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


by Myshu 0 reviews


Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Angst - Characters: Baku, Blank, Zidane Tribal - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2006-03-19 - Updated: 2006-03-19 - 5732 words

Six months later, it was announced that Queen Garnet of Alexandria was at last with child.

Freya was stepping out of the Burmecian royal palace when the town crier crossed her way, belting out the news to the clatter of a bronze handbell. She stopped in her tracks and stared into a shivering puddle at her feet before wrinkling her nose and moving on.

"I wonder how he talked her into it," was all she said to Fratley on it, leaving her husband aghast and confused.


He didn't think much of it when he first heard it. Lindblum is a big city, which means all the more crazy to go around.

So when Blank overheard at his favorite pub that there was one more crazy in town, he resumed his meal (soup of the day: Mushroom Surprise--the surprise was that he survived it) without an extra beat. When he heard that this guy had been sitting in the New-Old Cathedral (if there is a God, why did He let such a stupid name go unpunished, Blank thought) for two days straight dressed up like a Burmecian monk, that was worth a piqued eyebrow.

When he heard that this guy sitting in the New-Old Cathedral for two days straight dressed up like a Burmecian monk was a young white-haired man with a tail, Blank got up and paid his tab, because that was just too damned suspicious not to check out.

There was a reason it was called the New-Old Cathedral, even if it didn't make the appellation any less stupid.
During the last war that swept the Mist Continent, the tower city of Lindblum suffered heavily. The devastation was so widespread and taxing that it took the better of three years to rebuild the city-state to its comfortable norm. Old Cathedral, a landmark harking back to the end of the nomadic hunting period of Lindblum's history, was part of the wreckage. It was voted by the citizens to restore the archaic heap of rubble to new glory, and in that spirit it was dubbed again, "New-Old."

Dirt-old buildings may fall, Blank figured, but retarded names live forever.

Blank lingered around the church's gate for a while, getting a load of the scenery. He hadn't been near the place since it was rebuilt, but he could see now that fine craft was put towards making the new bricks look old, or the old bricks look decent--it was that hard to tell. Clinging vines were already reclaiming their old niches in the masonry--come spring again, their brown, shriveled husks would be overrun by more green stalks.

Inside, it was familiar turf: dark wooden pews at attention along each side of a narrow center aisle. Dust-dyed old tapestries (probably picked off the walls of some museum to replace the ones lost) were strung like curtains between tall, slitted stained glass windows. Afternoon sunlight streamed through the translucent artwork and decked the hall in the splotchy shadows of rainbows. The high, peaked ceiling and naked floorboards built up weighty acoustics and made the place seem larger than it really was. Blank supposed a hundred people could pack into the seats on a good day, though for his ears' sake he wouldn't ever put up with such a cram.

With such luck, only three people were around: Blank, a custodian of sorts (or maybe just a broom enthusiast), and Mr. Crazy-of-the-Week. It was just as Blank had heard; he was a white-haired young man just sitting there, not up to a damned thing. The stranger was keeping to himself in a pew near the front altar, his vapid fascination held by a decorative window on the nearest side wall--it seemed to repay him with a baptism of green light. Blank decided to approach the fellow and find out if he was really a stranger or... what.

There was no sneaking up about it; the echoed tramping of Blank's boots could be heard in the rafters. He took his usual smooth pace down the aisle, stopping at the end of the crazy's pew. The guy didn't turn in the slightest response. Blank looked him over, fixating on the furry, stark white cord snaking out the back of his purple habit and piling in a lazy loop at his side. Since Blank couldn't glimpse his face, the redheaded rogue instead wondered if the thick, unbridled alabaster spines falling around the stranger's shoulders were a wig. This person couldn't be... who was he even thinking of, exactly? The only people with builds and tails like that were Genomes, and the only Genome he'd heard of with hair like that was... but that guy was dead.

"Hey," he employed his voice, typically a last resort. He'd grown into a minimalist about conversation, preferring to speak with actions rather than words. Blank had a feeling he was going to need a lot of both before this encounter was over, however.

It worked easily enough. The guy finally turned to address Blank. A look of surprise flashed across his face, followed by a short "hello" smile.

Blank furrowed his brow, nonplussed by the apparition. "Zidane?" What was he doing here, looking like... that...?

Zidane returned to his window-watching. "I never got it, personally. This religion thing. Do you believe in God?" he asked, as casually as if they were just sitting down at the bar for a drink.

Blank was ruffled by the abrupt, dismissive and invasive natures of the query. "Goddamnit, don't ask me those kinda questions," he complained, and the janitor in the corner shot him a hard look.

"Just asking," Zidane said, wholly unapologetic, "People like to have something greater than themselves to believe in--something to look up to that'll explain everything good and bad in their lives... Something that'll explain what happens to them when they die."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Blank was direct. He received another glare from the sidelines.

The monk-guiser stood up with aching patience, trying to thaw his idle legs out. "You're right, I don't want to think about this kinda stuff either. I don't know how he ever suffered it."


Zidane stretched, yawned and faced Blank again. He amiably threw up his hands and asked, "How're you?" as if their chat had only begun.

"Are you off your nut or something?" Blank wasn't quite ready to start over. "What are you doing? I heard that you've been here for days."

He smirked, mildly put-off. "Nice to see you, too." Staring back at his wall of interest, he answered distantly, "I was just enjoying the murals, and thinking about stuff."

"Stuff, huh?" Blank wasn't going to pry; he was a master of minding his own business, when appropriate. Some things stood for asking, though, like, "What're you doing in Lindblum?"

"Oh, just visiting. I'm leaving tomorrow."

Blank pushed up the belt shielding his eyes and scratched the ridge of his brow. "You ever gonna 'just visit' the hideout?" he wondered in his typically irritable-if-good humor. "We haven't seen your sorry hide in ages."

Zidane's spaced-out gaze fell off the wall and crawled along the baseboards. "...Sure." An alert, guilty conscience dawned on him gradually, and his mind caught up with his words in a slow blink. "I'll stop by now. Where are you going?" he asked by-the-way.

"With you, looks like." Blank angled a shrug towards the exit. "Com'on, you can say hi to the boss."

The redhead waited for his fellow thief to extricate himself from the narrow pew and join him, but once Zidane did he held Blank back by the shoulder. "Hey, wait a second."


Zidane's hands disappeared into deep pockets as the Genome offered an uneasy half-grin. "What's the rush? Wanna get a drink first?"

Blank, ever agreeable when it came to drinks, showed his old friend to a new pub in the Business District, something on the way to the aircab station. They ducked inside, escaped the winter chill gnawing on Main Street and cozied up to the bar. It was too late for the lunch crowd and too soon for the supper one, so both could enjoy their mead in some peace.

"Hey man, what's up?" Blank eventually asked, one mug and half a bowl of peanuts later. He had offered Zidane some earlier, but his friend merely turned a green cheek and muttered, "No, thanks."

"Huh?" Zidane snapped out of his silent stupor and set down his mug. A second later, he recalled the question. "Oh. Nothin'."

Blank snorted. "Yeah, I'll say. I don't see you around for years, and when all-of-a-sudden you do show up, it's like you're not on this planet. Why are you even here? What're you brooding about? What's happened?"

"Nothing," the blonde dismissed him flatly. He spun a stray peanut on the bar like a top. "...Nothing."

"Bullshit." Blank picked a peanut flake from his teeth and flicked it into an ash tray. "You won't have a problem buying our drinks, then," he flippantly jabbed.

Zidane drummed his tail between the legs of his barstool and huffed, amused. "That's fine. Just this round, though, then I'm broke."

Blank dropped an incredulous look on him. "You? Broke? That's a laugh."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Zidane shrugged defensively. "You don't think because I live like a noble that I'm rich like one, do you?"

"I'm not supposed to think that?" Blank retorted.

He shook his head and returned his focus to the spinning peanut. It skidded out across a puddle on the countertop. "I guess you can think what you want. I had to save up pretty bad to make this trip on my own, though. As long as I'm married to Dagger, the castle puts me up and feeds me, but if I want any money in my hands I have to beg Dagger for it. I don't have a piece to my name, all told."

"Huh." Blank chewed the situation over. "I shoulda guessed. Makes sense, I suppose."

"Yeah, pretty smart of 'em. I wouldn't trust me with money, either."

Both sniggered into their mugs.

"Hmm, yeah. Hey, I heard Dagger's finally got a bun in the oven." Blank landed a clapping hand on the other's shoulder. "It's about time, man."

"Ha. Yeah," Zidane agreed sulkily.

"What took you two so long? Everybody thought you'd be a regular family man by now, like that girl-general and Captain Loudmouth, and that Dragon Knight friend of yours from Burmecia."

"Freya? Yeah, her kids are sweet. They call me Uncle Zidane. It sounds so weird, heh."

"I'll bet. The only titles you used to have in front of your name were 'damn' and 'I'm going to kill you.'"

Zidane smiled in reminiscence. "Here's to that." They toasted accordingly.

"So what're you and Dagger gonna name the little guy? Or girl, or... you know."

"Oh. Well. That's up to Dagger. I don't have any call there."

"What're you talking about? You're the kid's damn father, aren't ya? That's call enough."

"Actually, I'm not," Zidane muttered into his hand.

Blank finished off his drink and coughed. "What?"

"I'm not the father," he admitted quietly.

"How the hell... What's that supposed to mean?"

Zidane shrugged openly. "I don't know how I can make it any more clear."

"Shit." Blank spit into his empty mug and leaned closer, lowering their talk to discreet tones. "How do you know that? For sure, I mean."

"Because I picked the surrogate myself."

"What?" Blank pushed his visor up into his hair and squinted through the dim pub at his comrade. "Who? What does that mean? What the hell are you talking about?"

Zidane licked his lips and shook his head, his gaze floating across the bar to anything that wasn't Blank. "I've probably said too much. This is supposed to be under wraps, y'know."

"Who, man." Blank wasn't even asking.

"His name is Lord Barley," he talked easily, "He's from Treno."

"That's fantastic." Blank slapped the bar in sarcastic revelry. "That's all you know about this guy? How did he get to be the father?"

"You want the whole story?"

"Like hell if I don't. You're talking crazy. What's this story?"

"I met him at one of Dagger's fancy-pants functions. We kinda hit it off, so I introduced him to Dagger, and they got along pretty well, too. It was my idea later to ask him to father Dagger's heir."

"You--it was your idea? You paid this guy to knock up your wife?"

Zidane shrugged shiftily. "Not with money, exactly."

"With what, then?"

"Well, it's what the big-wigs called 'insured inheritance.' He basically gets to step in and take my job once--" he faltered, "If I pop off. Like I said, though, this is all behind the scenes. The cover is going to be that I'm the father and Barley will be the godfather--well, he will be the godfather, just the real father as well, and... Man, Blank, politics is so damn confusing. Don't ever get into it."

Zidane finished his drink, calm as a clam, while Blank stumbled over his tongue. "Holy, what, why, what the shit, man. Just, what the, holy shit. What the hell? What gave you that bright idea in the first place? How did Dagger even agree to it?"

"Reluctantly," came the deadpan answer.

"I'll bet," Blank huffed.

Zidane sighed, exasperated with the argument that hadn't yet started, and spun in his seat to face Blank. "Look, it's not like either of us were happy about this. It just had to be done. Dagger's advisors and a bunch of power-hungry bastards thinking they could do better wouldn't get off her back until she had a kid. And besides, who am I to stop her from having a family, Blank?"

"Hello?" Blank feinted a swat at Zidane's ear--he would've followed through, once upon a time, but a direct hit felt too awkward now--it felt like he wasn't even talking to the same Zidane--not the one he used to know, anyway. "You're her /husband/. If you two can't make your own babies you adopt some or just say tough shit or... damn! You don't do something like /that/, Zidane!"

"It's not that simple!" he nearly shrieked. "You don't understand the pressure she was under."

"I guess I don't! Holy shit, man," Blank reiterated, and turned around to lean back against the bar.

Each mulled in the other's silence for a while, until Blank begged for clarity. "So you're cool with this? This kid's got nothing to do with you and you're fine with that?"

His companion nudged the wet peanut into languid circles, no reply forthcoming.

"Do you even /care/?"

Zidane didn't say.

At the end of his wits, Blank acidly provoked, "Just tell me this: when you married that queen, did you get your balls chopped off on the wedding night, or did they wither away slowly over the years?"

When he checked Zidane's response, all Blank got was a frosty scowl. The Genome clicked his tongue in disgust, plunked some gil onto the counter, hopped down and walked out.

Blank grumbled a sigh and slid off his barstool, following. He had to shove through the emerging supper crowd to get out the door and catch up with his friend on the street. "Hey, Zidane!" he called out.

Zidane didn't slow down, much less look back. "Get bent," was carried to Blank on the stiff breeze.

The redhead picked up his gait and caught the Genome by his heavy sleeve. "Damnit Zidane, wait a second!"

"What?" Zidane spun to a halt and glowered at him, understandably peeved. "Are you going to lecture me now? I don't need crap from /you/, Blank. I've got enough problems, thanks."

"You son of a bitch," Blank hotly fired back, his grip tightening on Zidane's arm when his friend twisted to escape. "I'm trying to help you!"

Zidane returned his kindness with a sneer. "Oh really? Yeah, that sounded real helpful back there! Thanks for reminding me of how much of a loser I am. I was only trying to be honest with you."

Blank gritted his teeth, recognizing that perhaps he wasn't the most tactful person alive, but that wasn't the real issue here. "Where are you running to, Zidane? When are you going to run out of places to go? When are you going to quit tucking your damn tail between your legs and start dealing with shit!"

Zidane wrenched his arm free, his voice flaring with his temper. "I don't need any help to go crawl in a hole and die! I can handle it just fine on my own, thanks."

Blank startled, letting his arm drop. His expression squished, befuddled, and his headband comically fell back onto his nose. "What?"

Zidane shrank a couple of steps, shaking his head and sniffing contritely at the ground. He then tried walking away again. Blank sucked up his bearings, skipped ahead and blocked his way.

The Genome ducked to get around him. "Get out of my--"
Blank held him fast by the shoulders. "No, listen kid. Stop. Just stop."

He obeyed, holding still as a shrill evening gust buffeted their sides.

Blank loosed a heavy sigh and rearranged his footing, getting comfortable in this controlled reprieve. "Geez, Zidane," he breathed, "What's happened to you? Why are you being like this?"

Zidane cringed all over and trained an empty look on one of the buttons of Blank's coat. He didn't move to reply.

"Look, man," the redhead spoke through to him anyway, "I mean what I said. I want to help you out. But I can't if you're just gonna pout and run away like a damn baby."

The figure in Blank's hands shut his eyes tightly and shuddered with a strange hiccup. "Blank..." he whimpered and leaned forward on unsteady feet, clutching the furry ruff of his friend's coat. "Whoa," Blank murmured when he realized he was being drawn into a hug. The redhead swallowed dryly and patted his grizzled comrade on the back, trying to jarr the outbreak of shivers and sobs.

"It's okay, kid," was all he knew to say, "Com'on, we'll go see the boss. It'll be all right."


Blank didn't have any more answers by the time they reached the hideout, but he wasn't digging for them anymore. He just lent a warm shoulder and led the way, satisfied with helping Zidane "get a grip and cheer the hell up." He seemed to have some moderate success about it; when he flashed his friend a testing grin, the Genome returned a threadbare version of the same.

They turned the corner around the Theater District, took some short steps up to a big front door and shuffled quickly around it, shutting themselves in and the cold weather out. Blank wrestled out of his coat and began to fire up some spare lamps while Zidane staggered around in a chilled, awestruck stupor.

"Like what we've done with the place?" the redhead queried when he caught his friend staring up into the open, cog-ridden rafters.

Open chests and stuffed suitcases were piled into corners and beneath bunk beds. Plywood nailed to shipping crates passed for tables. The place smelled like sawdust, old hay, kerosene and burnt eggs--an aroma he used to wake up to every morning until he didn't even notice it was stuck to him anymore, and by then only the most hideous odors would faze him ("Geez, Boss, lay off the cabbage!" "Bwahahaha!") Zidane chuckled, inspecting the shoddy carpentry and half-baked furnishings with a grin of disbelief.

It was the same. Of course it was the same. Zidane remembered his return from the Iifa Tree, now seven years ago, and his subsequent stay with his Tantalus brothers, under this very clock tower. He remembered walking through the doors and staring dumbstruck at the born-again dump they called home.

"It's the exact same dump it always was. I can't believe you guys."
/"Yeah, well..." Blank shrugged off the slow year-and-a-half it took to bring the Tantalus hideout back up to shape. "You know us. We were too lazy to think up a better way to rebuild it. We just threw it back together the best we could remember."/
Zidane shook his head and smiled knowingly. "'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' right?"
/"Damn straight."/

Zidane quested through the (ware)house for other occupants before coming around with the question, "Hey Blank, where is everyone?"

"All over," Blank briefed him, "Cinna and Marcus went to Treno, then to Alexandria. The 'Neros went to Daguerreo, of all places. They're running errands for the boss."

"Oh." Zidane let it rest; it wasn't uncommon for Boss to order the group to split up and "gather the goods" before a big gig, or "hide the goods" following one. "So, where's the boss?"

Blank frowned, wondering the same. "Should be in. Lemme check." He bounced up a step to a side door and knocked brazenly on it. "Hey, Boss!" He was rewarded with a fit of barking and thundering from the obscured side of the door. "...Yeah, Boss is in."

"Wuthehelleryou waking me up for?" rumbled the door.

"Because you'd sleep through the End Times if I let ya, Boss," Blank yelled back through it, "'sides, I thought you'd want to say hi to our visitor."

"What visitor?" Thumps, thuds and rustling grew more prominent as the hulking thing within that room made to answer the question for himself. The door flew ajar with a groan, revealing none other than the boss.

Zidane stiffened, apprehension tightening his back. It sometimes took a good look to put the fact back into perspective that Baku was a big man. Really, really tall and really big. He stood a head higher than the rest of the band, even Marcus, their muscle-guy. He had tree-trunks for legs and great ape arms and a gut that could pack in a whole turkey and still be used as a battering ram for the occasional stubborn door or stubborn oaf. He could look doubly jolly or doubly intimidating, when the need called for either, and that was largely what made him the boss--never mind that he was the elder of the lot.

Baku, dressed in big, loose flannel, filled the doorframe and blinked hard through the candle-twilight to pick out the interruptions. His beady gaze skipped over Blank and lingered on the other, scrutinizing the pasty-haired, monk-clad young man.

The Genome grimaced at the thought that his old mentor-boss might not even recognize him, and it didn't help that Baku wasn't wearing his goggles to aid his vision.

"Who the hell're--"
"Hi Boss," Zidane swiftly cut him off, offering a meek, friendly wave to compensate for the outburst.

The boss's bearded mug drew long as the stranger's identity sank in. "Whoa, Zidane? Izzat you? Well I'll be damned!" The floorboards rattled complaints when Baku sprang out his door and landed between the two boys. "Ack," Zidane scarcely had room to breathe before he was sucked up into a bear-hug. Blank stood off to the side, counting his blessings.

Thoroughly disarmed and disheveled, Zidane was finally put back on solid ground. "Eheh, nice to see you too, Boss," he said dizzily, and for once without irony. He was actually relieved; Baku's hellos and goodbyes were usually served on bare knuckles.

Baku's belly shook with a laugh. "You smell like old rich people!" was his immediate observation.

The once-blonde scratched the back of his head, vexed for a response. "Uh... thanks?"

"What're you up to in these parts, boy?" Zidane stood up straight again when the boss cuffed his arm, his posture balancing between casual and deferential. Blank watched the exchange of body language with a quirked frown. Zidane never used to be timid in front of the boss--actually, he used to walk away with a fat lip before he'd back down and shut his trap, and the kid's best idea of showing respect was doing what the boss ordered when it was /convenient/.
But those were the old days, Blank supposed. Zidane was never a lot of things he had just been in the past few hours; the sight he made now was weird and a little... pathetic.

"You've been a rare sight," Baku chortled.

"We met up in the Business District," Blank supplied.

Zidane let Baku take that for his answer, and then waited for his reaction. The big man swept a glance over the Genome again, and his bushy brow creased like a wave of caterpillars. "I'm going to talk with the boy in private for a minute," he informed Blank, something strangely circumspect in the boss's tone.

"Alright, Boss," Blank yielded. The redhead leaned against the wall and became a piece of the scenery, while Baku steered the visitor into his room with a firm, meaty hand.

Zidane closed the door behind them and stood in place patiently, scanning the contents of the boss's room while Baku lit a lamp on the bed table. The surroundings were adorned with patchwork fabrics and fractured souvenirs, little pieces of worthless scavenged from the troupe's many treasure-hunting expeditions: griffin talons, cracked coins, busted spying glasses, a collection of beer bottle caps from the last century and fang... fangs. All the pretty, shiny things that couldn't be sold or eaten ended up on Baku's wall. It was like a nostalgic arts-and-crafts shop.

The boss spoke first. "You look more like you're ready to say goodbye than hello. Why so down?"

"Oh, Boss, it's..." Zidane put up a wan smile, fighting to dismiss the other's concern. If he wasn't worth anything anymore, he could still act worth a damn. He was practically born into the business. "Nothing much, really. I just thought I'd pay a visit. I'm a little worn down from the trip, is all."

"Well, you've got some timing. Nobody's in! Gwaha."

"Oh well, that's my luck these days. You'll tell the others when they come in that I said hi, right? I'm not staying."

"In a hurry, eh?"

"Sort of."

"Ah. Okay. Hey, why don't you at least stay the night? You can't be in that much of a hurry."

"It's okay," Zidane brushed the notion off, "I'll just go. I don't want to become a burden."

"What the hell're you talking about? You've always been a burden. Gwahaha!" Baku drummed his gut to his own punchline.

Zidane took the joke with a half-hearted chuckle, reflecting on the adage about truths spoken in jest. "Eh, eheh, right."

Baku, sensing how uncomfortable the other was, closed the gap between them and laid a hand on the kid's shoulder. "Hey, boy..."

"Boss..." Zidane fidgeted at the touch, but eventually relaxed when the hand slid around the back of his neck and tangled in his hair. He imagined the boss's excuse: he couldn't see well without his goggles, and it was better in that case to get a tactile sense of whom he was talking to. Perhaps it was really a case of morbid curiosity, the boss wanting to feel as well as see the wear-and-tear his youngest boy brought back to his doorstep.

Zidane wouldn't gripe at that; he was a touchy creature, himself, oftentimes too fond of human contact for his own good. He closed his eyes and drank in the lost, familiar scent of grease, mothballs, leather and mildew. He thought back to strange, simpler times when there were no set rules and nobody could claim a bed to themselves and if you wanted spare change you had to lift it from the unsuspecting's purse--he thought back to road trips and big schemes from little men, Cinna's charred scrambled eggs and a stockroom filled with extra props where the guys worked out their differences like real men, no diplomacy quite like a fist to the gut--he remembered the dream of the "big score" someday, someday it would be better, life would be better for everyone if we just hit the right job ain't that right...?

He remembered the smallest times, when he could fit wholesale across the boss's stomach, the best bed in the house if it would quit snoring like a saw, and a hand big enough to wrap around and crush his middle would stroke him head-to-tail like a cat, listening for the cat's reward ("Bwaha, you've got a little motor in ya.")

And Zidane could've wept for all the peace and chaos he left behind. "...I miss you guys."

Baku hummed. "We miss you too, boy."

"I'd join the band again if I could."

The big guy shook his head. "Don't say that. You've got a good lot, that woman an' all. Don't start takin' it for granted."

He remembered his last night as a bachelor, a rowdy party drowned in booze and teasing skirts, the guys--his brothers--taking laughing jabs at him "one last time" before he was "shackled down," and he'd grin and bear the joke. It was funny, after all. It was fun. He remembered tripping over cobblestones all the way back to the hideout, their raucous mirth keeping even the rats and the moons awake. He remembered tumbling head-over into Blank's bunk, where the two quarreled in slurs before their tussle collapsed into shrugs, their dispute forgotten in favor of rest and hangover.
He remembered his old friend leaning over him, the breath grazing his cheek sticky with drink.
"I luv you, kid. I wan'wuz best fer you."
/"Mmm? I love you too, bro."/
"You--yu'll... won't forget, right?"
/"Huh? You're drunk, bro, like... drunk like water."/
"Drunk like a fox."
/"Hehe, what?"/
"Wha? No, I mean, us. Don't forget about us. We're your brothers, kid, like... once a Tantalus, always a Tantalus."
/"What're you going on about? You sure talk some shit when you're wasted."/
"Haha... wut? Ah, like yur any bett'r off. No! Fer serious. Don't... forget."
/"I won't. Now get the hell offa me; I can't breathe, you big fish."/

Zidane ceded the point, swallowing the irony trickling up his throat like bile. "I know, Boss. I know. I'm real lucky."

"Listen, er..." Baku rubbed his bulbous nose, stalling while his point made itself coherent. "Well, if I didn't ever tell ya before, I just wanna say that, uh... I'm proud a'ya. You hear?"

Zidane blinked, shocked by the admission. The boss had never told him that--not when he finally won the right to leave Tantalus, man-to man; not when he'd made his grand return from the Iifa Tree, and not even on his wedding day. The words sounded fairly alien coming from Baku, as if he hadn't used them before because he was saving them for a momentous occasion.

The Genome grinned soberly, appreciating the timing. "Yeah." He swallowed, grudgingly pulled away and slipped out the door.

"...Thanks, Boss. For everything."


The air was crisp and still as with sleep, for a pleasant change. The moons were showing up, high and mighty over the streets of the great mechanical city. It was a good omen for a long journey.


Zidane turned on his way out and, for the first time that day, looked Blank dead in the eye. The kid looked so... old. Blank cleared his throat.

"You leavin'?"

It hanged in the air like a suggestion. The kid turned away, steadied the rucksack across his back and picked a street lamp to stare at.

"Did you ever meet Alex?" It wasn't the kind of question Zidane asked because he didn't know the answer.

Blank was irked by the relevance of it all, but he answered anyway. "Uh... I think so. It was a long time ago. You know 'im?"

Another obvious question. The kid chuckled softly. "You might say that."

The silence should have been uncomfortable, but Blank wasn't the sentimental type, particularly concerning goodbyes. A quiet study was his most natural farewell. Yet, why a sense of permanence clung to this parture, Blank didn't know. It was as if the boy were walking off to the gallows--a ridiculous thought, of course, but the mood was such.

"Hey, kid..."

"I'm not a kid." It was terse.

Blank's eyebrow twitched beneath his headband. He had always amicably called him "the kid," just like Boss always called him "the boy," and the pet-names were playfully contended. Blank was trying to be casual--familiar. The kid was trying to be serious. It was ironic, but Blank respected it. The man who stood at the foot of the steps was not, somehow, the guy he grew up with as a child, and the Tantalus-brought was finally coming to terms with that.

"You've grown up," Blank said gruffly, almost to himself.

"Huh," Zidane gave a short, cynical laugh, and then fell pensive once more. "I think the boss agrees."

Blank didn't know how to speak for the boss, so he didn't.

The kid shrugged deeper into his robes and plopped down on the steps, sighing heavily. "I'm so tired, Blank." He wiped his wrist under his nose and Blank thought he heard a sob, but the night was too thick to draw any conclusions. "...but I can't rest just yet."

What was he talking about?

"I, um," Zidane began again, his gaze falling through the cracks in the sidewalk, "Guess I better get going."

"Yeah." Blank nodded dumbly.

He stood up and started onto the road. "See you when I see you."

Where had Blank heard that before? Plenty of times, he supposed; it was a common expression, yet the deja vu lingered.

Then he remembered, and his response... "How 'bout never?"

Yeah, that was it. It could have meant something, but Blank wasn't the sentimental type, after all. Real men didn't waste time with those kinds of feelings. Real bandits couldn't afford to. The kid was too far gone to hear him try, anyway. Maybe Blank should have stopped him, but he couldn't fabricate a reason for it, and the kid knew what he was doing--well, he always thought he knew what was best for himself, and the boss usually proved him wrong, but if the kid wanted to be a man he would have to make his mistakes on his own. Blank wasn't about to bail him out the way he always used to.

Instead, he offered some low, faint words that would never reach him.

"Goodbye, kid."
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