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The Worth of Memory (FFVIII, PG)
Fandom: Hell Bus
first_seventhe wrote in ff_exchange
Title: The Worth of Memory
For: aesriella
Medium: Fanfic!

Request(s): FFVIII Quistis, with Xu, Rinoa, Seifer or Irvine, recovering from, working through or living the immediate aftermath of a difficult or draining experience with a GF, be it junctioning, withdrawal, an experiment or otherwise. Quiet, gentle romance, please. Additional prompts: Hands, farsighted, double vision (figurative or literal), sun on the water, understanding.

Fandom(s): FFVIII (with slight bonus FFVIII/FFVI crossover!)
Characters/Pairings: Quistis/Rinoa, Xu, Squall, Kadowaki
Rating/Warnings: PG

Summary: The Guardian Forces take memories as currency, but some ask for more than others.

Notes: thanks to justira for a quick beta!



- - -

Come, if you think you can draw this strength into your bones; I long to live, again, again, again--

- - -

She wakes up to a bland grey ceiling, and it feels familiar, as if she's been here before; she tries to sit up, but her muscles have forgotten how to move. They're jerky, beneath her, stubbornly refusing her demands, and she has a fleeting moment of panic in that: her body's better trained than this; she should be able to move like a professional, on command, because…

The curtains surrounding her cot quiver, and then pull back, and a woman smiles at her, obviously pleased. "I thought I heard something," she says, genially, as she pulls the curtains shut behind her and heads over to the bed. "Rinoa will be glad you're finally awake." The woman is older, plain-looking with spectacles and an air of no-nonsense intelligence about her, and she's smiling with relief as if – as if –

"Quistis," the woman says gently, as strong hands and firm support help stubborn muscles move. "Careful. You're hurt."

Quistis. It sounds… right, ringing bells down the hallways and corridors of her mind, echoing off what she realizes now are scores of fragmented and broken memories: her name. But the realization of her name is drowned out by the slowly-growing sense of horror, the sudden rushing sound and the tinkling of broken glass and the vertigo-inducing feeling of hanging over a precipice the moment before the fall, like in a dream.

"I don't remember," Quistis says, softly, looking into the eyes of the – the woman she knows is the doctor of – of the place she works at – the – the place she lives and – the doctor's – her head hurts, the fragmented memories stabbing behind her eyes like splinters. "I don't remember."

- - -

--I will pull from what you have made most precious and burn it all away, to start anew--

- - -

The echoes have grown into a murmur, centered in the back of her skull like a whirlwind; occasionally a thought will fly out, at high velocity, and strike her, eyes and ears ringing with the dull pain. She can hear nothing except the drip-drip-drip of the IV into her arm and the hum of the memories as they turn and rotate and bubble in her mind.

Then she hears a door slam open, and the curtains gasp faintly into the air as something – someone – bursts into her small space.

This girl is very pretty, big eyes and brown hair and - and magic, arcing from her, currents on the air - and soft blue where she expected - a uniform? No, that's not right. The girl's face is pale, and tear-streaked, even though her small mouth is set with something stronger than even determination, and there's something in her eyes that – Quistis frowns as her mind buzzes with it.

The girl's eyes bubble up with affection and tears. She steps forward, slowly, and comes to sit on the edge of the cot – gently, as if she's afraid to startle something. She reaches out and takes Quistis' hand in both of her own, and the smile is a mix of emotions too thick and deep to be read.

"I told you, you should have let me do it," the girl says, wry. She shakes her head, disbelieving even as her fingers trace patterns on the back of Quistis' hand, soothing and tingling all at once. "They could've gone without me for a couple days." She laughs: half-sob, half-hiccup. "And I could've used the nap, Quisty."

Quisty. The nickname – now, this is – it's a hammer on a chime, one clear bright note ringing through the twisted shadowed hallways left in the rubble of her - c'mon, Quisty - the vibrations cease, and she realizes this must be Rinoa.

Quistis looks up, the word on her tongue, in her eyes, but the girl just smiles at her and puts a finger up to her own lips. "Hush, Quisty," she says, and when she opens her mouth again it's a language so ancient and thick the air shimmers with it: "Sleep."

- - -

--I am always waiting, and burning with it, these fiery rhythms beating in my blood, the unbroken circles--

- - -

This time waking is almost a fight, slowly dragging her up through a pool of liquid, tearing through silken fabric, burning through a fine haze – Quistis is on her back, breathing hard, her eyes open but unseeing. In the infirmary.

"You still shouldn't have done it." This, a man's voice, so familiar Quistis can almost taste the name on her tongue, familiar because it's rich with disapproval.

"Why not? Dr. Kadowaki said she needed sleep more than anything." This voice, Rinoa's: confident, passionate. "She won't recover without sleep."

"Not magical sleep." The male voice deepens, and Quistis frowns, because she's close to putting a face to it: storm-eyes, and scars, and a control as tough as stone. "She's already sick from a wild Junction. Putting more paramagic into her system could be—"

There's a silence, awful and deadly, heavy with meaning, and then the man growls, "You didn't, Rinoa."

"Of course I did," Rinoa says; a soft shuffle, and in Quistis' mind's-eye Rinoa is standing with her hands on her hips, her head tilted and eyes furious. "Do you really think I'm stupid enough to cast Drawn magic on her? I can feel it, Squall." Her voice goes hazy. "Her mind... it's all in pieces."

When the man – Squall – speaks, his voice is ice-cold. "I thought we had discussed the inappropriate use of your Sorceress powers within Garden boundaries, Rinoa." The words echo strangely in Quistis' mind, emphasized as if they begin with capital letters, bouncing all around: witches and angels and seeds in a garden…

"Are you really so scared of it?" the girl asks, her voice low and dangerous through the curtains. "After all this time, do you still actually not trust my magic? Knowing what you do?"

Silence, again, and Quistis feels like there are multiple conversations going on: her fragmented mirror-memories are showing her images of Rinoa and Squall, over and over, reflected at every angle.

"You know Quistis is my Knight now," Rinoa hisses, the words tight with meaning, and Quistis hears the capital letter again, her instincts placing it there even though the word means nothing to her shattered mind. "You know what that means. If you think I could actually hurt her, if you think I would…"

"Rinoa," the man says, and a door opens, and Quistis hears two sets of footsteps leaving.

- - -

--you die to be reborn, I die to bring new life, with every defeat there is only victory, with every drop of heart's-blood shed there is power, inherent, waiting, only waiting, always waiting—

- - -

She has resolved to sleep, because sleep is what will heal her, and so she lies back obediently in the bed and stares at the ceiling until her eyes close, and then she stares at the backs of her eyelids and thinks.

Eventually she stops thinking, because all she's doing is looking at glass fragments, like a puzzle she doesn't know how to put back together. She breathes deeply, and relaxes, and finally, she sleeps.

She sees puzzle pieces strewn across a grey, weathered table, her small hands reaching for them one by one, methodically putting them together to make the picture of a bird, small and brown.

She sees a beach, and hears laughter, as her small hands pack sand into a tower and then graciously allow someone else – small, blond, grinning – to step on it.

She sees an endless expanse of time and space, and it terrifies her, her hands gripping a weapon entirely unfamiliar to her as if it is a lifeline.

She wakes up, and some of the pieces of glass have fused themselves together.

- - -

You cannot keep me in this stasis: I am the fire of life, always moving, always turning, always breathing, always dying

- - -

Rinoa sits on the edge of her cot, playing nervously with her fingers in a familiar way that makes Quistis' heart burn with the desire to remember it.

"Your classes are fine," she says, and Quistis tries to give the words the layers of meaning they need: classes, students, instructors, school? Institution? The pieces and parts are not yet coming together.

Rinoa pauses, the words caught in her throat, and she laughs, low and gentle. "You really don't remember, do you?"

Quistis flushes, feeling strangely ashamed, but Rinoa reaches out and brushes soft fingers against her cheek. "It's okay," Rinoa says, and her face is alight with it: "It'll come back to you. All of it. It's alright."

Quistis lifts her own hand, carefully, and presses fingers to her temple. "Rinoa." The name is familiar on her tongue, as if it wants to be whispered. "How did I--? What happened?"

Rinoa's lips curve in a gentle smile, utterly graceful and genuine. Her fingers dart out to brush against Quistis' temple, too, a light tap. "You'll remember," Rinoa says. Her smile falters, a little. "We were hunting in Esthar," she says, and her hands come up to clutch at Quistis'. "You found something."

Guardians, Forces, the draw of magic, the ripping roar as something rushed through her head – and Quistis remembers, suddenly, the voice, in her head, speaking poetry of fire and rebirth.

"Shh." Rinoa smiles, and playfully taps a finger against Quistis' lips. "It'll be alright."

- - -

--oh, how I long to live.

- - -

Quistis wakes, and there's someone new in her room – but not-new; the face is familiar, down to her bones, and she thinks, hard, because there has to be an end to this, a way she can pull forward the memories she needs from the tangled mess and –

"Xu," the woman says, clipped and straightforward and the name rings, in her head, the vibrations pulling forth – shotgun in her hand, target practice, her first – the slow methodical tapping of blunt fingernails on a chessboard – a card, pressed into her hand, with a proud smile – Quistis blinks.

"Yes," she says, because she remembers – fragments, really, but this woman is familiar. A co-worker. A companion. A friend.

Xu pulls a chair up next to Quistis' cot and sits, arranging the folders on her lap with precision and care. "I'm here to debrief you," she says professionally, and opens the top folder – glances at it – and then hands it to Quistis.

Quistis stares at it blankly.

"It's like these idiots don't even know you," Xu remarks casually. "As if you'd really want to be coddled and kept asleep." She makes a brief, sharp motion towards the folder in Quistis' lap. "This is a quick review of the work we've done so far on GF usage and memory loss. Read that first, so that you know what we're working towards." A smile hovers around her lips for a second. "It should be familiar to you. You wrote it."

Quistis opens the folder. A review article sits on top, and she scans it; she devours the words, and yet she feels like she has double-vision: each sentence, once consumed, is familiar, and she doesn't find it hard to believe she wrote this with the way the cadences echo in her mind.

"So," she says, once she's reached the end, with the strange symphony of the words still in her ears. "Everything I've forgotten is still there." The words on the page are her own: an orphanage, forgotten, and then raised back into being by one young man, who remembered.

Xu nods, and her lips quirk into something, and Quistis can instinctively tell that she is pleased. "The memories can be recovered over time. You'll need reminders and re-training, of course, but they can be pulled back to the surface." A pause. "The price you'll pay is a loss of compatibility with the GFs in question, but I doubt that matters much to you."

She hands Quistis a second folder. "This is the file for the mission you and Rinoa were on when it happened. You managed to find a rogue GF and pull it from its host. In the process you damaged your memory, which is the first problem. The second issue…" She taps a fingernail on her teeth, in thought. "We're having trouble containing the GF itself. We need to know what you know about it."

Quistis looks down at the folder.

"Go over it and see if anything jogs your memory." Xu stands up. "I'll be back in a little bit in case you recall anything."

"Thank you," Quistis says, and means it, and that hint of a smile plays around Xu's lips for another second before she leaves.

- - -

to live, for one more circle, day to night, death to rebirth, sun rising again

- - -

"She's still sleeping." Quistis recognizes Rinoa's voice through the haze of awakening, and her shattered brain is surprised at the familiarity of it, which surprises her so much further she almost does not hear Xu's response.

"I won't wake her." Comraderie, in that; some secret joke between friends. "I'm just worried."

"Is this... unusual?" Rinoa's words lack the confidence they usually bear, and Quistis squints up at the ceiling and racks her brain, trying to remember what Rinoa normally sounds like. She has only shards, snippets of speech from a girl her heart loves but her mind can't quite recall.

A shifting noise, and the soft sound of a footfall. "I can't say; this doesn't happen often. But none of the other cases have been this bad." Xu sighs. "Usually we're seeing complete recall by now."

"She'll be alright," Rinoa says, and this is confident, and Quistis decides it sounds better on her than uncertainty.

The curtains slide, and Rinoa steps into the room, softly, and closes the curtains behind her. "I know you're awake," she says.

"Xu wants me to remember," Quistis says. "She said there's something wrong with the - Guardian Force we found?"

Rinoa smiles, and reaches out to tug the blanket up over Quistis. "There's no rush, Quisty, really. You'll remember when you're ready." She makes a face. "And that stupid thing can just wait until you are."

Quistis can't help but laugh, out loud, and at this Rinoa looks surprised – and then pleased.

- - -

They have been fighting for hours, for days, it seems, and every time they strike this thing down it comes back in a burst of life-burning flame, each time a little more undead, until Rinoa has stopped casting anything other than Holy, Holy, Holy, and then each time in a sickly burst of fire-orange and life-green it revives.

Quistis is sure they're going to die down here, in the crypts below Esthar, because she can't figure out on her own life how this thing is so powerful; they've fought demons before, she and Rinoa and their friends, they fought Ultimecia, they fought time itself and managed to turn it away: how can one thing down here in the Esthar underground be so strong?

Rinoa's panting, and she turns to Quistis, and Quistis can feel it, Rinoa's desperation and panic and fear, and her question too: whether Quistis is up for it, for breaking the limits on Rinoa's paltry paramagic and letting her Sorceress-powers out, because Quistis still isn't sure she can anchor Rinoa, and--

--and then Quistis realizes this thing is so powerful because it's not just one thing: it's two. It's Junctioned.

She steps in front of Rinoa, instinctively, because she knows she has more experience, and she cannot let Rinoa risk this.

"No," Rinoa gasps, behind her, picking up on her thoughts immediately, and Quistis feels the burst of worry-concern-love-fury from Rinoa through their bond right as she raises her hands and closes her eyes.

And this time it's Rinoa who is the anchor, as Quistis wraps the force of her mind around the Guardian Force, screaming and raw and fierce in this creature's mind, and
pulls.

I long to live, again, again, again--

- - -

Quistis recognizes Rinoa's footsteps as she approaches the infirmary. She sits up, eager, as Rinoa steps through the curtains; Rinoa's face lights up to see her, cautiously bracing herself. "Have you remembered?" she asks, and her words are full of potential.

Quistis shrugs, the motion still painful and dizzying. "A little," she says, even as she swings her feet off the edge of the cot. "I need you to help me."

"Anything," Rinoa breathes, and Quistis is suddenly, stunningly, grateful for her understanding.

"I need to go see the GF we found," she says. "I need to see whatever they're keeping it in."

Rinoa pauses, hesitance obvious all the way through her fingertips. "Quisty," she says, softly, "that could make it worse."

Quistis shrugs, again. "I've already forgotten, haven't I? It's already going to be weeks before I recover," and there, that bitterness, that's familiar, "so I might as well do something useful now."

Rinoa gives her a long, deep look. Quistis looks back, drinking it in, the strange spiraling feeling of a memory recovering, as if surfacing from a deep dark pool of water.

"Okay," Rinoa says, finally.

They make their way through the halls quietly, if slowly, and Quistis feels something coming from Rinoa, some strange sort of tingling confidence that's more than an aura; this is new, unusual, and she remembers Rinoa - dripping with feathers as she casts an arm forward like a Queen - has some kind of special powers. Sorceress. It sounds familiar.

They stop in front of a door. "Are you sure?" Rinoa asks, and Quistis nods.

Xu is inside the room with two other - uniforms? soldiers? Aren't they too young?. They stand to attention, abruptly, and Quistis starts, a little; Xu only nods, and makes another harsh brief gesture towards the back corner of the room. A lamp is sitting there, and Quistis remembers a line from her own paper, that these Guardians can be stored in certain inanimate objects.

Rinoa lets go of her arm, and Quistis approaches the lamp slowly and cautiously.

A Guardian Force needs a name to be used, her own voice dictates inside her unfamiliar head. It needs a name to be bound with, so that it can be called upon and summoned forth.

She reaches out and places her fingers on the lamp.

Fire rises, in her mind's-eye, rising from the ashes that are her fragmented memories, and it blooms and blossoms upwards into tendrils and arcs and sparks and feathers, and something like the cry of a bird right through her skull—

--but this time the voice is soft, and female, and gentle.

I know what it is to forget, and Quistis sees for a moment a young woman, a glass chamber, a sacrifice: death, for life.

She understands: this wasn't just a Guardian Force, then.

Phoenix, live! the girl says, and the fire rushes upwards, through the shards of glass and years and memories, melting and fusing and bringing forth life, new life, white magic at her fingertips.

"Phoenix," Quistis says aloud, and the lamp before her stops its shuddering.

The room is silent.

"Its name is Phoenix," Quistis says in her Instructor-voice, turning to look at Xu and Zell and Irvine, already smiling at Rinoa's beaming face. "It's a summon that revives fallen comrades in battle, using a fire-based attack to distract the enemy."

Xu just nods, as if she expected this, but Quistis remembers to look for the crooked quirk in her mouth.

- - -

She's already changed back into her battle-gear, and she's folding the infirmary gown when she hears the curtains slide open.

"Glad to see you on your feet," Dr. Kadowaki says, and Quistis smiles in return.

"Thank you." She leaves the gown on the sheets. "I'm sorry I didn't recognize you."

Kadowaki shakes her head. "I've seen it before," she says. "You think you're the first one in here who got a little too close to a GF?"

They both laugh. There are still pockets and holes in her memories, but small ones, like lace, and Quistis knows she's suffered worse before.

Rinoa's waiting outside the door, and Quistis smiles at her as they leave.



  • 1
I loved this! The tone and mood were just right.

Yesssss.

You know I'm all over the Quistis/Rinoa femmeslash knight meta. AND PHOENIX. WHICH IS ACTUALLY MY FAVORITE SUMMON. Really, but that's mostly due to my obsession with it mythologically.

AWESOME JOB ON THE BACKUP FIC.


I LOVE PHOENIX, WON'T LIE. totes unrelated: I saw part the last X-Men movie at the gym last night and fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck I am so gay for Dark Phoenix


Ah, this was gorgeous. Thank you so much, and extra especially thank you for doing this so quickly at such short notice. I loved the reflection of Quistis's mind in the fragmentation of the sentences and structure, the intercutting of Phoenix's voice, and especially the way it's always still Quistis because of those moments of poetry among the control and decision-making. I really particularly loved the contrast between Xu and Rinoa and the different ways they love and understand Quistis; I've always liked the symmetry of their pairings, since to Xu Quistis is the soft one but for Rinoa she's the rock. Also, Phoenix/Quistis may be my new ultimate meta pairing; no one *ever* writes about Phoenix in FFVIII and there's such a great connection between it and Quistis, I feel. I really enjoyed this and it was well worth the wait, so thank you very much <3!

Trufax: when I started writing this, I actually couldn't decide whether to go for Quistis/Rinoa or Quistis/Xu - I love both pairings and I really like the way they compare and contrast (yes, I agree with you in your analysis 100%) and so this ended up having hints of both in it, because I figure either way both Rinoa and Xu would care about Quistis a lot and try to show it in their own ways.

And I couldn't pass up a chance to interlace meta; one of my favorite things to write about in FF8 is GFs, new GFs, hunting them or finding them or what would happen, and because of my other works for FFEX I've been feeling the FFVI and it. it just happened, haha.

I was really happy to get your prompts, too. I kind of wanted to write all of them. >.>

SEV. HOW ARE YOU THIS AWESOME.

I flail at you in incoherent glee a lot. FF6. RACHEL. the memory loss! the GF voice! Xu and Rinoa's different ways of dealing, and oh Squall honey that stick is sure lodged up there good and proper, isn't it? and. and. YOU WIN.

Oh my god, I think I just exploded in a shower of hearts and flowers. I- I don't know if this is a weird thing to say, but I love how feminine this story is. I don't know how else to put it. It's not just that the characters are female, it's the whole story somehow--the tone, and the character dynamics--gentle and fierce in equal measure. I AM DOING A BAD JOB OF EXPLAINING MYSELF. BUT ANYWAY.

This fic hits buttons I didn't even know I had. Quistis as Rinoa's Knight! Rachel! Phoenix! Memory fragments! Squall being frigid! Quistis reading her own work for reference! I can't believe you wrote this as a backup; the prose is so lovely and measured, not a word out of place.

Basically, I would like to marry this fic.

I just love the flow of this piece...

Memory fragments paralleled by the different sections, Rinoa/Quistis (and and KNIGHT!), a touch upon the character interactions so subtle...

If only there were more to be had. This just screams 'groundwork' for something more, even if it wasn't intended as such.

Thank you for the awesome read. <3

Oh my gosh this was fantastic. Quistis/Rinoa! A pairing for which I've really wanted to read good fic for a really long time. I love the concept of Quistis as Rinoa's Knight; I would totally read more fic about their adventures.

Other things I loved:

- Squall prohibiting Sorceress magic inside of Garden!
- Rinoa and Quistis' connection!
- The way you use temporary amnesia to talk about things Quistis otherwise wouldn't pay attention to! (e.g., "uniforms - soldiers? Aren't they too young?" <33333)
- Xu and Quistis' interactions, hee. I love that I can't really tell if they had more-than-friends relations before this or not.
- Xu's characterization (e.g., It's like these idiots don't even know you.)
- Rinoa and Squall's interactions! Especially because you could feel all of this past history they've had and guess at all the past arguments. (And wonder about why Quistis is her Knight now and hope that you'll write a prequel about it.)
- the descriptions of, like, everything.

Also, I have such a love for SeeD/GF interactions, especially when they're a little creepy and intense.

Thank for posting this!

  • 1
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