The Knight Who Couldn't Be King
Warning: End-game spoilers. This type of plotline may have been done before – if so, I had no idea. I don't read the FFIX section too often :)
His awakening was slow, groggy, and lasted hours. Eyes opened slowly, adjusting to the light inch by inch before the nerves could finally handle the full intensity without wincing. His body felt numb and heavy, unwilling to move at his behest. He felt like he was on a bed. Was he secured to it? No, various parts of his body were wrapped in bandages, but other then that....
Memories. He suddenly remembered. Hovering over the form of his former enemy, coaxing him to hang on so that they could escape the chaos of a self-destructing machine that failed Terra. He had remembered his savior's eyes when it regarded him - not bright and demented like it had been, but resigned with repentance, a soul who had found peace. Nobody deserved to die if they had just found what it means to live.
And then those eyes closed, and he could not remember anymore.
He turned his head to one side slowly, studying the room he was in. He was by the window, the daylight spilling in. His head shifted to the other side, spotting the phonograph in the corner, before coming to rest in its original position.
He was in Black Mage Village. He was alive. He didn't know what to think about that.
The door opened to a muttering figure, trying to balance a load of bed sheets in his gloved hands. They had been folded neatly, and there was no need to ruin the newly cleaned and pressed cloth that would serve to replace the patient's previous bedding. He hadn't woken up yet, but everybody deserved to sleep on clean sheets.
Except the patient was awake and staring at him. The sheets fell to the ground.
He tried to smile at the quivering Black Mage. "Hiya." His voice was rough. How long had it been since he had spoken?
The Black Mage jumped excitedly, interrupting his thoughts. "Mr. Zidane! You're awake! Let me go get the others!"
He was soon surrounded by other Black Mages, and even in his lethargic state, the need to smile hovered.
Days of several enthusiastic village members, medical checks, and frequent napping later, Zidane was sitting up, several pillows cushioning his back from the hard wall. He did not look up at Mikoto's sitting on a chair nearby. She watched as he fingered the bandages around his head, a sign he was considering the facts she just told him.
She found him days after the final battle. His body had been bloodied and damaged, but unlike the Genome lying next to him, he had been breathing, if barely. The bodies were brought back to the village for "proper" care - the care for Zidane had been tending to a litany of serious wounds, including the head trauma that left him unconscious. Because of the battles he had endured since the beginning to the end of Memoria, coupled with the injuries suffered in the Iifa tree, the villagers were unsure if he would ever wake up.
But he did, two weeks later. He didn't remember the tree limb attacking him, but had remembered everything else before then.
The care for Kuja had been to bury him alongside the deceased mages he had created. The villagers had even found a nice rock to serve as a headstone and some flowers to rest above the ground. Mikoto had admitted curiosity about the behavior to a hated figure, to which the Black Mages replied that no one should be denied a proper burial after they had stopped.
The facts left Zidane forlorn. "I couldn't save him."
Mikoto shrugged. "He's at peace in the afterlife."
A small smile. "I guess so. Still, I hoped he could have lived to justify me plunging to my near death to save him. I made everybody worry, didn't I."
"We can try to contact your companions, if you'd like."
His answer surprised her. "No... not yet."
Vivi was his first visitor. Three weeks had gone by and Zidane was healing surely, even if it was a slow and frustrating process. Vivi was obviously excited about seeing his friend alive, practically jumping off the walls, but was careful not to prod and poke the resting man. Eiko would have reinjured me, Zidane thought with amusement.
Asking how Vivi knew how he was here, the mage's eyes crinkled in a smile. "I wanted to come live here after all of the celebrations, teach my friends about the world and such." He shuffled his feet. "...But I had a premonition that something was going to happen, and I left early. Now I know why. Oh Zidane, I'm so glad you're alive! I can't wait to tell the others!"
Zidane's previously joyful mood dampened. "That may not be a good thing right now," he spoke quietly, his head hanging down to look at his cupped hands in his lap.
"But why, Zidane?" Vivi cocked his head to the side curiously. "Don't you want to tell them you're ok?"
"I'm still recovering from my injuries. It's a little embarrassing if they came to see me and then proceeded to make fun of me." He shrugged and raised his eyes. "I don't like people dawdling over me. I'm sure there's a lot of stuff they all have to do now. Duties and such."
Vivi came to the bedside, resting his gloved hands near Zidane's legs. He wondered why the usual cheerful man would say such things. "But you're our friend. Of course we want to see you."
Zidane could only shake his head, his smile small and tight-lipped. If the rest of the party knew about his whereabouts and his status of being, well, alive, then they'd tell her, and then she'd want to see him...
Sensing his thoughts, Vivi cautiously added, "We've been celebrating and smiling since we've won, but we're all still sad about you. Dagger especially. I think she's the saddest."
It both comforted and hurt him that she could care so much, but that he was the one to cause her pain. It seems all his decisions caused her pain somehow.
Zidane did not tell anybody, but he dreamt of her in those days he had been unconscious. He did not know what the dream was about - it was just her and that warm smile, every time he dreamt. The dream had come to alarming clarity after he had woken the first time, and he was dismayed about what it had been about.
She was smiling at him, atop her place on the castle balcony. He was part of the crowd of admirers, happy to have their home taken care of by a kind and firm Queen. He was fighting through the throngs of people. His desire to crush her body into his own was overwhelming, hastening his path to the warm smile trained on him. He was getting so close to her, her body, her eyes, her smile. He almost missed them appear in front of her.
Two girls were hugging her legs and gazing happily at their mother. Laughing, cooing "Mama." They looked just like her. They would be beautiful, kind princesses. Were those children his? He looked from them to question her. It would be wonderful if it were true.
He got his answer. A shadowed figure appeared behind the lovely Queen, hugging her from behind. And her warm smile, always on him, suddenly did not regard him anymore. It was instead on the man, the nameless, faceless man, who would have her heart and break his in the process. He sank to the ground. In his sadness, he would still call out her name.
It was the only dream that came to him these past few weeks, and he woke up from it the same - drenched in sweat, panting with fear, his heart beating quickly with anguish. The reoccurring dream had driven him so stressed that he did not want to sleep, did not want to return to a plausible situation. The villagers had to slip sedatives into his nightly tea so he could rest. He knew he was being drugged, but chose not to fight back.
Zidane couldn't fight the situation if it became reality.
If he went back to her, it was with the desire to be more than friends with her. More than friends implied being married to her, being King. What selfishness of him to want such a position! He carried with him no noble upbringing, no knowledge of what it takes to rule a kingdom, no discernable and valuable experiences needed to aid her in her position as Queen.
Zidane would make her unhappy with his desire to have her belong to him. He was a selfish man with selfish desires, to make her his and his only. He had hidden his desires during the time they were together, allowing him small lapses of control under the guise of battling. But there was no injury now that would stop him from touching her, no sense of foreboding that allowed him to comfort her. There was no reason to keep her a caged canary, a feeling she had to fight all her life to free herself of.
He would ask for too much, and act only as a hindrance to a woman who had a duty far bigger then anyone can handle. Unhappiness awaited her. Zidane did not trust himself to keep his feelings hidden if he saw her now. He needed more time. Maybe she will forget.
Maybe he would too.
To Zidane's relief, Vivi changed the subject when he noticed his friend would not speak anymore. Other topics, like what everyone else planned to do. How there was so much food to eat and a lot of dancing, to which Vivi shyly confessed his aptitude for stepping on other's feet. Zidane had laughed, and then quickly had to comfort the embarrassed mage.
Their talk lasted a long time before Vivi posed a relevant question. "Can I tell the others that you're here, at least?"
Zidane was quiet for a long time. "Only if they promise not to tell her. I just need to sort a few things out. I don't want to get her involved."
The need to see her was strong, but he would hold back to think some more. In the end though, he would bear a lifetime of sadness if it made her happy.
Zidane was sitting in his bed, regarding his latest visitor with a tired look. Almost a year had passed and a lot of people came by to see him in Black Mage Village. All of them, Zidane had noted with resigned amusement, had come with the same premise. A premise whose subject was still not informed of his status. His friends kept their promise.
Freya was the first to come after Vivi. She was okay, but Zidane did not miss the tired look in her eyes. Sir Fratley was trying so hard to remember his love for her, but she felt guilt for letting it go on for so long. That conversation had been averted when she began to yell at him to go see her. He had said nothing. She yelled for a couple of minutes before she gave up.
Quina came during the cold season, bearing an army's supply worth of "yummy yummies so you not die of village's tasteless food." Before s/he handed over the food, it was mentioned how she was getting thinner from the stress of her new role, and that she could really use a certain friend. He had said nothing. S/he gave him the food after a shake of the head.
The Tantalus gang came over in style - on their newly renovated Prima Vista. The villagers had nearly hurt themselves from trying to prevent the happy thieves and actors from throttling Zidane in jubilation, but he would have done the same to them too if he wasn't still recovering. They had expressed plans to do another play for the upcoming coronation, and invited him to be part of the act so that he could see her. He had said nothing. The villagers had to again prevent the Tantalus gang from throttling Zidane, this time in anger. But as they left, Baku got in a good smack on the head. In the midst of Zidane's angry outburst that he had suffered a head trauma and that hitting was abuse, Baku had muttered that maybe that was why he was "thinkin' like a brainless idiot" and handed over a letter that listed the quickest way to get in touch with Tantalus, "should you come to yer senses." He then landed another hit before he left.
Eiko and her newly adopted parents also flew in style on their new Hilde Garde model. Zidane thought this meeting would be the worst of them all, given how close Eiko was to her, but her chatter was mostly about her new life in Lindblum and how she had missed him. In a shy manner that was unbecoming of the usually boisterous girl, Eiko had asked him to go to Alexandria to cheer her up. He had said nothing. She then gave him an earful, threatening to sic her eidolons and moogles on him. But that should have to wait, because they were actually on their way to visit her furry friends in Madain Sari. Before they left, Regent Cid had pinned him with a look that told Zidane to think about his choices.
Steiner had had to come up to the Outer Continent under the guise of "foreign relations." He had expressed his disgust to Zidane about lying to her in order to see him. Zidane had spoken very little in a meeting that very much consisted about her, but Steiner had been potent in his words. "Her Majesty's happiness lies in a stupid boy who thinks he will hurt her if he saw her." Zidane was startled, but had said nothing. Before he left, Steiner had placed a record by the phonograph, "for your listening pleasure." The sounds of his armor accompanied the knight out the door.
And now before Zidane was a figure he very much did not expect to see. Amarant leaned on the wall across from him, arms akimbo, eyes hidden behind the massive locks of flame.
Zidane put on a small smile. "So you're the last resort, huh?"
A sneer. "Hardly. But I will say you look pathetic."
"I'm still recovering, thanks." His patience was wearing thin. "Look, whatever you have to say about her won't do anything. Isn't her coronation in a month? What will be achieved if I go back there? I'd make her unhappy."
He uncrossed his arms and took a step closer, lifting his head. Zidane could see the growing flame in his eyes.
"...You really are stupid. Happiness isn't always about being in a fairytale situation. She traveled with you for a long time. You saved her a bunch. It counts for something."
Zidane stood from his perch. "Of course it does, and despite all of the battles, I'm really glad I got to be there with her. But all I know is to fight, how to steal, and how to pick up chicks! Yeah, I saved her all those times, but…" His outburst left him exhausted. He sat back down, cradling his throbbing head in his hands. "I'm a Knight that can't be King, even though I want to be. I'm simply not.
They were silent for a long time.
Amarant was about to give up, not knowing how he got put in this situation in the first place. It was like pulling teeth, except this tooth was a baby and so it had to come out somehow. He hoped that what he says now will finally be it and he can get the hell out of this place.
"I think the Princess wants her Knight back. Nothing else."
Zidane stared at him with a surprised expression. Satisfied, Amarant took his leave, only to be surrounded by… a lot of hyper Vivi's?
"I guess your exit plan was foiled," Zidane laughed, a hearty laugh that he wished he could muster more. "Vivi had kids. Say hi to Amarant guys!"
Several "Hi Mr. Amarant!" came out at different times, followed by questions that the tall man couldn't comprehend, as his mind was still reeling from the previous fact. "…How did he have kids?"
"Don't know, Vivi won't tell," Zidane grinned. "But they always sneak away from their daddy. He'll come in soon."
Like clockwork, Vivi came stumbling into the room.
"I'm so sorry Amarant! They ran off while I was feeding Bobby Corwin, " he paused to catch his breath. Being a father was hard!
Amarant didn't say anything as he walked out, the little Vivi's following with their curious questions.
Zidane smiled as Vivi hung his head in exasperation. The little guy had been bedridden for a few days and now was back to his parental duties. "Are you feeling better Vivi?"
"Yeah… I was just really tired. I don't know why though."
"I'm glad you're feeling better. Can't be a good father if you're sick."
Vivi nodded, shuffling his feet. "How about, you, Zidane? Are you feeling better?"
The pause wasn't long before he replied.
Zidane was in front of the phonograph, listening to the music, thinking about the words recently spoken to him.
A week after Amarant's visit, Vivi's sickness had reappeared. The little mage had been confined to his bed for a week and his condition gradually worsened. The villagers were panicked to find a cure for their friend, and even Mikoto's healing skills could not stop the inevitable.
Vivi was dying.
Zidane had spent his time by his friend's bedside. Usually, the Black Mages would suddenly stop, but Vivi's situation was prolonged. He wasn't sure which was better – a quick, sudden end or a long, nostalgic one.
Vivi had asked for the phonograph to be placed in the room, wanting to listen to music in his final hours. One of the Black Mages had rushed to bring the clunky device over, along with the collection of music they had acquired over the times. Vivi, in soft, small words, had asked Zidane to pick out a record. He had agreed, anything for his friend.
Shuffling through the collection, he recognized the record Steiner had brought him when he visited. Her coronation is in two weeks. But he could not stop to ponder it right now. It was, however, good as anytime to play the record, wasn't it.
"This is a record Steiner brought. I don't know what it is. Want to listen now?"
"Okay. Thanks, Zidane."
The record was set up quickly, a haste that the Black Mages hoped would help their friend stay with them longer. It wasn't long before the soft tunes began to play throughout the forlorn room, the melodic voice providing a small ease to the situation at hand.
Zidane's eyes had widened in shock. It was her voice. Her song. Our song.
"Oh… it's Dagger. This is lovely."
In his shock, he had stumbled onto the stool. For a year he had thought about what she might have thought, what she might have wanted, what he thought was best for her. His thoughts were so consuming, so full of sadness and regret, that he had forgotten one important thing about her.
Dagger had a voice of her own.
He turned to look at his friend. His epiphany could wait a few more moments.
"I always talked about you, Zidane…"
After his words were delivered with his dying breath, Vivi had stopped.
Zidane had gone back to the phonograph after his friend was buried. He wanted to listen to her voice more, seeking to interpret what she wanted to have, what she wanted to live for. Could she live for him like he desperately wanted to live for her?
The words of his friends came back to him. Imploring him to help her. He thought they had all asked a dangerous favor, to waltz back into her life and ruin any fairytale she may have hoped to obtain. But they all had asked the same thing of him as she did – to come back as her Knight. He did not need to be a King to care.
Zidane fingered the letter in his pocket. The contact to Tantalus. He'd have to place it soon since the coronation was close.
They would come to that point where he might be asked to take on the role as King. Until then, he would shed his selfishness and go to her, hoping that in the simple embrace, Dagger would know that he would be there for her in any form she wished.
And he trusted her to know that it would be as he always had been. Him.