It was a common saying in Treno that to understand another, one must walk a mile in the other's shoes. Zidane used to add that it was because then then the other would be a mile away and barefoot. Kuja always knew the real meaning, but never how it applied to him, until that day.
Kuja used to envy Zidane, for being Garland's favorite, for not having a limit – or at least not a short one – for having friends, a lover. He had everything except a real family as far as the two had been concerned until that fateful day, but Zidane didn't seem to care about that, instead claiming people as various family members. The guys from Tantalus were brothers, and Baku was the next-best thing to a father. Zidane had taken in Freya and Riza as older sisters – even if the latter was upset at him. Ed and Al had also become brothers, with all the positives and negatives, as far as either were concerned.
Since Zidane had decided to give up and let history run its course, Kuja had learned that his choice to envy his younger brother was a stupid idea. No, it was the stupidest idea he ever came up with. His life was hard. At least, at that point it was.
He had no allies as far as he was concerned. He was convinced Freya would take Riza's side. And Kain – even if he wouldn't admit it – fancied Freya, and would stand by any decision she made. Roy, Ed, and Al all hated him as well. The good news – if it could be called that – was that Ed and Al were planning on leaving for North some time in the immediate future. He wouldn't have to interact with Roy that much either. The only one who would take his side – Garnet – was off in South, being trained by Master. Fat lot of help that was, as Zidane would say.
But with Riza now in the same department as him – he shuddered. She was the worst, and not just because of the status she reached with Zidane. Even without, she was cold. He remembered that from the first time. She gave a hint of warmth to trap Zidane, but was rather cold for the week after. He hated the way Riza gave him his daily assignments. The anger was only there on the first day. After that, there was a feeling Kuja once hated to see directed at him.
She pitied Zidane – or maybe Kuja as well. For seemingly falling into the wrong crowd . For the fact that he had a half-life at best, at least compared to naturals such as her, Roy, and even the Elrics, fractured as they might have been later on.
No, he couldn't envy his brother, no matter how he wanted to.
"Oi! Zander!" Kuja turned around, hearing the name. It interrupted his train of thought, and brought about a change of pace, if only for a while. It took him a few moments to place the face he saw to a name. In the memory he borrowed from Zidane, the man wrapped a burly arm around the body the brothers shared and handed him a drink. Joel Grant.
"Joey," He said. "I wasn't expecting you. I thought I said drop me a letter or phone call before heading over."
Joey gave a grin. "Sorry 'bout that, Zander. You busy?"
Kuja frowned. "I have some work, but I think I get off in time for some good drinks. Where are you staying?"
"Just at a cheap inn by the station," Joey said. "I probably could have gotten a better place if I called, wouldn't I?"
"If you were still planning on ambushing me on the streets as I get to work, it wouldn't be likely."
Joey laughed a bit. "So I hear you got a girl?"
Kuja nodded. "When we get drinks, I'll tell you more, but I have to get to work."
It was a change of pace, an ally, at least for support.
"Two beers!" Joey said as Kuja walked in, wearing the dusty old Alexandrian leather coat Zidane refused to give up. He had to admit Zidane's tactic of creating plausible doubt worked far better than the tucking he used to do – and had to do during work hours. "Best you have! The major's paying tonight!"
Kuja gave a smirk. "What makes you think I'm paying for you?"
Joey grinned. "Cuz you're my best friend in the whole world and I'm your guest." Joey gave his best impression of Melissa's innocent smile Zidane could never refuse. Good thing he wasn't Zidane. And that Joey's impression was terrible.
"You don't look a thing like her, and that look is actually scary on you," Kuja said, finding a free table for two and picking one of the chairs.
Joey's ever-present grin widened. "Good, I can bully you into getting the truth with the false promise that it would stop if you do."
"I'll pay, fine. Although I've taken to whiskey these days."
"Your job that hard?"
Kuja rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Recently there was this thing at work… I won't bother saying anything about it, but strings were pulled and politics were played in such a way to trick my friends into believing that I had been spying on them for the fuhrer."
Joey set the glasses on the table. Kuja grabbed one. "Did you? I mean… were you spying on them?"
"Not intentionally. I could have been tailed or something, but I never meant to. Worst thing is, he got dirt on me I would have preferred not to have revealed.
"Like the fact that you aren't the real Zander."
He froze for just a moment. Joey had tricked him.
"How did you know?" Kuja asked, sipping the beer nervously.
Joey gave a laugh. "He doesn't like beer. I used to sneak it all the time, but he hated the stuff. Hated using alcohol for anything except cleaning wounds."
Kuja gave a smile. "That kind of guy, was he?"
"And your eyes are immediately different too."
"Yeah, I know, foreign eyes. I get a lot of grief about it at work."
"His were the color of freshly tilled earth."
Kuja nodded. "That's quite poetic of you, Joey. I hope you aren't upset by my taking his name."
Joey looked away. "I am a little. But you've been doing great things with his name. I think he'd be proud that he's now known as the Axiom Alchemist."
"And working directly for the Fuhrer," Kuja added with a grin. It was difficult to keep up the happy-go-lucky appearance Zidane often used even in the darkest of times. Joey wasn't important. He could easily use his normal demeanor here, but he didn't want to.
"And you're not half-bad," Joey said. "I like you too, fake-Zander. Got a name I can call you?"
Kuja smirked. "I don't give it out to anyone willingly. It would be better to not know it, just in case I get caught. You don't know my name, you won't be tried for conspiracy." He cursed. Gave out too much information.
"I won't tell. But I don't want in, Zander." Joey stood up. "Just… Zander… don't get caught. My Zander wouldn't want you to. He was tricky, but wouldn't break a law if he could help it. And when he did, he never managed to get caught by anyone."
"Don't worry," Kuja said. "I'm the same way when it comes to when I was a kid. I wish I knew him. He seems like he was quite the kid."
"He was," Joey said sitting back down, launching into gushing over the man whose life Zidane and Kuja had stolen for convenience. "But I guess you already picked up all these things, if you haven't been caught yet."
Kuja laughed a bit. "I'm glad you worry over that, Joey. Yes, I do happen to be good at reading people. I couldn't have survived prior if I didn't. How much of Panenbool knows that I'm not him?"
"A good chunk. We always pinned Zander down as the most likely to pick up alchemy, and not many know this, but it was actually the cause of his death."
Kuja looked in interest, vocalizing his curiosity.
"I only know because I was there. Melly was too. We were the only two who saw it happen. But to tell you the truth, none of us really care. You're a good guy, and as long as you're good and keep us in heart, they won't care."
Kuja laughed. "Mel only lets me get away with calling her that because I'm her 'brother'. I'm sure she'd find a way to follow through on that threat I made if she heard you call her that."
Joey winced. "Just when I thought you were joking."
"I was, she might not be," Kuja said standing up. "I'll see you some other time, hopefully. I have to be ready to serve the Furher at stupid-o-clock in the morning."
I wouldn't say that, even if I was plastered and with friends back in Gaia, Zidane touched, coming out of his shell of depression briefly. Kuja was about to issue a retort when the shell reappeared around the rightful owner of the body quickly.
At least Joey laughed a bit. "Just don't tell them that," he said.
Kuja smiled politely. "Don't worry Joey, I won't. You're talking to Zander Travers, you know? See you some other time."
Joey nodded as Kuja waved goodbye and left the bar, thankful he barely touched the nodded as Kuja waved goodbye and left the bar, thankful he barely touched the beer.
Riza stared at the door nervously. One of the two on the other side was a close friend of Tribal's since before he even landed in Amestris. For all she knew, Tribal had already turned Freya against her.
She shook her head. That thought was impossible. Freya seemed a good judge of character amongst those she met. She would sooner turn against Tribal once he did the blasphemous acts than believe that they weren't.
She knocked on the door softly, but with the conviction that she needed to talk to the Rat-like woman and her lost friend.
"It's so nice of you to come over, Riza," Freya said with a smile as she opened the door. "Since Zidane sent Dagger to Mrs. Curtis, I haven't had many people to talk to besides that idiot."
"I take offense! I should not just be that idiot, Freya."
Riza laughed a bit. "I'm sure you've heard some of the news, right?"
Freya nodded. "The Ultimate idiot is very useful in these situations. Given my condition, it is difficult to head out without getting stares, even when I hide everything. Oh, I'm being terrible about this, please come in, Riza. Mind having some tea? I haven't made it in a while."
"That would be very nice, Freya," Riza said as she walked in and took a seat on the simple couch in the open sitting room.
"It's such a shame that the Fuhrer split you from Mr. Mustang."
Riza nodded, forgetting that Freya couldn't see her. "I didn't end up as far as the others. I'm working as the Fuhrer's personal assistant."
"Wasn't that Zidane's job?"
Riza flinched at the use of Tribal's given name. "Yes, it was, but Major Travers has been reassigned."
She heard Freya laugh slightly. "Oh really? And what is Major Travers doing now?"
She was silent for a while, she didn't really know what Tribal was doing. He seemed to spend most of his time in the Fuhrer's office. She wasn't allowed in the main chambers where Wrath and Tribal were, but she often heard distorted speaking coming from the room. What little she actually saw of him was often reading through various records of Alchemy, making notes idly.
"Research and consulting," she said.
"That's so unlike him," Freya said as a whistle came from the kettle she must have had on the stove.
Riza stood up and walked over to the table as Freya laid down a saucer and cup.
"I forget what kind of tea you like," Freya said. "Was it Cretan Breakfast or Colonel Grey?"
"Colonel Grey," Riza said. "Usually straight."
Freya gave a smile as she handed over the small bag filled with broken tea leaves and spices. "I don't get how you can drink it straight. No sugar or lemon? Not even milk, since I know I'm not talking to Zidane."
Riza shook her head. "It doesn't taste right to me that way."
"Of course of course."
Freya talked idly about her life in the small row house she lived in and Kain's exploits. "I still can't believe he actually bought those lies Ed gave him about fashion in this world. If it was Zidane, I could buy it, but it was…"
"How can you stand that selfish idiot?" Riza said, interrupting Freya's story.
Freya shrugged. "Kain's anything but selfish. I guess it has to do with his past. He fell to corruption when he…"
Riza interrupted. "I'm sorry Freya, I didn't mean Highwind. I meant that two-timing monkey who you say saved your world."
"Zidane?" Freya asked, surprised. "I don't know why you're so upset with him. He does the best he can."
"He kept us from the truth about the Fuhrer, saying it was completely confidential. After that phrase you kept telling him. What was it?"
"You're not alone," Freya said. "He's pretty thick about it, thinks he can save the world himself if you give him half a reason."
"Yes, after all that, he doesn't tell us that piece of information. He didn't even hint about it in his usual unsubtle manner."
Freya laughed. "There's something about him that changed. He couldn't keep a secret to save his life back in Gaia, even when he felt saddled with saving the world."
Riza glared at her. "How can you take this so lightly? He never told us that the Fuhrer, and the entire military, was using everyone for something sinister. The closest he got was when Mustang told him what Hughes tried saying, was that Hughes was right. He could have warned us just how."
Freya unwrapped her tail from the chair leg and stood up. "You should slap some sense in him about being so quiet. I agree with that. Like I said, he's pretty single-minded once he gets a goal, whether it's to go on a date with a girl, find some rare treasure, or save a world or five. He thinks he's helping by staying quiet. Tell him that it's not, but he wouldn't wish death on you all, no matter what he was made for."
"Made for?" Riza asked as Freya picked her teacup up.
Freya smiled. "Oh you don't know? It's quite the story."
Riza had heard bits of Zidane's story before, when he was in a good mood, and had a drink or two, but most of what Freya told her was something she hadn't heard before. Zidane bragged about his high points, this was something he would never tell.
"Garland even took his soul and tried to destroy it. All so that Zidane would be the Angel of Death he so wished upon Gaia. He was a mess without it. Not so much vengeful as… depressed. We had to constantly remind him that he wasn't alone. We were there for him. Dagger says that we could hardly imagine the light in his eyes when his soul came back."
"No wonder," Riza said. "He's practically a homunculus as well. He was scared that we would try to kill him too."
Freya gave a laugh. "I thought he told you that he had Ed's soul."
"I just thought that there was some sort of reincarnation, one that took a long time, since Ed managed to confirm the dead couldn't be brought back to life, it would have to be long enough for us to forget the soul."
"Perhaps that is also true," Freya said. "There are far too many similarities between you and a friend back home, when it was there."
"Did Zidane ever fight her?"
Freya nodded. "Three times. You are so much like Beatrix, I sometimes forget you aren't her. She would have acted the same way in this situation."
Riza stood up. "Thank you Freya, it's nice to have someone else here. I'll be nicer to Zidane. I think he's given up recently."