Gift Recipient: perkyandproud
Title: Not a Desk Job
Series: Final Fantasy VIII
Characters: Quistis, Irvine, Zell, Selphie, Rinoa
Warnings: Violence, swearing
She wakes to light shining brightly in her face. Blinking hard a few times, she glances around at the white room with glaring florescent lights, and winces, her head throbbing.
Quistis attempts to move and the rope digs into the raw skin of her wrists. Her ankles fare better only because she’s wearing boots. In the distance, she hears voices and her head aches, but she straightens to perfect posture as the steel door slides open.
The woman is holding her whip, casually curling it and uncurling it around her forearm; she’s a dark-skinned woman with darker eyes, and the smile that curves her face would have made most other people shiver.
As it is, Quistis simply looks down at the woman’s uniform and then meets her eyes again. The woman smirks. “Well, SeeD, your friend has yet to crack. We’ll see how far we get with you.”
“Friend? I believe I had two companions,” Quistis says, her voice coming out cracked and low.
“Accidents happen in our line of work,” the woman says, circling back to stand behind her. “Just one of the many risks.”
Quistis’s heart skips a beat or two, and she can’t keep herself from stiffening. Who, she wants to demand, but she can’t—can’t fall into that trap, can’t give up what little power she has here.
“Now, then. Tell me—what does SeeD know?” the woman asks and Quistis can hear the sound of her whip uncoiling.
Still, she sets her jaw and sits motionless.
Somewhere nearby, she hears Irvine’s scream and her blood runs cold.
Irvine clenches his teeth after that initial yell. His blood stains the white floor, and this chick has some nerve, shooting him with his own goddamn gun. Hyne, what a mess.
Briefly, he tugs at the ropes binding his wrists and they don’t budge a fucking millimeter. Shit. Fuck. Goddamn.
Spots dance behind his eyes and he sucks in a breath through his teeth while pain spreads farther and farther from the wound at his side. The woman crouches, so that they’re eye level, but she’s no novice—she’s not close enough for him to do a damn thing. “Why is SeeD here?”
Irvine keeps his teeth tightly clenched, and she sighs.
He’ll have to remember how much it fucking hurts to be knocked out by the barrel of his gun.
Quistis can feel her heart beating fast with a panic she can control only through practice. While she likes others to believe she’s inherently a cool and calm person, she knows the only people worse for a situation like this are Zell and Irvine.
Part of her wonders—can’t help but wonder, was the woman telling the truth? Is it only she and Irvine left? Could Zell be—?
Blond hair blood matted and blue eyes open and sightless and powerful muscles frozen and a man made of energy motionless.
Quistis blinks away the image. Really, what SeeD doesn’t have nightmares of their comrades and friends dying? The key is to keep reality separated from fantasy.
Wait. Do not show your unease.
Like always, Ifrit’s voice pulls her out of her musings, and the woman circles her again, smirking in a way that almost makes Quistis shake. “I could make you scream too,” the woman says, “But you’re a SeeD, you know all about pain, don’t you? Let’s feed your imagination instead.”
Raising one eyebrow, Quistis reaches for her magic, for the Ice spells laced into her muscles, and finds everything gone. Pretty sophisticated stuff—enough Drawing power to wipe her clean. Thankfully, they hadn’t found Ifrit or Carbuncle, but they haven’t proven to be a foolish foe, yet. They’ll be waiting for her to summon the power of Garden, the GF.
“Your cowboy friend is in there with Alena. She’s not very patient; she doesn’t like waiting for people to wake up. But she’s not very careful...” the woman grins, wide.
“Lucky you had so many Cure spells on you,” the woman laughs and Quistis fights to keep her face blank.
Consciousness returns to him, and he feels his wounds barely healing over. Damn—he’s so going to scar after this.
Be calm. Do not let vanity cloud your judgment.
Quetzalcoatl’s voice nearly makes him jump—he’d totally forgotten about Selphie lending him. In the back of his mind, Cerberus laughs, just a little. Magic’s gone, he knows, but he’s not too worried about it. He thinks he knows where it's gone.
“You stole all my Cure spells and that’s really all you can do?” he drawls and makes a show of leaning back in his chair as much as he can.
Oh, holy shit fucker.
Air escapes him in a horrible, choking gasp, and he’s pretty sure either his ribs are floating inside his body in little tiny shards of pain or he’s got some major fracturing or breakage going on. Shit.
The woman laughs. “You answer a few questions, and we’ll see if we can’t get you fixed up right nice.”
“Yeah?” Irvine lets himself grin. “Well, I guess you’ll get some target practice. Your rifle work’s a little shabby.”
It’s hard to get the words out, his mouth is so dry. Already he can feel himself starting to shake, and he knows she can see it, too. Damn, but he’s got nerves of a jellyfish. Or maybe he's just going into shock. Shit goddamn motherfucker.
This is why he’s an assassin, not a run around and beat people up for their lunch money type. He doesn’t like going toe to toe, eye to eye with the enemy. Intimacy is reserved for the people he actually likes.
She points the gun at him, at his wrist, his right wrist, and this is going to fucking hurt and shit—he’s done.
No more waiting. None of this information gathering, none of this getting your bearings thing they’re supposed to do before escaping a situation like this. He needs his wrist. Intact.
He’s never summoned a GF that isn’t his so fast before. Goddamn, he’s going to have to join the Festival Committee or something for Selphie later.
She has to strain her ears to hear Quetzalcoatl’s crackling energy over the description of Irvine’s torment. But she hears it.
Well, looks like it’s time to move.
If she didn’t have Ifrit with her, there’d be a problem. But as it is, he stirs almost instantly at her touch, her skin warming, warming, in a way that makes her feel safe, in a way that sets her bonds to smoking. The woman lashes out with the whip, but it’s obvious she’s never used one before because she misses and by then, it’s too late.
Ifrit kills the woman and Quistis walks over, flexing her fingers and rubbing her wrists, and then reclaims her whip. Now, to get her magic back.
Irvine lifts his rifle off the woman’s body and takes the time to Draw his magic from her and heals himself with some of the Cure spells he carries. Pretty rough, but better than nothing. Glancing around, he moves to the corner of the room and grabs his hat.
With it firmly on his head, he leaves the white room, and, if he weren’t trying so hard to keep control of himself, he’d laugh, because they didn’t even bother to lock it.
Expecting to face tons of these goons, he’s surprised by the empty corridor. Across from him, a door opens, and he levels his gun and then grins.
“Quistis,” he says.
She’s got some dried blood around her scalp and looks like she's taken some heavy hits, but, all in all, she’s moving well, and fast enough that he can recognize the Haste junctioned to her speed. Good. She’s got her magic back, too. “Have you seen Zell?” she asks, and it’s a point of pride that she doesn't ask how Irvine is doing.
“Not since he grabbed the book,” he replies. “Hopefully, he got back to transport.”
“I’m guessing they took your phone?”
He nods and she sighs. “We need to find out if he made it back,” she says.
The tightening of her expression answers his question and he sighs. “Well, let’s fight our way through, and at least find a phone.”
Quistis nods, and tightens her grip on her whip.
“Shit,” Irvine mutters, looking down at their gutted phones.
Quistis frowns and looks up at him from the corner of her eye. “I thought you were a mechanic.”
He splutters out a laugh. “Me? Hell no.” He grimaces. “Selphie does all the maintenance. I’m just the co-pilot.”
An irritated noise comes from the back of Quistis’s throat, and she gathers up what's left of their phones. Ifrit tenses in her mind, rumbling a—
Be aware. You are not alone... An abomination approaches.
Judging from the way Irvine’s hands twitch for his gun, his GFs have given him much the same warning. Confident, she uncoils her whip and he moves to the back of the room.
The cool blanket of Protect magic settles over her skin, followed by the warmth of Shell. She nods her thanks, and waits.
Footsteps ring down the hall and soon, the scent of burned flesh assaults them. Even after years of practice, both of them still have to repress a gag, and the dragging footsteps get nearer.
“I know you’re there,” a voice says, a feminine voice made raw by screaming.
Her skin is shiny from burns, across her face and hairless scalp. Smoke curls up from her hands, her arms, every inch of her really, and even Quistis can’t keep from dry heaving.
The woman’s blistered lips burst as she smirks, and then she says, “SeeD. You are here, but do you understand why you are here?”
Quistis swallows and her grip on her whip is white-knuckled. “What happened to you?” she asks, her voice coming out clipped, “What have they done to you?”
Laughter comes from the woman, a garbled and broken sound that might be a sob. Fire springs to her fingertips and Quistis’s skin crawls—this power, it's just like Ifrit... just like Sorceress.
Ifrit concludes it like it’s something that needs to be said.
“They have made me what humans should have been,” the woman says, looking down at the crackling flame in her palm.
Quistis waits, watching the fire, watching the woman, trying to keep down the waves of revulsion, the memories.
Magic, harsh and free, hit her and she staggered, gasping. It crawled across her skin, healing, healing but wrong, wrong. Rinoa... wore white wings and magic in her palms. Bile rose.
“They have tried to make me what we should have been,” the woman repeats. “What the GFs are. Why should they have such power, when we do not...? But I was not a success. My body is rejecting the power, even as my mind embraces it.”
The fire waivers, then flies at Irvine. No time to worry about whether or not it hit, Quistis launches forward and wishes—briefly—that she had borrowed Shiva from Squall, like he’d suggested.
Fighting fire with fire, after all, is never really the best option.
Behind her, shots go off rapidly, and the woman gasps a little, faltering under the barrage of lead and leather. Fire rises around her, strong and controlled, and it launches at them. Cure spells never quite seem to do enough, against this foreign magic, but then, that was a problem they faced while fighting GFs and Sorceresses, too.
Crackling energy comes from behind her, and Quistis jumps back, to give Quetzalcoatl room.
Zell sends the man down with a final, devastating kick. Breath coming heavy, he looks down at the—admittedly—blood-splattered book. With a grin, he pulls his phone out of his pocket and calls Squall.
“Well?” Squall asks.
“Mission success,” Zell says, then frowns a little. “And... Uh, I managed to lose Irvine and Quistis.”
There’s a pause where Zell can imagine Squall sighing. “I’ll send Rinoa and Selphie to help clean up.”
His phone clicks and Zell can’t help but laugh a little. That's Squall for you. Always uptight and worried—like Irvine and Quistis couldn’t take of themselves, or something.
Zell leans back, against a tree—man, how far had he come from the facility?—and flicks the book open.
Magic was created by Hyne for the use of great beings we call the Guardians, or the Forces. In recent years, these terms have been combined and shortened to the GF. Deep in their blood, the magic courses, as a part of them.
Shrugging, he flips the book shut. It was his job to find the stupid thing, not to understand it.
Selphie hops off the craft (Seifer insisted it was a ship, but really, it was more like an oversized flying rowboat) and lands next to Zell. “Nice going,” she says, hanging her nunchaku on her neck. “Hyne, Zell, sometimes I think you lose people just so you can play hero later.”
His grin really isn’t reassuring, and Rinoa smacks him neatly on top of his head. Angelo yips at her feet. Behind them, Seifer doesn’t bother to move from the controls. “Alright, chicken wuss, give me the book. And you better bring Instructor Trepe back in one piece. I need her to pass my SeeD exam.”
Zell laughs a little, and tosses the book to his rival. “Don’t worry about Quistis, she’ll be fine.”
This time, the grin is reassuring, and Seifer takes to the sky without another word.
“Let's go,” Rinoa says, and makes sure her blaster edge is strapped on tight.
Irvine uses a quick Water spell to douse the fire in his jacket. Damn, that’s going to cost a fortune to fix.
With a flick of her wrist, more fire comes at him, fast and he rolls out of the way. Thankfully, years of training keep him from dropping his gun (or firing it), and he gets to his feet and shoots.
Her body is starting to weaken, but damn. This whole mess makes his skin crawl and bile rise in the back of his throat—what if they’ve made more people like her?
“You cannot stop this, now that it has started,” and maybe that’s regret in the monster’s tone. “Killing me now will not stop the inertia. I am failed; I am nothing. My death means nothing.”
Fire shoots at Quistis and the Shell spell around her does hardly anything at all; she yelps and then moves forward again, lashing out with her whip. Behind her, three familiar, blood-splattered faces appear, and Irvine has never been so goddamn glad to see anyone in his whole life.
Okay, so it’s an exaggeration, but he really doesn’t care.
Zell and Selphie run swiftly past Quistis, battle faces on. As ever, Zell wears the serious expression, alert and dark, while Selphie has the manic grin all of them have feared at one point or another. They attack, and Rinoa moves to stand beside Quistis, steadying her carefully. Cool healing magic settles over both of them, and Rinoa meets his eyes through the motion of battle; she grins.
He tips his hat, and turns back to riddle the wannabe Sorceress full of bullets.
It doesn’t take long—she falls with a final scream, fire flickering out with her breath. Silence, save for ragged breathing, hangs over them for a second, and then Irvine turns to Zell and says, “About time. You got the book out?”
“Yeah,” replies Zell with an easy grin and a thumbs-up.
“They’re manufacturing Sorceresses here,” Quistis says, matter-of-factly.
Rinoa pales a little, and shakes her head, her fingers idly combing through Angelo’s coarse fur. After wiping her hands clean on her dress, Selphie moves to her, and puts a hand on her shoulder.
Frowning a little, Zell says, “We’ll have to call the Almighty Commander... He’ll want to see the whole place.”
He glances at Rinoa, worry a fine line on his forehead, but it smoothes when Rinoa gives him a slight smile and a nod, placing her hand over Selphie’s. Quistis exhales a breath and stretches, and Irvine gives a sympathy wince. Healing magic always makes his muscles feel stiff, his head a little buzzed.
Selphie flips her out her phone. “Hey, Squall... Yeah, they’re fine. We need some serious clean up here... Yeah. Worse than we thought. Gonna need some scientists... You should probably call your da... President Loire, see if you can get Odine’s help... Yeah. It’s that bad. Okay.” She disconnects and grins. “Transport’ll be here in a few. C’mon.”
Zell sits down next to Quistis, laughing as Selphie quickly relieves the pilot of his post. Even Rinoa smiles a little as the man sits down dejectedly in one of the empty seats, but Quistis just keeps gazing off into space. “Hey, you okay?” he asks quietly as the ship takes off.
“Yes,” she says, tone clipped.
Silence hangs over the two again, while the rest go to discussing the mission, what it means, if this idea has spread farther than just this facility. Frankly, Zell has a feeling no one’s going to like the answer to that final question, but he just keeps looking at Quistis. “Really?” he asks, with a grin, “Because I’m starting to worry your face might get stuck that way.”
Her lips twitch a little at that, and, for a moment, he thinks—hopes—she might actually smile, but then she sighs, heavily. Turning to gaze out the window, at the facility and the tiny specs that are all they can see of the clean-up crew, she says, “I sometimes forget the blade’s edge we walk on.”
“You were worried,” he supplies.
Quistis’s fingers clench and unclench around her whip. “Yes... Someone has to worry.”
“Yeah, well,” Zell pulls her hand away from her whip, and laces his fingers with hers, squeezing. “Leave that to the Almighty Commander.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she glances at him, and her mouth twitches into that almost smile again. Zell grins at her, and she squeezes his hand.
“Were you worried about me?” he asks, trying for an appearance of seriousness.
Judging by the severe look she gives him, he fails miserably, and he can’t help but laugh. Well, he has a lot of strengths, but being serious doesn’t seem to be one of them. Somehow, though, he has a feeling Quistis doesn’t mind too much.
Zell thinks a moment, then he smiles broadly. “Just gotta trust me and everyone else, yeah?”
Something like embarrassment flits across her face, and she glances out the window, watching the ground far below. “Yes,” she murmurs, “I just…” She sighs and doesn’t complete her thought.
With a shake of his head, Zell says, “C’mon, Quisty, we’re not SeeD’s because we particularly enjoy danger, we’re SeeD’s because all of us would hate desk jobs.” He laughs and she smiles a little. “And we do good in the world. People need us—we’re strong enough that we can go out and not get ourselves killed. Well, except maybe Seifer. Who, by the way, needs some major help from his Instructor.”
“Some things never change,” she shakes her head.
Zell squeezes her hand again. “Nope. We go out, we kick bad guy butt, you worry, and I don’t. Then we come back and do it all over again.”
Silence hangs over them for a few moments, and then Quistis says, “We’ll spar when we get back,” she pauses and flashes a smirk. “Then we’ll see about trust.”
“You just want an excuse to kick my ass,” he says.
With a half shrug, she reclaims her hand. “Maybe. Is that a complaint?”
“No way,” he says and can’t help but laugh. “Gotta be ready for the next mission.”
They hear Selphie and Rinoa teasing Irvine, while Angelo snores just a little. Irvine, for his part, laughs with them, at himself, and despite the fact that this mission still has Rinoa pale and distracted, and Selphie’s flying is a little less than straight, and Irvine’s still shaking—just a bit—and Quistis still glances out the window with that dark frown on her face, it’s still just another day, another mission.
It’s just another day as a SeeD.