A/N: Recommended reading: 'Life On Terra', by Lady Of The Semicolons. A lively, fun fic based around an AU timeline about if Kuja, Mikoto and Zidane had grown up together. It inspired me to do this, though mine is much darker and grisly (naturally). Also, the FF9 timeline, found here: http:// www . uffsite . net / ff9 / timeline . php . It gives details that were easily overlooked in the game, including inspiring background information on Gaia's past wars and when/why people were born/created.

But mainly, I wanted to explore the storyline of why the heck didn't Kuja just KILL Zidane instead of dropping him on Gaia!? Without the answer being: it's not his style.

(I haven't stopped working on Foundations btw, this is just a fun side project)

Enjoy, and please leave your thoughts/feelings/crits in a review! Thanks.


. S I X . W A Y S . T O . K I L L . P E R F E C T I O N .

1.
(1783)

For a fleeting and exceptional moment, Kuja, angel of death and original soul-blessed genome, was torn from his perpetual state of egotistical contemplation by the most unusual of sights.

Staring down at his reflection, which was perfectly captured on the unmoving sheets of silver-blue below, was a boy. His eyes emulated the unchanging hue of the mirror, and were scrunched at the edges from intense concentration. He was on all fours like an animal, short tail stretched out for balance and blonde locks a dishevelled mess against flushed cheeks.

Kuja had been heading toward Pandemonium when he spotted the child, and had paused to watch with an interest that was both detached and nonchalant, but there nonetheless. For a moment, it irked him that he should be interested at all in this nothing-boy, this nobody with a promising future that would never be fulfilled. He was beneath him, a beast, a gnat – a genome.

Yet he found himself not only lingering but stepping forward and instigating conversation as well.

"What are you doing, boy?"

The boy startled and almost fell into the motionless waters of Terra's dead lake. He spun round and contemplated the stranger with eyes like discs of aquamarine. "Huh? Oh, hallo, Kuja. Hey, where've you been? I only sees you, like, once since um… the last time I first saws you aagggeess ago. Master Garland says you don't come home much 'cause you hafta stay on that other place and do important –"

"Home?" Kuja impeded his waffling with a disdainful snort. "This is not my home."

"But… but… weren't you made here too?"

"Correct."

"Then –"

"But your birthplace is not necessarily your home."

"Oh…" the boy allowed, scrunching up his face in thought.

Kuja wrinkled his nose, looking down at the ragamuffin child with obvious contempt.

"You are filthy," he remarked. "How is it you manage to get so grubby when Terra has nothing resembling soil or muck?"

The boy blinked, then wiped his sleeve across his face, smearing a splotch of dirt across his forehead in a grisly rainbow. "Dunno. Just get dirty, don't I?" Then he returned to staring at the lake's surface.

Kuja bristled slightly, piqued that this boy should lose interest in a being such as he before Kuja could snub the child first. Adamant not to be ignored by an inferior genome, he inquired. "Answer me, boy. What are you doing?"

"Just wonderin' I think… um… what all this stuff is…"

Kuja approached the edge of the lake and peered briefly at his reflection, all silver and silk on the static surface. "Does Garland teach you nothing? Hmph. That foolish man… Is he so confident in your abilities he thinks he can exempt you from the teaching process I had to endure?"

"Huh?"

"It is water," Kuja told him. "Do you see?" He picked up some loose debris and dropped them into the lake. They sunk from sight and the boy yelped.

"They went! They went away! Where'd they go, huh, Kuja?"

The older genome peered down at the boy expressionlessly. "Why don't you find out?"

The boy's eyes were round as he stared at the rippling surface. "I… can go in there? Do I jump?"

"Yes."

The boy went quiet. "I think I'll climb in… just in case."

Kuja shrugged, an incomprehensible smile flitting across his lips. "As you wish, little brother."

The boy spent time dithering on the edge while Kuja watched impassively, then he turned around and lowered a foot into the water.

"Ah, it's cold!"

Then he lowered his other leg and his waist plopped beneath the surface. His little arms trembled from the strain of keeping his body elevated, and his eyes went round with fright when he abruptly slipped into the lake entirely.

Kuja had learnt enough of Gaian oceans to know it was normal for one to flounder and splutter on the surface like a speared fish, but perhaps Terran waters were different because the boy simply sank, evidence of his being betrayed only by a line of bubbles bobbing on the surface like vessels stranded on a stormy sea.

Caught by invisible, suffocating hands beneath a shimmering mirror, the boy writhed and kicked and tried to grip the lake's rocky bank. Bubbles jittered around his flailing limbs and ballooned from his mouth, turning his screams into something visible and ethereal.

He was too young and uneducated to understand the technicalities behind oxygen inhalation, but he understood enough to know he couldn't breathe, and if he couldn't breathe he was going to die. And the boy didn't want to die. Not like this, not ever.

But he couldn't fight the unseen hands that dragged him toward the inky nothing below, the black mouth of some watery beast slowly waiting to devour. He tried to gasp in air but he ate water instead and stars flashed in front of his eyes, and his head hurt and his chest hurt and he couldn't feel his limbs anymore but he could see they weren't moving –

Something constricted around his chest. He was lifted. The water parted and then he was free, and it gushed over his tiny form in mini waterfalls. He inhaled sharply and thought that air never felt so good.

Kuja disengaged his magical hold and the boy fell to the ground, limp and unconscious, but alive.

Kuja contemplated him for a moment, then left the scene unmoved.

2.
(1784)

"Hey Kuja! Watch me! Watch me do this!"

The older genome kept his eyes firmly on the terrain, scrutinising the frozen half-life of Terra's wildlife. The blue trees were trimmed with glassy leaves; their trunks were slices of crystal. Below, the world was reflected by water, and around him outcroppings of azure rock jutted from the base of Pandemonium.

"Kujjaaa! Kuja watch! Look! Look! Watch me, Kuja! Watch me! Watch me! Watch me! Watch me! Watch me! Watch me! Watch me! Watch me!"

Kuja tore his gaze from the landscape furiously, fixing it instead on the young boy Garland had magnanimously named, standing strident atop one of the smaller fungus-like outcroppings at the bottom of the precipitous mountain.

"What is it?" he inquired airily, crossing his arms and letting long, silver locks ripple past his shoulders.

Zidane grinned, eyes flashing and tail whipping. "Watch this!"

He squatted down then somersaulted onto a low outcropping, landing successfully, if a little clumsily. He stopped to catch his balance, then grinned up at his brother with an air of someone awaiting praise.

Kuja remained silent.

"Did ya see that!?" Zidane prompted excitedly. "Master Garland teaches me stuff like that all the time! He says I'll be the bestest fighter ever!"

"Did he now?" Kuja breathed with a raised eyebrow.

Still pleased with his acrobatics, Zidane contemplated the next mushroom, but deemed it too high for his little stature to reach with a somersault. Instead he raised his arms and gripped the edge, then began trying to haul himself upward.

"Ugh… ooff… arp…"

Kuja returned his gaze to the landscape, wondering how much longer he should make Garland wait. He had been summoned some hours ago –

"…ack…eee… arf…"

- to report his progress on Gaia. Not that Kuja would ever tell him the exact truth, of how he had established a reputation of notable worth in the houses of Treno, how he had even founded links with the noble but doddering family who owned the infamous auction house, and how he was planning to –

"…oof… ah… ngh…"

The younger genome's incessant huffing and heaving rudely severed Kuja's train of thought as he tried (and failed) to hoist himself onto the ledge. Kuja stared coldly down at Zidane, whose round face was flushed with exertion.

After tolerating the boy's groaning a few moments more, Kuja's temper got the better of him.

"For the love of Shiva," the mage cursed, rolling his eyes and sweeping his arms theatrically. "Is this the extent of Garland's precious design?"

The magic flitted easily to Kuja's fingertips and the air yielded; he drifted with graceful aplomb to the lower ledge. Zidane was precariously balanced on the lip of the mushroom and the mountainside fell away behind him, where the unyielding surface of a walkway laid waiting.

Zidane ceased his struggling to blink large, guileless eyes at Kuja, who appraised him with a blank mask.

Behind his lavender eyes was the broken, motionless corpse of an unsuccessful experiment, fallen in some unfortunate accident. There was a corpse buried beneath an avalanche of azure rock, the result of some unfortunate landslide.

Then Kuja stooped low and offered a hand. Zidane took it with a slight frown on his lips and heaved himself up with grunt. Now safely on the platform, he put his hands on his hips and duly pouted.

"H-hey!" he panted. "I didn't need ya help! I'm strong, alright!?"

Kuja didn't respond and teleported himself away, expression vacant.

3.
(1785)

Mist, Kuja mused, can be manipulated to my advantage…

This was an entirely novel and beneficial discovery that would aid him in the near future. It made returning to Terra and raiding Garland's expansive libraries worthwhile, even if he had to endure the more unfortunate features associated with the planet.

A stool was scraped backward and an 'oof' was discerned as said unfortunate feature took a seat beside him. Kuja did well to ignore the distraction, dipping his quill into the inkwell before scribing notes onto a sheet of parchment.

"Hey, Kuja, look at what I finded," Zidane yelled beside him, pushing a book against Kuja's elbow, which jerked to the left.

The mage glared at the streak marring his script where Zidane had unwittingly knocked his writing hand. It seemed the boy was allowed free reign about Pandemonium (a luxury Kuja had certainly never been allowed), including the library. Kuja was beginning to wonder if Garland had installed within Zidane some kind of tracking device, a reasonable explanation considering the twerp never failed to find the older genome during the brief occasions he visited Terra.

Absently, Kuja glanced at the book Zidane was eagerly (and repeatedly) nudging against his elbow, and found it to be nothing more than an illustrated historical record depicting the decline of Terra.

"It's got pretty pictures in it," Zidane explained. "But I can read it too. Wanna hear me read? Ill read it to ya, 'kay?"

"'Silence is golden'," Kuja drawled. "A proverb you're sadly unacquainted with."

"Yup," Zidane agreed obliviously, already flicking to the beginning of his book. The first page illustrated Terra in its glory days, carpeted in thriving plant life and tall, ghostly beings that Kuja recognised as the original Terrans.

"Once upon a time," Zidane began, "there was ah… lots of flowers and plants and stuff… and these big people called… um… um… Big-Genomes… and they all lived in plant houses and caves and ate all these…um… roots and leaves…these blue ones here, see?"

He flicked to the next page, where the first signs of Terra's decline became apparent as species of plant life began to wither.

"And um… the plants were all different shapes and sizes and colours… and everyone loved them…"

"Be quiet," Kuja demanded, resting an elongated hand against his pale forehead and willing his concentration return to the complexities of forming life from Mist.

Zidane pointed to the next page, pretending to read the text that spoke of much more ill fated circumstances. "And all these people liked to get together and have um… parties, see? They're altogether and sittin' round a table and… and… drawing pictures. Hey, y'know, I can draw too! Wanna see me draw? I'll draw ya a picture, wait a sec…"

Zidane leaned across the desk to grab Kuja's quill, but he knocked the inkwell instead and it splattered across Kuja's notes.

"Woops…" Zidane mumbled under his breath, edging away from his older brother who had gone ominously quiet and still, staring glassy eyed at hours of ruined work.

The ink on the desk was reflected red in Kuja's lavender eyes, oozing over the desk and splattering against the floor, the sharp nib of the quill and the flawless feathers sticky and red.

Then Kuja tore off some parchment, took a spare quill and some ink and told Zidane to draw a picture in the corner and be quiet.

Kuja continued his work stonily.

4.
(1786)

Feeling the frustration and fury reach a painful crescendo, Kuja threw forward his hands and the grand double doors of Garland's laboratory blew apart into a thousand wooden splinters. A shard danced across his cheek and drew blood, but Kuja hardly felt it. He heard the furious pound of his heart and his vision was tinted red.

But the anger wasn't quelled. Not yet. He splayed his fingers and a bright energy ball sprung to life with a crackle. He launched it at the grotesque, grey structure sprouting from the wire-carpeted floor, which was respectively removed, alongside another three and part of the wall.

"Aaaarrrrggghhhh!"

He summoned another energy blast, but it sizzled out and he hung his head in defeat, knowing that Garland wasn't watching and wouldn't care about the state of his precious Pandemonium anyway.

This defeat is only temporary, Kuja vowed internally. One day I'll kill you, old man, and this disgusting planet too. I swear it beneath the eyes of the gods and eidolons. I'll see it burn. I'll see it turn crimson just as you wished, but it will be crimson with blood and flames instead.

Kuja spun round and marched toward Pandemonium's exit. The monsters dwelling within its grisly walls slunk toward the shadows as they sensed the genome's unearthly powers.

His steps were so harsh and quick that Kuja almost stomped right past the boy, who was almost invisible anyway, tucked within the cosy rim of shell-like structure with a tattered blanket wrapped around his little body.

For an instant, Kuja's rage spat and crackled like the most potent thundaga spell, and he could distinctly feel the power at his disposal, ready to burn away flesh and turn bone to dust. He could see it tearing apart the chamber and Zidane, dashing away hopes and dreams and life simultaneously.

But Kuja approached the boy, and the boy rolled over and blinked blearily up at his older brother.

"Oh, hey, Kuja… aaahh, arrrrrwwww," he yawned. "Mmmm. Are ya visiting again?"

"I suppose," the mage answered evasively. "Is this where you sleep?"

The boy wriggled into a knot, looking like a ruffled and rather unthreatening adamantoise beneath his blanket. "Uh-huh. Mmm, sometimes. The monsters try to eat me a lot but Master Garland says it good training so I should play here."

Garland never did care much for our personal well-being, Kuja mused, staring round the dank, dark space the boy had named his bed.

"I don't sleep too good sometimes…" Zidane admitted quietly. "The monsters make scary noises and I have bad dreams… But if I sneak back into Bran Bal Master Garland gets mad…" He glanced round uneasily. "I don't like it when he gets mad…"

Kuja stared down at him dispassionately.

"Hey, um, could you tell me a bed time story?" Zidane asked suddenly.

Kuja frowned. "Certainly not. I am much too busy."

"What're you doin'? Can I come? I can be helpful! Master Garland says I'm gettin' better and better everyday!"

"I know," Kuja said in a low, dangerous tone. "Believe me, he's told me all about you…"

His anger began to boil again as the conversation came back in bits and pieces, Garland's gloating, triumphant tone still burning his ears.

"Well… can you tell me a bed time story then? Just a little one?"

"I don't know any."

Zidane looked disappointed. "Oh. I don't like it here sometimes. Can you… can you stay with me? Until I fall asleep? Just to make sure, y'know, the monsters don't come or nothing… I'd feel better with you here."

Kuja bit back a wry laugh and went to turn away. But something stilled his feet. Something plucked the strings of his hard, callous heart.

He found himself lingering.

"I suppose. But if you take too long I'll put you to sleep the hard way."

"Yay!" the child squeaked, then wriggled further into his dank nest with a content smile. "Night, Kuja."

The mage had only to linger for a few minutes before the boy's breathing became even and his endless nattering gave way to silence. He watched Zidane's features, quiet and peaceful in the eerie shadows, and watched as his tail slipped over the structure's side and curled at the end like a fishing hook.

Kuja left the boy with a slight frown creasing his expression.

5.
(1787)

The dragon's wings cut smoothly through the frigid air, whistling and whispering every time a gust of wind caught between its silver feathers. The ground was indiscernible beneath the impenetrable blanket of Mist, which had turned into a silver soup in the moonlight.

The dragon ascended, shrugging of high drifting Mist like a gauzy cloak. The moons were cold beacons above but it was the city rearing from a hilltop that caught the interest of Kuja, who rode the dragon with practised ease. In his arms he cradled an insensate child, and Kuja's mind was pounding an uneasy beat against the inside of his skull.

Drop him, it said. Let his bones break into thousand pieces, snag against the branches of trees, sink into the bog and feed the monsters.

But Kuja gripped the boy tighter, who remained entirely oblivious within the potent blanket of his magic induced sleep.

A few Mist fuelled airships chugged past noisily, departing from the tapered docks of Lindblum. The thriving metropolis' buildings were piled one upon another in bustling tiers. As the dragon soared over the city Kuja could even discern people, passing beneath shards of light in the shadow drenched streets, and visibly cringed.

They look like ants, he thought. They are ants. He glanced at the boy. He belongs among them, the insignificant brat.

Not wanting to cause a commotion (he would do that soon enough, and all these immaterial ants would remember his name for years to come and Zidane's would fade into obscurity) Kuja landed the dragon on a deserted bridge high above the main city. He dismounted without his usual grace, as the boy, who had suddenly started growing since he'd last seen him (Garland, during one particular gloating session, explained Zidane was built with a four-year-old's body, but would begin growing after his third year of construction), was a notable burden in his arms.

The dragon launched itself into the air again and resumed circling, waiting for its master's signal, whereupon it would then retrieve him.

Kuja watched the silver beast disappear, then pulled his cloak's hood low over his face and slipped into the nearest alleyway. Despite his disguise, the mage masked his presence to avoid any unnecessary trouble. This despicable city (he would see it destroyed too) was riddled with rats both animal and human. And while they were far beneath Kuja's esteemed person, the whores, alcoholics, drug addicts, brawlers and thieves would be the perfect parents for Garland's precious design.

Eventually, Kuja stopped in a doorway where the sound of bawdy music and bawdier curses could be discerned from within the battered building, which, on further inspection, appeared to be a clock tower. There was the sound of glass smashing and drunken shouts, and Kuja smiled.

Perfect.

He bent down and lowered the boy to the doorstep. Zidane wriggled and groaned and mumbled something – something that soundly oddly like Kuja's name – then fell back into his uneasy sleep.

Kuja left Zidane on the clock tower doorstep, his callous smile barely concealing his tingling of regret.

6.
(1800)

There was a drumming in his ear. Slow, rhythmic… steady… it was getting slower. Everything was flowing like a steam, except it would stop flowing soon, and dry up. Even he was flowing, and maybe he was a stream…? No. As his senses grudgingly returned for a painful, blissful moment he realised it was only his blood seeping from innumerable wounds.

He felt tired, more emotionally than physically. All his plans, all his ambitions… what had they been for? Why had he been so consumed by greed? He couldn't remember. It seemed so pointless now… that he had based his entire existence around destruction and hate.

Yes, he was dying. There was no denying it.

And he found it laughably ironic that the last person to spend his precious, pointless few moments with was the person he had thought he'd hated with every fibre of his being.

"It's our turn to get movin'."

Kuja wanted to laugh at his optimism. But hadn't he always been that way? So full of life and energy, eager to put on a performance, wanting everyone to watch him and listen.

(Kuja, watch me!)

(Wanna hear me read?)

(Wanna see me draw?)

(I'll feel better with you here…)

Why had he come back for him? Zidane deserved to live; he had tried so many times to show him what it meant to live, given him chances to be happy and to put aside his consuming greed. Garland had always said he'd out best him, but he had done it in ways Garland could never have predicted.

Kuja wasn't sad he'd failed as an angel of death. He was sad he'd failed at living.

"I'm useless to this world," Kuja croaked despondently. Blood flecked his lips and he stared blankly at the roots interweaved above.

"No one's useless…"

Kuja glanced at his younger brother. His hair was a matted mess hanging into eyes that still seemed to reflect the lakes of Terra. He saw the boy from that day and the boundless curiosity that more often than not lead to trouble still sparkling in his eyes. There was an edge of ferocity in his gaze, now. Or was it determination?

But it was all too late now.

"I finally realized what it means to live…" Kuja lamented, his voice barely above a summer breeze. "But I guess I was too late."

The tree began to tremble and shudder, and Kuja wondered through a distant haze if this was Death's footsteps, as he came to collect his failed angel. True enough, the walls tore apart and became writhing arms, snaking around the outskirts of his darkening vision.

But abruptly he knew that this wasn't Death, it was merely Iifa in its final act of vengeance.

He imagined how the roots would feel, smashing into Zidane's body and breaking his bones, snuffing his existence into meaningless black. They would rip off limbs and pierce through torso, relentless and unstoppable, rendering his being null.

But there was no room for hate anymore, and with the entire meaning of Kuja's existence turned upside down, he found he could not kill him, not even now, even when it was, perhaps, most achievable.

With his very last tendrils of strength, Kuja summoned a shield that glowed like Terra's lakes, glowed like that boyish light behind Zidane's eyes, and he threw it in the direction of his sibling and captured him in a cocoon of protection.

Kuja managed a final smile, just before the world faded into quiet black.