dad know?"
"Just friends. And you know that I don't care what the old man says."
Half an hour before the SeeD graduation ball, Quistis stood in the middle of the room she was sharing with Rin at the Inn at Balamb. Rin was circling her and calculating everything, from her eyeliner to her painted toenails.
Quistis wondered at the repercussions of what was to occur tonight...her own goals of remaining inconspicuous were completely thrown out the window because of Rin's crazy red dress and makeover wand.
Painted toenails! "And why are you wasting so much time on me?" she gestured towards Rin's own hair, still in curlers, and Rin's stunning...bathrobe.
"You don't know how to dress yourself. I tell you that we're going to a ball, and you bring...some pouf!"
"It's called a ball gown. People wear them to balls."
"Not this kind a ball."
"What kind of ball is this, anyhow?" Quistis wondered. "What kind of ball would one wear...underwear to?"
"It's called a slipdress."
"I can see why. Are you sure it won't just...slip off?" Quistis watched Rin warily. "Are we done yet?"
"Not yet," Rin replied, and before Quistis could protest, she was being attacked by a floral spray.
She waved her glove-clad hands in front of her face and almost sneezed, until Rin sent her a dangerous look. "You mess up anything I've accomplished in the last hour and I will kill you."
Quistis rolled her eyes.
"Done," Rin stood back, satisfied. "Quis, you look stunning...delectable."
"Am I a strawberry?" Quistis gestured to her bright red dress.
Rin whipped off the blanket she'd put over the mirror and let Quistis have a look at herself. After a glance, Quistis turned away in horror. "What have you done to me?!"
The short strawberry red silk accentuated her slender figure, hugged her breasts, hinted at her cleavage, and was cut high enough to showcase her long legs. The red satin sandals added three inches to her regular five seven.
Her hair had been left down, slightly wavy and falling mussed. The brilliant blue-violet of her eyes was brought out with eyeshadow of the same color, and her long thick eyelashes were accented with mascara and eyeliner. Her reading spectacles had long been hidden away. And her mouth...
It was highlighted in bright sexy red. Loud red. Her lips were uncomfortably startling. "Rin! My mouth!" she turned to her sister.
Rinoa gave herself props for this one. Her stepsister was a total knockout, thanks to her. "You look like a siren. You'll totally floor them."
"Floor them? Floor who? The General sent me to babysit you, not to have you play dressup on me. And here I am...my head hurts..." she lifted her arm to massage her temple.
"Don't you dare touch the hair! I spent a long time doing that!"
"It looks messy! There's no real...part!"
"Sexily messy, and it's supposed to have no part."
"My sister's gone off the deep end," Quistis started muttering to herself.
"Now wait for me and don't fuss, or else you'll ruin it. It'll only take me a little while to get dressed."
Quistis rolled her eyes as Rinoa went into the bathroom. She should have known that something was going on when Rinoa started to pout for a weekend trip to Balamb.
The General, frustrated with Rinoa, had decided to concede and send her away, if only to get some peace. However, he was not going to let her get away with just anything. So he got out Old Reliable.
Sure, Quistis, the stepdaughter. The older one. The mature one. The proper one. The straight-laced one. Quistis would watch over her.
Straight-laced ladies do not look like this! Quistis scowled at herself in the mirror. To think that she'd left St. Julian's Ladies' Academy for this! If any of her fellow instructors could see her now…
She looked at her valise longingly, thinking of the twenty reports she had planned to spend the evening looking over. And then she considered her bed and the desk, buried under dresses, bottles, jars, and palates.
This trip was not supposed to turn out like this. She had an exam on Monday in World History that she needed to write. She had another concerto to practice. She had ironing to do.
And most of all, she had to maintain her anonymity. Wearing a getup worthy of a harlot was not going to allow her to stay on the sidelines. And it wasn't going to help her growing reputation as a lady...and spinster.
She could think of a thousand different things she'd prefer to going to a ball and babysitting her stepsister.
Those reasons all flew from her mind when her baby sister exited the bathroom in a cream and gold halter dress, as formfitting and revealing as hers, and smiled at her.
For all the fuss that she invoked, Rin really was a dear. Quistis sighed, and not for the first time wondered where Rin got all her energy. Julia Heartilly had died many years ago. The General was a very...powerful force.
Quistis's own life before Caraway and Heartilly had been quite...elegant. Her own father had died when she was four, and her mother had sent her away to St. Julian's.
Every once in a while, Quistis met up with her mother to maintain some semblance of a relationship. They were...good associates. They worked well together, Quistis concluded. Her mother was never truly affectionate, but Claudia Trepe never was the sentimental, matronly type.
Her mother remarried when Quistis was sixteen. Instead of her usual traveling during the summer, Quistis was asked to go to her mother's wedding, and meet the other half of her new family.
Having a family thrust upon her was not easy, but Quistis took it in stride, as she did everything. Her mother was pleased, as was The General; never had he seen a young woman so graceful, so elegant, and so well-behaved. He could not help but look at his own daughter with a tinge of regret.
Rinoa was a hellion. Even at twelve, she caused a commotion wherever she went. She was willful, spirited, and any socialite's worst nightmare.
Such sentiments should have caused a rift between the two girls, but their contrasts brought them together. No, Quistis corrected, Rin brought them together. Rin's warm heart. So innocent and so completely free of jealousy.
Rin simply worshipped her new sister. Rin would walk by Quistis with awe and pride in glimmering in her eyes. Rin was so completely in love with Quistis, because Rin knew that Quistis was so good. So beautiful. Because she knew that she'd never met anyone like Quistis, nor was she ever going to. And because Quistis was unique, Rinoa had concluded, Quistis was not to be copied. Quistis was not an example. She was the only.
Being so worshipped, who could blame Quistis for letting her coldness slowly unfold? For loving the adorable, light thing that entered her life?
Rin was the only person she ever truly loved. Most of the time, she liked the Mother she didn't really know, and all of the time, she respected the General. But never had she met anyone so lovable as Rin.
And, in a way similar to Rin, she'd resigned herself to being the way she was. Rin was Rin. Not anyone to be jealous of. Not anyone to contend with, or not anyone to imitate. Just someone to love, adore, and cherish.
The summer the sisters had spent together was a golden one. Who knew it'd be the only true time they'd have together? Come fall, Quistis was shipped off back to St. Julian's, and Rin...well she went back to being Rin.
Over the years, they'd reunited for various occasions, such as holidays or important birthdays. They'd always stay up late, bundled together under covers together, talking. Rin would have some crazy scheme, or would be gaga over some boy. Quistis would listen, and give sound practical advice, hoping some but not too much of her common sense would eventually rub off on her sister.
And now, while their meetings had become more frequent, the role "older sister" had now been redefined as "chaperone" by The General.
Quistis resented the change in status. Rinoa treated her the same as ever, but The General...it was as if he had a new set of expectations. She was held fully responsible for all of Rin's actions. It did not help that her own education had taken a stricter turn as well.
Rin was sixteen, and she was...well, Rin. Of course she was going to do silly things! Quistis couldn't be held accountable for them all, nor did she want to. Her occupation was to monitor and chastise. Not her life.
More, Rin was too naive and beautiful to handle all the pressures of growing up. Tact, diplomacy, and politics. Acting.
As Rinoa applied her makeup, Quistis watched the girl, saw the excited flame in her dark eyes, the dreamy smile on her lips...the general happy casualness of her carriage. One could not but help relax in Rinoa Heartilly's presence.
It was dangerous.
Rinoa met her stepsister's eyes in the mirror, and smiled. No, Quistis sighed, she would not have her sister "grow up" for the world. "Hurry up kiddo. Remember, I turn back into a mouse at midnight.
It had been a long, grueling day, but he'd gotten through it.
They both had.
And they owed it all to Xu.
Seifer Almasy was well aware of the fact that if Xu hadn't been such a damn bitch, both Squall and him would not have been able to work together to pass the exam.
Even if having Zell Dincht as their squad leader was a trial, both Squall and Seifer knew that Xu was careful in her choice. If she had chosen either of them, the other would have been hell to work with.
She was perceptive, which made her a great instructor. She never took any of his advances, which made her a damn near perfect one. But it didn't make her any better as a woman.
Seifer leaned back against the wall in his SeeD uniform as Squall Leonheart reluctantly entered the ballroom. He nodded a reluctant acknowledgment, "Leonheart."
Squall nodded and immediately ducked out the doors that led to the balcony.
However, after Squall entered some interesting company. Two tall beautiful women, one that looked vaguely familiar, and the other...
The other was obviously the love of his life.
Because she was looking right at him and scowling.
Quistis scowled under the gaze of that impertinent blonde she'd seen earlier. "Rin, he's looking at me," she said out of the corner of her mouth.
"He should. You're absolutely gorgeous!" Rin smiled proudly, looking into the crowds for someone.
Quistis Trepe Carroway was never gorgeous, irresistible or even interesting. She'd counted on it all her life. It allowed her to watch people without distractions. It allowed her freedom to move throughout circles without being noticed.
It allowed her to be who she was.
And excel at it.
She shifted in her extremely uncomfortable shoes and wished she'd ignored Rin and brought that book. Well, Rin had had her fun. Quistis looked and felt like an idiot. She was certainly not going to behave like one.
Her resolution made, she moved towards the edge of the ballroom, ignoring the leers, the catcalls, and all other signs of emotional and sexual immaturity. She moved towards the shadows, where she hoped she could spend the remainder of her evening in quiet solitude.
Other people had their own plans, however. Why was she not surprised that the skirt-chaser honed in on her?
She answered the question for herself fairly quickly: she was the only woman in the room with whom he did not have an acquaintance. All the others, well, save Rin, were watching her with intense jealousy.
Quistis wanted to laugh. Jealous? When had she ever been the subject of jealousy? Why, that was the most ridiculous thing in the world! Her students wouldn't have been able to picture it.
"Good evening," he said charmingly.
And, she was sure, he was perfectly aware of just how charming he was. "Indeed it is," she replied stiffly. She allowed herself an examination of the man before her. The uniform was elegantly cut and appeared to be barely broken in; he'd just passed his SeeD entrance exam earlier today, hadn't he?
"Interested?" he teased.
"Not particularly," she replied.
Seifer smirked. So she was one of the tougher ones. He'd figured as much when he'd seen her in her straight-laced suit this morning. "Well I am. Who would have thought you'd clean up so nicely?"
Was it really considered cleaning up when she felt so stripped down? She raised her eyebrow and answered briskly. "I could say the same. You look better with more clothes on," she responded. "Are you done with me or do we have to continue this?"
"Just a bit longer. I'm quite resilient, you know. And I thrive on challenge."
As did she, but this was one she was more than willing to back out of. The way he said the last word had her stomach doing all kinds of crazy shit. She'd dealt with assholes before, jerks who thought they could get Carroway's perfect China Doll to go wild just for them. So just why did this one affect her so?
It must have been the dress. She felt so naked, out of character. Out of whack. She was going to kill Rin.
Quistis pushed herself away from the wall. "Funny, I do as well. But next time you try, have something better than one-liners. That works for the dorm-floozy, but I'm steps classier than her," she cut quickly. She then made for a quick retreat while he laughed behind her.
"A name, Cinderella?" he asked.
"Why make it easy when we both know you're smarter than that?" she returned sarcastically. "You figure it out. And when you do, you can give this back to me," she recklessly reached down, took off her left high heel, and tossed it at him.
After taking the other shoe off, she stormed out of the ballroom, determined never to ever frequent a ballroom again.
Damn tedious waste of an evening, she mumbled to herself, as she curled up in her covers.
One year later
The sunrise on the day after the world was saved was a good one, and one that Seifer had, at one time, been worried he'd never see.
He'd never imagined that he'd be watching the sunrise from Deling City's Presidential Mansion. That he'd enjoy that tranquil, symbolic moment of beauty. And triumph.
A year ago, he would have never imagined anything, really. He'd been an arrogant naïve punk, all out to prove his maturity, his masculinity. His drive.
A year had changed that. He was no longer naïve. He'd more than proved himself, but in doing so sacrificed parts of him that he had not anticipated. Parts of him that, had he known of their impending loss, he would not have been so eager to toss aside so cavalierly.
But he'd survived. His friends had survived, for the most part. He'd lost classmates and friends along the way, to be sure. But some, he thought of Zell, Selph, Irvine, Rin and Squall, he'd manage to keep. Alive.
And happy, he mused with a grin, as he saw Irvine sneak a kiss to Selph, the lovers having just left the Garden House. No doubt, they'd had more than enough proof of their own vitality the previous evening.
Yes, happy. No doubt, his own roommate, Squall, would be sneaking in their doors momentarily, spent from his own nocturnal activities.
And why not? Seifer pondered as he tossed himself back on the bed. Was it not the time to celebrate? The time for destruction, pain, darkness was over. It was a new day, and with it, rebirth.
Of course, he grinned up at the ceiling, this didn't necessarily mean that he'd turn a blind eye to his friends' escapades. Squall was just beginning to accept ribbing and teasing without a scowl. The way Seif saw it, the day was young, and his friend newly energized. He took the book from his nightstand to await the truant's return, quip already in mind.
Weaving through the crowds, oblivious to many of the other women who were prepared, equipped and eager to beckon him, Seifer kept his eye on the woman sitting in her chair, who was...he smiled, reading a book. His heart gave a surprising stumble over itself as he realized that he found her spectacles adorable. Her shapeless dress amusing.
Her heart had started pounding the moment she'd seen him enter the room. She'd sunk further behind the potted tree, hoping his gaze would pass right over her. Now that he was upon her, however, she rose to the challenge brilliantly, brazenly.
"Excuse me, you're in my light?"
"Miss Carroway, if it is possible, you look more radiant than ever."
So he had found out who she was. Well, that didn't matter. They were on her home turf, and she was dressed and modestly covered in her comfortable armor. "I'm flustered because you're in my light."
"In your light? I'm sorry," he said, though not sounding apologetic at all.
Since it obvious he wanted more than to block her light, she sent her bespectacled gaze up at him, with her most proper, analyzing glare. "I really doubt that you are, but seeing as you have come all this way to amuse yourself at my expense, I suppose I should feel honored to accommodate you," she responded snidely.
Seifer laughed, though his own faith in his abilities to carry conversation with such a reluctant partner wavered.
The line of his lip was harsher. There were a few folds near his eyes that weren't there. A scar on his chin. Humility at the pain he must have suffered to protect their world made her uneasy with her terseness.
"Dance with me."
Her sense of guilt dissipated. He still smiled at her the same way. The way that made her feel that though she was in this dress, he was imagining the red one. Or nothing at all.
She cleared her throat. "Was that a request or a command?"
"My vanity needs no delusions. I can inform you that I am a terrible dancer," Quistis unfolded her figure from the chair. She had planned to sweep away with dignity and poise (she had, after all, prepared herself for the possibility that she might encounter him again, what, with him being one of the saviors of the world and all) but lost any and all chance at an elegant exit, as -crack!- her head glanced his chin on her way up.
He stood back, massaged his chin with a pained grin on his face, his green eyes glittering with amusement.
"Oops. Sorry," she said, quickly recovering her composure, her own head hurting but she pride refusing to acknowledge the pain.
"I'm sure you aren't," Seifer responded amusedly.
"Perhaps you should have stood farther away, Mr. Almasy. Excuse me," she started, but he grabbed her arm.
"Don't I get another shoe or something?"
She scowled, stomped off, but before she could leave the corner entirely, she angrily reached down, pulled up her skirts to reveal her delectably elegant ankles, remove her shoe, and throw it at his head.
He caught the shoe with alacrity and laughed.
Oh how mortifying! Quistis slapped water on her face.
She knew coming as a bad idea. Persecuted, harassed, reduced to violence!
Though, she concluded as she examined the bump on her head, the violence had not been intentional, and it had been just as painful for her as it had been for him...more so, as his chin was solid rock.
Though, she smiled grimly into the mirror, she'd been known to have a hard head. She allowed herself a smile before falling into herself again in mortification.
But throwing a shoe? How humiliating. It was bad enough that she'd lost enough composure to do it once. The fact that he now owned two of her shoes was terrible.
The loss of one of Rin's favorite heels did not ruffle her. After all, it had been her stupid idea that got Quistis into this mess. Rin had to pay somehow.
But that he owned one of her serviceable wear-with-any-dress black dancing heels frustrated her to no end.
She hated ballrooms. She hated dancing. But those shoes were comfortable and did the job. They also matched most of her ballgowns. And now she had to go out and get another pair.
She hated shopping.
"What's next?" Squall asked his friend later that night. The two had settled down do a comfortable silence, watching the festivities.
"I've been thinking of getting married," his friend replied.
Squall looked at his friend, and wondered if he was in earnest. "Married? To whom, may ask?"
Quistis Trepe Carroway was a puzzle. Was the Siren and the Frump one and the same? He would have wondered, had she not acted in the same abrasive manner both times. He grinned. "My Cinderella. My Loud Red Cinderella."
Squall nodded, but did not understand. His friend had obviously chosen another conquest, but this one seemed to be permanent.
But Seifer was always one for impulses. And they'd all benefited more than once from his instincts.
So...Squall mused. Whatever floated his boat was fine. "To the new Mrs. Almasy."