A/N: I'm gonna add this here after I got a review politely saying that Zidane was only gone for one year, not two, as I have depicted. It's funny because I remember throwing the same complaint at a fellow fanfic writer some years back (Myshu, in fact), who politely replied that, actually, I was wrong because it was never stated. For some bizarre reason I was very sure of myself and went about researching, even replaying the end of the game, only to discover that all it says before the ending scenes roll is 'Some time later…' I depicted a two year absence instead of one because of Garnet's hair. See, people marvel at how quickly my hair grows, but like hell anyone's hair is gonna grow from being THAT short to THAT long in the space of one year. If anyone has any actual evidence backing the one year theory and is eager to ram my claims down my throat, I'd love to hear it! I've always been interested to know for certain.

That out the way, thank you so much for the lovely reviews! I think I managed to reply to all of them this time round and your interest and support is a real morale booster! So onto the next chapter. Ah, sexual tension, we meet again…

(It's suddenly occurred to me that people who haven't read BBB might be a bit bemused by the opening. Hopefully you'll get the gist!)


Chapter Two
. premature .

i.

"When's the baby due?"

Garnet nearly spat her tea all over the filigree table. She managed to restrain herself, but barely, and between a few indelicate splutters she choked, "What!?"

Eiko Carol narrowed her eyes. "Oh no, don't even think about playing dumb, missy. You've been with Zidane a whole day – surely that's time enough to make a baby?"

"Now, Eiko, a lady mustn't be so forward with such subjects," Freya elegantly came to Garnet's aid. "It's not polite to ask."

"It's not even been a day," Garnet mumbled.

"Plenty of time to call the Magic Chocbo," Eiko retaliated, deadly serious.

Bemused, Freya went to question that remark, but Garnet waved away her curiosity and hurriedly invented, "Oh no, these things take time. The Magic Chocobo can't just be summoned at whim. It takes time and effort and love –"

"A spell!"

"Yes. Yes, a spell of sorts. To prove you're worthy of receiving the ah… magic seed."

Eiko nodded with an air of superiority. "Mmm, you're right, I suppose. It is a bit soon. But I better be the first to know when you do! The first, y'hear!?"

Garnet smiled awkwardly, deeming it safe to pour another cup of tea. "Of course. The first."

Satisfied (thank the gods), Eiko resumed munching biscuits and slurping juice from a china cup. The dress she wore was a pretty pink, fastened around her middle with a yellow sash. It clashed horrendously with her personality. Hilda had taught her manners and etiquette (though clearly not subtly) yet it was the execution that eluded Eiko. She simply couldn't restrain her feral, rambunctious behaviour, and the clothes made her appear as an actor wearing a costume, though from a distance she looked adorable and extremely convincing.

A sudden cry distracted the three ladies, and when they looked for its source they found Zidane and Amarant engaged in battle. Well, more of a scuffle really, though Amarant seemed to be taking it seriously.

"Those two." Freya sighed. "Some things don't change."

"No…"

"Can you believe it?"

"Hmm?"

"His return."

Garnet looked across the lawn at the battling thief. "I… suppose not. It was all so sudden and unexpected. A part of me hates him for keeping everything secret for so long. He could've sent a letter, a messenger – anything!"

"Ruuuddee!" Eiko chimed.

"Theatrics," Freya scoffed.

"Both," Garnet granted. "But I should've expected something like that from him. He… I don't think he understands how much it hurt…"

Freya rested a paw on the queen's knee and offered a sympathetic smile. "They never do."

Garnet suddenly felt very selfish. The dragon knight had been through much of the same experience, except Frately's disappearance had spanned five years and when he finally returned he'd forgotten all about Freya's love. How awful that must have been! Now that Garnet had a real insight into the torment of Freya's heart she was overwhelmed with gratitude that Zidane had been returned to her whole and well.

Her eyes wandered across the lawn again. It was a small section of Alexandria's grand gardens, where Garnet, Freya and Eiko currently occupied an elegant pagoda that crowned its centre. The grass was sheared short and intersected by gravely paths that snaked toward the pagoda in motionless streams, sheltered on all sides by symmetrical borders sprouting tall, colourful flora. The castle dominated the skyline ahead and a vast lake reflected the blue sky behind them. It would have been peaceful, if not for the brawling teen and bounty hunter.

"That all you got, monkey?" Amarant jeered as Zidane leapt several paces backward.

"I haven't even started!" he countered with a smirk.

They met again in a clash of fists. Amarant's hands seemed so large that they might squash Zidane's head like a fruit, but for what Zidane lacked in size he made up for in agility, ducking and weaving between the redhead's shuddering blows. The blonde landed a sneaky kick to the back of Amarant's knee, and it nearly sent him tumbling, but the hunter used a long arm to counterbalance his weight and kicked his leg in a sweeping arc. Zidane leapt high and it missed, but Amarant used the momentum of the kick to swing himself back around and his balled fist caught Zidane dead centre and sent him flying into a patch of peonies.

"Stand, monkey," Amarant taunted from the border. "Fight me."

But Zidane didn't stand. He remained where he fell, barely able to sit up and panting and heaving with a bead of sweat running from brow to chin.

Garnet straightened in her seat. "Zidane…?"

"I…I'm…f-fine…" he panted, wincing as he tried to stand unaided.

The queen had thought nothing of their playful brawl (playful as Zidane saw it, anyway) yet all of a sudden the bottles of medicine stacked beneath her sink shot to mind and she cursed herself for being inattentive.

As Amarant strolled with dangerous nonchalance toward the prone blonde she leapt from her chair. "Lay off, Amarant," she commanded, yet made sure to keep her tone as dispassionate as possible. "That's enough, please. I hate it when you two fight."

The hunter regarded her grimly beneath his dreads, then shrugged and went to brood beneath a tree. Garnet crossed the lawn with restrained urgency and dropped beside the injured thief.

"You okay?" she asked softly.

Zidane sat up and failed to hide a wince and the strain in his voice as he chirped: "Yep. Dandy. Caught me off guard. Next time –"

"There wont be a next time," she impeded sternly. "There's no point in tempting fate."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You're not entirely better, are you? So why get into fights with someone you know isn't a push over?"

"Fought in worse conditions…" he mumbled poutily. "And won."

Garnet smiled and plucked a few stray petals from his hair and clothes. "You can win another day. Are you hurt anywhere specific? Broken bones?"

"Just my ego," he admitted as he got to his feet uncertainly. He looked over at Amarant. "We'll call it a draw then?"

"In your dreams, monkey boy."

She smiled at Zidane's grudging defeat, then stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "There," she said. "A token for the loser, okay?"

He looked pleased, but feigned moodiness as he trotted off to the pagoda and muttered, "Am not a loser…"

Garnet reclaimed her seat at the lattice table while Zidane declined Freya's offer of tea, grabbed a handful of biscuits and laid on the lawn instead, basking in the remaining sunlight like an oversized cat.

After a time, Steiner came to join them, throwing Zidane a frosty stare when he didn't move, then pointedly stepping over him despite the ample room to step around. He removed his helm politely and set it on the table, accepting Freya's tea this time and engaging in small talk about the castle's defences.

Warmed by the company, Garnet brightly exclaimed, "Oh, it's like a reunion!" before immediately regretting it.

There could never be a reunion. Not truly.

ii.

She remembered the events leading up to receiving the letter with startling clarity, though the day itself wasn't special. Mene had stomped into the Hall of Serenity (as much as a moogle could stomp, anyway), complaining that he wasn't part of the 'confounded' mognet system so he shouldn't have to be delivering letters to or from anyone. He unceremoniously threw the letter onto her lap and departed, which she was grateful for later, because she didn't want anyone to see her cry like she had. Not ever.

It had been written by Mikoto. Written in a manner so apathetic and thoughtless it had made her blood boil for a moment, but the grief quickly overshadowed even that.

Queen Garnet Til Alexandros XVII,

I apologise in advance for not being proficient in the Gaian art of writing letters, or delivering news in an appropriate manner; it is all I can do to simply state the information. Earlier this morning, the Black Mage you called Vivi stopped. Mr. 126 found him by a stream in the forest. Mr. 126 told me he went there so the children would not see. They have been informed. He appeared to have stopped peacefully. Judging by his behaviour the night previous (he was very calm, yet seemed uncharacteristically fatigued, though not in a literal sense, as if his soul was tired) he had known his stopping was at hand, and did not seem distressed. Mr. 163 said you would find some comfort in that. We buried Vivi in the graveyard. Mr. 58 informed me only after that it is customary among you Gaians to hold a service. I did not know that and I apologise for not letting you know, as the burial has already been completed. If you come, I will show you where we put him.

Mikoto.

Zidane's 'sister' had written to no one else; that job had been left to Garnet. Once she'd composed herself and the worst of the grief had faded so she could hold a quill without it shaking or the ink becoming smudged by tears, she wrote to her compatriots one by one and told them the news.

By unspoken agreement, there were no funeral rites. They met at Vivi's grave on an unremarkable day and laid flowers and spoke to his sons and left again. She'd even spotted Amarant lurking in the shadows, which was really something. They had all known the day of Vivi's stopping would come faster than anyone wanted, but it didn't make it less painful.

His absence was always felt, but now she'd managed to make that hole gape wider, and the strained silence wasn't helping anything.

And remarkably, for he had mentioned nothing of Vivi's passing (not from callousness but because the pain was particularly scorching for the genome) Zidane was the first to break it. "Yeah, I sure miss the little guy. I can't believe about his sons! They're… incredible."

Garnet grasped the uplifting tone when she spotted Eiko furiously gnawing her lip in an attempt to stop the tears from falling. "Yes, they are. He was so proud. You know how he did right?"

"Magic Chocobo?" Zidane joked, and Garnet grinned.

"No. You really don't know? You haven't spoken to Mikoto?"

He shook his head. "Nah. I was pretty unconscious when she dragged me outta the tree. Why?"

Garnet waved a hand. "Ugh. It's complicated. You should go see her; she'll explain."

"Or bore me to death."

"It's not boring," Freya reprimanded. "It's fascinating. She's remarkably intelligent for her age."

Zidane shrugged, turning his gaze skyward. "I don't think intelligence is relative to age in the genome world."

"I quite agree," Freya said. "In your case, you have the body of an eighteen year old and the brain of half that."

"Ouch."

The shadows stirred; Amarant was laughing.

"Well, you should go see anyway," Garnet pressed. "It's linked with your heritage, afterall."

Zidane rolled over. "I don't want anything to do with it, thanks."

The party exchanged looks. The queen shrugged, deeming it futile to pursue the subject, and so it was dropped for another. The banter went on until the sky shrugged on a turquoise cloak and the first stars winked in its diamond trim.

"Well, I best be off," Freya announced, placing her teacup on the saucer with a pleasant chink. "Eiko and I are travelling together aboard the Hilda Garde III, and Lady Hilda and Regent Cid want to return early tomorrow, I think."

"Poo," Eiko dismissed. "It's not even proper dark yet! I want to stay up!"

"I have dithered too long from my rounds as it is," Steiner added. "Beatrix will have my head if she discovers the length of my respite."

"More than your head, I bet," came the mumbled retort from the lawn.

Freya nodded and smiled with obvious affection. "Goodnight to you Steiner, Garnet." She gave Zidane a terse kick as she walked him by. "And to you, oaf. Mind yourself."

"Yeeaahh."

Eiko finally surrendered and chirped her farewells (winding Zidane as she jumped him with a childish hug) before scuttling after Freya to their rooms. Steiner continued his duties and it seemed Amarant had disappeared without a word, perhaps hours ago.

Alone now, Garnet hopped off the pagoda and sat beside the thief on the lawn.

"Hello, beautiful," he purred. "Just you and me, huh?"

"Seems so." She gazed wistfully at the moons, their giant faces pock marked by visible craters, yet still so flawless through her eyes. "I'm so sorry about Vivi…"

Zidane played with the ends of her long hair like a kitten with a ball of yarn, perhaps in a conscious effort to distract himself. "He spoke to me before, you know."

"Oh really!? What… before…?"

"Yeah. He did know he was gonna…"

"Oh. Can I… May I ask what he said?"

"Mmm… Maybe. One day."

Garnet fiddled with a pearl on her shoe. "Everyone's going home tomorrow…"

"Mmm."

"What… where… uh… Will you stay here? At the castle?"

"I want to stay with you, Dagger."

He sounded sincere, and she didn't doubt his feelings (he could have simply not returned to he afterall, and she would be none the wiser), yet there was still something nagging her. She looked hard for it, struggling to find the words. "I want you here too… but… I don't… I mean, you can't… the castle is so different to where you've lived before…"

"I'll adjust."

She looked down at him, at the grass stains on his shirt and the petals in his hair and the bruise beginning to bloom on his face. "I don't want you to change, Zidane. Not for me, not for anyone."
"I wont."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

Still… "I really want you to stay with me but… if it ever gets too much I wont ever stop you leaving, or begrudge you for it. I swear that. I swear it. I understand completely if you –"

He sat up abruptly and took her hands. His eyes were lavender in the twilight. "Dagger, I'm not going to leave you again. I have nowhere else to go. I don't need anywhere else. I'm home. You're my home."

She clearly caught the sincerity in his eyes this time and smiled, her worries quelled. "Thanks, Zidane."

iii.

However, there did remain one small matter of concern. Well, there were many matters to be sorted, but this was the first on the list, and one that left her quite baffled.

And her maids too, by the looks of things.

"Ah, I don't think you've been formally introduced yet," Garnet said. "Zidane, these are my two ladies-in-waiting, Briar and Nell."

"Always a pleasure to meet such lovely ladies," Zidane greeted with a theatrical bow that left the girls silly and ruffled.

Garnet rolled her eyes. "Girls, this is Zidane Tribal. You might know already, and if you do not you will probably be the first to hear it, that Zidane will… he will be staying at the castle henceforth and ah… um…" She trailed off, wondering where she was going.

Briar, faster to catch on than Nell, curtsied and respectfully lowered her lashes. "We will take care to knock in the mornings."

It wasn't exactly what Garnet had been hinting toward. She hadn't even thought about that. She'd actually been wondering whether Zidane would be sharing her chamber at all (it was custom for king and queen to sleep separately – her mother and father had had two separate rooms – though Zidane wasn't a king of any kind so the situation had her flummoxed), but by the way he was kicking off his boots, he hadn't a clue about royal customs, anyway.

"Yes, well, don't worry just yet. I… there's so much that needs sorting, you know…"

"Is he staying forever?" Nell whispered. "Are you marrying? Or is he just a lover?"

"I… I don't know what's happening yet," Garnet whispered back. "But not a word from either of you to anyone. There's no point in the court or nobility getting wind of this just yet. I'm sure there's plenty who would seize some kind of advantage in knowing I'm sharing my chambers with a man of… unrecognised status."

The maids nodded, eyes round with romance, anxiety and excitement. Garnet sighed, feeling much older than she was, yet still devastatingly young in many things. Sometimes it was hard remembering her status, that even the tiniest of desires and decisions could affect her and the throne. Sometimes she wished things were simpler, that duty was not quite such a heavy burden.

"I'll see you in the morning," she dismissed with an affectionate smile. "And not a word, remember?"

The girls curtsied low, unable to hide their playful grins. "Yes, Your Majesty." They turned their bows toward Zidane. "Master Zidane."

The master in question grinned and winked, and the girls giggled as they scurried through door because he had already tugged off his waistcoat and was in the process of shrugging out of his shirt.

Garnet shut the door quietly then turned and leant against it, hands clutching the frame. Her nerves were hot sparks in the pit of her belly, her thoughts slurred and her breathing sharp. She didn't know what she wanted, not yet. The thing was, how to tell him that?

"I'm glad you're back," she started numbly. "I'm still getting used to… it's so strange… everything has happened so fast… I thought you were…"

"Dead?" he finished with a crooked smile. "Mmm. Me too. Almost. Lucky for both of us Death was in a good mood, eh?"

He approached her then, where she stood frozen in the doorway, but stopped short upon noting her expression. Garnet, on the other hand, had suddenly noticed the unfamiliar wounds marring his chest. She remembered clearly his scars (she had seen his naked torso so many times during fiddly healing procedures): the thin sliver above his navel, the thicker red one just below his collarbone, the slight nick on his neck (where he'd almost had his throat slit in a Treno alleyway years ago, apparently), and the pale triangle on his ribcage. Now the fresher ones dulled these. They had healed, but she could tell which ones had been infected and which ones had been deep, and it didn't make them any less jagged or horrible. There had been an obvious close call just above his heart; the sight of it made her stomach lurch.

"Iifa's vines," Zidane explained bluntly.

Garnet nodded, tracing one with a finger. "It must have been terrible…"

He shrugged.

"Did it hurt a lot?"

"Ah… sometimes. Boss drugged me up pretty good; couldn't feel or think a thing half the time."

"You… you could've called me, Zidane. I would've come to you. My magic would've aided the healing, drawn out the toxins. Why -?"

He scrunched up his face and abruptly cut her off. "I don't wanna talk about that now."

"But –"

"Later. I can think of better things to do at the moment…"

The view of her bedroom disappeared so suddenly that it was only when she tasted Quina's homemade cookies that she realised he was kissing her. It was gentle, but persistent, and inarguably startling, to the point where her grasp on time wavered so she could've remained immobile for an hour or a second. When the shock wore off she kissed back hesitantly, reminded of the time aboard the Blue Narciss. Arguably, that had been their first kiss, which had begun as confusing and ended violently, yet for some reason this kiss was just as muddling.

He eradicated any remaining space between them; she was sandwiched between him and the closed door. And his hands had found her now, firmly pressed against her waistline. She was glad they weren't moving. He'd been back for an evening and a day and it had been a dream-like cloud of emotion. This wasn't helping anything. It was too much at once. She wanted it, but not yet.

Garnet managed to pull away.

"Ah," she said breathlessly. "I… Zidane, I…"

Despite her doubt, the kiss had left her tingling with pleasure, face all flushed and breathing short and sweet. She could see the lust in Zidane's eyes, though he seemed much more composed.

Garnet failed to find the words, but the look in her eye must have been enough.

"Oh," Zidane said. "Oh. Hehehe, sorry, I just needed a kiss goodnight." Yet he seemed reluctant to remove his hands.

She swallowed noisily. "Mmm, that's okay. Um…" Gods, what do I say? How do I word it so he doesn't get angry? Or feel guilty? "I just… For tonight, would you mind sleeping… somewhere else?"

He blinked, and for an awful moment he did look hurt, but then his gaze scouted the room and he grinned. "I'll go sleep on the couch, then."

She glanced at the antique sofa against the wall. "Oh. Yeah I guess you can –"

"Did you want me to sleep in another room?"

"Oh no, that's fine! I just… I'm sorry but…"

He snorted – "Gods, don't be!" – and relinquished his hands. "Geez, you think I can't wait for someone like you?"

Her face abruptly caught fire and she failed to form a reply. Instead, she just said, "I'll get ready for bed in the bathroom."

He had seen her in her underwear a handful of times, but now it was different, and she didn't fancy fuelling his temporarily quelled lust any more. She walked on unsteady feet to the en suite, closed the door and dressed for bed. She washed her face and plaited her hair, regarding her pink complexion in the looking glass and tried to organise her scattered thoughts. Maybe she was being silly. Maybe there was no need to wait. Maybe he would have more to say, and she'd find solace in his words?

But all she found when she left the bathroom was a fully clothed, snoring Zidane spread-eagled on her bed.

She sighed, defeated by her love, and went to sleep on the sofa.