Title: For what end shalt thou live?
Author: unwinding fantasy (formerly Aqua Phoenix1)
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy IX ain't mine. Title taken from a line from "I Want To Be Your Canary".
Rating: M
Pairings: one-sided Blank x Zidane; brief Zidane x Dagger.
Warning: Swearing, drinking, slash, unrequited love, masturbation. Probably a lot more I'm not thinking of right now.



eight

i.

Dark confronts him, a deep and absolute blackness that comprises his entire world, makes it impossible to tell if this place has a third dimension. At the same time he's impressed with the thought, If I stretch out my hand it'll be sucked up. Acknowledging his body has corporal form spurs him to life. A sliver of light, sharp and sudden and bright, cuts into his new eyes. Fireflies dance across his vision. A groan escapes his sun-roughened lips as he tries to move, head limp and heavy on his shoulders. The greenery is feather-soft beneath his fingertips and the sensation makes something prod at his mind, a questing tendril of smoke. No sooner has it formulated then it vanishes, a silhouette of a memory, a flighty creature evading capture.

Hands planted firmly to either side of him, he pushes himself upwards. The world tilts dangerously, becomes streaked with black lines as his body threatens to sink back into unconsciousness. Blinking, he inhales deep -- the air's cold fingers wrap round his lungs. A playful zephyr tickles his long hair, carrying a fresh and salty aroma to him. Invigorating, new, the smell makes his knees buckle, the sensory information overwhelming like that painful light from back home, only good. He makes fists, gripping tufts of (memory provides an answer this time) grass and forces himself to stand.

Over there is a strange collection of structures, a packed together, tessellating mass that smells like clockwork. Tiny, methodical insects flicker to and fro, steadily treading their air-paths, never interfering with one another's business. An efficient hive, he fancies he can hear their distant buzz.

In the other direction, a vast plain of wavering blue shines against the sun's rays. He flinches, turns back around and starts walking.

By the time he reaches the hive -- many many steps away, so far that the shining ball in the sky has almost completed its arc -- he's heavy of foot and red bubbles have sprung up on his heels, some broken and weeping weary tears. Cuts and scrapes adorn his little body. Monsters, ravenous like the ones he'd bumped into earlier, gnaw at his lower intestines, growling and gnashing their teeth. Testing the air -- his sun-struck nose scents oil, metal and grinding gears, fresh flowers and laundry hung out to dry, something pungently salty and food -- and he finds the will to stir his feet to action.

Shuffling towards the enticing promise of a means to quell his hunger-monsters, he follows his nose to an establishment with a well-worn albeit well-loved appearance. For a time he lurks outside the entrance, head peering into a window after he'd discovered standing in the doorway was a fast-track way to be barreled down by tall-hatted rats and flying faeries. He stands at the threshold, tail twitching, trying to puzzle out exactly where that smell's coming from when a demi-fish strides out, fierce glower on face and broom in hand. "Off with ya, brat!" he yells, taking a swipe with his makeshift weapon and the boy runs from the onslaught, confused and incongruous and starving.

The sky grows dim. He's still standing in the middle of street while a man with a long flame-tipped stick begins walking around lighting lanterns. An old man pulls a cloth over his cart, full to brimming with strange green sausages, the source of that salty stench. Until a moment ago he'd been bellowing "Gyshal pickles! Get yer Lindblumese gyshal pickles right here!" just like he'd been doing since the boy arrived.

He doesn't know what a gyshal pickle is, or even a Lindblumese come to that, but he saw the man eat one of those green things once.

His tummy growls. He curls up on the sidewalk and tries to sleep.

-

ii.

The first time he's caught in the act and he's lucky to come away with a bruised behind. It helps him forget about the empty state of his stomach for an hour or two.

The second time he's caught again but only insofar as the demi-fish spots him. He flees the scene of the would-be crime, all spindly armed, scraggly legged and fuzzy tailed, the angry broom-brandisher left to rant and curse and yell words that make the other townfolk turn their heads. A destitute belly and tears tracking through dirt-streaked cheeks, poor reward for the effort he's expended, are no condolence for his hollow heart.

By the third time he's discovered he possesses a clever knack for scaling unclimbable walls and wriggling into impossible places. He snoops and twists and squirms and sneaks and smells his way to victory, the gooseberry pie hot in winter-chilled hands. Between the pantry door and the kitchen's warm embrace he huddles over and wolfs his prize, pleased he can take care of himself. Gooey sweetness, a crumbly crust playing sharp counterpoint to the slight bitter tinge that explodes in his mouth whenever his teeth pierce a berry. Even the hard little pips he devours, crunching them between his back teeth.

It's satisfying. It's heaven.

…It's lonely.

-

ten

i.

A little irritated they've interrupted his spying, he says the only one he remembers, "Zidane," the syllables bitten-off like broken bottles, sounding doubly nasty coming from a kid. Inevitably, his eyes shuffle towards a girl in a pretty dress, all pink parasols and lace-edged handkerchiefs and perfume that makes his nose twitch eagerly.

"That it?"

He throws his arms behind his head, dances on tip-toes, feigns a disinterested yawn. "There should be more?" he questions, lacing his tone with nonchalance yet secretly hoping these people are interested in something other than his name. He's well aware the blue trousers, frayed at the ankles and worn through the knees, are beginning to look ridiculous on his body, sky-seeking, stretching.

The man's compact, a coiled spring. Beneath a crooked nose, a wide mouth runs from jug ear to jug ear. When it opens the boy curiously leans forward, more interested in what's missing (five teeth at least) than what's not (incisors the colour of piss and rotten-meat breath). "Man don't get around life with half a name," he says, scratching at a mole on his left cheek, casting a brief look at the lanky boy he's brought with him. Older than Zidane, the boy takes up a position against a wall, arms folded across his patchwork chest. Hair a cross between a marmalade cat and a tabby, spiking up at unruly angles, it reminds Zidane of a broom. The guy's called Blank. Zidane thinks it's a funny sort of moniker, as if Blank wore it in purposeful mockery of the fact that he too had no real name.

Zidane is, according to them, a wild monkey-boy, a cheeky churl, a mischievous punk with no place to park his untamed, scrawny little ass. And, coincidentally, the newest member of their family. He listens to them exchange crude banter, keeping one ear cocked for the sound of the girl's chiming-bells laughter.

They eventually settle on Tribal. It is, Zidane supposes, as good a name as any.

-

ii.

Vision cloudy at the edges, the blonde teeters on his stool. He blinks rapidly, an attempt at dispelling the blurred effect, the action only serving to further distort the smoke-stifled dive's splintery countertop. Hiccup! -- a whirlpool broils in his stomach, churning cheese and crackers and gyshal liquor into the turd of a dog's breakfast, a brown and messy stew that burns his throat more coming up than going down.

"Fuckwit!" someone groans. It takes the blonde a moment to place the voice as Blank's. He peers down, notices he's puked all over his Bro, recalls vaguely he should be blushing at this display of alcohol intolerance. Head reeling, he wipes his face, trying to scrape the mess off but instead smearing it all over his hot cheeks. "'s your own faul'…" the blonde boy has time to drawl before his dirty face meets Blank's groin as he collapses into the other bandit's lap. Noise is muted, a bumblebee's hum. He hardly registers the grunt of disapproval coming from his friend's mouth: "Goddamn faggot. Get offa me!"

"Oi! You thievin' cunt-faces can't hold yer liquor, get the hell outta my bar!" hollers the bartender.

Zidane's hauled to his feet, elbow knocking over a dirtied glass, emptying it of its half-full contents. Fingerprints stand out on a cloudy surface glinting like a semi-precious stone in the tavern's werelight as it rolls over the edge and thunks to the cigarette-strewn floor, too solid to shatter. Zidane's arms hang at his sides like a corpse's; his body feels sluggish and water-logged. He starts crying to try to drain the liquid from his spongy organs.

"Pussy," Blank chides, but the blonde hears fondness in the rough voice. One of his dead arms is thrown over the taller's shoulder -- he slams his eyes to evade the room, swaying anew at the action -- and he blindly staggers alongside Blank. He's never felt so sick or silly or safe.

-

eleven

i.

He switches to lie on his other side, pulling the itchy covers up round his neck, accustomed to the lice nipping at his bare skin. When the bed shifts beneath him and Blank's panting is loud in the darkness, Zidane slips the covers off, curiously hangs his head over the side of the bunk and looks.

Blank's headband has been discarded along with the rest of his clothing. Eyes squeezed shut. Red tongue rolling from his mouth, a velveteen carpet for a play's premier. He's holding himself, dragging sword-callused digits along turgid flesh, one hand tracing circles around a dusky nipple. Pumping, squeezing. Rolling hips arch off the bed as the pace becomes frantic. His second hand drifts down to meet the first, cupping balls buried in curling hair. Tongue retreats. Teeth clench. A jet of white spurts from Blank's twitching member, spattering against his taut chest and the vermin-ridden blanket.

Cinnamon eyes slip open. Blank blinks, acknowledges his topsy-turvy audience with a lazy grin. Zidane observes his Bro's sweat-streaked body, swings his eyes heavenward and settles back into his bed, ignoring the moogles flitting round in his stomach.

-

ii.

For the first time in a long time, Zidane's caught in the act again. Only this time, rather than red-handed he's caught cock-handed and Blank doesn't chase him away with his broom-hair, only leans down, warm breath falling lightly on the blonde's flushed face. A trail of sloppy kisses eventuates along Zidane's jaw. Treasure-hunting, Blank follows the curve all the way down neck, chest, navel, beyond. Zidane's keen nose detects vinegar and soot, ale and dead fish. Shudders trekking through his lithe frame, he doesn't care, just lets his Bro teach him. He knows he reeks too.

Blank chuckles when Zidane reaches crescendo. At the blonde's confused look, he says not to worry, that he won't always be in such a state by the end, that it takes time to become a man. Blank ruffles his mop of straw hair, affection shining in his eyes and Zidane gives him a cat-caught-the-canary grin.

They curl up together, Blank's hardened member pressing through the material against Zidane's lower back, and fall asleep.

-

twelve

i.

Practice makes perfect.

-

thirteen

i.

The wall pressed against his back is slimy. So is the tongue exploring his mouth, but whatever it is she's doing to him down there is enough to distract him from that and everything else that's wrong. Skirt hikes upward, legs wrap round his waist. Moisture seeps through his garments, his and hers. Deft hands tug at his pants, freeing his swollen sex, guiding him into her wet hole and oh gods! gods, keep -- faster! yes, there, the--! …gods

It's over in an embarrassing amount of time. With a wink more mocking than coy, the drab slips half the gil back into his pocket and leaves him there alone in the dingy back alley, sludge dripping off the walls, cum dripping off his cock. Once, he pounds fists against the bricks. The thief's sticky-fingers feel sticky; a spider's woven a web between each digit to catch despair and loneliness. Head flopping back against the unfriendly wall, Zidane stares up at a star-spun sky, squints at the pinpricks of light and ponders home.

On the morrow, he starts walking towards the sea.

He has no Colin. Debauchery becomes his kinsman.

-

fifteen

i.

He's looked and looked and hasn't found anything worth finding. It only makes sense to return, head held high, tail between the legs.

He's greeted with fists, knees, nails. Even the fierce hug that comes later seems primed to injure; Zidane fancies he can hear his worn joints grinding together, ribcage compressed like an accordion within the bone-crushing embrace. Wincing, his father's laughter still a thunderstorm in his ears, he says, "I'm back."

Marcus grins lopsidedly. Cinna, hammer in hand, gives a mock salute.

Blank looks and looks and finds his friend.

-

sixteen

i.

Midnight, charcoal, ravens. The bottom of an emptied mug. Beautiful hair flows down her perfect-posture spine, ending just above the generous curve of her behind. Supple breasts heaving, he sees sweat trickle between their cleft as she stands atop the parapet, eyes twinkling like the star-dappled nightsky enveloping them. She jumps and screw the plan, he's amazed that he's following her because surely when your heart stops it's impossible to keep living and move.

It happens twice more, once when Bahamut razes Alexandria and she ceases singing, once when he's saved the world and returns to her. The way her profoundly sorrowful features metamorphose into angry tears and creased eyebrows and clenched teeth before giving way to warm content -- it makes his heart jitter and pause and then pound a quick-step in his chest. Nose-in-the-air nobles rub shoulders with underfoot street urchins and his companions join the cheering, welcoming the finale with wild applause. Zidane's done a lot of things in his life but hitherto he hasn't loved. Not until she asked to be kidnapped.

He thinks, Who cares about origins? It's the ending that matters.

-

coda

And Blank mutters, "Why do you always gotta play hero?"