Final Fantasy VIII and all the characters belong to Square.
Knight of Sunset
Balamb always seemed peaceful. It was the tranquility one looks for in the recesses of one's mind. The salty ocean air filled her senses as the waves gently greeted the shore. The white foam tenderly melted back into the surf, leaving only scattered ocean debris and a layer of damp sand. Her long strands of blonde hair clung to her face from the sheer humidity in the air. Slowly, she walked in the dry sand above of tide's reach. There was a calmness that soothed her here among the seas. Maybe it was something carried over from her childhood days.
When tired of walking, she allowed her body to fall gently onto the sand. She sat with her legs in front of her as granules danced on her skin. Sunset was always her favorite time of night. Quistis had made this journey several times within the last year to the desolate beach. The defeat of Ultimecia had been hard on them all, each dealt with the consequences their own way.
Yet, she always seemed to be alone.
A strange sense of foreboding washed over her, as a sudden chill took her body. She watched the sunset indirectly, as the reflections off the waves were too blinding to look upon completely.
Then she realized that she was no longer alone.
If training had taught her one thing, it was to sense the presence of those around. Quickly she braced herself in the sand, preparing to rise, when a hand was laid upon her shoulder.
"Don't get up," a rough voice chided over the ocean's call.
Fear momentarily paralyzed her, as she recalled the voice. "Seifer?" she said with more fear than questioning.
"Yeah, instructor," he answered in a smugness that could only be him. "Don't get up on my account. Promise, I'm not going to hurt you."
Turning her head, she stared directly into the eyes of the man who once tried to end their lives. Yet, there was something there she had never noticed before. The usually cocky glare was now replaced with more of a look of sorrow. His outward appearance still seemed the same, minus the trench coat in the hot summer air. His face still bore the scar that mirrored Squall's, a constant reminder of both their failures… and accomplishments.
"May I have a seat?" he asked, unsure of her reply.
"I don't own the beach, Seifer. You are free to sit anywhere you like."
Normally, had you told her she would be running into the former knight, Quistis Trepe would have been terrified at the thought. Or, if in the right mood, she would have yelled at him for all the pain he caused. But, he caught her on a good day, at least for him. Her inner self had no desire to fight and in a strange off-handed way, she welcomed the company. Even from someone dubbed her enemy.
"You come out here a lot?"
"Seifer Almasy… are you trying to have a normal conversation, with me?" The question sounded more as a joke, but each knew it wasn't.
"Maybe. Seems like the right thing to do. I mean it's not often that I could run into someone from my past, without having a gunblade shoved in my face… Not that I don't deserve it."
Watching as two seagulls played a game of aerial tag, she pushed the hair off her face. Mentally wondering about the man sitting beside her and all the pain he caused. She often questioned why he had done the betrayal of Garden, but of course, he wasn't around to ask. Suddenly she looked at this as a challenge, to learn more about his actions. Maybe by understanding him, she could be a better teacher, watching for signs in her other students… before they too betrayed SeeD.
For the first time, she turned to him, blue eyes locking. "Why Seifer?" It was a simple question, but they both understood the implications.
"You mean why did I become Ultimecia's Knight?"
Shaking her head, she answered, "No… why did you want to become a knight? We all know the end results, but what lead you to the dream? Did you just wake up one morning saying, 'I want to become a sorceress' knight?' or was there more to it?"
Breaking the eye contact, he suddenly felt a need to leave. The question he thought she'd ask, the one for which he already had his planned cookie-cutter answer… wasn't the one asked. What she did ask… well, it was too difficult to fathom. Even for him. So, he did what Seifer did best, turned it back on her, trying to be as smug as possible.
"What the Hell does that matter? I don't go around asking you why you became an instructor… the chance just came up. So, I took it. Happy?"
"No," she plainly stated. "You still didn't answer my question. It's like asking why is the sky blue, without first understanding what the sky is. In order to truly understand the reason, I must understand the desire."
Grabbing some broken shells, he threw them angrily out into the ocean. She watched as they disappeared into the dark waters. Maybe it truly was just an instructor, trying to understand her student better. On the other hand, maybe it was a friend trying to help another friend in need. At this point, she wasn't sure. But, she damn well was going to find out. Quistis was surprised as the man beside her stood up quickly, brushing stray grains of sand off his clothes. As she turned to look at him, he offered his hand to her.
"Let's go for a walk."
Shocked at her own actions, or her lack of better judgment, she accepted his proposal. He then helped her to her feet. She took her shoes off as they strolled together in the surf. The water gently played with her bare feet, as the earth melted between each toe. His boots remained on, as he seemed oblivious to the water cascading over them.
"When I was twelve," he began hesitantly. "I received a letter from-" Stopping in mid sentence, he looked her in the eyes. "Why am I telling you this again? I've never told anybody else about… not even Fujin or Raijin."
Continuing down the beach, she answered, "Maybe because you want to. Maybe it's something you've been wanting to talk about for a long time… just afraid."
A half-laugh escaped his lips, as he thought, "Afraid? Me afraid? Maybe."
He inhaled deeply, letting the salty air tickle his senses, before releasing his breath loudly. Inside he was a nervous wreck, but outside he tried to remain his cool collected self.
"When I was twelve, Cid called me up to his office. I figured it was for something I'd done… like shaving Chicken-Wuss bald when he was asleep… And before you ask, yes, that was me. Like you didn't know." She had to laugh at his admission, plus the vivid memories of a pre-teen Zell bald.
He slowly continued, "I actually received a package from the Galbadian government… from my father. Sometimes you are better off not knowing about your biological parents. Maybe, I would have been better. My father was a Major in the army, during the first sorceress war. To make a long story short… he betrayed them, Galbadia, and joined Esthar's forces. Guess the fruit really doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?"
"Seifer…" she said in her sisterly voice, rather than her instructor tone. "Please, don't worry about that now. I'm here to listen… please continue."
"Yeah, anyway I got a box of his belongings. He'd been killed in one of the battles that Galbadia fought against Adel. The bastard was her knight. Adel's damn knight."
Quistis stopped suddenly, freezing at the thought. "Seifer, I don't remember Adel having a knight. There were no reports of it. History taught us that she was alone… and that's why her spirit was dominated by a darker force."
Momentarily, he stopped when she did. Shaking his head, he continued along the surf without her. "History is wrong. That is what Galbadia wanted people to believe. Do you think they wanted to advertise one of their troops joined the enemy? After the war, Esthar all but disappeared. History has a way of writing itself when it's only told from one side."
She could hear the pain in his voice; this must be killing him to talk about. Not only had he been burdened with his failures, but also his father's.
At such an early age, he carried such guilt.
"So anyway, Cid gave me his belongings… one being the Hyperion that I carry. At first, I couldn't stand the sight of it… but as time went by, I started studying knighthood more. It became an obsession with me, one I felt like I had to hide from everyone else. After so long, I became fascinated by my father's life, and his failures. I was determined that I could do what he couldn't. Where he failed, I could prevail. I hated him for abandoning me. My mother had been killed during the war years before, when I was a baby. That's how I arrived at the orphanage. And the rest is what they call history…"
Reaching her hand out to him, she gently grabbed his arm, forcing him to stop.
"So you made his mistakes. You survived. Maybe you can be stronger than your father, by seeking the forgiveness he never could. Seifer there is more to being a knight than having a sorceress."
"Don't tell that to Squall," he spat back at her.
"No, Seifer, Squall knows," she tried to explain. "You've been gone for awhile. If you had been around you would see there is so much more. It wasn't like it just 'happened'. Nor has he become a full-fledged knight yet. But see, you never loved Ultimecia… you loved the dream. The fantasy. Not the reality. Squall trains twice as hard now. It's not glamorous, there are no floats or prestige, but he loves Rinoa. That's the difference -he loves her with all his heart. You will always fail if there is no love. My guess is your father's story was very similar."
For a second he found himself contemplating her words. Damn it, she was right.
"I didn't remember before. I mean, I'd forgotten our childhood too. You guys, Matron, and the orphanage… she opened my mind to that. I had the chance to see my childhood through her eyes. But only bits and pieces, illusions she created and manipulated to fit her own twisted purposes."
"Like what," she questioned edging him on.
"The negative parts… only the negative parts. Squall and I fighting, Ellone abandoning us, and everyone hating me… that's what I saw. Only after her defeat, did I remember the good times."
"Good times?" she questioned, trying desperately to recall any. All her memories were much the same as Seifer had described. With maybe a few more she care not mention to him involving Squall, but basically the same.
Grabbing her bare hand, Seifer stopped her from her forward motion. "You don't remember either, do you?" He looked a little bit disappointed, but also slightly amused in having information she had long since forgotten. She shook her head, a slight smile on her delicate features trying to cover her sorrow. "Yeah should have figured. Well instructor, let me help you remember."
She wasn't aware of much as he grabbed her by the waist, picking her off the ground. Too shocked to struggle, she felt completely helpless. He ran toward the ocean, never stopping as the water level rose on his person. The realization hit her that she was going to be submerged. However, it was a little late to fight back. The cold ocean water was a chilling contrast to the August humidity. The water did offer some relief as she found herself reaching for the surface. Gasping for air she emerged, not quite mad, not quite laughing… a content medium.
"Do you remember now?" he asked looking the equivalent of a drown rat. "You girls used to get so mad at me for this, but the boys always were on the beach, hysterical. They actually would cheer me on."
Almost feeling guilty about not remembering the past, she pictured the scene vividly in her head. Yet the memory still seemed to belong to someone else. Like as if reading it from a book or watching an old home movie.
"Seifer I-" biting her lip she tried to continue.
He swam toward her, still in complete clothes and shoes. "Don't worry about it, Quistis. I do. I remember now. That's what I've had to hold onto the last year. Those few happy memories when we all got along… when people liked me."
Reaching for his arms she stood, the salty water drying out her skin. "They could like you again. Do you trust me?"
Smirking at her for a moment, he watched as golden and red hues of the sunset reflected off her eyes. He believed her. For some unknown reason, he did trust her. Even after everything that happened… he trusted her.
"Yeah, Quistis Trepe… I really think I do."
Smiling back at him, a plea within her eyes, she stated simply, "Then come back to Garden."