Landslide

Once upon a time there was a queen among the faery folk who ruled over the snowy lands of Bika. She was beautiful and kind, with hair the color of snow and eyes like the icy blue lakes on the Winter Isle. This faery queen was even kind to the humans and Shumi and moombas who lived within her lands and every creature her dominion held was cared for and protected from the harshness of the untamed world around them.

But for all the queen's courteous kindness and dutiful attention, for all she watched and tended and protected her subjects, there was no joy in it, no love in the kindness, no feeling in the duty.

For just as the land over which she reigned, the heart that beat within the faery queen was frozen.


The snow was still falling over the ruins of Trabia Garden the morning after Irvine's startling revelations; the broken basketball court was dusted with it, the tiny flakes piling up until the cracked asphalt only peaked through the white blanket it made in haphazard patches.

It was too cold even for many of the Trabian students to stir from the huddled, makeshift housing where they banded around small oil heaters and crackling spell-started fires, trying not to curse the 'gift of the faeries' that had chilled even the most hearty of them. The few Trabians who weren't struggling vainly to stay warm were helping the Balamb SeeDs offload as many provisions as B-Garden could spare, things like food and emergency heaters and extra blankets and anything else that could help the decimated school in the face of their losses.

It was unfortunate, Quistis thought numbly as she watched the soft snowflakes fall in drifting, lazy patterns, that she and Xu couldn't have spared more from Balamb's stockpiles for their fellow SeeD but they were both practical women; they knew that Balamb was in as much need as Trabia now that the Garden was mobile and had made itself the enemy of Galbadia and the Sorceress. Despite Selphie's impassioned pleas and Squall's solemn, sorrowful questions, the pair of them had been firm on what they could -- and couldn't -- donate to Trabia's rebuilding project.

Despite the snow, despite the freezing temperatures, Quistis was inside the crumbling parameters of Trabia Garden, bundled in a heavy jacket and scarf as she sat alone on the top of the lone picnic table spared destruction in the missile launch, thoughtfully watching the snow smother the basketball court in its muffling whiteness.

She wasn't sure exactly why she was there since she wasn't even overseeing the supply movements. But she'd felt a need to shed the regulated warmth of the Garden's internal atmosphere controls and her wandering feet had lead her back to the place where so much had shocked her the day before, to the quiet, abandoned spot where Irvine's voice still lingered in her ears like the echoes of his gunshot in battle.

Even alone and in silence, she could still hear them, his meaning-heavy words that laid bare so much of her past -- of their pasts -- that they'd been forced to forget.

She knew she should have been feeling something in the wake of it: Irvine's revelation, the truth about the GFs, about Matron, about her feelings for Squall, about the next step they'd have to take.

But for she should've felt, Quistis didn't feel any of it; at worst, she felt nothing and, at best, she felt --

Numb.

They had, as she'd mused the day before, naively traded their memories for power. Quistis couldn't help but hope that it was a wise trade; if they were still unable to defeat the Sorceress -- Matron -- even with the help of the Guardian Forces, then they would've lost so much for nothing.

"Yo, Quistis!"

Startled at the voice that shattered the silence of the snow, Quistis glanced up from where she'd been watching the snow land on the patchy ground and looked sharply toward the source of the voice. It was Zell, standing on the other side of the fence that had once ringed the court but now only lined it, links smashed and sections woefully crumpled from the missile's destructive debris.

"What are you doing over there, Zell?"

He shrugged, gloved hands in his pockets. She was glad to see that he'd been bright enough to exchange his baggy shorts for jeans and his usual jacket for one with longer sleeves. "I was helping the guys move some stuff over here," he explained, pulling a hand out of his pocket long enough to throw a thumb up in the vague direction of the mobile Garden. "Saw you sittin' over here, thought I'd see what you were up to."

It was her turn to shrug, watching in faint amusement as her former student decided to forgo circling to the Garden's entrance and instead hopped over a particularly low section of the chain-link fence in order to reach the snow-covered court. "Not much," she admitted. "Just sitting. Just...thinking."

Zell nodded as he plopped down beside her on the table top, his big, sneakered feet lined up beside hers on connected bench. "Yeah, I can understand," he said. While he mimicked her posture with elbows resting on bent knees, he lightly clasped his hands together while she had her arms folded and tucked close around her. "I've been doing some of that, too."

He sat close enough that she could feel his body heat and it was a harsh reminder that her legs and backside, despite the coat and the leggings and the skirt, were growing chilled from resting against the cold metal of the picnic table.

"Oh?"

"Yeah," he nodded vigorously. She noticed his cheeks were pinked with cold and she wondered how long he'd been outside in the icy air. "Crazy stuff Irvine told us, yesterday, you know?"

"Yes," she said softly. "Very."

Zell looked alarmingly serious as he watched her with wide, blue eyes. "I can't believe that we just forgot, you know? I mean...man, we forgot years! And people, too. Important people..."

His voice trailed off as he frowned thoughtfully. "It'd have been cool to remember," he admitted quietly. "To remember you and Squall and Selphie and Irvine. Even Seifer."

"It would've explained so much," Quistis added, also pensive. "It would have made things make sense. Between Seifer and Squall. Between me and Squall, between..."

"Between you and Seifer?" Zell finished.

Quistis glanced at him in surprise. He shrugged, as if to apologize for his perception.

She sighed. "That, too."

"Maybe it making sense wouldn't have made any difference," he offered as a strange kind of mitigation. "Maybe...it would've just made everything harder earlier on. Like...knowing about the Sorceress...Matron." He lowered his head. "I don't know if I'd have been ready to drop that gate on her. Or shoot her like Irvine had to. If I'd known."

"Me, neither."

Quistis watched as the errant flakes landed on the backs of Zell's black gloves, gathering there until the warmth of his hands encased within began to melt them into wet spots dotting the dark material.

In her mind, she was trying to reconcile that particularly difficult truth -- that the lovely woman who she could remember with such kindness, the Matron of the orphanage she could almost remember was the same woman that they'd tried to kill -- the Sorceress. The same woman that they would have to try to defeat again once they finished their business in Trabia, the one who'd tried to destroy the Gardens where her wards had landed, the children she'd helped raise.

Quistis remembered seeing the sorceress from her station in the gate house in Deling, she and Zell watching through the slit as the gate came crashing down. She'd seen the Sorceress's cruel, fire-lit eyes as she'd battled with Squall, saw the haughty way she'd ordered them to be captured, had had them dragged away to the D-District Prison. It was difficult to think of her as the same, soft woman from her hazy memories

She remembered her in fits and snatches, in dreamy films and layers. One flash was of a moment when the child that Quistis had been had awaken from a nightmare crying her eyes out for no reason that she could remember only to be comforted by Matron, who'd scooped her up and held her, whispering the kind of soothing nonsense that quieted all frightened children. It was only a glancing recollection -- short, disjointed -- but it felt like home and security and peace, so many things that Quistis didn't have from the parts of her life she remembered most clearly.

Zell cleared his throat awkwardly. "It's just crazy, yeah? Fighting people like Matron and Seifer. People we really know."

"It won't be easy," she admitted. "I'm glad I didn't have to face them last time. But this time, we'll have to. All of us will have to be prepared."

"I'm ready," Zell stated. "But I wish I didn't have to be. But...between Seifer and Matron and then my family in Balamb -- I can't let anybody threaten that."

"I understand, of course," Quistis told him quietly. "You're lucky to have that. Have them."

"Yeah, I know." Zell agreed. "But what I remember of the orphanage...that was kinda fun. You guys and Matron. It was nice, too."

The way he spoke of his memories piqued Quistis's curiosity. "What do you remember? Besides the story of the firecrackers?"

"Random stuff," he told her. "I remember the beach and the lighthouse and how when we first got some supplies in once, everybody got sick because Matron let us all pig out on ice cream."

Quistis smiled as the image of melting ice cream cones and Irvine's green-tinged baby-face floated through her mind. She wasn't sure if it was real or if it was a product of her imagination but it made her smile nonetheless.

"I remember...it seemed like we were forever having the lights go out and she'd light lanterns and candles and read to us from this great big book she had," Zell went on, smiling in response to Quistis's gentle amusement.

"The Legend of Vascaroon and Other Great Tales," Quistis said automatically, as another small puzzle sorted itself out for her. She could picture the book in her mind, its heavy, yellowed pages and faded leather cover, the worn and aged decoration it had once bore.

"You remember, too?" Zell asked excitedly.

"Yes," she said reluctantly, not ready to admit that she'd always had a copy herself although she'd never understood why she'd held onto it for so long.

"I even remember some of the stories," Zell continued, becoming animated, his hands how waving in the frosty air to punctuate his words. "I really liked the one about the giant-killer. And the one about the man with the magic peddler's bag."

Quistis nodded, remembering those stories well. Long after she'd left the orphanage for her foster home and then her foster home for Garden, the pages of that book had been a special secret she'd used to make herself feel a little less alone when she'd been scared or worried. She hadn't understood why the old tales in the old book had meant so much -- until now.

"Do you remember the story about the faery from Bika?" she asked him, her eyes firmly planted toward the ground. She watched the snow melt against the toes of her leather boots.

"The one with the frozen heart?" he asked, brightening when she nodded. "Yeah, I do! I liked that one, too. Is that the one you remember the best?"

"I almost feel like her at the moment," Quistis admitted, not quite answering his question. "I'm not sure that I feel anything right now, other than the cold."

"You're just shocked," he told her. "Hell, I know I'm shocked! But it'll pass and you'll feel better, Quistis."

"I'm glad someone thinks so," she said dryly.

"You will," he repeated encouragingly. He patted her on the arm affectionately. "I know it's hard but it'll get better. You're one of the strongest people I know!"

"Thanks, Zell," she said, smiling wanly in the face of his conviction.

"No, I'm serious, Quistis," he told her, frowning at her palpable disbelief. He fumbled a little with his hands that had gone stiff in the cold weather but he eventually latched one onto her arm. "I've always thought you were really cool and very smart and, of course, a really good SeeD because you were the youngest ever. That's why Seifer had it out for you so bad -- everybody knows that. And you were a great instructor!"

"Thanks, Zell," she said again, emotion coloring her steady voice.

She'd always liked Zell, both as a fellow cadet and a student, long before she had had the time to know him as she did now or know that theirs was a friendship that went back long before her arrival at Balamb Garden. "It means a great deal to hear you say that."

He used his free hand to wave away her thanks. "Hey, it's the truth and my ma told me always to tell the truth. It's important."

She smiled at that, at his boyish, earnest face and simple, kind strength. She laid one of her gloved hands over his that held onto her arm. "I've always liked you, too, just so you know. Since truth is so important."

Zell's grin widened and pink began to creep up his neck to match his weather-reddened cheeks. "Really? That's cool. And see?" He nodded toward her. "You can't be all that numb since you're smiling."

"True," she conceded.

She still didn't have a clue how she felt about everything else -- about Seifer, the Sorceress, her memories. She was cut off from the part of herself that was dealing with it, still disjointed from anything but the emptiness it caused.

In that way, she was almost envious of Rinoa, who dealt with things so openly and directly and Irvine who'd had time and a surprisingly philosophical view of it all. Instead Quistis knew that much of it would remain frozen away somewhere in her heart, pushed aside until she had the time and the perspective to untangle it properly. She figured it was a symptom of her SeeD training but she wasn't sure if it were good or bad.

But despite the disconnection, she was starting to lose the numbness that had settled deep in her chest. Instead she felt the strange warmth of a few things she hadn't felt in a long time -- home and security and peace -- and it was all thanks to the boy who sat beside her, still patting her arm in affection as he watched her impassive features.

"Good!" he grinned and bounced to his feet, turning back to face her where she still sat. "But there's just one thing I've gotta clear up between us though."

"Oh?" she frowned.

"Yeah," he nodded. "HOW COULD YOU TELL SQUALL ABOUT THE T-BOARD IN THE GIRLS' BATHROOM THING?"

Quistis couldn't stop herself from bursting into laughter at his teasingly outraged face. "I thought truth was important, Zell?"

He shook his head and tsk-ed her jokingly. "There's truth, then there's truth, Quistis. You have gotta learn the difference."

"Really?" Quistis stood and stepped down onto the snow-covered asphalt. "I guess you'll have to teach me, then."

Zell smirked at her. "Not a problem. Rule #1 - you never tell guys about other guys' embarrassing situations. That's the first rule. It's like the golden rule."

"I understand completely," she smiled as they stood together in the wintry quiet. She brushed at the snow that had long since melted into her fabric of her coat and it was then that she noticed. "It's finally stopped snowing."

"It's still cold, though," he observed, clapping his hands as if to warm them. "Brrrr."

"Let's head back to Garden," she recommended. "It'll be warmer there. And you can finish your lessons while I have my tea. Alright?"

"Alright," he agreed. "C'mon."

As she made to head back toward Trabia Garden's entrance, Zell grabbed her hand and pulled her in the opposite direction. "It's shorter this way," he explained, pointing toward the decimated fence.

"If you say so," she said dubiously but followed gamely as they stepped over the smashed and broken fence.

"Rule #2," Zell continued, his voice loud and bright and warm in the chilly twilight, "Never agree to do a pretty girl a favor when you have to get something valuable from the least sociable guy you know. It can only end in lots of frustration and embarrassment, let me tell ya..."


But one day a young man came into the queen's land with a bright smile and an open face; and he glowed with the real kindness that lived within him. When he finally met the lovely queen in her court, he bowed and offered her his smile and his salutations and a small gift he'd plucked from the desert lands he'd visited in his travels, lands far away from the faery's domain.

Later, no one ever knew if it was the heat of the desert rose or the young man's genuine act or his bright, infectious smile or maybe it was all three that melted the queen's frozen heart but one of them did and she smiled for the first time in a thousand years as she thanked him for the gift.

And from that day on, no ice lived in the winter faery's heart and she learned the careful and complex ways of human feeling, preferring even the sadness and heartbreak to the ice that had once beat in her breast.

The End.

Author's Notes: Bika is the name of the snowfield around Trabia Garden and Winter Island is the large landmass on which Shumi Village sits. "The Legend of Vascaroon" is the story that the SeeD tells the children when you visit the White SeeD ship on Disc 3. You can hear the t-board story if you choose to take Quistis with you when you enter into Balamb on Disc 2 when it's been occupied by Galbadia.