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 "Rain Must Fall" 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. 26: Rain Must Fall

* * *

Anyone who imagines
They can blind you with science
Bully you all over
With property and finance
But you have position
To call the shots and name the price (honey)
You found success and recognition
But into every life a little rain must fall

You lead a fairy tale existence
But into every life a little rain must fall

Others seem to think
You are over dramatising
Problems at work
So it's hardly surprising
There's little you can do
To alter their opinions (honey)
You want a clean reputation
But now you're facing complications
'Cause into every life a little rain must fall

- "Rain Must Fall," Queen

* * *

Even though Zidane had voted against the plan to set a trap for the dragon, he still wanted to help out if he could. Temporary or not, Nil was their home. And so the next morning he and Kuja were back in town, at the bakery, where Zidane went to discuss things with Arnett while Kuja was left to do the shopping.

It shouldn't have been a difficult task. But without Zidane around as a buffer, Kuja didn't know what to say once Sara had packaged up his order. She just stood there, smiling and patient, while he awkwardly tried to decide whether he ought to excuse himself - and to where? - or if he was supposed to make small talk until Zidane's return.

He used to be good at it, talking about nothing of importance, making people think that he shared their interests, their beliefs. Then again, he used to not care what anyone else thought. Kuja looked around, trying to find something safe to chat about, until Sara finally took pity on him and found a topic for him.

"I heard from the ladies at the general store that you were thinking of doing embroidery work?"

Kuja was still waffling over the pros and cons of doing such a thing. "I haven't decided..." he admitted.

"I see. Well, if you do decide to do it, tell me - because I'd love to be your first customer! I got a new apron, but it's so plain..." Sara explained. "I was going to add some trim, but a little design on the front pocket would be extra nice. And I like what you've done with your own clothing."

That sounded easy enough. And Sara seemed easy to please. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to take on the job...? "I guess... I could do that."

"Really? I'm so happy; thank you so much!"

Kuja remembered the Cleyran sisters telling him he could make 20 Gil an hour, but that was a professional's fee... he couldn't imagine charging that when he didn't work as quickly or efficiently - or produce the quality of work - as someone with experience could. So he offered to work for half that, which Sara immediately agreed to, and then turned his attention to the design of the piece. Sara didn't have anything particular in mind; she just wanted something simple and pretty, like a garland of flowers or a curl of ribbon. And... she wanted to him to decide on the design himself.

"Are you sure?" Kuja asked. He was at a loss for what would work best on her apron. Maybe he could do something like a cake, as she was a baker?

"Yep! I think you have a good eye. Now, let me go get..." Sara had been walking to the back of the store. She suddenly stopped and turned abruptly. "Oh, remember my cat, Cookie?"

Kuja nodded slowly. He recalled that there'd been a fat cat in the shop before, though he wasn't sure why she was asking...

Sara giggled. "She just had her kittens. Would you like to see them?"

Kuja considered his options. Sara had been nothing but nice to him, but he didn't trust "nice." And he still wasn't really comfortable going anywhere without Zidane. But it wasn't like she was asking him to leave the building, and it would only take a minute. It would be polite to accept. So he nodded. "Okay."

He followed her past the curtains and up the stairs to the small, neat apartment on the second floor. It looked larger than the cottage he shared with Zidane, but not by much. Sara led him over to a basket on the floor next to the sofa. Kuja squatted down, but made no attempt to touch Cookie or her babies. The newborn kittens were tiny, defenseless things. Their eyes were closed and they didn't seem to be able to control their movements, wriggling around in the basket.

Sara knelt beside him. "Aren't they cute?"

Kuja wasn't sure if he'd call them "cute" - they barely resembled cats in their current state - but he supposed there was something about fragile little creatures that appealed to one's protective instincts. In that way they did remind him of baby Zidane, just a tiny bit... the stubby, fuzz covered tails, the squirming, their overall helplessness.

He almost wanted to reach out and touch one, just to satisfy his curiosity, but the mother cat was flexing her claws and he wisely decided against testing her.

"What if... I put your cat on the apron?" Kuja suddenly asked, studying Cookie as she stared back at him. A cake would've been appropriate, but now that he thought about it, maybe Sara would appreciate something more personal?

"You can do that?" Sara gasped.

"I've never tried, so I can't say for sure," Kuja quickly explained. He didn't want her to expect too much. "But if I could find an illustration in the library, I could probably copy it."

"That would be wonderful!"

Since they were already on the subject of the library, Kuja decided to forge ahead with something else that had been on his mind as of late. "I was wondering... who takes care of the library?"

"The town library? No one does, really... though I think Allie, who teaches reading, straightens it up every so often."

"Would it be all right if I organized it then?"

"Oh my, of course you can! That would be very nice of you, Mr. Kuja. Do you like reading, then?"

Kuja was about to reply in the affirmative when Arnett's voice bellowed from downstairs, "Hun, where are ya?"

"We're upstairs!" Sara called back. She smiled as her husband thundered up the stairs and joined them in the apartment, with Zidane in tow. "I was just showing Mr. Kuja the kittens..."

"So tiny!" Zidane remarked from behind Kuja's shoulder.

"They grow up fast though. Before you know it, they'll need new..." Sara paused, her eyes brightening in anticipation. "Say, Zidane, Mr. Kuja, would you like one?"

Kuja was so caught off guard that he didn't know what to say. He stared at Sara, then turned to look at Zidane, who had already began to decline, saying, "Oh, I don't think we'd..." until he saw the look on Kuja's face.

The former mage had always looked younger than his actual age, but he'd never looked quite this young before. His eyes were wide, pleading, but as Zidane's words sank in Kuja looked down, then away. He told himself he wasn't disappointed... how could he be?... it wasn't like he'd had any plans to get a pet before it had been brought up. After all they didn't need a kitten, he didn't know how to take care of one - and who would trust him with a baby animal anyhow? He'd sacrificed his dragon to protect himself; he hadn't even been able to save a tiny bird. And surely a kitten would be just one more thing to worry about if they had to leave town all of a sudden...

"Kuja... did you want one?" Zidane asked with a slight grimace. He realized he should've asked first, instead of replying as though he spoke for the both of them.

Predictably, Kuja shook his head no. He was going to accept Zidane's decision without question. It made Zidane mad... at himself. He'd thought he was making some headway, opening the lines of communication between them. He might've just undone a lot of the progress he'd thought he'd made.

Sighing softly, Zidane leaned down to give Kuja a quick hug, then turned back to Sara. "We'll talk it over... unless you need an answer right now?"

"Oh, no rush! I only mentioned it, because..." and the baker glanced at Kuja, before letting the subject drop completely. "Well, I'll go get that apron, okay?"

"Apron?" Zidane echoed.

Kuja didn't say anything, but stood up and waited for Sara to return with the aforementioned article, a pristine yellow rectangle of fabric with ties for the neck and back. He accepted it, nodding his head at her as he turned to leave. Zidane quickly followed him out.

"What was all that about?" Arnett asked once the two Genomes had gone.

"I hired him to do a little work for me."

The big man snorted. "That's not what I meant. I was worried, you know, seein' as you'd vanished from downstairs..."

Sara shook her head sadly. "You still don't trust him, do you?"

"I trust him as long as I can keep an eye on him," was Arnett's gruff reply.

Knowing there was nothing she could do to change his mind, Sara didn't argue back. Instead, she gave Arnett an understanding smile and a kiss on the cheek before taking him by the hand and leading him back down to the bakery. It was going to take time - and continued good behavior on Kuja's part - to convince Arnett and many others in town that Kuja really was no different than anyone else there, a man in need of a second chance.

* * *

Zidane wanted to sit down and talk to Kuja about the kitten, but that would have to wait until they were home, or at least, not in the center of town. But Kuja headed straight for the town hall once they left the bakery and initially, Zidane wasn't sure why he was so eager to go shopping... until the older man opened the door leading towards the library.

"I'll come get you when I'm done," Zidane called out. Kuja gave a brief nod before disappearing through the doorway without a word.

The blonde couldn't help but sigh heavily. Kuja probably thought he hated cats or something. That wasn't the case. While Zidane had no real interest in owning a cat, he didn't have any objection to it either. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more he realized that it might be good for Kuja to have a pet. Kuja was struggling with his self-confidence... having a pet to care for would give him a sense of worth. And in return, he'd receive a sort of friendship and affection that he could probably accept; an animal would not judge him for who he'd been or what he had done.

With that weighing on his mind, Zidane did his shopping quickly, then headed to the library to fetch Kuja. The small room looked even more disorganized than the thief remembered, as someone had been pulling books off the shelves and stacking them in assorted piles. It was immediately obvious who was responsible for the chaos, since Kuja was currently thumbing through a child's picture book with several more resting in his lap.

"What are you doing?" Zidane asked.

"Organizing books... the baker said it would be all right. Plus, I needed reference material."

Zidane looked at the cover of the book in Kuja's hand. It read "Miss Kitty Meow-Meow" with a cute drawing of a cat under the title. He wondered if Kuja was trying to give him a hint. "Oh... Well, should I come back a little later then?"

Kuja's gaze flicked down to the filled sack of goods in Zidane's hands. "You're done?"

"Yeah, but I'm sure I can find something to pass the time, if you want to stay here a little longer."

Kuja thought about it before shaking his head. He could probably spend hours organizing the library, but he wasn't in any hurry to get it done - he could spread it out over several days. More importantly, he'd found something he could use for Sara's project. The cartoonish cat in the book was perhaps too cutesy for an adult, but Sara was young at heart... and the design was simple enough that Kuja was confident that he'd be able to replicate it.

"Can we stop by the general store? I need some supplies," Kuja requested.

"Sure," Zidane replied, but instead of leading the way out of the room, he squatted down amongst all the books instead, earning him a lifted eyebrow from Kuja. "So about this cat thing..."

The older Genome began rising to his feet. Zidane grabbed a hold of his hand and tugged him back down.

"When I answered Sara earlier, I was only answering for myself," Zidane continued. "Because I don't care about having a cat one way or another, and if we have to high tail it out of town, it would just be another thing I'd have to worry about. But even with that said... I think it might be good for you to have a pet."

"Why?" Kuja asked suspiciously.

"It'll give you something to look after, a reason to keep doing your best even when you're feeling discouraged. It'll always be at home waiting for you. And it won't judge you or turn against you no matter who you were or what you've done."

"But... I don't know how to take care of a cat. What if I do something wrong?"

"I'm sure Sara could give you pointers. Otherwise, learn as you go along, I guess." Zidane shrugged. "I bet you didn't know anything about babies either, but I turned out okay, right?"

Kuja frowned deeply. It was a minor miracle Zidane survived infancy. He wasn't looking to put a little kitten through that sort of thing.

"Besides, I'll help too. Not that I know much about cats either, but how hard could it be?"

Kuja still looked unconvinced. Zidane leaned in, closing the distance between them until he could kiss Kuja very lightly on the lips.

"Let's get a kitten. Heck, get two if you'd like," Zidane said as he bumped his forehead against Kuja's.

Kuja seemed too stunned to react at first, but then he suddenly returned the kiss, though in a far more passionate manner than the shorter Genome expected. Kuja's lips were slightly moist; his tongue flicked out to graze Zidane's lower lip, as if inviting him in for a taste. Zidane didn't even realize it when his tongue had made its way past Kuja's lips to mingle with his; he'd been holding back for so long that he could only think about what a relief it was to be able to respond in kind.

Without breaking the kiss, Zidane pulled Kuja closer, wrapping his arms tightly around the slender body. Somehow they went from sitting amongst stacks of books to lying on the floor, some of the books scattering as they accidentally brushed by them.

Zidane hadn't planned on making out with Kuja in the little library. He hadn't planned on making out with him at all, not until he knew Kuja felt something for him, too. But it was too easy to get caught up in the sensations, especially since Kuja was so damn good at pushing his buttons. Zidane felt so dizzy with desire that he couldn't spare a thought for what had prompted Kuja to make a move.

The thief really might've gotten so swept up that he would've ended up doing something irreversible, if it weren't for the fact that the library door creaked open and a strangled "Ack!" suddenly interrupted them.

Zidane yanked his hands out from under Kuja's shirt - how had they ended up there? - and jerked into a sitting position to see the innkeeper's boy, Howard, standing in the doorway, shuffling his feet as if he couldn't decide whether to stay or to run. Zidane groaned, unsure if he should encourage the teen to leave, or beg him not to tell anyone about what he'd just witnessed.

"Uh... I'm sorry," said Howard, his cheeks pink.

"No, don't. I'm the one who should apologize, not you. We shouldn't have... um..." Zidane scratched his head, trying to think of what to say and how to best say it. "I messed up. Sorry."

Howard's eyes flickered down to Kuja as he lay on the floor, silently staring at the ceiling, his clothes askew, then looked away. He'd had a tiny bit of a crush on Kuja, thinking the silver-haired man pretty, even though he wasn't a girl, but it was way too weird seeing him like this. The teen wished he could disappear instead of standing there awkwardly, talking. "Can I go now?"

Zidane nodded. "Yeah, yeah of course! Um... you won't tell anyone, right?" He managed to paste a stiff smile onto his face.

"... I won't."

The younger Genome's jaw relaxed and the fake smile gave way to a real one, but Howard was gone by then. Zidane shut the library door, sighing and leaning on it for a moment, then turned his attention back to Kuja. He remained standing instead of leaning down to give Kuja a hand up; it was easier avoiding ending up rolling around on the floor that way.

"I'm sorry. I said I wouldn't do anything unless I knew how you felt, then I went and got carried away, just like that."

Kuja finally pushed himself up and began smoothing down his clothing. He looked at the books lying all around in disarray, and tsked under his breath. "I started it; I wasn't going to complain if you saw it through."

Zidane wasn't sure if he was more disappointed that Kuja was so dismissive of his concerns, or that he was so casual about sex.

"Well I'm just glad we didn't go any further; that would've been hard to explain to Howard!"

Kuja paused to pick up the books he was borrowing, then pushed past Zidane to leave. "Doesn't matter to me."

"It should matter! Kuja..." Zidane protested as the door swung closed. Kuja's curt replies filled Zidane's head with dozens of questions, but the blonde doubted the other man would give him an honest answer like this. He wasn't going to let it go though... he'd bide his time, maybe wait until the evening, and try again.

* * *

By the time Zidane caught up to Kuja in the general store, the former mage seemed more or less normal again. Kuja only stayed long enough to pick up some embroidery thread and notions, then he was ready to head home.

The rest of the day went by like many others before - Zidane dealt with boats and fishing, Kuja started work on his new project for Sara and read a little on the side. They had dinner, spent a little more time cleaning up around the house, then prepared for bed.

But once they got under the covers, before Zidane could begin asking questions, Kuja beat him to the punch. "Just say it. I know you've been dying to say something all day."

Hearing Zidane inhale in surprise, Kuja realized he was putting himself on the spot, but he just wanted to get it over with. It was exhausting trying to think of ways to evade the inevitable. And given the time of day, it seemed the best time to bring it up: he couldn't see Zidane's face in the dark, just as Zidane couldn't see his. And it would be harder for Zidane to jump out of bed and run away in anger when it was so late... where would he go? He'd be forced to at least stay for the rest of the night.

The younger man sighed. He'd spent all day thinking about what had almost happened in the library, as well as some things Kuja had told him before - that sex wasn't a big deal, that it was all about power and manipulation. "Yeah..." He swallowed hard, stalling for a few extra seconds, but finally went for it - if Kuja really wanted him to come out and say it, he would. "Does sex really mean so little to you? You talk about it like it's no big deal, but... it is to me! I mean, I don't want to just have a physical relationship with you, can't you understand that?"

For a moment Zidane thought Kuja wouldn't answer him, despite his earlier invitation, but then his voice broke through the heavy silence. "It didn't stop you before."

"Before was a mistake... and NOT because it was with you. But I wasn't ready for it emotionally. I was in such denial over how I felt. I certainly shouldn't have slept with you knowing I was intending to leave the very next day."

Kuja shrugged, the motion jerky. "That was only to be expected. You had a home to return to."

"But I had a home with you as well. And I ran away from it, like that ever solves anything." Zidane stifled a sigh. It was just like the time when he'd run away from home when he was little. He'd wanted to find his "real" family even though he'd had next to nothing to go off of. He'd accomplished nothing besides making Baku anxious and angry over his foolishness. Apparently he hadn't learned a thing from that incident.

Kuja couldn't resist pointing out the obvious. "You ended up running away from her as well," he scoffed. "Even though you said you loved her."

"I did... or I thought I did. I mean, I still do... but only as a friend. It's like... I had this script in my head of how my life was supposed to be. I never questioned it until I was forced to decide between accepting that I really did love you, or faking my way through a wedding with her." Zidane gave a rueful chuckle. "I give you grief about not owning up to your feelings, but I wasn't any better myself."

Kuja snorted. "So you're young and naïve. Like that wasn't obvious."

"So what if I am? It's better than being 'mature' and 'realistic' if that means pretending that love doesn't exist or doesn't matter."

"Sex is sex, that's all it is. Stop trying to turn it into something else," Kuja snapped.

"It's only like that because you want it that way! Just how many people have you slept with?!" Zidane shot back. His mouth shut with an audible snap as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Of course he'd been thinking about it; he hadn't meant to actually say it.

The silver-haired man exhaled. The conversation had been leading up to that, hadn't it? He wondered for a moment whether or not repeats counted, then decided it didn't matter, because it didn't change his answer. "I didn't keep count."

Kuja looked over at his now-silent companion out of habit but couldn't make out his expression in the dark; it didn't stop his mind from superimposing in the sneer of disappointment and disgust that he knew would be there. So much for Zidane's "love" for him... "Just say it - you're disappointed. You're disgusted. But it was my choice... I did what I wanted."

"Yeah, but... is that really all you expected? To feel good? Not once have I heard you say that someone made you happy or made you feel cared for." Zidane's voice sounded a little sad.

Happy? Cared for? Kuja's partners had only been concerned with fulfilling their needs. And in exchange, Kuja had only expected his bedmates to hold up their end of the deal, whether it was an exchange of physical pleasure or the acquisition of goods or favors. "What use would any of that been? Power, and the freedom to make my own decisions, that's what mattered," Kuja spat out.

Zidane still couldn't fathom thinking like that. Even though his first time with Kuja had been far from perfect, Zidane hadn't felt the sort of detachment that Kuja seemed to associate with sex. Had Kuja really felt nothing for anyone, ever?

The younger Genome's arm slipped around the older man's waist, light but unyielding. Kuja twitched at the contact. "What was your first time like?" Zidane asked, genuinely curious.

Kuja hesitated, squirming slightly. He didn't want to share that information with the blonde. It wasn't a great memory; it wasn't really any of Zidane's business. But maybe if he told him Zidane would stop with his useless romantic pursuit of him... and he was so tired of waiting for the illusion to shatter. "After Garland threw me away, a man approached me in the alley and said he liked my face. He promised me food and shelter, so I went with him. I learned that night, kindness is an illusion. If you want something you have to give something in return."

That wasn't a fair trade at all! "... Couldn't you refuse him?"

"How? By the time I understood what he expected from me, he was on top of me!" Kuja yelled, startling even himself with his words. He wasn't sure why he was so mad. He might've been confused back then, but he'd gone through with it willingly. And the man had given him bread and let him use a pallet in a side room afterwards, so it wasn't like he hadn't done what he'd promised...

Zidane bit down on his lower lip, mostly to keep himself from saying anything else stupid, as he tried to steady his breathing. At the same time, his arm tightened around Kuja, as if he could somehow protect him from his memories. He couldn't help it - he was furious at the unnamed man who'd tricked a lost, confused soul into his bed for the night. And he was mad at himself for having been no better. Just like how seeing Kuja's blistered, broken feet had brought to light how much he'd gone through to get to Alexandria, this new revelation gave Zidane clarity into why Kuja was so afraid to trust, why he didn't believe he could be loved, why he saw people's lives as mere commodities... He'd never been anything but a tool, a convenient body, unattached and disposable...

"You're mad," Kuja observed, sounding defeated.

"No, not at you. It's not your fault."

"Of course it was! I was hungry and stupid... stupid enough to believe that someone would be nice for no reason at all. I didn't stop to think... all I saw was someone offering me a hand, and I took it."

Zidane pressed his face against Kuja's shoulder. He'd always imagined himself a hero; he'd always wanted to help people, save people. He'd given his hand to Kuja, pulling him out of the Iifa Tree, encouraging him to live... then left him behind in the old house when it was no longer convenient to remain there. He still remembered the awkward handshake as they'd said their goodbyes, the haunted look on Kuja's face as they'd parted.

He really wasn't any better than that man, was he? Zidane had never intended to use Kuja, had never wanted to see him hurt, but he'd done just that.

"I'm sorry," Zidane mumbled.

"Why? You didn't have anything to do with it."

But he did. If Kuja hadn't taken him away from Terra, Garland wouldn't have banished him to Gaia. If Kuja hadn't refused to divulge where he'd hidden him, Garland wouldn't have torn up his memory so badly that Kuja couldn't remember what he'd done to deserve punishment.

Zidane released his hold on Kuja's waist and slid his arm up until he was clutching Kuja's hand in his own, lacing his fingers with long, slender ones. The taller man shivered. "I should never have let go. Not for a day, and certainly not for seven or eight months."

"I don't get it. Why would you still want to be with me after what I've just told you?"

"Because I love you. And I want to see you happy." Zidane realized he sounded like a broken record but he wasn't sure what else to say. He'd once wondered if by saving Kuja's life, Kuja was indebted to him for the rest of his life - or if that meant he was obligated to take care of Kuja for the rest of his life. But now he realized neither was correct. Kuja sure didn't owe him a thing... he'd already given up too much. But Zidane wasn't sticking around out of obligation either. He simply wanted to be with him, in whatever way Kuja would allow.

He waited for Kuja to argue back like always - that Zidane didn't make sense, that love was meaningless... But Kuja didn't. Maybe he was tired and just wanted to go to sleep. Or maybe, just maybe... a little of what Zidane had said was starting to sink in? Zidane squeezed Kuja's hand and pressed a kiss onto his shoulder.

The former mage rolled away, suddenly restless, needing to put space between himself and the younger Genome. He felt so torn... If only he could believe in what Zidane said, maybe he would find happiness. But Kuja wasn't sure he could convince himself to take that chance. There was a strange sort of safety in clinging to the familiar fears and doubts in his head, the ones that told him to not trust, not hope, not care. He couldn't be disappointed if he had no expectations in the first place.

Zidane let him go, giving Kuja as much space as possible despite the limited bed space. Kuja had opened up to him as much as he could; Zidane wasn't going to push for more. But he had spent enough time with Kuja to know that backing off entirely wasn't the right thing to do either. Kuja was hurting... he needed a reminder that he wasn't alone, before he slipped into deeper depression, before his doubts became the only thing he could hear.

Zidane's tail wound around Kuja's tail - which elicited a jumpy twitch - then slid down until it lay loosely wrapped around the tip of Kuja's. If the silver-haired man really couldn't stand it and wanted to pull away, it would be easy for him to slip his tail out of Zidane's hold; it was Kuja's decision and Zidane wanted him to know that.

Kuja's tail was taut with tension. But finally, the tip curled just enough to hook onto Zidane's. Zidane didn't tighten his hold, content with the fact that Kuja accepted that small amount of contact. Even when Kuja finally fell asleep, his tail didn't let go.

* * *

Zidane didn't realize he too had fallen asleep until he was woken by Kuja's fingers clawing at his shirt. The taller Genome had rolled over towards Zidane at some point to sleep by his side; his tail was still knotted with Zidane's. But his entire body was as tense as his tail had been earlier.

Rolling onto his back, the thief groggily tried to pull away before he realized what was happening. A nightmare... Kuja had them with some frequency but because he didn't usually thrash around or cry out - the only time he'd done that was he had when he'd been having an "episode" after their escape to Nil - it had taken a while for Zidane to recognize the signs for what they were. Zidane could only imagine what he was dreaming about, given the subject of their discussion before bed.

Zidane carefully worked Kuja's fingers loose from his shirt, before grasping the spasming hand in his own to give Kuja something better to hold on to. He moved his left arm so he could encircle Kuja's shoulders, pulling him closer so his head rested against Zidane's chest. Kuja's breathing hitched a moment before smoothing out and slowing; his muscles finally began relaxing until his body resettled heavily against Zidane's.

Zidane exhaled slowly. It was hard having to watch Kuja suffer through nightmares, especially knowing they were echoes of a painful past, though the blonde felt a little less helpless knowing that he could provide some relief by holding him, his body heat and heartbeat a soothing comfort. He just wished Kuja would turn to him like that while awake, instead of freezing up or pulling away before reluctantly moving closer.

It was another reminder of how far still they had to go - Kuja might've started opening up, but he was still hesitant with how much he was willing to divulge, especially during the day. Zidane worried sometimes that no matter what he did, it wouldn't be enough. Kuja wouldn't ever fully trust him; they would never be happy.

He almost wanted to slap himself for thinking like that... except he couldn't, because he risked dislodging Kuja and now that he was sleeping quietly, Zidane didn't want to disturb him in any way. Zidane smiled bemusedly at himself. He wasn't a pessimist; more importantly, he had to believe in himself and in what he was doing, because it was on him to keep them both going, no matter what.

"It'll be okay," he whispered, his voice barely perceptible. He shut his eyes, unsure of whom he was trying to reassure. After all it wasn't like he cuddled with Kuja solely for Kuja's benefit.

* * *

Author’s Notes:

August 5, 2017