Well. It's finished. Finally. I could've gone into depth about Freya's and Zidane's adventures but I decided not to. Maybe I'll leave that for another day. Anyway, big, big, huge massive thank yous to everyone who has supported this fic. I know there's been a hell of a lot of controversy over earlier chapters, which I don't mind! Its been quite a learning curve for me. And so you know, this isn't the end of Tantalus for me, I have many oneshots in mind! Please review one last time on your way out!
W h a t . y o u . m a k e . I t
The clock struck three. The bells sang and a flock of pigeons took flight, startled by the noisy intrusion.
Zidane watched the mottled birds glide among the crooked chimneys before turning his gaze back to the clock tower. It was the first building he could recall from his childhood, and seeing it day in day out led to the eventual dismissal of its existence. He took it for granted.
But now, staring up at its crumbling brickwork and crudely maintained clockwork, the thirteen year old felt a surge of affection he had either not experienced beforehand, or had just forgotten completely.
He was home.
"How would you define… home?"
Mist swirled around the propellers. The engine droned so loudly Zidane had to near shout to make himself audible. It took away the sobriety of the question, but he didn't mind. He'd grown to love Freya like a sister over the months (though never would he admit such a thing) but he did not want her to think him soft.
"Home?" she repeated, fiddling with the tip of her lance. "Home is…"
The Mist broke away revealing the stooped peaks of Southern Gate. Zidane felt tingle of anticipation.
The crew's shouts could be heard above the whirring propellers. The ship glided to a safe speed as the giant gates groaned and the gears grudgingly edged round.
"Home is… whatever you make it."
Zidane tore his gaze away from the opening gates and huffed indignantly. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Freya smiled wryly. "Home is whatever you make it. However you view it, depending on how important it is to you. I bet if you asked around, hardly anyone would say, 'my home is where I was born'. People rarely grow up where they were specifically born."
Zidane's confused stare didn't waver, so Freya continued.
"Remember the Wariri tribe we met on the mountainside?" she asked.
"Well, they were nomadic. They didn't live in one place, but remember what they said when you asked them if they ever missed their home?"
"They said their home went with them."
"You see? Home is what you make it. Whether it's a house or tents you carry. It's a place you feel comfortable and familiar with. A place where you're surrounded by the people you love"
Zidane scratched his chin. "Where's home for you, Freya?"
The dragon knight stared broodingly across the peaks of Lindblum.
"Burmecia, I guess."
"Even though Frately isn't there?"
She nodded. "I love Burmecia, I'd defend it with my life. Everyone I love - save Frately - is there, and I hold a personal attachment to the place that could never diminish. That's what home is, to me anyway. What's home to you, Zidane?"
Freya's words echoed through his mind as he stared up at the hideout. He shuffled his feet and adjusted his backpack, nerves getting the better of him once again. He fleetingly wished for Freya's solid, assertive personality to guide him, but shook his head. It wouldn't do to rely on someone else for a matter so personal. It had been his decision to leave and now he must face the consequences.
He approached the wooden doors and raised a fist, intending to knock. But the thought suddenly seemed ridiculously absurd. He'd never knocked on the Hideout door before, so why now?
Because people aren't expecting me. Because I've been away for so long. Because I'm scared of what the people inside will think so I'm breaking the news gently…
But he had never knocked on the Hideout door, and damn it all if he was starting now.
Zidane took a deep, shaky breath and reached forward -
The doors were yanked open from the inside, and an ominous, bulking shadow blocked the entrance.
"Freya, where will you go now?"
Lindblum was bustling but the pair felt strangely alone atop the bridge. The knight stared pensively into the distance, as if she was already restless, already searching for Frately on the horizon.
"You don't have to leave, y'know. You could stay here."
Freya looked at him and smiled with unabated affection and warmth. "If only," she said, "my conscious would allow it."
Zidane looked mildly disappointed. He'd miss her, but he sure wouldn't tell her that. "What will you say when you find Frately?"
The Dragon Knight looked somewhat startled and she blinked several times at the sun. "Well, I… I've never thought about it before." A pause, then she chuckled. "I guess… I'll tell him -"
"You stupid oaf!"
The fist hit him before the words did and Lindblum spun out of view.
"Selfish, ungrateful, insolent little bastard!"
A hit to his abdomen, another to his cheek. Stars burst before his eyes.
"I should have left you to hang, boy! All those profits, all those years I could've spent on another boy worthy of being called a Tantalus member."
Now the words were stinging sharper than the blows that exploded upon his skin harder than bricks. He felt hot blood course down his head, lost the feeling in his right arm. He tried to speak but another blow knocked the wind out of him.
"After everything I did for you, this is the thanks I get? You're not worth anyone's time."
Zidane braced himself for another blow but none came. Above the throbbing of blood in his ears, he heard panting. The boy had coiled himself into a defensive ball, what little use that had done, but now he tentatively uncurled, opening an eye.
Baku loomed above him, more intimidating and furious than he ever remembered. He looked dishevelled but still a force to be reckoned with. He was not wearing his goggles, and Zidane could clearly see his hurt, fury and… relief.
Zidane managed to get to his feet. There was a darkness around his vision that pulsed and he couldn't prevent himself from swaying on the spot. He raised a shaking hand and wiped blood from his lips, which curled into a shy smile.
Freya, refreshed and looking eager to depart, gripped Zidane's forearm, which he mirrored with vigour.
"It's been fun, Zidane." She smiled. "And enlightening. I shall look upon thieves with less disdain than before."
"You do that," he replied. "Just watch ya purse. And yourself. If Frately hadn't done it already I'd have your heart in my pocket right now."
She rolled her eyes. "Idiot. One of these days you'll meet someone who'll teach you what love is when it travels further up than the buttons on your trousers."
Zidane grinned his dashing grin. "Doubt it! But thanks for the thought anyway."
A pregnant pause ensued that somehow concluded their warrior relationship. Zidane cleared his throat.
"Well, I best be off. I think I've worried boss enough."
"Think he'll let you back into Tantalus?"
"Someone as talented, daring and handsome as I? He can't afford not to."
"Right!" Freya said, throwing her hands up. "Ive had enough of you!" She laughed. "I'm leaving. I'll see you again, Zidane, I don't doubt. And God's hope you've found a little humility in that time." She braced herself for a jump. "Farewell, Zidane."
The thief watched her disappear from sight. "See ya, Freya."
The Hideout hadn't changed a bit since he'd left, though oddly, he thought it would have. Instead, it looked exactly the same as when he'd gone, if not a little tidier.
Zidane picked absently at a splinter on the wooden table with one hand and nursed his discolouring arm with the other. He could hear Baku banging around in the kitchen, searching for his whisky, no doubt.
"I went all round the world, boss," he called. It was a slight exaggeration, but he always loved to elaborate. "I met tons of weird people, went to loads of weird places. I made heaps of friends… a few enemies, none worth mentioning."
Baku re-entered the room with a bottle of half empty whisky and two shot glasses. He gave Zidane a hard, steady stare that the boy couldn't match.
"I guess I am an ungrateful little son-of-a-bitch, aren't I?" he said meekly.
"No… you're an ungrateful insolent little bastard, I think you'll find. But you sure as hell can be both."
Zidane picked harder at the splinter, listening to the glug of the whisky as it was poured into the glasses.
"I… I'm sorry I left without saying anything… it was stupid of me."
"And I'm sorry I was away for so long."
"I'm gonna work yer ass off to make up for lost profits."
Zidane smiled meekly. "I know."
Baku pushed a shot glass over to him. "Drink up. One gulp."
Zidane, who had never tried whisky straight before, did as he was told and spluttered as his insides ignited.
"It'll numb the pain," boss explained, pouring himself another shot. "Good?"
Zidane winced and shook his head. Baku bellowed with laughter. The sound was painfully familiar and comforting, rousing infinite childhood memories.
"Hey, boss," Zidane started. "Y'know… y'know when I got caught for stealin' and was bein' taken to the gallows?"
Baku nodded gravely.
"I never… never said thanks."
The boss shifted, more out of surprise than anything else. "You don't have to. Rule 3 of the Tantalus code: Tantalus brothers always look out for each other."
"Yeah… Well, thanks, anyway."
Baku grunted. "Listen, kid. You may be a pain in ass, but you've got a heart of gold. When you were away I realised that, hell, you're like a son to me but… you can't hang around here forever."
Zidane stared at him, wide eyed. "Huh? I don't ever wanna leave Tantalus!"
"I know ya don't at the moment but… one of these days you're gonna want t' go on to bigger things; it's what you're destined for."
Zidane pouted a little, something very unbecoming for a thirteen year old. "I don't ever wanna leave Tantalus…"
Baku chuckled and downed another shot.
"Did ya find out what you were looking' for?" he asked.
Zidane stopped picking at the splinter. "Not exactly… but that doesn't matter now so much."
"Ya stickin' around then?"
Baku smiled and spread his hands. "We got some pretty big gigs comin' up. You up for that?"
Zidane snorted. "I could do 'em all single handed! I don't need you guys pullin' me down!"
"Welcome home, kid."