Title: The Show Must Go On
Author: bnomiko
Rating: PG-13 / R to R (maybe NC-17)
Pairing(s): eventual Zidane x Kuja
Spoilers: through the end of the game
Disclaimer: "The Show Must Go On" and "The Great Pretender" 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. 5: The Great Pretender

* * *

Oh yes I'm the great pretender
Pretending that I'm doing well
My need is such I pretend too much
I'm lonely but no one can tell

Too real is this feeling of make-believe
Too real when I feel what my heart can't conceal

Oh oh yes I’m the great pretender
Just laughing and gay like a clown
I seem to be what I’m not you see
I’m wearing my heart like a crown
Pretending that you’re still around

- "The Great Pretender," Queen

* * *

Zidane had to admit, he’d been wrong. Not that Kuja had magically transformed into a great warrior or anything like that, but after a couple months of practice he’d finally begun showing enough progress that Zidane felt comfortable with the prospect of going into actual combat. And the best way to do that would be to go on a supply run, which would also help Kuja get acclimated to the route and routine which served as a lifeline for anyone living out in the wilderness.

Kuja was of course a little apprehensive about his first trip away from the safety of the house, and made known his protests even as he followed the younger Genome down the dirt path towards the Lucid Plains. "But… what if they realize who I am?" he asked, tugging down the hood of his cloak a little more. A disguise was necessary, but not terribly comfortable; the moderate warmth of spring had morphed into hotter summer. He’d taken the precaution of tying back his hair as well, both to hide it and to stay cool. That long silver hair and the matching tail were enough to make him stand out amongst other Genomes, with their standard blonde coloration; the feathers in his scalp were a dead giveaway as to his identity for anyone who’d ever even heard of him.

"They won’t – they’re pretty isolated, especially at the supply station. And see, I’ve been working on this already… you’re gonna be masquerading as Dagger," Zidane cheerfully explained.

Kuja’s brow wrinkled. "… And why is that?"

"’Cause, the Dwarves remember her passing through Conde Petie with me, but they don’t remember what she looks like. So it’s perfect right?"

"Oh sure, except for the fact that I’m neither human nor female," Kuja said distastefully, swishing his tail so that his cloak undulated behind him, as if a strong breeze had caught it and lifted it.

Zidane suddenly stopped. Kuja nearly collided into him and scowled when the blonde spun around to face him. "Gee, that’s funny. You were pretty insistent about hiding the fact that you’re a Genome when we first met. And you definitely didn’t look manly either, if you catch my drift."

"I’ve already explained the latter," the former mage sniffed.

"Okay… So then why’d you hide your tail? I don’t think you've ever explained that one."

Kuja’s cloak fluttered back down to drape around his legs. "Well… it gets in my way, I guess. You should know, they’re pretty sensitive."

While there was truth to that, Zidane knew their tails were less a hindrance and far more of an asset. And even in his rough and tumble life as a thief, he’d really only ever gotten it pinched once or twice by a fast closing door. "That can’t be the only thing…"

Kuja looked away for a moment, then began walking again, following the path as he had no real clue which way they were headed. Zidane trotted to catch up, then repeated his question.

"Why would I want to be reminded of what I am? You’ve seen how the other Genomes are: mindless, soulless. They’re nothing more than dolls. I want to have nothing to do with them," he spat.

"But it’s okay to hang out with me, right?"

"Do I really have a choice?" When Zidane’s brow rose at that, Kuja sighed and backtracked a little. "I didn’t… mean that. You aren’t like the rest of them either. You’re better than that… better than m…"

Whatever Kuja was trying to say was forgotten as a bunch of rocks and plant material suddenly got kicked across the curve of the pathway they were standing on. Zidane instantly whipped around, daggers already in hand as something big and green and gurgling came lumbering towards them.

"Ochu," Zidane grumbled, crouching down and holding his daggers up and behind his back in his usual fighting stance while sizing up the thorny plant monster. He ran into them on occasion but was still surprised at just how stealthy they could be, until they were right on top of you. But despite its size and rather nasty armaments, it wasn’t terribly dangerous in combat, being dimwitted and far too bulky to turn around quickly. It was about as ideal a target for a novice fighter as he could hope for. "Hey Kuja, you can take this guy right?"

The blonde spared a moment to glance over at his companion. Kuja had been traveling with his staff in hand, so all he’d had to do was lift it and assume a battle stance. He had done just that, but he didn’t look completely convinced that he was doing it right. His hands kept shifting along the staff as his eyes searched over the monster, gauging its movements and looking for some sort of opening amidst the sharp teeth and flailing tentacles.

"You’re overthinking it. Just trust in your instincts, run in there, and whack it," Zidane said. "I’ll back you up if you need it."

If Kuja were to "follow his instincts" he’d have magic sizzling in the middle of his palms, but that was no longer an option. All he could do now was to try and remember what he’d learned the last several weeks and hope that he was up to the task. And though he thought "just run in there" didn’t sound too wise, he wasn't getting anywhere just standing there, staring at it. Zidane said he’d back him up… surely he didn’t bring the older man out there just to let him fall to the first random monster they came across, right?

Kuja took a deep breath, checked his grip one last time, and then before he could change his mind, sprang forward, focusing in on the monster’s left tentacle. He swung the staff overhead and brought it down sharply, just as he’d been taught. The wood collided with a satisfying, solid thwack, not dissimilar to all those strikes against the target dummy, and the monster gurgled angrily as the lower half of its tentacle went limp.

Kuja had to admit, he was a little surprised he’d managed to wound the creature, but he wasn’t naïve enough to think that it’d be scared off so easily. As soon as the limb went down he immediately pivoted, swinging the staff out and behind him to defend against a possible counterattack from the monster’s right side. But his positioning was off; he had the staff down a bit too low. He caught the flash of a spiky green tentacle coming in fast towards his head and cringed out of reflex, in anticipation of a hard blow…

Instead of the smack of impact against his skull, he heard the Ochu roar again. Forcing his eyes open he saw Zidane skidding to a stop a few yards away, daggers flashing in the sunlight. The majority of the monster’s now severed right tentacle was twitching on the ground between them.

"Thanks…"

"Don’t drop your guard; it’s still a threat, even like this," Zidane warned.

Kuja noticed wisps of deep green smoke beginning to waft up from the depths of the toothy maw and nodded in agreement. If he dallied too long, the thing would probably spit noxious gas at them or something. And it still had its left tentacle; although damaged, it was still able to lash it about like a whip. Too bad for the Ochu then… if it had been smart enough to flee and find for a meal elsewhere, he would have probably let it go.

Don’t overthink it. Just go, he told himself as he gathered his strength for another pass.

Feeling a bit more confident in both his own abilities and further bolstered by Zidane’s presence beside him, Kuja decided to try for a series of connected hits this time. He darted back in, ignoring the disgusting sap that was starting to drip down from the severed tentacle stump and struck the monster’s body with a blow from the right, then the left, then spun and finished with another right before leaping away. He turned back just in time to see Zidane run in to deal the final blow, the Ochu flopping to the ground like a felled plant.

"That wasn’t so bad now was it?" the younger Genome asked, all smiles now that the threat was gone.

Kuja wiped drops of sap off his face and glared at the withering green husk. He should’ve been happy that he’d managed to survive his first real fight without a scratch, that he’d even gotten a few blows in, but now that the adrenaline was starting to wear off, he wasn’t satisfied with how he’d performed. Upon closer inspection it was obvious he hadn’t contributed anything at all. He had landed a few bruising blows; Zidane on the other hand had severed a thick tentacle easily and scored the monster’s body with deep, fatal wounds. Kuja shook his head. If he still had his magic, he would’ve easily dispatched the creature without needing assistance, without ever having to go near it. But now… all he’d managed to do was hold Zidane back by clumsily getting in his way. Wasn’t that indisputable proof that Garland was right? Zidane was the superior Genome and Kuja the failed prototype, just as his creator had always claimed…

"You did pretty well, considering it’s your first time and all. Though… maybe I should’ve trained you on daggers instead," the blonde mused.

Great, now Zidane was resorting to giving him the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head to try and make him feel better. "Maybe," Kuja mumbled, not really caring. How would adding a blade fix anything? No matter what weapon he was armed with, he’d have to get in close to hit his opponent, without magic shielding to protect him if he screwed up. And although it was true that Zidane had no shields either, he didn’t need it – he made up for it with superior strength and agility.

The silver-haired man tried to imagine what it would be like going at it alone, armed with only a staff or a magic racket… It wasn’t exactly a pretty picture. What would he do if he got injured? He no longer had access to white magic either.

"Well," Zidane continued, unaware of the darkening of Kuja’s mood, "the most valuable piece of advice I can give you is this: if all else fails, run."

Kuja could only sigh. He had the feeling he was going to be resorting to that a lot in the future.

* * *

The remainder of the trip down to the supply outpost was uneventful. Zidane had already reduced the monster population in the area quite a bit during his many solo treks, so they were able to complete the journey unmolested. Kuja wasn’t sure if he ought to be thankful for that or not… it was never a good idea to kill off all the monsters in an area; they naturally discouraged unwanted guests from intruding. That’s why he’d left monsters roaming the halls of his Desert Palace. But more than that, Kuja wasn’t sure if he wanted a reprieve. He wasn’t the sort to be "itching for a fight" but at the same time, he wanted some sort of outlet for the tension that had been building up all day.

Upon reaching the plains, Kuja could see smoke rising from a firepit just beyond the river, accompanied by a few tents pitched in front of a lean-to built against a natural outcropping of rock. Reflexively Kuja tugged down his hood a little more, leaving only a small slice of pale skin visible before following Zidane past the tents and to the lean-to, which was occupied by a pair of Dwarves.

"Rally-Ho!" the two Dwarves called in greeting, hands held up so that their palms were facing their visitors.

"Rally-Ho," Zidane echoed, grinning. He nudged Kuja, staring at him expectantly.

"Uh… Rally-Ho?"

"Ah, I see ye brought yer wifey this time, did ya laddie?" the shorter of the two Dwarves immediately commented while looking Kuja up and down. Privately the Dwarf wondered if Kuja was an ugly woman since he couldn’t see the face beneath the hood, but he didn’t comment since it wasn’t really his business if his customers liked ugly women.

"Wife?" Kuja echoed. Why would they assume he was Zidane’s wife of all things? And even though he knew that that Zidane was trying to pass him off as Dagger, he was still a little put off by the fact that he was presumed to be a girl, even with no makeup on – not that they could see his face - and dressed in men’s clothing – not that they could see his clothes either.

"Oh yeah… heh, I guess I forgot to mention it. The Dwarves sorta married me and Dagger way back when," Zidane quickly whispered to him.

"… WHAT," Kuja hissed back loudly before he could stop himself. It was probably a good thing that Dwarves were generally hard of hearing. Zidane was married?? He’d never mentioned that before. Why would he…

"They wouldn’t let us go on to the Iifa Tree unless we got married, okay? It’s not like we’re married-married. Hell, even Vivi and Quina got married, and we don’t even know what Quina is."

Kuja’s hand automatically landed on his face. He’d been doing that around Zidane quite a lot.

"Lass, yer lookin’ a wee bit pale. Not a healthy one, are ya?" Short Dwarf said, staring at the white face that was revealed as Kuja accidentally knocked back his hood a little. Human females weren’t at all the Dwarf’s type but he thought Kuja didn’t look half bad, with fine silver brows above eyes the color of stormy skies and porcelain skin, which made him wonder instead if Zidane was the jealous type who wanted to hide his wife from curious eyes.

"Perhaps she is with child?" the taller Dwarf suggested.

"WHAT?!" Kuja shrieked as Zidane began sniggering behind his back. "Do I look like I’m ‘with child’?!" He flung one side of his cloak open so they could see how thin he was. It was bad enough having to masquerade as a woman; it was certainly another to be mistaken for a pregnant one.

The pair of Dwarves slowly looked him up and down, then turned to look at each other, then back to Kuja. "Well, how would we know? Ye humans and monkey-tails all need fattenin’ up," Short Dwarf said.

Kuja wondered why he hadn’t tried to kill off the Dwarves during his stint as the Angel of Death. Or was it that he’d figured they were so stupid that he couldn’t even be bothered to do so?

"I’m sorry, I just…" Zidane managed to choke out between chuckles, "but he… er, she’s definitely not pregnant."

"Ah? Well, that’s unfortunate. Ye should try harder!" Tall Dwarf exclaimed.

"Oh yes, we’ll try harder, right DARLING?" Kuja seethed, reaching around to pinch Zidane’s ass, hard.

"OW! Yes! No! I mean… Uh… Wait, what??" And why was Kuja’s hand on his rear anyhow? Zidane thwapped at the wayward hand with his tail, earning him a grumble and another pinch in return. Slightly irritated and yet somewhat amused at the same time, Zidane let loose a low growl himself, then readied his tail for another swat, only this time, he aimed for Kuja’s butt instead.

The silver-haired man jumped in response, then slapped Zidane’s rear as if it were a ripe pumpkin. "Stop that you idiot!"

"What, you started it!" the thief yelled back.

"Ah, must be nice ta be married," Short Dwarf sighed as the two Genomes began poking at each other in earnest. He felt a little envious. He wanted a fiery little wife to pick on too.

Tall Dwarf laughed and began rummaging through his supplies. "Aye! And I’ve got just the thing for tha’ lovebirds…" After a minute of searching he triumphantly pulled out a small ceramic jug and began waving it in the air. "Aha! Here we go!" And he shoved it at Zidane, who managed to grab it while fending off Kuja with his free hand.

"What is it?" Zidane asked after finally managing to uncork it for an experimental sniff. There was some sort of oil inside the jug.

"It’s an aphro-disi-macallit. See, ye put a little of this on yer…"

"We don’t want it!" Zidane yelped, nearly dropping the container.

"But it’ll help ye with making babies! See, I used a bit o’ this magic potion and now I ‘ave three, count ‘em, three wee ones! And I’m giving it to ye for free, being that yer a good regular customer and all."

"Uh, thanks, but really, we don’t…"

"Just take it, laddie. Put it ta good use. Or else ye be stuck out here in Sanctuary fer years to come!"

* * *

Unable to convince the Dwarves to take it back, Zidane ended up pocketing the oil before focusing on the reason for their trip - supplies. He showed Kuja how to pick out items they’d need and how to efficiently pack it all up for the trip back. They paid for the goods, loaded them up in two bundles which they strapped onto their backs, then bade goodbye to the Dwarves before heading back up the trail towards home.

On the way back, Kuja got his "wish" - another Ochu, just as huge and toothy and foul as the previous one, stood in their path. This time he didn’t wait for Zidane to goad him on; he made the first move, though this time he went low, trying to disable one of the leg tentacles, hoping to topple the behemoth over. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea if he’d been a little quicker and more battle experienced, but Kuja didn’t have the agility needed to evade the creature’s counterattack. The arm tentacle that came flying down tore through the bundle he’d been carrying – in his haste he hadn’t bothered shrugging it off first – scattering bread and fruit everywhere and knocking him to the ground.

Zidane was immediately at Kuja’s side, examining him, then sighing in relief when he realized that the older Genome simply had the air knocked out of him for a moment. Ironically enough, Kuja’s uncharacteristic show of impatience had saved him; the supply bundle had cushioned the blow.

"I’ll get him," the blonde said before darting nimbly beneath the monster and neatly relieving the creature of two of its four legs in a single pass, essentially doing the exact thing Kuja had tried and failed at. It went crashing down, flailing helplessly. Zidane swiftly pivoted around and stabbed both his daggers through the fibrous husk of the body, then tore them out, killing the Ochu almost immediately.

Zidane sheathed his weapons, then went back to help Kuja to his feet. The former mage was now sitting up, but still looked a bit stunned. Zidane bent down and took his hand, but as soon as he made contact Kuja snarled and yanked his hand back. He suddenly looked pissed off instead.

"Okay, now what?" Zidane demanded.

"… Nothing."

"Kuja…"

The silver-haired man swallowed hard. He ought to be thanking Zidane for saving his ass yet again. But the self-depreciation he’d felt earlier had returned in full force, mingling with anger and confusion. He shut his eyes, struggling to deal with the flood of emotions. He was mad: at himself, for being so weak and worthless as to need help; at Zidane, for being presumptuous enough to help. And at the same time he felt a rising sense of panic at the thought of Zidane leaving, at the prospect of being left to fend for himself, when he couldn’t fight, when he was probably the most wanted man on the planet.

He’d never considered begging for anything before, but he was closer than he’d ever been to doing so. But what was the point, other than throwing away what little pride he had left? It didn’t matter that he didn’t want Zidane to leave… that was inevitable. Why would he stay when he had a beautiful, powerful young queen and friends all waiting to give him a hero's well deserved welcome home? Kuja couldn’t even begin to offer him anything like that.

Maybe it’d be best if Zidane just up and left right away. What was the point in sticking around for weeks or a month more, when in the end, it wouldn’t change anything? It wasn’t like Kuja would last for much longer anyhow. What difference would it make if he met his end on the claws of a monster instead?

Uncertainty tore through him. He wanted to push Zidane away and at the same time, grab onto him and not let go. He didn’t know what to do anymore. He feared losing control over his life more than anything, but wasn’t that what was happening? Had he ever had any control over it in the first place?

He suddenly felt hands close over his, pulling them away from his face. Kuja jerked back in surprise, then blinked up at Zidane through a veil of hair. His fingers were tangled in it. He hadn’t realized he’d been pulling at it.

Zidane frowned as he crouched down. "What’s wrong?" he asked softly, letting go of Kuja’s hands to lightly brush back the silver strands. "Did you really get hurt that badly?"

Kuja merely stared back at him mutely.

Zidane sighed again. There was no point in demanding an answer; if Kuja wasn’t going to talk, he wasn’t going to talk. Besides, he looked genuinely upset, almost like a lost child, if that could be believed. So Zidane tried being a little gentler, a little more understanding, stroking Kuja's face and leaning in to kiss him lightly on the forehead. "What’s wrong?" he asked again.

Kuja pressed his cheek against the blonde’s palms a little bit – he remembered many years ago feeling comforted by baby Zidane’s hands patting his cheeks - then shook his head slowly. He couldn’t say it; he couldn’t ask him to stay. He already knew the answer. And he didn’t want to hear Zidane telling him that.

"You did good today, you know, especially since this was your first time in real hand to hand combat and all," the thief said, making his best guess as to what was bothering the older man. He enveloped Kuja in a hug. "I mean that. I’m proud of you."

Kuja flinched. No one had ever told him that before, especially not Garland, who’d never seemed satisfied no matter how hard he’d tried. "How can you say that? I screwed up…"

"No one’s perfect their first time out."

"I could’ve gotten us both killed!"

"Nah. I knew it’d be okay. And I know you won’t make the same mistake again." Upon hearing Kuja sigh heavily, Zidane tapped him on the nose and added, "Stop moping. You’re doing great, like I said! You’ll be a pro at this in no time – I’m gonna make sure of it."

"… And then what?" Kuja asked bitterly.

Zidane cocked his head. "What do you mean?"

Something akin to hurt anger flickered in the depths of Kuja’s eyes, but he refused to say anything more and merely shook his head again.

The conversation really wasn’t going anywhere, and even Zidane knew he ought to call it quits before he said something he'd regret. They’d been having a pretty good day, or so he’d thought, and then Kuja just had to go and start raining on the parade again. He was getting so tired of it: Kuja’s constant moodiness, his pessimism, the bouts of silence… it was all very draining. Zidane did care for Kuja, and he was trying to do his best to help him adjust to this new life, but it seemed the former mage was determined to make the task as difficult as possible.

How did the saying go? If you saved someone’s life, they were indebted to you for the rest of their lives… or was it, you were obligated to take care of them for the rest of your life? Zidane had thought it was the former but it was starting to look like the latter was true. And that wasn’t something he’d bargained for when he’d gone charging into the wild heart of the Iifa Tree; he had only been thinking about saving Kuja’s life at the time, or at least being by his side so that he wouldn’t be alone when he died.

Zidane took a deep breath and stood up, offering Kuja his hand. No, the thief couldn’t take care of the other man forever, but a little longer… that wasn’t unreasonable. He could handle that, even though he was getting more and more anxious to get back to his friends and family, because Kuja was almost family too, or something like that.

"Come on, let’s get back to the house. It’s been a long day, hasn’t it?"

For a moment it almost looked like Kuja was going to just sit there stubbornly, refusing to budge, but then he gave a tired sigh and accepted a hand up… and then wouldn’t let go. He didn’t explain himself and Zidane didn’t ask; he simply did his best to help Kuja dust himself off one handed, then readjusted his grip so they could more easily walk side by side as they made their way back to the house.

* * *

Kuja remained quiet the remainder of the journey, though his mind was going a mile a minute. He wondered if they’d encounter another monster… He wasn’t itching for a fight anymore, but still he found himself thinking about combat again.

He wondered what would happen if he deliberately let himself get beaten up during an encounter. Would it be worth it to take a few blows to keep Zidane around a few additional weeks? Kuja was sure it would work… he was used to identifying people who had flaws he could exploit, then manipulating them into doing what he wanted. The younger man’s flaws were obvious: he was an annoyingly gullible simpleton who was also kindhearted and protective of others. So if Kuja got hurt, Zidane would be saddled with guilt, for not jumping in quicker, for not having trained the former mage sufficiently in the art of physical combat. He would stick around for a little longer, intent on protecting him.

But it didn’t take long for Kuja to scrap that idea. It wasn’t worth it, getting injured just to buy a little more time. He didn’t want to be in pain and more scarred up than he already was. But beyond that, Zidane had said he was proud of him, that he’d done well in the two fights. And Kuja treasured that little sliver of approval. He didn’t want to lose it, no matter what.

And although he was used to using his body, as much as anything else, to get what he wanted – and a few additional scars wouldn’t make much of a difference anyhow – there were other, less risky, more physically pleasurable ways to go about it. The question was whether or not that’d work on Zidane…

By the time they got home, it was already noticeably late. Kuja immediately headed for the bath, saying he felt sore and filthy, and casually hinted to Zidane that he ought to join him, but the thief was oblivious to his overtures and instead went to unpack their purchases and get dinner started while Kuja went to bathe.

Kuja wasn’t deterred. It wasn’t outright rejection after all. He just figured that meant he’d have the luxury of making himself as presentable as possible. With a little bit of water he scrubbed off as much of the road dust as possible to start, then broke some herbs into the remaining water to perfume it, hoping that the scent would cling to his skin and hair as he sat in the tub. He slowly combed his fingers through his hair, approving of the herbal scent he’d concocted, and wished he’d thought about asking the Dwarves if they had any skin cream or cosmetics for sale, though he doubted they’d carry such things. Besides, it was probably too late to try and soften the appearance of the scars he now bore anyhow. And as for the cosmetics, he wasn’t sure if that was something Zidane liked anyways, given that he didn’t remember seeing Dagger – and great, even he thought of her as "Dagger" now – wearing much makeup. Then again she was naturally, flawlessly beautiful. Kuja bet there wasn’t a single scar or blemish on her royal body. No wonder Zidane had instantly become smitten with her.

There was an impatient tap on the door, and then it swung open.

"Hey…"

Kuja looked up to see Zidane cocking his head at him. "Yes?"

"You didn’t hear me knocking?"

"Sorry…"

The blonde shrugged. "Well, I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. You’ve been in here a while."

"Oh." He hadn’t realized he’d spent so much time in the bath, thinking. The water was starting to get pretty cool, and he hadn’t even noticed. But since Zidane was there, he figured he ought to take advantage of it…

Kuja stood up, making the move as graceful as possible, letting the water sheet off his slender frame. He was pleased to notice Zidane’s eyes flickering briefly over his body. It was exactly the reaction he’d been hoping for.

"Could you hand me the towel?" Kuja asked in a low purr, seizing the opportunity before him.

"Huh? Oh, um… sure… Here."

"Thank you." Kuja accepted the offered towel, then began drying himself off slowly, dabbing droplets of water off his arms, lightly scrubbing the fabric over his chest, leaning down to work over one leg at a time, like a girl putting on stockings. He wanted it to appear he was just casually drying off, though it wasn’t as easy - his back was starting to hurt from the Ochu’s earlier attack and his legs ached from all the walking. And he had to fight to not rush over the areas that he wasn’t so confident about, instead artfully positioning the towel or a limb over the worst of the scars, to minimize them. But thankfully they didn’t seem to deter Zidane that much - he could feel the blonde’s gaze staying with him, following his every movement, so he fixed a pleasant expression on his face and kept up the act.

The younger Genome was indeed intrigued by what he was seeing. He’d already admitted to himself that he liked looking at Kuja. It wasn’t just that he was beautiful and graceful like a peacock, he also had a charisma that was hard to resist. It got a little weird whenever his brain tried to point out that Kuja was male, but Zidane just made it a point to skip over anything below the belt, so to speak.

Better yet, Kuja was now in a good mood it seemed, unlike earlier. That made him a hundred times more attractive. That made Zidane want to hang around and wait for him, to talk to him.

Kuja finally finished up by turning around, spreading the towel across his back like a flag, then folding up the bottom half over the ends of his hair to sop up the dampness. He turned back around and sauntered towards Zidane, who was still standing there, transfixed. Kuja remembered Zidane touching his face earlier and decided to repay that in kind, reaching for Zidane’s face, cupping his chin in his hand, stroking his thumb over the younger man’s lips. Zidane didn’t resist as Kuja followed that up with a kiss, so the former mage decided to take things a step forward and slip in a bit of tongue.

Zidane made a tiny squeak of protest, but after a moment of confusion, he willingly opened up and let Kuja explore his mouth. The blonde had never been kissed like that before – despite what Kuja had thought, Zidane hadn’t been all that successful with the ladies; he really was just an incurable flirt - but it wasn’t as weird as he thought it would be. It wasn’t like Kuja was trying to make him swallow his tongue. It was just a kiss with an added bonus of being a little more wet, a little more slippery…

Speaking of a little wet, Kuja’s bangs were starting to drip noticeably onto Zidane’s face. It made the thief scrunch up his face and squirm, enough to disrupt the kiss.

Kuja pulled back a bit, uncertain as to what had happened, and then he smiled at what he saw. Zidane’s lips were moist and his cheeks were lightly flushed. His eyes were wide, the bright blue irises slightly clouded over. He really was rather attractive - young enough to be boyishly cute and a bit innocent, but old enough to be a man, without a doubt. It made the next move easy.

"What… what are you doing?" Zidane mumbled as Kuja moved on to nibbling on his neck. He wasn’t really sure if he needed an answer though. Maybe it was better to not know and to simply close his eyes and concentrate on the varied sensations: Kuja’s hot mouth versus his cold damp hair, the soft curves of his body and the firm, bunching muscle that lay just beneath the surface. He was stronger and more forceful than a girl would be, even though his skin was just as silky, his hair just as fragrant, touched with an herbal scent. Zidane found the contrasts oddly exciting.

Kuja’s body was fully pressed against his now, pinning him against the doorjamb. Zidane reacted on instinct, slipping his tail between Kuja’s legs and around his thighs, wrapping his arms around Kuja’s narrow waist, then letting his hands drift down to the swell of flesh below, fondling it after only slight hesitation. Kuja had a full, curved ass, perfect for squeezing. In the back of his mind, Zidane remembered Dagger had a pretty nice looking rear as well, though he’d never gotten to touch it. Nor had he ever seen her naked. Hell, they’d never even kissed – he’d tried once and she’d walked off.

Zidane’s eyes snapped open, and he quickly realized there was something firm beginning to press into his abdomen. He glanced down. He wasn’t sure what to be more horrified by: the fact that Kuja’s arousal was prodding him, or the fact that he’d forgotten all about Dagger for a few minutes. It wasn’t until he’d had Kuja in his arms that he remembered her. And why were his hands and tail all over Kuja anyhow?

Zidane instantly let go of whatever he’d been fondling. "Woah! What the…"

"You’re enjoying it too, in case you haven’t noticed," Kuja quickly pointed out, reaching down to lightly pat the bulge in Zidane’s pants.

The flush coloring Zidane’s face deepened. This was the second time he’d gotten aroused because of Kuja. He didn’t understand… Was it just because what Kuja was doing felt good? But he was a man, so it shouldn’t have had that kind of effect on him, should it? And how would they… Wait, what AM I doing? What about Dagger!? "Stop it, I… we can’t…" But the other Genome wasn’t stopping, so Zidane pulled back from the hand that was still rubbing him and pushed Kuja back lightly. "Listen to me!"

"What?"

"I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but… I can’t do this."

Kuja looked down as well. He really wanted to rub up against Zidane some more, but he refrained from pushing his luck… at least for the moment. "If it bothers you that much, you don’t have to look at it you know."

"That’s not… it’s not the only thing!"

"You could just flip me over and do it from behind…" Kuja continued, and Zidane swallowed hard at the image of the silver-haired man bent over, rear in the air.

"No way… I couldn’t. I can’t… I can’t do that to Dagger."

Kuja stepped back, a low hiss escaping his lips. He didn’t want to lose to her, not in this, not when she wasn't even on the same continent. "She’s not even here now, is she?" he asked dangerously.

"She is, in my heart! I can’t do this to her."

"Good thing I’m not asking for your heart then."

Zidane jerked. So this was just a physical thing then?

"Did she ever do anything like this for you?" Kuja asked, pressing for an answer, the tip of his tail slowly working it’s way up Zidane’s leg.

"Of course not! She’s not like that. And stop that!" Zidane yelled, swatting at the silver tail with his own.

"Then let me be the one."

Zidane stared at him. Kuja’s eyes were dead serious; he wasn’t just jerking Zidane’s chain. But the younger Genome wasn’t ready to consider such a thing. He didn’t know if he ever would be. He still didn’t understand why he reacted to Kuja, and what that meant, if anything. Maybe being out in the middle of nowhere so long was driving them both a little crazy. Maybe he ought to start planning his trip home, before things got out of hand.

Zidane let out a long, slow sigh, then took a hold of the towel around Kuja’s shoulders and pulled it down to wrap it around the other man’s torso. "Look… I just came in to tell you dinner’s ready. Get dressed and we can go eat, okay?"

It was a rejection of sorts, but on the other hand, Zidane hadn’t completely turned him down either. And there’d been no mistaking the thief’s reaction, no matter how much Zidane tried to deny it. So Kuja slowly nodded and rewrapped the towel more securely around his body. Zidane smiled at him, looking relieved. Kuja smiled back. He was willing to concede, for now. At least the seed had been firmly planted, and it wasn’t like he had anything better to do than to cultivate it.

* * *

Author’s Notes:

November 3, 2012