A/N: WOOOOOOOOHOOOOO. Hi everybody, I'm baaaaack! Time to see what Amarant and Kuja are doing, huh?
I'd like to take a moment to tell you all that this, unlike Wishful Thinking, it's predecessor, will not be updated as quickly or as constantly. That's mainly because I'm so into Vincent/Cid right now it's not even funny – Vincent/Amarant, anyone? D
This story also focuses less on UST and more on "What the fuck, Amarant? Crazy homicidal brother of your rival!" I wanted to swim a bit down and see why, exactly, Amarant went with Kuja instead of sleeping with Janelle.
That's right, I have no idea what my characters are doing. Hell, I didn't know what was going to be the plot of this fic until about halfway through the first chapter, so... Yeah. Just read.
Dedicated to Elendraug, who has been most beautiful with reading my ficcage.
His dreams are of fire and brimstone.
People scream, and he feels heat across his face, as if he is on fire – his whole body erupts into flame and he can't scream for help.
Except he does scream, and goddamned loudly to boot. They've gotten in trouble with exactly two captains, five shipmates, and three civilians since they started traveling around Gaia. All because Kuja has nightmares.
Amarant thinks about a lot of things while he's working the engines and taking care of the live cargo. Most of the time, though, his thoughts drift to Kuja, who can't really get out of his head for a damned minute. It's almost annoying, but he reminds himself that Kuja's the one who will have money once they can pop their heads back up in Treno, and he's the one who keeps the bed warm for him. Because it gets really cold up top.
Katrina – one of the few female mechanics he's met in a while – appears and lets him know that his shift is over, and Kuja hasn't started bellowing yet so he can probably have a few hours sleep. He doesn't thank her – why should he? – and heads up top, stretching and wiping his hands on his pants. Oil streaks across green fabric, and he wonders how he can get so dirty so easily, especially with such clean engines. He'll take a shower tomorrow when they get into Conde Petie – Kuja can put up with him smelling like oil for a few hours.
The ship rocks only marginally, and Amarant's so used to the movements of ships that he barely notices. He hopes that if Kuja left a candle burning, it's at least in a lantern on the wall, instead of on the tables.
He opens the door to their cabin – it creaks loudly, but there's nothing he can do to stop it, and notes with annoyed relief that yes, the candle is in the lantern, not on the table.
Kuja's laid out like a rag doll under the sheets – his tail swings along the side of the bed and really, he's more like a cat than a doll. He's asleep, and probably not dreaming badly yet, so Amarant's got a few hours reprieve. He undresses and blows out the candle, slinking under the covers and closing his eyes. About five hours till sunrise and another six until they reach Conde Petie. From there, they'll probably have to figure out what's what at home, and decide if it's safe yet. Not that he cares.
Kuja rolls over and almost immediately curls against him – Amarant puts his arm over the monkey's shoulder and, almost in retaliation, Kuja's tail winds around his leg.
"You smell like oil," the Genome mutters against his collarbone, and Amarant makes a noise between a laugh and a grunt.
"Mm. Very manly."
"Go to sleep," Amarant groans, "Sarcastic comments can wait until morning." Kuja sighs sleepily, nods, and his eyes close again. Amarant shifts and pulls Kuja a bit closer – just because he feels like it.
When Kuja has nightmares, they tend to wake Amarant up. It can be for a variety of reasons – fists tightening in his hair, kicks, even Kuja's tail can squeeze his leg until he can't feel it anymore. More often than not, though, Amarant just knows – Kuja has a way of manipulating the surroundings.
He doesn't try to wake Kuja up when he starts to dream badly. He always thought that dreams were something important, and when they're good and ready they'll wake you up themselves. So when Kuja begins his nightmares, Amarant wakes up and makes sure there's nothing important around them that can break.
He tries to calm the other down in small ways – he'll pet his hair or rub one of his hands between his own huge ones, maybe, if he's not being kicked too hard. Kuja's broken a few vases in his sleep – mostly from errant batches of energy that lance out, soundless and invisible, to hit anything that might be breakable. It comes out of Amarant's paycheck.
He can't do anything for Kuja, not really, so he simply lets the episodes slide by, trying to keep him quiet. It's not strange to think about Kuja being loud, or being vicious – he knows he can be both, and he can be them very well to boot. But the strangest thing is that Kuja's told him – sideways, of course, he has a thing about telling anyone anything straight up – that he likes not having to be vicious, likes not being loud. He likes to sleep but hates to dream, those were the words he used once.
Kuja makes a strangled noise and Amarant clamps a hand over his mouth as he lets out a scream that will probably reverberate around the entire damned ship. Kuja jerks and he lets go as the Genome spins and sits straight up, eyes glistening in the dark, reflecting light Amarant didn't know was there.
Amarant shifts his weight and rises on an elbow, looking at Kuja and measuring the time between each time his chest heaves with breath. "You're getting less rowdy, at least," he mutters. Kuja doesn't respond, and this is worrying – Kuja always responds, with a catty remark or at least a nod of acknowledgement. Amarant brings his arm up and wraps it around Kuja's shoulders, easing him down into the bed and into his bear hug. "You're okay, now."
Kuja mumbles against his chest and kisses his collarbone before closing his eyes again. Kuja puts a lot of stock in kisses and touches – more than Amarant's used to. He's okay with it, he supposes – so long as Kuja's not crazy.
He doesn't even know why he likes Kuja, much less likes him like this. He's a girly, high-class pretty boy with clean hands and a tendency to drive Amarant bat-shit crazy. Then again, Lani drove him crazy too, and they'd had quite a thing going on for a while...
Amarant decides he's a masochist. Plain and simple. He loves being driven crazy; loves having people around him who tell him to mind his manners and to ask questions before he goes and punches guys in the face. There's probably some issues he's avoiding – repressed memories or just plain neediness that doesn't become a bounty hunter, so he'll avoid them a little longer.
Kuja moves against his chest, and Amarant watches him in case he's about to start screaming again. But, no, the bad dreaming has passed, and now he's probably dreaming of a canary in a birdcage or something else weird that Kuja would dream about.
Amarant thinks briefly about what's going to happen tomorrow. He knows the plan is laid out and practically set in stone – they'll get off, spend a day or two in Conde Petie, and then test the waters back home. Hopefully, Moko will be waiting for them in the dwarf town – Kuja's paid him to be loyal and punctual, and it won't due to not have Arok's letters for review.
He sighs – he feels too organized. Amarant's so used to letting himself drift that giving purpose and plan to everything makes him feel like he's being sliced up and organized into little boxes – alphabetically, starting from 'z'.
But it's not a time to drift – not with him being dead and all. If he were to waltz into Treno with his bounty just released... Well, who knows. There'd probably be a scuffle or two.
Kuja mumbles something and Amarant closes his eyes. A few months ago, he was swearing he wouldn't go back to Treno ever. Now, he can't wait for the day he sees the nightscape again.
Kuja is a people person. By the time Amarant is up and dressed, he's helped serve breakfast to the crew and the few passengers, helped a boy find his lost sister, and somehow managed to get Amarant a plate so he wouldn't starve for the next four or five hours.
It's funny, because he always insists Amarant should keep a low profile, while he goes out and does things that are unusual. Then again, Kuja's nothing but unusual. If anyone has recognized him, they haven't tried to take him in for bounty; that's a good sign. Maybe being nice really can keep you out of jail.
Maybe it's just Kuja's good looks. Amarant's leaning towards the good looks.
"Thanks," he mutters when Kuja hands him the plate, watching the Genome flop onto the bed. He's still wearing skirts but his outfit is starting to look ragged – no matter how well he's been taking care of it. He'll be glad to go back to Treno.
That is, if they ever can. He's not sure – it's been about two weeks since they responded to Arok's last letter – the boy's been good about keeping them informed but who knows how long it'll last.
"Do you think Moko is there?" Kuja asks, and Amarant shrugs, trying to take his time eating while knowing that he's due in the engine room in half an hour.
"Could be. Let's hope so." Amarant's beginning to feel worn around the edges, and he doesn't like the idea of staying off of the Mist continent forever. The Outer continent is pretty boring – the interesting places like the Black Mage Village or the Desert Palace have permanent off-limit status for Kuja, and the farming villages strewn about just don't hold any glamour for either of them.
There's a knock on the door and Amarant gets up, opening it partway and looking out. Katrina is standing on the other side, grease smudged across a cheek and blonde hair falling out of her loose braided pigtails.
"There's been a problem down below. Come check it out."
Amarant groans and gives a long look at his food, before making an affirmative noise. Kuja gives him a half-hearted wave and he leaves. Katrina is giving him odd, sideways glances that he's long since inferred the meaning of.
"Keep staring. Might do a trick."
"Sorry – I'm just... It's just..." Amarant casts her a steady, piercing gaze – one he's perfected from his days traveling with Lani.
"Spit it out, or shut your mouth, before you catch a couple bugs."
"You're so rude!" Katrina exclaims, "How in the name of Gaia you bedded Mr. Tribal is beyond me!"
"You're assuming I've bedded him." They get to the door leading into the engine room, and Amarant frowns. "I haven't slept with Kuja, so you might as well quit wondering. Now, what the hell did you do wrong?"
"You haven't – but...?"
"What did you do, woman? You brought me down here for a reason, didn't you? Or are you just here to gossip?"
"Hell," Katrina mutters, shaking her head. "The engine's been making funny noises for the past half hour. Figured you could tell me if we're going to crash because of it."
"I'm not an engine person," Amarant drawls, looking at pressure meters that make very little sense to him. Honestly, he just knows enough to keep the thing running if everything's going fine – how's he supposed to know if they're going to crash? "Go get the damned captain if you're so worried. I don't know what's wrong with it." Amarant crosses his arms. "You know that."
"I didn't want to disturb the captain... Where are you going!" Amarant looks over his shoulder as he heads back up the stairs.
"I'm going to finish breakfast before I take over. Unless you've got more gaping to do?"
"If you're not sleeping with him, then what are you doing?"
Amarant stops, turns; he looks at Katrina in mild annoyance.
"If I knew what I was with Kuja, would you honestly expect me to tell you?"
Katrina puts on a look that resembles a preening bird. "If you don't know what you are, then you don't have any qualms layin' with me, do you?"
Amarant raises an eyebrow and laughs dryly. "Your legs open for steam engines and at least two of the cabin boys. I sure as hell ain't going anywhere near you."
He slams the door on her off-put face.
Kuja's excited to be back in Conde Petie – it's been a good long while since he's seen a town bigger than five homes and an inn. Amarant's glad too, but he's more pleased over the fact that Moko is waiting for them at the bridge into the town.
The two approach the moogle and put their bags down in front of him. He looks a little worn and his shawl, pulled over his head and wrapped around his face, looks ragged. "Kuja-agha, I've got your letters," Moko pulls his shawl down off of his face and hands two slightly battered letters to the Genome.
"You've been a great help to us, Moko," Kuja responds, smiling as he takes the letters and glances at the senders. He hands one to Amarant – Arok's letter – and keeps the other one for himself. "Why don't you come with us and get some rest while we review these and write responses?"
"Thanks a lot," Moko breathes, relieved, "It's hard traveling nowadays – I'm not as young as I was."
Amarant idly looks over the makeshift envelope with plain wax – his name, not Kuja's, is scribbled on the front. Arok has been writing the letters to both of them for a while, but he's known that Amarant's the one who reads them. Kuja has trouble with bad spelling and grammar – and boy, Arok has both of those. He wonders who the other letter is from, but he'll find out in a few minutes, anyways. They wander through the streets to the inn – the town is a bit more crowded now, as they've started accepting airships with tourists. There's a wedding ceremony going on and people are crying in joy – Amarant snorts and asks for a room.
They head inside the room, where it's considerably quieter, and Kuja puts his bag down on the bed. He immediately cracks open the letter – there's an ornate seal over the top.
"It's from the girls," he says, smiling in a vaguely fond way. Amarant knows exactly what he means when he says the girls – the same two girls who had driven them to Dali, followed them to a small village called Mandari, and then parted with to head to Lindblum after a rather unfortunate night at a bar in the same village.
"What's going on with them?" Amarant asks idly, opening Arok's letter.
"They say they had a wonderful time in Lindblum but have since returned to Alexandria... The castle is still being repaired, but it looks to be near finished."
"They're saying that they met up with Arok... Does he say anything on that?"
"I haven't read it yet, let me look." He looks down at the folded letter and opens it, expecting another long, drawn out explanation of what everyone's doing. Instead, the letter had only three short sentences:
Bounty relesed. Janele missin. Come home.
"What's it say?"
Amarant reads it again, ignoring Kuja for the moment, eyes narrowing. Kuja frowns, suddenly, and stands up. "Amarant, what does it say?"
Amarant shrugs, and hands the letter to Kuja, who reads it in a single glance and then makes a noise.
"When does the next airship leave? If we leave now we can get to Treno in a few hours, maybe by-"
"We're not going."
"What? Why not!"
Amarant stands and puts his hands on Kuja's shoulders, looking down at the aggravated monkey. "Kuja, I'm dog-ass tired of flying around on airships, and we don't have the money right now. Besides..." He sighs, "I'm tired. Let's sleep; we can leave tomorrow. Moko's tired too – he's still in the market, getting something to eat. We should get some rest before we leave, and I still have to figure out where he wants us to go."
"What do you mean, go? Home is Treno for Arok, isn't it?"
Amarant shakes his head. "Arok's family live in Alexandria, Kuja."
"...Oh." Kuja looks down. "I can't go back to Alexandria."
"I know. We'll worry about it in the morning – he might think we consider Treno home."
"He would've addressed it to both of us if that were the case. You know he lives in Alexandria..."
"I saw him there last time. His mother died."
"Oh..." Kuja pulls away and Amarant shrugs. "I didn't know that."
"I don't think he had time to tell you, you know." The bounty hunter sits on the bed and Kuja sits next to him, sides pressed together. "We'll worry about it in the morning."
"Mm..." Kuja leans against him, eyes closing. "...Thank you."
"For what?" Amarant looks down at the smaller man, eyes catching his hair, going over his face in idle contemplation.
"For staying. This whole time – my bounty was the problem, not yours. You've lived with it."
"My bounty was a lot less than yours was going to be, you know."
Kuja shifts, and puts a leg over Amarant, effectively straddling him. "You stayed after I couldn't control myself. You stopped me and kept me alive." He puts his hands on Amarant's arms and kisses his neck, "I don't know what that makes us, but I like it."
"I like what we are too."
Kuja kisses the other side of his neck, then looks at him in a bemused way. "What are we, then? We've slept together for the past few months, but we've never actually slept together. We kiss but it's not desperate like it should be."
"It doesn't need to be desperate," Amarant mumbles – he's not blushing, he better not be – and rubs the back of his head. "And I... Something about it just make me..."
"You're a skirt chaser, all right," Kuja mutters, slipping off and standing. "I'm going to go look at the shop. You let me know what you think we should do."
Kuja stalks out of the room and Amarant has a sinking feeling he's said something wrong.
Dozing in a dwarfish inn for about three hours wasn't the best of things for Amarant. He slips out of his idle, half-sleeping daze and sits up – the sun has set and the room is dark. Kuja still isn't back yet, and this worries the bounty hunter. Someone might've seen him and remembered the bounty – they might've tried to take Kuja in for the reward – someone could've started a fight... he might've just left for Treno without him.
He doesn't like how that worries him more than him being kidnapped, and so he rises to his feet, heading out the door, through the inn, and onto the street. It's fairly warm outside, considering the time, and humid; the Outer continent only gets two seasons: hot and freezing. There's a wedding party in the bar next door – and automatically, Amarant heads for it. He knows Kuja to some extent – enough to know that he'll go into the bar with Moko. Hopefully.
The party is loud and the tamest form of rowdy he's seen. The people are dressed in nice suits and dresses, but there's a few sore thumbs sticking out – a few people dressed in extravagant outfits made of cheap fabric. The richer people, however, are treating them to drinks and giving them pats on the back. Amarant decides they must either be really drunk, or these people must be family of the married couple. He looks around but doesn't see Kuja... at least, not at first.
He looks over the bar and suddenly the light catches on the Genome's silver hair – he's talking, laughing with a lean young man, with deep red hair and one of those exaggerated outfits. He's grinning and laying it on thick – too thick, damn it, Kuja's letting him get away with too much.
"How long have you all been performing?" Kuja's asking, and Amarant shifts through the crowd, heading for them.
"Near six years. This is our first performance out of the Mist continent, though..."
"It looks like it was a hit," Kuja smiles, and then he sees Amarant. The smile flickers, and he raises an eyebrow. "Oh. Amarant, what are you doing here?"
"Looking for you." Amarant casts the curious redhead a dark look, and the actor immediately gulps, "What's going on?"
"You know, Amarant, you should try to be a bit nicer to someone I'm negotiating with," Kuja drawls in annoyance, "Why don't you go drink, or something? You like doing that, don't you?"
The bounty hunter looks at Kuja in confusion. "What's with the claws?" He knows he's done something wrong – that much is obvious, but why, exactly, is Kuja being so...
"Oh, there's a pretty barmaid," Kuja continues in that dull, uninterested voice, "Why don't you go try to bed her?" Kuja slides against the bar easily, almost leaning fully against the younger redhead. "I'll be a while longer."
He could strangle the actor, if Kuja wasn't giving him a look of death.
"I'm not sleeping with anybody," he growls, and turns, stalking out of the bar. His head is racing and if he paid any attention, he would realize just how crazed he sounds in his mind.
Amarant doesn't usually have strong emotions. He likes to categorize his feelings as such: indifferent, annoyed, and amused. He doesn't like excess emotion – it gets in the way, clogging up his senses and biasing his mind.
But right now, he's feeling more than just annoyance. He's feeling anger. Amarant is angry – he won't admit it, but he might be a bit jealous, too. He doesn't know why, exactly – Kuja's been catty with him before, but it's never angered him this much. Even in Treno, that shouting match had only been his reaction to Kuja's yelling. The idea of getting so worked up over Kuja flirting – shamelessly, aggravatingly – with a scrawny little bit actor really doesn't make sense.
He doesn't know what he and Kuja are, but he knows that there's enough to make him want to stay with the infuriating monkey. Enough to make him stay through nightmares, cynicism, and mood swings worse than Lani's had ever been. He had figured that would be enough for Kuja...
He doesn't realize he's punched one of the stone walls until pain lances up his arm.
"Careful there, sugar, y'might hurt y'self."
Amarant looks over his shoulder, glaring at one of those theatre people – the girl is dressed in an elaborate, cheaply made dress, holding a parasol over her shoulder like a sword.
"Then again, someone big like you probably don't feel physical pain," she continues, drawling in a strange accent that's more pleasant than Arok's but still foreign to his ears.
"Don't make assumptions of me," Amarant growls, rubbing his knuckles idly. He forgot his claws again.
"I'm not makin' any assumptions, sugar. What's got you so riled up?" She comes up next to him and takes his hand in both of hers, looking at his knuckles and clicking her tongue.
Lani made an annoyed noise and examined his wrist. "You're going to break your hand off if you keep fighting without your claws, Ama."
"I don't need my claws. I like feelin' 'em squirm."
"You're so gross. Come on..."
"We should probably get this bandaged up, darlin'."
Amarant blinks, staring at the actress in confusion. Wasn't he just...?
"It's fine. Who the hell are you?"
The girl blinks, then grins in an unladylike way as she curtsies – exaggeratedly, just like her clothing. "My name's Ruby, lead actress of Tantalus!"
Sounds familiar, but maybe he's just thinking of a tarantula.
"Well, I followed you, 'cos you stormed out mighty quick after talkin' t' Blank and his latest prospect."
Amarant makes a mental note to remember the name Blank, so he knows who to hunt down later, even as he answers, "Kuja is not his prospect."
Ruby blinks, frowning in confusion. "But... Now, are you sure? That girl looked mightily interested in..."
Amarant chuckles, shaking his head. "Girl?"
"Kuja," Amarant grins, feeling a bit triumphant, "Is not a girl. Might not pull it very well, but he is... well, a he."
"Oh!" Ruby blinks again, then shrugs. "Makes no difference to Blank, really. The boy is indiscriminate. Why, for a few years, he was so intent on this one guy... Oh, they went at it like dogs sometimes, but Blank always knew he was a lady's man – never really got over that..."
Amarant glares and she shuts up about it.
"Either way," she mumbles, suddenly a bit unsure, "It's best if you wrap that up, so it doesn't get dirt in it. See you around, sugar." Ruby sashays away, but Amarant's too busy looking over his hand to really notice her at all. His knuckles are bloody – he looks at the wall and finds there to be an actual indent in it – as if he had punched through putty.
He stalks towards the inn again. Fine, his mind grumbles, If that's how it is, that's how it is.
The room seems smaller, now that he's gotten out a bit, but he's tired – tired of crazy, bipolar – and the bed is plenty big. He undresses and climbs in, idly checking his hand. It stings, but it's dull, and it'll go away soon enough.
His eyes close. He opens them again and feels hands against his, soft and smooth. He looks over and Kuja's sitting on the side of the bed, wrapping his knuckles up. "Stupid," he's muttering to himself, shaking his head, "If you don't wrap these things-"
"It'll get infected. And then you'll be the one-handed flaming Amarant!" Lani exclaims, "Sometimes I just don't know-"
"-What to do with you."
Kuja finishes tying the bandage and Amarant watches him stretch and then slide under the covers. He doesn't move closer but he doesn't pull away when Amarant rolls over, reaching out with his bandaged hand and touching loose locks of hair.
"What's with the claws?" he asks again, quieter, voice hoarse and wary.
"They'll give us a ride to Treno tomorrow," Kuja dodges the question with ease, closing his eyes. "If we need it, they'll take us to Alexandria."
"Who the hell did you have to sleep with to get that kind of deal?"
Kuja smirks, looking far too content. "Nobody, yet."
Amarant blinks, frowning, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It all depends on how well my date with Blank goes, doesn't it?" The Genome rolls over, back to Amarant. "Goodnight."
Amarant stares at the pale back and wishes for all the world that the ship had crashed when Katrina thought it would.
Disclaimer: Arok, Janelle, Moko, and Byrd are all mine. Everyone else... well, Squaresoft or whatever owns them.