Title: The Show Must Go On
Author: bnomiko
Rating: PG-13 / R to NC-17
Pairing(s): Zidane x Kuja, Zidane + Dagger, Blank + Marcus
Spoilers: through the end of the game
Disclaimer: "The Show Must Go On" and "I Want to Break Free" are performed and recorded by Queen. Final Fantasy IX is the creation and property of Square Co., Ltd. This is a not-for-profit fanwork and I do not own any of these characters.
Summary: "Take care of Kuja." Zidane wondered if he’d misunderstood what Garland had meant by that. A canon inspired tumble through the events at the end of the game and beyond, hitting Kuja’s issues along the way.
Archived at: http://www.phenixsol.com/Miko/FF/

* * *

The Show Must Go On

Ch. 12: I Want to Break Free

* * *

But life still goes on
I can't get used to living without, living without
Living without you by my side
I don't want to live alone, hey
God knows, got to make it on my own
So baby can't you see
I've got to break free

- "I Want to Break Free," Queen

* * *

Kuja began packing and planning well before it was feasible to leave. For the first time in a long while, he had a goal to focus on, and he threw himself wholly into the task. Thankfully his mind and body were cooperating; the frequency and severity of his “episodes” had finally begun to taper off. It gave him hope that he’d be able to see his plans through to the end.

Although the weather seemed to be holding fairly steady since that first trip back to the supply depot, it was still very early in the season. The migrating songbirds hadn't begun to return yet. Kuja knew he’d need to keep a close eye on the weather, maybe give it a few more weeks, before he’d be able to set a departure date. Eager as he was to leave, he knew if he headed out too early, there’d be risk of a sudden downturn in temperature or an end of the season storm. But if he hung around too long, spring showers would become a new threat, turning the mountain paths into dangerously muddy slides. Warmer weather would beckon more monsters out of their dens too, driving them back up to their summer hunting grounds. And he was woefully out of practice with his weapon.

He’d made a list of things he’d need from the supply depot. Sturdy boots and a large, durable pack topped the list. An extra flint or matches, a newer, sharper pocketknife, a small cooking pot, a compact bedroll... those were all essential. Some hardtack and dried fruit and jerked meat would have to suffice for foodstuffs; he’d probably have to forage food most of the way down. His cloak was serviceable so he didn’t need to replace it, but a new coat would be a welcome addition – his current one was warm but bulky; it would weigh him down too much through the course of a long journey.

He’d probably need a map too, a decent one. He knew where the Black Mage Village and the Dwarven town of Conde Petie were in relation to his current location, but he’d never traveled to either on foot. To get to the Mist Continent without a chocobo or an airship, he’d have to make his way through the heart of the Dwarven lands, then head through the winding network of deep earthen tunnels known as Fossil Roo. As far as he knew the exit lay somewhere north of Lindblum; from there he’d have to go northeast through both mountains and forests to reach Alexandria.

It would probably be for the best if he stayed off the main roads, especially around areas where other humanoids were afoot. But then again, roads tended to be safer – there were fewer monsters and bandits to deal with, and fewer roots and rocks to trip over, and far less risk of getting lost.

Or maybe he could try masquerading as a human once again… Hiding his tail would be simple for enough; he’d done it for years and was accustomed to holding it still for hours on end. But his long silver hair and cascading feathers were pretty distinctive, and he wasn’t sure if there was a bounty on his head and wanted posters posted through every town, with a detailed description and even illustrations depicting what he looked like. Perhaps if he took full advantage of his looks and tried to pass himself off as a female it would work better – he could tuck his tail under a skirt and his hair under a hat, and style it so that the feathers would looked like decoration at the band. Or he could disguise himself as a “normal” Genome by cutting his hair and dying it blonde… but those in the know would probably notice his eyes were the wrong color, and his skin too pale.

Kuja tugged lightly at the ends of his hair. Even when he tied it back and covered it strands tended to stray out from under his hood. It didn’t help that it was longer and wilder – and in worse condition – than it had ever been in his life. Perhaps he ought to cut some of it off. He’d considered it several times before. So why hadn’t he gone through with it? Was he really so vain as to risk his life over it?

Suddenly determined to do it before he could second-guess himself, Kuja snatched up his sewing shears and raised them to his hair. Using his free hand to gather up as much as he could into a messy, twisted tail, he tried to force himself to clip off a chunk, but his hands began shaking so hard that it was impossible. He couldn’t help thinking… the last time he’d had short hair, he’d been living under Garland’s heel on Terra. He’d been forced to adhere to Garland’s grooming standards back then – all the Genomes had sported similar shaggy, low maintenance cuts. No exemptions meant that even his feathers had gotten cropped down, like a bird getting its wings clipped so that it could no longer fly even outside of a cage.

He tried to tell himself there was no other option, but his hands wouldn’t move. He couldn’t do it. He didn’t want to become like them. Wasn’t that a sort of death as well, to lose one’s individuality? He’d almost lost it before, when Garland had torn through his mind and memories and banished him to Gaia. He’d narrowly escaped becoming a vegetable. Even now he hadn’t managed to piece everything back together. He couldn’t go through that again.

And Zidane seemed to like the way he looked, maybe - though he supposed that didn’t matter much anymore. Even if his appearance had caused him many difficulties, it had also saved him. It had allowed him to claw his way out of the alleys of Treno and into the company of nobles and royalty. If it came down to it, he’d do to it again, if that meant the difference between survival and death.

With a violent shudder, Kuja slammed the shears back onto the table. He wasn’t sure if he was disappointed in himself for not being able to force himself to go through with it, or if he was angry for having considered it in the first place. Since when had surviving stopped being enough? Since that moment all his careful plotting and accumulation of power had been ground into dust by Garland’s cruel parting words?

Do you think a defect like you could last forever? Even as I die, you'll have died without ever leaving your mark on the world...

The silver-haired man exhaled harshly. Of course this wasn’t the life he’d imagined for himself, but somehow, despite Garland’s intentions, he was still alive. He just didn’t know how much longer he had. And he didn’t want to waste any more of it with nothing but melting snow and stale air as his companions, counting each breath that he drew, wondering if the next would be his last.

It was a slight relief that his locks had been spared. Kuja released his grip on his hair and let the strands drift back down until they shrouded him like a security blanket. For better or worse, he had decided… he would make the trip as he was, instead of pretending he was someone or something he wasn’t, though he honestly couldn’t say what that meant exactly. He had spent his early years trying – and failing - to meet his master’s expectations, then wasted many more altering everything from his clothing to his behavior to suit the fickle tastes of nobles, royalty, whoever it was that he needed to step on to achieve his goals. He couldn’t say that, if he’d been left to his own devices, that he would’ve wanted to become any of the things he’d been. Even with Zidane… Kuja had learned to fight with a weapon and toned down his flashy appearance to please him. Zidane had been encouraging and praised the former mage for his efforts. But it hadn’t been enough to keep the younger Genome around for any longer than it had taken to bed him…

Kuja shook his head, not wanting to get sidetracked by unprofitable thoughts. If he wanted to survive - no, live - he needed to rely on logic, not fall sway to the random throes of his flawed emotions. The life lessons he’d learned could still be of use. As good as he’d been at drawing attention to himself, he’d been equally good at keeping inconspicuous as well, when circumstances called for it. If he kept himself covered up, hiked off the beaten path, avoided towns, and generally remained quiet and unobtrusive, he ought to make it to the heart of the Mist Continent without anyone being the wiser. Though he had no idea how he was going to manage to get into Alexandria and find Zidane without being spotted... It definitely wasn’t his style to “wing it,” but he figured he’d come up with something once he’d had the chance to evaluate what worked and what didn’t during the course of his journey.

He didn’t have Zidane’s blind faith that everything would work out okay in the end, but perhaps he’d been influenced a little by the younger man’s carefree attitude. At this point, what else could he go on but a wing and a prayer?

* * *

Doctor Tot shuffled towards the suite near the end of the hall, books in hand. The scholar had been tasked with educating Zidane in everything from royal decorum to the history of Alexandria. But the thief-turned-prince was proving to be a difficult student, even for someone as patient as the doctor.

"Prince Zidane?” The room was empty and the window pushed wide open. Doctor Tot peered out, scanning the grounds below, but Zidane was long gone. The old man shook his head slowly. “Now, where did he go?”

Zidane hadn’t gone very far. From his perch in a leafy tree on the edge of the castle garden, he could see Doctor Tot searching for him through the window, then withdrawing when he failed to find him. Zidane smirked. A tail was certainly a handy thing. He’d discovered long ago that very few people considered looking up when trying to find someone, a fact he’d taken advantage of as a child playing hide and seek. Oddly it worked even better now that he was an adult.

He hadn’t really planned on ditching his lessons – he liked Doctor Tot just fine and knew he was only doing his job – but it was a beautiful day out and he didn’t want to spend it cooped up with a bunch of books. He should’ve been thrilled that his plan worked, that he was getting to laze away in the comfortably warm shade of the canopy. But… he wasn’t able to relax at all.

Zidane sighed heavily. He had promised Dagger that he’d apply himself, but he was pretty much failing at it, colossally. Even when he did show up for his scheduled lessons, he never felt completely there, as if his mind was determined to escape the confines of the room, even if he physically couldn’t. He didn’t know what was going on with himself anymore. He was living the life he’d always dreamed of and yet, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt genuinely happy. The day he reunited with Dagger, maybe? Was that really the last time? But, that was months ago…

As stupid as it sounded, even though the sky above him was the same as that above the northern continent, somehow the sun’s rays didn’t feel as warm nor the breeze as refreshing as it’d been up there. He wondered, for the umpteenth time that day, how Kuja was faring – he hadn’t gotten any recent updates from Mikoto but in this case, he figured no news was probably good news. He knew that, yet he couldn’t convince himself to believe it. What if something had happened and Mikoto couldn’t figure out a way to tell him? What if she’d sent a message, and it had gotten lost? He didn’t want to pressure her for reports too often, but if he didn’t, then he began worrying that she’d forget, that maybe she’d become too busy with matters in the Black Mage Village to remember to look in on Kuja.

He regretted not telling Dagger the truth at the start, but with the wedding growing ever closer and the lie growing more and more tangled, it really did feel like brute forcing a resolution with a pardon was the only solution now.

He closed his eyes, then frowned. As always, Kuja’s face filled his mind the moment his lids slid shut, as if his visage had been etched into his eyelids. He couldn’t shake the memory of the sadness in Kuja’s eyes as he’d seen him off, of the way Kuja’s hands clung to the thin sheet wrapped around his otherwise nude body. Sometimes, if Zidane looked over his shoulder quickly enough, he could swear Kuja was behind him, hesitantly peeking at him from around a corner or a doorway, as if begging Zidane to remember that he was there, still waiting.

I know, I know… I swear, I’ll be back to get you soon, Zidane promised, though there was no way he could pass that message to his intended target, no matter how much it felt like Kuja was haunting him.

The blonde Genome rolled over onto his stomach, carefully - at least his body remembered that he was up in a tree - and scrubbed in frustration at his face. As he hadn’t been sleeping well, he’d been hoping to reward himself with a quick nap for having managed to steal away, but it didn’t look like his thoughts would quiet enough to allow that to happen.

When he did sleep, he dreamt, a lot. But those dreams had taken a slight turn as of late. For months, they’d mostly been filled with memories of the time he’d spent with Kuja – not just the sex, but mundane stuff too, like their trips to the supply depot or the hand to hand combat lessons. He still had dreams like that on occasion, but more and more he found himself dreaming of what might have been, if he hadn’t left… or if he’d taken Kuja with him, like he should’ve. He had fantasies about strolling arm in arm through the starlit streets of Treno, watching Kuja’s eyes light up at the endless rows of books in Daguerreo’s library, attending a Tantalus production in Lindblum while in disguise, as if they were actors in the play themselves. It would’ve been wonderful if they’d had the chance to do some of those things together, if they’d been able to have fun, without a care in the world. But unfortunately those were fantasies that would never come true.

Zidane still hoped that someday, Kuja would come to understand what love was, that he’d find someone to love… someone gentle and patient, yet strong enough to protect him from the world, if it came to that. Even though Kuja had once been so frighteningly powerful that he’d seemed untouchable, the truth was he was a lonely soul, a bit childish, unstable, and a little too caught up in his own cleverness for his own good. It was almost like he was simultaneously older and younger than his actual age, like his life experiences had aged him prematurely while keeping him emotionally stunted. He needed someone to pull him out of the rut he was in, or he’d live and die without ever getting the chance to grow into his true potential.

Zidane frowned as he felt a twinge of jealousy run through his body. He didn’t like the thought of someone else holding Kuja, kissing him, loving him. He wanted to be the one… the only one. But it was wrong to feel that way when he knew… there was no way he could do that. And the quicker he got those stupid fantasies out of his head, the better. Dagger didn’t deserve a fiancé who couldn’t dedicate himself wholly to her. She probably didn’t deserve a fiancé who routinely ditched his history lessons either.

Sometimes, Zidane wished he’d never come back to Alexandria at all. Maybe it would’ve been better that way. But it was too late to worry about the what-ifs. He’d proposed; she’d accepted. He wasn’t going to walk away from a promise he’d made.

* * *

Beatrix sighed softly to herself as she strolled briskly through the castle halls. Although it wasn’t her job to “babysit” Alexandria’s errant young prince – a task Steiner had taken upon himself, to his constant dismay – she couldn’t turn a blind eye to his behavior either. It was her duty to report back to the queen with anything that was amiss in her kingdom.

After she’d run into Doctor Tot, she’d agreed to take a look outside to see if she would have better luck spotting Zidane. She didn’t think it’d be that hard to find him since he was predictable and obvious in thought and action. It helped that he’d dumped his coat, a distinctive embroidered blue velvet number, on the bushes at the edge of the garden. And she knew from experience that he tended to think vertically when it came to sneaking off. Following that logic, the leafy tree branches above where the coat was located had to be the hiding place.

"Prince Zidane, I know you’re up there,” she said. Now that she was close she could just make out the gold fur of his tail against the darker bark of the branch he was sitting on.

She heard the branches rustle softly before he decided there was no point in pretending she wasn’t there. “Oh… hi. Um, how are you?”

She wasn’t there for conversation. “Do correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s probably very difficult to learn about the history of Alexandria while sitting in a tree,” she said dryly.

"Ah, yeah. I guess so.”

She didn’t say anything else; she merely waited under the tree until Zidane realized she wasn’t going to budge. With a sigh, the Genome hopped down from his roost.

Zidane quickly shook a few loose leaves and twigs out of his hair. “Well then, I guess I better… head back to see Doctor Tot…” he said, his tail lashing around behind him.

Beatrix briefly eyed the restless tail and the not-quite-innocent smile on the young man’s face, and said, “I trust you won’t object if I accompany you. How could I possibly explain it to my queen if you were to get lost again?” she added with a toss of her hair.

His lips twitched. “Hey, if you don’t mind, can we not tell Dagger about this?”

"Then you should’ve made an effort to be found by Steiner or one of his men, and not by me. I report everything to Her Majesty, you know that.”

Zidane opened his mouth to either protest or beg her to reconsider, but then he shut it without making further complaint. He picked up his coat, shrugged it back on, then fell in beside Beatrix as they began heading back to his room.

Beatrix frowned slightly as they walked. She didn’t dislike Zidane, but she’d be lying if she said they were friends. Not that he was a bad person or anything; he had his good points. He was selfless, always looking out for his friends, willing to do anything to help people in need. And he had a lot of courage even though he wasn’t the biggest or toughest guy around. But… she had her doubts about whether or not he’d be able to handle a king’s duties. He wasn’t exactly the brightest fellow she knew. He was still somewhat childish. And he was so laid back, with his head in the clouds, that it came across as laziness sometimes.

Or maybe it wasn’t as simple as that. She’d noticed that ever since he’d come back, he’d seemed distracted, staring off into the distance as if looking for something beyond the horizon. Maybe losing Kuja had been harder on him than they'd thought. Not that he’d talk about it, at least, not with her. Maybe not with anyone. As far as Beatrix knew, Zidane hadn’t said anything to anyone, not even the queen, about what had happened during the year he’d been missing. But something must’ve happened. It felt like he’d lost a little of the spunk that was so much a part of who he was.

Or perhaps she was overthinking it… Zidane really was a pretty simple guy. Maybe it was something as easily explained as the looming wedding weighing on him? That, and all the studying that went along with it, since sitting down with a pile of books clearly wasn’t something he'd choose to do. Beatrix wondered if a good workout would help him shake his restlessness. She considered asking him if he’d like to spar, just to take his mind off whatever was bothering him, but their styles were so dissimilar it wasn’t a good match. He was all speed and scrappiness; she was power and finesse. She doubted he'd ever be a match for her, going head-to-head.

"The wedding plans are coming along well,” Beatrix finally said, watching for a reaction.

"Hmm, I think so.” Zidane shrugged. Honestly he didn’t care about the details, as long as Dagger was happy with how things were coming along. And she seemed to be. Thankfully she didn’t bother him too much anymore with the little details, making most of the decisions herself or with the input of other friends. “I mean, I know Dagger’s got it all under control. But I’ll feel a whole lot better once it’s all over with,” he added with a dry laugh.

Beatrix didn’t want to scold him – it wasn’t her place nor her duty – but he didn’t seem to be taking anything seriously, as if joking around would solve anything. “Part of that is you doing what is needed in order to prepare for your new role, and applying yourself to learning whatever Doctor Tot can teach you.” She paused, considered what she knew of the young man beside her, then tried a different angle. “I wouldn’t think studying royal dictates would be all that different from learning a part for a play.”

Zidane’s head jerked up. He had tried that approach, but it didn’t work out the way he hoped it would. Unlike acting, he couldn’t just change out of his outfit as he would at the end of a show and then go on, being himself. Even shedding his royal attire and climbing up a tree didn’t change the fact that he was still a prince, just with a bit of foliage mixed in.

"I guess there’s some similarities,” he agreed without much conviction. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and fell back into silence.

It was a relief that the walk back was short. Beatrix wasn’t sure what else to say. In some ways it felt like she was escorting a prisoner back to his cell.

They arrived back at Zidane’s suite and stopped before the doors. Zidane turned and gave his escort a final look, as if silently asking her to reconsider reporting back to Dagger, then shook his head once. With a slight smile pasted back on his face, he pushed open the doors and strolled in, waving goodbye to Beatrix while greeting Doctor Tot with a loud, “Oh, hello! You know, it really is a nice day outside…”

One wayward prince located and escorted back to where he belonged. Task accomplished, Beatrix tossed her hair over her shoulder and headed towards the throne room, her white leather coat billowing behind her, but once she got there, she paused, her hand on the door handle. There was a difference between duty and personal obligation; she’d learned that a little too late during Queen Brahne’s campaign against the other kingdoms on the Mist Continent. The Burmecians and Cleyrans had suffered greatly for it. Her own princess had nearly died because of it.

This obviously wasn’t the same sort of situation, and she really was almost inclined to let Zidane’s little outing slide. But the wedding was coming up in barely more than a month, and the queen had a right to know that her fiancé needed more guidance, if he was to be ready to step up to the throne.

Decision made, the general stepped in, announced herself, and thumped her fist against her chest while bowing her head in deference, the movement smooth and well practiced. “Your Majesty, I have something to discuss with you, if you have a moment.”

The young queen looked up and smiled. She’d been sitting at a small side table, reviewing some documents for some property disputes she was mediating. She lay the sheets down and nodded. “Of course, General. And perhaps afterwards you can help me make decisions on these cases as well.”

Beatrix bowed her head in agreement, then sat down at the table. She got right to the point without hesitation. “Although it is not my place to say, I have my concerns about how Prince Zidane’s education is coming along. Today, he was daydreaming in the garden when he had lessons scheduled with Doctor Tot.”

The pleasant smile on Dagger’s face faded. She pressed her lips together a bit, then took a breath and candidly said, “I’m sorry that you had to chase him down. I’ll have another talk with him.”

"My Queen, you should not have to apologize on his behalf.”

"I know. But it’s all I can do right now.” She paused, then in a softer voice, added, “I think once he becomes king, it’ll be okay. I didn’t understand how hard this would be either, nor how much responsibility I’d have, until I took the throne.”

Except Dagger had been an attentive student, excelling in all her studies, and the very model of a proper young lady. Even though she had been adopted into the royal family, she’d filled the position of crown princess as well as if she’d been born into it.

"I know it’s been an adjustment for him, but… I believe in him,” Dagger continued on, with a little more confidence. “He’s always come through, hasn’t he?”

Beatrix looked at her. Even if the general didn’t believe in Zidane, her queen did, and that was enough. It was Dagger’s right to make decisions, and Beatrix’s duty to see them through. “For you? Yes.”

Dagger blushed faintly. She couldn’t help but remember the time that Zidane had come flying across the crumbling castle parapets to save her from falling to her death. It was at that moment that she realized, perhaps there was something to those fairy tales that both she and Zidane had grown up with… It was unbelievable to her that she’d been prepared to let him go before that moment. But maybe it wasn’t so bad wanting a hero to recklessly, bravely, come leaping to her rescue. “Well, I’ll still need to talk to him. He should be doing this for Alexandria, and for himself… not just for me.”

"You will always be the first and last thing on his mind.”

The blush deepened. “Well… I suppose that isn’t such a bad thing, is it?” Dagger asked. She giggled softly, and Beatrix was reminded that for all her poise and competence, the young queen was no older than her fiancé.

"That’s how it should be,” Beatrix replied with an answering smile. She knew she had a reputation for being stern and serious - cold blooded even - but she too had a soft spot in her heart for romance, especially the innocent sort of love between a young maiden and the dashing hero who’d literally swept her off her feet. She took a moment to drink in Dagger’s happiness, then turned to the papers that had been left on the table. “I apologize if I have caused you concern, Your Majesty. I have no doubt that you’re right: everything will work out in the long run.”

"Thank you. But I’m still glad you told me what happened.” Dagger eyed the documents. “And I know I said I wanted to consult with you on those,” and she nodded at the papers, “but I wonder if those cases would work as part of Doctor Tot’s lessons?”

"Would you like me to take them to him, and find out?”

Dagger stood up, smoothing down her skirt a little. “I will come with you. Perhaps Zidane will have an easier time focusing with me around.”

Beatrix smirked. She had no doubt about that, either. But what he’d be concentrating on was up for debate.

* * *

Finally, the day of departure had come. Kuja was relieved to see that the sky was clear as could be; the work he’d put in tracking the movement of the clouds had paid off. It seemed even the sun and the wind and the mountains were glad to see him off.

He ate his breakfast a little more hastily than usual, feeling both anxious and excited at the same time. For days he’d been trying to figure out what he wanted to say, if he saw Zidane again. And he’d been trying to guess what Zidane might say to him in turn. On one hand Kuja wanted to ask him why he’d taken so long to come back - but the weather had been pretty bad, so he couldn’t really blame him… Maybe he’d tried and couldn’t get through. Maybe now that it was a lot better, Zidane had started making his way back and they’d end up meeting on the road…

Still, Kuja knew he couldn’t count on that. Nor could he stay and wait for help that might never… Well, he knew the chances of them happening to be on the same road at the same time were slim. He had to be prepared to make the full journey, on his own two feet.

Once he was done eating, the Genome took his plate to the sink out of habit, even rinsing it off and drying it before it sunk in that he wasn’t going to be there to use it again. He put it down on the counter and sighed as he looked around the main room. Most of the stuff he cared very little about… none of it belonged to him anyhow. He would’ve liked to take some of the books with him – he’d probably never see copies of the Summoner works again - but even one or two was too much of a hindrance, and he was far too practical to give it further consideration. He had a long way to go; only the bare essentials would be making the trip with him.

There was one last task he needed to see to before he left. He’d put it off for long enough. Taking pen to paper, he wrote two notes, one to leave behind for Zidane, and the other to carry with him. Surprisingly the former was more difficult to write; Kuja wasn’t sure exactly how much or how little he ought to say. In the end he opted for brevity, in part because he couldn’t be sure the letter would fall into the right hands. He couldn’t even put their names on it, but he was sure… if Zidane saw it, he’d know.

The second letter was a request, to whoever should find it, in hopes that they should be merciful enough to consider fulfilling someone’s last wish. The former mage had finally come to a decision… He didn’t want to be buried in the cold earth of a world that he didn’t belong to, nor did he want to be kicked off a cliff into a ravine, even if that was what he deserved. When he died he wished for his body to be set ablaze, until the flames rose up into the sky for one last flight, until there was nothing left below but ash, so that he could never be used by anyone again.

He folded the second note and tucked it away inside a coat pocket, then lay the first note on the kitchen table before carefully plucking a single small feather from his scalp. It was as close to a signature as he could leave. Both items got pinned under the large book about Eidolons. It seemed an appropriate enough paperweight.

He picked up his knapsack and hefted it onto his back, palmed his staff, and threw on his cloak, then headed towards the front door, pausing at the threshold to take one last look around at the crumbling building that had been “home” for the last year and a half. Somehow it had managed to hold up, just as he had, but unlike the house he couldn’t just wait around for someone to come and shore him up, or conversely, to watch him crumble. It was time for him to take hold of his life again, because when it came down to it, he knew he could only rely on himself.

He opened the door one final time, pausing to notch the doorframe to mark the moment, then stepped through and shut it securely behind him. The letter he’d left behind fluttered slightly in the wake of his departure but remained securely pinned in place, awaiting its intended recipient.

I’m heading south. May our paths cross again.

* * *

Author’s Notes:

May 22, 2015