Night never passed in eternally-dusky Treno. It was a city of nobles, and a city where the moons never set, and because of those two things, it was also a place where one was constantly in the company of thieves. Bumping elbows with royalty on one side, pickpockets on the other, Treno was a risky kind of place to stay for any length of time. It was matched in beauty, however, with the scrollwork of ancient columns, the heavy ornate architecture, the maze-like circular layout of the place. There were nooks here and there, a quiet view of the lake strung with the gems of sparkling lights on the shore; an alcove with a fountain spouting from a single statue. And there were always the stars, spread above on a field of deepest purple-blue.
Usually, it was one of Zidane's favorite places besides home, Lindblum. He'd been pretty much everywhere during his travels across the Mist Continent. Right now, though, it held little appeal for him. Why, he'd actually *bought* a few things, instead of bothering to steal them.
The only thing in Treno right now for him was the Card Tournament. Zidane rubbed his gloved hands together, watching a pair of nobleman nodding their plumed hats over the latest acquisition from King's auction house. He'd been stocking up cards from Dali to Conde Petie in the anticipation of this one event. Now, with the war over and Dagger beyond his reach, he was looking forward to doing some serious damage.
He'd done some early searching at King's auction house, buying a few things while he was at it to grease the information gears. He had no idea what one did with an Une's Mirror, but the idiot noble who'd bought it off of him (at a markup, of course) had been excited about it. He'd unloaded the Rat's Tail as quickly as possible. From his pocket, he dug out the Dark Matter and held it up to the light. 'The acclaimed Dark Matter,' the auctioneer had said, but then, he said that about practically everything.
That sultry dark sparkle held secrets in its depths. He palmed the gem and put it away again. He was keeping this one. For some reason, it made him think of Dagger, although when he equipped it as an accessory to his own armor he definitely got significant results.
He must be losing his touch. Time was he'd be skinned rather than buy something so rare and precious as this -- he was a *thief,* after all. When he was younger it had been mere sport to break into King's mansion and loot the prized auction items.
Was he being absurdly sentimental? Was there even a *reason* to keep the Dark Matter? It wasn't as if he'd be seeing Dagger again...that is, as anything but Queen Garnet.
Zidane looked up at the sky. Same field of stars he remembered from his very first performance, the constellations standing still in the night sky that never lightened. It was reassuring to know that while some things in his life changed, there were still constants.
He roused himself from his comfortable niche, sauntering off towards the Card Stadium in the heart of Treno. He'd already warmed up with a few games, and he felt ready to tackle the first round of the tournament. Zidane had registered hours ago so he was good to go.
"First round?" The clerk peered over the counter at him. "Need any cards?"
"Nope," Zidane said with a casual wave of his hand. "Zidane Tribal of Lindblum, here. First round and ready to play!"
"Fine," the clerk said dismissively. "You'll be playing Attic Man Wake. Proceed."
Attic Man Wake, huh? Zidane fingered his Tetra Master deck. He'd heard the guy played mostly low magic cards, so he'd have a few surprises in store for him. He strolled into the arena to the brassy blare of a stuttering trumpet.
Baku might've turned him down for Tantalus, but here and now, there was something he could set his sights on and *win.* And after all, a Prince of Thieves was better than no kind of prince.
Eiko huddled at the edge of the auction terrace, eyes wide. There was a lot to see while touring the world. Treno itself had offered a wide range of possibilities. Right now, she was witnessing a most promising tete-a-tete between husband and wife. This was fascinating; she had never been in a position to observe the way people were together. The wife, she decided, was scolding her husband most affectionately. And the husband was unrepentant.
"I can't believe you!! That's IT!"
"But honey, we might have a use for it some day..."
She smothered a giggle behind her hand. She'd seen Dagger and Zidane act that way, too, though they weren't husband and wife. She didn't even think they were boyfriend and girlfriend, 'cause Zidane had said they were more than friends -- they were teammates.
That meant she still had a chance, right?
The big hulking red-haired shape of Amarant Coral slouched onto the terrace, and Eiko hunched behind the stone railing she used as a hiding place, clapping both hands over her mouth. The big man scared her, even though Zidane had let him join up with them, 'cause she still felt like he was partly responsible for what had happened with her Memory Pendant. Of course, she didn't act like she was scared of him, 'cause she wasn't a little kid.
What was Mr. Coral doing here? she wondered.
The doors creaked and shut, and Miss Freija stepped calmly onto the terrace, spear slung over one shoulder. Eiko had only recently met Miss Freija, but any friend of Zidane's was a friend of hers.
"Oh, it's you, Amarant," Freija greeted the red-haired man cordially. "What are you doing? Looking at the lake?"
"I thought you'd be the quiet type..."
"Sorry. Maybe I've changed. It's probably his influence," Freija said, approaching the hulking man.
"Zidane, huh...? So, did you find what you were looking for?" The big man sounded vaguely interested.
"Well, I've been investigating Kuja... Some people seem to think that King, the owner of this mansion, is Kuja. True, I found people who witnessed Kuja on his property. but there is no proof that Kuja is Lord King."
Eiko hunkered down and wished she wasn't hiding. If she popped out now, her 'team' would think she was eavesdropping, and she didn't want them to think that. Even if she was.
"It was painfully dull...until the day he showed up."
Huh? Eiko's ears perked. She leaned against the stone railing, peering through the columns.
"I've said too much."
Wait, wait! Eiko added in her thoughts, lifting herself up just enough to peek over the railing. The conversation was finally becoming interesting.
"What, you're interested in hearing about my past?"
"Your past, huh? Of course I'm interested."
Silence greeted Freija's comment.
Eiko's ears pricked. She sensed a rumor of the most interesting sort, and of course, she was always up for hearing interesting things. Ever since she'd decided to join Zidane and his friends, she'd had nothing but fun times. "I wanna hear, too," she whispered to Mog.
"This was where he and I met for the first time..."
"Who is 'he?'"
"I thought the two of you just met!"
Eiko was surprised, too. "Ooh!" she whispered to Mog. "A surprising drama, a genuine mystery develops!"
Freija listened, and Eiko strained to hear from the shadows, as Amarant described the first meeting. He'd been working as a security guard for King's mansion, and Zidane had been looting King's mansion. When the regular guards showed up, Zidane blamed the thefts on suspicious-looking Amarant, and made off with his loot. He avoided having to fight and left Amarant with the saying 'the sly eagle hides its claws."
Eiko was impressed.
"I became a wanted man..." Amarant's tone, so usually flat and monotone, sounded sullen now.
Freija was chuckling.
"What's so funny?"
"Sorry. I just didn't expect you'd fall for such a childish trick..."
Eiko tried to stifle a giggle.
"...It's no concern of yours."
"I'm sorry. I see, so that's what happened."
"Don't get me wrong. I don't hold a grudge against him. But I need to understand him...He doesn't flaunt his power. He only cares about being with his friends." Amarant sounded puzzled now, a bit.
"You were destined to meet each other again," Freija told the big man. "'Two men walking on the same path are destined to confront each other one day.' That's what a man told me some time ago... Honesty is a virtue. That's if you manage to stay alive..."
Destined to meet each other again... Eiko's eyes were round as saucers. "Did you hear that, Mog?" she whispered. Amarant and Freija were headed off down a stone pathway, into another part of Treno. "D'you think Mr. Coral is in love with Zidane, too? The way Dagger is in love with Zidane?" Two men walking on the same path...
Why else would he search for him so long, and then join them as comrades once he'd found Zidane once more?
"Mog," Eiko whispered. "Is this...romance between men?"
"Kup-kupo," Mog warbled uncertainly. Then she fluted a definite suggestion. "Kupo!"
"Right!" Eiko stood, scrambling over the stone railing. "I know what I'm gonna do! I'm gonna take Zidane's mind off Dagger!'" She was concerned about the handsome thief. He hadn't said a word to Dagger when they'd stood in the castle, looking up at the beautiful Queen-to-be. She hadn't known him long but she thought that was unlike him.
She glanced at the auction house, an impish plan forming in her mind. "Mog, I'm gonna do it."
"Kupooo~o..." Mog knew her mistress' mind just enough to be apprehensive.
Zidane strolled back into the night-time atmosphere of Treno, flush with victory. He'd never had such an easy win at cards. And he'd gotten a pretty decent Sandlion card, to boot. He was looking forward to the next round, but his second match wasn't for a few hours yet. Well, perfect; it was just enough time to grab a bite to eat and maybe see if there were any new monsters in Knight's Weapons shop.
Things were starting to look up for him!
In the corridor leading to the Alchemist's synthesis shop, Zidane paused to glance over the railing, where a group of nobles chatted idly in the courtyard about their lofty concerns. How cavalier, to start construction on a new addition to the house merely because the purchase of a new item required a whole new room! He chuckled, folding his arms on the railing. He'd never understand the lifestyle of a noble.
Zidane sobered, eyes fixed on the drowsy nod of a woman's rainbowy hat plumes. That was why he didn't completely understand Dagger, he guessed, and why he might never understand her. They were from two totally different worlds...just like the star-crossed lovers, Marcus and Cornelia. He pulled a wry grin at the thought. Cornelia, at least, had welcomed Marcus' overtures...Dagger had only tolerated his.
Princess Garnet, he corrected himself, and soon to be Queen. And he'd do himself a favor to remember that fact.
There was a scraping noise behind him, and Zidane began to turn.
"Hurry up! Do it now!"
That bossy little voice; he recognized it! It was--then something, a wad of cloth, was pressed over his nose and mouth. Zidane began to fight and kick in earnest, hands dropping to the daggers that hung from his leather holster. As he did so, he inhaled sharply. He had a fraction of a second to recognize the bitter-almond scent -- liquefied gillyweed! -- before his traitorous body gave in and went limp.
He hung onto consciousness long enough to stare Eiko in the eye, feeling the sour tang of betrayal. Arms pinned him from behind, and lifted him. Were those extra arms he felt?
"Now you owe me a favor," a rough, gravelly voice said, as the world spun into darkness.
Eiko bounced out of the auction house, purse jingling at her waist. She was well-satisfied with the results. Now, only one thing left to make sure of, and everything was perfect! Oh, and she should repay Gilgamesh somehow...
"What're you up to?" a deep voice rumbled, and Eiko squeaked as she came face to face with the towering figure of Amarant Coral.
"Ahh! Just...ah...seeing the sights!" she replied coyly, scraping a toe on the cobblestones.
"At the auction house?" Amarant replied, one thick red brow raising, folding his arms across his chest.
"N-nothing to see there!" Eiko replied hastily. "Nope, nothing, zero, not a thing there to interest anyone!"
"Hmm..." was all Amarant said, and he took a step towards the auction house.
"Noo!" Eiko yelped, skittering back, arms spread, then stopping.
"I think I'll go see for myself," he said, and brushed past her. "If it's nothing much, then it shouldn't take me long, huh?"
"I-I'm gonna go see something over that way!" Eiko replied, pointing haphazardly, skittering off. "O-on the other side of town! Yeah! I haven't been there yet!"
"Hmm," Amarant said again, already striding over to the wooden double doors of the auction house.
"Ahh!" Eiko sprinted.
She came to a stop, panting, on the other side of the lake. From her viewpoint she could see the stone terrace of the auction house, barely. Eiko grinned. He'd fallen right into her trap! Now, she was doing two friends a favor; taking Zidane's mind off Dagger, for which he might be grateful later, and giving Amarant a chance to fulfill his destiny!
Now, to find the nice four-armed man, Gilgamesh, and make him buy her dinner like he'd promised. She wondered if she should give him back the Chimera Armlet he'd dropped earlier.
Nahh, she'd give that to Zidane later for being such a good sport.
Amarant pushed his way into the King family auction house, eyes scanning the crowd and the lineup of guards warily. This wasn't the brightest thing he'd ever done, returning to the scene of his frame-up without even the simplest of disguises. He wasn't a thief, though, he was a straightforward kind of guy, and if he wanted to do something he went and did it. Like joining forces with Zidane Tribal -- if anyone had told him he'd do that sort of thing a year ago, he would've pounded them into the turf to serve as a chocobo hitching post.
Even now, he couldn't say what had possessed him. Maybe it was just the chance to watch the 'sly eagle' in action, and see what made him tick...so that he could do his best to defeat him later. At the time, it'd just seemed like the thing to do, so he went along with it. He still didn't understand why Zidane had showed him mercy. For Amarant, 'no mercy' was his motto. ...Supposed to be, anyhow.
None of the guards recognized him. None of them even looked at the newcomer. Everyone was focused on the auction stage. What could be so enthralling...?
Amarant glanced up at the auction stage, and blinked. He lowered his head as a grin crept over his face.
How had Tribal gotten himself into this one?
Nonchalantly, sure that all eyes were fixed on the trussed-up Zidane Tribal onstage, Amarant took a seat in the back row of the auction crowd. So this was what Eiko had been up to. But why on Gaia...?
"...next item is the ever-elusive self-proclaimed Prince of Thieves himself, Zidane Tribal!" the auctioneer announced, looking as if he wasn't taking himself seriously; was, indeed, enjoying this particular item far too much.
A rustle of anticipation went through the crowd, excited titters, and the heavy jingle of ladies reaching for their purses. Amarant smirked. Zidane's arms were pinned behind his back and he looked over the crowd with a groggy kind of disbelief, as if he'd recently wakened from a drugged stupor. Amarant was sure that was the case, in fact, if he'd held still long enough to be sold by Eiko.
He sat back, big knees almost bumping the chair ahead of him. Watching Zidane get auctioned off was almost a reward in and of itself.
"But don't get too excited, ladies," the auctioneer continued. "This very special auction is a limited contract, one night only with the Prince of Thieves."
"Ooh," whispered the fat lady in the next row, bobbing her head to speak to her seatmate, "but there's so much you can do in just one night!"
Amarant shuddered. Then again, there were some fates no man should suffer.
"Let the bidding begin at 11,000 gil!" the auctioneer said with a grand sweep of his arm.
The fat lady bid first, then a positively enormous gentleman in front, then a slender woman on the other side with a heap of golden hair. Zidane's eyes darted frantically between all three as he woke and seemed to take in his surroundings. For a moment, Amarant wondered why he wasn't shouting to protest this bizarre turn of events, then he spotted the ellipse above the slender cat-burglar's head and realized he'd been Silenced.
Eiko really had covered her bases.
The price climbed from second to second, going swiftly from 11,000 gil to 110,000 gil. Zidane was definitely the hot item for the night. Amarant tucked his chin down and grinned, watching Zidane's eyes go from sleepily confused to full-blown panic. It wasn't long, of course, before Zidane's eyes roamed over the auction house and found him.
Help me! Zidane mouthed.
"115,000 gil!" the fat lady cried, waving her fan in the air.
Zidane's eyes bulged.
Amarant was enjoying this immensely. Did he have it in him to take pity on the cat-burglar? Hell, did he have the *cash* to rescue him? He groped for the belt-pouch that dangled at his side, wondering at the same time how much cash Eiko had made off with during this little venture.
"130,000 gil!" shouted the golden-haired lady, waving a beaded purse.
Amarant shook his head, crossing his arms again. Maybe he should leave the man to the crowd's tender mercies. Amarant was sure the fat lady had more money; she had been bidding at King's auction since he worked there as a security guard. Zidane was no judge of a heavy purse, thief though he may be.
"I hear 130,000," the auctioneer drawled.
Amarant tilted his head to the side. There was always the angle that Zidane would be indebted to him. Did he care that much? He glanced at the auction billet. Hmm, they were selling Fairy Earrings for the last item.
"135,000!" the fat lady shouted, waving her fan again.
Zidane's eyes were pleading with him across the room. Save me... he mouthed.
Amarant reached for his purse with a sigh. He was gonna take it out of the cat-burglar's hide later; well, his belt-pouch, which doubtless hurt him worse. The auction was dwindling down, he could tell by the feel of it.
"Hmm..." the golden-haired woman sighed.
The fat lady glanced around, nodding with satisfaction. Her double and triple chins bobbed with the movement.
Amarant lifted one thick finger. "140,000 gil," he stated, loud and clear.
Everyone in the room swiveled around to look at him, but for the auctioneer and Zidane. Zidane looked as though he'd collapse with relief. Amarant stared grimly at the auction crowd, gimleting the fat lady with his glare, daring her to increase the bid.
She lapsed into her chair, fan fluttering up to cover her face. "Hmm..." she vocalized, sounding distressed.
Amarant stared harder, fingering the razor-sharp Wing Edge that hung from his belt. The fat lady looked as though she might faint, and stayed silent.
"140,000 gil," the auctioneer repeated. "Going once, twice..."
The gavel smacked down.
"SOLD! A night with the Prince of Thieves, Zidane Tribal, sold for 140,000 gil!"
"I can't believe Eiko billed me as the Prince of Thieves," Zidane groused, hefting his tankard of Pinnacle Rocks beer, tail curling beneath his barstool and lashing the wooden rungs.
"Auctioneer hyperbole," Amarant grunted, motioning for a set of fresh tankards. "He didn't mean it, and no one'll take it seriously."
"I can't believe Eiko sold me!" Zidane wailed, thumping his tankard onto the counter. "I thought she liked me..." He hiccuped.
Amarant amused himself by counting the lined-up tankards that the barmaid hadn't yet taken away. "She does like you, idiot."
"How d'you figure?" Zidane swung around a little too quickly and stared at his ear. He re-focused with effort.
"Think of the boy in the park who always tweaks some girl's pigtails," Amarant told him, setting his own tankard down with overly-precise movement. "She just wants you to notice her."
"I guess..." Zidane sounded sullen. His tail was still lashing, smacking Amarant's ankle from time to time. "So, uh, thanks, y'know?"
"Thanks for what?"
"Thanks for rescuing me from a fate worse than death," Zidane muttered into the tankard.
"What was that?"
"I said 'thank you!'" Zidane snapped, looking up into his face. He shrugged, eyes sliding away, obviously uncomfortable. "Y'didn't take advantage of that 'a night with the Prince of Thieves,' after all."
"Who says I'm not?" Amarant leaned his elbows on the counter, cocking an eyebrow at him.
"You -- ah -- oh! -- no...but...damn!" Zidane bit off the last word, flushed, and picked up the fresh tankard the barmaid had just deposited before him. He began to drain it in several gulps.
Amarant watched with something akin to fascination as the cat-burglar emptied the glass of beer. He was already several sheets to the wind and sopping up more alcohol.
"Hey, Amarant," Zidane said, waving around the battered tin tankard, then depositing it on the counter. "There'sh something I've been wondering..."
"What's that?" Amarant finished off his current tankard and moved to the next. He wasn't far behind Zidane but then, the slender thief had far less body weight to compete with in a drinking contest.
"How big is it?" Zidane blinked at him, making a vague gesture with gloved hands. "I mean...really? How big are you?"
Amarant's thick red brows raised. "You want to know that?"
"Yeah!" Zidane enthused, grabbing Amarant's tankard and downing the dregs.
"All right, let's go," Amarant said with a shrug, scattering coins across the countertop, enough to cover the tab and tip. He certainly hadn't expected Zidane to ask something like that, but hey.
There was an inn up the street, if he recalled correctly.
Zidane woke up with a foul bar-crawling scunge taste in his mouth and scattered recollection of what he'd done the night before. This was never a good thing. Well, not usually, unless he woke up with a curvaceous body lying on the bed beside him. He scratched himself and stretched, rolling over slowly.
Sooo, who'd he manage to bed last night? Zidane hitched the sheet up. Light sleeping pants, by the feel of it. He stretched again, lazily, and opened his eyes.
"What!? What is it!?" The hulking shape beside him leapt out of bed, jumping for the Poison Knuckle on the bedstand, wearing nothing but light sleeping pants.
Zidane pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, trying to erase the sight of Amarant jumping out of his bed. All he succeeded in was coaxing stars and sparkles from the blackness behind his eyelids. He groaned and collapsed back onto the bed. He had a splitting headache and he was *not* ready to deal with this.
"What the hell's wrong with you, Tribal?" Amarant barked. "You sounded like a herd of Zuus were bursting through the door!"
"Might as well have," Zidane groaned, flipping himself over, grinding his face into the pillow. Maybe if he burrowed himself far enough the headache wouldn't be able to follow.
"What's wrong with you?" the red-haired man repeated. Then he chuckled darkly, a sound devoid of sympathy. "Hungover, huh?"
"The worst," Zidane whimpered. He peeked one blue eye from the solace of the feather-pillow. "Yo, Amarant...just...what exactly happened last night?"
The redhead smirked at him.
"Nooooo," Zidane cried, dragging the pillow over his head with feeble noises. "Tell me I didn't."
"Hey," Amarant said roughly, "don't mistake me. I didn't take advantage of *you* last night, Tribal. Just think back on what *you* did last night, and that'll set you in your right mind."
"Huh?" Zidane lifted his head, but Amarant was already out the door, pulling it shut behind him with a sound that echoed like a gunshot to his tender ears. "Oooh..." He crumpled.
It took a long moment for Amarant's words to process. Then he sifted through his booze-sodden recollections of the previous night. He'd asked Amarant a very specific question, and then they'd left the bar...they'd sought out the closest inn, which turned out to be just a few doors down...
He sat bolt upright, flinging the pillow to the foot of the bed.
"I asked Amarant to show me...his SHOE SIZE!?"
"Hey! Hey, wait!"
Amarant paused, shelling out enough gil to cover the previous night, then turned for the door of the inn.
"WAIT UP, I said!" Zidane yelled, tearing down the stairs. He caught up with him outside, glaring, chest heaving. He was still rather white around the mouth, which meant he was nauseous but needed to eat nonetheless.
"What?" Amarant asked flatly.
"So...you...didn't take advantage of me last night?" the cat-burglar asked uncertainly.
Amarant just smirked at him. He'd always be uncertain, from this moment on. All he knew was they both had sleeping pants on in the morning.
"So...uh..." Zidane tried again. "Where'd you get the cash to buy me off the auction, huh?"
Amarant waved a huge hand. "Ahh, I turned myself in, collected the cash reward, then broke out of their flimsy prison." He turned and walked up the street.
"Hey," Zidane called behind him. He sounded befuddled. "HEY!!"
Amarant kept walking. "By the way," he said over his shoulder, "you were great." Let him wonder what that meant forever, as far as he was concerned.
~end~ 12/18/01 ...giftfic for Ka-chan