A/N: THIS IS THE LAST CHAPTER. I would like to thank everyone who's reviewed – on FFN or on Gaia (you know who you are)! I hope you enjoyed this fic, and be aware that I can never leave things alone for long, so you might just get some sequel-ing action!
Thank you to Elendraug, Bright Eyes, The Ditty Bops, Squaresoft (who owns FFIX, did I mention that?), aaaaand everyone else! I LOVE YOU ALL.
Amarant Coral is drunk out of his mind.
Not an incredibly uncommon occurrence, but still worthwhile to note. He's staying at a stupid little inn in a stupid little city where everyone's friendly and working and god he wishes he was in Treno, drinking with Lani and flirting mercilessly with Janelle. He wishes that he was nowhere near Alexandria and that he had never seen Kuja, because now it's been nearly two times his normal drinking level and he can still remember how Kuja's eyes looked so unhappy and how his hair glowed in lamplight and how he danced extra close to Amarant even if his feet were big enough to crush his own if he made the wrong move.
He can still remember him ripping the roof off of the inn and begging Amarant to kill him because he didn't want to hurt anyone. He can still remember all of that after so much alcohol.
The door of the inn swings open and Arok stumbles in, singing a loud song in a broken, half sobbing voice, and almost immediately spots the other bounty hunter wallowing in his own drunkenness.
"She's dead!" he wails and immediately collapses into a chair at Amarant's table. He stares at the smaller man in confusion – who's dead, and why is he telling Amarant? Is he suddenly the kid's only friend?
"Who?" he asks despite himself, half-prepared for the sob story.
Arok sniffs and looks up, before waving at the bartender to get him something to drink. "Ma... I came t' see 'er 'n my sistah but when I got there... I've been writin' 'er fer three years 'n she been dead one o' 'em!"
Amarant doesn't know what to say, and even though the bartender gives Arok his drink and gives him a quick, "'m sorry," he has nothing to add. His mother died when he was young – he doesn't even remember her except for hummed lullabies and a few trips into the forest for tracking.
Arok doesn't want condolences. "I can't believe she'd not tell me! 'm 'er brothah, she shoulda told me when it 'appened!" He takes a long drink and then slams the mug against the table, sloshing ale around. "I trust 'er wi'm' life 'n she don't trust me wi'ma's death! Women suck!"
Amarant snorts and rolls his eyes. Arok doesn't notice the glares he's receiving and so he doesn't realize he's said something stupid.
"I hadda bad feelin' 'bout Alex'andr'a but I dinn't think it'd be this!"
Amarant lets Arok talk. He listens to the tiny guy sob about his father leaving when he was seven and his mother always looking out for him and taking him hunting and his sister making paper flowers but he'd pull out the petals and she'd cry – "best white magic 've ever seen," he says, "Goddit from ma."
He looks sick, almost, and Amarant sighs, finishing what must be his record breaking drink, and heaving the younger one up. "C'mon."
"Ma was all I got, Am'rant," Arok complains, "Why'd she get goin' so soon?"
Amarant doesn't know, so he stays silent and helps Arok up the steps, leading him to the room he's staying in. He lets the smaller guy have the bed – he doesn't try to steal it or apologize afterwards. It's a huge bed – Alexandrians know how to make an inn comfortable – and Amarant sits on the opposite side, stretched out and comfortable enough.
Arok sighs and mumbles, "'M never gon' trust 'er again."
"Yeah you will," Amarant drawls. "Sleep it off."
"Sleep off m'ma? Y'crazy."
He doesn't expect Arok to understand. He's young and forgetful and drunk, and when he wakes up he'll probably just cry and want to see his sister.
Arok holds back new sobs and Amarant sighs, closing his eyes. He can't remember missing his mother. He can't remember anything really.
"...'n th' lil' yellow bird wen' down, down, down, down... 'n th' lil' yellow bird coul'n't breathe..."
Amarant looks to Arok, who's curled up with eyes closed tight, and sighs again, because that's too depressing to be a lullaby for kids. Then again, he'd heard it so often it was nothing for him now...
"'n' th' lil' yellow bird wen' down, down, down down, 'n th' lil' yellow bird coul'n't..."
Arok's asleep. Amarant feels like he is too. He looks out the window and wonders if Alexandria castle is as quiet as it seems from the inn. Kuja's not out dancing or drinking; no, he's in a feather bed that doesn't have a lumpy mattress or a drunken kid sleeping in it; he's got his face washed with damned lavender soaps and he's got enough money to pay Amarant's bill a hundred times over.
Still, he can't help but think there's something wrong. Maybe it's just Arok's depression, but he can feel it in the air...
He closes his eyes and lets his mind rest, ignoring the ache in his arm.
Amarant awakes to find the inn shaking. Arok is sitting up, back ramrod straight, staring at the wall in front of them with wide eyes.
"What's going on?" Amarant growls, and Arok shrugs numbly.
"Th' world's endin'," the boy mutters, "'n 'm gonna see ma."
Amarant grabs Arok and drags him out of the room, tumbling down shaking stairs and looking at the bewildered people around him, most still in night clothes.
"Everybody out," he commands, and they all listen because really, when someone like Amarant tells you to do something, you do it. He follows them out, still leading Arok, and looks at the castle, following the sounds of screams.
A major portion of the castle is untouched, but one corner is destroyed, ripped up and demolished. There's a glowing point from the center of the destruction and Amarant directs people away from the city, telling them to get safely away, because he knows what's going on.
He pushes Arok into the crowd and allows him to get swept away. He doesn't particularly like the kid but he doesn't want him to get killed. Three quick steps and a jump and he's climbing up the side of a building, clambering onto the roof and easily beginning a mad dash for the castle. He sees Zidane and Garnet being ushered out of the castle by Beatrix and Steiner – they call to him and Zidane looks beyond destroyed.
They think Kuja tricked him. They have no idea.
Maniacal laughter and Amarant feels something drop in his stomach. He leaps into the square and runs to the castle, because Kuja's laughter echoes around him and gives him reason. Kuja tricked him (this whole fucking time and we've all been used) and he can't get a feeling to hold on to. He keeps thinking no, maybe I'm wrong but it won't work – too late, too late.
He grabs onto a stone and begins the climb. He has no idea how the Alexandria castle is laid out on the inside, but he knows where to go on the outside. His body flattens against the wall to avoid an errant fire spell, and the laughter grows. Kuja's screaming and laughing at the same time (Kuja's gone insane) and he's not going to live through this but he's going to sure as hell try.
"You're trying to stop something you cannot!" Kuja shouts (oh god, he knows I'm here) and Amarant tries to hide himself against the charred wall. "I won't listen to you!"
"You have no choice," another, soft young voice calls, "I've lifted you from the shrouds of darkness and given you the light again – you owe me this."
This isn't right. His final showoff was supposed to be with Kuja, amidst the flames and chaos of the Genome's insanity, but instead...
"I can control it."
"No, you can't – I control it. I control you. And I'll use you to take this planet for my own."
Amarant clambers into the hole and is almost knocked back by the power emanating from Kuja. The tiny little kid with the violin stands before the monkey, staring down the red-furred lunatic with all the calmness of a snake. Kuja stares at the boy, only the boy, and doesn't even notice Amarant, who slinks forward and gets close enough to taste blood in the air.
"I am not yours to use," the Genome hisses, and Amarant can feel magic in the air. Ultima, he thinks, and he wonders if the boy can feel it.
"Oh, Kuja, you're my toy. You're my black mage, and I'll use you how I want. Don't fight me."
Amarant holds his breath and ducks behind a broken wall.
"I am not your DOLL."
The blast knocks Amarant on his back, and he stares, dazed, at the sky as huge chucks of rock plummet towards the castle. They aren't directed at him so only one hits him, enough to knock him senseless. He hears screaming – people below are screaming for mercy; Kuja is screaming for blood; the boy is screaming for control.
The bombardment ends and Amarant struggles to his feet. Kuja stands – floats – over the boy, who's no longer so much a boy as a twisted old man.
"I am nobody's doll."
Kuja grabs the air and the man's body bends backwards. There is a scream, a snap, and silence.
"I cannot control it," Kuja speaks, slowly, looking up at the sky. "Is this city evacuated?"
He's speaking to Amarant and so Amarant answers. "Not yet."
"Then many people are going to die."
"Kuja," Amarant rasps, not flinching when blood red eyes look directly into his own dark eyes, "Nobody has to die."
"He brought me back to use me," Kuja begins, looking at the bent old man, "And now, there's nothing for me to do. My time was up and he only added seconds to my eternal clock. Destroying myself will release a great deal of energy."
"You don't have to destroy yourself," Amarant hisses, coming forward despite the energy. "You've held it this long."
"It's not the same. It needs release. I am only energy..."
Amarant chuckles. "You're not just energy," he drawls. Kuja gives him a severe look, and the bounty hunter shrugs. "You're bones and meat – not a lot of that, but still it's there – you're a crazy, monkey-tailed, snarky pretty boy who..."
How could he say it? He's finally starting to understand what Kuja is, but how can he say it to Kuja himself?
"...who would dance with me even if I'd break your feet. You don't need to die."
"I can't control it."
"Take your time, calm down." He feels like he's soothing a wild animal – like he's calming himself down from his old rages. "Just don't hurt yourself."
Kuja glares almost literal daggers, hitting Amarant slightly with focused energy. "You don't care."
"Of course I do. Why else would I've put up with your ass for this long?"
"Just calm down, you crazy monkey. I'll get you out of Alexandria so you can relax. No one needs to get hurt or die."
"...You..." Kuja's eyes flash and Amarant finds himself grabbing onto Kuja's arm. The Genome jerks out into the air, against Amarant's pull, and he holds on tight. "You're going to die with me, then."
"Kuja!" Amarant shouts, ignoring his aching arm and burning hands, "Do you want do die! Do you really want to die, with a new life at your feet!"
"...I want to do what's best."
"Don't give me bullshit answers, you fool – do you want to die!" You're grasping at air, Amarant Coral, he thinks, but he won't stop trying.
"Then get a hold of yourself!" He feels wind and they're sinking slightly.
"...What if I can't-"
"What if you never try!"
Kuja's hair flashes silver and they freefall until suddenly Kuja stops, staring at the sky with flashing eyes.
"I don't want to hurt people."
"I know." And for the first time, Amarant does know something about Kuja – he knows something for sure. Kuja doesn't want to hurt people – he got over that when he died the first time – why would he need to die again?
Silver hair and they fall again – Amarant breaks their fall and thankfully, it wasn't so high that he'd break his back.
The second he gains his bearings, he realizes Kuja's gone.
Amarant is on his feet and running towards the main gates of Alexandria – the ones that no one uses except for emergencies. He doesn't know where Kuja could go to or why he'd go at all – he sees a man and grabs him by the throat, dragging him up to eye level.
"Where did he go!" he snarls, and the man sobs.
He drops the man and runs in the direction pointed, shoving through people and pushing rocks out of the way, leaping over broken walls and he can see trees. The forest, he assumes, has been there for ages and is probably going to be there for a while – it's full of tall trees and bushes and wild beasts, and it's probably the first place he would hide if he wanted to run from Alexandria.
He passes through gates, sees Arok as he passes crowds of evacuated people; he sees Zidane and Garnet but they're looking at the castle – they must think he's dead.
Fine with him.
He's in the forest and it's so much quieter than the chaotic city. His footfalls turn silent and suddenly he's with his mother in the woods near his village, tracking a housecat that escaped from his neighbor's home. He can feel every breath of air that silently leaves him and he can feel the trees as far as ten feet away from him in all directions. He can see by the half-moon light and he can hear the wind moving leaves and heavy, muffled breathing of someone trying to hide from Gaia itself.
"I can hear you," he mutters, looking to his left at a tall tree. The breathing hesitates and then continues, quieter than before. "You might as well come out."
Kuja does, leaping onto Amarant and attempting, in the most primal way, to rip his throat out with his teeth. Amarant grabs his arms and twists them, trying to get the suddenly homicidal Genome from his neck; Kuja jerks forward and throws him into a tree. He lunges again and Amarant catches him, throwing them back into the center – last thing he wants is to knock his head on a tree and pass out. The Genome makes a noise and twists around – Amarant loses his footing and slips, landing on his back. Kuja slashes at him but misses his face by inches, and Amarant flips him over, grabbing his arms and avoiding the snapping teeth.
Kuja, effectively pinned, goes limp, and Amarant stares at the monkey, who stares back. "What in the hell is wrong with you?" he mutters. Kuja's hair is fanned out behind his head and it glows silver in the moonlight – his eyes flash.
Amarant is unprepared when Kuja slips an arm free, and can't stop the other as he grabs Amarant's shirt and jerks him roughly towards himself – their lips crash together and Kuja locks his arm around Amarant's huge shoulders.
Body language, body goddamned language, and Amarant suddenly realizes what the hell has been going on for the past couple of days. He should pull away, shout and fight, because he only chases skirts, goddamn it.
Kuja wears a skirt, Amarant remembers, and so he lets himself press against the Genome.
It's the perfect setting for this, really – the moon could be fuller and the ground could be softer and more comfortable, but Kuja's warm and their hands really fit well against each other's hips. Kuja doesn't ask, while Amarant feels full of questions, but it doesn't make a difference.
The moon is silent and the light is dim, but he can see Kuja's eyes and even if he couldn't, he could feel them watching him. Hands at his shirt and he lets Kuja sit up, crouching over the pale Genome like an animal.
"Gods help me," Kuja murmurs and pushes soft-firm lips against Amarant's dry, rough ones, "Gods help me, you're not fighting back."
"...This isn't fighting."
Kuja looks at Amarant for a long time. "What do you call it, then?"
"I wouldn't know."
Kuja traces his hands along Amarant's sides and lets Amarant push him back to the ground, covering his smaller body with his own huge one. He lets Amarant kiss him and in return Amarant lets Kuja's hands wander across shoulders and hips, lets him trace scars he's probably memorized.
Amarant has never been so sober after twenty drinks in his life. He feels Kuja against him and he can nearly taste the lavender soaps that he did, indeed, use that night. His hands tangle in Kuja's hair and unlike Amarant, Kuja doesn't hold back purring, arching his back and connecting them together.
He bites Kuja's neck and the fact that he lets Amarant do so amazes the bounty hunter. The ground is rough and so Amarant scoops Kuja up into his lap as he sits up straight, Kuja's legs draping over his hips and crossing behind his back. They move together soft and refined and reckless; he runs his hands across Kuja's back, and the Genome sighs against his mouth.
Amarant chuckles, looking down at the smaller guy and realizing that Kuja's tail is wrapped around his wrist.
"Sleep, then. What's stopping you?"
Kuja shakes his head, "What about the morning?"
"Fuck the morning," Amarant shrugs, "Who gives a damn?"
"Mm," Kuja slowly agrees, closing his eyes and making the most of Amarant as a pillow. The bounty hunter lays back on the ground, and Kuja purrs again.
"You're a damned cat."
"Mm, I prefer fox, but if that's what you'd call me..." Amarant laughs again and lets Kuja rest on him, arm over Kuja's waist and holding him against the bounty hunter.
He looks at the sky and the moon seems closer, fuller. Amarant takes a few deep breaths as he closes his eyes, and he finally gets to sleep.
The birds are chirping when Amarant wakes up. Sunlight hits his face through the leaves, and after a moment of no recognition, he remembers the night before and assures himself that Kuja's still quite soundly asleep on his chest – silver haired and not furry, thank god.
"Knew y'd bed 'im fast."
Amarant jerks up and Kuja makes a pained noise, trying not to wake up even though everything else has. Arok leans against a tree, smirking in an easy, relaxed way that means Amarant's going to have to wait to punch him.
"What are you doing here?" the bounty hunter asks, and Kuja mumbles against his chest. In any other circumstances, Amarant wouldn't have let him sleep longer – if Kuja were anyone else, he would have already pushed him away with a rough insistence that nothing had been going on. But Kuja...
Kuja is the first for a lot of things.
"'m part o'a search party. They're all lookin' fer y'all."
"Let 'm look," Kuja groans, covering his eyes, "'m still sleeping."
"Hn... well, 'm prob'ly th' last one out 'ere – mosta th' others think yer both dead. Big battle 'n all, with th' castle all torn up."
"...oh," the Genome suddenly murmurs, turning to look at Arok in confusion, "It... I did...?"
"'S pretty off'n one side but no casualties."
"...Should've died up there," Kuja whispers.
"You're dead, 's far's most concerned. Y'both killed each other."
Amarant frowns, looking at the suddenly distressed Genome. Plans formulate in his head but all of them run into the same roadblock – Kuja almost killed a lot of people, and those people won't be forgiving him so soon. If they know he's alive...
"How much do you think the bounty will be for?" Amarant asks, "I didn't get a chance to see the damage."
"Mm, prob'ly twice yers, at least. Gotta nice start with'n nearly destroyin' Gaia like Zidane says."
"He told them?" Kuja exclaims suddenly. Arok holds up his hands at the other's angry comment.
"Mm, he only said a lil', jus' 'cos everyone's been wonderin' who y'all are 'n why y' destroyed so much... He tried t'tell 'em y'd changed but with'n that attack..."
"High bounty, hn?" Amarant tunes back in enough to catch both Arok and Kuja's attentions. "A lot of people will be looking for you if we let them know you're alive."
"...So, what should I do, then?" Kuja asks, laughing bitterly, "You could turn me in for the bounty, and never have to work again."
"I'm not going to do that," Amarant immediately replies, "And anyone who tries to is going to have my fist in their face." He looks at Arok and makes sure the boy knows he's not exempt.
"So what do I do?" Kuja asks again.
Amarant frowns, and then nudges Kuja – the Genome stands and lets Amarant get up. The bounty hunter stretches and rolls his shoulders, cracking his neck and rubbing his beard.
"Go tell them what you saw," he tells Arok, who blinks in surprise. He elaborates, "You've seen us dead, obviously. Tell them you found us dead."
"Us?" Kuja exclaims, turning to look at Amarant, "What are you doing? You can't possibly want to be dead!"
"Why not? It'll be fine for a few months, and our bounties will die off. Then we can miraculously come back to life, like everyone seems to do nowadays." Kuja looks surprised. "What? Is it not a good idea?"
Kuja blinks, and then shakes his head, "Oh, no, it's actually rather brilliant." He grins coyly and adds, "Which is why I'm surprised you came up with it by yourself."
"Keep talking, kitten." Kuja flushes and Arok laughs, even when Amarant gives him a semi-severe look.
"Well, it looks like I'm going to be writing to two more dead people," the younger bounty hunter grins, "I'll tell 'em what y' wan'. Enny'ne y' wan' in th' loop?" He's asking about Lani. Amarant thinks for a moment.
"Lani needs to know," Kuja interrupts immediately, "I refuse to leave her in the dark like you do," he pouts.
Amarant sighs. "Fine. Keep in touch with Lani, if you're going to try and keep and touch with us," he tells Arok. "We're going to have to be scarce on this continent."
"There's a few that we can visit," Kuja laughs, "It's not like we're going to have to go into complete hiding."
Arok shakes his head, still grinning. "Alrigh', two dead'uns comin' up. Say goodbye t'yer bounties, mates – see y'later." The broken-nosed bounty hunter slips through the trees and disappears from sight. Kuja looks at Amarant, frowning.
"Wish you wouldn't roll the 'r' so much," the bounty hunter sighs, "What?"
"You can't possibly think we can get away with this."
Amarant chuckles, and pushes loose hair behind Kuja's ear. "You're thinking too much. Stop it." He heads off in the direction opposite of Alexandria, and Kuja follows quickly. "I know a village west of here where we can get an airship to the Outer Continent. It's a few days walk, but we can handle it."
"You look nearly excited about this," Kuja intones dully. Amarant shrugs.
"It's about time I had a vacation, I figure. Enough of the bounty hunting job." He looks around at the twittering birds and scowls a little, "And I'd like to at least get the hell out of this damned forest. I hate birds."
"Birds are symbols of freedom," Kuja drawls, "I like birds."
"Yeah, you would, you flighty damned cat."
Kuja laughs, suddenly, and pounces – quite characteristically of a cat – onto Amarant's back.
"You're just the bird I've been looking for, then," he purrs, and Amarant laughs, letting the Genome hang onto his shoulders. He's relieved, and Kuja's relieved, and the forest opens up onto a hill and they can see a good portion of the land laid out before them. He doesn't know what he's doing – he's sure Kuja hasn't a clue either – but he's willing to try it out and see how it works.
They travel for a few hours before they start to feel hungry. Kuja starts to complain a little, but Amarant merely bats at him and tells him to wait. Opportunity's coming and such.
They hear noise to the east as they walk, and soon there's a huge commotion from behind them – they stop and turn.
A scraggly covered cart, decked out in bells and painted the most obnoxious shade of blue Amarant's ever seen comes jolting towards them, drawn by two large Chocobos. Pots are banging around and they can see two people sitting on top of the cart.
"Oh, what do you know?" Kuja exclaims, and Amarant suddenly recognizes the people as the two girls from the warehouses. They're singing a loud, annoying drinking song, and then the one on the left suddenly shouts and yells to the Chocobos, who come to an unsteady halt beside the two men.
"Hey!" the girl crows. She's decked out in a bright pink vest and her neck bends with the weight of her numerous necklaces. Her skirt is torn up – fashionably, Amarant assumes – and the black is stained with the same blue paint from the cart. Her partner is a stark contrast – equally as loud but wearing grays and black, with exaggerated black makeup. "We know you guys!"
"We know them?"
"Yeah, yeah, remember? Like, three nights ago, man!" The bright girl points, "They were the ones fighting!"
The dark girl suddenly remembers them and snaps her fingers, nodding. "Oh, yeah! You danced nice!"
"Where you headin'?" the bright girl asks.
"Dali," Amarant responds, because this could be opportunity.
"Oh, most excellent!" the girl cries.
"We're heading that way," the dark girl explains, "You want to hop a ride?"
Kuja looks at Amarant, who looks at the obnoxious blue cart in trepidation.
"Do you like it?" the dark girl asks, grinning.
"It's hooloovoo!" the bright girl squeals, "It's the most beautiful color in Gaia!"
"So, are you coming?" the dark girl leans over and peers at them through brown hair.
"...They're crazy," Amarant mutters. Kuja grins.