Disclaimer: Final Fantasy IX belongs to Square-Enix, but I bet you already knew that. Heh. Anyway. Welcome to this Kuja-centric, Hilda-centric story. :)


by Lucrecia LeVrai

Chapter One

Hilda didn't even grow alarmed the moment the airship started to shake for the first time—she merely bent down to retrieve a handkerchief that had fallen out of her fingers. When the trembling repeated, however, she was forced to look up at a circular window in one of the walls, only to discover that they were indeed taking off, even though it was far too early for that, by an hour and a half, to be exact. It obviously meant that her skilled technicians had managed to repair the ship a bit sooner than expected, but it still didn't explain this sudden departure. The crew should have at least informed her of such a major change in their schedule.

She was just about to stroll back into the engine room and give those self-righteous men a piece of her mind, when suddenly the ground shook once more, and a sound of a not-so-distant explosion rent the air. Hilda cried out in fright, pressing her hands against her ears, lowering them only when she was certain that the strange earthquake was over, at least for now. She had no idea what was happening, but before she could even start wondering, a lone man appeared at the opposite end of the corridor, sprinting in her direction. She immediately recognized him as one of the few soldiers who had willingly accompanied her for the previous three weeks, ever since she had decided to leave Lindblum behind.

"Lady Hilda!" the man gasped, having reached her side in less than ten seconds. "You must return to your room at once! We're under attack!"

Under attack…? Confused and perhaps also a bit scared, she didn't really protest much when he all but pushed her through the doorway.

"Who–" she began, but the guard didn't let her finish.

"Please, my lady, lock the door and don't go outside, whatever happens!" His eyes were filled with genuine worry, and it instantly made her wonder how dangerous the entire situation was.

"Fine." She nodded seriously, and saw him exhale in relief. "Please, be careful."

She wanted to continue, ask him about the details, but he was already gone, disappearing round the nearest corner. There was nothing else she could do but to follow his advice and actually close the door.

An attack. It just didn't make any sense, did it…? Who was trying to attack them? Was it her husband? True, she had 'borrowed' his precious airship without even bothering to ask for his permission, but unless turning him into an oglop had resulted in some major personality change, she doubted he would have ever tried to take some sort of violent revenge. She knew the damned skirt-chaser all too well: he would have never risked damaging his most prized possession—Hilda Garde, what else?—especially when his other Hilda was on board…

Not Cid, then. Enemy soldiers were out of the question, too. As far as she was concerned, Lindblum had no enemies at all; when she had fled from the castle but a couple of weeks ago, the country had been as peaceful as ever. Unfortunately, it left only one plausible explanation, one that she didn't really like much. Could it be a group of bandits? And if so, were they only interested in jewels and money, or perhaps in something else?

There was even more shouting outside, accompanied by a loud, unpleasant crash, and she instantly jumped away from the door. A second later she was already by her bed, reaching for a small, ornate dagger hidden under the pillows, one that she had always kept by her side, but hardly ever used. In fact, she was quite certain that she had never needed it before. It looked more like a child's toy than a real weapon. It probably wouldn't be enough to defend her life—or honor, she thought grimly—but still, it was better than nothing. Clutching the thin haft with her both hands, she turned towards the door, waiting for a potential attacker to appear.

Nobody came, though, neither a vile bandit, screaming obscenities and trying to hurt her, nor a smiling guard to tell her that trouble was already over. Little by little, the distant sounds of fighting died down, and the room became disturbingly quiet, safe for her own, slightly irregular breathing. Five minutes had passed, and the door handle didn't even budge. Ten, and she was slowly starting to grow restless. Fifteen, and a decision was made.

Calming herself down, tiptoeing to the door and prying it open was an easy task. Much to her relief, the corridor was empty, but she could still sense that something was terribly wrong here. After a couple of turns, when she was finally able to walk outside, onto the main deck, her worst fears became reality.

The sight that greeted her eyes was nothing short of sickening. A few trails of blood covered the shiny, polished planks, zigzagging lazily towards the railing, then ending abruptly. The arising conclusion was simple—a couple of bodies had been thrown overboard—and Hilda's hand instantly flew to her mouth. She had no idea what she wanted to do more, to scream or to faint, but somehow, she had managed to keep herself from doing both.

Suddenly, she could hear soft footsteps somewhere behind her back. Whirling around in surprise, she discovered two strange, unfamiliar creatures, both clad in identical, baggy pants and huge, pointy hats. They were a bit shorter than an average-sized human, and apparently unarmed, but it took her only a couple of moments to notice the blood on their hands.

"You did this?" she addressed the nearest 'hat', and despite herself, her voice trembled. "Why... why would you attack my ship? Who are you?"

The creature didn't respond, it only stared at her blankly with a pair of bizarre, expressionless eyes. Frightened, but oddly determined, Hilda took a step forward. As if in reply, the dwarf raised a gloved, chubby hand, its palm outstretched, fingertips sparkling.

What was it? Some sort of a spell?

"Must kill those who resist." The declaration was slow, emotionless, almost mechanical. Hilda gasped.

"No, wait… Don't–" Before she could panic, though, there was a new voice behind her back, youthful, amused, and perhaps also a bit irritated.

"Oh? Yet another stowaway?"

She whirled around to discover a man she had clearly never seen before. At first, she mistook him for boy about half her age, but a closer look at his features instantly told her that it had been a completely false impression. His pale, eerily beautiful face certainly didn't look a day over twenty, and yet his eyes were that of an adult: cold, clever, calculating.

"My, my… a woman." He sighed, titling his head to the side in a charming, lighthearted gesture. "Well, this is a surprise…"

"Who are you?" she demanded, trying her best to ignore the slight trembling of her hands. "Where is everyone?"

"By 'everyone', did you mean the Lindblum soldiers?" Nodding, she watched him raise a slender, almost delicate-looking hand, and then trace a wide, lazy arch towards the ship's wooden railing. "Down there… I think."

An icy shiver ran down her spine. "Have you… killed them all?"

"No." He smiled in reply, his gaze absently tracing one of the red, sticky patterns at his feet. "My Black Mages did."

She had no idea who or what his 'black mages' were, but she instantly remembered the strange, plump creatures behind her back. No matter how badly she wanted to see whether the two were still there, she found herself completely unable to turn away from the smiling man. True, he carried no weapon and looked almost too fragile to be considered dangerous, but there was something in his expression that made him appear nearly terrifying.

"What is the meaning of this? Answer me!"

"Please, my lady, put your dagger away," he replied calmly, and she immediately pressed her lips together, her hands involuntarily refusing to let go of the hilt. "Well…" the subtle mockery in his eyes had become rather evident by now, "if you want to attack me so badly, go ahead." There was a short pause, neither of them moved. "And if not…"

His steps were slow, deliberate, though definitely not cautious. He didn't even consider her a threat, Hilda suddenly realized, and the thought made her angry, almost willing to prove him otherwise… and yet she could only watch him approach, helpless, paralyzed, unable to back away, let alone point her dagger in his direction. When his cold fingers finally curled around her wrist, she could only gasp in surprise, the weapon slipping out from her grip, hitting the deck with a soft clang.

"Who are you?" she breathed. "What do you want with me?"

"Ah, but I am afraid that my name alone won't tell you anything, my lady," he replied softly, finally letting go of her hand and backing away. "Nevertheless…" He bent down in a perfectly polite, practiced bow, worthy of a young, well-mannered gentleman. "I am Kuja. As for your other question…" He gracefully straightened himself up. "Well, I guess it's quite hard to decide. Your presence here is a bit of an… inconvenience to me. I suppose that the most logical solution would be to kill you," he went on in a calm, uncaring, shockingly polite voice, "but I admit that I am used to maintaining a certain level of… courtesy… towards women." There was yet another brief pause. "Oh, and by the way… May I ask you your name, my lady?"

She could only stare at him, wide-eyed, disbelief written all over her face. The way he had spoken of it all… the way he kept smiling at her, in a sweet, disarming, almost childlike manner… He was toying with her, she knew, and yet there was little mockery in his startlingly clear, blue gaze—only pure indifference, mixed with a calm, bored detachment.

Did he really have no morals, no conscience whatsoever? The idea was more than just terrifying. Little by little, she was beginning to realize the truth about her situation. It seemed that her very life hang by a thread held by this deceptive, unpredictable man.

"I am Hilda Fabool," she eventually found herself replying, in an even, yet slightly strained voice, as she was trying her best to appear dignified and self-confident. "The wife to Cid Fabool the Ninth, the Regent of Lindblum. Whoever you might be, you will certainly regret hurting me."

"Oh?" He chuckled, tilting his head to the side in a perfect display of feigned innocence. "No need to be so shaken, Lady Hilda. I thought I've already made it clear that I was not going to hurt you… I've never intended to kidnap you, either," he stated with a small sigh. "I was merely interested in this little, lovely airship here." He shrugged carelessly, tracing his palm over the smooth, wooden railing.

If Cid had been here, he would have probably killed this man on the spot—the thought brought a small, humorless smile to Hilda's pale lips. "Release me, then."

Ever so slowly, he shook his head. "I'm afraid I cannot do this, my lady. Unfortunately, I don't plan to visit Lindblum any time soon, and until I do, you will have to remain on this ship. Of course, I suppose I could always land here, and leave you in the middle of this hot, treacherous desert…" He was carefully fingering a strand of his long, white hair, apparently paying no attention to her shocked expression. "But I guess it would have been awfully rude of me… am I right?"

She took a deep breath. "You… would not dare."

"Wouldn't I?" A pale shadow of a smile crossed his delicate lips; once again, a long, meaningful silence fell between them. "Perhaps not," he declared suddenly, his smirk growing a bit wider. "I think you should stay on the airship, at least for now. Nobody is going to hurt you here… I promise."

Unfortunately, she had no reason to trust him. And even if he was being sincere with her, even if he meant to keep his doubtful promise, then for how long? Perhaps she shouldn't have let him disarm her so easily… but then again, would a single dagger make that much of a difference in a real fight against a grown-up man? And what about these smaller, chubby creatures, the ones he had called his mages? Weren't they dangerous, as well?

Right now, when they were at least one thousand feet in the air, she had absolutely no chance of slipping away unnoticed, either. Besides, she thought grimly, she would have never tried to escape without Cid's airship. Yes, she was still furious at her husband, but she certainly didn't want to make matters worse by coming home empty-handed.

If she would ever come home…

"My, my… Lady Hilda, you look a bit pale." Kuja's voice seemed nearly concerned. "Why don't you go back to your room and rest for a while?" The order might have been subtle and indirect, but it had been an order, nonetheless.

"The airship… Where are you taking it?" She found her voice at last, and much to her relief, it sounded as steady as ever.

"North." He smiled sweetly. "Now, will you be fine by yourself? Or should I perhaps have one of these," – he nodded at something behind her back, and she finally turned around, only to see that the two mages were still there – "…escort you back to your cabin?"

"No need," she replied sourly, each word practically dripping with sarcasm. "Thank you for your kind hospitality."

"Oh?" Obviously, her glare hadn't been enough to wipe that infuriating smirk off his face. "Lady Hilda? You're very much welcome."

End of Chapter One

Author's Notes: Don't ask, I simply had to. I like Kuja/Hilda fics a lot, which is why I finally decided to present my own version of the strange relationship these two people shared. If you're just looking for some cheap romance, you probably won't find it here. I'm going to try and keep Hilda in character, and this 'in-character' Hilda would never fall for her captor, I'm afraid… Hmm, what do you think? Any opinions/suggestions? Reviews, please…?