Where My Foreboding Thoughts Lead - Chapter 2
AN: Depressing chapter is depressing. Enjoy the drama, my lovelies.
FF9 not mine.
The bedchambers were silent save for the heavy sigh resounding every ten minutes. Garnet sat in her bed atop the sheets, staring at the satiny veils that pooled from the canopy. She'd been alone in that room for about an hour, trying in vain to keep her mind from wandering to Zidane. Instead, she tried to think about... anything else, exhausting her mind as she went through checklists of things she was supposed to do before retiring for the night, and then other checklists of things she would have to do in the morning. She'd bid her servants a good night, but somewhat regretted it. She didn't like being alone, contrary to her past full of bouts of escape into isolation. Back then, she needed to be away from people so she could think and figure out ways to stop the travesties befalling the world. But now all that was over, and she wanted her personal bodyguard there. She wanted Zidane's company.
Perhaps he was too busy. That's right, she thought. He was writing a letter to their old comrade. Who was she to come between friends? Well, she was a queen, but she was their companion foremost. If Zidane needed time to be with the other people that had fought alongside him just as hard as she had, then so be it. She should've slept alone that night. Garnet sighed once more and lay down on her side, resting her head against the plush pillow in hopes that she might soon fall asleep to the sound of the breeze whispering through her window.
Her eyes shot open. Through? She knew she wouldn't have been able to hear the wind if the window was shut, and she could definitely feel a draft coming in... She jerked to her right side, propping herself on her elbow as her gaze suddenly beheld Zidane, standing at her bedside with his regular boyish smile on his face.
"Hey, don't let me stop you. You could use some sleep every now and then, y'know. Besides," he sat down beside her. "You're, dare I say, even more gorgeous when you sleep."
"Zidane," she breathed out, sitting up fully. "That took a while. Did you finish your letter to Freya?"
"Yeah," he lied, beginning work on unhooking his gauntlets. "I'll leave it with a Moogle in the morning." Tossing the items to the floor, he unharnessed the sheaths from his chest and belt and had them join the gauntlets. Garnet watched absentmindedly, once again picking up on the feeling that... Zidane was lying. Her heart went a little heavy. Something was up and he wasn't planning on telling her anytime soon.
"Hey, I don't get a goodnight kiss or nothin'?" Zidane leaned away from her as his eyes feigned scrutiny of her. "Really? And here I thought I was something special."
"Stop being so dramatic," she quickly shot back defensively, a blush highlighting her cheeks as her shoulders tensed. She had no problem with showing him affection, but when he had to be so verbal about it, it took her for a loop. She still wasn't accustomed to "I love you"s and "Kiss me"s spoken so freely. It wasn't something she'd grown up with, so it was all still somewhat new to her, despite having been with Zidane for a year.
The thief cut her thoughts short with a loud sigh. "Well, I guess I'll just have to get it myself." And with no more warning than that, Zidane pushed her down onto the pillows, a hand braced safely against her shoulder, and he lay on top of her, catching her in a playful kiss. Garnet squealed and gave a halfhearted shove against his chest, though it barely moved him. When Zidane finally eased up a little, it was only for a moment so he could stare down into her eyes. "Oh, and by the way, don't scream this time. The last thing I need is Rusty running in here, thinkin' I'm tying you up and having my way with you."
Garnet frowned. "I did not scream before."
"Yeah, you did," Zidane laughed, shifting his weight so he could press her down more easily. "Given, I did sneak up on you from under the sheets last time. But still..."
"Zidane, you're insufferable!"
"Yeah," he laughed again. "I know." He neared her face a little more, just barely breathing across her lips. "But you love me for it."
She had no idea why the sudden closeness between them was making her nervous, as they had been intimate several times before. Perhaps it was the close scrutiny of his stare? No, he'd watched her many times before. Often times when she lay in that blissful stage of nirvana nestled between sleep and awake, the one where you can hear the night around you but your body and mind just don't care to understand where you are, Garnet could somehow feel the intense gaze of Zidane's eyes looming over her, watching her intently in what could either be a fit of insomnia or pure dedication to duty. His eyes were always there, watching her. Even sometimes during their lovemaking, his face would be just above her own, staring down at her with such a burning look that Garnet could feel no better response than to shudder. In the past, she never took his intensity seriously (mainly because he rarely showed it; he tended to be a free spirit so often it was hard for him to come across as that mature). But ever since he'd revealed his heart to her, bearing his limited memories and his dim soul, all she could ever see him as was a serious person, one far too afraid of being hurt to risk giving himself to anybody. The jovial persona everyone had become accustomed to was just a tediously constructed mask over his worry-stricken soul. Garnet knew this for a fact.
And that was exactly what she saw when she gazed up into Zidane's eyes right then.
The real him, the real Zidane Tribal, was sweeping through that glance right then, the humorous facade gone to show the undeniable worry in her lover's face. Zidane had been trying to hide something before, and now he was genuinely showing it. He even looked downright scared. Something was very wrong, and Garnet needed to know.
"Zidane... Please tell me what's wrong," she spoke softly, as if worried she'd spook him. Almost immediately, as if prepared to receive that command, Zidane smiled and kissed her again.
"What's wrong? I should be asking you that. You look like you're gonna cry." Ah, typical. Deflection. It was the easiest way to avoid a problem. But Garnet was adamant.
"No, Zidane, you're the one who has a problem, and I need to know what it is."
"My problem is you're still wearing clothes. Let's remedy this situation, shall we?" His hands grabbed her hips and tugged her down a little, then slid quickly up the inside of her nightgown. Garnet squeaked in response and tried to block his hands, but she failed to reach them in time and shivered from his venturing fingers.
"Zidane, stop avoiding this... If something is wrong, I need to know..."
But he didn't answer. Instead, he set to work on getting her gown off, to which she struggled against pathetically. In the end, she succumbed to his ministrations and let the subject of Zidane's problem die. Oh, well. She could always ask him the next day. It's not like this would be the last chance she'd have to find out, right?
It seemed almost ominous and foreboding how the fog had rolled in the next morning, blanketing the town with a strange apathy that felt unnatural to anyone who looked outside. It was pretty standard weather for that time of the year, however some people just couldn't overlook it as a foreshadowing of things to come.
Queen Garnet was one of those people. She sat, rigid and shivering, by the window in her bedchambers. Her silk robe was wrapped around her yet it hardly did a thing against the chill of the early morning. She wasn't sure why she'd woken up so early. It felt as if her stomach was in knots, like something just wasn't right. To no surprise, she'd woken up in bed alone. Zidane often took off first thing in the morning, and Garnet had to expect it was because he didn't want to be caught in such a compromising position with her when the servants would enter the room to rouse the queen from her sleep.
But it was at least another hour and half before the servants were due in there. So why had Zidane left so early? She tried not to let the worry gnaw at her mind, however she just couldn't keep from staring out the window absentmindedly, impatiently awaiting Zidane's return.
Two hours passed. At one point, the servants entered to assist the queen with preparing for breakfast, but for the most part she was alone in the room. Eventually, she gave up and wandered downstairs for her meal, where she was greeted by a pleasant Beatrix and a sullen Steiner. When she tried to inquire about Steiner's offset attitude, Beatrix could only shrug in response. "I've been trying to get him to tell me what's wrong all morning and he seems hellbent on staying silent." The general looked her partner over once in worry. "I thought he was sick at first, but now I'm concerned it may be something else."
Garnet also stared at Steiner with worry etched into her face, but she knew that if Beatrix could not get the man to speak, then she wouldn't have much more luck. Using her place as the Queen seemed like a cheap trick to get her way, so she didn't want to goad the captain into speaking when he was obviously so against it. So she carried on with breakfast, sharing pleasantries with Beatrix over coffee before a servant rattled off a list of things that needed tending to for the day. Garnet nodded to each item on the list and excused herself from the table, making her way outside to resume her role as ruler.
The rest of the day went on as usual, except the notable lack of presence from the queen's undignified bodyguard. Beatrix tried to reassure Garnet, telling her that the thief had more than likely taken off into the city to catch up with friends, or perhaps to quietly still a group of scoundrels. The young queen tried to believe her, but as dessert was served that evening, Garnet was becoming more and more edgy. Once it was time to retire for the night, the girl was anything but tired. She paced her room restlessly, eyes watching the window for Zidane to enter through, as he usually did when he was feeling playful.
It's not like Zidane had never left for a day before, and this was what confused the white mage the most. At least two or three times a month, Zidane would take off somewhere and not return until the next day or the day after. Sometimes he left with no warning or note. Garnet had become accustomed to this, and wondered deeply why it was this didn't feel like any of those other times. Something wasn't settled right in her. The eerie feeling that morning, the awkward atmosphere, Steiner's silence... It all made her feel like something was terribly wrong.
But rather than pester others with her restlessness, she simply crawled into bed, leaving her window wide open so Zidane would have no trouble should he return that night. Sleep evaded her for some time, but eventually the softness of her bed seemed to coax her body into relaxing, and her eyes shut as she fell into sleep.
The fog had resettled over Alexandria once again the next morning, and just like before, Zidane was nowhere to be found. Pain and fear and worry knotted her stomach several times as she tried to carry on with her day like nothing was wrong, but it was beyond evident to everyone that something was deeply unsettling the beautiful monarch. Garnet was either pacing furiously about the room or sitting in one spot for several hours, staring into space, unmoving. Few dared to disturb her, and the ones who had were met only with the most hollow eyes, face drawn in worry, unable to focus properly on anything except for her missing lover. Garnet was deaf to the world around her.
This carried on for a week, and though Garnet's usually peaceful attitude was deflating bit by bit, the one who seemed to be carrying the most weight on their shoulders was Steiner. If there was anyone who could look more lost and forlorn than the heartbroken queen, it was the captain. He carried himself around the castle with little more than a sigh every five steps, looking as if he were ready to vomit this great burden that was making him pale. This, consequently, brought down Beatrix as well, who began to worry herself sick over her own beau's condition. It seemed like a harsh chain reaction how one person's worries transcended their own mind and spread quickly to the rest of the castle like a terrifying plague. Zidane would be the only cure to this sickness, if only he'd come home.
Garnet forced herself not to cry. She'd shed so many tears for him already when they'd had to leave him behind after their final battle for humanity, so long ago. Once she had managed to "suck it up", so to speak, she finally came to terms with the thief's disappearance, forcing herself to believe he was truly gone so as to make life better for herself and for her kingdom. It was unfair to them that their lives seem so dim simply because she was unhappy. So she forced a smile for a long time, pretending like she didn't still have that tiny shred of hope lodged somewhere in her heart that maybe Zidane was okay somewhere out there, pretending like at any time he wouldn't show up to whisk her off her feet and make up for all their lost time. She'd made herself believe she had a new life then, with or without Zidane.
And then he came back.
Once he'd thrown off that old tattered cloak on the stage, calling to her, Garnet felt that little piece of hope she'd kept stored away grow tremendously in size, and her pretend world of pretend happiness shattered instead, showing her that her life was still whole because he was back, and he promised her that day, he promised her... that he'd never disappear like that again.
Perhaps it had been foolish of her to believe a thief and actor's words. But the more rational side of her said that Zidane had always been her friend first and foremost, more than a criminal or Genome or gambler or whatever else. He'd proven himself a valuable person to her, and indeed very trustworthy. So why had he forced her into this situation to not trust his words? He'd promised he'd never leave again... and yet here she was, alone, aching, and craving his presence so deeply that with deep shame, she touched her fingertips to her cheeks to find them wet. She was crying. She couldn't lock away this pain again. She didn't have the strength. She needed Zidane back. She needed answers.
Resolute in her mission, the white mage wiped her tears away roughly before stomping out of her room and into the large, very quiet hallway. No one was around. They hadn't the courage to disturb her majesty.
Frowning deeply, she charged for the nearest room, determined to find somebody. She managed to locate a suddenly terrified chambermaid, having never seen her queen look so upset.
"Find Captain Adelbert Steiner and bring him to the parlor room," Garnet said quietly, hurting herself to hear her own voice so demanding but too clouded with agitation to think her actions through more clearly. The maid stammered a quick "Yes, Your Majesty", and hurriedly scuffled away to locate the missing knight. Garnet grimaced as she ran the replay of the previous moment through her head, realizing how awful a ruler she must have seemed, but shook the thoughts from her head. She was going to have to be an awful ruler, at least for another few moments, if only to interrogate a certain captain. If fate was going to deal such a crippling blow to her, then she was ready to play hardball.
Garnet could almost feel the thick tension in the air when Steiner arrived at the parlor room doors; a cloud of apprehension seemed to enter first and simply wait there while the chambermaid Garnet had ordered viciously earlier stepped in to greet the queen.
"Y-Your Majesty, Captain Steiner is here."
Garnet stood from the couch she was seated on and nodded slightly. "Thank you. Send him in."
The maid almost immediately disappeared, and with a noticeable timidity, Steiner entered in her place, an obviously forced look of indifference on his face, though perspiration dotted his forehead. "You... You wanted to see me, Your Highne- er, Your Majesty?"
"Please sit down, Steiner," Garnet spoke in a hushed tone, which sent cold shivers down his spine. He'd heard the late Queen Brahne speak in such a voice before, and though the two were not blood related, Steiner couldn't help but see the harsh presence of the demanding late queen when his current queen spoke in such severe undertones.
With trepidation, Steiner took a seat in one of the smaller, intricately designed wooden chairs near a small table holding flowers. He almost didn't fit in it and had to adjust himself awkwardly a few times before giving up and resorting to remaining uncomfortable for the duration of... whatever was about to happen, though he had a pretty good idea of what that would be. He was fairly sure the chair would be the least uncomfortable thing in the room in just a moment.
Garnet didn't speak for a moment, simply standing in her spot and staring at the knight with a mixed look of sadness and frustration. Finally, that look melted away to one of a more pleading nature as she took a few steps forward. "Steiner, I know that you know what's happened... I know you know where Zidane is."
Steiner gulped. Only through sheer force of will did he remain silent.
"And I know Zidane has probably told you not to tell me... He left of his own free will... right?"
The knight found no harm in nodding, though he suddenly felt like that great weight he'd been carrying had shifted to his neck; it hurt just to move his head in any informative response.
Garnet laced her fingers together in front of her stomach nervously. "He's... He's not in Alexandria anymore, is he?"
He responded with a slow, painful head shake. Garnet breathed in once, sharply, as if she'd been stung by a fire. She hadn't wanted to believe what her gut had been telling her, that Zidane hadn't only left the castle, but had left the kingdom as well. But she'd known it to be true, and now this proved it. Biting her lip, she quickly and gracefully fell to a chair beside Steiner, hands immediately reaching out to grasp his padded ones.
"Steiner," she began again, eyes doe-like and on the brink of tears once more. She leaned in close as if that would somehow have some influence in her pleading. "We all went through the same journey together, and we've all... grown close in some ways. We're comrades, friends... so..." she choked on her own words, terrified that her begging wouldn't work and Steiner would remain silent. "So... would it be so terrible if I were to know where he'd gone off to?"
Steiner was silent for a long moment, nervousness swallowing him whole. He loathed the idea of denying his queen anything she wanted, especially something that could cure her sadness so easily, but the words Zidane had spoken to him a week ago rang in his ears loudly. As hard to swallow as they had been, the monkey had been right. The pain Dagger would feel would only be temporary, and save her much grief in the long run. It was best to avoid all the trouble of being in a relationship with someone who was, in the eyes of the general public, an underling in comparison to a queen. With the risks of possible pregnancies and public ridicule, Garnet would benefit most from the separation.
Fighting back the nearly irresistible urge to just blurt everything out to her, Steiner swallowed hard against the lump in his throat and let his head hang. "Your Majesty, I would tell you anything you wanted to hear to make you happy again, but it's... it's not quite that easy..."
"How can it not be easy, Steiner?" She leaned her head down, craning her neck so that she might see his face. "Why is it that you think you can't tell me? It certainly can't be that difficult to just say it." With a heavy heart, she braced herself for the next question. "Is it... Is it that Zidane thinks it will hurt me to know?"
Steiner waited a few moments before nodding slowly, never looking up at her. Dagger leaned back a little, releasing her knight's hands and letting her eyes fall to her lap as she tried to breathe normally. Zidane wasn't only hiding himself, he was hiding his reasoning, too. He was trying to keep her powerless in this situation, and she couldn't stand it. She couldn't stand being powerless against anybody. She'd experienced it far too many times, and she wouldn't take it anymore.
Breathing deep, she straightened herself in the chair, closing her eyes for a moment as she formed the proper sentences in her head. If she was going to do this, she was going to do it right, and try to make it as painless as possible, though honestly she couldn't tell who it would be most painful for in the end.
"Steiner... However it is that Zidane convinced you not to speak, you will overlook it. Zidane should have no influence over you since I dubbed him in equal standing with you. He is not in charge of you, I am. Therefore..." she held her breath. "I command you to tell me where he is and why he left."
She could practically see the man's will crumble, and they both seemed to let out a breath simultaneously. Steiner would never refuse a command from the person he'd sworn his life to, no matter how mundane or outrageous. Hell, if she wanted blood, he'd give her blood, if she asked it of him. But... no matter how much she commanded him, it would forever be a great ordeal for him to deliver the news that would break her heart.
Sighing heavily, Steiner leaned back in his chair but never lifted his eyes to her. "He left for Lindblum last week, on a cargo ship. I know not if he is still there, but even if he were, I doubt it'd be for much longer. He's... how should I say this?... He's avoiding you, Your Majesty."
Judging by the look on her face, Steiner was pretty sure he hadn't worded it quite right. Garnet's eyes unfocused for a moment, shock settling in over a slight twinge of offense. Zidane was avoiding her? Avoiding her? What for? What reason could he possibly have to avoid her? Because she was royalty and he thought himself beneath her? She thought they'd already moved past that. What other reason could there possibly be?
Steiner's fidgeting caught Garnet's attention, causing her to believe that she had accidentally asked the question aloud, though either way, she would get him to answer it for her.
"He believes it is in your best interest if he were to stay away. He claims that continuing a relationship with you would cause irreparable damage to your image."
The information would hardly seem shocking to anyone else, but to Garnet, it felt like a low blow. She almost felt winded from the explanation, like Zidane had taken all the air from the room when he'd left. Damage? To her image? How absurd! It was ludicrous!
Steiner could easily see the emotions playing through his queen's head, as it translated quite vigorously to her frame as she held a silent one-sided argument with herself, her eyes darting around as if she were trying to find someone else to talk to besides her captain, who had so suddenly become her harbinger of despair. It was only after the useless struggle to keep everything bottled up that Garnet's head sank to her knees, hunching all the way forward as sobs threatened to spill out of her mouth. She managed to push them back for just a moment to speak once more. "Steiner... Thank you for your cooperation. You may leave now."
Like a dog released from its leash, Steiner bolted from his chair and made his way to the door, but stopped on the threshold in hesitation, eyes turning back to his queen and wondering just how terrible the damage would be once Garnet picked herself back up, if she ever would. This tragedy had happened before. To be honest, she'd lost someone she cared about on more than one occasion. Not only when Zidane had stayed behind at the Iifa Tree so long ago, but when the young girl's adoptive mother had passed away on the beach, right before her eyes. She'd also watched the people of the cities she vowed to protect, in Lindblum, Alexandria, and Cleyra, suffer horrible fates at the hands of Eidolons. Even long before that, in some memory she likely would never recall but still haunted her in the recesses of her mind, she had lost her friends in Madain Sari, and her biological mother at sea.
This poor girl had suffered so much in her life, so much loss, so much separation from people she needed. Whether or not Zidane had been aware of this, Steiner would probably never know, but he just hoped that whatever had been going through that damn monkey's head had been worth it, and for his sake, would turn out for the better for the heartbroken white mage. If Steiner had to watch his queen fall to pieces so small, and become unable to find the strength to return to life, be it as a ruler or not, Steiner would make the break-up worth the while, by hunting down that monkey himself and making him pay.
Steiner forced himself to leave the room, abandoning Garnet, who cried well into the night.
Chapter 1 - end
To Be Continued
AN: The author forced herself to leave the cliffhanger, abandoning the readers, who cried well into the night.
Chapter 3 will get here eventually. In the meantime, review please.