DISCLAIMER: Not mine, Square's.
A/N: I toyed with the idea of giving them a dog or a cat. For reasons I cannot disclose right now, I decided against it, but for the record, I had settled on a cat and Seifer wanted to call him 'Phil.' Quistis disapproved.
The 'Jenningses' are a reference to Jennings, the protagonist of Payckeck.
Chapter One: The Galbadian Dream
"I see trees of green, red roses, too.
I see them bloom for me and you.
And I think to myself: what a wonderful world."
- Louis Armstrong, 'What a Wonderful World'
Quistis woke up to the chirp of a bird's song.
She opened her eyes slowly, squinting at the brilliant daylight that streamed through the window. It was a gorgeous Saturday morning; clear blue sky, not a cloud in sight. Outside, the children of the neighborhood were playing, basking in the sun and filling the streets with the sound of their laughter and games.
Getting up from the bed slowly, she stretched and glanced at the sleeping form of her husband. He was a heavy sleeper, giving her the chance to slip out of bed unnoticed and go about her daily routine without waking him up. By the time he came downstairs every morning, Quistis had already taken her jog, a shower, and had had time to prepare a feast of a breakfast to sate his voracious appetite.
They ate together, commenting on the more interesting articles of the newspaper and then went on to plan their day. Weekends were mostly reserved for little chores around the house that couldn't be performed during the week; trim the lawn, refresh the paint-job on the fence if needed, answer their mail. Seifer would some times work on his pet project, a vintage motorcycle he had been fine-tuning and restoring for the past two years, and Quistis would usually spend that time on her beauty regiment. She considered it a duty, rather than a chore, to always look her best for her husband.
Always, she thought ruefully, as she slipped her white silk robe on.
On the bed, Seifer gave a snore and rolled over, hugging the pillow she had just abandoned. For a split second, Quistis wanted to smother him with it. Okay, maybe it was more than a second.
Sighing, she made her way toward the bathroom to wash up and brush her teeth. The quicker she went about her daily routine, the quicker she could find a little spare time to relax before she had to turn into Quistis Almasy, art restorer for the Deling City Museum.
For now, she could simply be Quistis Trepe.
Seifer Almasy's morning routine was pretty standard, with small variations here and there depending on his mood. There was, however, in the equation that was his day, one constant:
He always woke up with a groan.
Today, in particular, he felt like staying in bed and do nothing but stare at the ceiling all day long. But that was not an option. Not when his gorgeous, intelligent, amazing wife was waiting for him downstairs.
She would be sitting at the table, her lush red hair worn not in her usual bun, but loose, her make-up impeccable and she would greet him with a beautiful smile and a kiss. She would have had an already highly productive morning: she would have already jogged, showered, scrubbed every surface of the house clean, discovered warp speed for all he knew, and she would still look perfect.
Perfect, he thought, feeling the sudden urge to scream. She really was perfect. Not a stray hair, not a fleck of make-up looking misplaced, never raising her voice or being anything other than a sublime hostess and wife. Never.
If he hadn't witnessed her accidentally trip and hurt her knee a few months ago, he would be certain she was a Hynedamned robot. But she had bled that day, and to be perfectly honest, he had been disappointed. Having married an android would have been twisted in an awesome kind of way, and it could all end with an epic decapitation, but realizing he was married to a human being who was truly that flawless made his blood curdle. The only time he could recall that she had ever made a mistake in the three years they knew each other was that very day. Her big, huge, giant flaw was that she had once tripped. And even then, it had been a neighbor's dog who had startled her and got in her way.
Three years, he thought. Three years I've spent with her, two of them married-
He came to a stop, eyes bulging. Two years? Rolling to the side, he reached over to the nightstand for his cell phone and checked the calendar. He was right; next week was their two-year wedding anniversary.
Fuuuuuuuuuuck, he thought, groaning. There was no chance in hell Quistis would have forgotten, which meant that today they would be planning an event of some sort for the following Sunday. And he needed to buy her a gift.
He got up, even more irritable than usual, and tried to cheer himself up by thinking of all the little ways he could ruin her day. Maybe I won't use a coaster, he thought. It'll kill her. Or use the salad fork for the steak at dinner.
His stomach protested at the thought of food, and at once, his mood brightened a little bit. If nothing else, she was an amazing cook –of course she is- and the breakfast she prepared for him was always the highlight of his morning.
He decided to focus on the one good thing awaiting him downstairs as he showered and changed into a pair of comfortable black sweatpants and a plain white t-shirt. He entertained the idea of going barefoot and give her a stroke, but as a small 'Thank you' for the effort she put into her cooking, he decided to put his slippers on and made his way down the stairs.
As expected, she was there, a vision of perfection, writing something down on a notepad. When she heard him approach, she looked up and gave him a beaming smile.
Here we go, he thought, and returned it, slipping effortlessly –but not painlessly- into the role of Seifer Almasy, successful architect.
Quistis removed her reading glasses –Does that count as a flaw? Hmmmm- and got up from her seat. She put her arms around him and gave him a chaste peck on the lips. "Good morning," she said sweetly.
Die in a fire. "Good morning, love," he said, running a hand through her fine red hair. "Slept well?"
"Like a bird," she said, and took him by the hand to guide him to the table.
He took his seat across her and immediately dug in. Aside from the good meal, he now had an excuse to shorten his replies to grunts and murmurs while he kept his mouth full. The conversation would be no doubt boring and insipid; it wouldn't make a difference what he said.
"I was thinking," Quistis began, buttering a piece of toast. "About next weekend."
"I don't know if you remember, but our anniversary is coming up..."
Shit, now I have to make an actual reply, Seifer thought. "How could I forget?" he said, grinning. He tore a piece off his cinnamon roll and tossed it playfully into his mouth. "And no, no matter how hard you search, you won't find your present anywhere in the house."
Quistis laughed; a crystalline, beautiful, perfect laugh. Perfect, perfect, PERFECT. "You didn't have to get me anything-"
"No, I didn't have to. But I wanted to," Seifer replied. Oh yuck. Well played.
"Well," Quistis went on, a pleased grin on her full lips. "I thought that perhaps we could invite a few people over for Saturday."
"Our anniversary is on Sunday," Seifer said, arching an eyebrow. Could it be that she had remembered the date wrong? Oh please, please, please tell me she messed it up...
"I know, but Sunday is a difficult day," she explained. "We can't expect anyone to stay past nine, ten at best, since they'll have to wake up for work on Monday. So perhaps we could organize a little something for Saturday instead?"
Of course not. Of course you've thought this through.
"Sounds good to me," Seifer said. "I'll leave the guest list and... well... everything up to you. You're far better at this than I am."
"Oh, like last year?" Quistis said, pretending to be mad and tapping her pen against her jawline. "When I slaved over the buffet and all everyone could talk about were the cocktails you threw together in five minutes?"
"Well, I had some very positive comments about your cooking, not to mention your outfit, if you recall," Seifer said, winking at her. All right, he had to admit, she did look devastating in a cocktail dress. That, he could look forward to. And the sex wasn't bad. A little vanilla and too mushy and romantic, but definitely not bad. Though definitely not great either.
Quistis looked away, blushing, and jotted something down on her notepad. "Don't pick the wines before I decide what I'm making for dinner," she said, grinning still.
"I won't," he said, and went back to his breakfast. Because having white wine with red meat would apparently be Hyne's second fucking coming.
"Selphie, no," Quistis hissed into the phone. "I can't make it on Saturday, and actually, neither can you."
She bit her lip, looking out the window to make sure Seifer was still in the garage and well out of earshot.
"Why the heck not?"
"The anniversary dinner," Quistis replied. "I've been away on business trips three times this month; if I cancel this he'll start to suspect something is wrong."
"Okay, fine, I'll talk to Squall. Do I really have to be there?"
"So help me, Selphie, if you let me deal with the Jenningses and the Petersons and everyone else alone that night, you'll regret it," Quistis threatened.
"You married the guy! You were the one who insisted on the pretty little house in the 'burbs and the one and a half inch lawn or whatever. Why should I suffer?"
"You owe me!" Quistis growled. "I bailed you out with your last boyfriend, Selphie, or have you forgotten?"
"All right, all right, geeeeeez. I'll be there. I'll bring a bunt cake or something."
"Thank you," Quistis said, letting out a sigh. "Tell Squall I'm free come Monday, but next weekend is off."
"Okay. Have you called Cid, or should I?"
"I'll call him, don't worry."
"Quisty... Don't take this personally, okay? I'm not trying to rile you up or get out of the dinner or anything, but can I ask you something?"
"You don't really sound... happy. You lie to your husband about your job and your past, you're a completely different person when you're with him, you complain about the life you chose to me... I know he's sweet and successful and all that, but is this really what you want?"
Quistis had no reply to that and Selphie didn't press on; she simply sighed after a couple of seconds of silence.
"I'll see you on Saturday then. Bye."
Quistis terminated the call and tossed the silver cell phone on the desk. Outside, Seifer was still working on his motorcycle. She took a seat on the window ledge and watched him for a few minutes, bringing her knees up to her chest.
Why did she stay in that marriage?
She was unhappy, that much was obvious. The domestic life, the pretense, the fake smiles and forced sweetness were all killing her. She wasn't a person anymore; she was a doll, a robot, a woman without feelings or opinions or a personality.
Seifer was the same.
When she'd met him three years ago, she had fallen head over heels in love, and it wasn't for his looks alone. Back then, he was different, too. Witty, charming, with a wicked sense of humor. He challenged her, made her laugh, showed her something new every day. What had happened to the man she stayed up all night with discussing their hopes and dreams, the man who didn't shy away from speaking his mind, the man who made love to her anywhere and at any time?
He wasn't a bad man, not by any stretch of the imagination. He was sweet to her, treated her like a queen and always listened. He was the embodiment of tall, dark and handsome, with dark hair and piercing green eyes; he was the kind of man girls swooned over.
But the Seifer she loved, the one she longed for, was the Seifer who had fire in him, passion for her, for life and everything he did. Not this bland, washed out version who worshiped the ground she stood on and treated her like china.
She was only twenty-two (twenty-four, as far as he knew) and already stuck in a marriage that bored her to tears.
I don't know... I really don't know...
"Oh, boo, another depressing day."
The Ice Maiden stretched lazily. The collective unconscious was a dull, dull place. Hyne had truly slept the day imagination had been handed out to the Gods, and his sloppiness showed everywhere. From the tiny little planet he had created, down to this place, his lack of vision was glaringly obvious.
There was only a vast nothingness, where trillions of little strands representing memories unfolded before her like strings. And not a single loom in sight to play with. Lazy, lazy, lazy. Every string connected to the others in small junctions, making up a giant, vertigo-inducing network of grey thread.
As Shiva floated around, picking and probing at her little pet's mind for something, anything of essence, she yawned. "I'm getting a little tired of it, you know," she said. "Despair? Yes. Anger? Oh, yes, yes, yes. But this is boring. I can't work with any of this."
"Then stop sucking the life out of her."
She turned to look at Ifrit, pouting. "Am not," she insisted. "We have an agreement. She gives me what I need, and I stay away from her precious little plan. But she promised me happy memories, not a pity party."
Ifrit smirked, curling a piece of string around his clawed finger. "And if you were a little wiser, like me, you would take your time with the good memories, not devour them at once."
Abstinence. How droll. What did he take her for, human?
"At the rate you're going," Ifrit went on. "She'll forget anything good ever happened to her. If you want happy memories, let her breathe a little. She can't be happy when she's starting to forget who she is."
"Hmph," Shiva scoffed. "Fine. I'll go easy on her. But she'd better start keeping up her end of the deal," she added, narrowing her eyes.
She picked one of the strings and tugged it, stretching it out. It didn't break, nor did it disconnect from the rest: this was a mistake only amateurs made, not someone like her, who had been playing the game for millennia.
"Or what?" Ifrit asked.
She held on to the string with thumb and forefinger, letting a long piece at the end wriggle free. They were living things, the little buggers, sometimes too stubborn to yield, but she always molded them to her liking eventually. A little coaxing, a soft croon, and they bent to her will. Always.
The end of the string began to unfold like a roll of parchment. The face of a young, smiling, dark-haired woman dressed in a blue duster stared back at her. Shiva grinned and let the string go. With a snap, it jerked back into place.
"Or 'the plan' gets it. And then it's bye-bye little witch. Forever."
A/N: The way memories and memory storage are handled in this fic will be more thoroughly explained later on. Till next time!