Disclaimer: Final Fantasy IX and its characters are property of Square Enix. I am merely borrowing them for a bit.

AN: Written for Hostilecrayon in exchange for a drabble from her. It's a bit late in coming – but I finally got it written!


Long Awaited Homecoming

by LadyLark


He was back.

He was right there, standing by her window seat. He wasn't doing anything just looking out on the lake . . . just like she used to do.

Why did he come back now, after being gone for so long?

The two thoughts kept spinning around in her head like a two leaves in a whirlwind. They were driving her crazy. Just like him.

When he hadn't come back after two months, she gave up hope. He had to be dead, her mind told her. Her heart refused to listen. The two warred so much that she went a little mad with the grief.

It had taken time, almost a year, but she'd recovered. With the help of Beatrix and Steiner, she managed to pull herself together. She forced herself to forget that part of her life and focused on Alexandria in its place. It hadn't been easy and her heart had died a little bit in the process.

Now, that same heart was pounding madly, but her brain demanded answers.

"I think you've gotten stronger, Dagger," Zidane said a bit ruefully, rubbing his shoulder.

His non sequitur jolted her from her thoughts and she looked up at him with unshed tears in her eyes.

"I had to . . ." she trailed off. She didn't know what to say to him anymore. Glancing down at the table beside the door, she noticed the crown she'd thrown aside running to him beside the pendant she dropped. Who had picked them up and brought them here?

"Dagger, what's wrong?" Zidane crossed over to her and attempted to take her into his arms.

Suddenly, something inside her snapped. She pushed against his chest causing him to stumble back. "What is wrong?!" she cried. "You have the temerity to ask me that after you . . . you . . ."

"After I what?"

"Abandoned me! Jilted me! Forgot me!" She paced the room, coming to a stop in front of the table holding her crown.

He blinked. "I didn't for–"

"Then why did you not contact me? Why did you let me believe that you had forgotten me or worse?" She drew a ragged breath. "Why-why did you let me believe you were dead?"

"I'm sorry," he whispered, stepping toward her again. "I didn't think--"

She held up a hand, stopping his advance. "I know. You never did. You always followed your heart and never your head." Garnet smiled ruefully. "It was one of the things I loved the most about you."

"You loved me?"

"Yes. I did. Loving you almost broke me. So . . . I stopped."

"You stopped?" he asked, in confusion. "You stopped what? Loving me?"

She nodded. "I had to. My country needed me. My people needed me. I could not let myself be selfish any longer."

"Dagger, I-"

"Do not call me that!" She whirled to face him. "Dagger is dead. She died the day I forced myself to give up on you. Dagger would not . . . could not give up on you. She spent hours looking for any sign of you. She would have abandoned my kingdom for you. I could not let that happen."

"I'm not sure I understand what you mean."

Garnet drew a ragged breath. "I was torn between two loves -- my love of you and my love of my kingdom. I had to make a choice . . ." she trailed off.

"I think, I understand."

"It still hurts, you know. Like a part of myself is missing." Garnet sighed, throwing her head back. "Dagger is who I became when I ran away from home. She didn't have a place when I returned for good."

"I don't know what to say. I'm sorry, Dag-uh-Garnet. I didn't mean to be gone this long."

"Where were you?"

"With Kuja."

She whirled to face him. Her expression incredulous. "Kuja? Why were you with him?"

Zidane rubbed the back of his head. "It's complicated. Kuja and I were connected – almost like brothers in a way. I couldn't let him die alone. Me and Mikoto are the only family he had."

Garnet noticed the past tense, but she needed to make sure. "So Kuja is dead?"

"Yeah, he is." He turned and walked back over to the windows. "You know it's funny. We genomes are a lot like the Black Mages – we're constructs – dolls. So when he died, it was a bit of a let down."

"What do you mean?"

Pressing his head against the window, he sighed. "He just stopped. He got weaker and weaker and finally just stopped. I don't have any other words for it." He paused and swallowed a few times. When he collected himself, he continued. "Garland said that Kuja was only supposed to last until I came of age. Then, I was supposed ta replace him."

He looked over his shoulder at her. His eyes took in her confused expression and he sighed. "I'm not explaining this well. Let me go back a bit. Kuja, Mikoto, and I were all created to help bring about the resurrection of Terra. I'm a little shaky on the details, but it had to do with the transfer of souls." He stopped again making sure she was following him.

She nodded and motioned for him to continue.

"Anyways, Kuja was created first. But there was something wrong with him -- Garland wasn't too generous with the details -- so Garland created me," he said softly. "Kuja was angry and jealous, and dropped me onto Gaia where Pops found me. So Garland let Kuja loose on Gaia to create war and strife to help speed up the transfer. And at the same time, he created Mikoto to take me and Kuja's places. Are you with me so far?"

"I think so. I don't see what this has to do with Kuja's death though."

"I'm getting there." Zidane drew a ragged breath. "Well, part of Kuja's problem was that he was a defective Genome. So Garland set up a failsafe, Kuja's life would end when I was old enough to take over for him. His soul was only good for thirty years. I think the time limit on his soul drove him a little mad."

"Go on."

He closed his eyes and she could see the sheen of tears leak through. "When I found him in the Iifa Tree, he was near death. He had used the last of his power to transport us back from Memoria. I guess he felt he owed us . . . me . . . something. So I got him out, it was a tough battle and the Iifa Tree itself didn't want to let us leave."

A tear slipped down his cheek, and she had to stop herself from crossing to him and comforting him. Instead, she crossed her arms and focused on his words.

"Kuja tried to help out the best he could, but he was so weak," his voice cracked. "He was so very weak. When we escaped, I went to the Black Mage Village. I figured Mikoto or one of the other Genomes could help. But they couldn't do anything. Neither could the remaining black mages." His tail lashed back and forth in agitation.

"Did you see Vivi there?" she asked, trying to change the subject in order to give him time to recover.

"Yeah, he was there. He helped me figure out what was wrong with Kuja." He opened his eyes to look at her. "The more power used the shorter the life expectancy of both Genomes and Black Mages. That is why Kuja was dying at age twenty-five. And why so many of the black mages had such a short lifespan. They literally were burning themselves up from the inside."

"You do not need to continue. I can see this is painful for you to discuss."

He shook his head. "No, you have the right ta know. I'll be okay."

She inclined her head indicating he should continue.

"It took Kuja almost three months to die. And when he did, it was peaceful." He struggled for a few moment with his next words. "It-it was like a wind up top – he spun so fast for so long. Whirling around without a care. Then finally he started to run out of energy. He just got slower and slower finally just coming to a stop."

"Why didn't you come back then?"

"Vivi."

She blinked. "Vivi?"

"He'd figured out a way for the black mages to procreate. And he wanted me to be around for that."

"Vivi is a father?"

He rubbed the back of his head again. "I suppose you can say that. He's also a mother too. It's a little weird."

"A little weird?"

"To put it mildly." A large grin spread across his features. "He had a whole parcel of Mini-Vivis. I don't think I've seen him as happy and proud as when he was watching his brood play." He stopped glancing over at her apprehensively.

"What is it?"

"Vivi's gone."

She drew a shuddering breath. "I had suspected. It does not make learning the truth any easier. But it explains much. You stayed with him to the end, did you not?"

"Yeah, I did. I owed it to him, ya know? He had a good end. He was surrounded by his family and the entire village. Everyone loved him. Even the dwarves from Conde Petite."

"What then?"

"After his funeral, I made my way back to Lindblum and Pops. Pops smacked me around for running off for so long. You'd think he would be used to it by now," he muttered. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he continued. "When he was done tannin' my hide, he told me about your birthday celebration and the reprise of 'I Want to Be Your Canary.' I just knew that I had to crash that performance like I did two years ago. It was fate."

She raised an eyebrow. "Fate?"

"Yeah, Fate. I told you I'd come back."

"Yes, you did. But for how long? How long do I get spend with you before you 'stop?'"

He shrugged. "As long as you live."

"What!?"

"I'm kinda hazy on the details but I should live long enough to see Gaia and Terra merge."

"But isn't Terra destroyed?" she asked in confusion.

"Yeah it is."

"Then how . . ."

"Garland screwed up," Zidane said, bluntly. "He gave Mikoto and me souls – making us mortal. But he made our lifespan contingent on the merger of Terra and Gaia."

"So you're going to live forever," she stated flatly.

"Not quite forever, but pretty close. So, I'm here to stay for the long haul."

She stared at him in shock. It was a lot to take in. Zidane was practically an immortal – the whole thing was impossible. "I don't see how this is going to work," she said in a sad voice. "Things are so different now. I'm a queen and you're a construct. I'm going to die in fifty or sixty years – you're going to live until the sun burns to ash. I wish-"

Zidane crossed to her, tilting her head with his hand so he could look into her eyes. "Dagger – Garnet – this will work if we let it. I want to be with you. I love you. Don't let silly things like aging and a crown stop you from your dreams." He slipped his fingers up her jaw to play with her long hair.

"Zidane-"

He continued to play with her hair. "Do I want to watch you die? Hell no! I'm selfish like that. I want you to be with me for always. But if I can't have that, then I am willing to settle of having you for the rest of the time you have left."

"But I'm going to get old and you're not!" she cried.

He laughed. "Garland was thousands of years old and looked it. I have a hunch that he was as old as he wanted to be. I could probably figure out how to age with you if it bothers you so much. Besides you're a summoner, I don't know how long that race of people live."

"What about children? You're a construct and I'm a human."

"Well, we have two options. One: We could adopt. There are a lot of orphans out there – and you were adopted yourself so you know that your people won't have a problem with that. Two: We could have them."

She stared into his blue eyes in shock. "What do you mean 'have them?'"

Zidane rubbed the back of his head nervously and stepped back from her. "My body isn't all that different from yours. From what Mikoto said all genomes are able to procreate with any type of humanoid. It got a little technical and honestly I stopped paying attention when she started talking about 'dominant and recessive genes' and 'expanding the gene pool.' I didn't know when I asked that it was going to be so technical."

"Why did you ask?"

He blushed. "I knew that you would likely want a child of your own. Both for your kingdom and to help repopulate the summoners. I wanted to know if I could give them to you."

"Oh." She walked away from him to look out of the window. "So, now what?"

"That's up to you. I still want to be with you, Garnet, if you'll have me. So the choice is yours. I'm willing to stay in any capacity you need me." His voiced dropped so that she had to strain to hear him. "I'll even leave if you want me to."

Pressing her head against the glass, she closed her eyes. What did she want? "My choice, huh?"

"Yes."

"Would it be wrong if I said I didn't know what I wanted?"

"No. Explain it to me."

"It's like there are two parts of me warring with each other. There's the part of me that knows my responsibilities and duties and tells me that I can't keep living life according to my heart." She shuddered and drew back from the window a bit to regard her image reflected on the panes. "Then there's the part of me that would throw aside everything just to spend one more minute with you. She'd ignore her past, her people and her crown just to feel your arms around her." She turned to find him regarding her seriously and she smiled faintly. "It's not an easy choice, but I made it long ago."

His shoulders slumped as he anticipated her words. "I see. I'll be going then."

"Wait! You haven't heard my decision."

"That's 'cause I know what it is, Princess. I'll see you around." Zidane started to turn away from her and she reached out to catch his arm.

"I need for you to hear it anyway," she said quietly.

He glanced down at her hand and then up at her face. She could feel the muscles tensing under her fingers. "Alright, what's your decision?"

Taking a few steadying breaths, she shifted so she could look him full in the face. "It's the same choice I made years ago. I choose you."

"What?"

"I choose you," she repeated. "My kingdom needs me, but I need you. I think my people will understand. Beatrix and Steiner already do."

"I don't get it. What was all of that talk about you stopping loving me and Dagger being dead?"

"It was the truth. Dagger was dead, just like my heart, until the moment you tore your cloak off in the middle of that silly play. When I saw you again, all of my old feelings returned. And I realized that I couldn't quash them forever."

"So what was that whole rant thing all about earlier?"

"I was angry and I wanted you to understand what your actions did to me. You never think things through, and if you're going to be my Prince then you need to start attempting to do so."

"Attempting?" he asked with a gamin grin.

"I know you too well to expect that you will stop being so impetuous. But as I said before, it's one of the things I loved the most about you."

"Ah. So what now?"

"Now, I think I need to be held by my future husband."

"Husband?"

"Of course, did you think I was going to let you get away now that I've found you again?"

"Well . . . it is a bit sudden."

"I just don't want you to leave. I need you here . . . with me."

He gathered her into his arms. "I'm here now. And I am never going to leave."

"Promise?" She leaned into him feeling his warmth seep into her.

"I promise."

She looked up into his eyes. "I've missed you."

"Me too, Dagger. More than you will ever know," he whispered before capturing her lips with his own.

One final thought flitted through her head before she surrendered to him.

He was home!


AN: Okay this was supposed to be a 100 to 500 word piece tops. It is 3,000. Somehow the characters took over and demanded that I allow them to speak their piece. Like I said before this was for a fic exchange in return for HostileCrayon writing me a fic. It got a little out of hand and I got writers block about a third of the way through.

Do not let it be said that I do not cite my sources. Some of the techno-babble that Zidane spouted is based off of actual Game dialogue and plot.

http//en. /wiki /FinalFantasyIX

I decided that it wasn't clear if Kuja lived or died in the Iifa tree so I decided to play. This is a little Schmalpy and Sappy but I like it. Final Fantasy IX is one of my favorite games and I really love the ending – it makes me smile and cry at the same time.

Let me know what you think!