Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Love is not Enough


by Myshu 0 reviews


Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Angst, Humor - Characters: Amarant Coral, Freya Crescent, Sir Fratley, Zidane Tribal - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2006-03-19 - Updated: 2006-03-19 - 6557 words

"So, Alexandria."
"Yes, time for that little get-together again. I can't wait to see everyone again."
"I know you can't. It's in a week, is it not? You know, I once went to--"
"--Alexandria, many years ago."
"Ah. Ehem, that's right."
"Nice weather today, isn't it?"
"It's raining. It's always raining."
"Well, erm, yes, but it's pleasant today. More than usual, I mean. The rain is softer, that is."
"Is something wrong?"
"Fratley, you, I mean... never mind."
"Are you sure? You sound terse. Are you annoyed with me? Please tell me what is the matter. I can't do anything about it if you don't."
"Why does it feel like I'm never getting anywhere with you?"
"We have the same conversations, over and over. Is there nothing else to you? Don't you have anything else to say?"
"Whatever are you talking about?"
"Nothing! Nothing. Never mind. I'm just in a sour mood today. I woke up with a headache."
"Oh... Would you like me to fetch some herbal tea for that?"
"No, thanks."
"Are you sure? I can be back in ten minutes. It's nothing at--"
"I don't want any bloody tea."
"...Very well."
"Fratley, you're never going to remember our past, are you?"
"So, that's what this is about."
"Nevermind, forget I mentioned it."
"No, I mind. Freya, I'm trying, you know I am!"
"It doesn't matter! It's not working! ...That's not even what's the matter. Sometimes I don't think we are working."
"Don't speak like that. I love you--"
"You say that all the time, but do you remember loving me? I can't remember if I loved you either, back then. I only remember missing you. I remember my heart breaking when you left. You walked right out of the palace and didn't even look back."
"What do you want me to say? I can't remember! How can I account for what I cannot recall?"
"You remembered His late Highness, and the Dragon Knights, and even Alexandria, but I do not cross your old mind! It is as if I did not exist before!"
"Freya, I love you /now/. We have two beautiful children that we made together, with our love! Isn't that what's most important?"
"Freya, don't you love me?"
"Of course I do. Please forgive me those things I said. I didn't mean to be hurtful."
"It's... all right."
"Lovely weather today, isn't it?"
"You already said that."
"...I'm going to check on the children. And bring you some tea."
"Yes, do."


The seventh reunion marked Amarant's most memorable visit, though only for those who watched closely from backstage.

After the show and dinner, Garnet's special guests piled into the west drawing room for tea and a quiet evening, or an evening as quiet as two four-year-olds and a baby didn't want it to be. Quina stayed behind in the banquet hall to "clear the table," though that could arguably mean anything from washing the dishes to using the tablecloth as a napkin.

Cid, Fratley, Freya and Beatrix took turns playing cards around a low oaken table while Hilda hovered over their shoulders like a buzzard, offering monosyllabic commentary that shortly drove the players to the edge of annoyance.
Steiner was dressed for duty, as always ("Castle security is serious business!") He paced along the bookshelves on the far wall, trying to appear vigilant while making a racket of it (Zidane once cracked that a fiend wouldn't dare approach with Sir Rusty the Noisy on watch.) Amarant lurked in the doorway, as if he had someplace to be and was either waiting on someone or didn't care to get there.
Zidane sat to himself in an armchair facing the fireplace, watching the flame-licked logs in a half-lidded trance.

Freya had met Zidane long before the others (except her dashing husband, of course). Back then, he was an impetuous thirteen-year-old with no ear for authority higher than his own and no calling any less or greater than the wind. He was on some soul-searching quest for his birthplace, and she on a quest for unfulfilled love lost, not yet knowing if ignorance truly was bliss. It was a tad ironic that they didn't find what they were looking for until their second journey together, after each had given up the hunt.

Those days felt far away and alien when she looked at Zidane now. It was foolhardy, the Dragon Knight knew, to expect people to never change, but since their first encounter a decade ago, he'd become the victim of one too many subtle alterations.

His appearance was the most obvious difference. It was nothing to do with his round, boyish features, which hadn't matured one bit (his Tantalus "brothers" made fair game of that observation with many terrible jokes), but since the young man left his teenage years behind, his hair and fur rapidly turned from sunny blonde to slate, and then finally to powder-snow, rendering a haunting transfiguration. Eiko had asked, "Is your hair turning white?" every year until it stopped being a question.

When Garnet demanded her husband dress like a "real noble" for royal functions, he'd wear fine silks and his hair down in soft ivory blades, and it would occur to his friends that he looked just like...
Well, nobody ever had the heart to say it. Besides, for better or for worse, that's where the resemblance ended.

Zidane was still friendly, still impetuous and ever heedless of the higher word (unless it came from Garnet, of course), but in each way subdued. There was once a flair to his pace and gestures that had turned languid, and too often during her visits Freya would find him in a corner, chin propped in his hand and a lost smirk on his lips, staring into nowhere. Only when someone called his attention would a quick, bright spark ignite in his eyes, bringing his old self to light.

"Babies are sooo cute."

Eiko sat on the sofa with Dagger, who coddled the dozing Alexander. Cid and Hilda's adopted daughter was eager to pry what she called "girl talk" from the queen.

Dagger smiled faintly, glancing to Eiko and then back to the child. "Yes, they are. If Beatrix thinks it's okay, would you like to hold him?"

"Oh, please??" Eiko cast a pleading look towards the mother, who tipped a nod her way before laying down her next card. "Sure. Be careful. Let Garnet show you how to hold him. And that takes your zuu, Cid."

Eiko sidled up to Garnet to accept the swaddled bundle, taking care to mimic the queen's posture. The father paused to watch, looking like a ruffled tin can, and then resumed his rounds once Alexander was comfortable again.

Cid took the turn in stride. "My poor zuu. I'll never see it again. Oh wait, yes I will. My feather circle takes zuu and your cactuar, my dear Beatrix."

"Darling," Hilda interjected, "You should've saved your feather circle for the next turn. Now you don't have anything to protect that corner pocket."

Cid's mustache ticked and Adele and Brit, spying on the game at ground-level from each side of the table, broke out in snickers. "Quiet, woman! Can't you go over there and give away what's in her hand?"

"I'm just trying to help," Hilda responded huffily.

Freya smirked with amusement. "Yes, Lady Hilda is helping Beatrix out plenty."

"Aww, his fingers are so tiny," Eiko cooed as she handled the baby. Her head snapped up with a peaking thought. "Hey Dagger, why don't you and Zidane have any kids yet?"

Beatrix returned the card she was about to draw to her hand and shuffled it around a bit, stalling the game; Steiner shuffled in place like a stack of irritated garbage cans; Amarant pushed himself off the doorframe and stood... as upright as he could, ready for /something/; Fratley sipped his tea, pretending not to notice anything amiss, and his kids made their curiosity as obvious as possible, turning wide eyes around the quiet room before fixing them to the source of the hush.

Freya couldn't say she didn't want to know; she'd wondered that very thing since Steiner and Beatrix's wedding, but it felt taboo to bring it up, since no one else would. Eiko just had impeccable talent for asking what was on everyone else's mind.

Garnet reached to the side table, picked up her cup and cleared her throat, only to douse it with tea the next instant. She swallowed quickly, spun a glance around the room, caught all the intently watching faces, and began, "Well..."

"That's not a polite thing to--" Lady Hilda tried to admonish Eiko.

"We can't," loudly interrupted the fireplace, it seemed. Eyeballs turned magnetically to the far-off figure in the chair, who leaned over the armrest to return the looks. Zidane opened his mouth again, about to continue, but then his brow furrowed when he spotted the Burmecian twins on the floor. He instead turned attention to them, as if to stifle Eiko's impending, "Why?"

"Hey kids, wanna hear a story?"

"Oh yay!" Brit bounced to his feet, ever the budding Dragon Knight, and his sister followed him to the hearth with a little more grace. Amarant huffed and leaned back into the door, no longer interested.

"Once upon a time," Zidane began.
"All the stories start like that. It's corny," Brit sniffed, his tiny whiskers buzzing around his muzzle.
Adele punched him in the arm. "It's rude to interrupt."

Zidane picked up his breath where it left off. "Your sister's right. Now, once upon a time, there was a man. His name was..." He cast a sly glance to the infant in Eiko's arms. "...Alex."

And so, Freya sighed inwardly, she wouldn't know the truth for another year. It seemed unfair, the why not. Garnet had a maternal touch with Alexander as well as Freya's children, and kids just loved Zidane. She couldn't imagine those two not wanting a family of their own, so the cause had to be something unfortunate.

Zidane regaled his guests with a fantastic tale, something dressed up with swift gestures and wild impersonations. The story was rife with things most in the room couldn't claim to in their wildest dreams (which was something, considering they'd once traversed a world consisting entirely of memories), and the kids ate it up like candy, eager and believing. Garnet would remark that her husband had the craziest imagination of them all, though with an anxious waver in her voice, one that questioned the truth. Freya could relate to it; her old friend's stories smelled of familiar, yet impossible things, and Zidane liked to mix up the names, as if to cover his tracks. It was noteworthy that all conversation yielded to overhear what everyone thought the wily storyteller was really talking about.

Alex scaled mountaintops, hopped spaceships, slew giant trees, spoke with ghosts and rescued many damsels before Alexander finally wailed something, ushering story-time to an end. Cards were put away, the twins offered sleepy protests about not being tired and parents shuffled everyone into their quarters. In this fashion the party disbanded, a little early but late enough.


"Are the children asleep?"
"Yes, they're sound asleep. It's been a long day for them."
"It certainly has."
"What's wrong, my dear?"
"Oh. I'm just saying, nothing has made you very quiet. You sure there isn't something you want to talk about?"
"No, I'm fine. It's... it's nothing. I must be tired as well. Let's just sleep."
"Very well. Goodnight, Freya. I love you."
"...I love you too."


It was a couple of hours later when Freya got up again. She had been festering restlessly in the bed she was sharing with Fratley until she'd had enough and decided that if she wasn't going to fall asleep, she'd at least be up and about.

She was careful enough; her husband didn't stir one snore. By the time she'd slipped out of the covers, off the feather tick (the room was luxuriously furnished, for a change), into a silk robe (yes, definitely luxurious) and through the door to the outside hall, it seemed like the entire castle was asleep. ...Except for her, she thought with a sour twinge.

She stuck her snout into the crack of the next door, checking on Adele and Brit: both were still with sleep as well. Glancing across the way, her eyes met a guard who nodded at her. Freya straightened her robe and moved on.

For lost minutes she ambled by gilded candelabra and through checkered galleries, soaking in the plush carpet between her toes. She couldn't pin down what was troubling her; the past, the future and a man named Alex hummed between her ears. Nostalgia washed her down grand steps and into the back passages, parts of the castle built fresh over the nethers so that it reeked of a plush, poorly-lit, gold-leafed dungeon. Before long, she had found a reclusive drawing room. Warm light spilled through its threshold, just ahead of voices.

Before Freya knew what she was doing, she was standing outside the open door, eavesdropping.

"You came here after all this time just to challenge me?"


"You still owe me a rematch. I didn't forget."

And Amarant. Given what she'd heard already, she wasn't very surprised, but still intrigued.

"That's all our friendship means to you?"

"Don't try to confuse me. This is about being strong."

Freya recalled a far-away exchange with Amarant over motives. "I need to understand him... He doesn't flaunt his power. He only cares about being with his friends..."

"Me being strong or you being strong?"

Zidane had a knack for turning words around, making arguments look foolish or fools look argumentative--it was the best he could do to look like neither. It supposedly made him an excellent con-artist on top of an actor, although Freya couldn't vouch for that. The most impressive performance she'd watched by Tantalus counted on a royal interruption for its climax.

"You don't understand..."

Hardly anyone--no, nobody understood Amarant. The fleeting moments Freya thought she was connected to him, right in the heat of battle, at the sleepy night-watch or on a cool street corner, were always brushed off with a steady scowl or flat grunt. "Later, rat."
She didn't know why a part of her pursued knowing him, the unknowable, but it must have been for the same reason Amarant tried so hard to understand Zidane. Freya wondered if that was the only thing they'd ever have in common.

"You're not exactly doing a good job of explaining it to me."

"I'm challenging you because I am your friend." It was snarled, resentful persuasion. She could picture Amarant spitting it out through gritted teeth.

"...Huh." A droll note.

"What?" Annoyed, impatient.

"You're pretty unbelievable, you know that?"

"Are you chickening out?"

"I'm afraid I have to. I can't fight you here."

"We'll take it outside, then." Always straightforward Amarant.




"That's right. I don't want to fight you, Amarant. If that's all you came for, you can go home." Morose, a strange tone coming from Zidane.

"You are chickening out, then."

Freya would never understand Amarant's black-and-white painting of the world, either.

"If that's what you want to call it."

"Hrmph. Sitting in this castle has turned you soft."

"Probably. In case you didn't notice, I'm in no shape to fight anymore. If all you wanted is to prove who's stronger, I'll give that title to you. If you still wanna kick my ass, for whatever other reasons you have, that's fine, too. Just make it quick; I'm going to bed soon." Dismissive, defeated: more tones that didn't suit him.

"Forget it. ...Somehow, this wasn't as satisfying as I'd hoped."

"Sorry to disappoint you. Take comfort with this, then: You'll never be the strongest."

"What?" Defensive--or offended--or confused, or all of the above. Amarant was a master of deadpan, even with questions.

"No matter how tough, or smart, or brave you are, there's always someone out there who's stronger, smarter or better than you. That's the trouble with being the best, really: you'll always be asked to prove it, and one day you're not going to be able to live up to your reputation." A heady pause. "Then what're you going to do, Amarant?"

"Is that a threat?"

"No... just some friendly advice." Sincerity, the kind spoken from experience.

"I don't need advice from has-been bookworms like you. You still don't understand."

"I guess not." Acquiescing, just like that.

"Hrmph. No wonder you can't knock up your wife--you're too much of a wimp."

Freya thought she caught a humbled "ouch" from the injured party, but her next concern was bumping into Amarant, who tilted back a nose at the sight of her. She didn't get three, sweeping blinks before he shuffled past, caring less for the interruption. "Later, rat."

In the wake of her shame at being caught on the spy, she was hit again with the notion that now Zidane, too, was aware she was there. Since it seemed too late and silly now to walk away and pretend she hadn't even got out of bed, she adjusted her robe and stepped clean into the room.

The setting was cozy enough on the eyes. Shelves of reading material hugged the close walls, exuding the authentic, soporific feel of a library. For a drawing room, it didn't have much in windows; one hid like a turtle between tall, wooden, book-laden shoulders. A quaint hearth offered a warm focal-point. A sofa and cushioned chair straddled a tea table and its litter: a heavy stack of volumes, a bottle of red wine, some glasses to accommodate it and a tipsy stack of playing cards.

Zidane was comfortably nestled in the overstuffed chair, so much that Freya surmised he hadn't left it for a while, not even for (or especially not for) his last visitor. She paced nearer, approaching his side, taking sudden wide-eyed note of his attire. Since she'd gone to bed he had changed into a baggy robe-thing that, settled in the chair's maw like so, looked readier to devour than dress him. He resembled a bean cushion that someone had already sat in, and if not for his bare head, hands, feet and tail poking rather adorably out of the mess she couldn't have told which limb went which way.

But then, Freya was more transfixed by the emptied wine glass in his hand, the thick, dust-colored tome folded across his lap and the plain, thin pair of reading glasses perched on his button nose. When he peered sideways at her, she faltered, wondering if the apparition were real--wondering whether she didn't step into a bubble of alternate reality, and that if she stepped back out and walked through the door again she'd be met with a different scene, one with Zidane the bouncing, cock-grinned bandit she'd always known rather than this inert, scholarly lump in the chair.

Then she realised that they'd been staring at each other for about a minute and neither of them had /said anything yet/.

"I, I didn't mean to overhear," the Burmecian floundered, motioning towards the door in awkward circles. "I'm sorry. I'll go."

At her voice, the Genome's idle composure broke and he sat up straight, fumbling with the glass in his hand. "Oh no, it's okay," he said quickly, "Please, you don't have to go. Oh, um..." He blinked dazedly at the bottle and glasses on the table before remembering what they were for. "Would you like a drink? I don't have any tea, I know you like that, but, uh... some wine? We can sit and chat for a while, if you like."

"I..." It would have been too easy to dismiss herself, but something earnestly pleading about his suggestion compelled her to stay. "Thank you. That would be lovely."

He grinned faintly, nervously even (she wondered if he was still embarrassed over what she'd overheard), and reached to the table to pour her a glass. The book he'd been cradling clattered to the floor, and Zidane cursed softly as he stooped to retrieve it.

Freya moved towards the sofa, but before she could sit down she had to give Zidane's outfit another appraisal. It wasn't quite right on him, and her mind was toiling over why (besides the obvious, that it was too large.)
She scrutinized the tucked-down hood, the closed flares at the sleeves, the purposeful tail-slit and the spread of carrion worm thread, which was known for its comfort, light weight and resilience, but requires such hand-knitted care to assemble that it's only seen on the backs of Cleyrans, who had honed the craft to tedious perfection. If she didn't know any better (and maybe she didn't), it could only be for--no...

"Are you wearing a cleric's habit?" had to be the first thing out of her mouth, of everything.

It wasn't quite. It was cut in the style of the old famous Gizamaluke Monks, who wore dirt-brown habits fastened with ropes, looking the part of a vow of poverty. Zidane's was something a little classier, tied snugly at his waist with a band of silk the same deep violet as the rest of the costume.

He started, glanced up at her and froze, half bent over the edge of his chair and gravity slowing tugging a book out of his suddenly stiff fingers. Before Freya could wonder exactly what was the matter, "It's more than what you're wearing," worked numbly out of his mouth.

"What?" What did her robe have to do with--"Oh, gods!" she shrieked and whirled around, struggling to push her exposed breasts back into the ivory-silk folds of her garment. Once her bearings (and boobs) were back where they belonged, she spun around again to face him, probing for his reaction. Zidane acknowledged the sighting with a raised brow and a haughty, restrained grin, as if it were some kind of victory over her but he was still trying to be polite about it. Seeing straight through him, she narrowed her eyes and muttered in high dudgeon, "Wipe that smirk off your face."

"Well, that's not something a man gets to see every day around here," he chuckled, at last prepared her glass of wine and pushed it to her side of the table.

"That's /enough/," Freya pouted, mightily embarrassed.

Strangely enough, that incident broke the ice, and all of a sudden both fell into more relaxed discourse. Freya sat down, daintily crossed her legs and sipped her drink, all at once the dignified lady again.

"I got it from the Daguerrean ambassador," Zidane belatedly answered.

"Pardon?" It came a little too late for Freya to remember what he was answering.

"These clothes. She was a refugee from Cleyra, you remember?"
Of course you do. Catching the bitter twinge in the Burmecian's countenance, Zidane cleared his throat and switched tracks. "She was a real sweetheart. We chatted for hours. We got talking about how all these rich people clothes aren't very comfortable for demis--where do I put my tail, right? She said she had just the thing for me, and mailed me this as a gift."

"Oh. That was very nice of her."


"I must admit, I was taken aback to see you wearing it. I'm used to seeing it on Burmecians." She let a low giggle slip. "You actually look a little silly. I think it's far too big for you."

He plucked at a voluminous pant leg, just then paying attention to its superfluous size. "Haha, you think so? That's okay, I really like it. It feels so comfy and soft. Life is short, might as well be comfortable, right?"

Freya couldn't argue with that. Instead, they began to babble on a number of things: tails, fleas and fur care, bad actors, good knights, poor sports and fine drink--not the least the latter, which they slurped down between rounds of talk.

Eventually (she couldn't later remember how he came to mind, only that he did), she mused out loud, "Amarant doesn't seem to have changed at all."

From mid-swallow Zidane coughed up a blushing laugh. "Eheh. It's okay. Fighting is the only way he knows how to express himself. I was flattered, actually."


"I mean, it's nice to know he's still thinking of me, heh."

One of Freya's long ears dipped as she considered his strange optimism. "What are you doing up here so late, anyway?"

He took a moment to remember himself, his idle hand fingering the rim of his eyeglasses. "Oh. Just reading."

"Reading what, if I might ask?"

"Hey, what are you doing up here so late?"

"I couldn't sleep, is all." Freya shrugged to take the edge off her reply.

"'Misery loves company,' then." Getting comfortable with the fact that he wasn't going to be reading anymore, he took off the spectacles and folded them on top of the book, setting both onto the table.

She stared at the reading glasses, unable to help but be bemused by the big picture again. "You're such a different person from the kid I met. It's like I don't know you anymore." Freya smiled, as if it were a joke she didn't find funny.

"It's okay," Zidane waved the remark off, "I don't know myself anymore either."

They shared a mirthless chortle. Zidane then polished off his drink in a big gulp and fell onto one elbow with a grumbling sigh.

Freya's keen eyes didn't fail to notice another empty wine bottle tucked behind the back leg of his chair, though she couldn't tell if her friend was feeling down, feeling smashed or both. She did know that he became reclusive when depressed and touchy when inebriated... Freya would never forget the bewildered scowl Amarant wore around midnight of the first reunion, when she bumped into him on the way into a rowdy Alexandrian tavern. Zidane was clinging to the blue brute's arm and pointing at passers-by with his free hand, caroling high and loud, "I luv you and you and you and YOU too man, totally forever. Best. Party. Eeeever."

At any rate, Freya knew both conditions were a volatile mix. She had no idea what he'd try to do in such a state.

"God, I'm depressed," he slurred under his breath.

She had a feeling she was about to find out. "Why?"

Zidane blinked emptily. "...I don't know." Too abruptly, his mien sharpened with a grin. He stood up, rounded the table and licked his lips dangerously, like a prowling lion. "I have an ideeaaa," he sang.

"What?" she wondered, naturally wary.

"Take off your robe and lie down on your belly," he demanded, as if he were telling her to go brush her teeth or finish her vegetables.

"Good gods! Why should I?"

"Oh com'on, it's nothing bad! I promise I'll be a perfect gentleman. Just trust me. Pleeeease?"

Freya's ears slicked back and she shrank an inch, not sure how to interpret his hungry look. She'd withstood flirting from several angles, lewd and amorous alike, but thankfully from within her own race, where it was easy to read and deflect. Humans and Burmecians just didn't have that kind of chemistry, after all. Fortunately as well, she'd witnessed plenty of Zidane's womanizing in the past and this wasn't the same animal--this was more like mischief, the kind you'd find on a boy who'd just snuck a cookie out of the jar.

Still, the indecency of it all. She held her robe closed tight, not even daring. "Not until you tell me what you're going to do!"

"I want to give you a backrub."


She gaped at the idea, as inane and unexpected as it was, but all signs pointed to him being completely serious. The only betrayer to his good intentions was the inscrutable swishing of his tail.

"Com'on, you'll like it! I give Dagger backrubs all the time."

"Yes, but--" Freya sputtered, "She's your wife!"

"And you're my friend! You've looked uptight all evening--you said you can't even sleep. I can help you, you know, loosen up."

"I am not uptight," she growled, a little too forcefully to invalidate his point. He crossed his arms and waited with a smug smile for his point to sink in.

Point conceded, she sighed. "...Fine, but one false move and your tail is on a platter, Zidane Tribal."

"Eheh, don't worry!" he assured, and whether it was the invitingly plush sofa, the lack of sleep or the alcohol talking, she actually bought it. The flimsy robe glided off her slender shoulders and gathered around her hips, defending what was left of her modesty (to his credit, Zidane didn't take advantage of the sneak peek again). She stretched over the length of seats and folded her hands under her cheek, leaving her backside to the open, vulnerable air.

Freya dispelled the last of her hesitation with a long breath as she felt the stuffing shift and sink with an extra weight, and before she could even say "go" Zidane was at work, starting at the base of her neck.

"Eee! Cold!"
"Sorry. Damnedest thing, it's either my feet or my hands that're always cold. I can't get them warm no matter what I try."
"That's odd. Sounds like an old acquaintance of mine. He had poor blood circulation."
"Hmm." He trailed his fingers through the tender slate fur along her spine, testing his new playground. "Ooo, soft."
"Ah-ah-ah, that tickles!"
"Hehe. Just relax, you're all tense."
"I will when you stop tickling me!"

The battle-hardened Dragon Knight couldn't get over the novelty of her situation. She'd never been near a backrub before, really. Fratley wouldn't and couldn't; even if the thought sprang to his mind, Burmecian hands were ill-suited to the job, all knobby joints, hair and claws. Zidane's were broad clown-mitts, calloused pads on one side and milk-silk on the other, the strange hybrid of hardship and finery. She didn't want to admit it right away, but he was very good with them, and she didn't want to ask how that became so--probably some odd bandit story.

Their banter cooled into hums and contented murmurs, neither having much to say. Freya let him knead her lean, knotted muscles into slack dough, and she melted under the pampering. Her mind slipped into ease along with her body, dwelling only on the tactile pleasure of the experience rather than how socially awkward it was to have skipped out of her husband's bed in the middle of the night and submitted to a backrub from another married man--one not even her species, but that's okay because he's an old, trustworthy friend and--"Damnit, Zidane, this feels so good..."

He gave a little self-satisfied chuckle. "Told ya you'd like it."

--and, and... She wondered if Fratley had noticed she was gone yet.



She wasn't sure where the question came from, even as it issued from her wine-loosened tongue. It must have been brewing in the back of her mind for weeks, maybe months, maybe the gods only knew how long, and whether all that back-rubbing had scrubbed it to the surface or what, it was too late to take it back. "Is there a difference between love of a ma--a person, and love of an idea?"

"Huh? Love the idea of what? What're you talking about?"

"What I mean is, can you be in love with... being in love? Without actually being in love?"

"Uh, erm..." he trailed off uncertainly, and then waded back out of the muddling query with more confidence, "Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean, there's courtly love and all that and... I dunno. Why?"

"I just... I don't know." She didn't know why she was opening up like this, at this time, to this person, much less why these thoughts were bubbling up /now/. "Before we were married, I wasn't sure which I was truly in love with: him or the idea of being in love with him. ...or the idea that he was in love with me."

"Fratley...?" he presumed.

She nodded somberly.

"Ah. Never did remember you, did he?"

"It would be so much easier if he did."

"Well, if I ever saw a guy who loved someone, he definitely loves you. What's up with the second thoughts? You're married and got two kids, now. What more proof of his love do you need?"

"I don't doubt it anymore. I know he loves me."

"Well then. Don't you love /him/?"

"I thought I did."

Zidane didn't respond to that, and she was far too relaxed to turn her head and read his face. His hands continued to talk for him, firm and soothing across her back, and by whatever sweet curse had lured her into this room in the first place, she kept going.

"I don't think the man I fell in love with is ever coming back. I thought he did--I thought, if we said we'd forget the past and start anew, love would bloom again. Even if it wasn't just like before, it would still be... I don't know what I'm saying."

"It's okay," he said gently.

"I think I was fooling myself the whole time. He's not the same person he was before he left. He's just so... docile! He pets me and takes care of me and the children and washes the dishes and calls me 'love,' but that wasn't... it's just not the same."

"Married life changes people."

She pushed herself upright and twisted to meet him face-to-face, as if explaining things that way would be more effective. A second check pulled her robe back up to her chest. "It's not just that. I thought I fell in love with..." She shook her head and silver locks swept the shallow slope of her brow, seemingly clearing her mind. "Back then, he wasn't just a comrade, he was a companion. He helped me through all the hard training to become a Dragon Knight, and after everything we went through together, and everything he taught me, I thought we, I thought we /had something/. But then, I think it was you said... courtly love, some kind of mockery of the real thing, meant to spare my feelings. If he ever really loved me, would he ever have LEFT?" She cut the air with her clawed hand, as if conducting a choir of outrage. "Would he, Zidane? Do people abandon the ones they love?!"


She wilted, her temper spent and melancholy left for change. "I think I love him. I thought I loved who he was. Now I don't think I ever did."

Zidane's lips thinned with a frown. He put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. "Com'on, relax, you're all wound up again. Is this what's been bothering you this whole time?"

It could've been, it could've been. She'd surprised herself, saying those things out of anger. Was she really so angry? Did she really feel so miserable? Now she only felt terrible, and she didn't know whom to apologize to, or what for. She sat in a puddle of shiftless guilt, trying to reconcile her new feelings with herself.

At length, she brushed a clump of hair behind her ear and remembered her company. "I'm sorry, I just ranted your ears off, and you're being so kind to me."

Zidane offered one of his trademark easygoing shrugs. "Hey, that's what friends are for."

Freya returned a faint smile, and for a while both listened only to the gnawing burn of logs in the fire.

"I don't know what to tell you," Zidane eventually spoke, apparently still thinking on her dilemma, "This isn't the kind of thing someone else can fix for you. You've got to listen to your own heart and figure it out for yourself." He took his eyes off the flame to meet hers, trying to be sincere and direct, even if he could only pull off both at once for a moment. "Either way, I'll always try to support you, whatever you do."

That's what friends are for. If Freya did not know how to recognize love, she at least knew when she had a good friend. "Thank you."

Her gaze lingered on the bottle on the table and her thirsty glass beside it. "I need another drink," she sighed.


"How do you guys kiss?"

How much time had passed? Freya could not recall. It was still night, was the best she could reckon, and it wasn't too long ago that the last of their wine was depleted. She and Zidane had indulged once more in progressively nonsensical chatter until one and then the other and then both wanted to lie down--on the sofa, for the sake of laziness. Freya succumbed to her friend's clingy drunkeness without protest, only caring to stay comfortable and warm as the room's bright fire dwindled to ashes.

She bent her neck to look down at him, but merely got a noseful of hair. He smelled like old books, unwashed linen and... lemon tarts, incidentally. "I beg your pardon?"

"I mean, uh, how do Burmecians kiss each other? You've kinda got a muzzle, there, and teeth all in the way..."

She picked her chin up, trying to avoid the swerving, demonstrative finger aiming for it, until she finally got annoyed and pushed Zidane's hand back down. "We don't, and that's terribly rude to ask."

"Sorry, sorry, just wonderin'. You guys don't know what you're missing, though. ...Do you lick, then?"


"Oh com'on! Just curious."

"I'm going to play the 'none of your business' card on that one, thank you."

"Aww. Spoil'sport."

"Hrmph," she grunted softly and closed her eyes, sinking into rest. The late (early?) hour and warm, full belly of wine were finally taking their toll.
Zidane must have gotten the same notion. Lying at her side on the edge of the sofa, his arm draped loosely across her middle, she could feel his breathing gradually tempering into snoozing.

"I love being touched."

She peeled one bemused eye open. "What?"

"I mean, uh, not like that," he started rambling in a weary rasp, "Like hugged, cuddled, petted, whatever... human contact. It's, like... when you can touch someone, you're connected to them, you know what I'm saying? I guess I sound all girl...ish. I mean, no offense, you being a girl, and, uh..." He swallowed and said in a spurt of self-awareness, "Wow, I miss being sober right about now."

Freya sniffed, amused. "Aha, it's quite all right. You're rather cute when you're sloshed, I must admit."

"Gee, thanks." Her companion yawned, and Freya realized she could fall asleep, right where she was. Wait, wasn't she going back to her bed? Shouldn't Zidane go back to his? No, too comfortable here... don't want to move.

Then, on the brink of dreams, she faintly discerned a delirious, "...ohh, so lonely... so scared of dying alone."

"What are you talking about?" she mumbled, far too tired to raise an interrogation.

"...I don't know."

Then it was quiet again, the sound of sleep. Freya faded into the lull, her last vision the eerie crimson highlight on the tips of her whiskers.
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