This is a oneshot that I came up with a few nights ago. I don't know if I'll be writing more for Final Fantasy VIII, but the idea wouldn't leave me alone. This fic is pretty short, and more bittersweet than anything else, but I'm hoping you'll enjoy it anyway and I'm praying you'll make the connection that's concealed in the last line...

For my beloved beta, My hand held in yours

In Absentia

It was a dark night, as all noteworthy stories start, and the sounds of laughter and tinkling glasses floated throughout the warm summer air. There was a general feeling of merriment in the manner of the people assembled, and blanketed by flowing amounts of alcohol, the festivities showed no sign of ending anytime soon. The dance floor was a veritable blaze of color with couples whirling about in formal wear of bright fabrics, and on the sidelines students and faculty alike exchanged pleasantries and gossip. Yet, one of the key elements in the casting of this party was not present—and was in fact walking through the balcony doors with a glass in his hand and a scowl on his face.

A Gunblade glinted in the clouded light of a gibbous moon, and brown hair rippled freely in the light breeze as its owner surveyed the scene with sharp eyes and equally sharp disdain. He hated parties, especially this one—the first annual Independence Day Ball that was set to commemorate the fall of Sorceress Ultimecia and that was partially in his honor. He'd be fending off clueless females all night if not for the efforts of his date, which in itself was a mixed blessing...

"I wasn't expecting to see you out here, Squall."

The man turned in surprise and the more-so-obvious annoyance, anticipating another giggling girl asking him to dance, but out of the shadows came the figure of an ally and his stormy gaze returned to the sky. He said nothing in response when she joined him, leaning gloved appendages in a crossed position on the railing adjacent and letting loose blonde hair spill down her back.

Quistis Trepe, re-instated Instructor 14 of Balamb Garden, Blue Magic specialist, extremely capable leader, and one of the rare friends of Squall's, was present at Ultimecia's last stand. It was her ability to copy the attacks of enemies that made her such a valuable warrior, and she was quietly wise and possessed the much-sought-after common sense in droves. Tonight, however, she had ditched both her fighter's clothes and teaching attire in favor of a strapless deep green gown that went straight to the floor, and her voice was covertly curious, as if she was slowly burning to know something but trying to hide it.

"Shouldn't you be inside with Rinoa?"

The woman received no response, but only someone who could read the man as well as she could was able to detect the nigh invisible twitch of Squall's right eye. Ah, progress.

"I mean, this party is for you both," Quistis continued with an uncharacteristic lilt to her voice, "and she is your girlfriend—"

"What do you want, Quistis?" His words were sharp as the blonde's question forced him to recall things that he'd been attempting to keep off his mind. As for the instructor, she merely smiled and tapped her cheek with a finger.

"Who said I wanted anything?"

Since their first kiss exactly a year ago, Squall Leonhart and Rinoa Heartilly were pretty much the It couple on the campus of Balamb Garden. Granted, Squall's cold, distant nature would never allow the two to fulfill every aspect of what the name implied (PDA, surgical attachment, the finishing of the sentences, et cetera et cetera), but it was pretty obvious to all that the Ice Prince(ss, according to Zell) was thawing out. Their mutual friends certainly never tired of teasing him about it, and even Edea and Headmaster Cid seemed pleased. Except...

Rinoa seemed...changed, somehow. Sure, the sorceress was still cheerful and cute and determined to break down his every barrier, but...she grated at him in a way he couldn't explain. He couldn't pinpoint what exactly it was, if anything, but on what was supposed to be their special night—their anniversary, even—he found himself seeking to be out of her company. Maybe it was the fact that for some reason, Ellone couldn't stand the sorceress or the thought of them together, and his sis's opinion meant a lot to him. Maybe it was just a bout of uncertainty, and would go away in due time. Or maybe it was simple paranoia?

Squall didn't know. And he cursed Quistis' very existence for making him think about it.


An indefinite amount of time passed as Quistis didn't bother replying. The wine was downed and the wineglass set aside, and neither spoke again until the strains of a familiar song wafted through the night breeze. Through the glass doors, unseen by either but instantly known to be fact, the assorted moseys of the dancers had morphed into the official uniform waltz of the Garden.

There was a sharp, strange pain in the brunette's chest.

This dance...he had done it with Rinoa the night he met her. So shouldn't he be inside the ballroom—with his girlfriend—on their anniversary—dancing it with her?

The bittersweetness was giving him a toothache, and the blonde seemed to read his thoughts. "That's your cue, in case you missed it."

He wanted so badly to snap at the instructor, but as he took his gaze away from the sky and fixed it for a moment on her, there was no accusation—only curiosity. "I don't feel like going back in there," he admitted tonelessly. Quistis nodded, and there was a hint of light humor in her response.

"You know, as Commander, you're setting a crappy example."

A rare smirk settled itself on the young Commander's face at Quistis' quip. They both knew she was right, and before he registered what he was doing, he held a hand out to Instructor 14. She simply raised an eyebrow, and his brain caught up in time to give an explanation for what he'd just done.

"...I'd rather not hear Cid's opinion on that, thanks."

Quistis couldn't resist a snort, even as she took his proffered hand in her gloved one and assumed the position.

"You're a smart boy, Squall."

The material of a gown rustled quietly; they stepped opposite, circling each other once, twice, thrice and a fourth time, drawing closer and then farther away. Squall immediately noticed the differences—Quistis was taller than Rinoa and built more athletically from years of training and battle. Still, neither minded. The dance continued, gaining speed until to the outside observer they were simple blurs of black and green and blonde, and to the outside observer, indeed: neither noticed the troubled eyes that were fixed upon their figures. But for a few seconds, he was able to concentrate on something other than his personal issues, and he welcomed the respite. It wasn't as if he didn't care for Rinoa, but at the moment she was not what Squall wanted...and for all their differences, Quistis could fill the space.

As teacher and pupil danced, a star streaked across the sky.