Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters.

Saltwater

Chapter VII

The next few weeks raced by in a blur of heartbeats and lazy mornings and late evenings. The morning after the night before had been something of an ordeal, with neither Seifer nor Quistis being thoroughly able to comprehend the reckless, impulsive act they'd committed. Still, despite the brief awkwardness of those first few waking moments, it was impossible to regret. Both of them neglected to mention the bright joy they had both felt. It had been something that perhaps didn't need mentioning. They could see it in eachother; in the moments Quistis would wake up to find Seifer watching her sleepy-eyed, or when Quistis would send Seifer brief, dazzling smiles when no one was around.

They laughed a lot together, which surprised them both. They shared a subtle and dry sense of humour. Quistis was quite taken aback by this. She'd always been aware of the sarcastic, biting humour that Seifer held - particularly when it was directed at Zell – but she had been pleasantly surprised by the fact that he was capable of humour without meanness, that he could be silly without being juvenile. It quickly became one of the things about him that she adored the most.

Seifer found the whole experience baffling and enchanting in equal amounts. He wasn't un-used to beautiful girls or the company of them, but it was a whole new thing to feel this way about one. When he'd been a student, girls had been an enjoyable distraction; it had been fun to make them want him and gossip about him to his friends. In his adolescent mind it had been better to be thought of as a handsome dick than some spineless loser, and he'd relished the mingled attention and the disdain from girls, as well as from the guys who wished they could have been him.

The last girl who had gotten under his skin like this had been Rinoa, although he hadn't been able to get under hers, at least not in the way he had liked. Back then she had been tough and strong-minded. She had been independent, a free spirit, like him. He had respected her. That was the key thing.

He respected Quistis. Much to his surprise and slight resentment, this woman was no pushover. She was no giggling girl that he could reduce to tears or swooning as and when it suited him. This was not a girl who would accept his abuse, kiss his ass and call it ice-cream. He knew full-well that if he attempted his usual flirtations and games with her that she would walk away without so much as a raised eyebrow. There would be no outbursts of tears or pleading affections.

She didn't need him.

Seifer didn't just love her (and yes, it was love, as much as it pained him to admit it to himself) because she was beautiful or witty or intelligent, although those were all remarkable and rare bonuses; he loved her because she was her own person, as independent and stoic and stubborn as he was. He saw his good qualities in her, and none of the bad.

In some kind of unspoken agreement, Seifer and Quistis avoided telling anyone about their relationship. Around Edea or Cid they made no attempts to be affectionate, although it was noticeable now that they didn't argue. They smiled a lot, which couldn't be helped. Even years of military training could not obliterate all behaviours. It was a new experience for both of them, to be with someone who seemingly had no plans to hurt or discard them, and it was impossible to hide their blatant happiness. The cause of their happiness, to everyone else however, was a mystery and they were content to keep it that way, for a while at least.

Quistis always felt Matron eyeing her when she and Seifer were in the same room, and sometimes even when he wasn't. That woman could sense something; Quistis knew it, and it made her distinctly uncomfortable. She knew that Matron didn't mean to make her feel uncomfortable or watched – it was just her way to observe something until she worked it out. Despite this, Quistis knew for a fact that she didn't want anyone poking their wholly unwanted nose into her business. She had always been private, ever since she was a child, and it was a habit that she hadn't managed to shake.

So for now, it was all silence and speculation. And sea salt, from earlier that morning, when Seifer had made love to her in the surf. She could still taste it on her lips and felt a shudder of memory whisper down her spine.


They lay in bed together late that night, Quistis having crept down the hallway, little feet as soft as a cat's, creaking open Seifer's door with her teeth clenched. He had stared at her in her night-dress, mouth pressed together in the effort of not laughing. Roughly an hour later, the night-dress lay forgotten and sad-looking on the hard wood floor. They were both covered with the bed sheet, their legs sticking out because they were warm and sweaty. Seifer's long, rough fingers were loosely tangled in hers, thumb stroking her hand absent-mindedly.

Quistis turned her head to look at him from the crook of his shoulder. "So, were you ever happy at Garden?"

Seifer paused for a moment and thought about it, calm in the golden light of the little lamp next to the bed. "Sometimes," he finally said. "There were parts of it I liked."

"Like what?"

"Staring at your ass during class, for one," he said, with a crooked grin. Quistis gave a laugh and slapped him jokingly on the arm.

"Be serious," she said.

"I was being serious," Seifer smiled, before pulling a face. "Really though, I liked the fighting side of things. The writing... not so much."

"You were talented though," said Quistis, momentarily reeling at the fact that she just admitted that to Seifer's face. "If only you'd tried harder at the examinations."

Seifer gave a shrug. "It's not for everybody," he said. "I was always happier out in the field, getting to use my physical talents, instead of being stuck in the library with all the dorks. You know. Like you." He sniggered and kissed her forehead, while she made a mock-appalled face. "Problem was," he continued. "I hated taking orders. You may have noticed."

Quistis smiled sardonically, but didn't speak.

"I just couldn't stand some skinny little prick telling me what to do," he said. "I was smarter than half of those assholes, and stronger and faster than most." He paused and looked Quistis straight in the face. "I don't mean to sound like an arrogant prick here," he said. "It's just that half of those instructors or bookworms didn't know their asses from their elbows when it came to real warfare and real human reactions. All they knew was rules from a book and how to follow orders without thinking. I just couldn't do that and I couldn't find it in myself to respect someone who'd just follow orders like that."

"I used to though," said Quistis, in a tone that didn't suggest a fight.

Seifer planned his words carefully. "Yeah..." he said. "But you had balls. You didn't take no shit off anyone, least of all me." He smiled, his hard features softening. "I respected that. Even if I didn't like you – hell, sometimes I downright loathed you – I always respected that about you."

Quistis smiled back, unsure at how to reply to such a comment. A compliment from Seifer – even a backhanded one – was always something of a surprise.

"So what about you," said Seifer, adjusting the quilt around his waist. "Were you ever happy there?"

Quistis pondered. "Sometimes," she said. "It was better than my old foster home." A shadow of old pain past over her face like a cloud going past the moon. "I always found it easy. It was straightforward. You got up at a certain time, you worked, you studied, you ate at a certain time, you had your own space... I guess I liked it. It was stable."

"So what was so bad about your old foster home?"

Quistis didn't appreciate talking about her foster parents. She looked visibly uncomfortable. "Let's just say that the old man took more of a shine to me than was appropriate." Her tone was as cold as the North wind.

Seifer's expression became stony again. "Excuse me? Repeat that for me?"

"You heard," Quistis said, with a shrug.

Seifer shook his head, looking somewhere between disgust and impotent rage. "Son of a bitch," he muttered. A terrible thought occurred to him and he looked at Quistis with a frank, vulnerable horror. "He never...? He didn't...?"

Quistis shook her golden head. "No," she said. "It never came to that, thank Hyne. I guess his wife – my foster mother - saw the way he looked at me once too many times, and that was the end of it. They shipped me out of there before I was thirteen, and I decided that the best place for me was Garden. At least there I knew I'd learn how to defend myself." She was surprised at the look of frank upset on Seifer's face. "He never hurt me, Seifer. He didn't rape me or anything."

Seifer gave an audible sigh of relief. His shoulders sagged and he pulled her a little closer. "I'm so glad," he said, in a voice that she had never heard him use – one of tenderness. His voice reverted to his usual toughness, a barricade for his own feelings. "Good thing ol' son-of-a-bitch didn't. I would've tracked that motherfucker down."

Quistis suppressed a giggle. "Why?" she said. "It was so long ago."

Seifer grinned at her, and for the hundredth time Quistis felt struck by his towering beauty.

"Because you're my girl."

And there it was. Butterflies. Big ones, the size of horses, galloping around her stomach, kicking their legs at the shock and wonder of it all. He kissed her and decimated all words. It wasn't like the first time in the night when they made love. The first time would always be desperate, grasping at their air with their throats on fire, everything a disordered supernova blur. The next time round was slower, sadder, almost, as if they were holding on to something too vibrant for them, too vital. It was intimacy, not just the animal passions of lust, and it unnerved them and enchanted them in equal measure.

By the time it was over, they were exhausted, un-used to the exertions of sex. They weren't teenagers anymore. They were older (although not by much), wiser and jaded. Relationships and sex and all the things that normal twenty-something's did were not part of their usual repertoire. The war had made sure of that.

They had thought that their lot would be a life of brooding and regrets, of flashbacks, till they were the kind of haggard war veteran that teenagers avoided on the street, the kind that made other adults deliberately avoid their gaze.

But instead, at night, in that small room with its small bed and creaking wooden door, a sense of normality reigned. It brought beauty with it.

And youth. So much youth. They were afraid they would drown in it.


Sorry for the long wait between chapters and sorry for the shortness of this one! I've got two jobs right now, so working writing around the two has been almost impossible. Thanks so much for the lovely reviews though. It means a lot.

-Lux