“So, what are ya going to do now?”
They’d been here for a while, as if it called to them, beckoning to be remembered after all that had happened. The steps were the same, although wind-worn, the ocean so close - surely years and years of angry storm swirls had aged the stone. Time did that; wore away the outer exterior, slowly exposing layers underneath. Had it been too long now? Had it dug further into the core of them all? Were they still bleeding out slowly, life trickling away without anyone’s knowledge? Or were they fine now? Was the sea forgiving? Polished by bursts of air and sand, soothing over with the salt that sprayed against the surface? The cracks were there, sure, but did they stand strong?
Quistis tilted her gaze out to the lighthouse, fingers slowly tracing along stone steps as a soft gust of sea breeze ruffled long blonde locks and tickled up along her collar as she considered the question.
They were so young, and already so much had happened. She felt it - the heavy weight of time; it made itself known every morning, pulled at her mind every night before she fell asleep. They hadn’t talked about it - she worried maybe that it was only her? Did anyone else have jumbled dreams, timelines overlapping uncomfortably, thoughts trying to piece it all together unconsciously.
“I used to have it all planned out.” A hint of a smile, blue eyes shifting behind silver rims. “But now - when I try to picture myself like that, it doesn’t fit anymore.” That smile shifted, more of a frown now as she nudged her shoulder against Selphie’s.
“What about you? Will you go home?”
A wider smile gleamed back at Quistis as the gentle shove was returned. Emerald eyes looked out to where Quistis had been watching, strange little flashes of memories trying desperately to be remembered. Skipping along the beach barefoot, running after Zell while a much younger version of her company pouted and followed behind them. They’d hurry up the stairs, feet and hands grabbing along stone, chasing to reach the top. She couldn’t remember why they did this or why Quistis always shouted at them to come back.
But she’d always been that way it seemed, even if it took them years to remember. She always watched over them, worried about them - only a year apart but so much older.
“I dunno. Home’s kinda…”
She felt it too. The slow, constant drag of time, the way it clung, how it forced memories to the forefront and slid other things silently away. The’d been so focused, so determined until the very end. A lot of the time she’d feign ignorance, set to help everyone and keep spirits up through the worst of it. Sorceresses however, they had their own ways to get into someone’s mind, to pull and tug with the sweetest touch. She hadn’t been spared; Selphie felt it all, knew that everyone must be feeling the same things. Fear, confusion, helplessness - that everything was lost. That it wouldn’t matter.
Trabia. Not everyone had been spared. War always claimed souls. She was never gifted the time to mourn over them all.
Fingers slid along stone steps they had touched so many times before, searching along the cracks, hoping maybe they’d give her some sort of answer. Wind curled around them again, ruffling through amber-toned locks, swaying small patches of green grass that still grew in little tufts along the beach. Their beach.
“Normally...it’s unreasonable to expect people our age to have everything mapped out. But I can’t help but feel….” Quistis sighed, shaking her head a bit, boots digging further into the sand below the last step of the orphanage’s back staircase.
“You dunno where you should go now, right? I mean, I’m glad it's all over. I can’t even really think about what it would be like if we didn’t…” Selphie paused, fingers gripping the edge of a step, resting her elbows along worn-down stone as she reclined back, face tilted up to the sky, lingering storm clouds threatening to hide away the sliver of sun that reflected of the ocean.
“He’s rebuilding SeeD. He asked...if I’d like to be second in command.”
Selphie glanced over, emerald eyes widening in surprise, lips parted to congratulate Quistis on her achievement but she caught herself before any words slipped. Her tone had been straightforward, as it always was, but it was obvious that something was off. Quistis shifted, one hand curling into a tight fist along the steps, her other reaching up to pull glasses up to rest along wind-swept hair.
Tired. None of them had made it past twenty yet and already Quistis felt like she’d lived more than one lifetime. Perhaps it was a side effect - she’d looked for a good amount of time but there just wasn’t any solid information on time compression or what it did to the body and mind. Or maybe it was just her - maybe everyone else had recovered. The idea of helping SeeD again - just the thought was exhausting. Quistis hadn’t replied yet. Squall was waiting of course, but she came here instead, as if this run down building full of broken memories would tell her what to do. Tell her what was right.
Selphie’s hand curled around the fist shoved against cold, shaped rock, gently unfolding strained fingers, pushing them to lay flat as she placed her palm over Quistis’s.
“Hey - you don’t have to. You’ve already done so much, he’s not going to be mad at you. Besides, Squall’s got plenty of help. He’d be mad if you just, did something like that for him, you know how he is…”
Quistis shook her head again, the smallest hint of a smile gracing her lips as she felt the warmth of Selphie’s hand over hers, blocking out the chill of ocean air that danced around their bodies huddled close.
“He’s the only one that’s offered me a path...I can’t even figure out one on my own. What else can I possibly do? It’s sort of pathetic, I feel like I’ve already wasted time...I…”
Paths - they’d all traveled separate ones; fate, destiny, or some other objective - everyone had left their home, forgotten that they all had grown up here together, only to be pulled back, perhaps by the same force that caused everyone to disperse.
This place - it clutched to old memories, refused to let the ocean sweep it away, demanded to remain upright even as columns and stairwells cracked and crumbled all around it. The orphanage refused time, denied even the natural flow of age, as if all of their lost memories still lived here, still made it feel like home.
“Or…you could stay here with me.” Selphie offered a tiny squeeze of reassurance, her smile just as radiant and welcoming as it had been every time before.
“We all fought, right? For SeeD, for everyone. And we all came from here. I don’t really wanna think things will be bad again but, we can still help Squall. I’m sure there’s kids that need somewhere to go. The don’t need to follow the same path as us...but maybe we can open a few others. Ones we never had…”
Quistis turned then, eyebrows raised in slight surprise, staring at that bright smile, proof that all of their trials had been for something. That someone had come from nothing, had fought, had lost loved ones, and still could show such a pure, glowing hope for the future. Not just their future, but of others.
They’d saved the world from a complicated fate that no one could even begin to fathom the impacts of if they had failed, and yet, she still wanted to help.
Quistis shifted her gaze further beyond that smiling face, watching the way the sea air blew gentle along roof tiles that tilted in the wind, air pushing through open, broken panels of window coverings.
“You want to rebuild the orphanage.” Her voice trickled through the air between them, no questioning tone evident, just fact.
“You think we can? You asked me if I was gonna go home.” Selphie let her smile relax, eyes searching expectantly to find an answer from Quistis. “It’s sorta the only place I have left…and it feels...right. Maybe it’s just me, but it just feels like...”
They’d been here before. Just like this - sitting along the stairs that led down to a tiny beach, the sounds of Squall and Seifer arguing about who found the largest shell so prominent in Quistis’s mind that it was like they were right there now, splashing and chasing each other while Selphie giggled and pointed with one small finger, her other hand wrapped tightly around Quistis’s own.
She smiled then, the sort of smile that was hidden away over layers of forgotten memories, years of hard work and focus, piled responsibilities and jumbled emotions that refused to be understood.
“...what we should do.” Quistis shifted her hand over, quietly interlacing Selphie’s fingers with her own, “...And we’ll make it home again, and share it how it’s meant to be.”