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 "Dreamer's Ball" 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. 28: I Was Born to Love You

* * *

I was born to love you
With every single beat of my heart
Yes, I was born to take care of you
Every single day of my life

You are the one for me
I am the man for you
You were made for me
You're my ecstasy
If I was given every opportunity
I'd kill for your love

So take a chance with me
Let me romance with you
I'm caught in a dream
And my dream's come true
It's so hard to believe
This is happening to me
An amazing feeling
Comin' through

- "I Was Born to Love You," Queen

* * *

It wasn't like Kuja could simply forgot about Amarant's visit. Even with Zidane's assurance, he couldn't stop worrying - if they'd been spotted by one bounty hunter, surely another would find them. But he'd been looking forward to the end of summer festival for weeks, and now it was here. So he tried his best to bury his fears; he told himself that he wanted to have at least one good memory before they were discovered by someone who'd have no qualms about turning them in to authorities.

The festival started in mid afternoon and ran well into the night. There was an endless amount of food and drink - almost everyone brought a dish or two to share - and games and contests of all sorts. Zidane won 20 Gil for climbing a rope faster than anyone else and another 20 for tossing a dart closest to a bullseye, though he placed just out of the money in the town's Tetra Card Master tournament. Kuja hadn't considered entering anything for the crafting contest, but quick thinking Molly whipped off her headscarf which Kuja had embroidered with bluebirds and entered that for him, so he ended up being rewarded in the end. 80 Gil wasn't much, but he appreciated the recognition... and the fact that there could be more money on the way in the future. Molly and Millie didn't hold back from chiding him for not charging enough for his work when they found out how much he'd been making.

Of course Kuja wasn't there for contests or games or eating. Dancing was what he'd been looking forward to, even though this wasn't the sort of formal event he'd been used to attending. As soon as the music kicked up, he was one of the first people on the dance floor.

Zidane wasn't surprised that Kuja became the most highly requested dance partner of the evening. Dressed in a semi sheer, double layered tunic with bell sleeves reminiscent of his old combat outfit and blue tap shorts, and graceful as a swan, he was dazzling, like a beam of light too bright to stare at, but too radiant to ignore. By the end of the night he'd danced with half the ladies in town and even had a few men extend an invitation as well, though they'd backed off when he refused to give up lead. Other than Zidane, young Howard was the only guy who'd consented to being led, but given that it was the teen's first real dance lesson, that wasn't unexpected.

Zidane hadn't minded stepping aside as Kuja graciously accepted each invitation. Zidane didn't dislike dancing, but it had been a lot more fun watching Kuja enjoying himself, though he couldn't help but be pleased that he was the only one Kuja danced with multiple times - everyone else who'd asked, Kuja had politely turned down.

Zidane had never realized how much the older man loved to dance, given how antisocial he could be at times. It was another thing Zidane had missed, just like Kuja's birth date... It was only now, on the eve of Zidane's own birthday, that the younger Genome realized he'd never gotten that particular piece of information out of his counterpart.

Fiddling with the fasteners on his vest as Kuja took another whirl around the dance floor without him, Zidane wondered if Kuja remembered that tomorrow was Zidane's birthday? He hadn't said a thing about it. Zidane wondered if he should mention it at all. It wasn't like he needed a party or presents or anything like that... he was old enough to not demand such things. Or perhaps he could consider his new outfit a gift of sorts? Kuja had chosen a navy vest, slightly longer the ones the blonde usually wore, and cuffed brown shorts, for the festival. The vest bore Kuja's signature detailwork in the form of small gauge rope tied into nautical knots, couched across the back of the vest and up the front as decorative trim, with knotted toggles to match. But unlike the tailored clothing Zidane had been assigned during his time as Garnet's fiancé, the new outfit didn't feel stuffy or forced. Kuja hadn't changed anything about Zidane's practicality or style, he just gave it a new twist.

But hearing a "Happy Birthday" would be nice, Zidane decided, as well as some open dialogue about the topic. Even without asking, Zidane was pretty sure, no one had ever celebrated Kuja's birthday before.

The song came to an end and Kuja rejoined Zidane on the sidelines. The silver-haired man was a little winded, but smiling. "The next song is the last. Care for one more dance?" He extended his hand.

Rising to his feet, Zidane accepted the invitation. Birthdays could wait. For now, he just wanted to enjoy the final dance of the evening with the one he loved.

* * *

They had to get up early the next morning. Everyone in town had signed up to help with some aspect of the festival. Zidane and Kuja were no exception; they'd volunteered to help dismantle decorations and clean up around the town square the morning after.

In retrospect, it hadn't been the best idea. Kuja was tired from all the dancing the night before and protested when Zidane tried to rouse him.

Zidane persisted. "It's just for one morning. You can take a nap this afternoon if it'll help."

Kuja grumbled but pushed himself up as Silky climbed onto the bed to greet him. His hair was sticking out in places as he'd gone to bed while it was still damp; he looked nothing like the confident, graceful beauty who'd stolen the spotlight the night before. Zidane couldn't help but chuckle at the contrast, earning him a dirty look. He shrugged and smiled apologetically before grabbing the hairbrush. At least Kuja was awake now.

They had a quick breakfast of warmed rolls, then headed into town. There were already plenty of people tidying up by the time they arrived. Ennis, who was overseeing the clean up, asked the two Genomes to start taking down the decorative banners ringing the downtown square. It made sense given that Zidane had won the rope climbing contest the night before.

They got to work, with Zidane scaling the poles to unhook the banners and lowering them down to Kuja, before winding them up for storage. It went on for several minutes before Zidane could no longer hold back from saying something.

"You know... it's my birthday today. In case you forgot," Zidane said, once he was back on the ground.

Kuja looked up from the banner he was folding. It wasn't like he didn't know what a birthday was. It was something Gaians liked to celebrate, with a party and presents. But just because Zidane had been raised on Gaia didn't mean he was like everyone else on the planet... "You don't have a birthday. Genomes were created, not born." He paused, then added a little snidely, "In case you forgot."

"Still, there's a day that I... uh, gained awareness, right? Isn't that pretty much the same?"

"If that's how you want to see it."

Mildly irritated, Zidane huffed, putting a hand on his hip. "Well then, how do you know when you're another year older?"

Ever since Kuja had learned about his mortality, he'd tried to avoid thinking about that, as if by avoiding it, he could somehow stem the passage of time. "I add a year in January," he wearily replied.

"January, huh? What day?"

Kuja frowned. It was only January because that was the start of the year; that was all. It wasn't like he'd been given a Gaian calendar when he'd gained awareness to know the exact date or even the month. Time, days... they hadn't much meaning back then. "Just 'January.'"

Zidane thought back to where he'd been the previous January, and the one before that. He scowled faintly. Last January, he'd gotten engaged. The previous one, Kuja had been bedridden, recovering from his defeat in Memoria. There'd been no opportunity for celebrating a birthday or anything of the sort, even if Zidane had known about it.

The thief set his jaw. "This year... I'll make sure you get a birthday party for sure."

This time, Kuja couldn't keep it from slipping out. "Why, so I can remember how much closer I am to dying?"

Zidane winced, not only at the bitter words, but at the flash of pain in Kuja's eyes. "Kuja, that's not... it's about celebrating life."

The former mage pursed his lips, ready to keep arguing, but it seemed a waste of breath to try and do so. In the grand scheme of things, it was utterly unimportant. Given how much his life had changed in the course of four months, who knew what it would look like in another four? Maybe someone would catch him and throw him in prison. Maybe Zidane would finally get tired of dealing with him and leave again. Or maybe he'd be dead and that'd be that.

"Is that the issue? You feel slighted because you wanted a party?" Kuja asked instead. They'd just attended a festival the night before... wasn't that close enough?

"No. I just... I hoped you'd wish me a happy birthday or something."


"I want to know that you're thinking about me," Zidane said with a slight smile.

Kuja sighed heavily. What did that even mean? But before he could say anything, there was a booming, rumbling sound somewhere in the distance. Both Genomes turned their heads slightly, trying to figure out what it was, but they didn't hear anything else.

Zidane climbed up another pole, using his tail to steady himself as he began pulling down some streamers. He was only up there a minute when he heard another sound, this time, a little closer. He surveyed the street below and noticed everyone else staring in the same direction. Squinting, Zidane used his perch to try and get a glimpse of what could've caused it, but all he could see was a cloud of dust slowly rising up towards the sky.

He slid back to the ground and handed Kuja the streamers he'd managed to take down. "Something's kicking up a lot of dust over there..." Zidane began saying, then the rumbling of an enraged howl rolled in like thunder following a lightning strike.

"What was that?!" Molly gasped. She'd been setting up for a clearance sale at the general store, but the sound had been loud enough and strange enough to catch everyone's attention, no matter how busy they were. Even those who were indoors poked their heads out in confusion.

One moment Zidane was pondering that exact same thing, and then the dust cloud grew ominously closer and it hit him all at once. "The trap must've gone off! But, the dragon..."

There was another roar, louder and closer than before, and Zidane gritted his teeth as the town square erupted in pandemonium. Everyone had come to the same realization: the trap hadn't worked. And now the dragon that had been terrorizing the area was clawing its way down the road and straight into the heart of town. Some people immediately darted for cover indoors, while others froze in place, both fearful and curious, wanting to catch a glimpse of the beast even though it was obviously a risky thing to do.

Zidane ran towards the town hall, as many of the townspeople had congregated just outside the doors. "Don't stand there gawking! Get inside!" Zidane ordered. He'd already unsheathed his daggers, determined to take the fight to the dragon. He spun around to make sure Kuja was somewhere safe as well, and was relieved to see the silver-haired man peeking out from the doorway of the inn.

People were still running around, looking for loved ones, seeking shelter. Arnett and Sara came out of their home and began herding anyone nearby into the bakery for cover. From the corner of his eye Zidane spotted Millie running out of the town hall towards the general store, trying to make it to her sister's side. The Genome didn't even have time to draw breath to yell at her before the dragon leapt and landed just short of the crossroads.

Panicked, Millie stumbled as she tried to run and twist to look at the monster simultaneously. She cried out in pain as her ankle gave way as she fell.

Zidane bolted towards her. "Damn it!" It was a Grand Dragon all right. They'd set a pit trap with spikes and explosives. Zidane had worried that it wouldn't be enough, or that the dragon would leap over it without an issue. Apparently, he'd been right on the former, but not the latter; ichor dripped from long tears in the beast's neck and shoulder. But just because it was wounded didn't mean it'd be any easier to deal with... it was still powerful, and very, very angry.

From inside the general store, Clyde had also seen Millie run... and fall. He'd grabbed the first thing he could find - a hammer - and darted out to try and save her, as if he could fend off a dragon with nothing more than a household tool.

Zidane cursed under his breath; now he had TWO people to save. He dove over a cringing Millie to stand shoulder to shoulder with Clyde as the dragon's head came barreling down towards them, razor sharp teeth bared. Both men managed to dodge the snapping jaws, then jumped in to retaliate. Clyde swung first, striking the beast with his hammer, but the tool just dented the monster's scale before boucing off. Zidane had a little better luck; one of his daggers sunk into the dragon's foreleg, and the other cut open a gash on its chest.

"Grab her and go!" Zidane yelled as he tore his daggers free, then backflipped to avoid the dragon's answering swipe. As much as he appreciated having someone fighting by his side, Clyde was effectively unarmed, and Millie needed help.

Clyde hesitated just a split second, wanting to argue - he'd run in the face of danger once before, and still couldn't forgive himself for it - but the blonde was right. Grimacing, Clyde bent down and picked Millie up, then carried her as fast as he could to the general store.

The fleeing pair made for a far more attractive target than a well armed, speedy Genome. The dragon drew its head back, intending to breathe a gout of venom at them, but the wounds in its neck prevented it from doing so. In frustration and rage, it whipped around, sending festival decorations flying as it used its tail as a giant flail to try and smash the pair into the nearby buildings, but Zidane dashed in at the last moment and took the hit instead.

The strike sent the thief flying, tumbling down the road head over heels. He'd gotten his daggers up in time to sever the end of the beast's tail, lessening the sheer force of the blow, but it had still been enough to stun him on impact.

Zidane managed to right himself out of instinct. But he was seeing double now. He shook his head, trying to clear it, to no avail. Which dragon was the real target?

From the doorway of the inn, Kuja watched nervously as Zidane tried to stand up, only to awkwardly drop back to the ground. He was obviously dazed, shaking his head, swiping ineffectively at empty air with his daggers, while the dragon edged closer, venom welling up on the margin of its claws, as it looked for the best angle of attack.

Zidane wasn't weak. But a Grand Dragon was more than a match for him, especially like this. Kuja's fingers dug into the doorframe. If he tried to help, Zidane would be mad, but what other choice did he have? Kuja looked around for a weapon of some sort, anything would do... then he noticed Howard still holding onto the broom he'd been sweeping off the inn's porch with. It wasn't a weapon, but it was as close to a staff as he'd find on short notice.

"Sorry," he blurted out as he snatched the broom from Howard's hands and dashed out the door.

I won't make it! Kuja thought grimly. He'd never run so fast in his life, but it didn't seem to be enough. It was like time had slowed, each split second stretching into eternity. If only he could fly again, or teleport... If only he had his magic! But all Kuja could hope for now was to distract the dragon, diverting its attack. It wasn't because of self preservation, the fact that he couldn't survive without Zidane's support. That didn't matter, nor did the realization that he could possibly lose his life here and now. All that mattered was that he buy Zidane a moment to stand back up and fight, or to run away even, if that's what it took for him to stay alive.

Kuja's legs were burning; so was his side. He could hear each labored breath being sucked in and forced back out of his lungs. But suddenly things seemed to blur, and Kuja could swear his feet were moving a little faster than before. He didn't have time to question it. He could only push forward, willing himself to get there on time.

In the meantime, Zidane came to the realization that flailing around wasn't doing any good. Crisscrossing his daggers in front of his body, he crouched down defensively, took a deep breath, and shut his eyes a moment, hoping to steady himself even though he knew he didn't have the luxury of time. It seemed to help a little. Feeling more grounded, he snapped open his eyes just as something blew past his face, kicking up sand. He expected to find a dragon's maw inches away, but instead...

Crimson... the same intense color as in a fading sunset, a dying fire. He'd never be able to look at that color again without thinking of this moment: Kuja, Tranced, his hair whipping around him as he dug in his heels and squared himself in front of Zidane, trying to ward off a dragon's swipe with nothing but a broomstick.

As happy as he was to finally have proof of Kuja's feelings, he never wanted to see Kuja sacrificing himself for him again. The older Genome was already staggering from the blow, the broomstick shattering as easily as a toothpick.

Zidane leapt between Kuja and the dragon, as the monster reared back for another blow, its claws dripping with poison. He could feel the power of his own Trance surging through his body, clearing away his dizziness, as he began driving his blades deep into the dragon over and over again, forcing it back.

Zidane held no malice towards the beast. It looked like it was suffering; its claws were worn down, its jade scales dulled to a mottled forest green. One of its wings was folded awkwardly; an old injury, perhaps... No wonder it was so far away from its usual territory; it had probably been struggling to survive, forced to go after easier prey like pigs and chickens. But it also had been attacking the people of this town. It had attacked Kuja. Zidane didn't regret putting it down.

As the dragon staggered, Zidane hopped back and called upon his Dyne ability, Grand Lethal. His body shimmered briefly as beams of pure energy began pouring forth, striking the dragon repeatedly, stunning it, before Zidane too shot forward, his daggers whirling like a cyclone, until the mighty beast was finally brought to its knees, shuddering and collapsing with a loud thud onto the dirt road.

Foe vanquished, Zidane immediately spun back around to check on Kuja. The taller man was kneeling on the ground, seemingly as dazed as Zidane was earlier, but as the younger Genome extended a hand towards him, Kuja mirrored the movement, reaching for Zidane in turn, only to pause to stare in wonderment at his own arm. His skin was unnaturally pale, even for him, and cast in a reddish glow...

It suddenly occurred to him that the red haze fringing his vision wasn't blood; he had naturally assumed the worst. Kuja's fingers went up to his hair. Crimson strands and feathers slid back from his face, then fell back into place as he lowered his arm. He stared up at Zidane, confused.

Zidane closed the distance between them, kneeling to wrap Kuja up in a hug. "You Tranced."

"That's not possible," Kuja immediately protested, even with the evidence literally in his face.

Zidane pulled back slightly to stroke a hand over Kuja's hair, admiring the way the various reds shimmered like dancing flames, then kissed him. "I told you, Garland was wrong - you can feel everything, just like everyone else. I mean, is there anything more complex than love?"

Kuja could only wordlessly shake his head as the red began to leech from his hair. Love? What Zidane was talking about? Kuja had been desperate to do something, anything, to defend Zidane, but he hadn't been useful at all, Trance or no...

As his mood soured, with a sudden flash of light, Kuja returned to normal. Zidane followed suit moments later. He stood up, feeling much more clearheaded and centered than before, and held out a hand.

"Come on, let's go home. A nap sounds pretty good to me, too."

* * *

Zidane felt a slight bit of guilt in not hanging around to help clean up - after all, he'd left a dragon's corpse in the middle of the crossroads, plus there was still festival décor to take down - but he figured they'd earned themselves a bit of a reprieve. Besides, there was something more urgent on his mind...

As soon as they got back to the house, Zidane stripped off his shirt and shorts, wanting to make sure he hadn't taken too much damage from the dragon's attack. Twisting and turning in front of the bathroom mirror, he noted there were a couple shallow cuts on his arm, a bit of scuffing and bruising here and there, but he'd gotten lucky, none of the damage was bad.

Zidane looked at Kuja. "Better take off your shirt too," he said as the silver-haired man traced the injuries on his companion's arm with his eyes.

"There isn't anything to see." While Kuja was pretty sure he didn't have any obvious injuries, both his arms were starting to feel a little stiff from having taken the impact of the dragon's swipe. He bet he was going to be pretty sore the next morning.

Zidane frowned. "Please. I just want to make sure..."

Kuja sighed and complied, unbuttoning the placket of his top before pulling it off over his head. He wasn't normally self-conscious, but he always felt a little awkward under Zidane's sharp gaze.

Finally, Zidane breathed a sigh of relief. He patted Kuja on the chest to give him the all clear, but before the older man could pull away, the thief leaned in to hug him, resting his head on Kuja's shoulder. "I was so worried. I couldn't stand the thought of you getting hurt again."

"But it's okay for you to get killed by a dragon?" Kuja parried back.

Zidane snorted softly. His breath tickled Kuja's ear, eliciting a tiny shiver. "No, it's not. You're right. But I couldn't sit back and watch a friend get eaten, either." Zidane hesitated, then added, "Thanks... for what you did today."

"Why aren't you angry? I only got in the way."

Zidane's jaw dropped open. "You put your life on the line to defend me. Why would that make me mad?!" He shook his head. "Like I said, I was worried. But mad? No way."

Kuja let the matter drop. Instead, he turned his attention to Zidane's injuries. He couldn't help but flex his hand a little, wishing for his magic. At least it wasn't anything that a little ointment and a couple of bandages wouldn't fix. "We still have some first aid supplies, right?"

Zidane looked at his arm, then nodded. Truthfully he felt fine but he knew Kuja would feel better if he was allowed to tend to the wounds. "They're in the linen cabinet."

Zidane sat down on the edge of the tub as Kuja fetched the items and began treating the scrapes. His hands were gentle, and Zidane was more than happy to let Kuja take his time, because it wasn't bad being on the receiving end of someone's careful ministrations, and the taller man hadn't put his shirt back on and Zidane appreciated the view. When Kuja was nearly done, Zidane couldn't resist leaning forward and kissing him on the stomach.

Surprised, Kuja jerked back, almost bumping into the sink in the tight space. "What... what do you think you're doing?"

"I couldn't help it," Zidane explained with a slight smile. He reached out and tried to reel Kuja back in, though the former mage twitched away as soon as Zidane's hand grazed the starburst scar on his side. Zidane frowned slightly. He hated that it bothered Kuja so much to let anyone see his scars, never mind touch them.

"You're really amazing," Zidane said, looking up, trying to convey his sincerity.

Kuja scowled and began looking around for his shirt. "How can you not find this disgusting?"

Zidane had his share of battle scars as well, though nothing near as bad. Fighting the Grand Dragon had added to the total. The blonde gestured at the freshly wrapped areas and asked, "So this is disgusting too?"

"It's different for you!" Kuja snapped. He finally found his shirt, but Zidane stood up and stopped him from putting it on, pressing up against him until he had Kuja backed up somewhere between the sink and toilet.

"You told me you didn't find me unattractive. Does that mean you find me attractive, then?" Zidane asked seriously, his voice lower than usual.

Kuja stared at the younger man in front of him, at the golden skin on his bare chest and arms. Like Kuja, Zidane was slightly leaner than other male Genomes, though it didn't look like he'd ever quite catch up to Kuja in height. But that didn't mean Zidane didn't have a nice amount of muscle on his body, especially in his shoulders and biceps, the result of years of training with daggers and acrobatics. And power had always been attractive to Kuja.

Kuja swallowed audibly. Zidane was wearing nothing but underwear. Kuja might as well have been, clad only in the tiny shorts that Zidane liked so much. And Zidane kept touching him: first a hug, then a kiss on the stomach, and repeated attempts to put his hands on his waist...

Kuja suddenly realized that Zidane was getting hard. He felt his own manhood twitch in reaction. It didn't escape Zidane's notice; his breathing picked up in response.

Zidane's eyes traced over Kuja's lips. "I swore to you, I wouldn't lay a hand on you until I knew you felt as I do." He leaned in for a kiss, refusing to deepen it until Kuja's tongue flicked out to touch his. Zidane briefly indulged in swirling his tongue together with Kuja's before pulling away long enough get out what he needed to say. "I know without a doubt now, you love me too."

Kuja stared at him, his eyes half lidded, his lips moist. He didn't protest; Zidane took that as a sign to continue. He locked lips with Kuja again, earning a muffled groan, then moved his attention to Kuja's jaw, peppering the jawline with light kisses as he worked his way up to Kuja's ear.

Kuja exhaled raggedly as Zidane began sucking lightly on his earlobe. Even though it was such a little thing, he hadn't felt this sort of pleasure in so long, all his nerves were firing off like crazy. If it weren't for Zidane holding him up against the wall, his knees might've given way.

Realizing the same thing, Zidane slid his leg between Kuja's, propping him up, as the younger man switched his attention to Kuja's throat. Kuja's skin tasted of the slight tang of salt. That didn't turn off Zidane any - it was just another reminder that the former mage had sprinted over and thrown himself in front of a dragon to save him. Zidane nipped and licked his way down the pale column of skin, his breath gusting in small puffs, then made his way briefly across a collarbone before trailing off at the top of the sternum.

Zidane felt his pulse pick up as he studied Kuja's chest, at the pale pink nubs that looked like flower buds lying in snow. The blonde touched his tongue to his lips; he wanted to kiss them. But it was going to be hard concentrating on that while holding Kuja up against the wall.

"Want to move over to the bed?"

It took Kuja a moment to process the request, and another before he remembered to nod. Zidane backed up a bit, then took Kuja's hand and slowly led him out of the bathroom, as they were both awkwardly stumbling along on bowed legs.

Kuja climbed onto the bed and lay down without further urging, as Silky the kitten took off, disappearing out the window. But despite his calm movements, his expression was a warring combination of anticipation and apprehension.

Zidane tried to reassure Kuja with a smile, even as he tried to figure out how to get both of them naked, without coming across as too over eager. The remaining clothing would come off at some point, he supposed, if he just gave Kuja a reason to take the rest of it off.

Zidane fixed his attention on Kuja's chest again. He remembered how good it had felt when Kuja had lavished attention on his nipples. He tried to remember what Kuja had done, and did his best to copy it, slowly rolling both pink nubs between his fingers until they were quite stiff, then dipping his head to kiss them before using the tip of his tongue to flick them up and down.

Kuja's reaction was amazing. He arched his back; he began writhing and gasping. Zidane tried speeding up and slowing down, flicking a bit harder and then easing back a little, in order to figure out what Kuja liked best. Given the sounds that Kuja was making, slow and gentle seemed the way to go. Zidane never realized what a turn on it was to find ways to please his partner. His groin ached for contact, but it was still way too soon...

Zidane's fingers slid over Kuja's torso until they reached his left side. As easy as it would be to focus all his attention on sexual pleasure, Zidane was worried about Kuja's earlier reaction when his hand had brushed by Kuja's scar.

Unsurprisingly, the older man went completely still. His forehead wrinkled in worry. Since he couldn't back away he began to sit up as Zidane started to kiss along the margins of the starburst shaped mark. He needed Kuja to understand that all of him was desirable, not just the "flawless" parts.

"Zidane?" Kuja's voice was so soft, so uncertain.

The blonde lifted his head to firmly state, "It's not 'disgusting.' And even though I hate seeing proof that I've hurt you, it also reminds me of how far you've come to become who you are now."

Kuja didn't say it, but the obvious question echoed in his head as he lay back down on the bed. But who am I now?

He could feel Zidane continuing to caress his side. It wasn't like it hurt, physically... the wounds had healed up and scarred over long ago. And Zidane was being so careful - it was nothing like the first time they'd had sex. But Kuja couldn't stop himself from reflexively jerking at each touch and kiss. Incidental contact he could ignore, but this... Zidane was asking for too much, if he thought Kuja could wholly change his mindset just like that.

But just as Kuja was about to beg Zidane to stop, Zidane relented and shifted his attention down below Kuja's waist, kissing his way up and down the inside of the thighs before hooking his fingers into the waistband of Kuja's shorts. He paused, looking up. "May I?"

Instead of a verbal response, Kuja placed a hand over Zidane's and guided it down, taking the shorts and undergarment with it, though he quickly clamped both hands over his groin just as it was about to be exposed.

Zidane looked slightly disappointed. Kuja swallowed down the lump in his throat. He couldn't stop thinking back to the time before, to the look of confused disgust on Zidane's face as he was confronted with proof of Kuja's gender, as he rejected him, leaving him sore and alone in the bed.

Kuja's legs trembled as he drew them up to his chest, exposing his bare ass to Zidane, knowing that intercourse was what the younger Genome was after. But Zidane reached down and put his hands on Kuja's wrists instead, while saying, "I want to see you, all of you."

Kuja shook his head, but Zidane persisted and wouldn't let go. Kuja's face reddened in frustration. Why was Zidane doing this? To humiliate him?

"We're both men; I understand that." Zidane released one wrist and shifted his hand so that it was barely hovering over Kuja's overlapped hands. "I won't turn away again - I mean it."

Kuja made a small sound of protest, but slowly released the iron grip he had on himself. He looked away, not wanting to catch Zidane's reaction, just in case...

Zidane stroked the inside of Kuja's thighs in reassurance as he studied his prize. He didn't know why he'd been so scared before. There was nothing disgusting or threatening about Kuja's cock. It wasn't that different from Zidane's own.

The blonde reached down and gently rested his palm on the semi-firm member, earning a soft whimper. The skin was warm and silky smooth.

Last time, Kuja had used his hands and mouth on him. It had been mind blowingly amazing. Considering how much Kuja had liked it when Zidane had kissed and licked his nipples, it was a good bet that he'd like it too, if Zidane returned the other favor from long ago.

Zidane curled his fingers around the girth and began carefully stroking. Almost immediately it hardened and swelled. Kuja groaned, his legs twitching faintly. Even the tip of his tail curled and trembled.

Zidane considered sticking with a handjob - at least his hands knew what to do - but Kuja deserved more. Zidane wet his lips with a swipe of his tongue. It seemed too large to comfortably put into his mouth, but maybe that was all in his head; Zidane pushed aside that concern and just went for it.

Kuja's eyelids had slid shut at some point, but as soon as Zidane's mouth made contact his eyes flew open again. His hips lifted clear off the bed on the first bob. Zidane was amused but not surprised. He'd thought he'd died and gone to heaven when Kuja went down on him, so it was encouraging to know that he could bring about the same reaction.

He'd worried that it would taste funny, but it didn't. There was a bead of something slippery and salty at the tip; the rest was just hot, firm yet yielding flesh, filling his mouth and pressing against his tongue. He wasn't sure how far down he needed to go but apparently even halfway was good, given all the little sounds Kuja was making.

Kuja groaned louder and glanced down as Zidane began sucking in earnest. The younger man was clearly inexperienced: he struggled to mind his teeth while maintaining suction, he slobbered all over his hands as he clutched the base of the shaft. But he was trying, and it had been such a long time since someone had tried to make Kuja feel good...

Their eyes met. Kuja's face reddened as a low moan slipped from his lips. Zidane felt the corners of his mouth twitch upward, even though his mouth was busy. Even though his jaw was getting sore, fast, he found himself enjoying every pulse and twitch of Kuja's rod, undeniable evidence of his arousal.

Kuja's eyes were hazed over... he kept making a litany of groaning sounds. His fingers were clutching tightly at the sheets as his hips bucked. "Zi... Zidane, stop," he gasped. His thighs were starting to shake. He wasn't sure if he could hold on any longer. "Ahh! Ahh, Zidane..."

Zidane ignored it, wanting to draw out Kuja's pleasure. The silver-haired man was so sexy, caught in the throes of ecstacy...

Kuja's body suddenly stiffened. He let out a wordless cry, his back arching. Zidane froze as something bittersweet flooded into his mouth. For a moment he was confused, then he understood why Kuja had tried to stop him. He wasn't exactly sure of what to do, but the logical thing was see to Kuja's needs first. Zidane resumed licking and stroking, yielding more of the viscous fluid, until Kuja had gone soft in his mouth. It was only then that Zidane drew back to consider his options. What was he supposed to do? Everything in his mouth felt sticky. Was it okay to swallow it? It seemed rude to spit it out.

Kuja's head rolled on the pillow. He caught Zidane's eye just as the thief gave a hearty gulp. Tail lashing about behind him, Zidane wiped off his lips and grinned, proud of what he'd done.

Kuja's forehead wrinkled. "Zidane, did you...?" he began. What could he say? He hadn't expected Zidane to keep going. He'd been so unused to being touched and teased, he hadn't been able to hold back. "I... I'm sorry."

"Why? It didn't feel good?" The blonde tail stilled.

"No, that's not it! It's just... it's... you weren't disgusted?"

Kuja kept using that word. Zidane didn't like it. He lay down on top of Kuja, embracing him with his whole body. "I told you, there's nothing about you that's 'disgusting.' That hasn't changed."

It was hard to ignore the words that were being whispered in his ear, to shake off the body that was pressing into his. Kuja finally reached up and wrapped his arms around Zidane. He was so very warm.

"Did I do okay?" Zidane asked, rubbing his cheek against Kuja's neck, as a cat would.

"... Yes."

Zidane chuckled.

Kuja tightened his grip a moment, then let go. But as Zidane began sitting up, Kuja reached out and traced a finger over the swollen mound jutting out from the front of Zidane's underwear. "I can make you feel good, too."

Zidane gasped. Light as the touch was, it felt electric. "Yeah, I know you can..."

Kuja opened his legs. He figured it was up to him to prepare himself, and that Zidane would want to watch. "Could you get the jar of ointment from the bathroom?"

Zidane nodded eagerly and hopped off the bed. He was back a moment later, completely naked, with jar in hand, but instead of handing it to Kuja he dipped his fingers in instead, coating them with a thick layer of the stuff. "Is it okay if I do it?"

Kuja could only nod, slightly stunned. Zidane was the inexperienced one, but this entire experience was something new for Kuja, too.

As much as Zidane wanted to just get in there, he'd noticed that Kuja was far more responsive to slow and gentle versus hard and fast. It was only now dawning on him that Kuja probably hadn't enjoyed the experience last time as much as Zidane had. He'd been pretty out of control...

While watching for Kuja's reaction, Zidane started by sliding one finger inside. Kuja seemed relaxed as Zidane wiggled his finger, as he slowly pulled it out before pushing it in again. There was a little resistance when he added a second finger, the additional digit intertwining with the first, but Kuja didn't seem uncomfortable; he even murmured encouragement and instructions. But "comfortable" wasn't Zidane's aim - he wanted to see Kuja writhing in pleasure, again.

After considering what he could and couldn't reach, Zidane leaned over and lightly sucked on one of Kuja's nipples while curling his fingers inside. Kuja's cock jerked in response. Zidane hid a smile. That was the sort of reaction he'd been hoping for.

By the time he had three fingers in Kuja was all flushed again and moaning, his manhood pulsing in the palm of Zidane's free hand. Despite Zidane repeatedly reminding himself to take it slow, to be patient, he really didn't know if he could wait any longer. Even though he'd refrained from touching himself by keeping his hands busy with Kuja, his cock felt super hot and almost painfully hard.

"Kuja... can I... please..."

It took Kuja a few moments to understand what Zidane was stammering. His thoughts were all fuzzy and his skin was super sensitive, like he was tingling all over. But one look at Zidane and it was obvious how much he was trying to hold back this time, instead of pushing his way in like before. The older man smiled. "What are you waiting for?"

Zidane swallowed, hard, as he shifted on the bed until he was positioned with the head of his dick right up against Kuja's rear opening. He took hold of Kuja's hips, then slid forward carefully until he breached the entrance. He very nearly came from the sudden tightness enveloping him, wrapping his head and sheath in silken heat, but by going as slow as possible, he managed to hold it in check even as he buried himself fully inside Kuja, before bending down to rest his forehead on Kuja's shoulder.

For several moments they stayed like that. Zidane was panting like he'd just fought a dragon. He was almost afraid to start moving. He didn't know it was possible to feel even more aroused than last time... then again, last time, he'd though about nothing but Kuja's ass. But now, there was no one else in his thoughts, nowhere else he wanted to be. Nothing else mattered but him and Kuja, the heat of their intertwined bodies, the threads of love and trust woven between them, delicate to the point where they were nearly invisible, like a spider's web, but just as capable of snaring a heart.

Zidane felt Kuja's legs wrap themselves around his back. His arms came up as well, embracing the younger man. Even his tail found its way around Zidane's, twining itself around it the way a vine would climb a trellis. Zidane lifted his head and pulled back slightly, enough to catch Kuja's encouraging nod. Yes, they both were ready... they both wanted this. Zidane stretched slightly to land a kiss on Kuja's lips before backing away to finally, carefully driving forward once again.

For one divine moment it was as if the whole world started at a single point between his legs, and ended between Kuja's.

Their bodies threatened to stick to one another as Zidane began thrusting, slowly at first and then picking up to a moderate pace. He resumed stroking Kuja's cock as well, wanting the former mage to feel as good as he did, hoping to bring him along as he ascended.

Zidane kissed Kuja again and again. His lips were irresistibly soft and moist. Zidane picked up the pace a little more, though he remained mindful of how hard he was pushing things. He could feel Kuja's nails digging into his back, the way his powerful thighs clenched against his sides. He could hear every breathy moan, every harsh exhale, every slap of skin on skin. His nostrils were filled with Kuja's scent - nothing like a typical man's musk, but not flowery like a woman's fragrance either.

It was impossible to hold back like this; the heat, the tightness, the sounds... months of pent up desire assaulted the younger man from all sides. Zidane felt like every part of his body was set aflame by Kuja, as if they'd discovered a new and novel way to achieve Trance. Zidane kept thrusting, seeking release. His mouth sought Kuja's once more until their tongues were madly dancing around one another, until Zidane's final groans of relief and triumph were swallowed by Kuja, as Kuja's body accepted his essence.

Suddenly feeling like all strength had fled his body, Zidane once again rested his forehead on Kuja's shoulder. Yes he was tired, but he felt good, so much better than before! He felt... refreshed, like he'd scrubbed away his old expectations to make room for something new and stellar. When the fireworks stopped firing off in his head and he found the strength to move again, he pushed himself up, sitting back a little to look at Kuja, expecting to see the same bliss reflected back, but Kuja's reddened, dazed face reminded Zidane that he wasn't quite done yet.

The thief looked down. He was already growing soft but Kuja's rod was still firm and upright in his hand. He wasn't sure if Kuja could actually climax again, but he certainly couldn't leave him like that either. So Zidane reclined beside his lover and began stroking him anew, lightly rubbing his thumb over the head, his free hand experimentally cradling the balls, lightly cupping them.

Kuja didn't know why Zidane was still touching him, still coaxing pleasure from his body, when he'd already gotten what he wanted. Was that the difference between having sex, and making love? But Kuja was happy that Zidane was still by his side, so he wasn't going to ask, not that he could think of words to say. The best he could do was gasp as waves of pleasure pulsed through his body once again. Like rainfall in a parched desert, it was impossible to hold back the sensations from flooding and overflowing.

Kuja shuddered noticeably, and Zidane knew he was close. Zidane kept going with his hand while wondering if he should try using his mouth again but before he could make up his mind, Kuja gave a groan and his twitching cock began spilling pearlescent drops onto his abdomen in erratic spurts. A few extra dribbles rolled down onto Zidane's hand, but he continued to stroke intermittently until Kuja's dick was as limp and languid as the rest of him.

Very well satisfied but rather sticky, Zidane got back up, intent on taking a quick bath. But the moment he rose from bed Kuja's hand suddenly reached out and snagged his wrist.

Blissful fantasy snapped back to reality. The last time Zidane had seen that look on Kuja's face was the day he'd walked away from the hideout in the mountains. Yes, Kuja trusted him enough to throw himself in front of a dragon, enough to die for him... but he still couldn't quite believe that he wouldn't be abandoned in the end.

Zidane looked back down at his wrist, then, instead of pulling away, he held out his other hand. "I'm going to take a bath. Wanna come with?"

"A bath?" Kuja echoed, his eyebrows knitting. He looked surprised, as if such a thing hadn't crossed his mind.

Zidane smiled. "And a nap after. I promised you, right?"

Kuja tipped his chin in a nod. The nap was what he was interested in. Or was it the promise of one? He wasn't sure... Now that Zidane had assured him that he wouldn't leave, now that he'd extended his hand to him, Kuja suddenly felt completely drained.

Zidane leaned down and planted a kiss on Kuja's forehead. "Sounds good, right?"

Kuja thought about it some more. It didn't sound bad. He did feel pretty sweaty, now that he thought about it. "Okay."

"Want me to carry you?" Zidane offered with a grin. He knew Kuja hated being carted around like a baby, but Zidane kind of liked the idea of having him in his arms right now...

The silver-haired man frowned. "No." But as he didn't trust himself to be able to get his legs under himself either, he grabbed onto both of Zidane's hands and allowed the younger Genome to help him up, until he was finally swaying on his feet at the side of the bed.

Although Kuja had refused to be carried, Zidane couldn't just leave him to stumble his way to the tub. So he slid an arm around Kuja's waist to steady him, knowing full well that his hand was resting on the scarred patch. Kuja raised an eyebrow, and Zidane braced for complaint, but the taller man didn't voice any protest. He even leaned against Zidane a little as they headed to the bath, side by side. Zidane couldn't stop smiling. Something so small, and yet it felt like as big a victory as lovemaking had been.

* * *

Author's Notes:

March 23, 2018