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missing is a pain
in everyplace
making a toothache
out of a day.
But to miss something
that never was:
the longest guilt
the regret that comes down
like a fine ash
year after year

- marge piercy
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Go Not Gently
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Chapter Seven - Sins Of The Fathers

What excuses I made after that.

He's not Vivi, he's a mirror-monster, he's Kuja come again, he's a mimic, he's a mime, he's a foul foul trickster, he's a Waltz, he's Black Tango, he's something horrible that crawled up from the bowel of the world and, and, maybe I died, maybe I'm dreaming, this cannot be real, let all other things be real but not this thing, he's not Vivi -

They put me in another bedroom, because they had to fix the window in my other one, and my cuts and my hurts and my one terribly sprained ankle were bandaged by Rain's gentle little hands. He came and sat by my bed; so did Shiny, and Tide, and the others, and they would smooth my damp violet locks away from my forehead, but I would not talk. I stared up at the ceiling, a glass doll lying in a cradle, eyes blank and mouth a silent bleeding gash.

And I only spoke when he came to me.

"Get away from me."

He was still the same Black Tango. His head made quick, bobbing movements, like a frightened dying bird's, limbs jerking absently as if he had forgotten what to do with them; mercifully, he had respelled himself, his face the same black shadow with golden topaz eyes.

It had been a lie. He was not Vivi. Of course Tango would lied; he lied and lied like a cheap watch, would do anything to poke holes in my head, put his finger in my mouth and throat and make me vomit. Anything. Lie. Lie. Lie.

Lie.

"Eiko."

My name will not touch your filthy lips. "Get away from me."

"Linden-bloom."

"Get away from me, Tango."

"You don't know. You never-knew. You had no idea. You have no idea. You sit in your little palaces and every year you go and put flowers but it doesn't matter, my people a dream and a theory in textbooks, and where was I, where was I, he said he'd always be there for me - "

"Get away from me."

His words ended in a long, shuddery cry. When he spoke again, his words were dry, the tone measured, unexpected sanity.

"I never meant to take you with me, Eiko Carol. The hell you entered is one of your own devising."

My voice was a broken rasp. "I wish you'd killed me. I wish you'd kill everyone."

"You'd give up the world," - and I already had - "just for the memory of one little boy?"

"Get away from me."

His blow was sharp and it fell mostly on my hands but the poor bruised things would be double-blue, already hurt. I was already used to being hit. "You still don't understand, linden-bloom."

He was not Vivi.
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"You've got to eat, Eiko."

Rain wiped porridge off my lips. I had refused to open my mouth that time; it had just seemed like such a waste. Maybe if I never ate again I would die, and dying seemed like the good option.

"You won't heal if you don't have good food in you. And, look, your ankle looks much better today." He attempted a little laugh that ended in a sigh. "Oh, Eiko, if you'd use white magic it'd - "

"No."

Skillfully, Rain popped the spoonful in just on my 'no'; I spluttered in indignancy, some of it dripping down my chin, only for him to wipe it off again.

"Rain."

"You've got to eat, Eiko," he repeated stubbornly. "It's no good you doing this."

I sat up, away from the aggressive spoon, so that when I talked he could not attempt to choke my mouth full. "Why? Why not?"

"It's no use holding the Master to ransom." He held the spoon up again, his voice soft and warm like ashes as usual. "He'll just... do things, Eiko, to make you eat."

"He couldn't do anything to make me do anything."

"He can hurt us in front of you." He bumped the tip of the spoon on my lips. "He can kill us in front of you. All of us. Just to make you eat."

Completely stunned, I stared at him. Tango wouldn't. He couldn't. But that was exactly the way he would think, wasn't it? Hurt others until I agreed to do his bidding. Like with Rain and the spanner. Like with everything.

"Maybe," I said, "maybe it would be better that way."

"Now you're beginning to think like him, Princess." Rain's eyes were grave. "Please eat."

"Rain?"

He still held the spoon up, my lips parting unwillingly to accept a small sip of the hot oat mash. "Yes, Eiko?"

"Take your hat off?"

Rain hesitated, putting the warm bowl down on my lap; and then he took his big hat off, leaving me with his darkness, features wreathed in shadows. I pressed forward into the shadow with my hand, just touching it; it felt icy-cool. There was nothing more.

He put his hat on again, and this time, he smiled. "I love you, Eiko."

I swallowed my mouthful. If my tears dripped down the spoon as I ate, with chapped lips, he did not notice or he did not comment. Rain could have been a child of Vivi.

But he was not Vivi.
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He came to watch me in the bath. I didn't know whether I cared any more. I didn't watch him, crouching, over in the corner; he beat his wings sometimes against the walls to get the dust off them, as I mechanically soaped, as the hot water lapped at my skin. My hair was growing longer, raggedy; Tide had offered to cut it, but I hadn't agreed. It seemed too much bother to keep myself neat.

I had almost liked him, when he was just Black Tango. Certainly, I'd felt pity. My love for Vivi had clouded my judgement.

My love for Vivi had always clouded my judgement.

A hot wind howled outside. I contemplated dunking my head into the sterile boiling water and dying, but I was too heartsick and limp even for that; I was broken-down, my gears and shifts rusting up, my mouth and lips stilled in silence.

"You don't have to do it any more, Tango," I said suddenly. "You don't have to lie."

He turned around, casting shadows on the cool stone walls, dust motes dancing around him in a bright halo. "You're craven, Carol. You're stupid. You're ignorant."

"Your face." I dipped my hand in the water, and let it trickle through my fingers. "You don't have to wear that mist any more. You're not even a Black Mage, are you? You're one of Kuja's left-behinds. You're a Genome. You're, you're something he left down in the basement here, and you grew, like a mould. A mushroom. A fungus. A disease."

"Eiko..."

"You're crazy. You know that? You're past crazy. You're yanshit goddamn insane, and you think you're Vivi - "

"...E-Eiko..."

" - Vivi never would've touched her, and he never would've touched Lindblum, and he never would've touched Zidane and Garnet, and he never would have touched - "

"Why I was born."

I stopped and looked up at him. His voice was floating, soft, a feather.

"How I wanted to live..."

The words were easy. I'd read them over and over.

"Such sweet saccharine nonsense, linden-bloom. What we did together, was it so courageous? Zidane walked among us as an angel of death, down in the dark places, his heart a crippled worm of blackness worse than Kuja's. Worse than Garland. He danced the dance of death and everything he touched turned to dust, linden-bloom. We walked in Alexandria and it exploded. We walked in Lindblum and it exploded. We walked in Burmecia and it exploded. We walked in Cleyra and it exploded. We walked in Terra, the dead planet, and it died. Do you truly know the things Zidane did, down, down, in the dark, with his hands and feet and mouth?"

"Zidane was a hero. Shut up! Shut up!"

"Zidane was a liar!" He spat the words like they were magma. "He was an actor playing at being a human! 'Living life to the fullest'?! It's not true when you have no life to live, linden-bloom, when you're a monster like my children and me! Black Mages? Pah. He taught me life did not last forever, and it was a lesson well learnt only now. I refuse to lie down, linden-bloom, I refuse to Stop, I refuse to be alone in my suffering! He pays the price!"

There was silence. He seemed to be sucking in breath; I just stayed in the bathwater, my toes on edge to touch the floor. My voice was a dead whisper.

"So what do you plan to do, Tango?"

He shrugged, as if it was nothing. "Parley with Death. His name is Necron. The fact that you know means nothing to me. Less than nothing."

"No, no, I meant..." What did I mean? My voice was a monotone. My blood felt too hot for my veins. It had all gotten too much, too many directions, too many things in my system. Necron? Necron was gone. He could not bring Necron back; sometimes I still saw him in my most evil of nightmares, but he was gone. But Necron, the dream of dying and nullification and evil, that wasn't the point, the point was - "Why are you still lying? You could've gotten Vivi's letter from, from anywhere. Zidane's got it up and framed in the Great Hall in Alexandria. He died. You said he died yourself."

He was taking off his coat. There were clothes beneath it, coats upon coats, vests; he was unbuttoning them all. He was thin as a heartbreak, peeling off gloves until I saw hands, white as the underbellies of things that lived far beneath the earth.

"And I did not speak untruth, Princess. He died."

"So why?" My voice was trembling with tears. I had not slept. "Why did you tell me - "

"What do caterpillars become, honey-sweet, when they cocoon?"

"... Butterflies. Tango, stop playing with me - "

"What do Eikos become, honey-love, when they grow up?"

I tilted my head to look at him. He was unbuttoning the last vest, and I saw the flash of snowskin; in annoyance, he shook off his hat, and the mist melted away. The face was beautiful and hideous; fine-cut and chisel-boned, like an angel in a painting, the brows pale and the eyelashes paler with huge golden eyes set in a thin, hungry face. It was set about with scars, like a wild animal had tried to tear his face apart. I recognized the marks as having come from fingernails.

Dank locks fell about his cheeks as he worked, half-pinned clumsily up in a halfarsed topknot on his head. He must have had tons of hair, long breadths of it, but it was dirty and dusty and smeared with dried blood. He looked like a wild thing. He was a wild thing.

"They become hard little engineers," he murmured. "They become all angles, bookread, spiteful and firetongued and dreamless."

A massive scar bloomed on Tango's chest, from the bits that I could see; he held his shirt apart and knelt, wings rustling like the wind outside as they folded on his back. It was a burn scar, old and shiny and wrinkled.

"This is where the Third touched me."

The Third? Black Waltz Three. I pressed my arms against the side of the bath, watching, lumps everywhere. I wasn't going to believe. He wasn't. He said he wasn't. The earth was crumbling beneath my feet.

"But you weren't there." His voice was almost-gentle. "You were not with us yet."

"So that scar could be from anybody. Anything. You could have done it to yourself."

"... Do you still want to be a fireman, Eiko?"

I snapped my head up.

"A little boy stripped naked." His voice turned singsong in the way it usually did, like a chant, light and rhythmic and utterly insane. "A little boy stripped naked, leaving his clothes behind - his coat, his trousers, his hat, everything that had touched the unstoppable death of the things that sprang from his own two hands. He ran naked and screaming through the forest from all the dead things, and he threw himself into the river, and he did not die. And he ate of that which was poison, and he did not die.

"He fled into the deserts and ate things and drank the water that lived behind their eyes. He grew big lumps on his back, and he hurled himself down on the sand, and he rubbed and he rubbed and they blossomed into birdflowers of black hatefire and he flew with them. And he flew to a temple, where he was welcomed as son and heir, and his heart rotted and died and his mind peeled off like the layers of an onion until he knew what he had to do. The little naked boy dressed himself in black and danced the dance of death, and so called himself after it; and he made his children, in preparation for the harvest of the world, which he had always been born to do. He exists only to kill. He exists only to kill. He exists only to kill.

"Who is that boy, Eiko?

"I was born the Vivi-caterpillar," - and his smile was glorious and terrible; "Now I am the butterfly, and I am gone."

My memories will be part of the sky...

The tears dripped down my cheeks. I gripped for purchase on the side of the bath, shuddering, spasming, my forehead dipping down to touch the stones with my voice a strangled wail of grief. My horn grated against the rocks. Vivi. Vivi. Vivi. Oh, Gods, it had once been a prayer, and now it was a curseword falling from my lips. "I loved you. I loved you. I loved you so much."

"And now?" His voice was like a little boy's again; high, unsure.

I couldn't talk without gritted teeth, pressing my face into the granite. "And now I hate you so much I wish the earth would swallow you whole."

He's Vivi, he's a mirror-monster, he's Kuja come again. He's Vivi gone crazy, Vivi dead inside his brain. And he's died twice over for you now.

Oh, Madeen, how we suffer! We suffer and we suffer.

"And now you know my wish." His fingers were stroking my wet hair. "Most days, Eiko, the hate's bigger than the urge to freefall away into nothingness."

My sobs echoed off the walls, wails of a miserable child, caring nothing that he was touching me or much about anything any more. There was no higher power in that room that day, not for me.

"Hate me, love." Why did he have to be so tender? It was worse than torture. "Hate me in my own true name."

"I hate you, Vivi!" I wept. "I hate you!"

I cried in Vivi Orunita's lap as he softly crooned and petted my wet violet hair. I was nineteen years old. He was twenty-two. He smelt like dust and dead things and ashes as I screamed for years of broken trust, for innocence loss worse than virginity, for sins of the fathers that had been visited upon the children.

The lies had been so much sweeter than the truth. The truth was a bruised nightmare that bled.

He was Vivi.
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He held my head and shoulders until it was dark, the night cries of the antlions echoing across the silent plains. I had stopped crying long ago, my mouth a chapped slit, my whole body a headache.

Vivi slid wet hands from my neck, swollen from the water, picking me up underneath my armpits and setting me by the cold side of the bath. If Rain had been and left, I had not been aware, and he had said nothing; we were alone, the crazy black mage and I, and he fastidiously draped a towel over my shivering body. I had no strength to stand, just sit, clutching fistfuls of rough cloth in my hands.

He touched my summoner's horn, and it was like a bold of Thundaga; I shuddered, fragile like my mother's best china, and he walked away to the window.

"Do you know where Black Mages go," he said presently, "when we die?"

I'd always assumed heaven. Garnet had sat me down in her lap and we'd talked about the better place Vivi had gone to, where the good spirits went, and he was with his grandfather and his children and the other Black Mages.

What a crock of shit that had been.

"No."

"The same place I would have gone, if I had died, linden-bloom." He started to laugh. "Nowhere."

Black Tango - Vivi - laughed and he laughed and he laughed, until he couldn't stop and he had to bang his head against the wall so violently I thought his skull would split, expected a sound like a wet melon hit with a hammer. He merely shuddered, straightened, and set a foot on the windowsill.

"I didn't kill her, you know," he said softly. "I left her bruised and broken on the floor, but when I left her and the guards came, her heart was beating."

"What?" I felt concussed. "Who?"

"Cornelia." Vivi's voice was bittersweet. "Zidane's hateful prize and success. Your niece. I am the child of Zidane's brother, made with both of Kuja's hands. Does that make her my niece?"

"Elia?" I felt like a newborn. "Elia's not..."

"Her heart was beating, linden-bloom." Another foot up on the windowsill, his hands slipping back on his gloves and redoing his buttons; "My life seems to now revolve around little women who do not die."

He fell out the window in freefall. My heart was in my throat until I saw him silhouetted against the moon, wings beating from far off.

"How?" I whispered, the tears coming again, my fingers curling up on the ground. I'd cried oceans and lakes and rivers but still I had saline in me left to weep. "How the hell did it ever come to this?"