I Want to Be Your Canary
summary: AU. "So, what made you start acting? It's not like you woke up one day and decided to become a star." "I did it for a friend—a girl." "Romantic. Isn't that how it all starts…?" [Kuja/Terra]
a/n: I had some free time on my hands, so I decided to do the Kuja/Terra prompt challenge thingy that Coli Chibi mentioned in his fan fiction, Birds of a Feather. I hope you all enjoy. :]
Dissidia Final Fantasy / Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy © Square Enix
Kuja had to pinch himself to make sure this was real.
To think years ago, he was still building and painting sets and snatching meager, minor roles with only two to three lines at the minimum and most. Time had passed, and his conviction did anything but waver, and after years of desperation and determination, he was finally in the spotlight and billed among lead actors at the age of twenty-three. It was only then and there that he was noticed by proclaimed theatre director Kefka Palazzo. Kefka Palazzo had a natural gift for theatre. He was able to direct and weave stories that managed to pierce the very soul of his captivated audiences. One minute, they're cackling in uproar laughter; the next, they're sobbing in a fit of depression. He ensnared his viewers and gave them what they wanted to see: passionate love, grueling conflicts, hilarious comedy, and bittersweet endings. Comedies, tragedies—Kefka could pull them all with ease. Kuja admired this man; he hated this man too.
Though Kefka had a big role to play in the success of his plays, there was one other person who enchanted audiences under her spell: the prima donna, Terra Branford. Terra Branford was a sensation that came out of nowhere. The blonde haired beauty was raised and trained by Kefka, who molded her from a child to become a star. It was Terra who brought all of the complexities of Kefka's plays to life—all the emotion, all the passion—and made them her own. She left audiences speechless and awe-stricken. Terra Branford was an enchantress, a spellbinder. There was just something about her that drew people in.
"So, you must be our leading man!" called out a shrill voice.
Kuja was jolted from his thoughts and nearly stumbled down the steps of theatre's aisle when he caught himself at the last moment. He lifted his hand and pushed back a few loose strands of silver hair from his face as he came face-to-face with Kefka Palazzo himself. At around his mid thirties, Kefka Palazzo was a lanky figure with pale skin and thin fingers and long arms that were in constant movement. His blond hair was tightly fastened in a ponytail and his green eyes gleamed an unsteady glow. When he smiled, his mouth was thin like a crescent and resembled that of a clown's painted smirk. He was dressed in a green coat over a white collared shirt, olive pants, and black shoes. In one of his hands was a clipboard and pen. Despite rumors of Kefka's extravagant and colorful nature, in person he seemed like another regular guy. But as Kuja knew perfectly well, appearances could be deceiving.
"You can tell. I'm pleased," Kuja coolly returned the greeting. "And you must be our charming director."
"Quite the smooth talker, aren't we? Your references did tell me your talent came with a mouth."
"Every actor comes with one."
Kefka smirked. "But of course," he agreed readily. Kefka had this strange way of changing the pitch of his voice so rapidly, high-pitched and playful one minute, low-pitched and edgy the next. He gestured to Kuja and began to walk down the aisle as he jotted things down on his clipboard. Kuja followed him. "I was surprised that you agreed to take on the role so eagerly."
"I was surprised when you told me the person you gave the part to dropped out."
"Let's just say he wasn't a right fit for the part."
Kuja shrugged. "Every actor grovels at the mere attention of the great Kefka Palazzo," he commented. "I am just the same."
"Every actor grovels for the mere sight of my ward too," Kefka murmured carefully and glanced at Kuja. "Are you just the same?"
Kuja noticed Kefka's smile was gone and watched as Kefka's fingers twitched and turned. Repressing his repulsion, Kuja chuckled, baffled by such an insinuation. "Hardly," he reassured the director. "This is no insult to your prima donna, but I'm not the generous type when it comes to sharing the spotlight."
Kefka stared at Kuja for a long moment, calculating and inspecting if Kuja's words were true or not, before his smile returned, wider than before. "I like you already, kid!" he exclaimed, laughing. After a few moments, he regained his composure. "So, what made you start acting?" he asked curiously. "It's not like you woke up one day and decided to become a star."
"I did it for a friend—a girl."
Kefka exhaled. "Romantic. Isn't that how it all starts…?" he muttered sarcastically. He gestured to the stage. "Everyone else is back stage. You're a little early, so why don't you make yourself comfortable and mingle for a bit before rehearsals start?"
Kuja shrugged, as if the mere action of conversing with his fellow co-stars was such a troublesome task. He sighed. "Who's here already?"
"Most of the main cast. Several of the supporting roles and the minor bits too. And, of course, our main heroine is present and accounted for."
"Well, then. I suppose I could let them know their leading actor has arrived."
Kuja walked down towards stage, feeling Kefka's snake-like eyes pour into his back with each and every step. It was only when he was backstage and shrouded from Kefka's thick gaze that Kuja eased his tense shoulders and relaxed. Instead of greeting his cast members with an egotistical grin and a narcissistic introduction, he retreated into the depths of the halls where their voices grew faint and distant. He leaned against a wall and wiped a small bead of sweat from his brow. His fingers were slightly trembling. He quickly covered his hand with his other and exhaled in an attempt to calm himself.
Kuja was not as egotistical or flamboyant or petty as he would like everyone to believe. No, it was all an act, another role to play. The real Kuja was anything but a spoiled narcissist. He was awkwardly timid, cowardly, and socially inept, incapable of handling long conversations or pressuring situations. However, Kuja learned quickly that if he wanted anything in the theatre business, he had to act as though it was his to begin with. He reinvented himself and his longstanding deceit eventually became truth in others' eyes—and almost in his own. When the name "Kuja Garland" crossed people's minds, his talent was the first thing that they associated him with; then came his arrogance, and Kuja was perfectly content with that. He didn't care what his alter ego did to his reputation, as long as it got him where he wanted and what he wanted.
He knew one way or another his paths would eventually cross with Kefka Palazzo, but the moment it did, Kuja was nearly at a loss of what to do. He had planned for this encounter for so long. He quickly had to regain his composure and resume his role as the talented and obnoxious star, lest he let the plan he'd been scheming for years be for naught.
After all, Kefka Palazzo was the man who ruined his life and stole everything from him.
It was only natural for Kuja to want to do the same.
With those thoughts in mind, Kuja's resolve became strengthened and firm. Turning around, he returned to the backstage, where he saw his cast members were chatting away like the gossipy hens that they were. Kuja inhaled a breath and allowed his mask to take over him as he greeted them all with an egotistical grin and a narcissistic introduction.
He didn't find Terra Branford back stage. Kuja entertained enough of his cast members—more than either of them would like to bear—to take note of her absence. And, of course, our main heroine is present and accounted for, Kefka had said. Perhaps she was not here; perhaps Kefka was hiding her. Surely, he would have given his precious prima donna her own dressing room and other perks that Kuja and her other co-stars didn't have the luxury to have. Kuja wondered what else Kefka did for Terra behind closed doors and found himself unable to go beyond these suggestive thoughts without feeling deeply unsettled and annoyed.
Kuja scanned the room, feigning boredom and disinterest. "So, where is our leading actress?" he sneered, resting a hand against his hip. "Is she too vain to grace me with her presence?"
"Our leading actress never graces us with her presence off-stage, pretty boy," a cool voice murmured softly to his right. Kuja glanced in the direction of the voice, where he found an attractive woman sitting by a vanity table, applying make-up to her face. Her silver hair rolled off of her shoulders in curls and her eyes were crimson red, clearly decorative lens. She wore a red sweater and a long, flowing black skirt with slick, matching black high heels. She glanced over at Kuja and met his gaze. Kuja remembered this woman when he first entered backstage. She was so wrapped up with herself and appearances that it only reminded Kuja of the mask he was forced to keep up, and he found it tedious to bother with her. Now, he viewed her with newfound intrigue.
"Oh?" Kuja said, approaching the woman. "Then, it seems the leading actress and I rival each other in our vanity. I dislike competition."
"Terra's not vain! Don't say that about her!" a short-tempered boy yelled, confronting them. "Take that back! She isn't anything like you!"
Kuja and the woman turned to face him. Unlike the extravagantly-dressed woman, the boy wore a simple, if not somewhat dirtied, shirt, pants, and shoes. His blond hair was long and unruly and in his hands were some tools and a few planks of wood. Kuja stared at the boy, a little taken by his outburst though nonetheless not amused by it.
The woman gestured the boy away as though she was shooing a fly. "Don't you have better things to do, little knight? Why don't you run to your precious princess then instead of chattering here with us?" she hissed. "Just because the prima donna doesn't mind a sewer rat stagehand for a pet doesn't mean we all do." Flushed with a mixture of embarrassment and irritation, the boy ran off. Kuja raised an eyebrow and looked at the woman, expecting an explanation. The woman sighed and began combing her hair. "Miles Caepe. He's some orphan boy Terra picked off from the streets. She practically begged Kefka to let her keep the kid, and Kefka's not one to deny the girl any toys," the woman explained. "Of course, Kefka dislikes it when somebody starts playing with his toys, so one can only wonder why he even bothered to take the brat in the first place."
Kuja narrowed his gaze. "So, where is our leading actress, then?" he repeated.
The woman eyed Kuja carefully, contemplating whether to reveal that information or not. After a moment's consideration, she relented. "She has a dressing room all to herself in the back of the halls, but no one's allowed there except for Kefka and her little knight," she said. "You'd best stay away from there."
It sounded like more of a warning than friendly advice. "I won't go anywhere that uncivilized child goes," Kuja reassured the woman. "What about the bathroom?" The woman raised an eyebrow. "Some of us like to freshen up ourselves with modesty instead of flaunting it."
The woman repressed a laugh. She put her comb down and pointed towards one of the halls, the hall Kuja had just been in earlier. "You'll find it down the hall other there, pretty boy. Better hurry up before Kefka calls for us."
Kuja smirked and was about to walk there when he looked over his shoulder. "Oh, I didn't catch your name. You've amused me far enough that it'd be an insult not to remember it." Kuja reminded himself that for his plan to succeed, he needed allies to fall back on—and possibly lambs to sacrifice for the slaughter. The woman smiled.
"Cloud of Darkness."
"… I-I beg your pardon?"
"My character's name. Did you even read the script?"
Miles Caepe's face was still warm from Madame Tenébrès' insults when he neared Terra Branford's dressing room. He had gotten so worked up that he had nearly forgotten to take his tools and the planks of wood to the work room. Miles wasn't sure who he was more angered by: Madame Tenébrès or the self-absorbed and self-loving Kuja Garland. He gritted his teeth together. He simply could not stand Terra's name being said in vain, especially by someone who knew nothing about her. That guy… So full of himself… I can't believe he's the one replacing…! Miles' brow furrowed as he frowned and shook the thought away. No, it was no good to think about things that couldn't be changed. He entered Terra's room and closed the door behind her. A few months ago, he would have knocked, but Terra and he have grown so comfortable that neither one of them felt it necessary to do so.
Terra's dressing room was wide and cluttered with colorful objects and materials, beads on nooks and dresses of all sorts of hues visible from her open wardrobe. A bookcase stood beside it filled with books of all sizes. A rug white and thick with fur encompassed her room and matched her vanity table and furniture. Miles liked Terra's room. He didn't necessarily like the choice of theme or colors—those were Kefka's ideas—but it was always a secret hideaway where he could run away from all the repulsed stares and gossiping voices. When Kefka wasn't visiting, Miles thought of Terra's room as a little world where only Terra and he existed. A part of him wished it was. His whole world revolved around her since the day she found him.
Terra found Miles months ago sitting in an alleyway in the rain. Orphaned and resorting to thievery to survive, he was down to his last piece of what resembled bread and was on the brink of fatigue. Miles shivered as his little body could barely give him heat to counter the rain drenching his skin. He had long given up on crying; he was too tired to cry, too tired to move, too tired to continue living. That was when Terra came before him and covered his head with her white parasol. Terra wore a matching white fur coat over a ruffled, blue dress and neatly laced boots. She looked so clean and pure that Miles felt drained with embarrassment that she had to be near something so dirty and unrefined. She squatted next to him and took out a handkerchief. It was decorated in a girlish manner with floral patterns and the like. When Terra reached out to wipe Miles' face, he immediately shifted away from her with wide eyes.
"D-Don't touch me!" he protested in distress. "Y-You'll get yourself dirty, and…"
Terra ignored him and wiped his cheeks anyway. Miles gulped, at a loss of words, and reluctantly let Terra tend to him like a doting mother would to her child. Then she met his eyes and smiled at him, and all of Miles' fears washed away like the dirt smudge on his cheek.
When Kefka finally found his ward, who had somehow waltzed away from his view, she was already attached to the orphan boy and insisted upon nursing him to health and keeping him. Kefka stared at Miles with contempt and disdain—an expression Miles could never fail to forget to this very day—and when Kefka's attempts in persuading Terra otherwise came in vain, he begrudgingly agreed. Ever since then, Miles Caepe has lived in Kefka's mansion with Kefka and Terra in one of the lower quarters while helping out any of Kefka's productions. As much as he abhorred Kefka, Miles knew that he was as much indebted to Terra as he was to Kefka and made sure to do his part. Still, there was an uneasiness that Miles could never shake off if he was ever in the same room as Kefka. The way his snake-like eyes slid under your skin or the way his fingers would never stop twitching and turning disgusted the boy. But what disturbed the boy most of all was Kefka's possessiveness over Terra. There were a few occasions when Miles slipped out of his bedroom to visit Terra, to talk to her or for her to read him one of her stories, only to find her doorway left ajar and the distinct sound of Kefka's voice from inside. Some nights, he would find Kefka brushing Terra's blond hair or murmuring inaudible nonsense into her ears. Other nights, he found find Kefka embracing the girl from behind, his face buried in her hair, his fingers coiling around her waist, his eyes malicious and resembling that of a predator having captured its prey. Terra was limp in Kefka's arms, her eyes in a blank daze, her body lifeless like a puppet on strings. Miles remembered feeling a chill sinking down his spine and goose bumps on his skin. Then, for a split-second, Kefka lifted his head slightly and stared right at the doorway, and Miles was convinced that Kefka had seen him. Ever since he saw that night, Terra's door would remain shut and Miles stopped trying to visit Terra's room at night unless Terra suggested it.
Miles had once sworn to break whatever spell Kefka casted on Terra to make her endure such a twisted obsession without giving it a second glance, but he was well-aware of how crafty and unpredictable Kefka could be. One false step and I'll end up just like… Miles shook the thought out of his head again and turned to find Terra sleeping on her couch.
Whenever Terra wasn't needed on stage, she would return straight to her dressing room. She would busy herself by reading her books or figuring out what costumes to wear. Sometimes, she would sit in a daze and stare aimlessly until she was called for, but most times she would be sleeping. Miles walked over to her and squatted next to her. Terra always looked pretty to Miles, but he thought Terra looked peaceful when she slept and liked that more. A calm expression at ease. It reminded him of the way she smiled at him the day they first met and how his world changed because of her.
Miles shook Terra's shoulder gently. "Terra. Terra, wake up."
Terra turned slightly and murmured something inaudible. A sigh escaped her lips and her eyes finally opened. Miles flinched as he saw a tear roll down her cheek. As he tried to brush it off, Terra sprang at him, clasping his hand with her own as her face was barely inches away from his. Miles' eyes widened in shock and he fell from his squatting position. His heart raced from the brief close proximity.
"T-Terra? W-What's wrong? Are you all right?" he asked, uncertain of what to say or do.
Terra's pupils shifted and her eyes flickered. After a moment passed, she released Miles and drew back from him, stunned and a little alarmed by her actions. "Eh? M-Miles?" she stuttered in surprise. Terra lowered her head and wrapped her arms around herself. "I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me…"
Miles placed his hand over hers in an attempt to reassure her. "Did you have a bad dream?"
"I don't know… I've never had a bad dream before, but… It was scary."
"Bad dreams tend to be scary."
Terra nodded as though she was storing the information away for further reference. "Do dreams have to be scary? Do they… have to be bad?" she asked him.
"Not all dreams are bad or scary. They just… happen." Miles stood up and pulled Terra up with him. "Just try not to think about it, okay? Anyway, Kefka told me to come and get you. We're starting rehearsals soon. Everyone's chatting away. Even the new guy's here already…" Miles grimaced as he realized what he just said, but it was already too late to take back his words.
Terra flinched. "New guy…? You mean… he's been replaced already…?"
"Oh… I see."
Seeing Terra's disheartened face made Miles curse in his head for being so careless. Next time, he would watch what he'd say around her. Miles wanted to do all that he could to comfort her, but talking about it would only make her feel worse. He headed for the doorway. "Come on, we should get going," he said. "Kefka will blame me if you're late."
Terra walked over to her vanity table and seemed to stare at herself, though blank expression made it obvious that her thoughts lied elsewhere. "Could you… go on ahead? I'll be there in a few minutes." She paused. "I'll be fine, Miles. And I won't get you in trouble. So, please."
Miles reluctantly agreed and exited her room. He didn't look back as he entered the hallway.
In the back of Kuja's head, there would always be a scene playing in repeat.
Their footsteps splashing in puddles from the remains of rain. Their cold hands desperately clinging to each other as they ran. Snow had begun to fall.
Over and over again, it would mock him. Over and over again, it would remind him.
Kuja splashed water over his face and stared at himself in a mirror, his hands gripping each side of the sink by his waist. His fingers were still trembling. No matter how much he tried to change himself, he would always be the same. Conversations were still difficult for him to manage, being around others less so. In the public eye, his mask was perfect. Behind closed doors, it shattered almost immediately.
Kuja decided to head back to the stage. He was certain that by asking "Cloud of Darkness"—or "The Woman who didn't have the Decency to Tell Me Her Name," as he would put it—where Terra was, it would give her the impression that he'd go looking for her. So, naturally, Kuja decided to do the complete opposite. He knew that this could have been an opportune moment for him to introduce himself to Kefka's prima donna, but he decided there would be other moments and other times. After all, they were co-stars. They had to see each other eventually. And he wasn't sure if that Miles Caepe was lurking somewhere in the halls or not, and he wasn't lying about abhorring the uncivilized boy's company.
As he exited the bathroom, he felt something hit his shoulder. It was fairly light, but he distinctively felt something. Did someone… just throw something at me? Was it that brat? He looked around, puzzled.
"I-I'm sorry…," a soft voice trailed from behind him.
Kuja raised an eyebrow and turned, only for his eyes to widen and for his breath to stiffen. Standing before him was the prima donna, Terra Branford.