Something to note: me + politics = infinite confusion. But I believe it's called blagging, so kindly reserve any crits you have about it. Once again, thanks for the support and reviews, and enjoy!


Chapter Three
. rumours that ail .

i.

"Open up."

"No.

"Open up!"

"Mm-mm."

"You're being such a baby!"

"Don't care."

"Honesty, it's like communicating with a child! Why wont you just take your medicine!?"

Zidane, who was sitting cross armed and crossed legged on the edge of Garnet's bed, compressed his lips until they were a bloodless line and cast her a defiant look.

Garnet's blood was boiling from his lack of cooperation, and the two vials of medicine had remained untouched despite her commendable efforts. He'd already missed his doses yesterday (she'd forgotten what with the commotion of being reunited with her friends) so was determined to make him take it today. She'd had no idea that Zidane and medicine were two words not meant for the same sentence.

Before resorting to outright force, Garnet approached on a more reasonable note. "Alright, why wont you take your medicine?"

"Tastes like shit," Zidane mumbled from the corner of his mouth.

Garnet raised the spoon and sniffed. It had the aroma of burnt tree bark with a slightly acidic edge, the smell of potions, she recognised. "It can't taste that bad," she reasoned.

Zidane raised his eyebrows and gestured to the spoon, his expression saying, 'You try it then.'

"Fine," she said, "I will."

The moment the amethyst liquid touched her tongue she had to fight the urge to spit it out. It was awful, like rotting mushrooms and unrefined spirits. Yet what would a queen be without a stoic mask? She donned it now, as she had done many times when confronting wily nobles, and raised a testy eyebrow. "It's fine," she rasped, then cleared her throat. "See, if I can do it, so can you."

Zidane frowned a moment, obviously contemplating a bash to his ego, then decided the foul tasting liquid wasn't worth any small triumph. He closed his eyes and shook his head.

Garnet lowered the spoon again with a sigh. "How did Blank do it?"

Zidane opened his eye a crack, an unspoken question fired in her direction.

"Blank," she repeated. "He made you take this medicine, didn't he? How did he make you do it?"

"Bundled me," Zidane said from the corner of his mouth again. "Surprise attack. Or everyone held me down." His eyes twinkled. "Didn't get me all the time…"

Suddenly, something marvellously devious blossomed in Garnet's head, and she barely managed to suppress a wicked grin. She feigned nonchalance instead and offhandedly commented, "I bet Blank would take it..."

This was rewarded with a sharp, suspicious glare. "Hmm?"

With her free hand, Garnet absently traced the embroidery on the bedcovers. "Oh, I was just thinking… It's nothing really."

"What?"

Her gaze trailed to the ceiling. "Just that, well, Blank would take it without a fuss."

"How do you know anything about Blank?" There was definitely something green in his tone this time.

"Blank? Why, he visits me all the time!"

"Oh he does, does he?" Voice rising in volume.

"Only to keep me company," Garnet amended with a guileless look. "While you were away. So we've gotten to know each other quite well and… I just know that he would take the medicine, you know? He's really quite brave and would never cause such a commotion over something as silly as –"

"Give me that," Zidane barked, and snatched the bottle off the bedside table. He drank straight from the top and Garnet yelled in alarm. She wrestled the medicine away with a gusty reprimand. "Don't drink so much! Too much of that stuff could kill you! Are you so stupid!?"

Zidane went to say something, but he suddenly turned a literal shade of green. "Ergh… that… that's awful…ack…"

"Are you going to be sick?" she trilled, jumping up in alarm and spilling the spoonful onto the carpet.

He doubled over but waved away her concern. "No, no, just… ergh… tastes so bad… Cinna's cooking… no match for this…"

She rubbed his back, feeling a bit guilty. "You only needed a spoonful…" No reply. Zidane made a gagging noise. "It does taste bad, doesn't it?" she admitted. "Have you learnt your lesson?"

"Yes, ma'am…"

She bent down and kissed his cheek. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have wound you up. But just take your medicine in the future, okay? It's for your own good. And next time I'll mix it with a drink."

He looked up hopefully. "Whisky?"

"If you're good," she teased.

He lay back on the bed. "Blank didn't really visit you, did he?"

"Well, yeah. Do you mind?"

"Mmm… nah, just ah…"

"It wasn't, and never will, be like that, Zidane. He brought Ruby with him most of the time, anyway."

Zidane chuckled. "I bet that went down a treat."

"They're so funny together..."

"Yeah. Those two have been on and off for years…"

They trailed into silence. Garnet flicked the end of his tail, watching it twitch. After a moment she said, "If you don't mind me asking… because I guess I'm a bit confused… and I don't really know how these things work…"

"What?"

"Are we… what are we doing, exactly? Courting? Dating? Partners?"

He grinned at her. "I'm anything you want me to be, baby."

"What do you want to be?"

"I just want to be by your side."

She paused, and at that moment it really did seem that simple. Again, she felt as if she was caught in a whirlwind, so many new and complicated emotions blowing her round and round in circles. She wished everything would just be still for a moment so she could think.

For now, though, all she knew is that he was here, and she loved him, and no one would ever take him away again.

The door to the chamber suddenly slammed open with a thunderous bang, and both queen and thief shrieked in alarm. Garnet leapt to her feet (almost tripping on her cumbersome skirts) and whirled to see who blocked the doorway. To her surprise, it was a servant dressed in dirty rags. She was about to get angry at his unannounced intrusion when she suddenly noted his flustered expression and panting.

"Your Majesty," he bowed hurriedly, almost tipping forward. "Pardon the intrusion but the most awful – there are no words – you must come –"

"What is it?" she barked, unable to hide her rising terror.

The man looked her dead in the eye and said, "It's happened again."

Realisation dawned and the queen nodded. "Quickly, return outside and tell the guards if they act without command I'll have them demoted. Go!"

The servant left without bowing, accidentally slamming the door in Garnet's face.

"What's happening?" Zidane demanded. He rounded on Garnet as she yanked open the door and began trotting along the corridor. "Dagger, what's going on!?"

Much to his surprise, she quirked a wry smile. "You'll see."

Bemused, Zidane jogged after her, offering an apologetic shrug to Garnet's baffled maids who had emerged from their chambers to see what the fuss was about.

They wove along the corridors and down a spiral staircase, then through a few less opulent corridors that, Zidane guessed, led to the servant quarters. The heat and the smells of cooked food preceded the kitchens even before Garnet threw the door aside and dashed between counters and startled chefs (Quina included, who loudly complained that 'too much commotion spoils yummies') then out through a back door. Here, a vast plot of land was wedged between the lake and the castle's far flank, and on its mown turf was a vegetable patch. It suddenly became very plain what the trouble consisted of.

"Lay off!" Garnet yelled as she stomped toward the patch. "I said stand down! Lay down your weapons! I mean it! Not a drop of blood is to be spilt!"

Zidane sprinted in front of her then stopped short of the apparent atrocity, his mouth hanging open in disbelief. He did, however, manage a startled, "Choco!?"

Upon hearing its name, the golden bird looked up from the vegetable patch it was currently ravaging and offered its surroundings a lazy, uninterested stare. When it recognised the owner of the voice however, it chirped and raked the earth in delight (inducing a devastated wail from the gardeners) and butted the genome affectionately with its feathery head.

"It is you!" Zidane exclaimed, patting Choco's neck dubiously. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Garnet joined the pair with difficulty, her dainty slippers sinking into the fertile turf, then said, "Bad chocobo. How many times do I have to tell you? This isn't chocobo food, it's people food. You can't keep eating it!"

Her reprimand lacked any spite though, and it seemed, judging by their downcast expressions, the lingering guards and gardeners had heard it all before. Garnet tapped Choco's beak and the bird twittered affectionately.

"What's Choco doing here?" Zidane asked again as the bird continued to rub his head against him like a cat.

Garnet shrugged. "Eating vegetables, by the looks of it. Actually, I was curious where Choco had gone after you… disappeared. I worried about him. I didn't know if you had looked after him or where he lived or if he was even safe. Anyway, I tracked him down to a forest near Lindblum. Mene agreed that Choco could live here on a few conditions…"

"Mene did? He's so weird."

Garnet grinned. "You don't know the half of it."

"So did he escape from his pen?"

"Choco? Oh no. I don't keep Choco. Not exactly. He has a warm stable to sleep in if he wants, but he has the run of the castle grounds too." She offhandedly remarked, "I didn't know chocobo could fly…"

Zidane glanced round at the watching staff. "Err… don't people get pissed off?"

Garnet smiled. "Yep. But I could never restrain him, and if it means ruining the odd vegetable patch…" She shrugged. "Choco's a bit of a troublemaker."

Zidane mirrored her grin with an even wider one. "Hehehe, that's my buddy!"

In one deft motion, he swung onto Choco's back. "I'll go put 'im back in the stables!" the boy declared, with no obvious room for argument. He then clicked his tongue and Choco turned and started toward the great lake.

"B-but Zidane!" Garnet yelled, gathering her wits. "You don't even know where it is!"

He waved a hand dismissively. "I'll find it! Be back in a sec!"

"Oh no," Garnet muttered to herself. "I know that parting phrase. He wont be back for at least a day…"

The servants gasped as Choco mounted the lake and the water yielded. Zidane urged him into a flat-out run half way across, and then the sun glancing off the waves was so bright it obscured them from view, and Garnet returned to the castle.

And as it happened, Zidane was gone for three days, and never did find the stables, but returned with three lapis lazuli, six phoenix downs, five hi-potions and a gladius instead.

ii.

I am not spying, Zidane resolutely told himself for the hundredth time. I'm just looking. And listening. In secret... But it's not spying. I am not spying.

The keyhole had thankfully been key-free, making for a perfect spying hole (looking hole, looking hole) into the room behind the closed doors. It was a small, homely space, Zidane had immediately noticed, which was quite an anomaly in such a vast castle. Its walls were painted honey-gold and dotted with paintings of Alexandria's streets. The varnished table didn't impose upon the space and sported just four high-backed chairs. The fireplace was unlit, yet still a pleasant feature, and the window shutters were thrown wide to let the afternoon sun warm its interior.

Yet as nice as this little seating room was, it didn't catch Zidane's interest half as much as its occupants: Queen Garnet and some stranger who had had the audacity to waltz in uninvited, request an audience without advance notice, then damn well get it!

And no one would tell Zidane who he was!

So the thief decided it would do no harm just to spy – ah, look – at what they were doing. Especially as Dagger had so eagerly excused herself from Zidane's presence, then didn't even invite him along or introduce him to this presumptuous bastard!

Zidane shifted to get a better look. Unfortunately the stranger was sat in a chair obscured from view. However, Zidane had a perfect view of Dagger. She was wearing a simple white smock with some lace detailing along the hem, and her hair was let loose in waves that, in their unkempt nature, the thief found slightly erotic. Despite her unearthly beauty, Zidane knew enough of her wardrobe to recognise this as 'dressing down'. He didn't know whether that was a good or bad thing. When receiving important guests Dagger often spent an hour dressing to fit the role, yet she had been entirely unconcerned about her appearance this time and had invited him into one of the apparently more informal rooms for chat.

What were they chatting about anyway?

Zidane strained his ears.

"…lovely… and the… a walk sometime?"

"I would… so wonderful… staying."

"… so perfect… greatly missed…"

"…the same… time together… "

Although he couldn't hear everything, he had certainly heard enough, and eidolons be damned if he was going to let it go any further. Straightening, Zidane decided his best tactic was surprise. If he burst through the door and gave that bastard a piece of his –

"Master Zidane?"

"Ya – aah!"

The spy twirled and thudded his head against the door, heart juddering like a miner's pickaxe against his ribcage.

Briar stared up at him with oblivious innocence. "Are you… alright?"

Urging his tail to cease bristling and his breathing to slow, Zidane nervously snapped, "Yep, fine. Ah, man you're quiet, you a thief or something? You get off scaring a man to death? Geez."

She curtsied, then irritatingly read into his actions. "Do you wish to be introduced to her majesty's guest, my lord?"

"Ah… 'my lord'?"

"Yes."

"Me?"

"Yes…"

Zidane sniggered; he couldn't help himself. It soon bubbled into laughter and he waved a hand. "Ahahaha… gods, no. Call me Zidane okay? Just 'Zidane'."

Briar looked uncomfortable with the suggestion, but curtsied obediently. "And the introduction?"

Zidane cracked his knuckles. "Hmph. I'll give him a gods damn introduction he'll never forget. In fact, I think I'll do it right –"

"Zidane?"

The thief spun round again and stared bashfully into the bemused eyes of his girlfriend, who cocked an amused eyebrow. "Did you… want to come in? Or are you too busy inspecting the keyhole?"

Damn, she's getting good. "No…"

Dagger stepped aside with a pardoning smile and Zidane followed her lead.

Inside, the unfamiliar guest rose from his chair and stepped forward to greet the newcomer. He was very tall, and Zidane was struck first by his nice brown eyes that girls probably found attractive, and then by the charismatic quirk to his smile that was probably quite attractive too.

Despite being an actor, Zidane found it very hard pretending to be nice while combating jealousy.

"Who the hell is this?"

Dagger's face dropped (no doubt forgetting that Zidane didn't know a thing of court etiquette) then let out an awkward laugh. She pressed her palms together and was about to introduce her guest when he in question did just that.

Whilst making a sweeping bow, the man said, "Ah, forgive my rudeness. I am Dimitri van Kenton. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance Lord… um, sir…" Here he looked toward Dagger with a politely confused expression, baffled no doubt by Zidane's less than courtly appearance.

"Just Zidane, buddy," Zidane grated, before Dagger could do the honours.

She sent him a warning look. "He's my… good friend."

"Zidane?" Dimitri repeated with a note of incredulity. "The Zidane? Zidane Tribal?"

Zidane raised his eyebrows. "Uh… yeah? What's it to ya? I owe you money or somethin'?"

"The same Zidane Tribal that defeated the evil wizard Kuja and respectively saved the entire planet from damnation?"

"Yes," Dagger confirmed hurriedly. "That Zidane. Please don't bring it up, Dimi, you know I hate speaking about the war."

"Dimi?" Zidane repeated with a suspicious sidelong glance.

"Oh, Zidane this my cousin. He owns one of the largest provinces in Alexandria, so you might have heard of him."

"Nope. So… you're related?"

Dagger nodded.

Zidane grinned as the tendril of jealously curled in on itself and went to sleep. "Oh, okay then. Mind if I go? I'm starvin'."

Dagger playfully poked his side. "You're always hungry."

Zidane didn't bother saying farewell to Dimitri as he stuck his tongue out at the queen then skipped merrily from the room, intent on hassling a certain Qu for snacks.

iii.

"You're in love with him."

Garnet's cheeks pinked but she offered an innocently baffled expression anyway. "With who?"

Dimi rolled his eyes. "With the dove outside the window, of course!" He wagged a playful finger. "Don't act coy. I saw the way you made eyes at him."

"I suppose that dove is quite dashing."

"Garnet!"

"Lovely feathers, too…"

"Oh, stop it. You should be careful anyway. There are rumours spreading already."

"What rumours?"

"About you marrying a… ah… person of minor status… "

"You mean a commoner?" she snorted with obvious disdain. "A peasant? A thief?"

"Now I didn't say that."

"But you were implying it."

"He's not actually a thief, is he?"

She toyed with that a moment. "Well, no. Not really. Not anymore."

"But he was?"

"Let's not talk about that. "

"Garnet, you must be more careful… If the court got wind of this…"

"Of what?" she blared. "I haven't done anything! I'm not getting married and as far as I remember there are no rules preventing queens from taking lovers."

"Lovers? But illegitimate heirs can cause quite a –"

"Let's not jump ahead of ourselves here…"

The lord leaned back in his chair, expression unreadable. After a moments thought he shrugged and crossed one ankle over his knee. "You know me, Garnet. We grew up together. You're one of the only people in this damn hierarchy I can honestly call a friend. I personally wont hold it against you if you go against your mother's wishes, but I can't say I agree with it. I know with absolute certainty that my mother wont agree with it."

"You're going to be mad at me, aren't you?"

His answer, "No," came two seconds too late and it left a notable chill in Garnet's heart.

"Dimi, you know I love you very much. Please don't be mad, okay?"

He laughed. "Gods, you do jump to conclusions, don't you? I'm not mad, cousin, I'm just giving you some friendly advice. My second piece of advice is keep emotion and politics separate."

Garnet sighed and stared at the unlit fireplace. "Let's not talk about this anymore. But promise you'll try and quell these stupid rumours, okay?"

"I promise, provided they are just rumours."

"Dimi, I ought to come over there and bust your brains with a candlestick!"

The lord blinked then laughed uproariously. "You're right. Let's not talk about this. Shall we walk the gardens?"

Garnet smiled and stood. Dimitri came over and took her arm, and in that moment the queen vowed that no matter what happened, no matter the cost, she would marry only the person she loved and no other.

And despite the legally binding contract that pronounced Garnet must marry Dimitri in six months, that person would be none other than Zidane.