Chapter 6: Memories

She tossed and turned that night. What's wrong with me? She groaned irritably. She needed to sleep. Her stomach didn't feel so great. Too much junk food. I feel guilty. Why? It must be Seifer, she decided.

Yes. I made him run a real errand. Was that it? She had never sent him on an errand for herself before. Always his tasks had been nonsensical ones; making him lay in the field, making him pick flowers and push them through the buttonholes in his coat, the ones he never used. I gave him an order for my own convenience. Ugh. I did the same thing to Squall. Made him come to the training center and listen to me. I've always been careful with Seifer. Humiliating assignments, yes, but he could see that I didn't think of him as a pet to be sent around for my personal pleasure. They were never for me before, always for him, to help him learn to obey orders even when he didn't like them. I never laughed at him. I didn't this time, either, but I came so close.

I was showing off, too. Selphie and Rinoa had enjoyed his discomfort immensely, but that didn't make it right. It made it worse. Humiliating him in front of the entire Garden didn't bother her; humiliating him in front of her friends did. He knew both of them. Rinoa he had known intimately. She felt like someone should penalize her for unnecessary roughness.

Worst of all, she had timed it very badly. She had interrupted something intimate. That made her feel positively sick. She had ordered him to run a petty errand for her while he was...whatever, and that girl had seen him jump to do her bidding. "Yes, Instructor," he had said, and he had gotten to her room so fast she knew he must have thrown his clothes on and ran down to the shop. That girl, whoever it was, had been a witness to that. If she were him, she'd have been so angry she would...she didn't know. Hate her forever, probably.

That bothered her. It bothered her that anyone might hate her, but especially one of her students. He hadn't been friendly at all since she had forced him to spill his secrets to her, things he had never willingly told anyone except for Edea. Edea was like a mother to him, and they had been through almost the same situation. He had volunteered the information to her. But Quistis, though she had been something of a sister, was just his instructor, as well as a former enemy. She felt bad about that discussion, but she hadn't thought he hated her. Now he had a very good reason to though.

The final blow was that she couldn't even apologize to him. Admitting she had made a mistake with him would be a disaster. A bigger mistake than the one she had just made, and she knew better than to make it. Maybe after he passed his SeeD trial. No, that was a bad idea too. She'd just have to live with it. Let him think that it was just another test.

She stared at her ceiling in the dark, thinking about it, and finally managed to get to sleep after deciding that she would be a little easier on him from now on. Not a lot, but some. He had done better than she thought he would. Better than she probably would have in the same situation.

 

In the next two weeks, the cadets showed their mettle. She had taken them to Esthar last week to fight Marlboros. They were nasty things. There had been a couple of close calls, but with such a large group of people, nothing that wasn't handled with brisk efficiency.

Today they had visited the Centra Ruins. They had been full of good cheer, all of them. They experienced fighting Tonberrys, and little monsters' strategy cracked the students up. Sim had quipped, "Yes, I think I'll just walk up to you very slowly. And then I'll slap you to death." Everyone had had a good time. Smacking Tonberrys around was a lot easier than messing with Marlboros.

It was another beautiful summer day, and on a whim she decided to take them down to see the orphanage. She had an urge to see it again. They landed the skimmer on the shore next to the old stone house in the early afternoon and ate their lunch rations on the beach. Then she had set them free to wander for an hour, looking at everything.

Now she stood in the middle room of the old house, breathing in its faint scent. She remembered it from her early childhood. Most of the students had gone around to the field immediately, to stretch and talk with each other. A few had taken off their boots on the beach and were standing in the gentle surf. Only one or two explored the house. She heard a shout of glee as someone discovered a draw point. She looked around, feeling sharp nostalgia.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw someone enter the room. Seifer. He stood in the doorway and looked around. In the last few weeks, he had stopped giving her the usual hateful looks. Now the looks he gave her were expressionless. Inscrutable and scrutinizing. She preferred the hateful looks. These new ones gave her the impression that he felt such disgust for her that he couldn't even bring himself to show it. I wonder what he's thinking. He remembers this place, probably better than I do.

She gave no indication that she was aware of his presence. She just stood in the middle of the stone floor and gazed at the crumbling walls. He looked around too, but after a few moments his gaze turned to her. She could just barely see him, but she felt his gaze like he had touched her. She would dearly love to see his expression, to try and decipher his thoughts. He didn't look at her very often. It was like he couldn't stand the sight of her. Just those occasional short expressionless glances.

Why was he staring at her? She began to feel nervous. Finally, she turned to him.

"Ready?" she asked, and smiled. He nodded, and turned away.

She followed him out the front door and turned right, into the field.

It was a beautiful place. The rays of the sun lanced through the clouds touchingly. Butterflies flitted around brainlessly. They were gorgeous. And the flowers. How she remembered them. This was probably the most beautiful place in the world.

She smiled at the cadets. "We'll practice here today. Cadets against SeeDs, one on one. Spread out. Enjoy yourselves; it's a beautiful day. We'll practice for a while, and get back to Garden in time for dinner. Go on."

Two by two, the pairs moved off. Seifer headed for the far end of the meadow, and Quistis followed.

They faced off. Seifer was still at the head of the class, and was now more of a match for her. By the end of the class, in two weeks, he would be her superior.

They sparred for several hours. Quistis won their bouts more often then he did, but it was exhausting work, completed in silence. He didn't need her commentary. All he needed was a bit more speed and force behind his blows. This would come with regular practice, and she didn't need to point it out to him. He knew.

Finally, she called a halt when she saw he was making mistakes out of tiredness. She dropped her whip and flung herself onto her back in the grass to catch her breath. He set down Hyperion carefully and stretched out as well, a few feet away. She was too tired to feel surprise.

They lay there in silence. She looked over at him and saw that his eyes were closed. His eyelashes were surprisingly long; the tips of them rested on his cheeks. She followed suit.

After a few minutes, she had caught her breath. She felt good. Aching, perhaps, but this was a restful scene and she enjoyed it. She didn't want to move.

Before she could stop herself, she murmured thoughtlessly, "Was this what it was like?" She cringed. How could I say that to him? How could I possibly be stupid enough to bring it up?

To her surprise, he answered her instead of rising and walking away as she expected.

"No. Now I'm just so tired that I don't want to move. The other time, before..." he trailed off.

She waited, not really expecting him to continue. But after a very long pause, one so long that she wondered if he had fallen asleep, he did, quietly.

"It was like I was paralyzed by the beauty. All I could do was watch. Petals, floating everywhere. I couldn't have gotten up if my life had depended on it. Paralyzed by beauty. And joy. And peace. I didn't even know, not until Fuj woke up and told me. She crawled over to me and burst into tears. Fierce Fujin, crying like her heart would break." She looked over at him in complete and utter shock. His eyes were still closed, and he was smiling. Just a little, but he was really smiling. His next words nearly stopped her heart.

"I managed to look at her. I said, 'Why are you crying, Fuj?' And she cried even harder and whispered, 'Because you are.' The only time I ever heard her speak without shouting. And I was. I didn't even know it until she told me. I don't think I ever had, before..."

Quistis turned her face away from his. Her heart ached with pity for him, ached desperately. If she looked at him she would weep.

The next thing she knew he was shaking her shoulder gently.

"Instructor? You fell asleep. Shouldn't we be getting back?" She looked at him blearily. She'd been asleep? That expressionless look was back on his face. Had it been a dream? Had she dreamed that he had confided in her? She got up, blinking sleepily.

"How embarrassing," she yawned, smiling. "Yes, let's get back."

She gathered the others and they got in the skimmer. She saw that she wasn't the only on who had indulged in a nap. The ride back was silent. The quietness of the meadow, the undisturbed beauty, had left the cadets in a peaceful introspective mood. She shared it.

She wondered, though. Was it a dream? Did he hate her? Or didn't he, after all? She looked at him, resting with his arms folded and his chin on his chest, and honestly couldn't tell.