Pairing(s): eventual ZidaneKuja, Zidane Dagger, Blank Marcus
Spoilers: through the end of the game
Disclaimer: "The Show Must Go On" and "Hang On in There" are performed and recorded by Queen. Final Fantasy IX is the creation and property of Square Co., Ltd. This is a not-for-profit fanwork and I do not own any of these characters.

This is a SHONEN-AI fic (male + male romantic relationship). If you are offended by homosexual relationships, please do not read this. Flames will be disregarded.

The Show Must Go On

Prologue: Hang On in There

You are on your own now.
Zidane... take care of Kuja.
... and protect the crystal.

It had started with those four simple words: take care of Kuja.

When Garland's fading voice had delivered that last message in Memoria, Zidane had thought he'd understood the task that lay before him, that it was up to him to take care of Kuja once and for all, to eliminate the threat the older Genome posed to all existence on Gaia.

He'd done his best to hold to that, both he and his friends… They'd confronted Kuja, clashed against him in one last, bitter fight, pushing him to the brink of defeat, before the fearsome mage had unleashed his ultimate spell, intent on taking them out with his last breath…

But they'd survived. And so had Kuja, though they hadn't realized it until later when, despite his injuries, he'd somehow teleported them away from Necron as the godlike entity had corroded, destroying everything in the immediate vicinity as he had faded from their world. Then he'd managed to send one last message to Zidane, faintly bidding him farewell. And Zidane, rash as ever, made his decision…

It should've been simple. Get in, find Kuja, and… well, Zidane hadn't thought past that, actually. Certainly it hadn't been an issue when he'd finally clambered up onto the platform which Kuja had lain. His brother had looked like he was knocking upon death's door: bleeding profusely from a nasty open wound on his left side, the tears in his clothing revealing a multitude of additional cuts and bruises. His skin had been white from blood loss; his silver hair painted with blotches of dark red. If that hadn't been enough, Zidane had known, even if the injuries had somehow been less severe… it wouldn't have mattered. Garland had said Kuja would die soon. And Kuja had expended so much his energy in that final battle; could he even recover from that?

And though it hadn't been the time or place for a heartfelt conversation - the Iifa Tree had been going wild around them – Kuja had been desperate to talk, despite how short and labored each breath had become. He'd asked after Zidane's companions, had spoken of regret… and then he had passed out. For a split second Zidane even thought Kuja had died, just like that. And in that moment, he'd suddenly wondered, had he misunderstood the meaning of those four simple words? Take care of Kuja… And what, help him? Save him?

Then the Iifa Tree's branches suddenly reared up and surged towards them, like angry snakes zeroing in on a meal, and the only thing Zidane could think of doing was throwing himself over the prone body beside him as the world went dark all around them.

Author's Notes:

- A bit of background: I only just played FFIX this past year, however I'd seen the ending (and only the ending) when the game first came out. Zidane's reckless charge into the Iifa Tree to find Kuja really stuck with me even though I didn't understand what was going on, and it somehow lay dormant in the back of my head until my interest in the game resurfaced a few months ago. Long story short, my reason for writing this is I didn't like Kuja's fated ending (this seems to be a reoccurring theme with me), and as most fanfics out there end up inevitably being deathfics, I felt it was up to me to come up with a different outcome.

- While I tried to stay as close to canon as possible, I'm fudging things like the timeline dates and of course the ending:

1) According to the canon timeline, the events in Memoria / the Iifa Tree took place in mid March (though I don't remember the game giving any real indicators of that). But in order for my story to work as planned, I'm pushing it out by about 5 months so that the body of the story will start out in the winter.

2) I'll be using as much of the existing ending as possible. The major difference would be Kuja - and Vivi - surviving (so obviously, Mikoto's soliloquy at the Iifa Tree didn't happen and the same with Vivi's memory in the sky speech. This also means no mini Vivis).

- It's my belief that Kuja, Zidane and Mikoto are not genetically siblings in canon, going by the English version of the game. I base this off a few quotes: 1) Garland telling Zidane, "The one I sent to Gaia might also be called your brother…" and 2) Zidane saying of Mikoto, "She's kinda like my little sister." If they were siblings I would think it'd read more like "The one I sent to Gaia is your brother" and "She's my little sister." So to me, "brother" in this case is more like fellow countryman, that sort of thing.

Thanks for reading; chapter 1 is pretty much written and should be posted in a few days, however I wanted to get the prologue up to get things rolling. Reviews are always appreciated (well, not that there's much to say about a prologue), especially as this is my first foray into this fandom.