Remains of You:

10.31.02: Xu and Quistis, game spoilers, yuri. I wrote it in something like a morning and didn't quality-check it as much as I should have. Eh.

This got angstier than it should of. To which I say... whatever

History was the smell of last night on her fingers.

No matter how clean she was, there was always a hint of musk left somewhere on her hands; the instructor which drawled on endlessly of Galbadia's major political leaders had no knowledge of countries composed of one dorm to another.

The first two fingers of each hand were always the most strongly scented, though sometimes it extended to others depending on what kind of mood Quistis had been in at the time. The best days were when she'd stayed up too late the night before until it had become the morning, and then she had barely any time to pull on clothes--not counting new from old until she had time to breathe in her chair and realize she was breathing in the memories trapped in every crease and wrinkle.

Innocence in her seat, Xu took notes with fingers that had Quistis's sweat under the nails and in the hollows between the fingers. She could prop her chin on her hand and give the pretense of attentiveness while all the while her world was filled with the ghost of Quistis brought to life in her palm. Depending on how impatient she and Quistis had been the night before, the folds of her skirt would waft a reminder of it whenever she moved--brushed at as furtively as she could to rid it of the stains--and eventually she would sit as quietly as she could to keep it from getting worse, fighting the taste in the back of her mouth of remembered salt.

It worked, until she would lick her lips and find it there too.

When she would get up in the morning and splash water on her face, the rubbing of her mouth to wipe the toothpaste film away meant that she smelled Quistis all over again and she loved it. Sometimes she would catch herself chafing her palms against her cheeks until they shone as red as if she'd been slapped, and then she'd have Quistis finally waking up and getting up at last to come into the bathroom, laughing, asking her what she was up to in there and if she didn't want company at that rate?

Being late to class always meant that her performance suffered. It never seemed as important as being held against the sink by someone else's hips pressing into your own and their thumbs across your stomach.

Testing low on responsiveness to Guardian Forces meant that Xu was regulated to a more standard field of study. It was a disappointment that had hurt her--any other field could be mastered with the proper dedication, she felt, but when she questioned the technicians, their only response was that each student had different receptiveness to hosting. One of them had attempted the question about her ability to form attachments to others, and had hastily shown his palms in defense when Xu had looked at him.

Hands were the whites of humans' bellies; fingers were the hindbrain as they remembered the back of someone's neck whether you wanted them to or not.

That had been the first separation between her and Quistis--her girlfriend, she liked to say privately to herself, setting the words next to one another in the velvet satisfaction of her mind. Hers. The two of them were nothing nearly so official, and she knew that if she ever asked Quistis aloud, the blonde would only laugh.

But Quistis had gone to the Junctioning classes and Xu had ended up in History and Politics. The dry shuffling of papers around her was no glory to share, unlike Quistis's breathless stories of how one teacher had summoned lightning to perch on the back of his hand and then sent it to hunt. Xu had smiled and then, grabbing her around the waist, evened the ground by yanking it out from under her friend--her girlfriend--and they had gone tumbling to the bunk with her nose burrowed into the clean scent of Quistis's hair and her mouth already parting to kiss. When Quistis had asked her much later what had possessed her to be in such a mood, Xu only thrust a knee between the other girl's legs and leaned in to part them, thigh to thigh.

And so Quistis had forgotten about it, and Xu tried to as well.

When Quistis returned from the Training Caves shivering as if in fever, her skin hot enough to burn, Xu had feared poison from beasts. But the blonde had shook her head even as she sat down heavily on the bed, rolling over so that she was a pale curl of tension on Xu's sheets. Quistis had had the strength to mutter out something about Ifrit, and bastards, and also that she would be -mad- to ever try having Shiva and Ifrit at once again and if Xu could please kill her now then it would be with her blessings.

"Clear your head," was Xu's response as she pulled the covers up around Quistis's legs. She'd been trained in the symptoms of Junctioning, but like any other stranger to illness, she could only recite from the lessons she'd been told. "Think of something reassuring. What's the first thing that comes to your mind?"

She'd posed the question with rhetoric backing it, assuming that, surrounded by the room and the stories that sweat had painted on it, the response would be mechanical. Quistis would come back to herself quickly. This was the worst that could happen.

It was with shock that she heard the blonde answer, "Squall."

"-Squall-?" Xu saw Quistis's eyes open in response to the shock, worry again appearing, and so she composed herself again. "...tell me about Squall." Textbook attempts at sounding calm, reasonable, rather than panic and suspicion. Even to her own ears, it sounded cheap.

"I... I don't know." One of Quistis's knuckles pushed hard at her temple, showed the flash of her lifeline compressed by her thumb. Disheveled, her unbound hair spun webs around her face and the pillow, and Xu had had to bite her lip to keep from wanting to untangle it with her fingers and insist that it would be all right somehow. "I just know that thinking about him... makes me feel calmer." And Xu's hand stopped then as she had begun to reach out anyway, and then she had seen it shake once but Quistis was still talking. "Like I'm at home. I feel better just picturing him. "

The textbooks knew just as much as the teachers, and just as little about actual applications.

A pause, the careful hesitation of a person sensing blinded ground in the muted horror of Xu's features, and Quistis continued. "Is there something wrong with that?"

"No." Xu smiled. "No. Just think about whatever you want most."

And Quistis's face turned towards the window and Xu had ordered that brittle smile to stay on her face and to be patient so that when her friend looked back, she would find no other reason to feel out of place.

Economy was the taste of cracked lips, as Xu kept licking them nervously and they chapped in the currents of the classrooms' filtered air. They were flavored of nothing but flesh and blood, and all of it her own.

Knowing a truth only became treasuring a lie when you were the only one aware it had happened at all.

Balamb was two books in one; once she had thought that the division was as simple as that of students and teachers, and then she had recognized it in the paragraphs of the face. In the print of expressions was dread forced into turning polite, denying what they sensed was happening to those who once did not have to fumble to remember their friends' names. These people had tested too low on the scale; they had not been good enough to win the release from memory and hence were forced to watch as they were left behind.

Politics was Xu remembering how, last year, she had had the same block of time free and had accosted Quistis en route to the other's Piloting class, dragging her back to the public restrooms to try and fit them both quietly in one stall for first the five minutes Xu had promised would be all she'd steal, and then for several more. Quistis had been too busy trying to stifle a breakdown of snickers behind a hand and that had left her exposed to Xu's weight challenging her to keep her balance when faced with the problem of not falling into the toilet. One of them had ended up with one hand on the graffiti which claimed to know one boy's phone number and the fingertips of their other just outstretched enough to prop them steady against the far wall.

When Quistis slipped and almost plunged her knee into the bowl, it might have been embarrassing in the scant seconds after they both stopped being distracted enough to also register the near-miss of her head against the pipes.

Quistis had the tendency to double over hard when she tensed, and, aware of this, Xu had been supporting her with her arm crosswise from hip to shoulder, murmuring something vague to her back. Teeth clenching and fingers trying to form fists, pawing at 555-HAWT--that was what they had laughed at later, when Quistis had threatened to scrawl Xu's number there instead, and Xu had retorted by saying she would shove Quistis's head underwater first.

At the time they had joked about how they would do it every year, every time as an anniversary of mischief--or perhaps terror, since when they had exited the stall together, they had discovered the shocked eyes of another student that had wondered what all those mumbles and gasps were about--and now with the end of the period there had been no sign of her.

Afterwards when she had run into the blonde at the Cafeteria, all her jokes about bathroom sinks had received only blank looks.

She had tagged along when her friend--her friend--had mentioned having to give a demonstration to some of the younger students about Guardians, though in reality Xu had half-hoped it still to be a ruse to get her off her guard. The playfulness of the blonde would return and the months had only been an extended joke to tease. Everything would dissolve into being fine, untangled as hair might after being brushed to be straightened again, and only then coiled and braided.

But they arrived at the outer lawns without a single look from Quistis to her direction, and disbelief had been Xu's only companion as she tucked her legs up beneath her to watch the students with expectant faces. Quistis closed her eyes and sought out rapture with her mind, but Xu was still alone.

The flushed expression which heralded Shiva's arrival was one Xu had been fiercely possessive over; Quistis's face was glorious, enthralled, swept away in something else coming over her and through her and with her. To have it there on the grass with all the students watching was as intimate as if all their nights had been what was on display and not someone's skill.

Quistis didn't seem to notice as she gave up her hands to be held by Shiva's. They slithered over the girl's skin and transformed it into ice.

No one could deny the power that came with those who practiced with their Guardians, the lines that would blur between creature and human until, with some of them, hosted became appropriate as they lived only to bear their Forces with them from one battle to the next. Quistis was no different right after she had summoned, with her eyes filled with another looking out of them and her voice low and husky from the rush of blood and adrenaline. She was trained to hold a weapon in her mind that was almost tangible even while sheathed; like a blade driven right into Quistis's skull, Xu decided, it was killing her. It was only too happy to destroy the past and then with it the present, and if anyone still remembered at all why some evenings felt as if they were missing something, it was pinned down on moodiness.

Xu had thought she could handle losing Quistis's life to an assignment. Death was tolerable--this was having her still walk and talk and shine under the florescent lights, with her hands stilled in her lap instead of reaching out and toying with her bangs. The textbooks had never said anything about that, but Xu had given up on them a while ago.

Dinner had been takeout. Dessert had been Quistis's face as Xu had searched it again and again, trying to pass off desperation for affection, laughing nervously as she had dared to try and slip her arms around the other's waist. Ignoring the lack of interest in the other's smile had meant closing her eyes to it. As she felt the soft beat of Quistis's heart against her cheek, she thought she could also hear the rationales in Quistis's mind which would explain Xu's behavior neatly away--Xu just being a physical sort of friend, or having an emotional moment, or even just having a strange night. Just that. Only that.

Crazily then, wrapping herself in the hope that this was only temporary, Xu wondered which one of them was more deeply practiced with denial.

When Quistis woke up the day after her demonstration and sleepily wondered why she wasn't in her own room, Xu tried to forget she had even asked.