Author's Note: By God, haven't updated this for...years, really. Logged into my account today and thought it might be fun to finish it off, along with my other stories, since I'm not as busy as I used to be...well, either way, enjoy! :-)
Rating: Oh so PG. For now.
It took Kuzco longer than he'd thought to navigate through the underbelly of his castle-- he hadn't been there since he was a child, really. He mentioned this fact to Alexandria in a burst of nostalgia-- one that she scorned, rather predictably.
"Good God, honey-- we're running for our lives, and you're trying to kill me with boredom?"
Kuzco didn't even bother retorting to that one. Instead, he looked at Alexandra rather sharply. Her voice was somewhat weak, a mere shadow of what it usually was. The usual contempt for his feelings was there, but she sounded positively half-hearted now.
"You okay?" he asked, slowing his steps, suddenly aware that he was moving much faster than she was.
"Fine," she said, not quite meeting his eyes. There was no anger in her tone, or even irritation, but the slump in her shoulders made her look exhausted- dead to the world, almost.
Impulsively, Kuzco reached out and touched her hand. Her skin had a chalky hue, and was like ice. In a gesture that was almost protective, he reached out and placed a hand on her lower back. "Want to stop for a few?" he ventured.
She shook her head emphatically, straightening her shoulders. Strands of hair had escaped from her usually lofty ponytail, and now framed her face. "I'm just...really tired," she said softly, resting her small dark head on his shoulder, briefly, as if trying to share his warmth. "It'll pass, though." She bit her lip almost determinedly; then she stood. "Let's go."
Kuzco opened his mouth to protest, but a sudden clang of metal right above their heads made him jump- then wince. "They're close," he muttered.
"No. Really?" Alexandria rolled her eyes at him in her old manner. "Let's GO."
Alexandria--" Kuzco paused, and she stopped in her tracks, eyeing him.
He hesitated, raking his hands through his hair. "Let me carry you."
Alexandria looked surprised.
"You look..." Kuzco was still trying to guess what was wrong with her-- had she been that badly frightened, really? But then again, Alexandria wasn't ever frightened by anything, or nothing he'd ever seen. It just wasn't in her nature. "Tired. It'll probably be faster for both of us if--"
"Oh, honey, at least fake having a brain!" Alexandria's voice was sharp, and the effort it took her to speak actually made her lean against one of the damp lime-stone walls for a moment, catching her breath. "You can barely haul yourself around, and even if you could manage, your bones would poke me to bits…"
Kuzco took offense at that, drawing himself up to full height. "I'm not nearly as skinny as I used to be!"
"Yeah, honey. We can compare you to a string-bean now instead of a piece of string…" she inhaled as if to laugh, but suddenly sucked down the breath and cursed softly, instead. Kuzco lifted an eyebrow. Alexandria was many things, but she was too well-bred to throw out strong language without some provocation.
"You're obviously not okay," he said, anxiety leaking out of his tone in spite of himself. "What hurts?"
Instead of responding with sarcasm, his wife looked at him, large eyes shimmering with uncertainty—and what could be tears, if it was anyone but Alexandria. "I dunno," she replied; and her voice was unsteady. "I'm just…achy."
Achy. Okay. That, combined with her appearance…he had one sick woman on his hands. "Okay. Um. Well." After a second of thinking, he decided to shift back to the mantra he'd been using since he'd "improved" as a ruler. What would Pacha do in this case?
"What'd you eat?" he began, and if his voice was rather wooden from lack of practice, at least it was sincere. Okay. Note of concern in there, too…that sounds about right….
Alexandria let out a gusty sigh. "Just breakfast, same as you. But my stomach doesn't hurt….everything does…I'm just…." She was blinking hard, now. "I want to go home," she whispered, and her voice was strangled.
"But you hate it there! You told me that!" Forget tenderness. Kuzco was getting frustrated now-- and besides, the clanging above their head was growing louder. It would be only a matter of minutes before Yzma found them-- and then, they'd be toast. Literally, if she got her hands on those potions of hers...
"No one shoots at me there!" Alexandria returned, breaking into his throughts. "Just you!"
"That's because you're not important enough!"
Alexandria stared at him for a full moment, mouth askance, eyes wide, and her face was pinched. "I--" she began—but her voice was weak, and it was clear she had no real comeback, as she normally would. "You--" she stopped, balling her small hands into fists.
Then, she turned away from him and burst into tears. Kuzco, understandably, was horrified. A girl crying! For that matter, Alexandria crying….!
By God, it's like…Satan crying. Just doesn't happen. Not in this world, anyway.
Compared to Satan or not, her tears were far from done. In that same moment, she was clinging to him, still crying her eyes out. In her accent, which was even thicker through tears, he could make out the words cold and scared and out…he dropped his fingers to her back, rubbing it as soothingly as he could manage while stealing looks above to make sure they hadn't been discovered. "Alexandria…can't understand you when you're channeling a waterfall, babes…"
His intent was to make her laugh—or heck, at least insult him--but a fresh wave of tears came, instead. "Honey…would you let up for once?" she shrieked, rubbing her cheeks with her fists and trying to push away from him. She attempted to stomp her foot—but it came down in the limestone pool they'd been standing in and sprayed them both with water, quite impressively. Frustrated, she picked up her sodden skirts and began to run. Back towards the palace, that was.
Kuzco took off after her and nearly slipped, managing to right himself in time. "Alexandria—I know you're not that drunk, it's too early in the day—are you crazy?! They'll kill you if you go back!"
"And they'll probably kill us the second we exit this tunnel, so we're dead anywayl." Her voice was high, and still somewhat weak. "I don't feel good, Kuzco. At least I'll be warm and dry when they get me." She paused, dropping her skirts with a soft, pulpy, sucking sound. "Or, when they get you. They might actually spare my life. I'm of no threat to them." As if buoyed by that thought, she began moving forward again.
Kuzco actually growled in frustration. Could anyone be worse than this--? "Alexandria," he said loudly, trying to summon all the authority of a monarch into his tone. She ignored him and kept moving.
"Alexandria." Okay, a little anger in the tone, now. "Woman, I command you to stop!"
"Alexandria!" What…was she moving faster, now? Giving up every sense of dignity, Kuzco hiked up his own robes and followed after her, splashing through the little underground puddles and pools. Even if they were seen, he doubted they'd be recognized, now-- they looked downright filthy. Peasant-status filthy. Which was a good thing, in this case. "Alexandria!" he caught up to her, grabbed her wrist. "For once, would you just listen to reason?"
"For the sake of all the gods--!" he had her well in his grip, now—she couldn't get away, and he pulled her to him, tightly. "You're not going anywhere, even if I have to carry you out of this place myself!" They were struggling, now; he suspected it was half-hearted on her part, for it certainly was on his. "Alexandria-- please." He managed to choke out the unfamiliar word.
"For Pete's sake…." She twisted deftly, but only found herself blocked by her husband's chest. Frustrated, she beat at it with her fists-- he really had filled out, she supposed. "Why won't you let me go? You don't own me, Kuzco!"
"Technically…." Kuzco opened his mouth, then closed it; this probably wasn't the best time to regale his wife with an explanation of Kuzcotopian marriage law. "Doesn't matter," he said instead. "You're not going anywhere!"
"I am…I am!" Alexandria shrieked back—and leveled his foot with one well-timed stomp.
"Ouch…!" Kuzco grabbed his foot, then pulled off the sandal that was on it and hurled it in her general direction. It didn't hit her, but he was too mad to be secretly relieved. "For God's sake, would you stop being so stubborn?" he hollered. Curiously, her bratty behavior reminded him of someone…who? Well, he'd figure it out later. "They've taken everything from me….I'm not going to let them take you, too!"
That was the loudest any of them had spoken, and Kuzco's voice bounced off the walls of the cave, reverberating around the space. In response, Alexandria had actually frozen where she stood, apparently shocked-- and Kuzco did as well, staring at her.
"I--" she began, and it was as if she came back to herself. Her voice was hoarse, and even softer than it had been before they'd entered the cave. "Honey, I--"
Kuzco turned his back, beginning to walk ahead, not saying a word to her. His face was burning, although he couldn't say why…or, heck. Maybe he could and just wouldn't. Whatever….
"Whatever, Alexandria," he said, somewhat tiredly.
"No, honey, I mean--" there was a clatter and a splash, and Alexandria was there, next to him, tucking his sandal in his hand—and looking rather shame-faced, too. She bit her lip, looked at her feet, shifted them a goodish bit—then she stood on her toes, kissed him on the lips. Her face was tearstained and she was still trembling, but that half-crazed look had left her expression.
"I'm sorry," she said as soon as she'd pulled away, so quietly he had to bend to hear her; and even then, she kept her eyes fixed on her feet.
He cleared his throat. "Well. You should be."
Alexandria took this rather meekly. After a moment, "--that was nice, what you said."
"Alexandria—" he began warningly, feeling his face heat up again. He was embarassed for some reason, though he couldn't own why.
"I know, I know." A moment, and she took a deep breath, slipping her hand in his. "Let's go."
"Feeling up to it?" she was still terribly pale, and shaky. He rubbed her hand automatically; the skin was even colder now.
"I have to." He felt her straighten up. "I'll rest when we're….out."
He nodded grimly—and pulled her close to his side, trying to share what little warmth he had. She tucked her small hands into his tunic, close to his skin; then, the royal couple set off. In unison, for once.
As they stumbled along, hearing clashing, cries and other sounds of war above their heads, they were silent. But after a while—
"How much longer, honey?"
He sighed. "I don't know."