Thank you to everyone that reviewed! It's good to know the BBB readers have come back for more, hehe. I'm sorry if I didn't reply to you, every review is appreciated and I promise I'll reply in the future! Btw, most people understood but a few didn't, so just to clarify: the 'silver siren' isn't a villain, it was just a rumour that got ridiculously distorted after a few guards got a glimpse of Garnet walking by the canals. Chinese whispers, so to speak; you know how twisted rumours get! If you're still confused drop me a PM.
Something to note: I've added rooms and halls and gardens to the castle, and given them names. It is a castle after all, and access around it was very limited in the game, so I like to think it's much bigger than what was originally portrayed. I hope you like chap one; I wanted to do something a bit different to all the 'day/night after Zidane returns' fics I've read, which all seem to be quite similar and perfectly romantic, if you know what I mean. Hopefully this will satisfy. Please review on your way out! It only takes a minute and it makes me very happy!
. the waking dream .
'And, oh, how blessed is it thus to meet!
To feel that vanished years have not estranged us,
Distance has not diminished love,
That we are to each other even as we parted;
To feel again the fond kiss,
To hear once more the accents of a voice which to us has been for years so still,
A voice that brings with it the gush of memory!'
- Grace Aguilar, The Mother's Recompense, Volume II, 1859
"Apologies, apologies," a servant chimed as she passed, bowing so low and so quick that she failed to identify him. "We do not work quickly enough, Your Majesty."
She'd heard the like half a dozen times since she'd left her chamber, and tired of explaining how she'd seen it all the previous night and the mess hadn't changed since then, so she really didn't care. Instead, she offered a weak smile and waved her hand, and the servant backed off like a tamed beast.
The mess isn't so bad anyway, she thought, considering the riot that ensued…
Her foot kicked an empty wine bottle as she passed, almost sending her flying. The nearby servants gasped at this atrocity, but she laughed lightly to quell their fear (and to quiet the avalanche of apologies), picked it up and set it on a table, whose surface was largely obscured by dirty glasses, dishes, remnants of food and drink stains. The lily-white decorations – which were actually individually crafted paper flowers strung together on silver twine – lay crumpled on the floor. She picked one of the surviving flowers off a heap and twirled it between thumb and forefinger as she left behind the phalanx of bowing servants.
As she entered the Entrance Hall, whose opulent expanse was still dominated by the portrait of her mother, Garnet spotted a Pluto Knight slumped against a column. He was apparently asleep and clad in nothing but his helm and underpants. Her maids, Briar and Nell, giggled into their hands, and the guards that followed exchanged a glance, one even clearing his throat in hope to awaken his oblivious comrade.
Garnet crept up to the fellow and peered beneath the lip of his visor. True enough, he was sound asleep. Feeling mischievous, she reached out a hand and hammered tunelessly on his steel helmet. The thunderous racket startled the knight awake with an unmanly shriek, and he fell gracelessly on his behind.
"Wha… who… uh… Cap'n?"
Garnet loomed over the man, hands on hips, grinning helplessly. "The gods look kindly upon you today, Sir Knight, for I am most certainly not your captain."
Upon seeing who it actually was, however, the man clambered to his feet, eyes wide and face red as a tomato. "Y-Your Majesty! I was… I was ah… standing guard and… I…"
"Go and get some rest," Garnet politely suggested. She looked him up and down. "Or at least put some clothes on."
The knight looked down and was suddenly enlightened to his indecent state. He yelped and covered himself and turned redder (if that were possible), while Garnet smirked, absently tucked the paper flower she'd been clutching in her hair, then busied away in a whirl of silk and satin. The maids averted their gazes with pink cheeks and girlish giggles and the guards offered pitying glances to their shunned brother-in-arms.
"Only the best," Garnet muttered to herself with a smile. "Only the best, Steiner said, are picked to be Pluto Knights. I should really talk to him about his standards."
Garnet hopped down the stairs two at a time then out the main entrance. Here, the courtyard was belittled by Tantalus' newly repaired theatre ship: the Prima Vista. Yet even this gigantic beast could not touch the galleries flanking its left and right, where the nobility had gathered on its tiered balconies to watch the play just last night. Beneath these structures lapped a very small lake (the drawbridge used to reach the town currently raised), purposely built for accommodating airships, where currently the Prima Vista was docked. The now unoccupied seats still half mooned around a stage that was no longer visible; lowered from sight back into the ship, so that only the balcony from which the band had played was perceptible. It seemed oddly quiet, but she approached the starboard anyway, where a narrow gangway crossed the water and led up to a door.
"Should we announce your presence, Your Majesty?" Nell inquired timidly, reading Garnet's thoughts to board.
The queen waved a hand. "No, no, they wont mind."
"That's not what I meant…"
"Please wait here a moment," she instructed, "I'll be right back."
Briar and Nell exchanged anxious looks, but decided against disobeying their mistress. Her guards remained unconvinced, however.
"Your Majesty, it is our duty to protect you from harm," one declared. "It would go against my honour to allow you to board that ship unescorted, especially considering its… particular inhabitants."
Garnet threw him a flinty stare. "There is nothing wrong with that company, and you'd do well to mind how you speak of such folk in the future, considering one will, perhaps, be dwelling closer to home than you think." But she shrugged off her annoyance. "I understand your concern and your devotion is noted, but please remain here. I wont tell the General or Captain."
So she left her maids to be grudgingly patient and the guards nervously scanning the horizon, and bounded up the gangplank and through the door.
Despite the fact that the troupe had spent most of the night hours within the halls of the castle, the ship stank of wine and other aromas that accompany a heavy night of drinking. Though, she did wonder if it smelt like this all the time.
Aimlessly, Garnet wandered from room to room. Her heavy, dragging skirts picked up all manners of debris on her way: mothballs, a sock, broken glass, a curious ragdoll with dark hair. And the rooms contained objects of equal curiosity. Some sported nothing but a table or couch, others were full of gears and steam and pumps, others had racks upon racks of costumes, one had weapons and masks. It seemed as if Tantalus had more rooms than what they knew to do with, so she could hardly believe her eyes when she found half the brothers asleep in one, tiny room at the base of a spiral staircase.
She'd glanced inside by chance (the door had been ajar) but now she lingered on the threshold with a slight grin on her face. There was Cinna asleep on a table, hammer in a protective grip even as he snored with his mouth wide open. Marcus was on the top bunk, one of the triplets on the floor and Blank scrunched inside an open chest.
She approached the lattermost intent on waking him, but he did so before she could try and startled upright almost immediately. He blinked up at her, rubbed his eyes, blinked some more, then scowled.
"What the hell're you doin' watchin' me sleep?"
Garnet raised an amused eyebrow. "How could I resist? You're just so handsome, what with that line of drool and the Zaghnol-like snoring."
Blank got up and wiped his mouth, the scowl still prominent. "Hmph. Don't you have something better to do? Or someone better to be doing something with?"
Garnet's cheeks pinked most infuriatingly. "You asked me to come, remember?"
Blank massaged his temple. "I don't remember much about last night, to be honest…"
The queen grinned. "No, I doubt you would. Anyway, do you at least remember what is was you wanted me for?"
Blank blinked up at the planked ceiling, then clicked his fingers. "Shit, yeah. C'mon, follow me."
He staggered to the door, grumbling about headaches and sickness and hangovers and 'goddamn wine'. He led her through several rooms until they reached a cluster of treasure chests. He threw one open, tsked, then threw another open and brought out two vials of liquid and a package wrapped in paper and string. He held them out to Garnet.
"What's this?" she asked, taking one of the vials and swirling its contents. It left an amethyst residue on the glass sides.
"To be exact? Extract of Cornflower and White Cedar root mixed with diluted potion."
"Medicine," Garnet acknowledged. She gestured to the others. "All of it?"
Blank tossed her the package then handed her the other vial with an offhanded, "Yep. For that impulsive twat I call friend on the sparse occasion he deserves it."
Blank pointed to the amethyst coloured potion. "That one, two times a day. The other one, once a day at dawn. The powder in the package can be dissolved in a drink twice a day – water, alcohol, piss, anything – and the leaves can be boiled or eaten raw. He needs to have that once a day."
Garnet frowned. "Can you write it down for me? What's it for anyway? I mean, is all of it for Zidane?"
The redhead nodded sagely.
"Why?" she said, feeling the alarm grow within her chest. "Is he sick?"
"Naw." Blank retrieved some yellowed, dirty parchment from another chest and then a stick of charcoal. "Well, he was. Back when that weird chick dragged him outta the Iifa Tree."
"Ah… um… Masako? Minato?"
Blank clicked his fingers at her. "That's the one. Yeah, he was all broken bones and had lost more blood than a slaughtered cow. Not mention what being exposed to the toxins in Iifa's vines did to 'im."
Garnet's heart was sinking by the minute. "But he is okay, right?"
Blank shrugged. "You saw it yourself, didn't you? Dying man wouldn't act as badly as he did, last night."
"He didn't act badly at all," Garnet defended primly. "You all did brilliantly, Blank… Gods, I haven't thanked any of you properly! Last night… everything was so… so…"
Blank stopped scribbling the prescription to raise a hand. "Not a word. It's the least we could do after you funded the repairs of the Prima Vista. And Zidane's our brother; we weren't gonna let him die."
Garnet nodded humbly. "But can I see Baku? I'd like to thank him when he's uh… sober."
The thief's eyes widened a tad. "No way, man. Baku's gonna be hella hung over and I aint wakin' him fer shit. He'll beat me 'til my brains are shooting outta my nose like boogers."
Garnet giggled, then took the finished list from him and tucked it (in a most un-lady like manner, Blank thought, and little did he know it was something she'd picked up from Ruby) into her corset. "I'll see you around then. You can come down later if you want."
Blank shrugged. "Might do. Need to go back to Lindblum, though. Depends what boss wants."
"Always does," she acquiesced, then left him to be hung over, cradling her medicine awkwardly as the gentle rocking of the ship threatened to knock her sideways.
Over the two years that Zidane had been away, and the hole in her heart was so big it was as if Atmos himself dwelled within her chest, she had formed an unlikely friendship with Zidane's best friend. It was just a friendship, nothing more, but she had been grateful for it nonetheless. The nobility were too aloof and plotting for her taste, and none understood the loss of him better than a Tantalus brother. Blank was often in Alexandria running various errands for Baku (or so he claimed), but Garnet knew his true intentions: he was there to woo Ruby. He often brought her along with him and they'd all have lunch or play cards or some such thing. It was an endless source of entertainment to watch those two bicker. Ruby would snap at Blank and Blank would curse, fall into frosty silence, then promptly go fawn-eyed the moment he thought she wasn't looking.
Still, it had pricked her heart with splinters to watch them gaily court, but as she stepped back onto her courtyard and rejoined her small precession, she realised she wouldn't have to worry about that anymore.
Quietly, the queen dumped the medicine into a cabinet beneath her en suite's sink and stashed the prescription in a dry drawer. After a moment of fruitless worrying, she crept from the bathroom with equal care, returned to her chamber and hovered over the bed uneasily.
It wasn't how she'd imagined. And she had imagined it aplenty. She had always stared from her window in search of him. She fancied he would ride up on Choco clad in full armour (which was utterly ridiculous but it was the image that came to her nonetheless) and call up to her from the courtyard. Or that one day he would burst into her chamber and sweep her away in his arms, or they would meet in a field of wild flowers outside Lindblum.
Yet the play was just as romantic and theatrical and more, and she wouldn't have guessed it in a thousand years. The polite letter from Baku offering to finish the play they had started years ago to celebrate her eighteenth birthday (and she had been so angry with him for stirring the embers of her heartbreak!), the persistent coaxing from Beatrix until she agreed, it all seemed so obvious now.
But, of all things, she had never never imagined their first day reunited to begin like this.
It was some time past eleven now, yet Zidane Tribal, Vanquisher of the Evil Wizard Kuja, Saviour of Gaia, Angel of Death, was sprawled on his back with limbs akimbo, mouth wide open and snoring quietly. He was still fully clothed in his theatre gear, boots and all, with an empty bottle of wine in one hand and a half-eaten sandwich in the other ('midnight schnack' she remembered him slurring, despite it being four bells past midnight).
She had slept on her antique sofa. Garnet hadn't gotten as uproariously drunk as most people (she wasn't sure whether they were celebrating the play, her birthday or Zidane's return, then decided people only need one excuse to let the wine flow) so she had woken feeling better than most. At any rate, any thoughts of a romantic first evening cradled in his arms as they exchanged words as emotional as they were overdue were cruelly slaughtered when Zidane passed out on her bed drunk as a kitten in a wine barrel.
But she wasn't even slightly angry.
In fact, she didn't feel very much at all.
Last night… it was so surreal she might as well have been drunk. Faces she hadn't seen in years danced around her with mad grins and tears in their eyes. 'How are you feeling, how are you feeling?' She had nodded dumbly and reflected their lunatic grins and tears, but in truth, she didn't know.
He was at her side, most of the time. She wondered on numerous occasions if she had finally gone mad, and he – and the play and her friends! – were merely illusions created by her shattered mind. When he spoke to her, she would be unable to answer for a prolonged stretch of time as her brain spent most of its effort simply processing his presence.
He was there.
He is here.
It was overwhelming. He couldn't just… reappear, just like that, could he? Her heartache an incurable crutch one day, gone the next? Someone she had presumed dead risen from the grave and returned to her side by some merciful god?
As she looked down upon his face, only slightly aged in the two years she'd missed him – with jaw line slightly more pronounced and a slenderness about his eyes – asleep so childishly as if he'd never left, it was unbelievable. She'd spent every second since the night previous floundering in a pool of doubt and denial.
How cruel the world was! She knew its tricks! She would wake any second – as she had done so many times – and he would vanish in the morning sun. It would all be a dream and her beloved would be where he had always been, where he always would be, buried with his brother beneath the roots of the cursed Tree of Life.
Just then, her apparition groaned, screwed up his face and stretched like a satisfied cat. Gradually his eyes opened, blinking and blinking. He looked round slowly, eyes adjusting to the light in a manner she thought looked painful despite the fact she'd kept the curtains drawn for him, until they settled on her very surprised visage.
He frowned and croaked, "Wh… where am I?"
Garnet cocked her head. "I'm not even sure where I am."
Zidane stared at her, baffled. "Am I dreaming?"
"If anyone's dreaming, it's surely me."
"So… I'm in your dreams? You're in all of mine." He smirked, eyes glinting in the dim light. "Sexy dreams. So if this is a dream, you better start taking your clothes off."
Garnet took a few steps back. "Oh. It seems neither of us are dreaming." Either that, or this is a very realistic dream.
This seemed to perk Zidane up a bit, realisation dawning in his cerulean eyes. He sat up sharply and hailed, "Dagger!" before promptly doubling over and stuttering, "A – ah shit I'm gonna throw up –"
Garnet gestured frantically at the bathroom just as Zidane lunged through the door and noisily vomited last night's 'midnight snack' and the contents of three bottles of wine down the toilet.
Not how I imagined it at all… Garnet lamented with a thoughtful sigh, but kept her peace and patience as she waited for him to remerge.
He did so after a few rounds of fruitless gagging, staggering against the doorframe. He cradled his forehead with one hand and moaned, "Oh geez, my head. My freakin' head…"
"And your stomach, by the sounds of it."
Zidane looked up grimly, then pointed an accusing finger. "How come you're not hung over?"
She went to the bed and busily began fluffing pillows while primly lecturing, "Because I know my limits, Mr Tribal. Now are you getting up or not? It's almost midday!"
"Firstly, I don't believe for a second that your limit is two glasses of wine. Secondly, midday isn't late. Thirdly, me going back to bed depends entirely on the company." This last comment was accompanied by a trademark smirk that sent the doubt and relief duelling in her heart.
"I… I have things to do. You can rest longer, if you want. I'll tell the maids to leave off for a while."
Zidane clambered back into bed, under the covers this time (though still fully clothed), nursing his head and stomach. "Leave off?" he repeated with overacted incredulity. "Send them in! Someone'll have to keep me company if you wont do it."
Garnet gave him a little smile and a look before slipping through the door and softly pulling it closed behind her.
And for a few hours, it was as if he'd never returned. The castle was clean, her duties still applied, the Pluto Knights were dressed appropriately and patrolling with all their usual inattentiveness, and so she began to think she had dreamed the whole fiasco after all.
In fact, by the time Alexandria's church bells struck three, she had convinced herself that Zidane couldn't possibly be back. That the mirage had been a symptom of her broken heart. Her desire to see him returned was so great that her mind had actually invented it to be so. She was ready to receive the burden of her sorrow once more when even that fragile idea was shattered by two voices drifting from the Entrance Hall.
Cautiously, Garnet diverted her path and entered, then peered over the banister.
"- care if you've been back no more than day, nor do I care about your previous state of well being!" one man raged. "In this castle you must dress accordingly and by not doing so you directly insult the law of conduct and Her Majesty –"
"Dagger wont care."
"Why must we battle like mindless animals when you could solve it by doing as you're told!?"
"Where's the fun in that?"
"Grrr, you blasted rapscallion, I'm in a right of mind to –"
"Goodness," Garnet's melodious voice impeded their feud as she descended down the velvet-lined stairs towards them. "Zidane's been back less than a day and already you two are bickering like children over a toy?"
Adelbert Steiner and Zidane stared up at the queen with contrasting expressions: Steiner's that of shame and mild anger, Zidane's that of innocence and unconcern.
"Well he –"
"Your Majesty –"
"Stop, please," she interrupted softly. "No fighting, okay? Steiner I understand your concerns – " She paused to scrutinise Zidane's stained white shirt and torn breeches – "but you must be lenient. For my sake?"
Steiner growled in Zidane's direction, then saluted. "Yes, Your Majesty."
"And be kind," she added.
Steiner took a deep breath, then turned back to the grinning thief. "And… I'm glad you're back. For Her Majesty, especially."
Zidane shrugged it all off with another easy grin. "S'alright."
But Garnet was frozen on the staircase, a slight frown on her brow and her fingers just touching her lips. Her eyes were like cups of chocolate melting in a pan. Tears began fall, curving down her cheeks and pattering onto the carpet. Before Zidane could question her well being, she abruptly threw herself down the stairs and into his arms, planting a great kiss on his cheek.
"I'm so glad you're back!" she sobbed. "Don't ever do that again, you oaf! Don't ever leave me again!"