Visits in the Night by paxnirvana
Rating: R
Fandom: Final Fantasy IX
Characters: Zidane/Dagger
Archive: Ask me.

Author's Note: Oh, hell. New fandom. I love Zidane. The nicest hero you'll ever meet in a video game - and he's a bad-ass fighter to boot. 2/6/02

Disclaimer: Square owns these guys. And does a fine job with them too. This is for entertainment only, no money being made.

* * * * *

Zidane Tribal did not tell anyone what happened every night aboard the Blue Narciss as they traveled back to the Outer Continent to question the Black Mages about Kuja's whereabouts, but they probably all knew. It was damn hard to keep a secret aboard the sleek little ship. Even from Steiner. Especially from Steiner since it involved Princess Garnet til Alexandros the 17th.

It still surprised the Tantalus thief that the uptight Captain of the Knights of Pluto hadn't made a scene over the impropriety of it all, but then the endless sorrow that burned in the Princess's eyes forestalled nearly any comment. Not to say that Steiner hadn't had sharp words for him in private, however. After the fall of Alexandria, it seemed, even 'Rusty' had learned some discretion.

Because every night, once everyone else had settled down to sleep, the now voiceless princess stole into Zidane's cabin. And then into Zidane's narrow bunk. Dressed only in her loose white shift, with her long hair tangled around her shoulders and her dark eyes wide with pain and need. And every night, he silently lifted his blankets and let her crawl in beside him.

She would slide her trembling arms around him with a little whimper at first, clutching him close as if he was the only solid thing in her world. He would endure the initial choke-hold with patience, until finally she would relax and settle down against him with a sigh, pressing her tear-damp cheek to his bare chest.

And all he could do was draw her slender body close in return, trying not to put his hands in places she might object to, though she never did, and simply hold her. Then she would cry. As silently as she did everything now. Her grief for first the madness and death of the Queen, then the destruction of Alexandria Castle and the holy Eidolon that protected it, and finally the deaths of so many of the people of Alexandria overwhelmed her. Her world had been shaken, if not shattered, by loss. The only home she had ever known had been virtually destroyed and those she loved and trusted most had lied to her about her very origins. Princess Garnet - otherwise known as Dagger - was lost in despair.

Zidane could understand her need to know the truth, if not the dark gloom that accompanied it. He too had once thought he had no true home, belonged nowhere. He too had sought answers. Left Tantalus in order to seek them, fruitlessly. And returned, finally, to face Baku,tail between his legs - literally - and meekly taken the beating the thieves' boss had dished out before he took him back into the troop. The others - Marcus, Cinna, Blank and the Three Brothers - had welcomed him back with a boisterous celebration. One that he'd barely been able to enjoy, as black and blue as he had been from Baku's thrashing. He simply hadn't had the heart to defend himself from the Boss' punishment.

Yet, after that, he had never felt truly alone again. The experience had taught him, painfully, that you chose your true home. It wasn't where you happened to be born. It was the place your heart found. Dagger would have to learn that for herself, he knew, just as he had.

Until she did... he cut off the concerned thought and tightened his arms around her, gently. Her tears had slowed, finally, and her breathing calmed. She was nearly asleep at last. She seemed so fragile, yet he knew she could be so strong... if only she believed in herself again. If only... He sighed deeply, afraid to consider a world without the woman in his arms. He would protect her from danger with his own life, if need be.

But how could he protect her from the darkness of her own heart?

Eyes stinging suspiciously, Zidane held Dagger's sleeping body close to him in the night, and wished with all his might that this journey would be over soon.

For both their sakes.

* * * * *

The true test of his character came in the mornings. When the bright dawn light of the newly Mist-free sky would stream through the leaded glass windows of his cabin and spill across the berth. The light waking him only to find her, grief temporarily eased by sleep, soft and relaxed in these precious moments. She would snuggle closer, her silky black hair tumbling around them like a cloud, wayward strands often tickling his nose. He would close his eyes and press his face into her hair, breathing deeply of the soft scent that was just her and dream that she was here in his bed for a reason other than pain.

Just as he was doing now. His arms tightened about her as if his embrace alone could somehow protect her from the grief that was destroying her from within. A grief so profound it had even rendered her mute.

Usually, he managed to slip away from her before she woke. A necessity when certain bodily functions demanded attention. Explaining a piss hard-on to the next Queen of Alexandria wasn't something he really wanted to have to do, no matter how long they'd traveled the road together. He would go out on deck to take care of business off the stern, then gather up any other early risers, distracting them so that she could make her way unobserved back to her own cabin and preserve the fiction that she still slept in the grand bed in the main cabin. Alone.

Today, at least, his body had spared him that little indignity. Unfortunately, that meant this morning's hard-on was all due to the feel of her curled so trustingly in his arms, the soft scent of her hair, and the fragile way her dark lashes lay against the shadowed skin of her cheeks. Zidane closed his eyes and bit his lower lip, trying to remind himself that he was a nice guy, really, all his friends told him so. And he wasn't going to do anything at all to make Dagger's grief and pain worse. He'd rather die, honestly, than harm her. But damn, after three nights of this he was starting to ache. Could he stand two more nights? That was how long Blank thought it would take them to reach the beaches of the Outer Continent near the Black Mage Village.

He stifled a groan as she burrowed closer to him, murmuring softly in her sleep, her hands folded against his chest. Her thighs rubbed against his and he cautiously shifted back so that he wouldn't brush her with his erection. He'd taken to sleeping in his pants because of her visits. His underwear just wasn't barrier enough in his mind – or Steiner's. That had been the subject of his and Rusty's one discreet little talk. What he wore to bed at night. He rolled his eyes at the memory. Rusty's spare armored trews had really not been an option.

She turned again, a little restless now that light had entered the cabin. He was reluctant to wake her, since she managed so little rest even in his bunk, and so went still, biting his lip hard and rolling his eyes back behind closed lids as her firm breasts slid against him, their bodies separated from contact only by a thin layer of white silk. He could feel the sleek shape of her almost as if the shift wasn't even there. She felt like heaven in his arms. But he wouldn't look.

No. He was a nice guy.

He was a...

He...

Damn. He was weak.

Zidane cautiously cracked one eyelid open and glanced down, breath hissing in as he saw that one of the drawstrings holding closed the top of her shift had come loose and the ribbon now dangled down into the shadowy cleft between her breasts. Above it, the creamy pale skin of her throat and chest fairly glowed in the rosy dawn light. He snapped his eye firmly shut again, cursing himself for taking advantage of her even in that semi-innocent way. She was here for comfort, not to be ogled. His tail twitched against the wall with a soft thump.

He tried to force himself to relax back against the wall of his berth, maybe even snatch a little more sleep. Mist knew he needed the rest too. Besides, she was lying on his right arm and one of her hands had slid around his ribs, clutching at him - if he moved now he'd wake her for certain.

But that loose drawstring nagged at his thoughts. Maybe... maybe he should just tie that closed for her. He could tie knots one-handed. Then she wouldn't be embarrassed when she woke up. And then she wouldn't think he was trying to look at more than he should. Both eyes slid open this time, opening to mere cautious slits. And for a long moment he just watched her sleep. Her face was relaxed and peaceful, her lips slightly parted as she breathed slowly and steadily. She was so beautiful, he thought, not for the first time. Finally, he lifted his hand from where it lay draped across her waist. She shifted a bit, a tiny frown marking her brow.

He paused and let her settle. The frown faded.

Then, scarcely daring to breathe, Zidane moved his hand with a pickpocket's smooth skill to the errant ribbon that lay so provocatively on her breast. He gathered it up between two fingers and slowly drew it taut, intending to tie it to the other one. But the fabric of her shift bunched up under the tension, the silk forming itself to her skin.

His eyes bulged out and his mouth went suddenly dry.

Her nipples had peaked under the thin cloth into hard knots of flesh that riveted his gaze. He swallowed hard. And they were a soft tan color. He could see that too, through the white silk. Like crystallized honey. Would they taste that way?

"Oh, damn," he breathed as he felt more blood shoot instantly down to his groin. And out of his head, of course. Making him dizzy. Trouble. This was trouble.

Then, to make matters worse, Dagger moved again. Innocently rolling her head back over his arm and arching her neck so that most of one breast slid out from behind concealing silk. Zidane's breath froze in his lungs. It was like being hit by a Blizzaga spell. Total immobility.

That was the edge of her... oh damn oh damn... He couldn't do anything; not close his eyes, not move his trembling hand, not even breathe. His fingers still heedlessly clutched the loose ribbon as he stared avidly down at Dagger's breast.

Zidane had no idea how long he stayed like that - it couldn't have been too long or he would have passed out from lack of air - but he was shocked into breathing again by a faint touch on his chin. He blinked once, then his gaze slid slowly up to Dagger's face.

Her dark eyes were open and she was watching him, a faint flush to her cheeks. She had raised her hand from his chest and her fingertips were just brushing the side of his jaw. As he watched, her tongue darted out and wet her lips, leaving them glistening with moisture in the morning light.

"Dagger! I - I'm sorry... It's not what you think..." he stammered softly. The ribbon fell out of his suddenly nerveless fingers and onto her chest. He caught the motion from the corner of his eye, but couldn't look away from her half-lidded gaze. There was something there, in the depths, that wouldn't let him. A wanting... Her fingers slid quickly up from his jaw to cover his lips and he fell silent. Her own lips curved in a slight smile as she dropped her hand down to rest on his.

To his surprise, she pressed gently down on his hand, lowering it so that it came to rest directly on her. He felt the hard nub of her nipple against his palm, the smooth rounded shape of her breast fill his hand and gave a soft moan. Blood throbbed wildly in his ears, in his throat, in his groin.

"Dagger..." he breathed. Her other hand rose from his side and skimmed up the outside of his arm, across his shoulder and around his neck. Slim fingers twined themselves in his hair. He felt a gentle tug and succumbed to it, bending down to let his lips touch, ever so gently, to hers.

"Dagger," he said once more, this time saying the name she had chosen herself against her mouth before deepening the contact into a full kiss. Her breath mingled with his on a gentle sigh. His hand gently explored the flesh beneath it, just as his mouth explored hers. Learning her by touch as well as sight, something his thief-trained mind would never, ever forget. The kiss seemed to last forever, their lips melding together as if meant for each other.

There was a sudden thumping in the passageway outside his cabin door, like the approach of feet. Startled, Zidane reared back, wincing as Dagger's hand clutched tightly at his hair in response. He yanked his hand away from her breast with guilty speed as he stared at the door, afraid that someone would try to enter - Quina for example. The Qu knew no tact. But the door stayed closed. He looked back down at Dagger, a rueful smile on his lips.

The magic had been broken.

She had turned her face to the side, into his shoulder, and closed her eyes. Her cheek was flushed a delicate red. And if he looked further down, he knew her breast would still be bared. So he didn't look down. He still had some willpower left. He winced as he caught his gaze wandering. But not much.

"Well, good morning to you, beautiful princess," he said, forcing lighthearted cheer into his tone.

Somehow, the cheerfulness of his tone had the opposite effect from what he intended. Rather than making her smile, she spun away from him with a sharp gasp, clutching her shift closed under her throat as she shot him a wide-eyed, nearly panicked look. Taken aback by the extremity of her reaction, he fell back against the bulkhead, thumping his head painfully against the railing above the berth. He rubbed at the lump on his head as his tail lashed the wall beside him. Dagger scrambled out of the berth and darted to the door, her face now bright red.

"Hey, hey! Take it easy!" he called as she fumbled frantically at the door latch. He leaped out behind her, crossing the small cabin in one stride to catch her shoulder and spin her around before she could get the door open. Only to feel a sharp stabbing sensation near his heart as he saw the huge, silent tears rolling down her cheeks once again. Every protective instinct he had went into instant overdrive. He caught her close, pressing her face down on his shoulder and stroking the back of her head soothingly.

"I'm sorry, Dagger," he murmured, leaning into her. "That shouldn't have happened."

She stiffened in his hold and he was suddenly conscious of the heat and length of his erection, now pressed tight against her belly.

"Aw, damn," he muttered, hand stilling on her head as words quickly spilled from his mouth. "Dagger... it's a guy thing. I'm sorry... don't be upset. I don't want you to cry anymore. I won't rush you. You know that. I just didn't want you to run out of here upset."

Something he said must have been right, because her arms slid around his waist and she pressed herself close to him, her slender body shaking. Then she was tipping her head back and looking at him, diamond-like tears trembling on the edges of her lashes, eyes wide and dark.

"I'm here for you, whatever you need. Remember that," he said softly, slipping a hand around her cheek. She smiled weakly at him, expression still sad and gave him a nod. Then she pulled slowly away.

With another, firmer nod, she straightened her shift, then put her hand back on the door latch. She ran a quick glance over him, her eyes widening for an instant near his belt line, then blushed furiously once again just as she slipped out the door. He took a half-step forward, leaning his arm against the door even as it closed behind her, letting his head fall down with a thump against his arm. His hands fisted in frustration and his eyes closed.

At least she hadn't run screaming. Of course, screaming would mean making noise, and maybe that would have been good after all... but no, he didn't want to terrify her. He wanted to make her smile again. And yet... had she been looking at his crotch right before she left? She hadn't seemed frightened, just guiltily curious. About... him... his eyes rolled back in his head again and he kind of sagged against the door.

Damn. She was going to kill him. His groin throbbed painfully in agreement.

He had to do something or neither of them would last another night. And he knew this minor embarrassment wouldn't be enough to keep her away again. Her sorrow was too deep. She needed the security of his arms. And he would give them to her, without pressure. Heaving a deep sigh, he threw the bolt on the door, then turned and leaned back against the wall.

He looked down at his hand and grimaced.

"You and me again, bud," he muttered wryly.

He quickly unbuttoned the front of his pants, hissing a little as his aching erection popped free. He'd run out of spare underwear a day ago because of her. Now his pants were damp and stained. He'd have to break down and do some washing. He sighed again as he took his aching cock in his hand. He rubbed a little of the leaking fluid down the shaft, stroking slowly. He was so hard it wasn't going to take much, he knew.

Indeed, just remembering the way the ribbon had trailed between her breasts and the needy light in her eyes when she first opened them had him gasping through gritted teeth as his strokes grew faster, harder. And remembering the way her slim hips fit against his when she lay spooned against him was enough to have him groaning and spurting almost painfully into his own hand, body shaking with the quick, hot flash. He leaned back against the wall, eyes closed, tail limp on the floor. Shuddering once in the aftermath.

He took a deep breath. Release had come so fast that the relief of it was already fading. No, he thought in weary disgust. It hadn't taken him long at all. But at least he was now in control again. And he'd stay that way, as long as Dagger needed him.

He could do nothing else. He didn't need a reason to want to help her. But it didn't hurt that he thought he might already be in lo... He shook himself suddenly, tail jerking to the side in agitation.

Nope. Not going there right now.

Straightening away from the wall, Zidane found a piece of cloth and wiped his hands clean. Then he buttoned his pants once again, sighing as he caught sight of the distinctive damp spot on the fabric in front.

Okay. It was definitely wash day.

The ladies would just have to stay below until he and Vivi and Steiner and Blank had had a chance to wash their clothes and let them dry in the sun on the deck. It would be one of those life lessons that Vivi seemed to enjoy so much. Doing your own wash. Besides, he'd been meaning to talk to Steiner about that distinctive rusting metal smell that followed him everywhere. Even when the Captain wasn't wearing his armor.

As Zidane Tribal moved around his room, rolling all his spare clothing up into the sheet atop his berth in preparation for taking it above the thought came to him, suddenly.

Did that mean Quina would have to stay below or not?

He left his cabin, laughing quietly to himself.

- - fin - -