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 "Back Chat" 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. 25: Back Chat

* * *

Back chat, back chat
You're driving me insane
It's a battle to the end
Knock you down you come again
Talk back, talk back
You've got me on the rack
Twisting every word I say
Wind me up and get your way
Fat chance I have of making a romance
If I'm ever going to win
Have to get the last word in

Take it from there

- "Back Chat," Queen

* * *

Zidane half expected Kuja to argue when he'd said that they ought to go back to town the next day to get supplies and stuff, but he hadn’t. It was unrealistic to think that he’d somehow become agreeable in a single day, but he was trying, and that was enough for now.

The next morning they headed out, Kuja in his new clothes – he wasn’t completely done with the embroidery, but the outfit was wearable and certainly preferable to the oversized items Zidane had originally bought – and with a new hairstyle. Zidane had tied back the long silver strands from around the crown, finishing it off with a neat bow. The former mage wasn’t sure if he really liked it or not as it revealed more of his face than he wanted, but Zidane seemed pleased with the results, and Kuja didn’t want to say anything that would discourage Zidane from brushing his hair in the future.

They stopped by the inn before heading to the market. As usual there were a few people picking up messages and reading the bulletin board. Zidane greeted Arnett and was about to formally introduce Kuja to him, but was distracted by the sight of the mayor tying a bright orange ribbon to the porch post. There were matching ribbons at the entrance of the town hall as well. Zidane was sure he’d seen something like that before, but he couldn’t remember when, or what it had signified.

"Hey, what’s that for?"

"Well good morning to you too," Arnett grunted. "And this? Means there’s a town meeting tonight. It’s normally once a month, but something came up."

Zidane gave him a slight, awkward smile. "I see…" He wasn’t sure if that meant they were invited, though he wasn’t sure if he wanted to attend, either. But it’d be awkward to show up if they weren’t supposed to… just as awkward as leaving Kuja hovering behind him… "Ah, sorry! Kuja, this is the mayor, Arnett. Arnett, this is Kuja."

Arnett extended his hand and Kuja stepped forward and reciprocated. They exchanged brief words of greeting, then Kuja withdrew to his usual spot behind Zidane. The young thief cleared his throat and turned back to the mayor with an expectant look.

"If the two of ya wanna come, town meetings are always at 7:30, in the main hall. Normal meetings are on the first of the month. Emergency ones, look for the orange ribbon in the morning, meet that same evening," Arnett explained, watching as Zidane glanced back at Kuja, shrugging, apparently undecided about attending.

"Hmm…"

"You should come. Especially when there’s important matters to discuss," Arnett added. He couldn’t help but look past Zidane’s shoulder at Kuja. Sara had given him her impression of him when they’d met at the bakery two days earlier; other townsfolk had been gossiping about his looks and demeanor. Arnett still wasn’t convinced that it was safe to have the man around; he worried they’d be in over their heads trying to deal with him and / or any potential bounty hunters that followed in his wake. Kuja himself certainly seemed harmless enough. But maybe he was hiding his true nature. Maybe he’d slip up, if enough eyes were upon him. Arnett was determined to uncover the truth, even if it took effort and time.

"We’ll try to make it," Zidane replied. "I can’t promise, though."

"Right… I’ll see you two tonight then," the mayor said with a grin, making his expectations obvious.

Zidane flashed a crooked smile in response, then, after giving the message board a quick look, excused himself and Kuja before leading his companion towards the largest building anchoring the town’s center.

This was Kuja’s first time at the morning market. He’d expected something a little more organized like the outdoor markets he’d seen in larger cities, not this rather casual gathering in the town hall. Apparently there were only so many tables to go around; many of the goods sat on blankets on the floor or were perched on chairs. Most of the "booths" weren’t even staffed: a pile of assorted vegetables sat next to a scale, a cash box, and a chalked sign reading "8 gil / lb," and the ladies that sold eggs and smoked meats were off talking to an older woman who kept on knitting, her wares piled next to her chair.

"It’s mostly food but there’s folks that make things too. Obviously if there’s anything you want, just go fer it," Zidane said as he went to inspect some fruit. The apricots and cherries looked nice. "Is there any of this that you won’t eat?"

Kuja gave a slight shrug. Zidane apparently thought he needed to check in with him on every single ingredient he bought. "It’s fine."

Zidane paused as if assessing the truthfulness of that statement, then nodded and began filling up his basket.

With nothing else to do, Kuja began looking around the room, though there wasn’t much of anything to see. Even though it was the town hall, the main room wasn’t as large as he had expected. So Kuja just followed Zidane around as the younger man circled the room, trying to decide what looked good for the next few meals. The other shoppers were doing the same while socializing as well. Zidane joined in on some of the conversation, but Kuja hovered like a shadow behind him, all while wondering why anyone needed to go around the room more than once. A few people tried to engage Kuja in small talk as well, but he only exchanged greetings and said little else beyond that.

Zidane kept an eye on the interactions, but tried not to butt in too much. He really wanted Kuja to be able to talk to these folks on his own, but for now, it seemed futile. The more that people approached him, the more Kuja withdrew, until finally, Zidane had had enough and excused the both of them, before taking Kuja over to a quiet corner.

"Are you okay?" Zidane asked softly, standing like a wall between Kuja and all the other activity in the room.

Kuja took a deep breath before nodding slowly. It hadn’t been the talking, but the staring that had gotten to him. He’d thought he’d be used to it by now – after all he’d been scrutinized or admired most of his life – but things had changed, and without his magic he wasn’t sure what people thought of him when they looked at him. Even in new, nicer clothes, he was no longer the flawless beauty that had once enraptured nobles. And even if someone was somehow attracted to him, he was no longer willing to give himself to just anyone. It wasn’t simply because there was nothing to gain from it, but…

He suddenly averted his eyes from Zidane, unable to describe what he was feeling, even to himself.

Zidane didn’t press for more of an answer, though he assumed Kuja was overwhelmed by all the attention and maybe feeling a bit tired too. But the blonde had discovered a little something recently and had been dying to show it to Kuja, and now seemed like the perfect time.

"Come with me." Taking a hold of Kuja’s hand, Zidane led him out a side door and down a hallway, then opened the door at the end and stepped aside, all while hiding a knowing smile. "Voila – the library!"

Kuja’s lips twisted slightly. Calling the cramped little room with its trio of not-quite-full bookshelves a "library" was an insult to libraries everywhere - it really was nothing more than a converted storage room behind the town’s small schoolroom. Then again, it was a minor miracle that a town as tiny and isolated as Nil had a library at all. A snide voice in his head wondered if half the people in town could even read…

Kuja looked over at Zidane, the obvious question in his eyes, and Zidane nodded and said, "I already asked. You can borrow some. They just want you bring them back when you’re done."

That was all the encouragement the silver-haired man needed. Kuja stepped inside and started browsing. The windowless room was musty and in need of better lighting – as well as some organizing, since there seemed to be no logic to how the books were arranged - but books were books, and that was all he cared about. So immediately engrossed was he in what he was doing that he didn’t hear Zidane say that he’d be back in a few minutes, nor did he notice Zidane shutting the door behind him.

With Kuja distracted, Zidane returned to the main hall to finish shopping, though he did so with one eye on the hall door, in case the older Genome needed anything. But Zidane wasn’t really surprised to see the door stay shut the whole time.

Once done with the morning market, Zidane loaded up his purchases on Choco and went back in to get Kuja. Predictably, Kuja was slightly reluctant to leave – he couldn’t decide how many books he should take. He didn’t want to grab too many since this was his first time borrowing, but it was hard deciding between the ones he’d already begun flipping through. He eventually settled on two: a small volume of poetry and a well-worn tome about the flora and fauna of the region – the former appealed to his love of the dramatic, the latter, his practical side.

Zidane gave Kuja a smile when he finally got up to leave. He’d always thought of the older man as being high maintenance and difficult to please but he looked so content with nothing more than a couple of used books tucked under his arm. He’d even perked up enough to nod at the few people who said goodbye to them as they were leaving.

Zidane had never asked Kuja why he loved of reading so much – he seemed to assume it was mainly due to boredom - but he supported it, and that was all that mattered to Kuja. It wasn’t like a few books changed his world, but Kuja couldn’t help but feel a little more balanced with them, as if they were weights stabilizing his mood. Unlike people, books were easy to understand… he didn’t have to wonder what they thought of him; books didn’t expect him to answer inane comments about the weather. So even though his choices weren’t particularly exciting, he looked forward to going home and sitting down on the porch and reading. It was something safe and predictable in a life that had been anything but.

They walked out of the market side by side and headed over to the bakery, then to the general store. Sara complimented Kuja on his new outfit; the Cleyran sisters praised him on his embroidery work, thinking it a nice improvement over the plain garment he had started with. They even suggested that Kuja consider doing embroidery piecemeal, and Kuja thanked them and said he’d think about it.

He’d never thought about working for a wage before but he was beginning to realize how much they were spending each time they came to town. Zidane was earning 250 gil a week, just enough for a single person to live off of if they were frugal, but Zidane had spent more than that on a single trip. He’d said he had some money in reserve, but how long would that last if he weren’t mindful of his spending? The sisters had told Kuja that he could make at 20 - maybe even 30 - gil an hour doing needlework; even if he only worked a couple hours a day, it’d be enough to put food on the table. It wasn’t much, but Kuja hated the thought that he wasn’t contributing at all, that Zidane was having to do everything while he just moped around, eating food he hadn’t worked for and buying clothing he hadn’t earned.

"Do you think I should do it? Take in some work, I mean," Kuja asked as they rode back to the cottage.

"Only if it’s something you want to do." Zidane paused, then tried again. "I like taking care of you, you know. I’ve always liked taking care of people. Maybe I’m just wired that way. So don’t feel like you’re obligated to ‘pitch in.’ But… if that’s what you want… Well, I know it would drive me nuts if our roles were reversed and you told me I didn’t have to do anything, because I’d want to contribute, if I could…" Because I’d want to be useful, Zidane finished to himself, realizing that was exactly how Kuja felt. He’d said many times after his defeat that he felt useless. Finding work, making a little money, helping out around the house… it didn’t take a lot to give someone a sense of self worth.

"Maybe I’ll give it a shot." Kuja fingered the stitching on his top and sighed. Would people really pay him for such a thing? He was already starting to doubt himself. Who would want to hire him for a trivial task in a town so simple and isolated?

"The ladies loved what you did, and so do I. I bet other people would want something like that too."

"And we could use the money…?"

"Don’t worry about money. Really." Zidane could feel Kuja staring right through the back of his skull, and he chuckled. "No, I’m not planning on stealing from the people here! What I meant was I have some ideas… Like fishing! I don’t see anyone selling fish, though supposedly some of the previous dockmasters did that. Or maybe I can go back to hunting monsters - but I haven’t seen many around." The blonde waved a hand in the air. "I’m sure there’s something more I can do, even if it’s just odd jobs around town."

Kuja didn’t exactly feel reassured by Zidane’s haphazard plans, but it wasn’t like he could offer up anything better at the moment.

Zidane lowered the hand he’d been waving around and settled it onto Kuja’s hand as it rested against his waist as they rode. "I won’t let you down. Maybe if it was just me, I’d struggle to get motivated, but for you – for us - I’ll work hard and do my very best, no matter what."

If Zidane really meant that, then Kuja figured he should give the embroidery thing a try as well. If it didn’t pan out, well, then he’d just have to find some other way he could contribute. Maybe he could do something in the town’s library. Heck, maybe he could learn to work on the boats too, though he didn’t have Zidane’s strength or endurance. But he bet he could choose better paint color combos than what was currently slapped on the vessels.

"I, too. I’ll do what I can, as well as I can." The former mage said it in a quiet voice, but there was steel in his voice that hadn’t been there in a while.

Zidane suddenly wished he could turn around to embrace and kiss Kuja, but he doubted Choco would appreciate having passengers twisting and turning about while riding. He settled for squeezing Kuja’s hand and tilting his head back and slightly in on the side, to barely bump it against Kuja’s cheek. "I know you will."

Kuja leaned in enough to briefly rest his head on Zidane’s shoulder. It wasn’t a hug but it felt comforting like one. Zidane seemed to agree, letting loose a contented sigh.

… And then Choco joined in with an enthusiastic "Kweh," bouncing both his riders around on his back as he picked up speed as the cottage came into sight.

Zidane chuckled and straightened up, albeit a little reluctantly. But Choco did have a point. The back of a giant bird was probably not the best place to fantasize about making out with someone.

* * *

With his latest promise to Kuja foremost in his mind, Zidane spent part of the afternoon testing out fishing equipment. There was more stuff in the shed than he’d realized; he’d been using regular rods to catch the occasional fish for their dinner, but there were nets and traps and assorted artificial baits that he hadn’t yet tried that were probably far more effective at catching sellable quantities of fish.

Predictably, Kuja spent as much time reading on the porch as he could, only heading indoors to work on embroidery when Zidane signaled that someone was arriving. It was almost always someone from town, wanting a boat; the town rarely got visitors. Kuja tried not to stress out too much each time Zidane coughed and stretched his arms in warning, but it felt sometimes that no matter how vigilant they were, eventually the wrong someone would slip by, and these peaceful days would come to a sudden and violent end.

But even with that ever present fear lodged in the back of his mind, Kuja had to admit, this wasn’t a bad life. He was no longer cold, no longer hungry, no longer alone. And Zidane was being more patient and kind than he’d ever been, not that anyone else had been much of either to him before. While the town, like its library, was a little dull, it really wasn’t a bad thing. He’d never stopped to give the state of his soul much thought before but it seemed a quiet life and easy routine were the balms he needed if he were to have any hope of recovery.

The day passed quickly, and soon Zidane was securing the boats for the evening and giving his fishing gear one last check. He’d caught a trio of small fish earlier and set them over some coals to smoke; he wasn’t sure if they were any good to eat – would anyone want to buy them? - but there was one way to find out…

The fish turned out to be surprisingly tasty, but because they were so small, Zidane ended up flaking them into some soup with greens and new potatoes. It wasn’t the most substantial meal but Kuja seemed to approve, finishing up his bowl without complaint. Zidane made a note to catch more of those fish the next day and try his hand at selling them. At worst, no one would buy them and they’d have them for dinner again.

Zidane had been unsure whether or not he wanted to attend the town meeting – he half wondered if the whole thing was a trap – but even if that were so, it wasn’t like the townspeople didn’t know where they lived. They could just as easily ambush them at the lakeside house. It seemed far more likely that Arnett had been truthful: there was something going on that the town needed to know about. With that being the case– and as Kuja had no objections either - they found themselves heading back to town via chocobo. It was nearly dark, but Choco had little problem navigating down the now-familiar path with both Zidane and Kuja holding lanterns aloft for spots of light.

There was a steady trickle of people heading into the town hall by the time they arrived. The two Genomes slipped in as quietly as possible, trying to not attract attention, though that proved to be impossible since Sara stood up and ran over to greet them as soon as she saw them.

"You made it! Arnett wasn’t sure you’d come," Sara said.

"Yeah, I figured we should see what’s going on…" Zidane nodded at her even as he looked around. The same room that had been stocked with produce and crafts that morning had been rearranged so that all available chairs were placed in the center, facing a chalkboard at the back wall of the room. There was ample standing room near the entrance and to the sides, but most of the chairs were already taken, mostly by women and the elderly. From the looks of it, nearly the entire town’s population was in attendance.

Sara turned to Kuja. She seemed to be considering something for a moment, her eyes dropping down to Kuja’s feet before asking, "Mr. Kuja, do you want to sit down? You can have my seat."

She always surprised him with her kindness. Kuja was confused by it. But it no longer appeared to him that she was doing it to try and earn his favor, as her imposing looking husband was mere feet away and watching their interaction, but doing nothing to interfere.

The former mage looked over Sara’s shoulder, focusing back on the question at hand. He wasn’t sure how long the meeting would go for or if he could comfortably stand the whole time, but he didn’t want to come across as an invalid either. It was even less appealing that the chair that Sara had vacated was dab smack front and center.

"Are you sure? Maybe you should…" Zidane began.

Sitting meant being separated from Zidane as well. Kuja didn’t like that at all. He shook his head again, pressing himself a little closer to the younger man’s side. Reflexively, Zidane slid his arm around Kuja’s waist, which made Sara smile.

"If you change your mind, let me know," Sara told him before making her way back to her seat.

As soon as her back was turned, Kuja went to peel Zidane’s arm off of his waist, but he stopped when he realized that no one was staring at them or paying special attention to what they were doing. It seemed most everyone in town had figured they were a couple… or something like that. It didn’t even matter that that wasn’t quite true. No one was questioning them or hassling them about it, even though they were both men. Kuja wasn’t sure why that was the case, but he wasn’t going to complain about it. Having one less thing to worry about was always a bonus.

The meeting started a couple minutes later, right on time. Arnett walked to the front, and without any preamble, said, "I’ll get right to the point. Our problem dragon is back, I’m afraid."

Murmurs rippled through the crowd. Zidane managed to catch a few phrases here and there, enough to piece together some vague idea of what was happening. The past couple of years, a dragon had been hitting local farms and eating up livestock. The last attack had taken place late last fall, leaving two farmhands injured while another two lost their lives as they tried chasing off the monster.

Arnett waited patiently for the townspeople to quiet back down before continuing on. "Something needs ta be done, but what? It’s not just ‘bout pigs and chickens… Bess and Nanette and everyone else who lives on the outskirts are at risk. But after what happened last year, how can I send anyone after it?"

More murmuring from the assembly. Zidane looked around, then yelled out, "Hey, what kind of dragon is it?"

"A big one. An ancient one," someone shouted back.

Zidane shook his head. That wasn’t specific enough to be useful.

"We believe it’s a Grand Dragon," Arnett supplied.

Ahhh… that would be tough to take down alone. "If a few others are willing to come with me, I think we can take it down."

Another voice piped up. "Are you mad? Who would go? Two men were killed last year fighting it."

"I’ve fought and beaten them before, but as part of a group, not by myself. I could try it alone," and at that, Kuja’s hand suddenly grabbed onto Zidane’s shirt, "but I’d have a far better chance at succeeding with a couple of battle experienced companions at my side."

There was a lot of shaking of heads. Even though Zidane had been a war hero, he was still one of the smallest guys in town and very young to boot. Everyone had a hard time envisioning the lithe blonde Genome taking down something as massive as a dragon.

Several people also stole glances at Kuja, wondering why the most feared man on the planet wasn’t volunteering to join Zidane’s party – if anyone could take down a dragon, wouldn’t it be him? - but the silver-haired man was too busy glaring at his companion to notice.

"We could hire mercenaries…" another voice called out, as the discussion stalled, but someone immediately countered with, "No way, we don’t want bounty hunters here. And even if we did… how could we afford to pay for them?"

"But we can’t just sit around and do nothing!" the first voice insisted.

There was more murmuring through the room, as people bounced ideas off the folks closest to them. Kuja's head whipped around; he was overwhelmed by the disorganization of it all. He couldn’t figure out why the mayor was letting people speak out of turn, why he wasn’t maintaining control over the meeting. All Arnett seemed to be doing at the moment was jotting down ideas on the chalkboard. Allowing open discussion… wanting to make decisions as a group… it seemed needlessly hectic.

Smyt finally spoke up. "What about rigging up a trap? Bait it into a pit or an enclosure… and then drop explosives on it. I bet even a Grand Dragon couldn’t survive that!"

"A pit? Can we even dig one big enough?" someone wondered.

Zidane didn’t like what he was hearing. "Even if you could, that still might not be enough. Grand Dragons are extremely tough! And if you can’t kill it outright, it might make things worse. A wounded dragon is a dangerous one."

"If explosives can’t kill it, what makes you think you can?" a voice volleyed back, bolstered by several others. "Even you admitted that you only managed to pull it off with the help of other experienced fighters."

Zidane wanted to protest, but what could he say? He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to take down a mature dragon if no one was willing to go with him. And Kuja was clearly worried about the prospect of him getting injured… or worse.

Things quieted down a little bit as Arnett finished putting up notes on the blackboard, consolidating any ideas that were similar. When he was done, he did a final call for any last minute suggestions or comments, and when no one spoke up, he began the voting process via show of hands. Each person present could vote for as many ideas as they liked. Arnett and two others tallied the votes, ensuring that the count was correct, before the mayor posted the number of votes each suggestion received.

Zidane wasn’t thrilled with the final result, but he wasn’t surprised by it, either. His suggestion had only gotten seven votes. At least Kuja had given him his vote, despite the fact that he’d clearly been worried… that made Zidane feel a little better. Setting a trap probably felt like the safest option to everyone, but he doubted it would go as well as they hoped it would. If his worst fear were to come true, he’d be forced to take action, regardless if anyone authorized it or backed him up.

Arnett capped off the meeting by saying he wanted everyone to think about how they could put the plan into action – they needed a good location for the trap, as well as an appropriate amount of explosives with reliable triggers, and manpower to put it all into play. He’d take suggestions and volunteer sign ups over the next couple of days. The goal was to have a concrete plan in place by the next monthly town meeting.

People began leaving the town hall as they had arrived, trickling out the doors and dispersing in different directions. Kuja and Zidane rode out into the darkness, Choco tracking the light that illuminated his path.

"You know, I’m a little surprised you gave me your vote," Zidane admitted once they were off the town’s dirt road.

Kuja mulled over his response before finally saying, "I was worried… I still am, about what might happen if you were to face off against a Grand Dragon. But if the trap doesn’t work…"

"Yeah, it’ll be a mess." Zidane reached down and ran his fingers over his sheathed weapons, and sighed. "I really do hope I’m wrong. But I want to be prepared, in case I’m right."

Kuja had lost the staff Zidane had given him back in Alexandria. Now he wondered if he ought to get a replacement. But he’d never gotten very good at wielding it; maybe being armed would only make him more of a liability. Kuja wasn’t sure what he should do - or if he should even make mention of it, as Zidane hadn’t included him in his plans to combat the dragon in the first place.

* * *

Kuja had originally planned on spending the evening reading, but by the time he and Zidane got back from the town meeting he just wanted to take a bath and go to sleep. He’d thought earlier that he was doing better, but attending the meeting had sapped what energy he’d had; the reality was he was still recovering and needed rest.

Zidane shadowed Kuja silently, trying to be unobtrusive but available at the same time, which wasn’t always a simple task in a house so small. But eventually Kuja got into bed, curling up under the covers, and Zidane rushed to finish brushing his teeth so he could join him. The younger man wasn’t sleepy yet, but he liked watching over Kuja as he fell asleep, listening to his breaths slow and deepen, feeling his body warm up as he rolled over and pressed himself against his bedmate.

Besides, they’d made some headway the previous couple of days. Hesitant though Kuja was, he’d tried to answer Zidane’s questions with a rare honesty that he’d never granted anyone else before. Zidane had struggled to not overload him with questions – he definitely didn’t want it coming across like an interrogation. And he’d tried to keep his choice of topics neutral so Kuja would feel safe talking to him, confiding in him, even if it was only about something as simple as what his least favorite season was.

Zidane slid into bed. They lay there in silence a solid minute, the only sound the occasional rustling of the sheets and the backdrop of their breaths, then Zidane asked, "Hey, are you still awake?" though he knew full well that Kuja hadn’t fallen asleep yet. He waited until he heard Kuja grunt in response, then followed up with, "Hey, what’s your favorite color?

Even if Kuja hadn’t been thinking about the town’s dragon problem, the question would’ve caught him off guard. A grumbling sound rose from his throat. He was tired; he didn’t appreciate Zidane attempting to catch him unaware. And what kind of random question was that, anyhow? It seemed harmless enough, but it simply wasn’t important. At least there was some logic behind the query Zidane had made the previous night; the younger man had asked Kuja how he liked his eggs, so he’d know for breakfast the next morning.

"I don’t know," Kuja reluctantly answered.

"You don’t know?"

Kuja grumbled again. "I don’t have one. Why, what’s yours?"

Zidane thought about it. Actually, he wasn’t sure what his was either. "Blue, I guess…"

"You guess?" Kuja chuckled, the sound dampened slightly by the blankets. "If you don’t know yours why are you asking for mine?"

Zidane shrugged against his pillow. "Just making conversation."

"… Shouldn’t that go both ways?"

It was too dark for Kuja to see his expression, but Zidane could only imagine that he was looking pretty darn stupid at the moment, his jaw hanging slack. He hadn’t realized… hadn’t thought… he’d been so fixated on learning more about the older man that it hadn’t occurred to him that Kuja would want to know more about him, too.

"You’re right," Zidane breathed. "Wow, I’m sorry."

"Huh?"

"I didn’t mean to make this into a question / answer session. I just wanted to know more about you, down to the little things. But it didn’t occur to me to do the same, in exchange." Zidane exhaled harshly. "How can I expect you to fall in love with me if you can’t get to know me?"

Kuja wasn’t quite following, but he wasn’t sure if that was because he was tired, or if Zidane wasn’t making sense. "I don’t know what you’re going on about. I just don’t want to answer pointless questions, that’s all."

"Yeah… I’ll think of better things to talk about in the future."

They went silent again, but just when Kuja thought it would be all right to try and fall asleep, Zidane suddenly spoke again.

"I never thought about what my favorite color is, honestly. I think I tend to pick blue by default. I was always told it suited me."

Kuja wondered if Zidane was hoping for a response. He supposed he’d obligated himself to answer when he’d said that conversations went both ways.

"It does," Kuja quietly agreed. "Emphasizes your eyes."

"Really? Thanks. And also, thanks… for giving me your support tonight. Your vote meant more to me than all the others," Zidane rolled over, closing the small gap between himself and Kuja until he was spooned up behind him in the middle of the bed. He draped his tail over Kuja’s legs, stroking the furry appendage down the long limbs. "Good night, Kuja."

Wrapped in warmth, Kuja should’ve been able to fall asleep easily. But instead he worried and worried, wondering if he’d inadvertently encouraged Zidane into a dangerous course of action, until he finally fell into an exhausted sleep.

* * *

Author’s Notes:

March 23, 2017