(I wish you couldn't figure me out
But you'd always wanna know what I was about)
Her protest was barely a whisper. "Stop! Stop…please, this has gone too far…"
"Please… you must. It's too much for me to handle."
"Yes!" she pleaded, squirming. "No more! It might hurt…."
Never had she voiced objection to such activity. Well, to be honest, she'd never been given the opportunity to partake in such activity and as a result felt too young and inexperienced to successfully achieve anything. What was she meant to feel? Excitement? Anxiety? Disgust? She was virgin to such things.
"Please, I'm asking you to stop," she whimpered. "I simply can't bear it anymore. Put it down."
The being in front of her shifted, obviously irritated, then dropped the gigantic toad and huffed. "Fine!" Quina yelled. "You very bossy person, sometimes."
Garnet shook her head and silently urged the amphibian to leap away before the Qu changed his/her mind. It seemed her unvoiced plea was heard, and the thing hopped into the bubbling brook and swam away.
Thank goodness, Garnet thought. If she had to witness Quina's repulsive eating habits once more she thought she would throw up (the frogs made an awful squealing noise when captured and the Qu would often prolong the death by devouring them limb by limb. The frog's legs would protrude from his/hers grotesque mouth, paddling uselessly). Not only that, but she almost felt sorry for the poor things. They barely stood a chance against the bumbling Qu and she'd stopped mentally recording the death toll after it edged over fifteen and a half (yes, sometimes he/she wouldn't even eat them all. Garnet avoided looking toward a pair of disfigured frog legs sprawled across a stepping-stone).
Clearly not done scolding the princess, Quina continued: "You no understand ways of gourmand. You very ignorant lady. You try stop me eating delicious delicacy?"
"No, all I'm saying is -"
"I no listen to you! I no care if you princess or queen or whatever. I no take orders from you! I must fulfil destiny!"
And with that remarkable statement the Qu departed; waddled away into the foliage, angrily muttering to his/herself with an air of injustice that suggested Garnet's demand to be nothing less than utter blasphemy. Maybe it was, but frankly, she didn't care. She respected other cultures' beliefs, but having to watch live frogs being eaten was too much for her fragile mentality.
However, thanks to her big mouth, she was alone.
This didn't bother her half as much as it would have done a few months earlier. The presence of aggressive monsters was noticably absent upon her trek to the brook, so she assumed the land considerably safe.
Now that Quina had ceased devouring hapless amphibians, Garnet resumed grovelling in the dirt beside the creek, which was as wide as she was long and no deeper than a hand-span. It was diamond-clear, apparently unpolluted since the group was miles from any city, and thanks to this untainted water source the thigh-high foliage surrounding her was thriving.
Garnet had chosen a spot sheltered by a handful of trees, circling the area like guards on duty. It provided cover from potential enemies, and the branches were good for hanging the wet washing on.
She cast her gaze to the aforementioned bundle of dirty garments. She'd never done laundry before her departure from the castle (that was left to the maids) yet she found the menial task strangely soothing. Of course, it was tedious: the dirt was gruelling to remove, obstinately caking cotton vests, leather jackets and corduroy breeches, but it gave her some time to think while keeping her hands busy. Quina's habits had successfully distracted her from the task at hand, however, so a good half an hour was already wasted and the sun was beginning to disappear completely. If she looked up she would find a sky splashed in fiery palate: blood reds, soft ambers, rose pinks. The long shadows seemed to take on these marvellous hues, rich browns substituting the lacklustre greys. As a result, the environment was dynamic.
Garnet wiped her forehead with the back of her hand and dumped one of Steiner's sweat-stained shirts into the creek. The material ballooned and clouds of dirt coasted downstream. She began the exasperating task of scrubbing at it with her bare hands (they'd run out of soap some miles back) until the yellow patches became off-white and the dirt and blood flaked away.
So rapt was she in given task that she failed to hear him approach.
Stunned, she dropped the garment and the current whisked it away. She cried out and lunged for it, missed, lunged again (like Quina catching frogs, she thought humourlessly) but he got there first, leaping forward and planting his booted foot into the stream. The shirt coiled around his ankle and he swooped down to pluck it from the brook's watery grasp, triumphant smirk on his face.
"Here ya go," he said, holding out the sopping shirt.
Garnet took it from him and stood on her tiptoes to hang it over a spindly branch to dry.
"What are you doing here, Zidane?" she asked, a little harsher than intended.
He cocked his head. "Came to see if you're alright."
She frowned. Was he referring to the present, or his antic earlier?
He correctly interpreted the confused expression and translated: "I wanted to see if you needed help with the washing."
"Oh." She cast a fleeting glance toward the mountain of soiled clothes. "I can do it."
"Pretty big pile."
"I can do it."
"Really, I don't mind."
"I said I can -"
"I'll wash them opposite you so the dirt don't get on your washing."
She simmered a little (he never listens!), stubbornness rearing its head, but eventually backed down. It was unlike Zidane to persist so ardently, especially with something like washing. Obviously he had something to say and even though she really didn't want to confront her tender emotions toward what had transpired the last few days, she knew it had to be done eventually. Why not now? There may not be a chance after today.
Not waiting for a response, Zidane picked up half the clothes from the pile and dumped them over the otherside before hopping across himself.
Garnet found herself watching the passage of his tail; the way it flattened and extended to full length, enabling him to balance as his feet left the ground. When he crouched it repeated a similar manoeuvre. She wondered if he was consciously controlling the action or if it was instinctive, like walking. She suddenly realised how well he balanced. How he was barely moving. When she squatted she would wobble sometimes so hard she was obliged to press her fingertips to the ground to renew her stability. With a tail, clearly that was unnecessary; the appendage provided all the balance he needed. What would happen if it ever got cut off? Would he be able to walk properly? Would he fall over a lot?
She blinked. Gods, how long have I been staring at his tail?! Oh please don't let him be -
He was looking right at her.
She'd been caught red handed.
Garnet returned his penetrating, unreadable stare for a split second before dropping her own to the babbling brook. He'd fooled her! By continuing to scrub at the filthy garments she'd thought his gaze was elsewhere, the devious beast!
Yet, she was angrier at herself. How foolish of her to openly stare and do little else! How had she expected him not to notice? How indiscreet! How idiotic! How… embarrassing!
She didn't need a vanity glass to know her cheeks were cherry-red; the furious heat was telltale. How she wished the ground would swallow her, or the creek would become a river and wash her away! She should get up and leave right this second to avoid humiliating herself further. Gods, he was so quiet! What was he thinking? Was he mad? Was he embarrassed? Oh gods please please please break this awful silence!
But the gods' attentions were either elsewhere or they were taking pleasure in her discomfort, for her plea remained unanswered. The silence stretched out like the winding creek and when she mustered the courage to look at him again she found his gaze had (gratuitously) reverted back to the river; she had been released from the azure stare that made her legs turn to jelly and her thoughts vanish in a cloud of nervousness.
Had he always made her feel this way? Or had the little episode earlier unlocked these tender thoughts and feelings that singed her heart with burning fingers? What was this emotion, anyway? Lov -
For goodness sake, not that again! Garnet reprimanded herself, furiously scrubbing at a pair of breeches gripped within white knuckles and dirt-smeared fingers. Why did everything seem to revolve around that blasted word? It was simply ridiculous and she refused to pursue the subject further.
The silence remained an unbroken, heavy thing, stretched so taut it could tear at any moment.
Nervously, she flicked him the quickest look imaginable. His brow was furrowed either from concentration or anger. If only she could read minds! She considered the screens of dirt swirling beneath the water's surface for just a second longer before temptation returned her gaze to his tail.
It was as she'd seen it last, rigid and straight, outstretched for balance. It didn't so much as twitch. That was a shame. She could have interpreted his emotions (she'd gotten good at said activity, in fact she found it a rather enjoyable past time) but its current state rendered her interpretation skills useless. Funny, she'd never seen it so still before, but then again perhaps it took a degree of concentration to balance as perfectly as he was -
"You're so obvious."
She dropped the breeches but Zidane grabbed them before they could float away.
His words threw kindling on the fire of her blush. "Wh-what…?"
His eyes met hers, dead serious. "You're staring again."
Again?! How long has he known? Have I been so obvious? Dear Eidolons how could I be so negligent…!?
She dropped her gaze, stared numbly at her water gushing through parted fingers. She wished the creek were so wide he wouldn't be able to see her blush, or she see his trenchant, staid eyes. She frantically groped for the words: meaningful, apologetic, reasoning, but in the end all she found to say was: "Sorry."
He paused and she could hear the gurgle of the stream, the drip-drip-drip of water as it trickled from the clothes drying over branches and pattered to the ground. The sky was a gentle purple now, tinged cobalt blue around the fringes.
"C'mere," he instructed suddenly.
Garnet looked up and he was patting the ground beside him with his bare, wet hand. A tiny smile played across his features. A smile she'd never seen before, but it was warm, not teasing and strangely… what was the word?
Surely not. Some mistake.
However, she complied and daintily hopped across the creek, dirty clothes forgotten. He stared up at her through a curtain of matted hair, cerulean eyes surprisingly sombre. As a result, she found herself slightly suspicious of his unusual behaviour, and the embarrassment of being discovered analysing his tail hadn't faded enough for her to feel comfortable in his presence just yet.
"C'mon," he urged when she hesitated. "We need to talk."
Oh, that ominous phrase! How she hated those three words! They inevitably signalled the beginning of a heartfelt conversation or tedious scolding. She figured it wasn't the latter and thinking of anything 'heartfelt' with Zidane made her insides flutter.
However, against better instincts (she was expert at evading his pathetic advances), she did as he bade and settled on the moist dirt next to him, staring fixedly at the chuckling stream. Unnervingly, he stared directly into her profile. She wished she were anywhere but there.
"Obsessed, much?" It wasn't a question and she didn't like the teasing undertone.
"I am not…"
"Oh, that's rich coming from the likes of you!"
"What?" she yelped, shocked and hurt by the allegation. "What do you mean? I've never teased -"
"So what do you call grabbing my tail and giggling like a freakin' loonatic before denying the entire thing like it was a total accident? Hmm?"
She paused. He was looking across the stream now, hands flat on the ground behind him, leaning back, shoulders hunched slightly. He didn't look particularly angry. And he did have a point. She'd just never thought about it that way before…
"Yeah, I heard that part. What I wanna know is why."
She fiddled with her hair. Any awkward situation in the past was timid as a Mu compared to this one…
"I… I don't know…"
"Yeah ya do."
Darn, he's not letting up. She sighed. "I'm just curious that's all. I've never seen a person with a tail -" Did he wince? "- so naturally I… I just wanted to…to, um…"
"You could've asked."
She blinked, surprised. He turned his head so their eyes met. Stern.
"'Asked…?'" she repeated lamely.
"Yup. Actually, you know what, you can ask me anything."
"Go on. Ask away. Get it out of your system. I don't mind. Anything."
She swallowed. Was he serious? Anything? A thousand questions flitted in and out of perception; she had so many! But now they were frustratingly out of grasp, evasive as Zidane whenever the word 'bath' was mentioned.
The first one to pop to mind (and erroneously articulate itself) was: "Does it fall out?"
He emitted a strangled, shocked sound and stammered: "Wh-what the hell does -"
"Oh um, what I meant is… does the hair fall out?"
"Do you moult?"
"Oohh…" He grinned mischievously. "Take a look."
He brusquely ran a hand over his tail (a gesture she found intriguing to watch and suddenly the urge to touch it surfaced again) and showed her the result. Stuck to his wet palm were a dozen strands of fine hair.
There was something unpleasant about this development, though Garnet couldn't pinpoint why. Perhaps it was because moulting was so animalistic (it reminded her of her mother's cat) or perhaps it was the way he was so casual about the whole thing. To him, it was an everyday process but to her, it was completely alien.
"Oh," she managed finally and because she didn't want him to feel awkward she quickly added: "Does it moult with seasons?" She was recalling the way her mother's cat shed its winter coat for summer, then summer for winter. It left hairs all over the bedcovers. The thought of Zidane doing the same made her want to giggle.
He shrugged. "Dunno. Maybe. Don't really notice."
This surprised her somewhat. "Does it annoy you?"
"My tail? No. I don't really think about it. Like… you don't stop and say, 'Geez my arm's really annoying me today', right?"
She shook her head. So she was right: he did view it as a normal limb.
She was staring openly at the furry appendage now, which felt good. She no longer feared being rude nor considered her questioning intrusive; any possible awkwardness on his behalf was dismissed by a casual tone. She wondered if he got asked this kind of thing a lot.
As she watched, it skittered across the ground, sweeping loose debris and making a gentle swishing sound. There was a dead leaf snagged in the fur. She wanted to pull it free and before she really knew what she was asking: "Can I touch it?"
She expected some crude remark, maybe even a cross objection. What she got instead was a look so foreign on Zidane's visage he could have been wearing a mask.
"Oh – I… I'm sorry, that was so – so rude…!" she stammered, appalled by her behaviour. Her etiquette tutor would have been horrified!
He shrugged, alien expression unmoved, fingers drumming the earth uncomfortably. Zidane! Zidane Tribal uncomfortable! The words just didn't go together, like two pieces of different puzzles.
"Well, I really hate it being touched," he explained expansively. "It's really err… like… really…"
Sensitive, she supposed he wanted to say, but that would be a rather effeminate admission so she respected his unwillingness to accurately articulate his emotions, recoiling again from her shocking behaviour and the awkward situation it had thrust the genome into.
"Never mind," she dismissed with feigned indifference.
"Yeah but what I was gonna say was… as it's you I guess… I guess it's okay." If it weren't for the serious expression she would have thought him flirting. So, what then? Did he trust her? Really like her? In…in that way…?
But she felt uncomfortable about the whole thing now. Like if she fulfilled her perverse desire she would be… well, she would be just that: perverse.
"No really, it's fine," she said, urging the subject to change but unable to initiate such feat. "Forget it."
He shrugged, suddenly disinterested. "Fine. Just don't grab it like that again, freaks me out, y'know?"
She nodded (though she didn't know at all) and he stood, stretched and she followed suit. He started walking away and suddenly, for no reason she could think (she really wasn't thinking at all) she lurched forward and grabbed his tail again.
He yelped and stopped in mid step, shoulders hunched in a way a cat might arch its back when alarmed. His fur had bristled and he half turned as if to say something but she reached down with her other hand and ran it along the length. He shuddered; shoulders slumped. She smoothed the fur down but it was still a little prickly which meant he was uncomfortable.
Again, that odd word: a square peg in Zidane's circular personality.
She ran her fingers through the thick, coarse hair and noticed the strands that stuck to her damp palm, exactly like stroking a wet cat. She wondered if it got fleas but resolved not to ask as she'd demonstrated enough rudeness thus far to stun a court to silence.
Garnet continued to trail both hands along the limb consecutively; pausing only to tease the end with her fingertips, invoking a twitch so erratic it could only be reflexive, but she guessed it irritated him anyway so stopped and resumed stroking.
It was wiry, she could tell, and incredibly muscular. Not quite the strength of an arm but near enough. Perhaps its slimness (about the width of Garnet's wrist) hindered its potential. The whole appendage seemed somewhat illogical and the awful notion of 'partially evolved ape' sprung to mind and she recoiled. What a horrible comparison! But then again, what use did the limb entail? She thought about this for a protracted minute and eventually reached this conclusion: having a tail wouldn't be as disadvantageous as originally perceived. Why? Well, it was strong enough to sustain his weight (possibly elevate him from trouble) and lift weaponry; it aided his equilibrium and was an added sensory, kind of like eyes in the back of his head (the way cat's whiskers could judge the capacity of its surrounding space).
So, maybe he wasn't so much unevolved. Quite the contrary; the limb enabled a somewhat superior –
Zidane's moan terminated her train of thought and she looked up.
His head was slumped upon his chest and his shoulders sagged. His breathing was heavy, almost laborious. What was wrong with him? Was she hurting him or –
Realisation dawned as sharp and painful as a knife in the gut.
Oh gods. Oh all seeing, holy gods. He isn't…surely not… surely…he isn't…?
But the more she watched him (hands frozen against his tail) the more his body language confirmed her fears.
Zidane Tribal was enjoying this a little too much.
As if any sudden movement would provoke an unwanted reaction, Garnet swallowed noisily and slowly – oh so slowly – released her grip on his tail. She felt distinctly dirty; like she'd been doing something she really shouldn't be doing (had she?) and she forcefully wiped her hair-plastered hands on the legs of her overalls. She felt sick. Sick and soiled. And what was worse, she'd really set herself up for this one. Sure, she could blame Zidane all she wanted (he could've stopped her) but he'd been the one to walk away and she'd been the one to initiate the rebellious contact and now –
Zidane was staring ahead, his tail hanging utterly still. She noticed with growing concern that his heavy breathing hadn't subsided. She wanted to say something but the words were as distant as the first stars pricking the sky. What was worse, she could tell he was thinking – no, not thinking, deliberating.
She didn't know what to feel. Scared, nervous, disgusted, angry? Zidane was a good guy but she'd set herself up for this one big time. She didn't know the way male's minds worked. Did he see her venture as an advance?
Was she advancing?
Confusion muddled her senses.
Yet, as it happened, the decision was made for her. Zidane jerked round and faced her and she caught a glimpse of clouded, lustful eyes before he eclipsed any further scene (and thought) by leaning forward and pressing his lips vigorously against hers. She yelped against his advance (more shocked than scared) as he gripped her arms and pushed her back against the trunk of a tree.
Garnet was stunned; she couldn't comprehend what was happening. He was kissing her, sure, but labelling such a thing and realising it was painfully indistinguishable at the moment.
He was motionless for a long time (or a few seconds; time became stultified), hands lightly gripping her arms and warm lips pressed eagerly against hers. She wondered if he was reconsidering or if he was thinking at all. She could feel his cool palms beneath the flimsy silk of her sleeves and his ragged, warm breath against her cheek. She couldn't taste his lips but disconcertingly realised that she actually quite wanted to - though out of curiosity or desire she wasn't sure.
Eventually he moved: shuffled a little closer and adjusted his lips so they fit snugly against hers. She was hunched somewhat uncomfortably against the abrasive bark but dared not move case the fragile moment shattered. She felt tense but inquisitive about the ordeal (this was her first kiss, she noted dully, as all her daydreams of giving the gesture to a knight on a white horse flew out the window) and gently probed her feelings on the matter at hand.
Sure, she liked Zidane. He was kind, brave, animated and witty, but brash, crude and occasionally condescending. What did she feel toward him? She couldn't put a word to it, but it made her insides flutter slightly. What did he feel toward her? She didn't know. Was this lust or love? He'd claim the latter, she knew, but at the end of the day he was a male and males generally needed –
Further probing was severed as his lips began to move tentatively (and somewhat expertly, she noted) against hers, capturing her top lip and drawing it inward to gently suck. The feeling it invoked sent heady waves of dizziness her way, eclipsed any rational thought. It felt like her mind was melting and her heart was beating so hard it resounded about her body like a bass drum.
Zidane released her arms (they remained where they were, stiff and tense) and slipped his hands around her waist, pulling her to him and deepening their kiss by teasing her lips apart and sliding his tongue inside.
She stiffened considerably (she'd never thought people did this when they kissed!) but let him have his way, still unsure whether she liked it or not but failing to fight the fluttery, lust-driven butterflies calling for attention within the pit of her belly.
For the first time since kiss initiated, Garnet mustered the courage to return the gesture. She did so shyly but with an air of unmasked curiosity that lent her the audacity to capture his bottom lip and trail her tongue across it. She couldn't believe what she was doing! A queen frolicking with a thief in a wood! She thought herself long past those comparative labels but this reawakened them a little. Just a little.
As the kiss deepened further and his hands began to roam (trails of fire against her skin even with the clothes obstructing their path) Garnet began to wonder how far this would go. Or more, the question should have been, how far did she want it to go? Zidane was undoubtedly prepared to go all the way but… could she really do that? Here? With him? Now?
But she simply didn't have the strength the break the giddy kiss. It was too spectacular, too heady, too novel, too –
Zidane leapt away from her so fast he stumbled backward over the forgotten pile of dirty washing and tumbled into the creek with a colossal splash, spurting curses all the way. Garnet's head flew back at the same time, thudding against the scratchy bark hard enough to invoke stars before her vision.
"PRINCESS! WHERE ARE YOU?" Steiner's voice boomed again.
Between the deafening, rapid thumps of her heart Garnet managed to feel relieved. He hadn't seen them, like she'd originally thought, but would soon come upon their spot and draw the conclusions for himself. Steiner was ineloquent but no fool.
Ignoring the still cursing genome, the princess hopped across the stream (with some difficulty as her legs were as wobbly as a Flan) and resumed washing the garments, urging her blush to subside and the beating of her heart settle.
"Over here, Steiner!" she yelled as an afterthought, cursing the waver in her tone.
She glanced at Zidane. He was standing in the middle of the creek, soaking wet, wringing his shirt out grumpily and muttering curses.
The usual clamour of rusting armour signalled the arrival of her dutiful escort and she had the courtesy to acknowledge him as he approached.
"Princess!" the knight yelled, casting a suspicious glance at the soaked thief. "Where have you been? I was fraught with concern when the Qu returned without you. Why do you remain in this alien environment without consort? It is dangerous!"
Garnet shook her head. "Zidane's here, isn't he?"
Steiner turned and cast Zidane a long, distrustful stare through narrowed eyes. "Why are you wet, thief?"
"Takin' a bath," said thief replied.
Steiner scoffed. "Rubbish! You and the word 'bath' have never yet been uttered in the same sentence. Besides, you're fully clothed and should not – under any circumstances – ever have the presence of mind to bathe before the princess. Your idiocy is incomparable and your uncouth state of -"
"Steiner, please," Garnet pleaded. "I'll come back with you now. I'm sure Zidane's more than capable of finishing the laundry alone."
Zidane grumbled something under his breath that she failed to catch as Steiner led her away, yet she couldn't resist a backward glance over her shoulder. She managed to catch Zidane's eye and mouth 'sorry'. He threw her a crooked grin and mischievous wink that ignited that feeling of…of…
I'm thrilled with the response this silly fic got, thank you so much! I'm still not overly happy with the ending but meh. I'm lazy. Sue me. Anyway, any reviews left will be welcome! Thank you very much for reading.