"Character Death" cliche bingo square. As such, there is a mentioned off screen death of a minor character, as well as a discussion on genocide (the Black Mages), and the impending death of a major character.

"Mr. 33 stopped today," Zidane says. When Kuja doesn't even look at him, he says, "You didn't come to the funeral."

Kuja sighs. "I don't enjoy the inevitable staring." His tail twitches where it lies against the straw. Zidane'd found him by following the bitchy silver tail movements from the ground.

"Since when?" Zidane arranges himself on the roof next to his brother, letting his own tail drape across Kuja's foot. "You're really wearing the wrong kind of clothes if you don't like people looking."

"They blame me."

"You created them, 'course they blame you when they die. It's not their fault."

"No. I do not, however, enjoy being reminded that it is mine."

That seems like a no brainer to Zidane. "So fix it," he says. He doesn't understand what stopping Kuja and if he doesn't, fuck if the Black Mages are going to.

Not that they're ever going to do anything about it. They murmur and they mumble, but every single one of them still looks at Kuja like he hung goddamn the moons. Or blew up the red one, whichever.

It's a lot like how the Genomes look, when they bother having expressions at all. Like they're staring at the sunand don't quite know how to look away. Zidane never knows whether to be amused by their confused squinting or to be horrified.

If Kuja's their role model, they're all going to "grow" up fucked.

He drags his mind back to the task at hand and isn't surprised when he realizes Kuja's ignoring him, the bastard. "Hey," he says, "Did you hear me? Fix it."

"An artist cannot create without raw material," Kuja says.

His tail curls around Zidane's wrist when Zidane goes to peevishly pull on it. "That's not an answer," he says, turning his hand over to ruffle Kuja's fur the wrong way. "An answer would be, 'I can help, but I'm too much of a bastard to do it, even though I'm eating their food and living in their houses.'"

A theatrical sigh. "There isn't Mist," Kuja enunciates clearly. "You cannot create dark spawn of the Mist if there is no Mist to wield."

"I don't want you to makemore black mages. I want you to fix the ones you've made." Mr. 33 had been so happy when Bobby Corwen took his first, hesitant steps. Zidane doesn't like to think of him under the ground already, less than a year after he'd "started."

They're all just babies.

"Which would require Mist, you moronic monkey." Kuja's tail twitches in his palm. "Something cannot be made from nothing. Their lives cannot be extended without the Mist you so carelessly stopped."

Zidane lets the insult slide. That's just Kuja. "There's gotta still be Mist in the caves and stuff."

The baleful look Kuja gives him is all the scarier because Kuja? Does not actually blink all that much. Or smile. Or, you know, look anything other than like he's contemplating killing you while giggling.

They're working on that.

"The leftover Mist is too weak to work," Kuja says when he's done glaring. "I do not have enough power to make it workable and there are none more powerful than I."

"We kicked your scrawny ass," Zidane points out. Another baleful look. "Well, we did."

"Four to one," Kuja says disdainfully, "After I expended enough energy to destroy a planet. Hardly a fair fight, brother."

"Not our fault you went bonkers."

Kuja doesn't say anything to that. Zidane lets his "brother's" tail slide through his glove when Kuja twitches it irritably. "So you can't do anything?" he asks.

"They weren't created to last, Zidane," Kuja says. He tucks some of his hair behind his ear when it threatens to end up in his mouth; Zidane resists pulling, only because the last time he'd done it he'd woken up two days later with an ultima induced headache.

"Why not?"

"I wanted continuous death. It wouldn't have done to allow that elephant-lady unlimited access to such weapons." He looks over long enough to catch Zidane's eyes before looking away. "The mages exist until the Mist used to create them is exhausted; their becoming self-aware just accelerates the process."

Yeah, that sounds like something Kuja would think through. "They were supposed to stop so Lindblum and Burmecia would rebel against Alexandria, huh?"

Kuja just inclines his head.

There's suddenly this sound like a frustrated bird trying to swallow a snake. Zidane grins to himself, more than ready for a subject change, and leans over enough to nudge Kuja's bare shoulder with his own. "Looks like someone's looking for mommy."

One of Kuja's dragonlings is scaling the wall of the house next to them. It's about halfway up the wall, throwing longing little glances their way every now and then as it scrabbles.

The huge gouge marks its leaving in the clay walls is probably going to make Mr. 417 frantic.

Kuja clucks at it and it perks right the hell up. "Silly dragon," he says. The dragon just trills back at him and crouches against the wall, its muscle bunching visibly beneath its soft scales.

Its wings are just starting to fill in with feathers, but it makes a valiant attempt to fly the gap between the houses anyway. Zidane leans over to catch it, laughing. "Jeez, really uncoordinated," he says, handing it over to Kuja.

Zidane rotates his shoulder, digging his fingers into the stiffness that's been creepin' into it all winter. Stupid cold, damp weather and the heavy ass dragonling hadn't really helped it. It made all his old wounds ache like he's an old man and not just coming up on 17.

The sun's warm, though, for freakin' once. Zidane stretches out, shoulder to shoulder with Kuja, and just drowses.

He wakes up not because the Black Mages are celebrating in the cemetery, but because Kuja's just taken a deep breath. He flounders his way awake and his tail reaches out to twine helplessly with his brother's before he even realizes what it is about that noise that's making his chest hurt.

"What?" Zidane asks groggily, "What? What's wrong?"

"I'm dying," Kuja says softly. He's looking into the sky when Zidane's head jerks up and around, surprised. He hasn't heard Kuja admit that since he brought him out of the Iifa Tree. "I'm dying, and I can't even save my creations from the same fate. I would help them if I could, Zidane, to perhaps leave a legacy of something other than war and death. But I cannot."

And, jeez, of course he sat awake broodingabout that instead of napping or just. Not. Thinking about it. His tail's limp in Zidane's grip, passive, and Zidane wants to just reach out and twist to get a rise out of him.

"You can't sit here complaining about things that can't be changed," he says instead. "You gotta concentrate on the things you can, Kuja."

"Optimism has never been my forte," Kuja says, "Least of all blind. We both know the closer you get to Terran majority, the closer I get to 'stopping.' It's foolish to pretend otherwise."

Zidane takes a breath, two. "It's stupid to just give up," he says, staring up into at the waxing curve of Gaia's remaining moon. "Mikoto could still figure something out, or you could."

The chances are slim to none. They both know it, but that doesn't mean they have to give up, dammit. Kuja isn't the nicest person ever, but if Zidane could accept the Black Mages, he'd be a hypocrite not to accept his damn brother too; he doesn't want to bury either in the cemetery.

"It seems a cruel joke," Kuja says, "That our fates are reversed."

"What fates?"

Kuja's mouth twists, the barest hint of his old sneer. "I was created to stop," he says. "My soulless brethren were created to go on forever. My own creations are fated to die while their forerunner continues. My 'angel of death' shall live on while the others molder beneath the earth."

Something in Zidane's chest loosens a little at the confirmation that Vivi has always been differentthan the other black mages. He's not going to "stop." It doesn't make up for the tight, miserable feeling, though, because Kuja's right.

The Genomes don't have souls. He'd been kind of optimistic at the start, because the Black Mages didn't have souls either, but the Genomes aren't builtfor Gaian souls. They can't become self aware because they really don't have any selves. There're no Terran souls left to flow into the empty places and make them into people.

They're just shells.

"Nothing's ever fair," Zidane says. He doesn't know if he'd give the Genomes's lifetime to the Black Mages if he could. He just knows it's not fair.

Kuja lifts one hand to the sky. "Tragedies are more beloved than comedies," he says, gesturing widely. "All innocents and evildoers must die before the last act. As the curtain falls, the audience weeps, and exalts in their lives."

Zidane catches that waving hand when he notices that it's shaking. "Yeah, well," he says, dropping Kuja's hand onto his own chest, "Sometimes the evildoers get a second chance first. To fix things, or just to be happy."

"Ah," Kuja says, his hand quivering, "But sometimes they squander it by proving their masters right."

Yeah, Zidane had wanted to beat Kuja's brain in when they were first traveling. That's sort of mutated now, to wanting to beat Garland's skull in, because Kuja'd been a kid when Garland sent him down here to kill. A kid in a grown up body, maybe, but a kid all the same.

What exactly did he think that would do? Promote stable growth?

"Doesn't matter," Zidane says. He squeezes the hand on his chest fondly. "Nobody deserves to die alone."

The Black Mages make some kind of loud noise, still celebrating and mourning in turns. Zidane's pretty sure Mr. 56 is going to be coming to a stop any day now, so he's happy they're happy while they can be. The cemetery's getting kind of small, though.

He turns seventeen in three weeks. Zidane feels Kuja's hand tremble in his grip and squints up into the sun, trying not to think about it.

Kuja clutches his hand tightly. "Ashes to ashes," he murmurs, "Mist to mist."

"Amen," Zidane says.