© 2002 Original storyline by Gold (E-mail: goldenstarlight@hotmail.com)

Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VIII belongs to Squaresoft.  This story is in no way connected to Squaresoft or its subsidiaries or partners.

And so here we end.

The Dish: An Angsty Seiftis

Part 15: Finé

Seifer craned his neck and glanced about anxiously. He had wanted to escort Quistis down, but she had been quite firm about it. She wanted to show everyone that she could make it quite well on her own, and he had agreed. After all, it was really supposed to be her night—hers and that of the SeeD who had gone with her on the nearly-disastrous suicide mission.  It had been a little over a year since. Now that the awards and speeches and stage toasts were over, Seifer wanted to get back to Quistis' side. But where was she?

He caught hold of a passing SeeD—Nida, very proper in his ceremonial SeeD uniform. "Have you seen Quistis?"

Nida thought for a moment. "Ten minutes ago, squeezed into a corner by the President of Esthar. I think he was trying to shake her hand off. That way." He pointed and Seifer rushed off thankfully in the indicated direction.

He found her outside the ballroom, strategically placed in a dim corner near three large, shoulder-high potted palms. The life of the party was within, and she had chosen to stay without. She was looking pale and strained, and he knew at a glance that she needed to sit down. He went up to her immediately.

"You're tired, darling; lean on me," he murmured tenderly, suiting the action to the word and drawing her carefully against him.

Quistis did not look at him. Instead of relaxing against him, she stepped away.

Surprised, he stood still for a moment.  It seemed that a sudden gulf had opened up between them and he didn't know how, or why it was there.

"Quis—what is it?"

Quistis turned to look at him, her eyes bright and a little too blank, Seifer thought with some alarm.

"What's wrong?" He made a move towards her.

This time, she did not step back, but neither did she move closer to him. Rather, she regarded him with an expression he could not fathom.

He found himself stopping just short of pulling her into a loving embrace. Instead, he waited, tense, for whatever it was she wanted to say.

Slowly, she turned her face so that shadow fell across it. "I think we shouldn't see each other any longer."

The words were clear and direct, and her tone was calm.

But it shook Seifer from head to toe, because he knew that he had not heard wrongly. His first thought was that she had gone mad. His second, more rational thought was that Quistis must have some reason—some form of logic, indeed, behind her stunning statement—or at least what she thought was logic.

"Why?" he heard himself ask, and was shocked at the steadiness of his voice. He clenched his fists. What had put that idea into her head? Or—who?

She faced him, eyes burning like blowtorches. "What makes you think you love me?" she demanded in a low voice. "I think you're fooling yourself. And I don't want to be part of it."

He stared at her.

"You can't love me overnight. It's not possible. I nearly die, and when I wake, you're there—and you tell me some weeks later that you—that you care." Quistis' cheeks were scarlet. "I know you feel you owe me—for things—but believe me, you don't. You don't," she repeated. "You can't love me overnight." She shook her head. "It doesn't hold. It doesn't."

At first, Seifer had been afraid of what she was going to say. But as he listened, he felt a queer fury rise in him. "It 'doesn't hold'?" he repeated sharply. His eyes blazed. "It doesn't hold?" He nearly threw up his hands. "Hell, Quistis, do you think I've stayed with you because I pity you? Do you think I begged you to come back to us out of anything but love? Open your eyes, for Hyne's sake! I didn't swear to pull you out of Esthar alive because I pitied you. I didn't—"

"You didn't love me before Esthar," Quistis said fiercely, blue eyes glimmering. "You were in love with Rinoa. I was like some kind of thorn in your flesh, even if SeeD sent us on joint missions as partners. When did you ever care for me? Not once—not even as a friend." She gritted her teeth as the bitter memories came tumbling back—memories of a time when he had turned his back on her. "And then all I did was to nearly die at Esthar, get into a coma, wake up, and a few weeks later, you tell me you care, and I swallow it like a fool, because my brain wasn't thinking clearly at that time!" She pressed a delicate, fine-boned hand to her forehead.

"And you realise all this—one year later?" Seifer demanded in disbelief.

Quistis looked away. "Matron told me everything yesterday." She glanced at Seifer. "I think it's fair to conclude that you felt some sort of obligation—that—very well, I haven't the faintest idea how to put this, but if you think that you care—because I did—and because you feel responsible—somehow—"

Seifer's eyes flashed and he cut abruptly into what she was trying to say. "Was it true what Matron said, then? Did you really love me?" He added with grim humour, "If we're going to talk about telling the truth…"

She could lie and save her pride, or tell the truth, and suffer humiliation. But he was right. Quistis lifted her chin—and decided upon which horn of her dilemma she would impale herself.

"Yes."

"Was it out of pity for me as some kind of misunderstood human being or whatever?"

Quistis glared at him. "Never. Damn it, I've loved you since the first time I saw you, and I was only a child, for Hyne's sake!" She bit her lip, suddenly realising that she had let on more than she had intended.

There was a spark of triumph in Seifer's expression, but he firmly quenched it with a grim smile. "Good. Since you've been so truthful, I'll be equally truthful, and then we can both be sure where we stand." He met her gaze equably.

"I love you," he said flatly, "and it was never out of pity.  They say that sometimes you don't know what you need and love the most until it's taken away from you. I was one of those idiots. Because I didn't know how much I loved you—hell, didn't even know that I loved you—until I thought I'd never see you alive ever again."

A muscle worked in his jaw and his eyes grew keen. "You'd given me so much of yourself," he went on softly, "but I never repaid you. Everyone else around you saw how—how beautiful you were, but I didn't let you know that I saw it as well. Because I did see it, you know. I just didn't like to let on that I did." He stopped for a moment, took a deep breath, then continued.

"I won't be able to say exactly when I fell in love with you, but I can tell you when I knew I loved you. Because I swore I'd follow you into the dark, if you didn't want to return with me, and if Matron hadn't shaken me—I'd have followed you. If it killed me, I'd still have followed you!" Seifer's eyes blazed. "Not out of pity, or obligation, because neither drags anyone that far—but because I love you. Did you think I would let you go once you came back? You were dying, Quistis, when we reached you…" He swallowed. "You were dying and I was watching you die, and I couldn't do anything about it…"

He was now very close to her, close enough to run one rough finger gently over the delicate cheek. "You didn't hear me, but I knelt by your bed when you were lying there, and I begged you to come back because I loved you—because if you died—because—" He broke off, trembling and suddenly unable to speak.

The look in those green eyes went straight to Quistis' heart.

"I…didn't hear you…" she whispered, her voice catching a little. "…didn't know…"

Before he could say another word, she slipped her arms around his neck and rested her head in the crook of his neck, soft lips resting precisely over the pulse beat that leapt suddenly and vividly under her touch.

Colour rushed into Seifer's face and he tightened his arms around Quistis. "Let's not talk too much…your throat needs resting, darling."

"Mmmm." Quistis sighed a little. "But I'll still have to go back in…and I don't want to." She thought for a moment. "Do you want to go anywhere?"

Seifer shrugged. "Not really, if you aren't there." In all his life, he'd never thought he would say such soppy words to anyone, but—well—they didn't sound so soppy when he was saying them to Quistis… He cleared his throat. "We could go find a nice place and have a bite to eat instead of this finger food they insist on serving, or else we could go back in and face more congratulations and handshakes. Or else we could just order take-out. There's this nice seafood place here in Esthar…"

Five minutes later

The telephone rang.

"Good evening, Fish & Co., I'm Ngai, how may I help you?"

"I'd like to order home delivery. Two black pepper stingrays, two clam chowders, two line fish fillet—your catch of the day—and all with chips, please."

"Right, sir. What's the address?"

"Esthar Presidential Palace.  Just say you're delivering for Seifer Almasy."

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Well. Hi, everyone. This is Gold. When I first started this story, I intended it to be an eight chapter tale. As you can see, I overshot. -_-;;; I can never, ever write a short story, apparently.

I just want to say thanks to everyone who took the time to read this, and review it. It was lovely reading the reviews and knowing that people out there are reading this, because I write for two purposes—one, because there's a story that burns to get out of my fingers, and two, because I know people like to read this stuff.

Like I said at the beginning of this, a friend of mine, whose critical opinion I trust, said that I could certainly write angst when it came to love and emotions, so I thought I'd try a story about nothing but angst. And here it is. :)

I'm a romantic, but not the kind that wants sad endings. I belong to the school of happy endings and WAFF. This world is sad and tragic enough as it is, and every which way we turn, we see failed relationships, unhappy marriages, broken homes, war, destruction, tears…so when I write, I want people to be happy. I want there to be happy endings. I know many of you have cried over some of these chapters, but hey—the ending's worth it, right? ^_^