A/N: Before anything else, I would just like to inform you that this is a better-rewritten version of my first fic "I Think I've Finally Learned to Love You More" and that this is already my third run-through of this fic, so there had been quite a few revisions on some parts, including some added scenes...I had to do it when I suddenly realized that the format has changed and my story divider has disappeared! ARGHHH! You can just imagine the horror of having to edit and upload 19 chapters. So I do hope you'll like the improvement. Review please! I don't mind receiving reviews even if it's been ten years after I've finished this fic, because I'm still curious to hear your opinion.
Disclaimer: Once and for all, all things Final Fantasy VIII isn't mine...sad.
Once Upon A Time
White. Everything was white. Unbounded by time and space, there was no dimension, no color, nothing. Time was being compressed; past, present, and future collide and became one single instance, one entity,
One state of present.
"Is it over?" Quistis heard and saw Irvine stood up at a distance "Let's go! Let's go back to our time!" Irvine called out with an obvious hint of panic.
"Shut up! Just calm down and think where we have to go!" blurted Zell as he ran pass Irvine.
Quickly, Quistis stood up to approach them.
"Careful guys! Don't pick the wrong time!" warned Selphie whom she suddenly spotted appear in space out from nowhere.
"Whatever you do, don't fall into a time wrap." Quistis added as she finally found herself closer to her friends.
Just as she had gotten close enough, one by one: Irvine, Selphie and Zell disappeared in space. Quistis was left alone in a timeless dimension. For a moment, she felt her heart beat slow and hard against her chest.
She was starting to panic.
"...time...place...who I wanna be with..." Quistis heard Rinoa's voice at a short distance. A sudden air of relief came to her as she got closer and closer to Rinoa. "I wanna go there! Where Squall and I promised..." was the last thing she heard Rinoa spoke before she too disappeared in space.
She was left alone again.
Squall was the only one who crossed her mind, the only person whom she didn't see and hoped he'd somehow pass by so they could return home, together. It wasn't out of longing that she wanted to see him, she simply wanted to go back, to her own time. She waited and waited, but he never came, it won't be her that Squall would go looking for anyway. Reality struck her and forced her to think hard, she had to get out of the situation alone. Love, friendship, courage, she had them all, yet couldn't figure out why she hasn't been able to get back to her own time.
She heard her heels clanked with echoes which seemed to come from nowhere. After some time of idly pacing across the endless stretch of white nothingness, she stopped and thought hard. Every memory she could gather about the orphanage came flipping through her mind, which turned to scenes when she closed her eyes.
Suddenly, at the side of her ear, she heard a voice called out,
"Nyenyenyenyenye! Cwy baby Squall, cwying again because hee misses Big Sis!"
She opened her eyes and saw a young blonde pushed a smaller boy with hazel locks who was sobbing hard against his orange shirt.
"Sob sob sob! Ish that all yuu ever doo?" the blonde added pointing and snorting at the weeping child.
"STOP IT! Just weav Squally alone!" another young blonde exclaimed, a girl, with soft long curls falling behind her came rushing out of the door and stood between the crying child and the other blonde. "Why'ja hav'ta always be a bully Seifer?" she added screaming in defence for the young brunette.
"Quisty, acting like Big Sis again, huh?" the young Seifer snorted.
As the argument of the two blondes kept on, Quistis could only stare in amusement at the sight before her; she was seeing her childhood memory firsthand. She smiled at herself as she looked at her younger self, pale and skinny but full of confidence and wit. Much and not very much have changed through the years, she thought. As she finally decided to approach the children and end their little dispute, a beautiful woman in black came out of the door and started scolding them.
"Seifer, how many times do I have to tell you not to bully Squall! And Quistis, I already told you to just come and tell me when Seifer bullies Squall and not argue with him—" Edea was cut off seeing the presence of Quistis at the side of her eye. She shifted her gaze to Quistis and asked, "May I help you?"
"Matron, I seem to have gotten lost into your time—"
"I'm sorry, but you called me Matron. Who are you?" Edea eagerly asked, a bit puzzled at Quistis' remark.
"I am Quistis Trepe. I got lost in time during a time compression and wound up into your time." Quistis tried to explain, but all Edea could give was a baffled expression.
"Maytwon, who's she?" the young Quistis curiously asked gently pulling Edea on the skirt.
"Yeah! Who's she? She's pwetty!" The young Seifer boldly exclaimed, then gave Quistis a big grin.
"No one. You don't have to know." Edea replied patting the young Seifer on the head.
"Aawwww...'ow come?" Seifer complained, pouting.
Quistis chuckled at Seifer, who blushed at the sight, then nodded at Edea. "I understand. I don't belong here." She said with hint of disappointment in her voice.
"Please don't take this the wrong way, but you should get back to your own time." Edea explained in apologetic tone.
"Don't worry, I understand."
"Will you be alright? Do you know where to go from here?"
"I'm a SeeD. I will be fine."
With one last parting smile, she turned around and started walking across Cape of Good Hope's vast desert. At the distance where she could no longer spot the Orphanage, she felt her knees began to tremble in exhaustion. The desert was hot and unforgiving. She felt the soles of her feet burning from the heat while her throat, dry with dehydration. She stopped and looked at the endless stretch of dust and rock before her; apparently she hasn't found her way back, she didn't know how; what she did know was that if she turned around, she'd eventually find herself back at the Orphanage where she could temporarily take refuge and continue on her way the next day. She wiped the sweat off her forehead, sighed, then retraced her steps back to where Edea's house was.
The journey seemed twice as long on the way back. She has gotten a long way and was only a few meters away from the gate of the Orphanage when she felt her entire body being bombarded by pain and fatigue. She saw Edea stood by the gate watering the shrubs, at once she knew it'll be all right. Exhausted but relieved, she couldn't help but be emotional. Tears started to gather on her eyes. When she met gaze with Edea, she began to feel the weight of her body. Her knees trembled to steady her balance, but it eventually gave up and she fell to the ground.
Some bit of consciousness lingered on. She saw a young Edea ran towards her, but before she could get close enough to hold her, Quistis fell unconscious.
o O o
"Yes, she's the one."
She heard a voice spoke somewhere beside her, yet she felt it also distant. Her head was groggy, it seemed like she was riding a canoe on a stormy ocean. She tried to open her eyes half-way, but had to close them again for she felt her head spin the moment she exerted the effort to open them.
"I found her unconscious outside the gate. Apparently she couldn't find her way back." A familiar voice said somewhere close by.
"Heh, typical old Quistis Trepe." she heard another voice, deep and velvety.
"Will she bee awight?" another voice called out, a young girl, probably the young Quistis.
"She looks dead." She heard young Seifer's voice suddenly blurted beside her, his little fingers poking her cheek.
"She'll be fine. She's stronger than you think." This time she heard Edea's voice, warm and gentle.
"Please take care of her." The same voice said, probably the younger Edea.
"We will, rest assured. Thank you for taking care of her." She heard the older one reply "Seifer, please carry her. We need to get back to our own time now."
The voices echoed in her head. She wanted to open her eyes; she too wanted to speak, to say thanks at least, but it was impossible, she was too weak. She felt something warm slid down behind her back and below her knees. Then slowly she felt herself being lifted. She felt the arms which cradled her muscular, yet at the same time very gentle and warm.
With all her will and effort, she forced her eyes to open once more, this time managed to keep them up a few seconds. She saw through the hazy glare of her fraction-opened eyes, Seifer's chin hovering above her. Apparently he was the one who was carrying her, while beside him was Edea, walking along his side, seemingly less of a sorceress with her hair down. After a few seconds which seemed long enough, she felt like hurling and had to close her eyes in submission.
When she opened them again, she was in her room. It was another one of her dreams. Lately she had been dreaming of the same scene over and over again to the point when she had to consider it as part of her daily routine; a proof that she had fallen asleep. Her eyes felt teary. She couldn't figure out if she cried in her dream or the tears simply continued to flow when she fell asleep, but one thing was certain, there was something she couldn't come into terms with.
She gently wiped the tears off her cheek and slowly got out of bed; she no longer felt sleepy at four in the morning. Putting on her slippers and wrapping herself with her white cotton sweater, she left the room and started to walk her way toward the deck.
She needed some fresh air; her close-walled room suffocated her.
o O o
Walking along, alone, as she always seemed to have felt herself being, she took deep long breaths to ease off her salt-watery eyes. Although the flow had stopped, the sting it left she felt unreasonably irritating. She vigorously rubbed her eyes hoping to overwhelm herself with the feeling of pain. She had to admit, she never liked the feeling of physical pain, but at least it beats the feeling of misery.
At her state, being a hero, a Rank A SeeD, a woman with adoring fans and loyal companions, she wasn't miserable, but somehow beneath the attention she was given was a state of loneliness, a longing for someone to fill in that emptiness somewhere within her. Praises and admiration were all too shallow, she wanted something more, something deeper than just that...was she too selfish or asking too much? Hyne knows what would be laid before her, but the bigger question was, would it be fame? Wealth? Success? Glory? No...that is what a man would want. What a woman would only be hoping for,
She smiled at the trail of the thought. Her life seemed a little bit like a routine, but she didn't mind for a settled life was all she could wish for. Not necessarily the kind of life that would bore her, but the kind that would at least be in tuned with the world.
Before she could think of anything more, she realized she had already stood before the heavy door of the deck. Slowly, she gave the effort to open it and there behind it she saw a lone figure of a woman standing at a distance, seemingly contemplating at the stars. Caught between curiosity and having a companion, she quietly approached the woman. As Quistis got closer and closer, she found the face more familiar than she had thought, it was Edea.
"Matron? What are you doing up so early in the morning?" Quistis politely asked as she stood beside her and leaned against the deck's edge
"Getting some fresh air, you?" She replied smiling back.
"I guess I have the same excuse." Quistis giggled turning to gaze at the stars.
There was a moment of still silence; just the sound of the breeze sweeping across the deck could be heard stirring.
"Uhmm...Matron?" Quistis muttered with hesitation.
"Yes? What is it?" Edea answered in concern.
"Lately I've been dreaming the same dream over and over. It's been weeks now, and I still dream about it...about what happened to me during the time compression. I've been dreaming that you and Seifer came to the Orphanage and brought me back to our own time."
"So you were conscious when we got you." Edea beamed to the stars "What you're actually dreaming is a memory, a filtered reality. I guess you have unsolved issues with the memory, why it keeps haunting you every night."
"Tell me, what really happened?"
"You should know, you're dreaming it every night."
"But how did you find me?"
"With an Odine Gadget. During the time compression, you were the only one who didn't make it back while all the others had already arrived. Seifer was the only one who was strong enough to assist me, so I asked him to come. We had to travel through several dimensions before we finally found you-" Edea fell quiet when she felt Quistis embraced her.
"Thank you..." Quistis said in all sincerity and gratitude. It was the first time after so long that she hugged anyone, much more, that she hugged Edea, her Matron.
"You're very welcome." Edea said hugging Quistis back in gentle embrace, but then her voice suddenly became bothered, "How come it's only now that you decided to ask?"
Her mind went blank at the question she didn't really know how to answer. Any poor excuse would surely embarrass her, so instead she simply shook her head. "I thought I could get by, but apparently it isn't the case. I'm sorry that my thanks came a bit late."
"That's alright, what matters is that you have your resolve." She paused to look at Quistis head to toe and smiled. "I miss times like these. It only seemed like yesterday when you were this short." She giggled levelling her hand to her waist. "Now look at you, all grown up and taking on the world. I was right when I said thirteen years ago that you'd grow up to be one of the most brilliant and beautiful lady I'll someday meet."
Quistis blushed at Edea's remark. She could clearly remember, thirteen years ago when she was fetched by her adopted parents at the orphanage, Edea said those exact words. She had lived up to her expectation, very much fulfilling what she had promised Edea when they parted. It wasn't an easy life to have given up childhood and skip teenage years just so to keep that promise. Now, that it has been settled, she had to adjust herself all over again, to be normal—a teenager, for her last year as a teen.
It's been three weeks since the incident and twenty nights since she had been dreaming of the same dream over and over in her sleep. Not much has happened since their return, for her part that is. Balamb Garden has returned to its original place in the Balamb continent, and a new paved road was being constructed for permanence, while the rest of the world was rebuilding what has been lost with Esthar's aid. Two more months and it would turn into a full circle; a full year would have passed since the whole incident began at the Communications Tower in Dollet.
That dawn, Quistis and Edea spent an entire hour simply making up for lost times. A few hours after they parted, Quistis was called to the Headmaster's Office. She entered the same old-familiar room expecting another possible casual chat with the Headmaster.
o O o
As soon as she entered the office, Cid greeted her with a pat on the shoulder.
"Have a seat, I have a mission for you." He said in blithe expression, apparently perky for the morning.
He gestured her to take the chair which stood near his desk as soon as he was comfortably seated. She obediently did as she was told. The atmosphere was light, the two have had a bond for years, and Cid had always made sure to lighten the mood whenever he gave her orders.
"I'll be getting straight to the point if you don't mind, I have a meeting with the Headmaster of Trabia in 900 hours." He smiled at her. "Edea told me about your little nightmares at night and figured, we want to help you."
"That's wonderful, but how?" Her voice was delighted, but her eyes showed a picture of perplexity and concern.
"We figured, the reason why you keep having this dream is because of the fact that you haven't settled things with yourself. There is something you want to do but unable to, that's why you are being subconsciously bothered. Call it psychology, call it logic, whatever it is, it exists." He paused to look at her tangled expression. Of course she knew what those words meant, but it simply came out weird when it came out from Cid's mouth—a bit out of order, she thought. He leaned his elbows on the desk, for a moment contemplating in thought. "My wife told me that you finally thanked her for saving your life, so that settles the matter with her. There's only one thing left that bothers you now..." then he suddenly grinned and pointed at her, "You have unfinished issues with Seifer."
She flushed at the shock of his word. How could he have figured it out? That whole morning, she felt the sudden longing see him—just thank him at least for what he did—for saving her life.
He opened his palm in gesture to let him speak.
"Edea and I decided to let you go see him. As you may know by now, he's at Dollet...my wife will be going there to settle some matters with him. Your mission is to escort Edea at Dollet and assist her for the duration."
"Settle matters with him? Did you mean Seifer?"
"Yes, well...we want him to take the SeeD test one last time."
"You're admitting him back to the Garden?"
"He's nineteen—he can still make it as SeeD." He said with calm confidence.
"Are you sure that's a wise decision?" She interrogated, but her voice seemed more of concerned than opposed.
"We'll find out soon enough." He said with a grin.
"Uhmmm..." she hesitated, "Why don't you invite Seifer yourself? Matron seems to be a little stressed out these past few days." Quistis said, it came out more of a suggestion than a request.
"Well...how should I put it?" he looked to the ground and rubbed his chin, apparently finding the right words. "Ever since he realized what I did, ran away and abandoned the Garden of sort, he somehow lost a sense of respect for me. I had to ask my wife to give him the proposal. It's quite embarrassing, really." He chuckled, scratching his head.
"I get his point, but that doesn't give him the right to disrespect you." argued Quistis.
"Quistis, do understand, he is Seifer." Cid explained in a calm yet distressed tone. "I figured, the best way to earn his respect back is, if I become his Headmaster again. I do hope he considers the offer, he'll be very useful as SeeD." He paused, then gave an intent laugh. "How I wish I could just cheat his way into becoming one, but Edea's eyes are hard on me. She said that it's no way to treat Seifer, it'll disgrace him even further...I'm afraid she's right, he'll have to do this the hard way."
"I guess it's decided then…." Quistis sighed.
"That all depends, the decision is his."
With that, she hurried to the kitchen. A few moments later, Seifer came out of the kitchen wearing a black apron, but a little bit different from Fujin. He wiped his face with a kerchief, and straightened the ruffles on his shirt before he approached to greet them.
"Matron, how nice of you to come and visit." his tone filled with delight but his eyes were serious, when it met with Quistis' eyes, he his lips twitched "And you brought Instructor along."
"This is certainly a surprise, you look good in an apron." Quistis' voice seemed ticked at his reaction when he saw her.
"I'll take that as a compliment—I look good in anything." He blurted with sarcasm, but then quickly turned to Edea regaining his composure. "What brings you here?"
"Take a seat, I have some news you might want to hear." She playfully said with beaming eyes.