Lavender spread across his vision, and pale grey streaked across the horizon that had finally stopped its violent heaving. Zidane Tribal's thoughts were feeble and basic. I hurt, was the first, followed by how pretty. He had never seen a dawn in such muted, mourning hues. His head was pounding and his guts felt pierced in several places. How am I alive?
That was the last thought, and the most painful. Without fanfare he passed out.
He dreamed in a riot of color, or maybe he only thought he dreamed, but everything was edged in sharp focus that made everything more real than anything. Zidane spared a moment to wonder if he was dead, or back in Memoria again. He dreamt in dark and violet. He saw shimmering lights against a night sky, tiny points of airships high above the land, winking out one by one. It segued into the stars, into the two moons, only the two moons were rimmed in blood and he was spinning towards them. Scooped up by a giant's hand and tossed off his own planet, sucked in by the spiraling-down gravity well of another.
But Gaia had never been his planet, had it?
The moons shrank; Zidane tumbled back tail over ears and lavender feathers blew across the wrenched-open sky as the fire rained down around him, and around the slender backlit figure.
He seemed larger, tattered silver robes flared out around him, his feather-like hair stained with a thousand reflections from crimson explosions. A red-furred tail curled below his hemline as Zidane watched in astonishment, mouth frozen on a shout, and his hands were full of fire. But Kuja was not laughing, not gloating, like Garland, not glorying in his destruction as Brahne had danced on her decks; Kuja wept, and red trails spilled down his cheeks.
Before Zidane could linger too long on that, he was tipped over, eyelids breaking open to the sight of cracked dun soil and bare tufts of parched grass. His head was ringing with the aftershocks of a really good Cure spell and his throat felt dry. "...not dead?" he gasped, fingers digging into the ground. It felt gritty against his palms; it felt real and he gloried. He'd gone into the heart of the Iifa tree and come out alive.
"K-Kupo! I should hope not!" There was a rasping flit of wings and a soft white-furred body landed beside him. "Your eyes are open..."
"Moogle," Zidane mumbled. "Where am I? I am alive, aren't I?" He shook his head and the leaf-mold and dirt that sifted from his hair made him sneeze.
"Of course! Kupo." The moogle settled on surly instead of indignant. "You're on the outskirts of Madain Sari, kupo."
Right. He half-remembered dragging them out of the collapsed bowels of the Tree, for the one safe place that was nearby. Near enough, at any rate. And his guts had felt pierced in several places because they likely had been; Zidane hadn't stopped to check, just cinched his belt in around the strip of silvery-grey robe he tied around his middle, and heaved them to safety.
Them. His eyes widened. "Kuja...where's Kuja?" The pale man had been passive, arm looped over his shoulders, dead weight...but he had gone back for Kuja, and he would not let both of them die for nothing. After all Kuja's fiery determination to use the crystal, all or nothing, himself versus two worlds, it was unsettling to find him so ready to die.
And yet, dying as some sort of concept to atone for his sins was stupid. Since Zidane couldn't abide with stupidity, there was nothing for him to do but rescue this peculiarly elfin, pale 'brother' of his.
The Moogle flattened its ears back. "No Cure for him," the little creature said with finality, lifting from the ground with a series of determined flaps. "Kupo."
"Look...Morrison," Zidane dredged up the name from his memory. Morrison's ears perked back up. "I've been dragged through hell and back in the past two days. I've said goodbye to every one of my friends twice. I've faced down some wannabe-god and lived through it, and I went into the heart of that rogue monster Tree to bring *him* back out of it." Zidane pushed himself upright, trying not to wince.
Morrison fluttered uncertainly, bobbing right above eye-level.
"Now give me some Cure potions," Zidane said with a glare.
Morrison blinked. "Ku-Kupoo," he said weakly, hesitating. "But that is the bad man, kupo, who--"
"Never mind that!" Zidane half-shouted, aware that every second passing could be Kuja bleeding his life out over the cracked dirt. He wasn't going to waste all of that effort for nothing! "Give me the damned potions!"
Morrison warbled in distress. "O-one hundred gil each, kupo!" he said, listing in the air, obviously upset, then he straightened with a determined look.
Zidane scowled. "This is the thanks I get for restoring Mognet Central?" he complained, but he was already reaching for his belt pouch.
"I-I have done too much," Morrison gulped, overwhelmed. "Kupo. I will be at Madain Sari should you require anything else, kup-kupo." And he turned tail and fled.
Zidane staggered to his feet, clutching onto the precious, slender glass bottles. It was terribly few Cure potions, and what Kuja needed was more likely an Elixer, but he'd already expended most of his inventory in the battle with Necron, and the rest had been stripped away in his reckless dash down the throat of the Iifa Tree. Kuja wasn't far, thankfully, and he lay unconscious where Zidane must have dropped him before passing out.
So pretty, was the first thought that crossed his mind. Kuja lay in a sprawl of purple and grey robes, rents in the fabric revealing pale skin and curving, almost girlish hips. Zidane's hand went to his thick double-looped belt. His body was built much the same way, disguised by the baggy flair of his trousers and the belts to break up the line of his body. And why shouldn't they be the same?
They were both Genomes.
Kuja was lying there now, unconscious and hurting, and Zidane knelt beside him. The other man's eyelids were stained at the corners with red, and he thought of his tangled dreams.
Kuja wept blood...
...and there was no one to 'forgive' him. No one to remember Kuja. No friends the way Zidane's party members stood and fought beside him. No one to love. He'd saved Kuja because if their situations had been reversed, he might have done the same thing...he might've been the same way, and he couldn't bear the thought of leaving Kuja to die alone like that.
He poured the first of the Cure potions between Kuja's colorless lips. Only the slight rise and fall of his chest betrayed life.
Then Kuja coughed and sputtered, took the second potion with something approaching cooperation, and looked up at him with wild staring eyes. "Wh-WHY did you save me?" he choked. There was anguish in his tone, and a terrible regret.
Zidane gave him a cocky little grin, touching his shoulder, uncorking another potion. "Didn't have anywhere to be just then."
Madain Sari had been deserted.
The moogles were surprisingly unconcerned about it. "Lady Eiko has gone to be a princess," Momatose told him cheerfully. Then the moogle had tried to cook for him. Zidane avoided the kitchen now when the white furball was in the vicinity; he feared otherwise for his continued health.
Zidane wondered if that was a guess on the moogle's part or if word had reached him by way of Mognet. Well, good for Eiko. He'd started writing letter after letter to Dagger, and crumpled drafts littered the room where he'd taken up residence. There was something keeping him here, some unfinished business. Until he'd seen it through... Well, he'd already told Dagger 'goodbye.' She needed to be strong now on her own, and a play-troupe actor, sometime thief, didn't fit into the picture. He'd known that. So a few years wouldn't hurt.
It was a slow recovery for both of them. Once the initial good of the Cure potions wore off, both Zidane and Kuja had to heal the rest of their injuries the old-fashioned way -- with time.
Kuja had taken up haunting the remains of the Eidolon Wall during the days, staring out over the wharf with a cold pensive look at night. It was a habit he'd taken up after that very first day in Madain Sari, once he'd been able to walk. Kuja had picked his way through the ruins in the rags of his finery, bemusement and veneer of superciliousness giving way to dawning horror. Not long after, he'd started getting up early to spend time at the wall, Morrison fluttering over his shoulder at first as if to ensure the pale man wouldn't deface it.
Zidane suspected that Kuja had never spent much time with the actual results of his endeavors on three continents, only staying long enough to gloat and move on. Now he appeared to be making up for years' worth of conquest, but the manner of atonement eluded the ones who watched him.
"What am I doing here?" Zidane wondered aloud, vaulting neatly to the top of one half-crumbled wall, then moved along by handsprings with an acrobat's grace before settling into a balanced crouch, tail waving to and fro. "I could've gone back to Dagger...I could've returned to Lindblum and Tantalus; Boss would take me back. I did my best, after all." He was unsure if he referred to Dagger or averting the end of the world. Or something else.
The only thing keeping him here was Kuja.
"I've wondered the same thing myself," a sonorous, cultured tenor informed him.
Zidane whipped about, tail flagged out behind him to steady as he fell in a crouch facing the other direction.
Even disheveled, his silvery hair uncombed for days and his former grey-purple finery in tatters, Kuja retained all the poise from before. He flipped a feathery strand out of his eyes and crossed his arms, leveling a frank look at Zidane. "Why don't you go back to them? You've got everything to live for."
Unlike me, the addendum hung in the air.
"Not just yet," Zidane replied, watchful, tail lashing slowly behind him.
Emotion worked its way across Kuja's pale perfect face, something indefinable, then irritation. "Well, if you're waiting for any graceful concessions from me--" With an abrupt gesture he cut himself off, stalking away. He tripped on a rock, staggered, and continued with his spine held stiffly upright.
Zidane covered his mouth with one gloved hand, smothering a chuckle. Wouldn't do to let Kuja know he'd seen him being normally ungraceful, like any other person. "Now what," he wondered aloud, "was all that about?"
He jumped off the wall and followed, dusting his gloves together. "Hey, wait up?"
Kuja ignored him and kept striding along, his gait stiff. He still wasn't completely well, and had trouble walking from time to time, picking his way through Madain Sari. He was headed for the Eidolon Wall again, where he would presumably remain for hours, shutting everyone out.
"I said wait!" Zidane barked, anger flushing him. With a particularly acrobatic leap, he somersaulted mid-air, arcing over Kuja, and landed with only a slight stumble to mar the impressiveness. He held out a hand to bar the way, but Kuja was already turning in the other direction, that determined to avoid him. "Hey, when I tell you to wait for me, you wait!" He started after the other man.
"Why should I?" Kuja pivoted, snarling, and Zidane was brought up in astonishment at the look on his face. "I thought that you...when you came to me...I thought...well, never mind what I thought, because it's obvious you won't be staying!"
"Oh yeah? To whom?" Zidane challenged, taking in the moogles and the ruin of Madain Sari with a sweep of one gloved hand.
"You're still hung up on the Princess," Kuja returned. "Don't try and tell me you're not. So now that you've saved me, you've done your good deed, now go back to her."
"Dagger?" Zidane chuckled wryly. "You think that's it? Look, Dagger's the Queen now. And whether or not it was a one-sided love, that doesn't matter. Her like can hardly go around making love to thieves; she needs a Prince by her side, and I can't even claim being Prince of Terra..."
"Why not?" Kuja shot at him, face stark white. "To hear Garland speak of it, you were his Prince of Terra. You were supposed to be."
"So what?" Zidane growled, grabbing his shoulders. "That doesn't mean anything!"
"So what? So, that's everything!" Kuja laughed, tossing his head, managing only to get hair in his eyes. "You were the perfect one, his angel of destruction, and I was the first, the flawed prototype, good for nothing but my tragic end...and I couldn't even manage that properly!"
"Shut up," Zidane told him, "just shut up." He was sick of thinking like that, he didn't want Kuja to say things like that, belitting life into the chesspiece pawns Garland tried to make them out to be.
"If you'd just left me there to die, as you should have..."
"Shut up!" And, hands occupied, Zidane stopped him with his mouth.
Kuja's lips were slack with surprise, soft beneath his. Zidane pulled away with a frown.
"Guess I was wrong," he said, trying to shrug, to put on a careless smile. One of Kuja's hands had stolen up to the nape of his neck, and the pale man looked puzzled.
"No..." he said slowly, "you're not wrong. But your timing..."
"Nothing's wrong with my timing," Zidane told him huskily, and bent in for another kiss. A real one this time, with Kuja's mouth responsive beneath his, parting for open-mouthed kisses, long and slow. A hand was splayed against his chest, not to stop but to explore. It was Kuja's tongue who slipped between them this time.
When Zidane pulled back, licking his lips, Kuja said breathily, "Why?" He was so pretty. He looked so delicate, though he'd nearly destroyed them time and again. As beautiful as a woman, definitely, but he was *not* womanly.
"Because you need someone," Zidane said simply, still cupping Kuja's face between his hands, holding him there gentle as a wind-tumbled feather.
"Why you?" Kuja asked, all wistful suspicion.
Zidane smiled. "Why not me?" He drew his face close enough for another kiss, then said against his mouth, "I told you, didn't I? I don't have anywhere else to be, right now."
Kuja's lips were bittersweet and parted for him. His kisses were like drugged wine, not like the women he'd kissed before, not like Blank's sharp reciprocal enthusiasm. Not like he'd imagined Dagger's kiss to be, but not a substitute. Just Kuja, tasting like the ocean, and tears.
A bit of marriage-vow from one of Lord Avon's old plays traipsed through his head. '...As long as we both shall live...' They'd have that.
"I...I won't live long," Kuja said, pulling away, averting his eyes. "You know that."
"I know," Zidane replied. He'd heard Garland's last taunts, too. They were both genetic constructs, but Zidane was built to last and Kuja...had no such guarantees.
Kuja's smile was twisted. "You don't mind wasting three years of your life on me?"
"That would only be if I saw it as a waste," Zidane told him, giving him a carefree grin. As long as they both should live, he would see this through. He did have somewhere to be right now, and he had his arms around the reason.
"I wish I could believe you so easily," Kuja told him, and broke free of his hold. He staggered back, slapped Zidane's hand away when he tried to steady the silver-haired Genome, and limped towards the path that led to the eidolon wall.
"Hey...where do you think you're going?" Zidane was angry. Kuja'd said he loved him before, hadn't he? Even if he'd had a strange way of showing it...but he'd kissed him back just now.
"Somewhere to be alone," Kuja snapped, stumbling along the path as he tried to move faster.
"What if I don't agree?" Zidane demanded.
"You don't get a say," Kuja said, half-turning, hand lifting, and purple fire blossomed and flew from his fingers.
It roared up before Zidane's eyes, and he was flying backwards through the air, tumbling tail over ears, landing with a thud. Purple fire still crackled along his body as he leapt to his feet, furious. He'd restocked on all his healing items, so he could toss down a Hi-Potion and shrug off the aftereffects as he dashed after Kuja, who had disappeared for his new favorite haunt -- the Eidolon Wall.
"What the HELL did you do that for?" Zidane yelled, flushed and furious, skidding beyond the arch that led to the enclosed Eidolon Wall area.
Kuja was standing before the warped black and maroon mural of Bahamut, and he didn't turn. "Opening up your eyes."
Zidane brushed golden hair out of his face, impatient with Kuja's cryptic, martyred attitude. "You're full of it. You just don't want anyone to get close to you. You were willing to die rather than be indebted to anyone -- to me." He stalked towards the other man, tail lashing. "Well, deal with it. I'm not goin' away."
"Oh, but you should." Kuja turned, and his violet eyes were dangerous. "I kill everything that touches me, didn't you know? Sooner or later...so you should go back to your pretty little canary while you can."
"I told you, I don't think so." Zidane stopped a few feet from him, giving Kuja space. He'd already thrown one spell at him; no telling what he'd do next. "If you thought she and I were gonna have some kind of storybook ending, then you're wrong."
"If you think you and I will have a happy ending, you're dreaming," Kuja told him bluntly.
Zidane was frustrated. "If we can't, you're the only one who says so."
"Go away, Zidane." Kuja turned his back on him.
That was it. His temper snapped. "Now, you listen--" he advanced on Kuja "--d'you think I saved you from that damned tree just to abandon you? I'm staying whether you like it or not."
A pale hand lifted. "What are you going to do, force me?" There was a definite jeer in the other man's voice.
Zidane clenched his fists. He could hardly force Kuja to want him, it was true, but he knew that he did. He'd kissed back, after all. He'd tasted longing on his lips. "I don't care," he began, low and vibrating with anger, "if you don't believe me. I'll be here as long as it takes, whether you think I should stay or not. I'm not going to leave you alone. This is one decision that isn't yours to make."
He stood his ground, wary of the Ultima spell that Kuja could turn and throw at any instant. But Kuja neither moved nor spoke. He stood before the Eidolon Wall and ignored Zidane.
After a long time, steps receded into the distance, telling Kuja that Zidane had gone.
"Idiot," Kuja murmured, reaching up to his hair as if to toss it back. Instead, he pulled free a handful of feathery strands and looked at them with a rueful expression. They came away too easily. "Why would you make such a sentimental choice? I don't have much time...I hope you don't come to regret it." He opened his fist and the silvery-lavender strands scattered, picked up instantly by the wind.
He turned from the wall. He knew where Zidane would be, on the tiny wharf where the boats sailed from. He'd go there now, and he'd make a choice of his own.
Behind him, on the stones, a single feather lingered before it, too, was carried off.
~end~ 12/06/01 Christmas giftfic ...For Janie!