Chapter 45: Acceptance

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

Reads: 455

"Clear something up for me."

Zidane looked up at Lance's statement, calmly meeting his eyes with a reverse-nod; a motion to continue on.

"What is it?"

"That whole thing with Ezyta," Lance began, leaning forward to push his hands through his hair. He stared at the edge of the worn coffee table between them. "What... Happened, exactly?"

Zidane didn't answer straight away. Lance could sense he was toying with something in his hands.

"To be honest, I never kept in touch with Ezyta," Zidane said. "Never heard from her, never wanted to talk." Lance watched his head lean back against the couch, eyes staring up at the apartment's ceiling. "I dunno. I thought about it a lot, especially after it happened. And... One of the tasks she had to complete was 'care'. Maybe she actually cared for me more than she let on."

Lance felt relieved to hear this. A little shocked, considering who they were talking about, but still relieved.

Still, Lance shook his head a little. "It'd make sense, seeing how she reacted to what that guy was saying about completing the task. But... Like, she's such a bitch, so—" He laughed and Zidane's mouth hooked in a smile.

"I dunno," Zidane said again. "Maybe it was something else. Like how she really just cared for the territory I was getting her. She just cared for her place on the throne, and attached that to how she felt about me."

Lance didn't have a response to that one. He stayed quiet, eyes traveling to the child sitting next to Zidane on the couch. She was perfectly still; the memory paused, her face near the homemade cupcake in her hands. A smile was on her lips, like she was seeing some kind of world inside the decorated frosting on top.

"I'm sorta surprised she remembered you."

It was something Lance was rather hesitant to bring up, but curiosity overtook his fear of stepping out of line. Zidane didn't find it rude, and nodded from his seat on the couch across from Lance.

"We wrote to each other during the two years I was gone," he said. "I'd send them by Uleks, which are basically messenger phoenixes. Kazuo would deliver the letters to Zooka like it was normal mail."

"You were gone for two years?" Lance asked.

Zidane gave a light smile. "Doesn't really look like it, huh?"

Now that Lance could take the time to compare, it did. He was taller than before, but still seemed below the height of an average ten-year-old. There was a little bit of age in his face, his hair a little bit longer.

"So we got about six memories left," Zidane said.

"You're covering..." Lance's voice fell, suddenly at a loss for Zidane's current age.

"Seven years in six memories," the crossbreed finished for him. "Most of them are around this time here."

Lance leaned back in the chair that had been placed for him, wondering what else could be next. They still had a lot to cover, he realized. A heck of a lot to fit in just six memories. There was stuff Zidane still hadn't answered.

"Can we go to the zoo?"

Lance looked up at the sound of Zooka's voice, seeing she was sitting up on her knees, hands to the couch's back. Crumbs of the cupcake were sprinkled around her.

Kazuo was one room over, standing in the kitchen that connected to the small apartment. Lance suddenly stopped focusing on the memory, questions from before coming back.

"Wait, hold on."

Everything froze. Zidane turned away from Zooka, expression focused but smile never leaving his lips.

"What happened to the orphanage?" Lance asked.

Memory flashed onto Zidane's face. "Oh. Right, sorry. I'm getting ahead of myself." A grin came to him at this last line, eyes brightening even as he continued on. "Kazuo had to give it up during the two years I was gone. Everyone either got adopted or handed to a new orphanage, but Zooka stayed with him. Kazuo said it was because she wanted to see me again, and maybe part of that's right—I don't know—but either way she lived with him for a while."

"She never got adopted?" Lance asked.

Zidane gave a little shrug. "For most of the time she was there, she didn't speak. And when she finally did, there was barely a moment where we weren't together so potential parents grew nonexistent." He glanced up, seeing Lance's expression, and looked away again. "I think people realized something was... different about me. I doubt they could really place it; from the outside, I'm sure I looked totally normal. Whatever they felt was something strong enough to keep them away from both of us."

Lance was quiet for a moment. Then he asked a question he himself didn't expect.

"Do you think your life would've changed, if you were adopted?"

Again, Zidane shrugged. "Wouldn't have lasted long. One bath—even one attempt to get me to take a bath would've backfired completely. Who knows what would've happened after that. Shotgun to the face, maybe the bullets miss and I escape, or they turn me in for Area 51 testing." He looked up to Lance again. "It's a scenario I've considered."

The room grew a bit quieter, Zidane's voice growing softer.

"I think a lot of events, circumstances, appearances in my life have been for the sake of hiding. Like safe houses." Lance felt Zidane's energy drift to Zooka, comfortably resting to her. "Not all, though."

Bright eyes came up, smile returning. "This is one of my favorite memories."

The scene played again. Kazuo looked up, the newspaper in his hands lowering a little.

"You would like to go to the zoo?" he repeated.

Zooka nodded more than once. "Both of us!"

Kazuo looked to Zidane, who only glanced at Zooka. With that confirmation, the caregiver folding his newspaper and smiled. "Alright then. I'll grab my things."

He disappeared as Zidane turned to Zooka, a mischievous smile playing on his face.

"You know in some cultures," he began, "your name is part of where you were born."

Zooka hunched over the couch's back, pressing her mouth against her folded arms and speaking into her skin. "What'd you mean?"

"Like your name. Zooka, zoo. You think you were born there?"

Zooka straightened. "What're you saying? I wasn't born in a zoo!" Her face remained worried as she looked behind herself, into the room Kazuo disappeared into.

A moment after his name was called, the caregiver came into view. "Yes?"

"Was I born in a zoo?"

Alarm flashed across his face but the expression immediately died, covered up as he glanced at Zidane, realizing the conversation he had missed. Kazuo smiled at her. "No, Zooka. Of course not."

Zooka turned back, sitting normally with her legs stretching out. She let out a breath of relief. "Good..."

Kazuo looked down, feeling his pockets, and disappeared back into the other room. Zidane waited until he was gone, and then turned away, feigning nonchalance. "Ah, he's just being nice. I mean, how could you tell someone that they were born in a zoo?"

"Stop it!" A couch pillow swung, hitting Zidane as he grinned. Despite the playful gesture, Lance could see the sadness in Zooka's eyes and tell that she really was upset. Maybe not about the joke, but the fact that she really didn't know where she was born.

"That's where she got the nickname Zoo," Zidane told him. "I still call her that sometimes."

There was no guilt in his statement; no regret that Lance could feel. Only a warm, sentimental feeling that comes with speaking about an old friend. Lance felt memories of his own begin to appear, barely a thought beginning to arrive when he found himself sitting on a bus. Across from him, Zooka sat in the middle of Kazuo and Zidane. A floppy hat was on her head; a small, disposable camera in both her hands.

"She used to really like taking pictures," Zidane said. Lance saw a smile on his face; one that wasn't part of the memory. "It's funny to see how much she's changed."

Lance's response came without filter. 

What's she like now?

Zidane's eyes brightened. "Quieter," he replied, and the statement was filled with something Lance couldn't put an exact emotion to. Appreciation in the highest form.

When Lance looked back, Zidane had changed. Dark eyes were boring into the space behind Lance's seat. The crossbreed wasn't looking around, wasn't bothering to examine to see if anyone was noticing him. He just sat there, slumped down a little with his hands folded across his stomach. Lance sensed he was trying his hardest to ignore Zooka's quiet humming—for the first time since the two children had met, Zidane was completely distant.

The bus slowed to a stop, the halt moving its passengers in unison. Instantly the bus door opened and a large man waddled up the aisle, sitting next to Zidane with little room to spare. Lance caught a glimpse of light near the man's jacket pocket. A thin chain was hanging out, arcing out of the pocket with shimmering light reflecting off the metal.

Zidane seemed to notice at the exact moment Lance did, and his observation was nothing more than a glance from the corner of his eye. The black stare brightened just a little bit.

The man suddenly took a deep inhalation as his arm rose to his mouth. He coughed loudly, and with a natural grace Zidane's finger hooked the necklace's chain and brought it into his lap. His palm dragged against his pants, gathering the chain and hiding it away with the closure of the fingers.

He didn't look around, didn't look to see if any eyes were on him at all. The bus began moving again.

In the next moment, Lance was standing on a sidewalk. Passerbys held his focus for a moment before Zooka and Zidane passed by, Kazuo beside him. Lance caught a glint of light in Zidane's hand as he turned his fist over, examining the necklace for a moment.

He held his hand out to Zooka, the necklace dangling from two fingers. "Here."

Zooka stopped walking, looking at the necklace but not saying anything. Soon, Kazuo followed her lead, observing the interaction a few steps ahead.

Zooka met Zidane's stare. "Where'd you find that?"

The crossbreed's eyes switched to a lighter shade, an almost shy smile on his face. He motioned to the necklace, urging her to take it. "Someone had it on the bus. I thought you'd like it."

"That's stealing!"

Zidane looked away from her worried face, staring back at the necklace before looking back. He motioned for her to take it again. "But I got it for you."

Focusing further down the street, Zooka stood on her tip-toes as if searching for something. "I wonder if we can give it back. What'd they look like?"

"Some fat guy with a lung problem," Zidane replied, rolling his eyes. "He was practically asking me to take this."

Zooka's attention was trained on him again, one hand to her mouth in shock. A second passed before Lance saw the tears in her eyes. Zidane instantly softened.

"What?" he whispered.

She hugged him. Her head bowed into his shoulder, her hat falling to the ground below them. Zidane's eyes simply went wide, his emotions blank. His hands stayed at his sides, hands clenched slightly. With a horrible sadness, Lance realized that it had probably been so long he'd simply forgotten how to react—the space between this moment and the last time he'd been held was stretched out between a warzone of hurt.

Zidane's eyes stayed at a sky blue and stared ahead of him, still shocked.

"What're you doing?" His voice was distant.

Zooka gently held tighter, eyes shutting a bit more.

"Trying to make the badness go away."

The emotion from Zidane reached Lance like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion; the moments when the wind sweeps out in a massive wave. But the feeling was warm and kind, and Lance felt like his body was weightless. He felt like he was invincible.

The necklace's flower pendant hit the ground, its chain coiling around it. Zidane lowered his forehead against her shoulder, electric blue eyes closing to her embrace.


"Does she know what you are?"

Zidane glanced up, meeting his eyes from across the bus, and then nodded. "She found out about a week later. I was talking to Kazuo late one night, telling him a little bit about where I had been. I was showing him how I could levitate things, and I was lifting up a plate when Zooka came in. I thought she was still mostly asleep when I saw her, but her eyes popped wide and I dropped the plate. I'd been trying as hard as I could to keep her from finding out."

A smile etched onto Lance's face, light laughter bubbling into his words as he asked, "What about when you first showed up? She never questioned that fire?"

Zidane copied his smile, giving a one-shouldered shrug. "Thought it was magic. When I did the plate thing, she kept telling me to levitate different things."

"Sounds a little bossy."

Zidane only smiled a little more. "She's changed a lot," was all he said.

Lance gave a light nod, distracting himself by looking up at the window behind Zidane, watching scenery move by, each passing sign leading them one block away from where he assumed was the zoo. They were headed back, and this realization only made it clear there was only a handful of memories left. Lance looked back, a question falling out of his mouth.

"Why open up to Kazuo and not her?"

He ignored the quick pang of guilt this statement brought him, wondering if it was too invasive, too personal to ask. But Zidane hunched over, pushing his fingers across his eyes until they met the bridge of his nose. "Kazuo already knew I wasn't human. If speaking a completely different language when we met wasn't a hint, then seeing my ears was another clear indication." He must have sensed Lance's slight confusion and made a cutting motion a few inches from the side of his hair. "Back when he tried to cut my hair, before I met Zooka, he tried to trim along my ears. By the time I yanked away, the points were already exposed."

He kept looking down at the bus floor, eyes still black. "But to give you an answer, it was easier to keep going down a path that was already built. I didn't know how she would react. Honestly, didn't want to face the risk of being hurt by her rejection or disgust... Whichever." He swallowed, looking away. "I wasn't sure I could handle it. I'm still not."

Lance's attention hooked onto his statement. "What're you saying?"

Zidane shook his head, dismissing the question. When his eyes opened again, Lance fell back to the original conversation; the story Zidane was telling.

"So, she thought it was magic?" he asked, looking back up.

"Yeah." A smile came to Zidane's face, spreading into a grin with his eyes brightening like sunlight appearing behind clouds. "She wanted me to levitate more stuff. I pulled flowers out from behind her ear. It was the first time..." Words escaped him but the smile was still on his face. From the corner of his eye, Lance saw his hands trembling, shaking from excitement. Zidane's grin became even wider, growing into a full-fledged smile. "I felt accepted."

Submitted: December 04, 2019

© Copyright 2023 Meaghan Kalena. All rights reserved.


Add Your Comments:

Facebook Comments

Other Content by Meaghan Kalena