DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of the characters or the universe they're based upon. In short, if it's familiar, it's not mine.

A/N: Welcome to my little pet project! If you're reading my other fic, Et in Arcadia Ego, you might notice some very similar elements between the two stories and there's a very good reason for that:

This is an old, ooooold subplot from Arcadia. The two stories are now completely different and separate, but they still share the Guardian Force theme. This is a rejected subplot, not because I didn't like it, but because I decided it didn't fit with the story. In fact, I liked it so much that it became a fic of its own.

It is heavily influenced by two sources: Paycheck, a short story by one Philip K. Dick, my favorite author (the movie sucks, but the original is a hundred times better), and the movie 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' though the plot is not entirely similar to either of them. I just borrowed a few themes and ideas from both. No copyright infringement intended there, either.

One final note: Though this may look like an AU story, I assure you, it's not. Just give it time and you'll see how and why things came to be the way they are.

Enjoy!


Prologue


"Someday, Jennings, we're going to break out. You see, conditions like this can't go on.

People can't live this way, tossed back and forth by political and economic powers.

Masses of people shoved this way and that according to the needs of this government or that cartel. There's going to be resistance, someday. A strong, desperate resistance."

Rethrick, 'Paycheck' by Philip K. Dick (1953)


All at once she was in motion. Around her smooth jets hummed. She was on a small SeeD aircraft, moving leisurely across the afternoon sky.

Quistis groaned, curling up into a tiny little ball underneath her blanket. "How long?" she croaked.

"Nearly half an hour," Selphie replied, chuckling. "Welcome back."

Quistis stared at the view outside the window, feeling like her head was going to split in half. "Mission successful?" she asked.

"As always. When did you black out?" Selphie asked.

She had no idea. If that idiot Pax hadn't jumped the gun and entered the room before thinking, she might've been conscious for the entire duration of the mission. Falling for a trip wire, honestly, she thought. She barely had time to pull him away from the door and the blast caught them both. She remembered soaring for a few feet backwards, then hitting a wall and everything went black.

"After the explosion," Quistis said. "How's Pax?" she asked, scowling.

"Recovering in the back," Selphie said, pointing at the back cabin with her thumb. "He said he was sorry."

"Yeah, well-" Quistis began, but suddenly stopped, realizing something. "It's afternoon? It's afternoon!" she yelped, and jumped off her seat.

A small wave of dizziness overtook her, but she shook it off and went for her duffel bag, yanking out clothes in a hurry. Selphie didn't have to ask what he friend was looking for, and instead of asking questions, she helped her look.

Quistis pulled out a pair of pantyhose, a black pencil skirt and a pair of black heels. "Shirt... I need my white shirt..."

"Start getting dressed, I'll look for it," Selphie said, continuing to rummage through Quistis's bag.

Quistis undressed in lightning speed and began to pull on the clothes, her mind racing. What if he was home already? No, he couldn't be. He said he would be running late for the whole week, including Friday. She had time, it wasn't dark out yet.

"Do I have any marks on me?" she asked Selphie, checking her skin. No blemishes, no scratches... Good Hyne, how many Cure spells had they poured into her system? It was a miracle she wasn't high as a kite.

"I checked, don't worry," Selphie said, and finally re-emerged holding a white shirt. "That it?"

"Yes, that's the one," Quistis said, sighing in relief. For a moment there, she thought she might've forgotten to bring it along.

Selphie helped her put it on, smoothing the creases on the back and helping her tuck it into her skirt. She pulled a few bobby pins out of her pocket just as Quistis was twisting her hair into a bun. "Let me," she said.

"Thanks," Quistis said, closing her eyes and allowing herself to relax under her friend's ministrations. Selphie had helped her do this countless times, so by now, they had the process down to a T.

"Am I showing?" Quistis asked, touching the roots of her red hair. "I haven't had a chance to visit the hairdresser's in forever."

"He still hasn't noticed you're a natural blonde?" Selphie said, chuckling.

Bypassing the comment, Quistis asked her again. "Selphie?"

"Ohhhhh, I see... You book an Esthari wax along with every dye-job-?"

"Selphie!"

"You're fine," Selphie assured her, and took a step back to admire her handiwork. "Aren't you running a little late, though? It's nearly six."

"I can afford to be late," Quistis said, checking her reflection on the mirror Selphie handed her. The bun looked perfect. "He hasn't been coming home before ten for a week. Big project at work," she explained.

"Skyscraper? Hospital?"

"I haven't the faintest idea..." Quistis said, cringing. It seemed like an important thing to know. She definitely should find out. "I did see some of his designs the other day; looked a bit like a museum."

Selphie gave her the one-over, making sure everything was done. "Hair, good. Outfit, good. Ring?"

For crying out loud, nearly forgot the most important part. "Ring, yes!" Quistis said, dipping her hand into her cleavage and pulling out the platinum band that hung there from a slim golden chain. "Thank you!" she said, slipping it on.

"Don't sweat it," Selphie said, grinning. "Get back to your seat, we're about to land."


The aircraft landed on a small, private airport in the outskirts of Deling City, where her car was already waiting. Quistis stumbled inside, waved at Selphie goodbye –"Say hi to the stud for me!"- and turned the key in the ignition of the sleek silver SUV.

Don't be home yet, don't be home yet.

After nearly crashing twice, she decided to forgo putting her make-up on while driving. She would just have to do it once she got there, she thought, and stepped on the gas, hurrying home.

Thankfully, there was no traffic on the way there. She sped along the highway, only relaxing when she saw the familiar green sign reading Welcome to Gotland! The quiet suburb was among Deling City's most beautiful and elegant ones, a perfect place to raise a family.

Though the community was large for suburb standards, the residents knew each other well and Quistis waved at everyone who caught her eye as she drove through the neighborhood.

She held her breath and made the turn, arriving at 34 Main Street, her address. Hers was the home second on the left, a beautiful, imposing house designed by her husband and decorated by her. Or rather, the particularly expensive decorator she had paid. Like every other house around it, it had a sprawling green lawn, hedges trimmed to perfection, and a spacious driveway.

And right there on that very driveway, Quistis saw her husband's black sedan. He was home.

Damn, she cursed inwardly. Damn, damn, damn!

Resigned to her fate, Quistis quickly adjusted her make up and parked the car in the garage, hoping he wouldn't find it too weird that she had come home a little later than expected. Usually, she was there by five and right now it was 6:20.

Checking her reflection on the rear-view mirror, Quistis stepped outside and locked the car, taking slow steps toward the door. Be calm... He probably doesn't even think it's weird. So you were late for once, big deal.

Taking in a deep breath, she took her keys out of her handbag and was about to unlock the door, when it swung open. Her husband was standing under the threshold, smiling at her.

"Welcome home, Mrs. Almasy," he said, and pulled her in for a kiss.

Oh, thank Hyne. Quistis wrapped her arms around him and returned the kiss, thanking every deity who would listen that he hadn't suspected a thing.

"It's good to be home," she said once she pulled away, and tenderly ran a hand through his jet black hair.


A/N: The very first paragraph is taken almost verbatim from Paycheck, as a tribute to the story I drew inspiration from. Gotland is an actual place in the FF8 world; it's the peninsula on the left of Deling City.