A/N: I wrote this as a gift for thewindwarns on tumblr as part of my Summer Writing Project. She asked for a Seiftis AU of my choice, and this is what happened. :)
Quistis sighed and made a note on her clipboard as Seifer threw yet another candidate to the mat. All morning, he'd been working his way through a pool of potential co-pilots, and he had yet to break a sweat. With a cocky smile, he looked up at her over the prone form of his most recent victim.
"Who's next?" Seifer asked once the poor soul had peeled himself up off the floor.
"No one," she replied. "You're done."
"What? That's it? You mean, one of those losers is going to be my next co-pilot?"
Quistis shrugged. "We've tested you with every available Ranger on the base. A few of them showed some promise."
As she turned to leave, Seifer snatched up his trench coat from a bench along the wall and jogged after her. "Are you kidding me? I'm not drift compatible with any of them, and you know it."
She did know it. None of the contenders had been able to go toe-to-toe with him, but she hadn't expected them to. Seifer was one of the best pilots she had ever trained, a natural fighter. The only person who had ever been able match him was Squall. The two had been an easy pair to make, hugely compatible, and a terrible force to be reckoned with. At least until they'd fallen out of sync in the middle of battle and a category four Kaiju ripped the head off their Jeager. They'd both washed up on shore, battered, beaten, and blaming the other. Quistis wasn't sure what had happened between them, but they refused to work together anymore.
Seifer was too good a pilot to be sidelined, especially since the Kaiju were beginning to gain ground, so it had fallen to her to find him a new co-pilot.
"I'll make my recommendation to Cid and you'll get your new assignment this afternoon," she said.
"You have someone picked out then?"
"What?! Chicken Wuss?"
"He was the best candidate by far."
Seifer slipped in front of her and held a hand out to stop her. "There's got to be someone else. There's no way I'm sharing a neural link with Zell Dincht."
"He's a proficient pilot and there aren't any other options."
"We'll kill each other long before we manage to kill any Kaiju."
Quistis rubbed her temple and closed her eyes, having had more than enough of this. "You either share a Jaeger with Zell, or you don't set foot in one at all."
"I'll go to Cid myself," he warned. "Maybe there is someone we can bring in from another base…"
"It's my job to find you a new co-pilot. What I say goes. Cid is just putting a rubber stamp on it. So go ahead and complain all you want. It's not going to change anything."
He glared furiously at her as she stepped around him and continued down the hall.
Cid looked down at Quistis's orders, but did not pick up his pen to sign them. Instead, he leaned back in his chair and frowned. The office window framed him against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, calm and sunny, picturesque waves crashing against the rocky shore. Once, Quistis had found the sea serene. Now all she saw was looming death and destruction.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
Cid tapped the paper on top of his desk. "You really think Zell Dincht is the best fit?"
"No one is a good fit," she admitted. "But he's the best of the bunch."
Cid scratched his chin. "My understanding was that they hated each other."
"If you're aiming to find someone who likes Seifer, you're going to be searching forever, sir."
Cid nodded and gave her a long look before saying, "What about you?"
The question caught her so off guard that her stance faltered. "Me, sir?"
"Did you test yourself against him?" Cid asked.
"Of course not. I'm not a pilot."
Not anymore. Not since she'd proven unable to keep her emotions reined in while hooked up to the neural link. The violent, nightmarish memories of the first Kaiju attack on San Francisco, which had killed both of her parents and left her orphaned — something she spent every second of every trying not to think about — had been the first to surface and the tactile clarity of them had made her reach up and try to rip the probes out of her spine. Her reaction got her grounded. Permanently.
Cid got up and walked around to the front of his desk. "You taught both him and Squall how to work a Jeager, and they're the best pilots we've ever produced. If there's anyone on this base who'd be compatible with Seifer, I'd think it'd be you."
"Sir…I don't know if I—"
"Try it," Cid said, cutting her off. "I'll have Xu observe. If there's nothing to it, then I'll sign off on Mr. Dincht. But if there is…" He crossed his arms and sent her the barest hint of a smile. "Maybe we can make a pilot out of you yet."
Quistis nodded and left, her stomach in knots.
She had wanted to climb into a Jaeger since the first breathless moment she'd seen footage of one on TV. She wanted to rain vengeance on the bastards…to drive them back into the breach, follow them home, and crush them where they slept. She'd been so close, only to find out she didn't have what it took. Now, suddenly, she had a second chance. And it all hinged on the biggest, most arrogant bastard she had ever had the displeasure to know.
She found him sitting down to dinner with Raijin and Fujin — pilots of the Pandemona. The two were the closest thing he had to friends, though Quistis thought of them more as a gang. When he saw her shouldering her way over to his table, he let out a groan audible even over the clamor of the cafeteria.
"If you're here to tell me I'm going to have to mind meld with Zell—" he started.
"I'm not," she said quickly, wanting to cut to the chase. "Cid has one more person he'd like to test you against first."
She licked her lips, her mouth suddenly dry. "Me."
Seifer stared at her, uncomprehending. "You?"
"Yeah. Come on." She motioned for him to get up.
"You," he repeated, amusement beginning to turn his mouth up into an aggravating smirk. "Now?"
"Yes. Now. Let's go. Xu's waiting."
Without waiting to see if he would follow, she started toward the training center. After a second, she heard him behind her, the thunk of his steel toed boots against the floor unmistakable. To her dismay, Raijin and Fujin trailed not far behind him. And others in the cafeteria had taken notice, too. People pointed and whispered as they passed.
"So, how'd this come to be?" Seifer asked as they walked down the hallway. "I thought you didn't make the cut. Cid's so desperate to get me back in a Jaeger that he's scraping the bottom of the barrel?"
Quistis clenched her jaw and didn't respond, knowing he'd only feed off her irritation. She'd save up her anger and use it to smash his insufferable face into the mats. The whole way to the training center, he continued to nettle her — poking fun at how she'd once had a school girl crush on Squall and reminding her of the time a group of young cadets had photoshopped her face onto a bikini model and put it up around base with the tagline "Hot For Teacher". Quistis fought back the urge to punch him in the face.
And Cid expects me to drift with this asshole?
Not that it mattered. There was no way they'd be compatible.
In the training center, they moved to separate sides of the room to get ready. Quistis sat down on the bench to take off her boots. While she was unbuttoning her jacket, spectators began to show up. By the time she had her hair secured and her hands wrapped, the assembled crowd spread all the way from the wall to the edge of the mats, the air buzzing with their excited murmurings. Whatever Seifer thought of her, the rest of the base knew her to be anything but bottom of the barrel. They'd come to see two giants do battle.
"Are you ready?" Xu asked.
Quistis nodded and padded out to the middle of the mat.
Cocksure, Seifer strode up to her. He'd taken off his trench coat and boots, so that he too was barefoot, dressed only in his navy blue uniform pants and a white tank top. As he shook out his arms, she looked him up and down and had to admit — begrudgingly — that he was an impressive specimen. Tall, broad shouldered, well-muscled but still lean and fast. A pity to have such a beautiful body wasted on such a horrible person.
"Remember, this isn't a fight," Xu said over the top of her clipboard. "This is a compatibility test. Not a full-contact brawl."
Seifer, his back to Xu, raised an eyebrow at Quistis in challenge.
"Full-contact?" he mouthed.
Xu called out for them to begin, and Quistis immediately ducked and pivoted to avoid the elbow to the face she knew was headed her way. She'd watched Seifer fight nearly every Ranger on the base, and had observed for years before that in training and in combat. She knew how he moved. How he thought.
His elbow passed harmlessly above her head, and before he could react, she was behind him, jabbing her own deep into his ribs.
He grunted and the audience roared.
"One, zero," she hissed in his ear.
It was easy enough to avoid his blows — most of which, she noticed, he was indeed throwing with serious gusto — but harder to find an opening for her own. She knew all of his moves, and as they worked their way across the mat, their fists grazing each other without ever hitting home, he began to learn hers as well.
Finally, he hooked the back of her leg with his foot, slamming her down onto her back.
Blackness swirled at the edges of her vision as he leaned in with both hands against her shoulders, a shock of his blonde hair falling forward across his forehead. "One, one."
"Not so rough," Xu chided.
He smirked and offered her his hand. She refused, rolling back up and onto her feet on her own. She'd show no weakness here. Not in front of the whole base, and least of all with him.
They circled each other. Quistis watched him closely, trying to guess what he might be thinking and saw him doing the same to her. She wasn't sure, in the end, who moved first. Only that it seemed easy and natural to move with him and around him, his cues so obvious that she couldn't believe none of the other Rangers had been able to see them.
They were at an impasse, merely dancing, until he got his arms around her, and she flipped them both onto the floor.
Breathless, she laid there side by side with him, her whole body aching. One of his arms was pinned underneath her, but he made no move to free it.
"That's enough," Xu said.
Chest heaving, mind racing, Quistis turned her head to look at him and saw a look of astonishment that mirrored her own.
"Holy shit," he said and swallowed hard. "We're compatible."
And not just a little.
Xu leaned over them, a satisfied, vaguely amused look on her face. "Congratulations. Meet your new co-pilot."
The suits had been updated a little since Quistis had bombed her first test. Sleek, black armor had replaced the clunky, white storm trooper costume she'd worn then. And, she noticed, they'd made the spinal probes less accessible — a change which simultaneously humiliated and reassured her. Things were going to be different this time.
Seifer stood across from her, looking put out as Nida, one of the technicians, finished hooking him into the Jaeger's systems. They've been assigned to a new model named Ragnarok, straight from the factory, and the multitude of minor changes to the hardware were slowing the process down.
The technician working on Quistis slapped her on the shoulder as he finished.
"Hey, Instructor," came Seifer's voice over the comm once they were alone. "Don't choke."
She rolled her eyes.
"I'm just worried about what it's going to be like inside of your head," she said. "I bet it's like the fiery pits of hell in there."
"Better than the cold, lifeless moonscape in store for me in yours."
"Prepare for neural handshake," Nida said from his place on the bridge.
Butterflies erupted in Quistis's stomach. With a hard swallow, she willed them back down. Her own lessons ran through her head — remember that it is only a memory, focus on the here and now, don't chase the rabbit. Her therapist, Dr. Kadowaki, had helped her come to terms with her memories, helped to chase away the night terrors. This time would be different. It had to be.
A surge of energy tore through her brain — the neural program that would connect her to Seifer and to the Jaeger. The overwhelming force of it staggered her, making her suck in a sharp breath. Memories flew past in a maddening jumble. Some she recognized, like watching sea lions off the pier, watching Fourth of July fireworks from a boat on the bay, and her first time seeing a Jaeger up close. Others must have belonged to Seifer: a confused tangle of arguing with Squall; of a girl with long, dark hair; and the terrible, weightless sensation he'd felt as the Jeager he'd been piloting with Squall had been ripped to pieces.
In the pinwheeling muddle of his memory, she caught a glimpse of the Kaiju — a class four codenamed Griever thanks to the destruction it had wrought before being taken down.
And suddenly, just like that, she was there…
Sitting in the back of a car on Marina Boulevard in bumper-to-bumper traffic, watching in horror out the window as a Kaiju tore through the Golden Gate Bridge. Suspension lines snapped. Cars fell through the buckling roadway to crash into the water far below. Its roar made the whole earth tremble. And outside, everyone was screaming. Quistis thought maybe she was, too. She'd never seen anything like it. No one had. So many people, swatted away like flies.
And it was coming her way.
"Out of the car! Run!" someone was yelling.
This can't be real…
She was running, breathless and sobbing, but too terrified to stop. Smoke and rubble. Screams and explosions. All was chaos and fear and death.
At a full sprint, she ran headlong into someone standing in the middle of the roadway. He wore a black, armored suit and a helmet. Unmoved by the impact, he grabbed both of her arms and held on tight.
"This is a memory," he told her. "Snap out of it."
"Come on. Don't do this, Instructor." He pulled her close, wrapping an arm around her so that their bodies were pressed tight together, her face close enough for her breath to fog his visor. "That thing back there? I'm going to kick its ass. We're going to throw right back into the breach and laugh. You just gotta ignore all this and come with me."
His strong grip seemed safe and settled compared to the mayhem erupting all around her. So she pressed closer to him and closed her eyes.
The noise faded. The world tipped.
And she fell out of Seifer's arms, back into herself.
"Neural connection is stable and strong," Nida's voice said over her comm.
Heart still racing, Quistis glanced over at Seifer, and because their minds were connected, he did the same. When their eyes met, she felt a flash of something unidentifiable — something fluttery and bright which made her heart leap. He blinked hard, apparently aware of it, too, and she wondered for a second from whom the feeling had originated, until Nida began working them through practice maneuvers and distracted her.
For Quistis's first three weeks as a Jaeger pilot, nothing happened. Seifer was reassigned a room across the hall from hers, and her duties as an instructor were assigned to someone else. They trained together every afternoon, the physicality of it both exhausting and exhilarating. She'd never spent so much time so close to another person before. When they weren't locked in battle, panting, and straining, and trying to out-do one another, they sparred verbally, trading insults until they became almost affectionate.
It was the middle of the night when the alarms went off.
Movement in the breach.
"Class four," Xu told them as they hurried toward the Ragnarok. "Codename Malboro. Sensors are showing a toxic plume emanating from the Kaiju itself. We need to get this one contained quickly."
They were suited up and in place within minutes.
The neural handshake went better this time — her familiarity with both the technology and with Seifer making it easier to slide into his brain. And then, with a word of encouragement from Cid, the head of the Ragnarok was dropped onto the rest of the body, snapping in place, and connecting her, for the first time, to the massive strength and power of the Jaeger.
"Pretty cool. Ain't it?" Seifer said and smirked. "Ready to go bag your first Kaiju?"
Quistis gritted her teeth. "Let's do it."
They moved in perfect unison, no longer themselves, but a composite creature — Seifer, Quistis, and the Ragnarok. The crashing ocean waves seemed to part for them as they waded out into the sea, ready to hunt.
It didn't take long to find the Kaiju.
The huge, green creature's whole body writhed and squirmed with strong, dextrous tentacles. A row of sharp teeth split its bulbous head with a Cheshire Cat-like grin. When it saw them approaching, it disgorged a black sludge into the water that made the skin on Quistis's shins begin to burn.
"What the hell was that?" Seifer asked.
"Something caustic," Nida replied over the comm. "Get in and out of there as fast as you can before it eats through the hull."
They dove through the water, the Ragnarok's right arm forming a blade, and leapt onto the Kaiju. It rolled underneath them, tentacles wrapping around their left leg, and squeezing around their torso. Quistis loaded the plasma canon on the left arm and blasted one of the offending tentacles off at the base, the splatter of blue blood that sprayed into the night fuel to the fire burning through her. This was it. Vengeance. She would never feel small and helpless ever again.
They tumbled and slashed. Punched and stomped.
The Kaiju, inexplicably, soldiered on.
"Die, goddamn it!" they shouted together.
Sweat dripped down the side of Quistis's neck.
And then, finally, their blade found its way deep into the Kaiju's body, twisting and slicing so that the monster shuddered, then stilled.
The Ragnarok fell back away from it, Seifer and Quistis both exhausted. Both elated. Her whole body trembled.
"Confirmed kill," Nida said. "Congratulations, Ragnarok. Nice work. Return to base."
Quistis needed more.
All of the energy threatened to burn her up if she couldn't find somewhere for it to go.
So she'd slammed Seifer into her bedroom wall. Their neural connection might as well have still been there with as easily as she read him and his thoughts, with as seamlessly as they moved together. It was just as heart-pounding, just as thrilling as being joined through the Jaeger. And it left her panting, sprawled out on her bed. Seifer kneeled on the floor next to her bunk, his head resting on the mattress.
"Guess we're compatible in more ways than one."
She ran her fingers through his messy blonde hair and let out an exhausted laugh.
In silence, they stayed like that next to one another.
Quistis closed her eyes and let the salient moments from the battle, the euphoria, and everything that happened afterward replay in her mind.
God, she thought with a contented sigh. I can't wait to do that again.