Title: The Show Must Go On
Author: bnomiko
Rating: PG-13 / R to NC-17
Pairing(s): Zidane x Kuja, Blank + Marcus
Spoilers: through the end of the game
Disclaimer: "The Show Must Go On" and "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy" 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. 9: Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy

* * *

When I'm not with you
I think of you always
(I miss those long hot summer nights)
I miss you
When I'm not with you
Think of me always
Love you - love you

Hey boy where do you get it from
Hey boy where did you go ?
I learned my passion in the good old fashioned school of loverboys

- "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy," Queen

* * *

A little disheartened after his conversation with Baku, Zidane stepped out, intending to take a walk around the theater district to clear his head so that he could begin formulating a new plan. But before he’d even cleared the entryway he stopped short, cocking his head at the sight before him…

Marcus was embracing Blank like they were dance partners. "Sweet Marcus, I fear I love thee more than I should!" Blank said, his voice pitched high in falsetto.

"Princess... Wilt thou be happy, married to a lowly peasant such as I?" Marcus responded, in a low whisper.

Zidane instantly recognized the lines from Lord Avon’s "I Want to Be Your Canary." But that didn’t explain why the two of them were having an impromptu recital in the middle of the entryway, nor why they looked and sounded like they were really getting into their respective roles. "Okay, what’s up with you two?"

"Oh, hey Zidane. We were just thinking, it’d be easiest to do a reprisal of ‘Canary’ for Her Majesty, don’t you agree?" Cinna asked as Blank and Marcus slowly broke apart to stand beside him, forming a loose human wall around the blonde Genome.

"Her Majesty?" Zidane parroted.

Blank sighed loudly. "Queen Garnet? Your lady love? We do a show in Alexandria every year on the queen’s birthday?"

Zidane frowned. He still wasn’t used to thinking of her as a queen. Nor had she been on his mind until Blank mentioned her name. Zidane scratched the back of his head. His thoughts had been swirling in sluggish eddies after Baku had shot down his request to take in Kuja, and it was a little hard to refocus. "That’s not what… I mean… ugh…" He shook his head, trying to remember what he’d seen that had stopped him in his tracks. "Oh, yeah… so what’s going on with the two of you anyhow?" he asked, gesturing at Marcus and Blank. "You seemed awfully cozy…"

Blank laughed. "So were Cornelia and Marcus," he said, referencing the characters from the play. "What are you trying to say?"

"Uh…" What was he trying to say? Why’d he think there was something more to it than just acting? But then he remembered how Blank had leaned against Marcus earlier, when Marcus had put his arm around him, and how they’d held each other while reciting the lines, as if they were as much lovers as Marcus and Cornelia. But that was impossible, there was no way… "Well… you seemed really into it, I guess."

Marcus and Blank exchanged quick looks, then Blank shrugged. Marcus coughed into his hand, then gave Blank another look before asking, "Are you sure?"

The redhead tipped his chin. "You wanna do it, or me?"

Zidane stared at them both, then before he realized it he opened his mouth and blurted out, "Are you two together or something?"

"Oho, he finally noticed," said Cinna with a goofy grin.

"Really? Wait… really? How… Since when?" The questions came out in a huge rush.

"Since forever?" Cinna cheerily replied. Blank and Marcus both turned and gave him a look, and the potbellied man just laughed. "All right, all right, I get it – I’ll shut up now!" he announced before disappearing back into the building.

"Really?!" Zidane repeated once the door shut behind Cinna. Marcus and Blank a couple?? He couldn’t fathom it. No man would choose to be with another man… at least, under normal circumstances. Guys were supposed to be with girls, anything else had to be a mistake. "Really though… How long has this been going on? Or did this all happen while I was away?"

"Oh, it’s been a couple of years now…" said Blank.

"A couple of years?! Why didn’t you tell me sooner?" The blonde tried to remember if he’d seen any indication of anything earlier, but came up empty. Either they’d been really careful, sneaking around behind everyone’s backs under the guise of friendship, or he’d never looked in the right place at the right time.

Marcus shrugged. "You wouldn’t have understood. You were just a kid then."

Zidane scowled. Blank was only older than him by three years, not even that! If he’d been old enough to start a relationship, then Zidane had been old enough to have been told about it. "I’m not! Sheesh, give me some credit." He stamped his foot for emphasis, realizing after he’d done so that in fact, it was a rather childish thing to do.

Marcus tried to disguise his chuckle as a cough.

"So… does Baku know?" Zidane had to ask. If Cinna knew, then their adoptive father probably did as well. Though he came across as being a bit dimwitted, in truth he had always been very sharp.

"Man, everyone knows!" Marcus told him. "And now you do too, so stop complaining."

"Guess you didn’t notice before because you weren’t in love," Blank responded coolly.

"Hey, I’ve been in love with Dagger a long time!"

"Then you should have noticed! We weren’t exactly hiding it!" Blank yelled back.

"Hey…" Marcus tapped Blank on the arm to calm him down, then took a quick look around behind them. Though the streets weren’t terribly busy, he had no desire to attract unwanted attention by having his lover screaming their "secret" to everyone passing by. While he wasn’t ashamed of his relationship, he was also prudent enough to know it wasn’t something that many people accepted. Zidane’s reaction was proof of that.

"Well I wasn’t expecting you two GUYS to…" Zidane began muttering in retort, before something occurred to him. He stared at Blank, scrutinizing him. "I could’ve sworn you liked girls. You were always checking them out with me..."

"He does. But he likes guys just fine too," Marcus answered for his partner.

"I’m not picky in that regard," Blank agreed.

Zidane boggled at him. How could he say it didn’t matter? That was like something Kuja would say… Kuja, who’d freely admitted to having both male and female partners, not for love, but for power and political gain. And although it had shocked the younger Genome at first, it hadn’t seemed too farfetched once he’d given it some thought, as if that were just one more sign of Kuja’s insanity.

But Blank wasn’t crazy or weird. Neither was Marcus. Heck, out of everyone in Tantalus, they were the most "normal." So how did they end up together? It didn’t make sense - especially in Blank’s case, that he claimed to like girls and yet had paired up with a guy who was as far removed from "girly" as any man could be. Marcus wasn’t a big fellow but he was built like a bulldog, with a good amount of muscle on his shoulders, chest and legs, a broad nose, and a square jaw that always seemed to sport a bit of stubble.

And Blank, there wasn’t anything girly about him either, although…

Zidane blinked. He’d never thought about it before but Blank was kind of… well, sexy, in a way. Zidane had complained about Kuja dressing scandalously but Blank routinely wore less. He just didn’t make a show of it like Kuja did. And even though the redhead was nowhere near flawless, his skin marked up by a patchwork of grafts over burns he’d suffered as a child, the ladies loved him anyhow, attracted by his roguish charm and confidence. It seemed a waste that he wasn’t interested in returning their affections.

Marcus folded his arms, frowning slightly at Zidane’s distraction. "Is it that hard for you to understand? And you wonder why we didn’t tell you sooner!"

"Well, but… I mean, I get um, how it’d work physically," Zidane admitted, wincing as he tried very hard to push the reemerging memory of that last night with Kuja out of his head, "but…"

"Just physically? Come on, you know better than that," Marcus growled.

Zidane’s lips tightened. The whole thing had sounded like a joke at first, a little bit like, "Ha ha, let’s get Zidane good now that he’s come back!" but it was clear as day now that the two other men were quite serious and no longer amused with having to explain themselves. "Sorry. I guess… I’d never really thought about it before."

It wasn’t a lie. Despite everything he’d done with Kuja – beyond the sex there’d been hand holding, kissing – the blonde hadn’t thought it was anything beyond a passing fancy. He’d chalked it up to the fact that they were isolated with only one another for companionship; he’d blamed it on Kuja’s charming and flirtatious nature which had worn him down and seduced him. But Kuja hasn’t forced him to do anything… he’d gone along with it of his own free will. It wasn’t right to lay all the blame at his feet when Zidane had been a willing participant as well.

Zidane’s gaze dropped to his feet, shuffling guiltily on the well-worn steps. Why couldn’t he just accept it? What did it matter if Marcus and Blank preferred one another’s company, instead of the companionship of ladies? If they loved each other, wasn’t that enough? Maybe he was balking because he was thinking of Kuja, because he’d felt guilty not only because of what they’d done, but because the memory was still so fresh that he couldn’t get it off his mind. Maybe he felt a little betrayed too, that the family that he’d been through thick and thin with hadn’t seen fit to share the truth with him before.

Blank sighed loudly, which brought Zidane’s eyes back up. With the conversation now at an awkward standstill, Blank felt it was up to him to try and explain things a little more. From what he could tell Zidane wasn’t really against it – it was more like he felt left out because they hadn’t told him sooner and was now suddenly overwhelmed by the unexpected reveal. That was kind of understandable… he’d just made his way home after being away for a year. Blank sat down on the steps and motioned for the younger man to join him. Marcus remained standing, watching, his arms still folded across his chest.

"Zidane, you loved fairy tales when you were a kid," Blank began. "You always said you wanted to grow up to be the hero, climbing the tower to save the princess from the evil sorcerer. I’m happy for you; you got what you wanted." The redhead paused briefly. "But me… I don’t need that. I’m fine with who I am: a pretty decent thief and a part-time actor, who’d be perfectly happy with either a ‘princess’ or a ‘prince’ in his life. Does that make sense?"

"Um… sort of. I guess?"

Blank rolled his eyes. "Well, what would you have done if instead of a princess, it had been a prince up in the tower instead?"

Zidane thought of how he’d raced up the crumbling towers of Alexandria Castle to save Dagger when the city had been attacked, of how he’d plunged into the Iifa Basin after Kuja after his fall. He hadn’t done it just to be a hero; he didn’t need the accolades. He simply believed in doing whatever he could to help, no matter who needed it. "Of course I’d help him too!" he insisted.

Blank sighed again. Zidane was taking his example far too literally. "All I’m trying to say is that I’m open to different types of relationships. That doesn’t mean just anyone will do - and being with a guy isn’t the same as being with a girl, for sure. But what’s important is the same: loving someone, wanting to be with them, caring about their happiness… that doesn’t change even if the other person happens to be the same gender as me."

Zidane nodded. That sounded reasonable, though he couldn’t imagine ever thinking like that himself. Even if he did like guys as well as girls, he couldn’t see why he’d ever pick one over a girl.

"We’re still the same guys you grew up with. Nothing’s changed between us…" And Blank gesticulated at Zidane and then himself, then repeated it with Zidane and Marcus, who finally decided to join them in sitting on the steps. "The only difference is now you know. And I’m sorry we didn’t tell you sooner, but… it wasn’t that we didn’t trust you, but we weren’t sure you’d get it."

Zidane looked down, his face a little flushed. He’d pretty much proven Blank correct by lashing out and questioning his relationship, as if love was something that ran off of logic and explanation.

"So you understand now?" Blank asked gently. He reached over and ruffled the head of blonde hair beside him, earning him a weak scowl. But Zidane wasn’t mad… it was a familiar, comforting thing, being razzed by his brothers. After so much time away, this was his true welcome home…

Zidane smoothed his ponytail back into some semblance of order. "I think so…"

"You still gonna give us a hard time?" Marcus pressed.

"No. Even if I don’t really get it, ‘cause it’s not something I’d want, I think I’m okay with it now. You just caught me off guard, that’s all. But you’re right. I never thought about these things before, so I didn’t know what to think…"

"You’re just sheltered because you’re the baby of the family, so we forgive you," Blank said, winking.

Zidane let out an exasperated sigh. "I told you, I’m not a kid anymore!"

"Oh yeah? And how many girls you’ve been with again?" Marcus prodded as he elbowed the youngest member of their family. His wide, toothy grin practically swallowed up his face. "Yeah, that’s what I thought."

"Hey hey, I don’t need to do that kind of stuff now that I have Dagger! Once I get back to Alexandria I’m gonna ask her to marry me, and we’ll make a bunch of babies, and live happily ever after."

Blank’s grin matched Marcus’. "You love her that much, huh?"

"Damn straight. I just have to figure out how to pop the question. I want it to be really special, because she means the world to me."

"You’ve had all this time to think about it. Shouldn’t you have figured it out by now?" Blank joked.

Zidane turned and stared at Blank. He was probably right… he should have thought about it but he’d been so distracted…

"Well… I wanted some help deciding. You know, bounce some ideas off a few people," Zidane quickly explained as an excuse.

Marcus nodded. "Go ahead, we’re all ears."

"Yeah, and so I was thinking… that uh…" Zidane began slowly, as he tried to think of something, anything, that he could throw at them. He focused on his last memory of her, when the Hilda Garde III had whisked her and the rest of his friends to safety – the way the wind caressed her glossy brown hair, the brave, worried expression on her lovely face. She’d made him promise to come back to her, though at the time all he could do was nod. What could he have said to her then, when frankly he hadn’t been certain he’d walk out of the Iifa Basin in one piece? But then the image in his head blurred, and suddenly it was Kuja’s sad face that he was seeing, Kuja’s slender body, wrapped in a sheet, as he stood in the doorway of the decaying house, watching him go. And try as he might, he couldn’t switch his focus back to Dagger… "All right, all right, so I haven’t thought of anything. Sheesh."

While Marcus simply shook his head, Blank seemed slightly concerned. "You’ve been a little distracted since you got back. Anything else on your mind?"

The blonde stared hard at his best friend. Blank knew him better than anyone, and it felt at times like he could almost read the youngest thief’s mind. For a moment Zidane was struck by the urge to confess everything he’d been hiding…

But he held his breath and counted to ten very slowly, until the moment passed. He couldn’t tell him, especially after the hard time he’d given Marcus and Blank about their relationship. He didn’t want them to think of him as a hypocrite when he wasn’t anything like them. What he’d done was make a mistake; he had no interest in men and that wasn’t going to change, no matter what…

Zidane scowled at himself; he needed to stop obsessing over the past and focus on the future – no wonder he couldn’t think of what he wanted to do for a proposal! He supposed he could take the safe but direct route… have a special dinner prepared, then get down on one knee, promise her his undying love, and present her with a ring. Or he could try for something a little more personal, like bringing her back to Lindblum’s Festival of the Hunt, where he’d dedicate his victory to her as a nod to that first date that never quite happened. Though maybe it wasn’t so romantic to woo a lady while covered in the blood of wild beasts? Or… wait, was there some sort of special protocol that had to be followed when one was proposing to royalty?

He thought about some of the things Blank had said. Being the hero, finding his fairy tale ending… There was nothing wrong with that. A lot of people dreamed of living "happily ever after" and he was lucky enough to have that dream within reach, as long as he didn’t screw up again. Although he appreciated that Marcus and Blank had opened his eyes to something he’d never considered possible before, he’d made his choice. Dagger was the one for him, and all he wanted was to return to her and hold her in his arms, even if that meant he had to best the unbeatable General Beatrix to earn the right to marry her.

Zidane heard a sigh and realized, he’d never given Blank an answer. "I was just trying to figure out if I have to do something different to propose to her, because she’s a princess," Zidane settled on telling him. It wasn’t a lie; it had been the last thing on his mind.

"Queen," Marcus corrected.

"Oh, yeah. Darn it, that makes it worse, doesn’t it?" Zidane asked.

"Who knows? I haven’t tried proposing to any queens lately," Blank said, laughing. "You get to be the first; good luck, let us know how it goes," he continued to joke when Zidane frowned at him. He wasn’t completely convinced that that was all the younger man had been distracted by, but he wasn’t going to press the issue. He guessed it had something to do with the passing of the man Zidane had stayed behind to rescue, and if that were the case, then he was free to take as much time as he needed to come to terms with it, before talking to them about it. It was probably why he’d wanted to speak to Baku in private earlier, so that he could unload a little without anyone else seeing.

"Urgh, but I don’t know… hey, wait a sec. You guys said you’re working on a play for Dagger’s birthday?"

"That’s been the tradition for years now, you know that," Blank reminded the blonde.

Zidane mulled it over. Dagger’s birthday was in January, nearly three months away. He really didn’t want to hold off on reuniting with her for that long, but… certainly, if he had the patience to hold out, he could stage the most romantic surprise proposal ever! What was the saying, absence makes the heart grow fonder? It was tempting to put that to the test – if anything could win her heart and her hand, this new idea had to be it! - but it also meant he wouldn’t be able to bring Kuja down from the northern continent anytime soon. He supposed he could go back to see him, to assure him he hadn’t forgotten about his promise, but that didn’t seem like a good idea. What if Kuja attempted to seduce him again… What if he caved? Then what? He couldn’t possibly show his face to Dagger after a second betrayal!

So maybe a delay really would be for the best… Time and distance would help dull the unnatural feelings of desire Kuja had managed to cultivate within him.

"And you guys were thinking of doing ‘Canary’ again?" Zidane asked. Even though it was a tragic romance it was one of Dagger’s favorite plays – perhaps she saw a bit of herself in the heroine, Cornelia. If he did something with that in mind it would surely win her over!

Marcus shrugged. "That was Cinna’s idea. But, I suppose it would make it a lot easier… we wouldn’t have to learn any new lines or anything."

"You think I could work my marriage proposal into it?"

"I don’t see why not," Blank mused, rubbing his chin a little. "That’s not a bad at all. I almost can’t believe you came up with that."

"Hey!" But Zidane couldn’t help but smile, his confidence bolstered by the redhead’s approval. He jumped to his feet, spinning around to face his brothers again. "Yeah, I really like it. I’ll be her Marcus and she’ll be my Cornelia. And best of all I have plenty of time to think about how exactly I want to pull it off."

"Oh? Aren’t you going back to Alexandria right away?" Blank asked.

Zidane shook his head.

"I thought you were dying to see her!" Marcus exclaimed.

"I am! But… I really want this to be a surprise. So I guess I’m staying here for the time being. If the old man agrees to it, that is." Zidane shrugged. "He might just throw me out again."

"He won’t, not if you tell him what you’re up to. At least… I don’t think he will." Blank paused, then added, "Well if he does, we’ll put you up somewhere. Don’t want anything to get in the way of true love, after all."

Marcus chuckled. "You’re such a romantic, Bro."

"You know I am," Blank bragged, with a barely visible wiggle of his eyebrows.

They were starting to make eyes at each other again. Zidane saw no reason to stick around and find out what they liked doing in their spare time…

"Well, I guess I’ll go help Cinna convince Baku to do ‘Canary’ again," Zidane told them. Neither man was paying him much attention; Blank smiled in his general direction, Marcus barely even looked up.

"Okay, so… see you guys later!" Zidane tried again. Blank absently waved at him.

With a shake of his head, Zidane skirted around the pair then hopped back up the stairs and disappeared back into the building, closing the door carefully behind him so as not to disturb the pair sitting just outside. A quick backward glance told him he’d been successful… or they were just that oblivious. Zidane rolled his eyes, then wondered if he was that sappy around Dagger. He probably was… and he didn’t even care if that ruined his image. Love was definitely worth it.

* * *

Kuja sighed as he stared at the tiny, still bundle of feathers lying in the crate on the bathroom floor. On one hand, he wasn’t surprised at the result… the bird probably had had injuries other than the wounded wing, injuries that he’d been unable to do anything about. On the other hand, he was a little… disappointed. Disappointed that the injured bird had been so weak and ungrateful as to give up and die after only two days, disappointed in himself, for having thought that there could have been a different result.

He wasn’t sure what to do with the corpse. The reasonable thing would be to simply throw it away, like garbage. The dead body served no purpose after all, unless he planned on eating it, and the thought made his stomach queasy for some reason. It really was too scrawny to make a meal out of anyhow; he bet it wouldn’t taste any good.

Or he could bury it, with a little marker, like the Black Mages did with their "stopped" brethren. But he didn’t see the point of that. Dead things were dead; they couldn’t appreciate the lengths others went to to mark their passing. And it wasn’t like the bird meant anything to him in any way… it was just one of many hundreds of tiny birds that lived in the area. Maybe it was one of the ones that had pecked at crumbs of stale bread he’d thrown outside before, but that only meant it wasn’t any more special than any of the others.

… Besides, he didn’t want to get dirt under his nails while trying to dig a hole in the hard earth outside.

Still unsure of what action to take, he hesitantly picked up the bird, then immediately dropped it. The feathers were still soft but the body beneath it was stiff. It was unpleasant to touch. As good as he’d been at killing, he had never particularly liked it. Being around dead or dying things made him feel uneasy. It was one of the reasons he preferred killing from a good distance away – magic had been extremely useful in that regard – and used tools, whether they were people, creatures or machines, to do the deed for him.

Resolving to not touch it again, he picked up the crate and headed outside, then marched down the path a short way to the ledge where Zidane had usually dumped their trash. After a little hesitation he held the crate away from his body and turned it upside down. The tiny body fell out and tumbled a short distance away before getting caught in some brush that clung tenaciously to the terrain. Kuja frowned, put the crate down, and looked around for a branch or a stick to poke it loose with; he didn’t want the corpse just sitting there, decomposing… another reminder of how he’d failed. After a few good jabs with a branch the feathered lump finally broke free and disappeared from sight. Kuja tossed aside the branch, then, since he didn’t need the crate either, threw that too over the edge.

He wondered, when the time came… what would Zidane do with his body? Bury him, most likely, with some stones or hastily lashed together sticks marking the location. That was the norm across most of Gaia. It was a custom he wasn’t particularly fond of; some of that had to do with the fact that he was no Black Mage, even if he bore some slight similarities to them. But unlike the bird, he did have some say in it – he’d tried writing Zidane letters before, a will basically, but had burned them all in the fireplace. He still wasn’t sure what he wanted, nor did he understand why it mattered. Hadn’t he just admitted that dead was dead and nothing beyond that mattered? But it bothered him to think of Zidane throwing him over the cliff’s edge like trash, or a nameless dead bird. Maybe if he didn’t tell him he didn’t want that, Zidane would do it out of ignorance.

He went back to the house and dug up some paper and ink and a pen. Even if he was still uncertain, even it took him many more tries, he needed to try writing a note for Zidane again, because he didn’t know when the younger Genome would be coming back.

* * *

Author's Notes:

February 28, 2014