They walked until the daylight was almost swallowed by the night. Twinkling stars dispersed within scattered patterns in the sky. The air was still humid, and the summer months seemed to offer no relief in the near future. Seifer looked back up into the last streaks of blue sky off the horizon. Remembering the question that she had mused about earlier, he had to ask.
"Instructor, why is the sky blue?"
"You said earlier, 'it's like asking why the sky is blue, without understanding it.' Let's say, I want to understand the sky."
"Um, Seifer, that was just a rhetorical question really. I would have to get back to you on that one. I'm sure it has something to do with the reflecting of light on the atmosphere… that is what I always understood."
"Yes, but why can't we just look at the sky, say it's blue, and not try to understand it? Why does everything have to have a deeper meaning? Can't we just accept it at face value, accept it for what it is?"
She stopped again along the shore. "That…is... Seifer that is one of the first things you have ever said that seems sincere. Do you think you could learn to live by that?"
"Sure, I can handle taking things at face value - like when people say that we are a couple."
The instructor was taken back with that comment. "Excuse me?" She slyly raised an eyebrow at him. "Us, a couple?"
"It's going to happen." He said starting to walk on without her.
She ran a few steps in the wet sand, trying to catch up with him. "Seifer Almasy, why would anyone think we would end up together?"
"Well, because we're the underdogs."
"Okay, okay… have you ever read a book where the hero gets the girl?"
"Um… Yes, I think that is just about every book known to man."
"Right." Placing a hand to his head, he smoothed out his hair.
"Okay, your point?"
"Well now, can every person be the hero or heroine? Or is the vast majority of society more like the evil-step sisters and trolls?"
"Seifer," she giggled. "Are you saying that you're a troll?"
"Geesh, work with me for a moment here. What I'm saying is that nobody is perfect. Maybe a part of us can relate to the stepsister, more than they can associate to the princess. Or 'troll' as the case may be. Sometimes we identify more with the supporting characters of a book, and all their faults, than with the perfect heroes."
"So, you think the troll and the evil stepsister should run off?"
"Okay Trepe, you're just doing this to annoy me now."
"Meee?" She replied, the mischievous side of the instructor showing.
"Heroes never fail in books -only in real life. Maybe, for once, people would like to cheer for the troll to get the girl. But, that never happens."
"Seifer, I swear… you are calling yourself a troll."
Waving his hands in the air, he surrendered. "Fine, for the sake of argument… I am a troll. What I am trying to say is, maybe readers are ready for a book where the hero isn't perfect. People like underdogs, no matter what -battles, sports, or even something as crazy as love."
"Okay, okay now you are just doing this to upset me."
"I heard trolls are really mean when they are upset."
"Okay that's it you're going down."
He grabbed her once again, and ran with her into the moonlit water. This time she didn't struggle, or fight, more just enjoyed the freedom of it all. For a moment, they splashed around like young children, ones that never got the chance at such freedoms. Moreover, ones who couldn't remember if they had. As the hour darkened, they finally got out of the water. Neither had spoken a word for the last few minutes, just swam and played like dolphins in the mist. Ungraceful dolphins, but endowed with freedom and nobility all the same.
"Seifer, I was just drying off!"
"I know. I liked the wet look on you."
She wrung out the water from her shirt. "Whatever…"
He suddenly came to a complete stop.
"What's wrong?" she questioned.
"We're here," he softly answered.
It was the first time in ages he had seen Garden. In his dreams and nightmares, yes, but in reality no. His body tensed as his gaze was transfixed on the building. The instructor noticed his uncertainty. Placing her hands on either shoulder, she stood directly in front of him.
Never had he seen Quistis Trepe so determined.
"Listen to me Seifer. Don't worry about what others think or say - only worry about yourself. You can't spend the rest of your life regretting the past. Living in the present is all one can do. Nobody says it's going to be easy. The road ahead is demanding. Listen to me, you're already better off than you were two hours ago."
"Why?" He wasn't even sure anymore. Nobody who'd ever cared for him, had been this close. The feeling was unnerving. It was foreign.
"Because you have a friend, someone who believes in you, someone who always will. Maybe it's time we test your theory, about society and underdogs. Maybe there is a future for us. Right now, this is the present and this is what counts. Seifer Almasy you have two choices, to stay or to go. That simple. I can't physically make you go in there, but I can ask you to. I can hope you do."
Years of memories came flooding back, years of failures. Would they truly understand? Can one turn on the flock and then be accepted back into the fold? Most importantly, would or could, somebody care for him? Care enough to take the good with the bad? In a moment of weakness, he looked back toward the ocean. The darkness of night was creeping in, and only shadows of the evening remained. Once again, Quistis drew his attention back to her eyes.
"Years ago you faced a similar choice, with Ultimecia. What you do will now define your character. Forget about your father. Forget about your dream to be a knight…and your obsession with failure. Nobody knows what's in your stars; you have to shape your own destiny. All I can say, do this because it's truly what you want. If not, turn around and walk back down the beach to Balamb. If that is where you want to be."
He looked once more toward the water. The endless sea only taunted him, beckoning like a siren. However, he was stronger now, her deadly call falling on deaf ears.
In a symbolic gesture, he offered his arm to the woman in front of him. The one, he knew, who would not give up. The one who would remain. Smiling, she reciprocated, turning toward the lights of Garden.
"Quistis, I'm ready to go home. I'm ready to face everyone."
"You will always be family to them Seifer, always." She offered as one last bit of reassurance.
"Hey, so does this mean that I could never be your knight?" Smirking, he raised an eyebrow.
She again let out a tiny laugh. Some things would never change. And for that, she was glad. "Well, Seifer… I still think it is a little too soon. But have faith in the stars."
"Darn, I really wanted that job."
They reached the front gate. Quistis turned around one last time, seeing the last glimmer of light fade behind the horizon. For a moment, she reflected on all that happened in the last couple of hours. How one simple walk could turn into so much more. How one dusk would forever remain etched in her memory. How maybe she too, needed saving… maybe he could be her savior after all.
"Seifer, I'll make you a deal. You can always be my Knight of Sunset."
Together they took the final steps into Garden.