Final Fantasy - All Series Fan Fiction ❯ Sympathy for the Damned ❯ Part 20 ( Chapter 20 )
"Sympathy for the Damned"
It didn't take long for Kuja to decide that this day was going on record as The Most Exhausting Day of his life. The temperature wasn't so bad starting out, but as noon approached, it rose uncomfortably. The bright sun was hurting the genome's sensitive eyes and giving him a headache, sand and dust particles kept getting under his clothes and making him itch, and he kept slipping everytime they went into a sandy area and had to climb a dune. He had worn the soft leather boots with the hard soles, as Sephiroth had suggested. Now he understood why. They were plain in comparison to the other two pairs he owned, but they fit snugly on his feet and didn't rub back and forth as he walked. Blisters still formed on the poor sorcerer's feet, but he imagined they could have been much worse.
Sephiroth kept good on his promise to "drill him hard". He sternly rationed the water, and as a result, the drinks that Kuja was allowed to have did little to quench his thirst. Sephiroth's long legs had a greater stride than the shorter genome, and he mercilessly prodded Kuja to keep up the pace.
Kuja was in excellent shape, but he was unused to such a steady, unbroken pace. Twice before noon hit, they were attacked by abominations that managed to get close enough to them. Sephiroth dispatched the demons with ease that made Kuja feel useless (both times, he didn't even get the chance to draw his weapon before the monsters were cut down). In daylight, the creatures looked human from a distance, but up close they looked like severe burn victims. Their features were so disfigured and scarred that even if they were meant to look like someone from either man's past, they wouldn't be recognizable. Kuja theorized that their shape changing powers could only be used at night.
Kuja trudged on, sometimes having to jog a few paces to keep up with his tall companion. He was proud of himself, for though he ached all over and his side felt like it was in a permanent knot, he didn't complain out loud. Of course, he was getting closer and closer to collapsing. Gritting his teeth, he pushed himself and remained determined to be stoic about all this.
Just when Kuja thought he couldn't go on any longer, Sephiroth stopped abruptly. The exhausted sorcerer was staring dully at his feet instead of watching where he was going, and he walked right into the other man's back. Sephiroth turned around and grasped his shoulders to steady him. "We can rest here for a little while," the swordsman said. He studied his companion carefully, noting the flush on the pale skin beneath the layer of sunblock. Kuja nodded dully, staring straight ahead.
"Here, sit against this boulder," Sephiroth murmured, guiding the genome's faltering steps to the shade. He helped Kuja to sit down, noting the way his legs trembled. Sephiroth squatted down in front of his companion and unfastened his canteen. He opened it and brought it to Kuja's cracked lips. "Drink."
Kuja blinked at the warrior, his slowed thoughts taking a moment to digest the words. Sephiroth cupped the genome's chin and gently tilted his head back, and then he raised the container and let some water drip out onto the sorcerer's lips. Kuja grabbed for the canteen and began to gulp the liquid desperately. "Easy, Kuja…not too much."
Now that he was in a cooler spot and resting, his senses were returning. Kuja stared at Sephiroth in shock. The swordsman's voice was gentle and concerned, which wasn't like Sephy at all. The emerald eyes were narrowed against the sunlight, but soft on him. Sephiroth wasn't unaffected by the march, Kuja noted. A sheen of perspiration made his skin glisten, and damp tendrils of silver hair had escaped from the braid and were clinging to his face. His breathing was heavier than usual, but he was holding up far better than Kuja was.
"I'm all right," Kuja said in a scratchy voice. He tried to smile reassuringly, but he ended up wincing when the motion pulled his lips taut and caused some cracks to break open. "Ouch."
Sephiroth frowned and reached a gloved hand out to brush his fingertips lightly over the chapped lips. He left the canteen in Kuja's hands with a warning look that said he expected the genome to drink sparingly, and he pulled the backpack off his shoulders and began to go through it.
"What are you looking for?" Kuja asked dully. He felt like all the life was draining out of him.
Sephiroth didn't answer, but he produced a tiny jar from within the confines of the backpack after searching for a bit. He used his teeth to pull one of his gloves off, and then he unscrewed the little jar. Kuja watched with a curled lip as Sephiroth collected a little glob of ointment from the jar with the tip of his pointer finger. "I don't want any more mystery fluids smeared on my face," the genome said stubbornly.
Sephiroth smiled crookedly. "Not even if it will stop those cracks from ravaging your lips?"
Kuja licked said lips, wincing at the sting. "What is it?"
"It's just balm. It's mostly oils and beeswax. It'll ease the sting and help stop the chapping, if you let me put it on you."
Kuja looked at the shiny smear on his lover's finger and almost refused, but his mouth hurt so bad that he decided a little more goo on his skin wouldn't kill him. After all, he had been smeared with plenty of other things in his life. He nodded his compliance and pursed his lips for Sephiroth. The swordsman smiled and gently ran his finger over the abused lips, spreading the balm carefully.
"Better?" he inquired when he was finished.
Kuja pressed his lips together experimentally, relieved that there was no taste or smell to the ointment. It was actually soothing, and the sting did lessen as promised. "Yes, it is. Thank you, Sephy."
Sephiroth shrugged and scooted into place beside him. Kuja handed the canteen to him, and he took a few drinks and replaced the lid, then slid it back into the holder attached to his belt. He applied some of the balm to his own lips and put the tiny jar into a pocket, rather than the backpack. "We can't afford to rest for long," he said as he squinted at the blurry horizon, "sitting still for longer than a few minutes will give them time to focus on our location. Try to eat something, to keep up your strength."
Kuja grimaced, not feeling hungry at all in the heat of the day, but he knew that Sephiroth was right. With an uninterested sigh, he shifted and removed his own light backpack. After digging through it for a moment, he found some wrapped cheese. It was soft, but easy on the stomach. He nibbled at it and watched the clouds drift by. After a moment, he frowned. "Sephiroth, I think there could be a storm approaching." He gestured towards the mountains that they were heading for (which didn't look much closer now than they did when they first started out). Angry storm clouds were gathering over the dark peaks, and lighting could be seen flashing within the mass. Kuja wondered why so many storm fronts seemed to come from that direction, but he had other things to worry about.
"I know. The cloud cover might provide us with cooler temperatures, though." Sephiroth replied in an unconcerned voice.
"Yes, but what if it isn't just the time of day that determines how strong the demons are? What if their weakness is specifically linked to sunlight?" Kuja glanced around nervously, but so far, there were no signs of the manifestations. "Wouldn't a heavy cloud cover give them extra strength? I mean, considering that the sunlight wouldn't be shining on them?"
Sephiroth stopped chewing and looked at Kuja with pensive eyes. "That's a very valid question. I honestly never studied it that extensively before, but I'm afraid your theory is probably right." He replaced his rations and got to his feet, scanning the area warily. "Take a short nap, Kuja. We've got approximately twenty minutes to rest up and get moving again."
"I don't think I can sleep, Sephiroth. Not while I know those things could sneak up on us while we're resting."
"They won't. I'll stand guard."
Kuja shook his head. "That's hardly fair to you. You need rest too."
Sephiroth glanced down at the genome and smiled slightly. "You're in worse shape than I am. I'm used to patrols and can go without rest for a substantial amount of time before it starts to effect me. Trust me, Kuja."
The sorcerer sighed and wriggled against the hard rock, trying to get comfortable. "Okay, but if you change your mind, I'm willing to trade with you. Remember that we're relying on your fighting skills to get through this. I…I'm not nearly as skilled as you are in combat."
Sephiroth's grin broadened. "Now I know you aren't feeling well. You've just admitted you aren't the best at something."
"Oh, piss off," Kuja snapped half-heartedly, trying to keep a straight face. He harrumphed and crossed his arms over his chest as he lowered his head and closed his eyes. He didn't need to see his lover to know that the man was laughing silently at him.
Kuja mumbled and squirmed in a fitful sleep, and Sephiroth finally lowered himself beside the genome again, confident that he could detect any of the clumsy predators approaching even if he wasn't standing at a better vantage point. He watched Kuja's half-painted face screw up with discomfort, and without even thinking about it, he slid his arm between the smaller young man's back and the boulder that it rested against. He pulled Kuja close, providing the genome with more comfortable support to rest against.
Kuja sighed and allowed the swordsman to guide him onto his side. Soon, Sephiroth's thighs were pillowing the genome's head, and his long, gloved fingers were stroking the scarf covering his hair. Kuja fell into a more relaxed sleep, and his tail swished lazily in the sand. Sephiroth watched the landscape with militant alertness, but he continued to caress his napping lover. He glanced down at Kuja occasionally and admired his disheveled profile, even though it was smudged with sunblock and showing mild signs of early sunburn. Even when he was at his worst, the sorcerer managed to look youthfully beautiful.
"We'll get there, Kuja," Sephiroth promised in a bare whisper. "You're going home. If I never do anything good again in my life, at least I can do this."
Kuja slept on, unable to hear the soft promise. He smiled in his sleep and cuddled closer to his companion, dreaming of dinner parties and showing all of his high society associates the gorgeous, silver haired man he had brought home with him. Of course, Sephiroth was wearing a suit of Kuja's own design…one that hugged all the right places and teased everyone with a hint of how beautiful the body underneath was. After the parties, they would retire to his suite in Treno and make love all night long. Somehow, a gaggle of children with hair of varying shades of silver and white appeared in the dream, and Kuja frowned in his sleep. "Go `way," he mumbled as the little terrors giggled and crowded him and Sephiroth, just as they were trying to get into bed. Where did they come from? Some had tails like his and some didn't.
Kuja swatted clumsily at the air, grumbling for the kids to get out of his way and leave him in peace. They vanished, and he smiled again and sighed happily. Sephy was removing his clothes and flashing a bright, inviting smile at him now. "We'll order room service in the morning," Kuja told his lover as they came together.
Sephiroth stared down at the murmuring genome, lifting one silvery brow as he tried to make sense of what Kuja was saying. The genome said; "Crumpets!" in a delighted tone, and then he went silent and fell into a deeper sleep.
Sephiroth shook his head and grinned. "Yes, you'll have all the crumpets you want…whatever the hell those are." He patted Kuja's hip and shifted into a more comfortable position. He had no idea what the sorcerer could have been dreaming about, but it was entertaining to listen to him mutter in his sleep and watch him swat at the air. It helped to lighten the black mood that was trying to descend upon Sephiroth.
-To be continued