Of Air and Angels
There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see
- Edward Fitzgerald
Quistis liked a good cup of coffee and a book more than anything. Stirring her coffee idly, she turned the page, eagerly absorbing the words. In the clear sunshine of an outside café in Esthar she sat. It was lunchtime. The café was like a second home to her away from her quarters in the residences. Ten years she had lived in Esthar, and for not the first time, she wondered why she had not moved there sooner. Eleven years had passed since they had vanquished Ultimecia and prevented time compression. They had been honoured with medals, pinned to their lapels, worn with pride. Quistis did not feel as though she had deserved her medals—she had not played a large part in the war. They had been hailed as conquering heroes, but Quistis felt that the world made too big a deal of heroes who had been hired to do the job. She had simply followed orders—defeat Ultimecia in her time and bring peace back to the present day. Ten years ago Quistis packed her bags, and left Garden. Her life there was over. She had left behind her quarters, her friends, her family, and gone abroad to face a new life. Esthar had become her home.
Quistis had her own, private reasons for leaving Balamb. She packed everything she owned into a compact suitcase, handed over her SeeD qualifications and walked out. For sentimental purposes, Quistis had kept a uniform and her whip, praying that she'd never have to crack it again. The blue magic of her trade—the thing that made her valuable to any scrupulous or unscrupulous person—could not be taken from her. But there were more reasons as to why she had left—aside from those personal ones. She had felt a tremendous amount of guilt when she presided on the disciplinary and war crimes tribunal of Balamb Garden and Others versus Seifer Almasy and Galbadia Garden. As a person who had observed Seifer's behaviour over the years, and her knowledge of who he was and what he had done, she felt as though they had coerced her, twisting her words around so that it looked like she had single-handedly condemned Seifer to ten long years in solitary confinement. It wasn't only that which had caused her to hand in her license.
Quistis felt that these events were enough to make anyone question the true purpose of SeeD. They were meant to be a group dedicated to fighting the sorceress, but to her, after Seifer's unfair trial, it seemed they had a much more sinister side. She left Garden. Her instructor's license had been revoked, as the garden masters did not believe that she was fit to teach, despite Squall's intervention on her behalf. There was nothing left for her in Balamb. She packed her bags, and went travelling.
She settled in Timber, helping the resistance factions drive out the invading and marauding Galbadian soldiers. On the last day of the official occupation of Timber, Quistis had been appointed president. It was an honour she had not dreamed of. For five years, she worked closely with Timber's residents, establishing diplomatic ties throughout the world. SeeD had prepared her for negotiations, and with each passing parliamentary act, she felt that Galbadia, should they ever invade Timber again, would be in for a rude awakening. Five years after first arriving in Timber, she left. She'd been many things in her twenty-four years—a SeeD, an instructor and a president. Some would argue that twenty-three years of life experience did not a president make, though it was her detractors who said that about her.
It had been a world away from when she was a child. As a child, she arrived on the doorstep of Edea's orphanage by the sea, wearing the same garments from the night her parents had been murdered before her very eyes. The use of the Guardian Forces had all but wiped her memory of such events, and she had been grateful for that. After leaving Timber, Quistis travelled north, to the tundra of Shumi Village. There, she had learned how to live again. At twenty five, some eighteen months after her exodus from Timber, and another nine months, Quistis met the man who would father her child. She had known him for years, though they never spoke of the night they had shared, and the child that had resulted from that glorious, one-night stand. A daughter was born to her nine months later, and she called the child Síla.
When Síla was seven months old, Quistis once more packed her bags, wrapping Síla securely in the wraps the Shumi had taught her to use, and moved to Esthar. Applying for a job with Esthar's elite defence units, Quistis received word, barely two days later, that she had it. There was no other candidate, they had said, with such outstanding credentials. Pushing the doubts, niggling or otherwise, out of her mind that Laguna had something to do with her getting the job, she settled into a peaceful life with her daughter in the residences of Esthar. She learned the ropes well, making friends and networking with some of the most powerful and influential people in Esthar. She ignored the thoughts that cropped up from time to time, about companionship, dating—she didn't want to. Síla was her focus, aside from her job. She was happy.
On a particularly sunny Monday afternoon, at roughly thirteen hundred hours, Quistis was sipping her café latte and reading a biography. It was her lunch hour, and the little café where she lunched was known as one of the best in Esthar—called Stellar. The café had been established shortly before the Lunar Cry, the menu was good, the prices reasonable, and the food—well, Quistis would be lying if she said she'd never tasted anything as good as their Gyashi Pesto and Garlic Bread. It was a veritable cornucopia of taste. Then, she frowned. A shadow had fallen across her table. Looking up, she saw President Loire, who looked like he was relieved to find her.
"Is there anything I can do for you, Laguna?" she enquired, marking her page as Laguna sat. He looked careworn. There were flecks of grey now showing in his dark hair, his face lined. "Please, take a seat," she invited, and watched as the older man sat. He smiled, and a waitress came by, clearing the table and taking an order from Laguna for a cup of green tea. The stuff was good, Laguna thought. He mulled over the various events of the day, his mind sifting through them, trying to remember what it was that he wanted to tell Quistis. She might just be interested in hearing this titbit of news, after all.
"Seifer Almasy was released a week ago. He's been offered asylum here in Esthar—Galbadia doesn't want him, the Gardens refuse anything to do with him, and so Esthar naturally fell to the task of giving him a chance at normality-- or as normal as it can be after incarceration." He scratched the back of his head, shrugging. The waitress came back with the tea, and Laguna took a sip. He had done a lot of negotiation for Seifer to live in Esthar; Cid and Edea, though fond of Seifer they were could not afford a loose canon in Garden, and Galbadia had signed papers that made him a marked man should he ever set foot in Deling City again. The man had been ready to destroy the world on the whim of a sorceress far in the future, and Galbadia did not wish to risk the tentative peace they had built in the intervening years. But Laguna believed that no matter how badly someone fucked up, they ought to be allowed a second chance. And Hyne knew he'd been given many of those. Even someone like Seifer Almasy deserved a chance to prove that he'd changed. Laguna believed that. Hell, he'd even offered Seifer a chance to work for him—just to prove that he could and had changed. Scratching his head with the hand not holding the cigarette, Laguna studied Quistis' face for any signs of change. It was an interesting face to study, Laguna had to admit. The years outside of a military institution had softened Quistis, as had having a daughter. She was still beautiful, though. Laguna adored Síla and loved her like his own flesh and blood.
Quistis's eyebrows rose in mild surprise. "It's been a long time since I last saw him," she stated simply, remembering him as he was that day in the stand. He had looked so young then. "I hope he's doing well. What are the terms of Esthar's custody?"
Laguna waved his arm in a dismissive manner. "The plan is simple, really. Ward's going to supervise his return to civilian life and help him assimilate better. He's got a distinctive fighting style, so the army's out, really. But we figure that once he's settled in, we might use his fighting to our advantage—the distinctive style will have to go, though." He glanced at his watch and his eyes widened in alarm. "I've gotta get back." He winced, thinking of the lessons in absurd theatre that his parliament seemed hell-bent on playing out. "Parliament is crazy. Stepped out in the middle of a debate for a cigarette and some air."
Quistis nodded politely, a faraway smile on her face. It would be good to see her old friend. She could still remember the days when they had planned their future out together, each of them lying on their bellies in the long summer grass. But those memories were tainted with sour taste, as other memories pervaded and took out the brightness as he joined with Fujin and Raijin. She could remember the scorn in his voice as he spoke harsh words, ending what they had once had. She knew, on an intellectual level, that he was right. She couldn't be seen dating her student, and Seifer was head of the disciplinary committee. . He was a gallant man, admittedly, yet he was also reckless—which had cost him the one thing he'd dreamed about: being a SeeD. It might've been not-so-romantic as his real dream of being the Sorceress's Knight, but it'd been a dream of Seifer's nonetheless.
Knighthood was something he had talked about for years. When he broke out of the detention room, he had taken nothing but his gunblade and his pride along with him. Quistis had been forced to chase him all the way to Timber. She remembered watching, frozen and powerless, as he joined forces with the Sorceress. Later, she'd had the misfortune of being taunted by him in their showdown at Galbadia Garden, the taunt ringing in her ears: "Instructor Trepe, I'm still one of your dearest students, aren't I?"
"Not anymore," she'd replied tartly, brandishing her whip. Then she'd cracked it at him. They'd defeated him soundly, facing Edea next. For all his taunts, Quistis couldn't shake from her mind the haunted look on his face—he had nothing to lose.
Laguna sighed, watching the emotions that flickered across Quistis' face, watching the way she played with the strands of hair in front of her eyes, the faraway look on her face. It seemed as though she was remembering something. Stubbing his cigarette out, Laguna stood, making his way to her side to pat her on the shoulder. "I'll be in my office, hiding," he said with an attempt at levity.
Finishing her coffee, Quistis hurried to pay at the counter. Passing through the markets on her way back to the office, she smiled softly. She reached into her pocket for her security pass, swiping it through the magnetic scanner. Waiting for the boom-gate to open, she fumbled in her bag for her lanyard with her other office keys. Reaching her office, she opened the door and flipped the switch. Artificial sunlight streamed in overhead, and a glint on her desk caught her eye. Flowers.
It was a small bouquet in a simple glass vase. The messy scrawl of her name on the card, she noted, was familiar, though she couldn't quite place it. The poetry on the inside made her shake her head—such corny and simple sentiment. It was the handwriting, more than anything, which made her eyes wet, and the words blurred. Hastily wiping the tears away, Quistis searched for a name, anything to help her identify the sender. Seifer. The name itself made her remember things.
It reminded her of days spent at Garden, before the bullshit with Seifer's ambitions had started, before anything like another Sorceress War was on the horizon. Her hands shook as she sniffled and reached for a tissue and they shook as she blew her nose. Her entire body seemed to have gone into a state of disbelief and shock. Having calmed down sufficiently, Quistis searched the room briefly, noting the cupboard where she kept a fold-out bed was ajar. Pulling it open, she noticed a man staring at her with familiar eyes, and a distinctive scar. The emaciated figure spoke and it was confirmed; Seifer Almasy. In the flesh. In her office. Hiding in her cupboard with some child's delight at finding a hiding spot that no-one would find.
"Hello, Quistis," he said.
Thank you to Ms Starlight for the beta-reading and corrections. As always, your input is valued and appreciated. For those of you who think this story is familiar, it's a rewrite of a story written five years earlier and by three authors. I am Quis, therefore, this should not be taken as plagiarism.