SYNOPSIS: (spoilers) A sequel to "Freedom". After Zidane's return, Dagger leads him away to have an important discussion.
=*= SPOILER WARNING! =*= SPOILER WARNING! =*= SPOILER WARNING! =*=
=*= This story contains major SPOILERS for the end of the game! =*=
This is a rough draft and has not been extensively proofread, so please excuse the errors. Comments & criticism always appreciated! ^_^
A Final Fantasy IX fanfic by Madamhydra
Short Disclaimer: (Full Disclaimers at end)
All rights and privileges to Final Fantasy IX and its characters belong to Square Co., Ltd.
( ) are mental dialogue
[ some time later.... ]
Zidane followed me with a faintly bemused expression as we both slipped away from the ongoing celebration. Leaving all the commotion behind, we climbed the long stairway to the platform that once concealed the steps leading to the summoning place of Alexander.
Turning to him, I lifted my pendant and held it out to him. He cocked his head slightly as if asking a silent question. When I nodded, he pulled off a glove and I gently placed the gleaming stone into his outstretched hand.
"Close your eyes and... reach out."
I couldn't explain it better to him, but I was certain that he understood what I meant.
As we stood there, away from the distraction of others, I finally had the chance to take a long, thorough look at him. In the two long years since I had last seen him, bravely standing on the barren cliff by the Iifa Tree, Zidane had both changed and remained the same.
Physically, he was a bit taller, with just a little more muscle and height to his slender frame. Then again, I had grown a bit, too. He still had that same quick wit, ready smile, and easy-going personality. The only real difference I could detect was a fascinating sense of *depth* to him. But that was no surprise. After all, I was certain that he had somehow managed to tame the Iifa Tree, transforming it from an instrument of Gaia's destruction into.... The idea still boggled my mind, even after all this time. Stopping the Iifa Tree in its tracks was amazing enough, but changing it into a new Eidolon?
When I leapt onto the stage and threw myself in Zidane's arms in front of the wildly cheering crowd, I didn't know what to expect and I really didn't care. But as soon as I touched him... as soon as I felt him hold me close, I knew that regardless of what he had accomplished, he was the free-spirited, yet caring person I had fallen in love with.
Since my coronation, I had been given ample opportunity to see the finest young men that the nobles and merchant houses of Alexandria, Treno, and even Lindblum could offer. Those men might have had better looks, fancier manners, and better educations than Zidane, but in my mind, there was still no comparison. In some undefinable way, Zidane was simply MORE than they could ever be. I couldn't explain it to myself, much less anyone else. It was just a profound feeling of... comfort... security... like snuggling into a warm blanket on a cold winter morning.
As I continued to examine his face, I could now see the subtle, tantalizing hints of what he would look like when he got older. I seriously doubted that he would ever be as purely pretty as Kuja, which was a bit of a relief. Nor would he be incredibly handsome like some of my other would-be suitors. But somehow I knew that Zidane would end up with a delightful, unique masculine beauty all his own. As my dear father would have said, Zidane would be a man with *real* character.
For an instant, I felt the decidedly unladylike urge to throw my arms around him and yell, "Mine! All mine!" for all the world to hear, but I managed to restrain myself. I really wanted him to understand what I'm trying to show him.
He finally murmured, "I feel... something. Like rustling wings...." He suddenly stiffened and opened his sea-blue eyes wide. "It... it can't be! But I thought that the Invincible destroyed....!?"
"Yes, Alexander is still here," I said, smiling at him. Even now, the thought made a lump rise in my throat.
"How can that be!?" he demanded in amazement.
"I'm not sure, but Dr. Tot theorizes that Alexander was a special type of Eidolon. It's not bonded to an object or a single person like the others. Somehow, it's an integral part of Alexandria. I'm not talking about just the physical structure of the city, but rather the real heart and soul of this place."
He frowned slightly in confusion, then said softly, "The people."
I nodded happily. Of course he understood. "Exactly. The *people* are the heart and soul of Alexandria, not the buildings. Invincible came very close to destroying Alexander, but when the people began rebuild their homes and their lives, Alexander also began to heal. As long as there is an Alexandria... as long as there are people who care and are proud to consider themselves Alexandrians, Alexander will be here to protect them."
He lowered his hand and gently let the pendant drop to hang freely from the chain around my neck.
"Just as you intend to serve and protect them, right?" he said gently.
"Yes. Brahne... my mother... abandoned that duty to pursue her own ambitions. The people trusted her and she abused that trust. I owe the people of Alexandria the best that I can give them."
He suddenly gave me a wry grin. "Hey, I can understand that feeling. About wanting to help and protect people, especially the ones you care about, you know."
Oh yes, I knew that you, of all people, would understand how I felt.
Biting my lip, I wondered what to do next. So many questions, but I didn't have any idea how to begin or what to say. What happened at Iifa? What about the Tree? What happened between him and Kuja? What took him so long to return? Finally, all I could do was gather my courage and simply asked the most important question of all.
"Zidane... back at Iifa, you couldn't really give me an answer when I asked you why you had to go back to help Kuja. Can... can you give me one now?"
He turned to stare out at the afternoon sky. Finally he responded to my timid question.
"I wanted to tell him that he wasn't alone."
Such a simple answer, but sometimes the simplest ones are the best.
"And... did you? Tell him, I mean?"
"I told him."
"Did he... understand?"
"Yeah. He did."
I pondered his answers for several long minutes. I suspected if I wanted more from him, I could just ask. Zidane had never lied to me and I didn't think he was about to start now. But I suddenly realized that I really didn't need to know more. It would be nice, of course, to hear all the details, but it wasn't necessary for me.
All this time I waited for him, I had been bothered by the question of 'why?'. I constantly asked myself why he went back to find the person who had just tried to destroy us all. It didn't lessen my love for him at all, but the uncertainty was still troubling, like a splinter one couldn't remove or ignore. I now knew the answer to my most important question.
Zidane had left me behind, but he had not left me alone. Unlike Kuja, there had been so many people there for me. Steiner and Beatrix. Uncle Cid and Aunt Hilda. Vivi, Eiko, Freya... all the people who had fought, struggled, and sacrificed to keep our world alive. Even Quina and Amarant, in their own peculiar ways. It didn't matter we were scattered all over the world. Physical distance wasn't important. They cared about me. I cared about them. We all supported each other. Zidane had always been there, too, just like a fine, unbreakable thread connecting all of us.
In comparison, Kuja was alone... had apparently always *been* alone. Who cared about him? Certainly not Garland, nor any of the other Genomes. Who had ever cared about Kuja and what happened to him?
Zidane knew that. That's why he risked his life and the future we could have had together to go back to find Kuja. Zidane had needed to tell Kuja that someone cared and understood. Didn't Zidane tell us, 'I might've done the same thing if I were in his shoes.'
Now I realized that it was never a matter of choosing between Kuja and me. It was just that Kuja had needed Zidane in a way I did not. He was the only person that Kuja would have believed. How could I deny anyone that sort of comfort, especially a dying man?
Actually, I had no idea if Kuja was dead or alive. But it really didn't matter anymore. The fact that Zidane was here by my side, at peace with both Kuja and himself, told me that the matter had been settled, one way or another. Kuja was no longer a threat to Gaia or its people.
And if Kuja somehow still lived, so what? Let him create a new life for himself and seek what contentment he could, just as I was carrying on with my own. However, I hoped that his path never crossed mine again. I didn't have Zidane's ability to let things go. I still held a few grudges against Kuja. All the weapons he created, all the lives he destroyed.... I couldn't help thinking that he was instrumental in the corruption of my mother, constantly feeding her greed and ambition until she turned into a power-mad monster that I could not recognize.
I suspected that Freya felt much the same way about Beatrix. She may never forgive Beatrix for her role in the destruction of Burmecia and Cleyra, but Freya has no interest in vendettas or retribution. She has much better things to do -- a old/new love to cherish, a kingdom to rebuild. She knows that Beatrix will always be her own harshest judge and critic.
Zidane glanced at me, as if waiting for more questions, but I really wasn't in the mood to ask. As for the matter of the Iifa Tree... well, that could wait, also. There was no hurry. I had something more important to tell him. I took a deep breath, and braced myself to make a painful confession.
"Zidane... I have to tell you.... When I returned to Alexandria, I found myself wondering what I would do if... when you came back. I asked myself whether you could ever feel comfortable in a place like this. Whether this castle was the right place for you.... I even thought about sending you away."
Hearing the oddly flat and hurt tone in his voice, I quickly put my hand on his arm and said, "But that was foolish of me. You see, I loved working to rebuild Alexandria, but I hated all the pomp and ceremony that went with being queen. I felt that I was choking from all the customs and meaningless rituals, but I had no way to escape. I couldn't run away from my responsibilities and duties."
He reached up and brushed a stray wisp of hair from my face. I grabbed his hand and pressed it against my cheek.
"And if *I* hated it so much, then surely you would hate it, too. I was sure you would hate living here, and... I think I was afraid that you would start to hate me, too."
"I could never do that, Dagger."
"I was so unhappy with life in the castle, and that made me afraid that you would be unhappy here, too. I didn't want that to happen, so I thought about letting you go, but that idea only made me even more miserable...."
"Which made you even more certain that I'd be miserable here, and it all became a vicious circle, huh?"
I nodded, unable to look at him.
"So what changed your mind?" he asked gently.
"I had a long talk with Doctor Tot. He said I was borrowing trouble and that it was really your choice to make, not mine."
I peeked upward to find Zidane grinning mischievously at me.
"Well, you were and yes, it is, Dagger."
I gave him a good thump on the chest and he grunted obligingly.
"So, the doc managed to get you straightened out, huh?"
"Yes, and I felt a lot better after our talk."
"That's a relief. You're not the only one who hates to make the person they love unhappy."
"Thinking of you never made me unhappy, Zidane. It was my own idiocy that did that." I hesitated, then plunged on. "I just wanted to tell you that no matter where you are, whether you're by my side or roaming the world, I will always be waiting to welcome you back with open arms. Just like Alexander, I will always been here for you."
"To be my sanctuary, my retreat?" he asked softly.
"If that's what you need."
He reached out and tugged me into his arms.
"The only place I want to be is where my heart is. And that's with you, Dagger." He paused a moment, then whispered, "I'm sorry that it took me such a long time to find my way... home."
My only reply was to snuggle a little closer to him. We stood there, holding each other, content to listen to each other's heartbeat. Suddenly, I heard the soft flutter of wings overhead. I felt Zidane lift his head, then laugh. I opened my eyes and turned my head to see what he found so funny. To my surprise, I discovered we were surrounded by a flock of small, tawny gold hawks. They perched all around us, their brilliant blue eyes observing us with uncanny interest.
As Zidane uttered another soft chuckle, the hawks all took to the sky. We both laughed as the golden roguehearts danced on the wind, filling the sky above Alexandria Castle with flashes of their tawny gold wings. And soaring elegantly above the frolicking hawks was a great white eagle with violet-tipped plumage, its head decorated by a cascade of long, brilliant white crest feathers. And even though I was too far away to see, I somehow knew that its eyes would be a violet-touched blue.
At first I could only stare at the eagle in disbelief, then I looked at the golden hawks and thought, (Why not? It would be just like him to do something like that if he could....)
I turned back to Zidane and hugged him as fiercely as I could.
He uttered a soft 'eep' of surprise, and bemusedly asked, "What was that for?"
"THAT was for giving *everyone* another chance to live."
A voice from the past, joining yours and mine
Adding up the layers of harmony
And so it goes, on and on
Melodies of life
To the sky beyond the flying bird - forever and on.
-- "Melodies of Life"
Keeper of Duo's Dark Side ~~~ Duo no Seishi
Co-Keeper of Duo's Scythe & Bat Wings (w/ Death)
Co-Keeper of Little Grim Reaper Duo (w/ Kitsune)
Saitoh no Koibito ~~~ Corruptor Extraordinaire
The Full Disclaimer:
All rights and privileges to Final Fantasy IX and its characters belong to Square Co., Ltd. The characters of this series are used withOUT permission for the purpose of entertainment only. This work of fiction is not meant for sale or profit.
Original portion of the fiction included here is considered to be the sole property and copyrighted to the author.