Done! Done, done, done. Finally. I hope you enjoy the last chapter. I apologise for its shortness and also for my lack of knowledge of how prisons work. Probably a good thing, to be fair. Please note that I've tweaked and edited the last two chapters! It might be worth re-reading them.
You can check my profile page for updates and info on my whereabouts, if it interests ya. Thanks for the support, guys!
When Garnet first caught sight of the police cars pulling into the drive and heard the crunch of boots on gravel, she had not been frightened. A wave of relief descended upon her so strong that she almost went to greet them at the door. After all, she fully suspected that she would pay for this wrong doing; their arrival did not surprise her in the slightest. If anything it lifted the burden of the crime from her shoulders. She was ready to explain to the police why they had been forced to break into the house, and that she knew the owner, and that she was an influential person who would never ever do something like this otherwise.
Her naivety fooled her again.
Two policemen entered Tot's study with their guns drawn and cocked in her direction. Their faces were steeped in shadow beneath the harsh light of the study's single lamp, their footsteps muffled by the carpet.
"Stay where you are! Keep your hands where we can see them. Make any sudden movements and we will shoot."
Every organ in Garnet's body turned to ice as she lifted her shaking hands. Her mouth fell open, eyes fixed on the gun, as the police surveyed them with evident suspicion. It suddenly occurred to her how they must look: she with her dirty dress and broken shoes and Zidane… well, looking like Zidane.
The calm explanation she was going to give melted away as a policeman advanced towards her, tugging on a pair of handcuffs.
"You're under arrest for breaking and entering . You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney present during –"
"C'mon man, that ain't necessary," Zidane said as the other policeman pushed him front first against a wall and proceeded to handcuff him. "Leave the girl alone, she's done nothin' wrong, it was all me – y'hear? Oi! I said there's not need to handcuff her!"
"Be quiet," the policeman barked. He pulled Garnet's arm a little but she acquiesced easily, putting her wrists together behind her back.
"I-I'm very sorry…" Garnet began with a voice that quavered like a plucked violin string. "I'm… I'm very very sorry, I didn't think I was… Well, I did know I was doing wrong but you see Doctor Tot – the owner of this house – is… was… my tutor and I know he wouldn't mind if he just knew it was me. Please let me ring him now and you can speak to him yourself –"
"I said be quiet," the policeman said. The click of the handcuffs seemed like the loudest sound Garnet had ever heard. "You can make your phone call at the police station. Your case is in the court's hands now."
Court?... Court! Oh gods… Oh gods what have I done? The Alexandros name will be forever tarnished! Oh, Mother will never forgive me! Steiner will be so disappointed! If the media gets wind of this…!
"Alright, no need to fuckin' push," Zidane grumbled as the policeman guided him towards the door with one hand against his back. Garnet was made to follow and they were both eased into the back seat of the cop car.
Reality seemed very far away as Garnet stared at the bars separating the passenger seat from the driving compartment. Zidane slumped into the seat, looking annoyed yet somehow unbothered. As the lights flashed blue and red and the engine chortled to life, she was hit by the enormity of her situation. Despite all her efforts to remain calm, she began to cry.
"Heeey, no cryin'," Zidane said. "You'll be alright."
"I'm an idiot," she spat. "I'm so… so so stupid. I never should have tried to get home by myself. I'm a dumb, coddled rich girl, just like all the others. My own delusions of independence have gotten me into more trouble than I could have imagined… and you…" She trailed off and cast him a tearful, trembling look. "I'm so sorry, Zidane. I really, really am."
His face hardened, blue eyes flashing like steel coins. "Stop it, would you? I told you: I wanted to go with you. I wanted to stay with you."
"You should've run…"
"But I didn't," he whispered fiercely. "These are my choices and I'm glad I've made them, because… " He halted, stumbling over his words. "…I'm glad because it means I get to be with you a little longer…"
"Then you're a bigger fool than I thought, Zidane Tribal." She turned her gaze to the window and the industrial buildings of South Gate, her tear-streaked face a ghost in the glass. Zidane's own reflection cut a forlorn figure beside hers. "Thank you."
Never in her wildest dreams had Garnet thought she would see the inside of a police cell. Though it was as she had imagined, if a little more clinical. It was six by ten foot, painted white, with two long benches bolted to the walls. She was sitting on one of them now in a corner, alone, back against the wall, staring at the iron bars that separated her from the corridor. It smelt of an odd concoction, a kind of homage to its previous occupants; cigarette smoke, bleach, vomit and something metallic and tangy.
After arriving at the police station Zidane and herself had been handcuffed to a bench in a waiting area while paperwork was prepared and fingerprints were taken, before being led to the holding cells out the back, where they were separated. Zidane had offered her a reassuring half-smile before she lost sight of him, though she heard his grumbling as they removed his handcuffs.
In such a stark environment Garnet was left to ponder only her thoughts, but they were as whitewashed as the walls of her prison. She felt like she was dreaming. Afterall, this couldn't possibly be happening. Just two days ago she was dining with two of Burmecia's dignitaries and now she was in prison? How had this spiralled so out of control? A part of her yearned to place the blame on Zidane's shoulders – and how easily she could! – but of course she would not. Afterall, if it wasn't for him she might very well have been in a much worse situation.
I'm in jail, how much worse can it get? her mind bleated in despair.
Garnet rubbed her hands over her face. She dreaded to think what she looked like. Certainly not how she should, judging by the look the police officer threw her when she gave her full name. She supposed she could have thrown her title around but she wanted to keep this affair as low key as possible, for the sake of her family.
Somewhere along the corridor a door opened and there was the sound of booted feet tapping against the polished floor. Garnet's heart both leapt and sank at once as she straightened on the bench in anticipation. But the officer did not appear beyond the bars; he had stopped outside of Zidane's cell.
"Ready to make your phone call?"
She heard shuffling from the adjacent cell and a drawn out groan – was he yawning? "Yeah, might as well."
The cell was unlocked and Garnet suffered an inexplicable flash of need – a desire so real and tangible it frightened her – to see his face. How had she come to depend on him so much that she needed just a glimpse of him to be reassured? She was both baffled and aghast by this. She had thought herself so much stronger.
Garnet crossed her cell, wincing as her knees cracked in protest, and leaned her head against the bars. She saw the policeman standing nearby, but Zidane was hidden around a corner. Fragments of his conversation drifted down the empty corridor.
"- I know you're mad, I get it… I'm sorry, man, it was an emergency… No! Well, yeah it was about a chick… b-but this was different! I don't say that every time…. Will you shut up for two seconds, your car is fine, bro, I swear!... Anywho, I'm kinda in jail so if you could just bail… Yeah, jail… No… no… South Gate… Yeah… Breaking and entering… It's a long story… Bro, your car is fine, geez…. No, no, please don't tell Boss! Blank, I'll do anythin' I swear just don't…. He doesn't hafta know! I just need ya to bail me… I'll go to prison! Aw, man… You know I don't got shit… Haven't you got that money left over…? Please? I know you can't afford it but seriously, man, they're gonna lock me up… S'not exactly like I've gotta clean record, is it? I mean… you could always sell your car? Alright, alright, no need to fuckin' yell… I guess we could flog the TV… or my bed? I can sleep on the floor or somethin'… Geez, this is shit… Whatever you gotta do, bro… Just don't tell Boss, okay? Yeah… Later…"
Garnet heard him hang up the phone and sigh gustily before the officer ushered him back to his cell. She slumped down on the floor, resting her forehead against the bars, as Zidane's door was locked and the policeman walked away. There was a heavy silence again, broken only by another gusty sigh from her partner in crime.
"I'm sorry I got you into so much trouble," Garnet called softly through the bars. "I'll make sure you're not charged."
She heard Zidane snort, though it did not seem derisive. She heard him settle by the bars of his cell too. Again, she felt the odd desire to see his face, to be reassured by that stupid smile, the shine in his eyes…
"Thought I told ya to quit apologising," he said. "Don't worry about me anyhow, you just get yourself outta here."
"I'll be fine," she said with certainty. Afterall, she would be fine, though the impact this might have on her family's reputation was debatable. She fought down the heavy feeling of despair and returned her attention to lesser fortunate of the pair. "But what about you? Will Blank bail you out?"
"Ahh… I dunno. Probably. Money's err… pretty tight, y'know? I just hope he doesn't tell Boss…"
"Will he be mad?"
"Mad? Mad don't cover it. I'll be shitting out my own teeth for a week."
"O-oh… But… you won't go to jail, right?"
She heard him shift against the bars. "Don't worry about it."
"Zidane. Tell me you won't go to jail over this. Over… Over me!"
"I dunno, babe. You know I… I'm not that great of a person anyway. I've done things I shouldn't have done, gone places I shouldn't have gone. Maybe it's time I paid for all that shit, y'know?"
Garnet pressed her forehead against the bars, eyes trailing along the cracks in the concrete floor. "Don't say that… You're not a bad person, Zidane. In fact… you're… you're one of the nicest, most selfless people I've ever met."
"Hmph. That doesn't make me a good person."
Garnet gripped the bars, wishing she could look him in the eye. "I've met some bad people in my life, a lot of bad people, and I know you're not one of them."
Zidane snorted. "You? You hadn't even been to Lindblum, how could you have met bad people?"
"Bad circumstances don't always make bad people. I know some of the richest people in the world and they're… they're terrible. The things they do and say, the way they treat others, the way they talk… It's just awful. I never want to be like that." Garnet fiddled with the ends of her matted hair. "I kind of envy you. Your freedom, your open nature."
Zidane chuckled. "Grass is always greener." He shifted again against the bars. "You know… you're really familiar. I don't know why, I can't place it. There's somethin' about you… I'm guessing… you're not just a hot, rich girl from Alexandria, right?"
Garnet's heart went still. A part of her wanted to be honest with him, but a much larger part of her liked this pretending, this self-made limbo where she was part of the nameless crowd. "I'd rather not talk about it."
She heard Zidane get up. "So that's it then, huh? Guess we'll be going our separate ways after this."
"I… I don't know…" She sighed. "I would imagine so… You and I live in two separate worlds. But –"
The door slamming at the end of the corridor made both jailmates jump and severed Garnet's thought clean off. Two sets of booted feet stomped loudly along the corridor and just as Garnet climbed to her feet, one of the new arrivals shattered her illusion of normalcy, no matter how temporary it was.
Garnet smacked her head against the bars, hoping at the very least to give herself mild concussion so the following events would forever be a blur in her memory.
"Geez, keep it down would ya, loud mouth? S'only two of us in here anyhow."
Though she had not seen him, she could not mistake the voice, and could only listen helplessly as her bodyguard rounded on Zidane, all but throwing himself at the bars in a fit of fury. "Is this him? IS THIS HIM? Smirk all you like, criminal, I'll see you behind bars for the rest of your pathetic life for this."
"Steiner!" Garnet snapped. "Leave him alone, it isn't his fault I'm here."
"Princess!" Steiner yelled and promptly sidestepped to behold Garnet in her cell. He took a moment to straighten his black suit and thin tie before giving a quick bow of acknowledgment. His complexion was pale and creased in concern, but his dark eyes flashed with menace.
A voice drifted around the corner, squeaky and incredulous. "…Princess?"
Garnet winced and fluttered her hands. "I'm fine, I'm fine. Steiner, what are you doing here?"
"They called the royal guard as soon as your identity was confirmed by the police. I can't believe they locked you in a cell like a common criminal! This is outrageous. Were you mistreated? If anyone laid a finger on you I'll immediately see to it they lose their position within the force. I'll-"
"Does Mother know?"
"N-no… Though it goes against my better judgement I feel that it would benefit both you and the Alexandros name if this was kept quiet."
"Alexandros?" came another squeak from the adjacent cell.
"The police have been made aware of the situation and are willing to approach this unfortunate misunderstanding with discretion," Steiner added. "What were you doing driving anyway? We've told you so many times –"
"Steiner please." Garnet rubbed her temple with her fingertips. "I can drive and I can…" – Look after myself? I'm in jail! "Look, can I just go home now?"
"Right away, Princess. The bail was paid as soon as the news reached us. I've already taken the liberty of contacting Doctor Tot on your behalf. You there, unlock this door!"
The policeman looked disgruntled at being ordered around, but he unlocked her cell without protest. Steiner took Garnet gently by the elbow and steered her down the corridor, but Garnet pulled away for a second to stare sorrowfully into Zidane's cell.
"The Garnet Til Alexandros?" Zidane said.
"Fucking hell. I mean… fucking hell. The Princess of Alexandria?"
"Come away from him," Steiner barked, a hand on her elbow again. "There's no use speaking to the likes of him."
"Steiner," Garnet admonished softly. She turned her gaze back to Zidane. His eyes were wide with surprise but something else brewed there too… Sorrow? Disappointment? Yet as strange as it was to see Garnet suddenly felt it too, heavy and unpleasant in the pit of her stomach. She crushed it best she could and attempted to reclaim some semblance of her birth right.
"I am sorry, truly." She turned away, allowing Steiner to lead her along the corridor. "I… don't think we'll be seeing each other again. Goodbye, Zidane."
Zidane threw himself at the door of his cell, white knuckled as he gripped the bars and craned his neck to watch her leave. "Garnet! Garnet, wait! Ga- Ah!"
The police officer hit the bars with his baton, causing Zidane to jump back in alarm. "Address the princess properly and maybe she'll listen to you."
Zidane let his arms drop to his sides as the door at the end of the corridor slammed shut with a resounding bang.
The car was warm and quiet and clean. She had never noticed how lovely it was before. But why would she? Every aspect of her life was painstakingly sculpted to cushion her from the outside world. Even this car, a source of mobility, was a prison. The doors were locked, of course, and the windows were bullet proof. Was it to keep people out, or to keep her in?
Both, she concluded. It was half the reason she had requested her own car in the first place. At least she could drive with the window down.
"Would you like me to turn down the air con, princess?" Steiner asked after a glance in his rear view mirror. "You're looking rather red cheeked."
"No... I'm just tired."
Steiner's dark eyes flicked at the mirror again. "That criminal… he uh… he didn't keep you… awake last night… did he?"
Garnet frowned, then realisation dawned. Her stomach knotted in disgust. "No! No, gods, no. Zidane's not like that. He would never… Don't talk about such things to me again, Adelbert. It upsets me."
Steiner made a noise somewhere between relieved, disgruntled and apologetic. "Ah, hgn, well… My apologies. As you wish. So long as I know. Regardless, he will be prosecuted for his actions."
Garnet felt anger boil in her chest. She clenched her fists. "I thought you said you cleared this up with Doctor Tot?"
"I cleared your name, yes… But kidnapping a member of the royal family is not something that can be so easily excused."
Garnet stared dumbfounded at the back of Steiner's head, mouth open, as she let that sink in. Then her anger frothed again. "Kid…Kidnapping? Kidnapping! Are you serious? Zidane did not kidnap me!"
"That's not what it looks like to me."
Garnet thumped the seat with her fists, feeling like a firework about to blow. "I went with him, Adelbert. Of my own accord! I asked him to help me!"
"You really think he would have just let you go home?"
"Ye-yes! Yes! I'm sure of it! Zidane… Zidane isn't like that. He was just being nice. Not everyone is as bad you think they are!"
Steiner sighed gustily, one finger tapping on the leather steering wheel. His eyes flicked apologetically to the mirror again. "It was all an act, your highness. I pulled some files on him at the police station and let me tell you, they were far from clean. This Tantalus Inc. he works for… they're nothing but a band of frauds. They pose as construction workers to scam and cheat the upper class of their wealth. They charge the earth for a job badly done, if done at all, and aren't adverse to making away with any valuables their victim has stashed about their home." Steiner stopped at a set of traffic lights and watched a mother push a baby in a pram along the sidewalk. "Do you remember Oscar Ferrington?"
"Well, he was one of their victims too. He hired them to renovate the west wing of his manor. They set up the scaffolding and made a good of job of looking like they were working, then one morning he woke up and they were gone, along with his wife's antique jewellery and the majority of his priceless painting collection. Somehow they manage to fall completely off the radar. The police believe they split into small groups for a while, renting apartments in various cities, before coming together again some months later."
"Tantalus did that to Oscar? Gods I remember Beatrix telling me about that…"
The lights turned green and Steiner turned right at the junction. "You see? We keep you away from these people for a reason, princess. As much as you may begrudge me for it."
Garnet stared dumbly out the window as Jack's Auto Shop pulled into view. She thought of Zidane rubbing her back as she was slumped on the sidewalk, the simple but homely flat, the tattered couch he was happy to sleep on, the smell of old smoke and rain and cologne, of his bright eyes and enigmatic grin…
Zidane isn't like that… He can't be.
"Oh, Doctor Tot! Hi, it's me, Garnet."
"Princess! Oh, my dear child, are you alright? I heard about your terrible ordeal. Seems Steiner needs to rethink the recruitment process for the bodyguards, eh? Can't find the staff these days…"
"Uh, yeah… Listen, I'm so sorry about breaking into your house, Doctor Tot. I… I wasn't really thinking straight. I was scared and… completely naïve. I thought if I just explained –"
"There's no need to apologise. I'm just a little baffled as to why you didn't ring me?"
"I… I wanted to do it by myself."
"Get home. To Alexandria. I wanted to prove to everyone that I'm… not as helpless as they think."
"Oh… Oh my dear girl, you are not helpless. You are one of, if not the, most strong-willed, independent young women I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. You didn't need to run away to prove that."
"Well I wouldn't call it running away… Anyway, I need you to do me a favour. My companion needs his name cleared for breaking and entering. Could you do that please?"
"…Technically he did break into my house."
"Only because I told him to! If you don't clear his name I will also be accused, you see?"
"Princess, the royal family is not going to let you –"
"Please! Please. Do this for me. You know I never ask for anything. Zidane, he… He really helped me out. Please clear his name? All you need to say is you were aware we were there but forgot to leave a key, so gave us permission to break in… or something. Please, Doctor Tot?"
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. Garnet closed her eyes and gripped the grubby end of the payphone, willing the gods to sway in her favour just this once.
Doctor Tot sighed. "Alright, princess. But do try to avoid being arrested in the future, won't you?"
Garnet's knees almost gave way with relief. "Yes! Yes, anything you want! Just – Thank you… Thank you so much. This means a lot to me."
"You're welcome. I'll just have to, ah, avoid Adelbert for a while."
"Don't worry, he'll cool down after a week or two. I'll see you soon, Doctor Tot."
"Oh and if Steiner rings you in the next half an hour, please tell him I'm back in prison!"
She met him at the front desk of the police station having completed the appropriate forms to authorise his release. The look of surprise on his face was both adorable and disheartening at once, but still she couldn't deny that she was pleased to see him.
"You didn't expect to see me?"
A police officer removed the handcuffs and Zidane rolled his shoulders with a wince. "You did say a pretty final goodbye about two hours ago."
The lady behind the desk returned Zidane's things, frowning slightly at the random assortment of objects that he shoved into his pocket. He flashed the lady a grin before propping a cigarette behind his ear and eagerly thumbing his lighter. He turned to Garnet with a slightly more serious expression.
"I was kinda expecting my roommate to sock me one in the eye. Seeing you is much nicer, though I'm, uh, a little confused."
She glanced down sheepishly. "I paid your bail and I spoke to Doctor Tot. He understands that it was a misunderstanding and is happy to clear your name."
Zidane blinked a few times, his expression unreadable. "Oh. Oh… Um. Thanks. Like… really, really thanks." He scratched his mop of dirty blonde hair. "So I need some time to let this sink in and I know this might sound a bit presumptuous and whatever, and I totally get it if you have to go do… whatever the hell princesses do but… Do you wanna get a coffee or something?"
She threw him a serious look. "This is a serious breach of security and protocol, you understand."
His expression dropped. "Ah, yeah, totally, sorry I'm an idiot –"
She laughed and lightly batted his arm. "I'm joking, Zidane, it's fine. Mostly fine, anyway. I'm kind of on a time limit."
He grinned brightly. "Gotcha. Don't worry, I'm sure there's some dingy café around here somewhere."
There were no coffee shops near the police station but there was a fast food van parked around the corner. They ordered two cheap coffees and perched on the edge of a sidewalk, staring around at the bleak cityscape. The weather was overcast but dry, painting the streets in lacklustre shades of grey. Gasoline rainbows rippled across puddles left over from last night's downpour, litter drifting through their midst like dead, bloated animals.
"I wish I could do somethin' to make it up to you," Zidane said quietly. "Y'know I would've gone to prison."
"Blank would've bailed you out."
Zidane shrugged. "He would've tried but it's been a long time comin'… They wouldn't have let me go so easy this time."
Garnet fiddled with the hem of her dress and winced as the wheels of a car caught the edge of a puddle and sprayed them both with water. "Steiner told me who you are… About Tantalus. What you do." She paused. The silence was a heavy, uncomfortable thing. She waited for him to say something but he didn't, and when she looked up his eyes were hidden beneath the bangs of his hair. For an odd moment she felt the urge to brush them away. "Don't you feel guilty when you do those things?"
Zidane mumbled something, turning his head away.
"…Said, you make me feel guilty…"
"Is… that a bad thing?"
He shrugged, suddenly doing an impression of an awkward teenager suffering a teacher's admonishments. "I dunno. You're makin' me think about stuff and I don't… I don't know how to feel anymore."
Garnet prodded a discarded beer can with the toe of her broken shoe. "Maybe our paths crossed for a reason. We can both walk better paths now."
He looked at her. "What the hell have I taught you? How to break into a house? Almost cause an accident on a freeway?"
"To be myself, no matter what."
They stared at each other and for a dizzying moment it felt like the world around them had disappeared. Garnet felt a tingling in the pit of her stomach that made her head feel full of air. She looked away, alarmed by the feeling, and Zidane likewise averted his gaze and slurped noisily from his coffee cup.
"Why did you come back, anyway?" he asked.
"Why wouldn't I?" she replied.
"'Cause you didn't have to. It's no skin off your teeth if I go to jail and it's… not like we know each other. Plus, you're gonna get in trouble for this right?"
She shrugged. "It felt like the right thing to do. Anyway… I wanted to… to thank you properly. And say goodbye."
He looked away, a small, sad smile playing across his face. "Huh."
"I am ever so grateful," she said. "You really helped me out even though you had no idea who I was. Steiner said you did but… I don't believe it. I can tell when people are being deceitful. I can tell that in your heart you are a good person. If things were different…" She stopped herself. What am I saying?
"If things were different…?" he pressed.
The sound of tyres screeching on tarmac ripped them from their little world. They both looked up in time to see a blacked out car almost crash into the fast food van before swerving and screeching to a halt a few feet from the edge of the pavement.
Garnet stood up with a sigh and brushed dirt from her skirt. Zidane mirrored her action, chucking the empty polystyrene cup over his shoulder. "Guess that's your ride, huh?"
His question was answered when Steiner rocketed out the driver's seat and positioned himself between Zidane and Garnet, looking like he might grab the boy by the collar and throttle him if not for being in plain daylight with half a dozen witnesses.
"Doctor Tot told me what happened! You may be able to corrupt the princess' mind with your lies but I know a criminal when I see one. Your freedom is a felony in itself."
"Steiner, I released him," Garnet said, taking an uneasy step between her bodyguard and Zidane.
"I know," Steiner said flatly. "You made a mistake princess, that's fine. You don't know any better. It will be amended once we return to Alexandria."
"I… I do know better!" Garnet stammered hotly. "Don't treat me like a child! Once we return to Alexandria we won't speak of this again and you will not pursue the case, Adelbert. Do you hear me?"
Steiner fixed the girl with a baffled stare, then turned a much more accusatory one on Zidane. Garnet was thankful the blonde kept his mouth shut. She could only apprehend her bodyguard so much when he became provoked.
"We're leaving, Steiner," she said coolly. "Please start the car."
Steiner grunted, then opened the back door for her and remained standing with one hand behind his back and the other resolutely on the door handle. Garnet sighed, then turned to face Zidane a little self-consciously.
"Um… I… I have to go now."
Zidane scratched the back of his head. "Yeah…"
"I wish…" she blurted, then stopped. Zidane stared at her expectantly. "I… um… I wish we had…" Say it! "…Mm, nevermind."
"I… I'm sure we will see each other again…"
Zidane smiled crookedly. "Doubt it, babe."
Steiner coughed indignantly at that, so Garnet bobbed her head, eyes fixed on the scuffed toes of Zidane's sneakers, then slid into the car. Before she could say goodbye proper, Steiner closed the door. She stared at Zidane's face through the window, though she knew he could not see her through the blacked out glass. Something horrible twisted in her gut and she toyed with the door handle. With no small amount of disgust she remembered it had a child lock on it and she stared at it grimly, a stark reminder of the world she was returning to.
When she looked up again, Zidane was gone.
Steiner climbed into the driver's seat, anger expressed through a tick in his jaw and the way he clenched the steering wheel. A part of Garnet felt bad for worrying her loyal guard, yet something was broken in her now. She was an animal born into captivity that was gifted a frightening, blissful taste of freedom, only to be put back into its cage. In two days her entire perception of the world beyond the confines of royalty had been broken down and rebuilt. Could she even continue living as she had?
She would have to have a serious talk with Mother when she returned to Alexandria.
Steiner started the engine and pulled away from the sidewalk. The leather seat squeaked as Garnet twisted her body to catch a glimpse of Zidane, but he had truly disappeared. She turned around, disappointed. Of course he wouldn't have stuck around. He was far too close to the police station for comfort.
He would be getting a train home, she reckoned. He didn't have any money but he would probably avoid paying for the ticket somehow. Jump the turnstile, hide from the ticket officer. She imagined him returning to his little flat in downtown Lindblum, facing the wrath of his flatmate, maybe he would eat a microwave meal after, watch some terrible talk show on the television. Drink some coffee, call his boss, go out on the town…
What was waiting for her? Aside from a scolding and possible punishment.
Garnet watched the buildings of South Gate roll past her window, industrial and cold. People living their own lives stalked along the litter strewn pavements, eyes elsewhere as they pondered their own problems.
The heaven's opened in a sudden rush. Steiner grumbled and flicked on the windscreen wipers. Garnet pulled her arms around her chest, missing Zidane's hoody. She hoped he wouldn't get too wet walking to the station.
Steiner stopped at a set of traffic lights. The red light gleaned through the sheets of rain like the eye of a monster. Steiner's gaze flicked back and forth from the road to the rear-view mirror and Garnet respectively.
"There will be others," he said slowly. "Better people. People with honest aspirations and a basic education."
"Steiner!" Garnet snapped. "He has a basic education. I think."
"You'll have the whole kingdom lining up for you, princess. You should focus on finding a more suitable companion to serve the throne. Someone who will be trustworthy and – "
"I won't speak of this further!" Garnet yelled, her voice cracking. She bit her lip to fight back the tears, inexplicably angry. After all, Steiner was right. Zidane wasn't special. He couldn't be. It was ridiculous to think that way when she'd known him for only a few days.
"My apologies, princess," Steiner said. "Though we should speak of what we're going to tell the queen when – What the? Oh, for the love of Odin – No!"
Garnet blinked at Steiner's furious expression in the mirror, then all but shot to the adjacent seat in terror when someone pounded against her window.
"Garnet! Garnet! Hey, open the window!"
Garnet scooted back to her seat, heart fluttering with excitement as she hammered back on the window, and the very wet image of Zidane's face. "Roll down the window, Steiner!"
"Absolutely not. God's damn that rapscallion, how did he even get here –"
"Roll. Down. The . Window!"
Steiner groaned loudly and ran one hand over his face while the other begrudgingly pressed down the switch to his right. Garnet's window slowly descended and she grinned widely at the boy waiting outside.
"Zidane! You… Why are you out in the rain? You're soaking wet!"
"No, I… That's… that's not important! I wanted to –"
"Did you run all the way here? Honestly, you're going to make yourself sick –"
"Will you go out with me?" he blurted.
Garnet stared at him. Zidane leaned both hands either side of the window, breath puffing out in steamy clouds and rain streaking down his face. He stared back at her, blue eyes suddenly guileless and vulnerable.
Garnet smiled. "Princesses aren't allowed to date."
His mouth snapped shut with an audible click of his teeth and he took a step back. His face was a mask of dejection.
A car behind them beeped loudly. The lights had turned green, yet to Garnet's surprise Steiner did not drive away.
"But," she said, "I have enjoyed the pleasure of your company… Maybe we could meet for coffee? In Lindblum? This Saturday?"
Zidane's hurt expression was broken by a grin that split apart the rain like a sun beam. "Cool. Meet you at the train station around eleven?"
Garnet winced. "I don't think I'll be getting the train any time soon."
"Not even for nostalgia's sake?"
She smiled. "Maybe."
A car beeped again and someone yelled angrily out a window. Zidane threw a crude gesture in their direction before turning his gaze back to Garnet, expression playful. "So now that's sorted, do I get a goodbye kiss?"
Before Garnet even had the decency to blush, let alone stammer out a response, Steiner all put punched the button to his right and the window careened upward, shielding the princess from his advances. Zidane laughed then drew a smiley face in the steam on the car window. The nervous butterflies that had appeared so suddenly in Garnet's stomach melted away, replaced by a warm feeling that swaddled her concerns in the warmest of blankets. She smiled and shook her head.
"See you later, Zidane."