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 "In My Defence" 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. 15: In My Defence

* * *

In my defence what is there to say
All the mistakes we made must be faced today
It's not easy now knowing where to start
While the world we love tears itself apart
I'm just a singer with a song
How can I try to right the wrong
For just a singer with a melody
I'm caught in between
With a fading dream

In my defence what is there to say
We destroy the love, it's our way
We never listen enough, never face the truth
Then like a passing song
Love is here and then it's gone

- "In My Defence," Queen

* * *

Kuja didn’t look anything like Garnet remembered. Oh, she recognized him, for sure, but gone were the cosmetics and the flashy, body baring clothing and the smug, self-confident grin. He looked noticeably older than when she’d last seen him, and… smaller, even? Garnet recalled thinking of him as someone tall and imposing, with a big personality and an even bigger ego. But seeing him now, all worn down and bruised up, there really wasn’t anything impressive about him.

Still, appearances could be deceiving; Kuja was a dangerous man. As if to prove that, he suddenly lifted his chin and stared at her, no sign of fear or distress evident, even with a puffy lip and one eye on the verge of swelling shut. He cocked his head slightly at her, as if regarding a small animal. Garnet sat back on her throne, relieved to have General Beatrix standing smartly next to the prisoner. If something were to happen, she stood the best chance of being able to neutralize Kuja immediately.

With a nod from Garnet, Steiner secured the door at the rear of the room, then marched back to his spot flanking the queen to announce the start of the trial, but he barely got more than a few words out before Kuja suddenly cut him off.

“Why bother with the pretense of a trial? We all know what I’ve done,” he said, his voice surprisingly steady in contrast to Steiner’s sputtering protests. Kuja sought out Garnet’s gaze again, then smiled. “So what will it be? Hanging, beheading, poisoning…? Or do you prefer something more barbarous? I read that back in the early days of Alexandria, immurement and burning at the stake were the favorites of the first queens.”

Garnet’s mouth tightened. “Punishing without even the benefit of a trial… that isn’t how a civilized country does things. I won’t be like you, taking a life without any thought.”

Kuja shrugged slightly, just barely managing to keep evidence of stabbing pain in his back and shoulders from showing on his face. “But we both know that will be the end result. And I’ll make this easy on you: I’m admitting my guilt. Yes, I incited war between Alexandria and Burmecia, Cleyra and Lindblum. And then I attacked Alexandria myself. My actions cost thousands upon thousands of people their lives.”

Beatrix turned sharply at that, but held back from saying anything about the role she'd played in said war. This was Kuja's trial. And it was the queen's right to prosecute and sentence him as she saw fit… as the general, Beatrix was there to ensure the safety of everyone in the room, nothing more.

Garnet leaned forward, her eyes narrowing. “You… do you even have a shred of remorse for what you’ve done?”

“Does it matter?” Kuja tossed back, as if they were having a casual conversation.

“Of course it does!”

“No, it doesn’t. Because if I have to spend the rest of my life locked up, alone, then I’d rather die…” He paused, as if even he needed time to let that admittance sink in… No, he didn’t want to die, but if that was his inescapable fate, then he wanted to go out on his own terms, instead of falling victim to the limits Garland had set. He exhaled slowly, then continued on. “I have no defense to offer. So let’s not waste time on trivial formalities… what’s my fate?”

The queen frowned, her composure slipping. She really did want to conduct a fair and just trial, but Kuja was making it impossible. He was practically begging to be put to death. He almost looked proud of himself for having goaded her to the point where she was giving serious consideration to doing just as he wanted…

Was that what he was doing, then? Playing a twisted game, trying to get one last “win” over her by turning her into someone she was not? Or was he employing some sort of reverse logic to trick her into being merciful, playing off her fear of being labeled “barbarous” like some of her predecessors? He sure did like to talk a lot, and he had that soft, singsong quality to his voice that tended to lull people into listening to what he had to say.

Well, whatever he'd been planning, it wasn’t going to work. Although Garnet didn’t have any bloodlust in her, she knew justice demanded punishment, and beyond that, the danger he posed had to be neutralized. Even if he seemed harmless enough right now, all tattered and bruised, there was no guarantee that he wasn’t feigning weakness, or that he wouldn’t regain his fearsome power over time.

“What do you suggest, General Beatrix?” Garnet asked, wanting the opinion of someone who was wiser and experienced in such matters.

“Beheading. It’s the quickest and simplest…” the older woman responded without hesitation.

Garnet couldn’t help but recoil slightly at the thought of having to spill blood. “Is that really the only option?”

“Hanging takes too long, poisons are unpredictable. Neither is a more pleasant option for either executioner or prisoner,” Beatrix explained.

“You’re too kind, General,” Kuja said, smiling at the woman at his side.

Beatrix’s eyebrows twitched. “Oh, shut up.”

Garnet frowned. It was too weird, having Kuja actively participating in planning his own execution. But she sat back and thought about it carefully. Beheading was as final a fate as could be. She still didn’t like the idea of executing someone at all, but Kuja was a very special case. If anyone deserved to die for their crimes, it was him. But had he given her a full confession of all that he’d done? This was probably the only chance she’d have to try and wring the truth out of him…

“You admit that you drove my mother, Queen Brahne, to wage war against Burmecia,” Garnet began, the words bitter on her tongue. “And that you killed her.”

“Yes.”

“Did you have anything to do with the destruction of Madain Sari?”

Kuja hesitated for a moment. Garland had feared the Eidolons and, by extension, the Summoners who wielded them. He’d ordered the village to be leveled and the inhabitants, eradicated. He’d even granted Kuja use of the ship Invincible to make sure the job got done. And Kuja had done just that… except he’d made sure he was just “sloppy” enough that a few survivors slipped out. He'd needed them to stay alive after all, if he was going to harness their powers to use against his master at a later date.

It had been a decent plan, if he’d been able to put it into motion a lot sooner. It was too bad that time had given Garland the opportunity to upgrade the Invincible into too strong a barrier for the Eidolons to overcome.

“I was there, yes. I was under orders to wipe out the town,” Kuja admitted. Seeing the rage that suddenly flooded into Garnet’s eyes, he added, “I know it’s no consolation, but it was never personal.”

“Of course it was! It was my family you killed, my home you destroyed!” Garnet exclaimed, all thoughts of decorum forgotten. “I was only six then, but I can still see it in my mind: fire and bitter smoke everywhere, rising into the sky. And the eye at the center of it all. But I can’t remember my parents… I know my father put my mother and me on a boat to try to get us to safety. There was a terrible storm; my mother must’ve tried to shield me from the waves. She didn’t make it.”

Kuja opened his mouth, then shut it again when it was clear that the young queen wasn’t done.

“Years later, you struck again. I’d been living a happy, safe life, but then my father died and you showed up, with such incredible timing that it makes it suspect... You took advantage of my kind, loving mother, twisting her into someone unrecognizable… someone who didn’t care about her people or her daughter. And when she was no longer useful to you, you turned against her. I held her while she lay dying from the injuries you inflicted on her,” Garnet choked out.

Steiner took an aborted step towards his liege, compelled to comfort her, but he managed to restrain himself from running over to her, partially because it would’ve been presumptuous for him to do so, and partially because he needed to keep both eyes on Kuja, even with Beatrix standing guard. Kuja was just too wily, too evil, to let one’s guard down around. Hands still shaking, Steiner shot Kuja a deadly look, but the silver-haired man was focused on Garnet and paid the captain of the guard no attention.

Garnet pressed the back of her hand against her eyes to hold back the tears. It hurt, reliving the past like that, but at the same time, this was the only chance she’d get to confront Kuja directly. She managed to steady herself enough to take in a deep breath, before hissing, “Because of you… I have no parents. My mothers and fathers will never see me get married.”

Kuja wasn’t sure how to respond. It wasn’t like he had any experience with “parents” but he did understand that the family was something important to Gaians. “You won’t believe me, but I wasn’t targeting you. Well, not you personally… You were a Summoner; I had need of one.”

She stared at him in disbelief. She knew he didn’t have the normal range of emotions that everyone else did, but she’d poured her heart out… and that was all the response she was going to get? “That’s all you can say? You RUINED my life!”

Kuja thought back to earlier, when she’d asked him if he was sorry for the things he’d done. He was. Or at least, he thought he was. The truth was, he wasn’t completely sure what he felt was remorse. That was the word Zidane had assigned to it. But what he was sure of was that a flawed, incomplete life form such as himself he should’ve never been created in the first place. At least now, that could finally be fixed, though he understood that nothing would ever truly make amends for all the damage he’d caused…

“I regret that my actions have so impacted your life. But you can end it all here and now, by taking mine in exchange. Would that suffice?” Kuja asked gently.

“Your Majesty, may I ask a question?” Beatrix suddenly asked. Garnet seemed too stunned by Kuja’s response to answer, but she finally nodded her head, granting Beatrix the right to speak.

The general bowed her head, then turned to her prisoner. “Do you really want to die that badly? If so, you could’ve just done it yourself, instead of coming here.”

That had never really occurred to him. Kuja wasn’t sure why. Maybe that was yet another failsafe Garland had programmed into him, denying him any say over his life or his death. Struggling for an answer, Kuja ended up saying the only thing he could think of. “Well, it would be difficult for me to behead myself, though if you’d hand me your sword, I can attempt to do so now…”

Beatrix scowled. It was a good thing she didn’t have her sword in hand already, or else she might’ve done something that she wouldn’t be able to take back. “Don’t try to be clever!”

Garnet slapped her hand down on the arm of her throne. “I’ve heard enough,” she said sharply. She waited until everyone in the room turned their attention to her, then announced, “I am ready to hand down the sentence now. Angel of Death Kuja, for your crimes against Alexandria, and the whole of Gaia, I, Queen Garnet Til Alexandros XVII, have no recourse but to sentence you to death. You are to be beheaded at the break of dawn tomorrow.” She hesitated briefly, then added, “Do you have any last requests?”

Kuja didn’t bat an eye at the sentence. He was, however, surprised that she was willing to grant a last request. “I have two, actually,” he said after some thought.

Garnet mulled it over a moment, then parried back. “I will grant one, so choose.”

Kuja glanced briefly around the room again. He wanted to say goodbye to Zidane, but there was no point in trying to make a memory like that; it wasn’t going to matter once his life ended. So he dropped his chin slightly before saying, “After it’s all over, I’d like for my body to be burned until there’s nothing but ash.”

That wasn’t what Garnet expected to hear, but it wasn’t an unreasonable request. She gave it some thought but saw no reason to deny it. “Granted. General, Captain, please make sure to see to it that that happens.” After the pair acknowledged her order, Garnet’s curiosity got the best of her and she found herself asking, “What was the second request?”

“Ah. There was someone I thought I should say goodbye to. But never mind. By tomorrow it won’t matter anyhow.”

There was an awkward silence. Kuja grinned lopsidedly. Even without saying the name, it was obvious whom he was referring to.

Garnet gestured at Steiner, indicating that it was time to end the hearing, and once he finished announcing it, Beatrix escorted the prisoner out of the throne room. After the doors closed behind the Genome and the general, Garnet sat back heavily in her seat, still thinking over that second request.

It was so awkward that they were all dancing around Zidane’s conspicuous absence. He really should’ve been there – not only for Kuja’s sake, but for Garnet’s as well. It was a heavy burden, having to order someone's death. She hadn’t wanted to do it, but in this case, there really was no other option…

She wasn’t under any obligation to let them see each other, but perhaps she’d sleep a little better if she allowed it, as a kindness. That way she could finally close the book on this chapter of her life without being haunted by the thought that she’d been too cruel to a doomed man… Maybe it’d help to start mending bridges between her and Zidane as well.

Decision made, the young queen rose, and, as a surprised Steiner scrambled to follow, began making her way up to her fiancé’s suite to deliver the news.

* * *

Zidane was sitting by the window, staring blankly out at the garden, when Garnet walked in. Normally he’d greet her with a wide grin and a bounce in his step, like a happy puppy. But not this time. He didn’t even get up; instead, he turned to look at her, then bowed his head slightly, all while seated.

She had planned on telling him that she’d had a change of heart, that he’d be allowed to go and say goodbye to Kuja, but seeing Zidane sulking like that made her a little mad. He was the one who’d put her in this position in the first place; he didn’t even have the decency to stand in support of her now.

“You said that he’s sorry, that he’s changed. But I don’t see it. The entire trial, he joked around, with that insincere smile on his face. He couldn’t be serious, even for a moment, even with his life on the line,” she said.

Zidane shook his head. He didn’t agree – he knew Kuja regretted what he had done, and he knew him well enough to know that the jokes and smiles were just a front - but he chose not to argue back. She wouldn’t believe him anyhow. So instead he asked, “So what will happen now?”

There was no way to soften the blow, so Garnet went with the plain truth. “Kuja will be executed tomorrow morning.” She paused to give Zidane a moment to absorb the news. He didn’t seem surprised, but he definitely looked unhappy about it. He wouldn’t even look her in the eye anymore.

“He made a couple of last requests,” she continued awkwardly, her anger deflating a little at how Zidane was slumping in his seat, a man defeated. It made her want to comfort him like one would a child. “One of them was to say goodbye to you. I told him no, but I’ve reconsidered… I will grant that wish.”

Zidane finally looked up at her again, sighing heavily. He was still haunted by the last time he’d said goodbye to Kuja. This time, it seemed, would be the last. “What was the other request?”

“He asked to be cremated.”

Zidane turned away. It sounded so… final, thinking about what would happen with Kuja’s body afterward. That wasn’t what he expected to hear, but then again, he had no idea what else Kuja would've asked for as a “last request.” Despite the time that they’d spent together, the former mage was enigmatic as ever. His decisions often made sense only to him.

“Look, this wasn’t an easy decision to make. I didn’t want to be placed in this position. But it’s the right thing to do,” she explained, her voice as gentle as she could manage. It was times like this that she wished she could simply be Dagger – but she had never been the type to run away from her responsibilities, no matter how difficult the situation. “Putting aside my personal feelings, I don’t think anyone in this city will sleep soundly as long as they know he’s alive.”

“He saved us, you know? After we fought Necron, he used his remaining magic to spirit us away. It was pretty much the last spell he cast. He hasn’t been able to do anything since.”

She hadn’t known about that. But even so, it didn’t change a thing. “One good deed doesn’t erase all the bad ones. And if he lived and recovered his power over time - then what? I won’t risk this world on the slim possibility that he won’t turn his magic against innocents again.”

Zidane sighed again. She just couldn’t see the good in Kuja, even when it was right in her face. “I can’t believe it. It can’t end like this for him. It’s not fair…”

“I didn’t want to delay it. There’s no reason to. It’s not just because of the wedding…”

“The wedding?” Zidane spat. He shook his head. He didn’t care about the damn wedding! He didn’t care if he ever got married! How could he possibly walk down the aisle and then dance and feast in celebration, with Kuja’s execution casting a dark shadow over it all?

“If it were further out, even by a few weeks, I’d want to postpone it. But… it’s not fair to everyone who came to see us, who worked hard to help us prepare, is it?” she chided. The wedding felt like a burden now, not a blessing, but she refused to back away, even though she wasn’t sure if they could ever mend this tear in their relationship. The differences between them, the very differences that had once attracted her to Zidane, suddenly felt too great to overcome.

“I don’t care!”

Garnet held her breath until she was sure she wouldn’t yell back in frustration. She’d been infuriated earlier. She’d given her fiancé the cold shoulder. Now Zidane was doing the same back to her. She still felt justified in her earlier reaction, given that Zidane had lied to her, that he’d been more worried about Kuja’s feelings than hers, but she supposed she’d overreacted by ordering that he be confined to his room and refusing to allow him to participate in the trial. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but perhaps he’d understand better where she was coming from, if he’d seen how Kuja had acted.

“I’ll lift the confinement order. When you’re ready to go see him, one of the Knights of Pluto will escort you down.”

“So you didn’t trust me, and now you’re trying to trust me, but you really don’t,” Zidane said.

Garnet’s head spun from Zidane’s comment. She stopped trying to make sense of it and sighed, “Just do the right thing, Zidane.”

The right thing… Zidane didn’t even know what that was anymore. It felt like no matter what he did, he was making the wrong decision. Was there any way out of the mess he’d made at all, or was he going to have to choose between a bad outcome and an even worse one?

* * *

It came as no surprise that Kuja was being kept in the darkest, most distant cell in the dungeon. On one hand, Zidane was pretty sure he would’ve had some trouble finding it without the castle guards escorting him there. On the other, he felt like he was the one under surveillance. Because even though Garnet had told him she trusted him to “do the right thing,” she was going to make sure that he did just that – her way.

He’d been so impatient to go see Kuja that he’d headed down without giving himself enough time to decide what to do next. Was there really nothing he could do, other than tell Kuja goodbye? But if he wanted to save him, then…

Zidane frowned. He didn’t want to say goodbye to Garnet either, though at least the separation there would be alienation, not death. Even though they’d been arguing, even though he’d been dissatisfied with life at the castle even before Kuja had shown up, that didn’t mean he’d stopped caring for her. He wanted to protect her and make her happy. He still thought of himself as her knight in shining armor, her fairy tale prince.

But he cared about Kuja too. He wanted to protect him and make him happy as well. And if anyone needed a shield between themselves and the world – a role Zidane figured no one else would willingly play - it had to be Kuja.

It was frustrating. Why did it have to happen this way? He’d been fine being friends or even family with Kuja, he’d enjoyed the time they spent together, but then they’d crossed that line… If that hadn’t happened, if he hadn’t been seduced, then he probably wouldn’t have felt so torn. He wouldn’t have had his thoughts filled with maybes and what-ifs. He wouldn’t be second-guessing every single thing he did. He wouldn’t be thinking about running away from everything he’d thought he ever wanted, just to find his way back to Kuja’s embrace.

He was so busy going in circles in his head that he didn’t notice that the guard in front of him had stopped walking, and narrowly missed colliding into the man.

The guard turned and gave him a funny look. “Your Highness, we’re here,” he stiffly stated the obvious, before bowing and stepping back to give Beatrix room to approach.

Ignoring the female general, Zidane looked at the heavy door to his left. A tiny, barred window provided an opening he could peer into, but it was completely dark inside. Zidane glanced back at Beatrix, who nodded curtly at him, then turned back to the door. He reached up and hesitantly wrapped his fingers around one of the bars. “Um… Kuja?”

There was no response at first, then he could hear something like the scraping of metal on stone. “Zidane?”

The voice was soft, a little weak, but still, a momentary flood of relief flowed through Zidane at the sound of it. It had been so long… and yet he’d never forgotten... “Kuja… I’m here. I can’t see you though…”

A little more scraping – it was obvious Kuja was shackled in some manner – and then the former mage said, “That’s as far as I go. I can see your hand though.” He chuckled dryly. “I’m just glad that the canary reconsidered my request.”

Zidane frowned. “She did, so don’t call her that.” He immediately took his hand off the bars and pressed his face against the opening, squinting into the dark cell, but he could barely make out the shape of the shadowy figure inside. “Beatrix, can't you open the door?”

She folded her arms, slightly amused that he’d had the guts to ask. “No.”

Zidane tried a different tact. “What if I order you…”

The general tossed her hair back. “Absolutely not, Prince. The queen’s orders…” She would’ve offered to bring over a candle, but then Kuja chose to cut into the conversation.

“Ah yes, it’s Prince Zidane now,” Kuja purred, his voice a little louder than before. “I have to say, I’m a little jealous… I never managed to obtain a title like that.”

Zidane’s tail began twitching. He hated it when Kuja got that smug, condescending attitude rolling. “That doesn’t matter. What are you doing here?”

“I came to congratulation you on your pending nuptials. I didn’t bring a gift though.”

“A gi… What is wrong with you? This isn’t a joke! Your life is on the line here, don’t you get it?”

“I knew what was at stake,” Kuja replied evenly.

Zidane shut his eyes a moment. He’d come down out of concern for Kuja, hoping that he could think of some way to save his life, but the former mage seemed dead set on playing around, mocking him. He had no idea just how torn Zidane felt. His dream wedding, his relationship… they were pretty much in shambles now. Even if he and Garnet went though with the wedding, no one would be happy with the result. “You… you have no clue what you’ve done. I had it all planned out, but now… How am I supposed to get married at a time like this? You’ve ruined everything!” he blurted out.

Kuja hesitated, wavering. He hadn’t had much opportunity to speak to anyone for a long time, until this day. So he’d fallen into old habits while bantering with Beatrix and even the queen. He’d forgotten how easily Zidane got upset when he felt Kuja was being evasive or glib. But he really didn’t want the blonde to be upset with him, when he was the only person he could actually talk to…

“I’m sorry,” Kuja said, and Zidane grimaced as he struggled to identify if Kuja was actually being sincere, or just starting in on another joke. It was impossible to tell. “I didn’t know what was going on. It wasn’t like I got an invite,” Kuja added after a slight pause.

Of course Kuja had been unaware of just how bad his timing was. Zidane knew that. But it was easier to focus on the last part of Kuja’s comment instead of admitting that he had a valid point. “Yeah, because - surprise! You’d be the last person Dagger would want to see on her wedding day!”

Ignoring Zidane’s comeback just as Zidane had ignored his explanation, Kuja continued on, the mirth now gone from his voice. “I waited for you to come back. I waited, because you gave me your word… If I’d known you weren’t coming back, hell, I would’ve taken that Dwarf up on his offer…”

The last thing Zidane wanted was reminder of the promises he’d broken. And Kuja’s flippant attitude grated on him, as it always did. The two combined made him irrationally irate. “And I told you I’d come back for you when I found some place for you to stay. Well, guess what? I tried! I tried several times. No one wanted you, okay?!”

With tears suddenly stinging the corner of his eyes, Kuja sat silently as the careless words crashed into him. It was funny how something formless as words could cut just as sharply as a sword. Normally he would've brushed them off. But against Zidane, he’d always felt oddly defenseless.

Of course he’d known that no one would take him in. That was a given. But he’d stupidly clung to Zidane’s promise because he’d wanted so badly to believe that somehow, the younger Genome could pull it off. And it had felt nice, thinking that there was someone who cared about what happened to him.

“Well, at least it sounds like you made some effort before throwing in the towel,” Kuja muttered. He felt his throat tighten; it made it hard to get the words out.

“And it sounds like you don’t believe that at all. It’s obvious you don’t. You couldn’t stay put, could you? You didn’t trust in me to come through in the end,” Zidane hissed, ignoring the nagging voice in the back of his head pointing out that he was the one who’d said he’d be back in a month or two, that he was the one who’d failed at finding safe haven.

“The point is, your plan failed, regardless,” Kuja retorted, hitting Zidane’s sore spot dead on. “There’s going to be no safe harbor for me, no future – this will truly be our last conversation. A final farewell.”

“You would’ve been safe if you’d done like I said and stayed put! Then everything would have worked out for us both. But no… you had to ruin my plans for the future too!

Kuja took a shaky breath, feeling a pain that was only partially from the physical injuries he’d sustained, dimly aware that the tears he’d thought he’d held back were now slowly rolling down his face, one at a time. Then suddenly, he began laughing again. Even though it hurt, even though he could barely breathe, he couldn’t stop. “Oh Zidane, you should’ve left me in that damn tree! Then none of this would have happened,” he gasped.

Zidane gawked at the door as laughter filled the hallway. “Yeah, you’re right. I probably should’ve!” he hissed before pushing away from the cell door and stomping away, bumping against Beatrix in his haste to escape. Damn it!! He was furious and heartbroken at the same time. He needed to get out, clear his head… or else he’d do something he’d really regret.

“I’m going out,” he curtly told his escort when he reached the guard standing in wait for him by the stairwell. The knight made haste to follow him upstairs, even as Zidane snapped that he wanted to be left alone.

In his cell, Kuja slumped against the wall and continued to laugh, even as he began coughing from lack of air. His face was wet and sticky now, but he didn’t care. Wasn’t that what he’d been created for? To be used and discarded once he’d served his purpose? It didn’t matter if it had been Garland, Zidane, or some random person trolling for a one-night stand. In the end, the result had always been the same. But he was completely useless now…

Why had Garland given him a soul, given him the ability to feel, even if only to a limited degree? Kuja was exhausted. Even he had his limits. If no one wanted him around, what was the point of going on? The best thing to do was to give in to the inevitable and just die. That was what the whole world wanted, wasn’t it? It was the only thing he could do to make amends. That was why he hadn’t fought the young queen’s sentence, why he’d welcomed it, actually.

In a matter of hours, his pathetic mockery of a life would end… and the world would go on without him.

He curled up on the floor, not bothering with the extra blankets Beatrix had provided. He felt so numb that neither the hard, cold floor nor the aching of his injured body registered anymore. With no one to hold on to, he clutched at his tail – a habit from his earliest days - and closed his eyes. He was so tired. He just wanted to sleep. Perhaps his dreams would be a little bit merciful… if not, even oblivion was fine. He didn’t mind if he didn’t wake up again.

* * *

Author’s Notes:

November 22, 2015