Trace the Stars

Final Fantasy VIII

Reach for the sky, and if you shall fall, you will still be among the stars. 

Shattered, in one brief moment, like the pieces of my world.

I looked at him, on our way back through the training center, drank him in, really, and even then he looked more beautiful than ever before.  So beautiful that my heart constricted within my chest until I was sure it would soon explode; shatter into a thousand pieces, taking with them all my dreams and hopes.

One desperate gamble, one last play with all my cards laid down. And I had lost.  I knew I would lose before I began, and yet in my rashness I thought there was still a tiny ray of hope, no matter how small. But he was the Lion, and so cold. Aloof, callous, untouchable.  I was a fool.  For one perfect moment, I had the world in my hands.  Now I had nothing.

Silly girl. Stupid girl. Combat rule number one: Never, ever, reveal yourself to the enemy. The enemy? Yes.  To do so is to be stripped naked, bared to the eye, and be powerless to defend yourself.

Take what's coming to you, foolish girl. You brought this upon yourself.

I tasted the tears of my bitter defeat, and they stung my eyes, blinding me. Go talk to a fucking wall, it probably would listen better.        

He walked in front of me, we fought side by side. Ebony strands of silk, slender limbs, delicate features, eyes that raged a storm; he was beautiful. And with one dark, empty look, my world had ended.

With all that had happened in a matter of minutes; the anguish of dismissal, the exhaustion of battle, myriads of emotions chased themselves round within me, and I realized I had lost myself. As I looked at him, standing there, impassive and stoic (stone), I wanted to punch his face in – I wanted to love him.

I didn't know what love was. Everything I had ever believed about love, everything I had ever embraced and dreamed and wished of had just blown up in my face.

I walked away before my emotions could overflow and control slipped out of my grasp. I would not embarrass myself further.

            Because of that I didn't see (the sun) until it was too late.

            He was looking at me in such a way, black leather steadying my stumbling limbs, that I knew in an instant he had known all that had taken place.

            For the first time, standing before him, laid bare before piercing green, I was ashamed. Turning my face away, I gazed past him towards the inviting closeness of the dormitories.

            "In a hurry to get somewhere, Instructor?" His voice was laced with heavy sarcasm.

            "Not an…instructor…not anymore." The words came out in a half whisper.

            He sneered.  "The great Quistis Trepe, child prodigy, now brought down to the level of an ordinary SeeD. How does it feel? It looks like the Ice Queen isn't so untouchable after all."

            I stared at him desperately, his words ringing through my ears, ripping through me. Cruel, brutal, malicious; they were true. The tumult inside me was raging, threatening to spill out of me, and I was tired; so tired of pretending. 

            "Yes." I met his eyes, defeated.

            He was surprised, flinching back indiscernibly, emerald eyes widening. 

            Acquiescence too soon, I realized with a dull throb. He was expecting a fight, and now it will be all the easier for his killing blow. It didn't matter, though; vicious, malignant, I will deserve all of it, and it will all be true.  

            But he only stood there, grazing over me with contemplative eyes. Until with one last probing look he turned on his heel and strode powerfully away, coat swirling round his heels. An invitation had been issued, however imperceptibly, and I was left to follow in hesitant wariness.

            Up the stairs, into the chill night air of the balcony, cool metal ladder beneath my hands, and there we were, almost at the top of Garden, the glass dome of the ballroom ceiling near us, the violet plains of Balamb spread out below us.

            I had never realized that it was possible to climb up here. Drawing close to the glass panes of the dome, I looked down, seeing the gaudy display of brightly colored fabric in whirls of moving color; elegant evening gowns, immaculate dress suits, twirling to singing violins and breaking into merry laughter.

            Closing my eyes, I swallowed the acrid taste of resentment, and opened them to find him standing near the edge overlooking the twilit plains, emerald gaze turned towards the sky, golden hair ruffled by a passing breeze. 

            "You come up here often?" I asked, coming to stand beside him.

            He glanced at me sideways. "Yeah. You like it?"

            Something twisted within me, and suddenly my vision was hazy.  "I don't fucking want your pity, Seifer."  

            He didn't act startled. Just turned to face me with a smirk, but I saw the way his eyes flickered with wry amusement and then eventually, reluctant approval.     

            "Bitter, aren't we?"

            I turned away, settling my gaze on the billowing grass bathed in a translucent sheen of moonlight far below me.     

            "The last thing I need…is anyone's pity," I spat it out scathingly, clenching my fists.  

            He quieted down beside me, stretching out languidly before settling down smoothly on the floor, propping himself up on elbows.             

            "There's your first step," he said, looking up at me. "To realizing that you're on your own."

            Suddenly cold in my thin top and skirt that revealed bare legs, I shivered, sliding down to sit next to him.

            "What?" I asked, confused.

            "Face it, Trepe. In this world, you're always gonna be on your own. Don't expect anyone to ever stop and give you a helping hand, 'cause it's never going happen. The only one you can ever depend on is yourself, because there's never going to be anyone beside you."

            I watched the way the shadows played over his face, the way his eyes were suddenly dark. Was that really his philosophy, the way he went through life? What about love, about trust – there was always someone on your side, wasn't there?  I didn't give voice to my thoughts, knowing I would only be scorned. Maybe he was right, after all. Maybe the only true thing you could count on in this world is your own capability.  

            "So what are you, teaching me now?" I smiled slowly, offering a lapse from solemnity.

            He grinned crookedly. "Yeah, maybe. Looks like you might need it."

            "The tables have turned, oh ex-student."

            His laugh was unexpected, ringing through the still night air. "Okay, ex-instructor, then your first lesson of the day is to let go and laugh your ass off."  

            I stopped to gape at him. "Excuse me?"

            "Just let go. Start laughing madly. You really need to lighten up. Trust me, it'll do you a world of good." Flashing me a mischievous smirk, he lunged forward suddenly, grabbing hold of my side and began tickling my lower half.

            On instinct, I retaliated, jabbing him in the ribs and going for his stomach. In moments we were in a laughing heap, choking from lack of breath and still unable to stop mad giggles from erupting.  Spontaneous, impulsive, our laughter was full, rolling out in great bursts, and once started it couldn't be stopped.    

Clutching my stomach, I gasped for breath and collapsed beside him. It did feel wonderful, simply letting go like that. With Seifer Almasy, of all people.  Who would have known that playfulness was even a word he knew?

Content at last, silence overtook us and we lay sprawled together on the hard floor, the stars spread out far above us. 

"They always make me feel so small," Resting my head on my arm, I pointed with my other up into the night.  "Among so many of them, you feel…insignificant."

He let out an even breath. "Beautiful, though. Soothing."

The evening wind ruffled through my hair, lifting up strands of silk to brush across my face.  I stared upwards, far out above me, into an eternity; millions of cold glittering lights scattered, tiny points of brilliance suspended in deep velvet.

"Yes. Beautiful."

"There's so many of them." He shifted, green eyes searching the heavens. "Insignificant, maybe, but you want to become something bigger, something better…" Stretching out a gloved hand, his fingertips kissed the sky. "Like all your dreams, spread out before you…"

I looked at him then, took in the handsome features; saw the golden hair, the strong nose, high cheekbones, rugged scar, burning emerald eyes.  I saw how his eyes yearned and felt how his soul ached.

Seifer Almasy had dreams. Dreams of golden promises and glorious might; his was a world of golden longings, where dreams and hopes were strewn on glimmering threads before outstretched fingers, like jewels catching the light, erupting into brilliance.    

He was capricious predictability, treacherous solidity, golden darkness. Light when the other was dark, ambitious while the other dwelt in apathy. Like (sun to storm) (knight to lion) two sides of a coin, and it was only now, when I was no longer their authority, that I could really see.  As different from one another as they could be, (rivals) and now that I had spent time with the other, I realized. 

(oh, why didn't I see you?) 

            I had never been enough, and I didn't think I could ever be enough. Me with my modest dreams of an ensured career, guaranteed respect, a life without complexity or frustration; I didn't have the infinite desires nor the glamorous aspirations. But even then, for a moment, I felt an inexplicable bond of understanding and empathy with this man beside me; comprehended his high hopes, just out of reach, recognized his ruthless craving to achieve these dreams.

            Only…his dreams hadn't shattered, not just yet, and his world was still intact. I lay there in the darkness of twilight, listening to his even breathing next to mine, and I couldn't stop the silent tears making their way down my face. 

            And unpredictably his face was there, close to mine, peering at me out of bright green eyes, meeting my azure ones now clouded by the salt of my tears.   

            "Trepe?"

             "I'm sorry, so…sorry," words as a whisper, as I sat up and clutched my knees to my chest.

            He continued to look at me through piercing emerald green, silent and still.

            "I think—I-I've just lost…everything…" I had never openly cried in front of any student; wasn't I the Ice Queen, impenetrable, untouchable, (no, he was untouchable) but I wasn't an instructor anymore, was I? An equal now, to him, like him.

            I told him I didn't want sympathy. Anything but pity, and here I was, asking for it, practically begging for it. I despised myself.

            He was quiet for a moment more, and then slowly, haltingly, he began. "Shit happens, Trepe…and you just have to deal with it."

            I nodded, blinking back tears in hopeless desperation.

            And suddenly his hand cupped my chin, his lips grazed my ear, and I trembled underneath his touch, beyond any understanding.

            "Fuck 'em all, Quistis. You don't need them."

Even wrapped in leather, I could feel the smooth caress of his hand on my cheek, an aching yearning deep within, felt the feather-light way his thumb brushed off a lingering teardrop, the way buttery leather slid across skin, the way his breath felt warm against my ear, the way I shivered uncontrollably.

            Drawing back, he tilted my chin to face him, letting azure drown in emerald pools. 

            "That's lesson number two, fuck them all, because you don't need them, and anyone who makes you feel as bad as this isn't worth your time." His lips curved as he smiled at me, and I smiled back, a crying smile as I looked through in wonder.

            "No one can ever make you feel bad without your consent. You're not stupid, Trepe. Nor are you weak. Just…confused, maybe. But if there's one thing I know about you it's that you can pull yourself back together and tell puberty boy to fuck off."  

            I was laughing then, laughing through my tears at the irony of it all. These words were coming from none other than Seifer Almasy himself, and as I looked at him, emerald gaze still locked onto mine, gloved hand still tracing the stars upon my skin, I wanted to cry and laugh and throw my arms around him, all at once.  But I was afraid; afraid of touching him and feeling golden skin under my hands, afraid of having a moment of eternity slip through my fingers.  Because all at once, my world had been mended; the pieces picked up and put back together.

            I didn't understand, I couldn't comprehend, and I didn't know how to let him know that in this brief instant of time he had left me with more wisdom than I had ever given to him or any other student in all my months of teaching. But he couldn't know that, and I couldn't let him know that. It would change everything, like the way the world was tilting now, shifting in subtle ways that I could not fully grasp on to.  

            Already things were different, different between us, and it was wrong, wrong because things weren't suppose to turn out this way, and we would suffer in times to come.

            But what was done was done, and as the stars shone down upon us I was suddenly content, happier than I had ever been, without knowing why or how.    

            "I didn't think you had that high of an opinion of me," It was lighthearted teasing.

            He sat back abruptly, as if he had been lashed, and my skin felt empty where the warmth of his hand had just been. "I don't." 

As suddenly as that he had changed, the mask had come clamping down, and the tiny glimpse of soul he had just revealed to me was lost forever.

"Mediocre to a fault, Trepe. You are and always will be. You'll never make a good instructor."

            (We suffer already.)

            I looked at him quietly, having no words left to say. He turned away from me, eyes hardening, smoothly got to his feet.

            Another rejection, another bitter truth. The world had changed, but that was all right, because (maybe) I was strong enough to deal with it.

            Getting to my feet, I moved to stand beside him, bare shoulder brushing against his coat.  Stiffening, he refused to meet my eyes, his own seeking the distant horizon once more.

            "You're right, Seifer. Fuck 'em all."

            And I left.

**

            The clamor of harsh yelling and the metallic clang of steel on steel issued from the disciplinary room. Alarmed, my whip was instantly in my hands as I raced through the doors.

            Several Garden cadets and SeeDs were locked in a scuffle with Seifer, but I saw at once that they were no match for the brute strength of his determination. 

            Lifting his head at the sound of the door opening, he flashed a malicious grin in my direction as with a thrust and a lithe twist, he brought his opponents sprawling to the ground.  

            "Almasy! What do you think you're doing?!" My whip coiled to snap millimeters from his feet.

            "What's it look like I'm doing?" Sneering, he swung me a mock salute with the cold steel of his gunblade and tried to brush past me through the doorway.

            I stepped in front of him. "If you're thinking about going after Squall and his team, they can handle it on their own. That's what Cid sent them for."

            He snarled. "Incompetent fools. They don't have the slightest clue what the hell they're doing."

            "Don't I remember someone saying once that the only person you can depend on is yourself, and that no one is ever going to step in and help you?" I saw the obstinacy in his eyes and I pleaded with him futilely, stepping to block his path again. "Why are you going to help Squall? Let him handle it on his own, he can do it."

            As soon as the words were out of my mouth I knew I had said the wrong thing. His jaw tightened and the arm holding Hyperion tensed.

            "Get out of my way, Trepe," he growled.

            "You're making a mistake, Seifer."

            Dodging around me, he strode away, never once looking back.

            I ran after him.

            At the Timber broadcast tower, I was too late to stop him.  With gleaming steel at Deling's throat, he was slowly backing up into a side room, dragging the president along in front.   

            Ignoring Squall's stupefied silence and Zell's protesting cries to stop me, I ducked into the side room after Seifer, my heart thumping with apprehension. If he did something, anything crazy now…it would be my fault…it wasn't supposed to be like this.

            I hesitated right inside the doorway. At the far end of a room a woman stood, dressed in an elaborate black dress and crowned in ornate splendor.

            Seifer, too, halted in wariness, eyes narrowing at the intruder, his grip tightening on Deling.

            "Poor, poor boy," the woman crooned, her voice soft and strangely lilting.

            Seifer took the slightest step back. "Stay away from me."

            The woman shifted, gliding forward, arms outspread. There was a strange humming around her, and the air around her was hazy, as in a mysterious aura, as if she was not quite physically there.

            Caught in her entrapment, Seifer stared, his hold on Deling slackening. Weakly he muttered, "Stay back."

            "Don't be ashamed to ask for help. You're only a little boy." The woman continued to weave her spell around the golden-haired young man, seducing him with whispered promises of might.

            "I'm not. Stop calling me a boy." Seifer's voice had dropped, and he sounded plaintive, beseeching, as he let go of Deling in a crumpled heap and stepped forward reluctantly. 

            I broke out of my bewildered trance, and on their own accord my limbs rushed forward as a cry tore from my lips.  "Seifer!"

            The woman beckoned to him, and in one indiscernible movement she raised her other arm and let it fall, sending me tumbling to the floor in a helpless heap.

"Come with me to a place of no return. Bid farewell to your childhood."  Her words were ominous, captivating, and they wove sinister magic.

            "Seifer!"

            Spellbound, he followed her, but my call seemed to break him out of his helplessness for a moment, and he turned his head to look straight at me. Emerald eyes met my own azure ones wide with fright, deep pools of stillness.  And I was lost within those green depths once more, a far off light strangely illuminating the probing darkness of his eyes.

            A flicker of emotion twisted in his eyes, but with a blink it was gone. Turning his head away, a small smile playing about his lips, he stepped after the woman and vanished, leaving me staring at an empty wall.

            He was gone, and this time, I could do nothing.

**

            The first time we fought him, I had to watch from afar. How I wished I was up there, facing him, and maybe I could have done something, said anything, gotten the Seifer I knew back.  But even then, I knew that he was too far gone, lost within his own dream until it had twisted and blinded him with shadows of deception.

                                                            **

So this, the second time we go to battle, here I am once more, facing him, except this time he has murder in his eyes and I have new strength in my limbs.  Those green eyes once more, and I can't help but marvel at the contradictions he has exemplified, remembering a time an eon ago when green eyes had peered out at me with soft brightness. (can you remember?)

            His beloved coat is tattered, his face haggard with a hardness that has not been there before, and he holds his blade with the same black gloved hands, ruthless steel ready to rip into our flesh. I wonder about those hands, and the fingers encased within them, wondering how they would feel bare against smooth skin, skin roaring on skin. I wonder also how golden hair would feel under slender fingers, and how frail lashes underneath bold emerald would feel brushed against fragile cheeks.  But my thoughts run away with me, and I am left staring helplessly at him, preparing to do something that never should have come to pass.

            I'm sorry, Seifer. I am sorry, for everything and nothing, for failing you as a teacher, as a friend, for not seeing you, for shedding tears over the other, for letting you go.

            (oh, why could I never see you?)

            A nimble lunge, and the thrust of supple steel rings against its matching blade, the sharp crack of my whip splinters the air, the whirl of nunchakus blurs in front of my vision, and the pungent taste of residual magic is left upon my tongue.

            Then come the taunts, lashing each of us in turn. As he turns to me, last of all, for a brief instant his face seems unclouded.

            "Instructor Trepe, I'm still one of your dearest students, aren't I?" His voice is mocking, but only I can see the bitter honesty in his eyes.

            My world has frozen, and I cannot move.

            Seifer, you turned your back on your childhood; you turned your back on us. Perhaps we let you out of our grasp, lost within your dream, blood on your hands (tainted), sin on your shoulders.  (knight, golden one) the world has changed, no longer are we children, and we fight, oh how we fight, with our last dying breath.

            Like your romances of pursuing glory, your hopes of undying might, I understand. Like your failure into distortion and your fall into temptation, I understand.

Because maybe you're only human, after all.           

Above me I can see the stars, twinkling coldly through the skylight. He stretches out his hands, this moment spreading out to an eternity, weighing solely upon my single answer.

Suddenly we are out beneath the open sky once more, star-studded heavens singing their hymn beyond us. His fingertips kiss the sky, and patterns of stars trace my skin.  Maybe once this is all over, maybe once the world is salvaged, there will be a new beginning, and we can return to this place of innocent dreams.

I whisper silently, but he hears me even then.

"Not anymore."

And it is with understanding that he launches himself at me, coiled steel flails, sparks tear the air, as my world jars for a second time.

While high up above, the night cries with stars.

~*~           

A/N: …and here we go with some more Seifer/Quistis goodness. Go, me! ^_^ Anyway, not necessarily any romance at all, in fact, (alright! I confess, maybe just a little!) just my take on what Quistis might have felt towards her former student and his fall from grace.