Final Fantasy - All Series Fan Fiction ❯ Sympathy for the Damned ❯ Part 26 ( Chapter 26 )
"Sympathy for the damned"
The poor guards didn't know what to do. They were trained to guard against assassination attempts in the audience chamber, not to stop a well-known friend of their rulers and a guest from killing one another. Before they could even begin to ask for instructions, Freya leaped high in the air and drew her long spear. She crossed the distance between herself and Kuja in that one leap, and the sharp point of her spear was at the sorcerer's throat before the guards could fumble their own swords out of the scabbards. Usually, weapons weren't allowed in the royal audience chamber, but Garnet and Zidane's friends were always the exception. Both of them insisted that their close friends shouldn't be stripped of any of their gear when visiting, as it might imply a lack of trust. Both King and Queen trusted their old adventure companions exponentially…even the perpetually grumpy Amarant.
"Freya, no! Let us explain!" Zidane shouted as he leaped out of his seat. He didn't dare rush to Kuja's aid, for he could see the mad gleam of vengeance in Freya's eyes, and he feared that any move to disarm her would make her strike in her excitement.
"Explain? There is nothing to explain!" She growled as she pressed the tip of her weapon against Kuja's creamy throat and drew a drop of blood. "This one has returned and managed to play on your sympathies, Zidane! Ever has your kindness misguided you, but I shall have my revenge for all that he has done to my people!"
Kuja held his hands out, and rather than the caustic remark or threat everyone expected for him to come out with, he merely said, "Do continue."
Momentarily taken aback by the genome's casual invitation for death, Freya stared into Kuja's eyes. "Don't think that I won't! You are a fiend who deserves death!"
"I agree wholeheartedly. Take your revenge, knight."
Zidane cast a wild look around the room, feeling like this all had to be some kind of horrible nightmare. Amarant sat casually, with his arms crossed over his chest. There would be no help forthcoming from him. Zidane could tell that the monk was more curious to see what Freya would do than anything else. He would neither impede nor encourage her.
"Freya, listen to me," Zidane pleaded desperately, "Kuja's done a lot of things to a lot of people, but he wasn't acting entirely on his own. You were there when we met Garland. You know he created all of us genomes for his own purpose. I might have become just like Kuja, if he hadn't done some of the things he did! I know Kuja's methods were evil, but the only thing he really wanted was to save his own soul! He acted out of fear, and he's trying to make up for all that!"
Freya hadn't moved. She still stared deeply into Kuja's hopeless, lost blue eyes, and it wasn't Zidane's words she was listening to. She knew the sort of pain that was in the sorcerer's eyes all too well. It was the pain of love and loss, and it was probably the worst pain imaginable. Finally, after taking a good, long look at him to be certain the agony looking back at her wasn't feigned, Freya lowered her spear.
"Somehow, you've gotten a heart," she whispered, "and it has been broken. No revenge I take would be greater than that. I shall punish you by allowing you to live with your pain, Kuja." Then she bowed formally, replaced her spear in the holder that was strapped to her back, and walked to the exit. Over her shoulder, she said to Zidane and Garnet; "I shall be in the dining hall. I hope that you will have the good sense to keep him out of my sight while I am visiting, for I do not wish for our friendship to be jeopardized by my hatred for him."
Amarant stood up, stretched, and followed her out of the audience chamber without saying a word. Zidane hurried to Kuja, who had fallen to his knees and put his face in his hands. "Are you okay?" he asked uncertainly when he saw that the sorcerer's body was trembling.
"I was ready to die," came the muffled response. "She was right, Zidane. Letting me live was the best revenge she could hope for."
Garnet approached and knelt beside the two of them. She hesitantly reached out and stroked Kuja's soft, pale hair. When he didn't resist, she put her arms around him. "There now, it will be all right," she murmured when he began to weep in earnest. He didn't fight her as she hugged him closer and combed her fingers through his hair soothingly. Zidane rubbed his shoulder and looked at Garnet helplessly. The concern in her eyes matched his. What more could they do? How could they make their friends understand what they knew about Kuja? He could have easily harmed or killed Freya when she threatened him, but he hadn't.
"She'll just have to live with it," Zidane said at length, reading the question in his wife's eyes. "Freya can be kind of cold, but she's always stood for justice above anything else. I think she'll eventually come `round and see that Kuja isn't as evil as we all thought he was."
"Oh, thanks," Kuja said sarcastically, his voice muffled against Garnet's flowing dress, "I feel so much better, now that I know you don't think I'm AS evil as I used to be."
Zidane couldn't help but grin as he pulled the other genome away from his wife's shoulder and cupped his face. "See, now I know you're feeling better. Don't take it the wrong way, Kuja. You're just kind of hard for most of us to understand. But look, Dagger was just hugging you, so that should tell you something! You aren't a villain, Kuja. Not anymore."
Kuja looked at Garnet inquiringly, a little surprised himself by her attempts to comfort him. "What have you to say of all this, canary? Did you really do that because you no longer see a monster when you look at me?"
She furrowed her brows and tried to think of an explanation. "I have never seen a `monster' when I look at you, Kuja. I've seen a wicked man who was a bit of a narcissist, but not some vile mutation. Now I see a person with a lot of pain, who needs to be shown there are people who care about him."
Kuja's look became, if anything, more surprised. "You care about me? YOU? I knew Zidane did, but I assumed you were only being so kind to me because you love him."
Garnet sighed and smirked sidelong at her husband, who was smiling at her. "Well, I suppose at first, I was only doing it for Zidane. I've had time to observe you and speak with you since, and I've become convinced that there is hope for you, yet. So, in answer to your question…yes. I am guilty of the crime of caring for you, Kuja."
He blushed suddenly and lowered his gaze. "I don't think I deserve it, you know."
"Probably not, but what's done is done," she retorted with a twinkle in her eye.
He sniffled and tried to tidy himself up by brushing his fingers through his hair and straightening his skimpy clothing. "What a mess I must appear," he mumbled. He seemed embarrassed by his emotional outburst. "I promise, from now on I'll follow protocol and request an audience before coming. I should have considered that there are people who would still delight in killing me."
Garnet nodded, but her smile faded. "That's a very good idea. Tell me, how would you like to go to Treno for a few days? We can't let you go without an escort, but you can visit the opera and the auction house while you're there."
Kuja gave both of them a sly look. "Ah, to keep me away from Miss Vengeance, I take it?"
Zidane grimaced. "Yeah, well…it's nothing personal, Kuja. We really do want to give you a vacation, but we had to speed things up when we got word that Freya was coming for a visit. She showed up sooner than we expected, though."
"I understand. Yes, I'd like to see Treno again. Having guards with my might cramp my style, however…"
Garnet cleared her throat. "Kuja-" she said warningly.
He chuckled. "Very well. However, I get to dress them! If I'm to have guards following me around, they must be fashionable."
Zidane rolled his eyes, but in truth, it was good to see some of the despair leaving the other genome. "I think that's the best we can get out of him, sweetheart," he said to Garnet.
She smiled in amusement and nodded. "If that will make you happy, Kuja, then by all means, select their wardrobe. Just try not to dress them in clothing like your own. They would be too embarrassed to do their jobs properly!"
He huffed. "As if I would waste such fabulous outfits on mere guardsmen! They haven't the attitude or the bodies to wear my clothing well."
Freya was more forgiving than Zidane had expected, once they sat down at the long table to join her and Amarant and explained that they were sending him to Treno for the duration of their stay.
"I'm not wholly opposed to reforming the wicked, Zidane," she explained as she selected a baked turkey leg and some scalloped potatoes from the banquet set out for them. "My surprise at seeing him and my fury clouded my common sense. After reflecting on it, I realize that you and Dagger never would have taken him in if you believed he was a lost cause."
"Thank you for your trust in us," Garnet said sincerely. "I had my doubts at first, but I truly believe that Kuja is on his way to becoming a decent person." She wouldn't say "good", because the word just didn't fit in any version of Kuja that she had known.
Freya nodded in understanding. "It will take time, for me. You chose wisely in sending him away while I'm visiting, and I thank you for considering my feelings. Perhaps one day, I shall be able to look upon Kuja with new eyes and see him as the two of you obviously do."
"Should have just killed him," Amarant said casually as he bit into a steaming ear of corn.
Garnet glared at the monk. "It would have been a travesty of justice, and Freya knows it! Even she could see the wrongness of such an action, as rightfully angry as she was at the sight of him. Why can't you?"
Amarant shrugged and swallowed the bite of food before replying. "I never said I couldn't see it. I just know how long Freya's itched to plunge her spear into that one. I would have liked to see her satisfied."
"Whatever the cost, eh?" Garnet prodded with a sneer.
"Yeah, that's right."
Freya merely smiled at the monk, quite used to his demeanor. It was as close as Amarant was going to get to admitting he cared for her, and she appreciated his sentiments, if not his rather callous words. "Rest assured, I am satisfied that Kuja suffers as he deserves, my friend."
Amarant shrugged again. "If you say so."
Freya nodded. "I do." She turned back to Zidane. "Tell me, how did Kuja come to be here in the first place? How long have you been sheltering him?"
"I wouldn't say `sheltering'," Garnet broke in. "We've been guarding him. I want to be sure he's not a danger to others, or to himself, before I let him go where he pleases."
"He could have escaped by now, if he wanted to," Zidane put in. "He hasn't even tried, and he's been trying to be helpful, too. I think that says a lot."
Seeing the doubt in Freya's expression, Zidane sighed and told her the whole story. He told her about the nightmares he had, he told her how Kuja came through the portal, and how Dr. Tot was the first to realize that the sorcerer could be suicidal. When it was finished, even Amarant appeared thoughtful.
"So, that's why he did not fight me," Freya mused. "It's an interesting tale, Zidane. I wonder how much of it is true and how much of it was fabricated by Kuja's delusional mind."
"Well, he was on another world…that's for certain. Dr. Tot checked out the dirt that was on him and said it wasn't native to Gaia or Terra. As for his friend Sephiroth, I thought the guy sounded pretty unreal with Kuja's description of him, but now I'm not sure. He didn't fall for a figment of his imagination."
"I agree with that point, Zidane," Freya replied. "Sephiroth must certainly exist, or at least he used to. Whether or not he was everything Kuja claims is another matter, but he must be real. I have doubts over the man's ability to fly at will and near invulnerability, however. Perhaps Kuja imagined all that because he needed a hero. The feats of those we are in love with always seem larger than what they really are."
Amarant snorted again, and Zidane realized the man was snickering. "What's so funny?" he asked in annoyance.
The monk was happy to share his amusement. "First, he's in love with a man. That's hilarious. Second, the guy can fly, has two personalities and is damn near invulnerable. Sounds almost like Kuja, if you get my meaning. You could have used that same description for him a few years ago. There's the answer to your riddle, folks. The freak is in love with himself!" Amarant laughed louder and took a drink from his mug of ale.
"Oh, please…he is NOT in love with himself," Garnet said crossly. Then she thought on this and amended, "Or perhaps he is, but the man he's pining over isn't found in his mirror every day. If it was, then Kuja wouldn't be having this problem."
At any other time, Zidane could have appreciated the joke, but the very real depression that Kuja was going through right now made it anything but funny. "Sephiroth is real," he insisted with a glare, "He may not be alive any more, and he may not be the super hero Kuja's made him out to be, but I know he isn't just made up or another aspect of Kuja."
"Lighten up," Amarant said when they all frowned at him. "You all would have laughed at that, not so long ago. You know it, too."
"I wouldn't have," Freya insisted.
"Well, no. You've never had a sense of humor," Amarant shot back.
She punched him in the arm.
-To be continued