Chapter 37: Her, Part I

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 480

From his position against the wall, Lance looked around the small room in front of him. The coloring was strange; he didn't expect the walls of a library to be red. Compared to everything else he'd seen in this home, there was something about the color that seemed... Dark.

"Kazuo mentioned it to me one time," Zidane said, and Lance turned to look beside himself. The crossbreed didn't meet his eyes, instead keeping his focus across the room where Lance had been staring a moment ago. "He was telling me about contrasts with colors, which led into contrasts with energies. He said this room was a constant reminder for him. How there can be darkness all around you, and it's your choice on whether or not to let it in."

Lance looked back, not saying anything for a long time. And then his own voice drifted from him.

"That's pretty deep..."

"I've always liked it," Zidane replied quietly, focus dropping down to the book in his lap. "It's something that's stuck with me for a while."

Lance nodded. He glanced at Zidane again, noticing at the wounds on his face. When he had first come into the room, Lance knew they would be there and chose to stare at his surroundings instead. But now he felt compelled to look at what Arzo had done—he felt responsible, even. What caught his focus the most was Zidane's nose. A heavy bruise surrounded most of the bridge, a blue that was blotched with darker shades. He immediately thought of the medical reason for it—like perhaps there wasn't enough oxygen—but the thought of how Zidane was two different species crossed his mind. He decided to not question the wounds, reasoning they healed in ways different than what he was used to.

Hopefully I don't get another chance to ask, he thought, quickly scanning the healing cuts and bruises above Zidane's eyebrow, the side of his cheek. Hopefully this is the last time.

"So you stayed here?" he asked aloud, turning back to the front of the library.

Zidane nodded, turning a page. "Yeah, for a few months. I picked up on English fairly quickly, or at least understood enough to sound like I wasn't foreign."

The question of what happened after came to Lance, but the thought of Arzo overshadowed it. Perhaps this was a loud enough thought, or the timing was just coincidence, but Zidane answered him without missing a beat.

"And really when I say I 'stayed here', it's a pretty loose term. I still had to thieve, so I left pretty frequently. In the beginning, Kazuo didn't understand why I needed to leave because of the language barrier between us, but he saw the frustration in my face so he let me out whenever Arzo showed up."

"He came by?"

"Once or twice; showed up at the window over there to let me know I was needed. Then, when he knew I was leaving, he left. And that was the extent of our interaction."

"So you couldn't get out of it," Lance said.

Zidane gave a smile, one that seemed sarcastic. "That's one debt I can't repay." Sensing Lance's confusion before it reached his face, the crossbreed looked at him and shrugged. "Life debt kind of thing. Whether you want to put in the other facts of our relationship or not, Arzo saved my life. And once you're commissioned in, you can't get out. They'll still find some use for you."

Lance paused, thinking. "So why'd they still keep you, if what you did was such a big betrayal?"

"The same reason they took me in the first place," Zidane replied. "I was Spiro, they couldn't leave behind a member of their own kind. And they figured once my Razalek side kicked in—if it ever did—that power would be a massive asset to their cause."

Something inside Lance shrunk away from asking what exactly that 'cause' was. Humans, his intuition told him. Something to do with humans.

"What happened a few months later?" he asked

Kazuo came up to Zidane, a steaming mug in one hand. He bent down, holding the mug out. Zidane took it after a hesitation, and as he brought the mug down with both hands, the eyes that had grown darker lifted to meet Kazuo's. The emotion behind them wasn't hatred; it was caution. Fear.

Distrust, Lance realized. It's hard for him to trust, after what happened.

Kazuo smiled with mostly his eyes and then stood up. He looked down at Zidane's book, glancing around at the two piles flanking his sides, the one on the left much shorter than the right. Lance scanned the titles he could read from his position. Advanced French. Intermediate German. Mathematical Theory. Advanced Physics.

A scoff shot through Lance's teeth. Barely fluent in English, my ass.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Zidane's mouth curve upwards in a grin. Their attention went back to Kazuo as he looked away from the books, meeting Zidane's eyes with concern.

"Is there anything I could get for you?"

Zidane looked down, focus turning back to his book as if he hadn't heard the question. Kazuo nodded and turned away, hobbling to the table across the room, where sheets of paper were organized along with a calculator. He sat down, unfolding a pair of glasses and putting them on. Squinting, Kazuo resumed what he was doing before; taking turns writing with one hand and imputing numbers on a calculator with the other.

Lance turned, about to ask about Kazuo and what exactly this place was when Zidane spoke.

"Sorry; I didn't mean to avoid your question before," he said. "I spent almost four months learning, trying to get fluent in English"—they briefly exchanged grins at this— "and then..." Zidane put his head back, looking at the ceiling as if trying to search for the right words. Fingers tapped along the mug they were wrapped around, a pattern that had no rhythm.

A smile came to Zidane as he looked down to the mug, hands stopping. "I met the person that made all of this worthwhile."

Lance looked to him, unable to ask how any of this could've actually been worth anything good. He watched as Zidane's eyes grew even brighter, that smile never leaving his face. "You remember that photo I showed you?" he asked. "The one with the girl?"

Lance remembered. The strange bolt of warmth lightly shocked his chest at the realization, at the memory of seeing the girl with wind-blown hair and a smile on her face.

"You were in that picture, too," he said, pushing away the emotions and trying to piece together where this conversation was going.

Zidane grinned even more. "We're getting too far ahead," he said, sitting a little bit taller, the color of his eyes fading to a light sky blue. "Her name's Zooka." His voice was soft, the introduction moving through the air like velvet.

Lance raised an eyebrow, chin falling into a hand. "Interesting name."

"Now you comment," Zidane mumbled, taking a sip from the mug.

Lance turned with a grin, meeting Zidane's smiling eyes. He laughed slightly and looked away, shaking his head as he brought his attention back. "Well, I mean if she was Spiro or whatever then I wouldn't be surprised," Lance said, "but being human would be a little weird."

"Guess it's time for you to be weirded out, then," Zidane said kindly, raising both eyebrows as he lowered his mug back down.

"What... How..." A grin curved Lance's mouth as he asked, "Who would name their kid that?"

Zidane shook his head. "It's a long story, but I don't think it'll take me too long to tell it." He put his mug on one of the books, wiped his hands on his pants once, and spun to face Lance. He motioned with a hand, circling it towards the floor. "I know I haven't shown much of this place yet, but it's an orphanage. Kazuo started it decades ago, and the people you saw before in the kitchen help out. About a month before I was taken in by Kazuo, Zooka came here. A big storm had hit, so when she showed up at the front door, she was completely soaked from the rain. Kazuo brought her in, warmed her up like he did with me." The mug was now in his hand, and he raised it in a light toast before continuing on. "But the strange thing was that she didn't speak. She didn't know where her parents were or who they were, couldn't tell anyone where she lived. The only source of identification was a bracelet on her wrist."

Zidane extended a close fist, dropping a delicate chain into Lance's hand. The pendant—one shaped like the keys of a piano—was heavily rusted. He could tell that at one point, there was writing engraved into the metal rectangle, but the majority of the letters had been submerged by rust. Through bits and pieces of what hadn't been destroyed, he could make out letters, some more complete than others. Z O O K A. Below them, a date. April 5. Besides that, the faintest impression of a one and two nines could be felt. Part of a birth year, probably.

Or part of an address, Lance thought. Zip code.

"Kazuo contacted Missing Children facilities, describing her and the pendant she was wearing. When nobody tried to claim her as theirs, he started calling her Zooka and eventually she started responding to it."

"DNA test wasn't an option?" Lance asked, handing him back the bracelet.

"It's something she's never wanted to do," Zidane replied with a shake of his head. A tiny smile crossed his lips as he added, "Maybe after seeing everything that's gone on with my birth family, she's worried about finding out." A moment later, after keeping his head down and flicking something invisible off the pad of his thumb, he continued. "Maybe that's the thing about family, though. Maybe it's something you choose."

Lance stayed quiet, unsure of what to say. The silence grew heavier, though, and the thoughts about Zooka he'd pushed away tried to resurface again.

"So you met her?" Lance said.

Zidane seemed to snap out of his own thoughts, head rising up again while nodding. "Yeah, sorry. I met her a few days after her eighth birthday. Before then, she hadn't talked at all. Hadn't said a word. Until I showed up." A grin spread across his face as he said these last words, eyes brightening as he stared down at something invisible. With a little bit of surprise, Lance realized that they were beginning a whole other phase of his life. Something newer, happier. He couldn't help but feel relieved.

Zidane shrugged to himself, looking at something Lance couldn't see; looking at the window. "I know my life hasn't been all daises and roses... but if it meant Zoo would still be a part of it... I'd do everything all over again. For as long as I had to."

An odd feeling accompanied Lance as he heard those words. It was a concept he couldn't grasp, couldn't draw experience from. There had been people, interests in his life before, sure, but—

He shoved the memories, the faces away, denying to remember any of it. He buried the pain again and brought his attention back. Zidane flipped another page of the book in his lap. For some reason, the sound was comforting. It was something real. Something concrete.

Lance spoke without thinking, the words falling out quietly.

"I'm glad you have that in your life."

A stillness hung between them; tensionless silence.

"I'm glad, too."

Submitted: December 03, 2019

© Copyright 2023 Meaghan Kalena. All rights reserved.


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