A/N: For Ali, who is a bee.
Queen Of Hearts
Setzer Gabbiani had, in his early days, staked out many a young woman's bathroom, but that had been in his misbegotten youth which was only remembered when he was drunk and maudlin through a rose-coloured haze of parties and airships. He had since stopped; women grew old - women died - bodies were fleeting - but poker lived for ever.
And then The Idea had grown in him.
Edgar, he'd sometimes asked, all whiskey-velvet - you know of any monsters that'd pluck a lady's eyes right from her skull and wear them themselves?
Hell's fucking bells, Setzer! the King had replied. What on the goddess' green earth made you so morbid? So he had stopped asking.
He'd one day thought about the odds of Daryl surviving that 'ship crash, down down down into that white-hot flower of crimson and fragments and noise. Those tiny numbers had dwindled over the years into abject nothing.
And then one day he'd watched the way it - she - he - stood, shapeless and lumpy, mass of hilarious gypsy patches and colours in the sulfurous light of his stateroom. Gogo stood with one foot very lightly turned out to it's - her - his - right hip, shoulders sunken as if moving was like knives. The light could not burn within Gogo's eyes, shadowed as they were; but something in the shine of them made him stop still, never wanting to move again and not knowing why.
The more he watched the less the mime was there. Gogo slipped into the shadows, avoided his gaze, trudged farthest from him on the battlefield. When casual inquiry as to the whereabouts of it - her - him - was asked one night, the surprising answer was: /the bathroom/.
"The bathroom?" Locke voiced his own doubtful surprise, reclining upon Setzer's antique chaise-longue in manner distinctly ungraceful. "Whaddya think it's doing in there - primping?" And then Locke and Sabin doubled over laughing, because almost getting killed each day and coming back ice-bone exhausted made even Locke's jokes strangely funny.
The bathroom. Setzer just walked away. The stakes were too high. The risk wasn't worth it. He knew it wasn't worth it -
Which made no difference because his damned fool backside was there, the next few days, body in the crawlspace as he felt like the most undignified kind of sexual deviant. Gogo was going to inevitably look like a Mad Oscar and hugely displeased that Setzer had espied it bathing.
For bathing it was. With one heavily-gloved hand, slightly hesitant upon the tap as if it might break it, it - she - he - had started the flow of hot water. Did Mad Oscars bathe? The door had been locked; dissatisfied with key, Gogo had stopped up the keyhole with wax-paper, taken the wicker chair and propped it up underneath the handle as extra line of defense.
And then it started to /undress/.
Twelve scarves. (His heart pounded so loudly in his chest he could have forked it out with his penknife; he was sure that the mime could hear its beating. /Quiet. Just... quiet, capische?/) A yard of spotted, dirty chintz. It was like watching a fat caterpillar shed off skin; a stuffed chair pulling out the mass of hair padding. Another yard of what looked like vermillion moth-eaten velvet. (Stunted, for a Mad Oscar.) Four pairs of dirty gloves; bandages, bandages, bandages, and -
- one small hand.
One fur-trimmed cloak. One shoulder; one horrifically scarred shoulder, all shiny flame-leavings and some jagged mark that looked like bone fragments had come through the skin. Red, white, red, white, just like some kind of piebald chocobo. Those dozens of tiny satchels, tumbling to the ground like shelled peas. Fringed paisley shawl - a shoulderblade, fletched with burns -
Gogo turned, in profile, unwinding mouldering ribbons. One breast; the other was a slightly mangled mess, part-gone, a volcano of scars. Her skin was patchy-cracked in places. Her. Her. Unwinding of checked cloth; her knees had seen better days. She'd lost two toes. (He was a gibbering mess by this point.)
What finally sank into the bath with a barely audible sigh had no helmet and cockade, had a nose that had been broken and no wealth of golden curls. There was a fine skullcap of dandelion fuzz on Gogo's head, pale and sweet, not quite hiding scars from wounds that should have dashed her brains out. He'd thought his heart was beating; now he realized that it was broken, and that his fingers had scratched in silence against the crawlspace until the nails had split and bled, watching the long-limbed vague wreck of a woman's body lay down in hot scented water with obvious and palpable relief. (So he sucked in a breath he hadn't even realized he had forgotten to take. One queen and all small change. Fine hand he'd picked.)
Daryl stopped all over, like a spell had been cast, body paralysed in the water. She moved like - different - perhaps not his Daryl, but -
"Gabbiani," she said, and her voice was like honey and nails and tiredness, "get your fuckin' self out of that damned gap and show your lyin' eyes."
Fine enough to get in a crawlspace. Harder to get out. She might have laughed, had her face not been stonier than the quarries of Hell when he crawled on his knees to the tubside.
"You bastard," she grated; - and she was not angry, just very very exhausted. Her eyes were clenched shut, as if opening them might mean death or worse. "You fuckin' bastard."
"/Prediletto/, I - "
"Watchin' a, a l-lady at her ablutions, in her own be-damned bathroom! Does your hand not work!"
"/Tesoro mio/, please - "
"I've been longin' to say this, and you did an awful job on the engines here, buster! Talk about messin' up my baby. Restored! Pah! Who restored it, an Osteosaur?"
There was a deep, horrendous scar over her right eyelid; like claws or knives or worse. Even her lips were starbursts of little white fingers, paler than pink, that firm little chin scraped to old graze by something long ago. She opened her eyes and they were baby-blue like the sky after a thunderstorm, cloudless and washed-out and for ever.
"I thought your number was up, ladybird," he said, and he tried to be flippant but he failed miserably and for ever.
"It was up, Gabbiani. Snake eyes. I crashed and burned."
"Daryl," he said slowly, "You are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, so I swear on my mama's grave - "
"Don't you bring your mama into this!" she flared. "I'm glad she's dead so she can't be seeing me like I am now, y'hear? Shit me the sky, Setzer, look at me!"
"I am looking," he snapped back, equally ferocious. "Couple of dents here and there, but the paint job is still /tres magnifique/. Why didn't you come home?"
"Because I'm not me any more," she rasped. "I - my head - I've gone /funny/, Gabbiani, not funny-ha-ha but funny /weird/, funny in my head, funny in my hands and feet and my blood and everywhere and you see the way I move now, copycat - "
If she moved funny now, she still was too slow to dodge his kiss, planted squarely on that scar-latticed white mouth with his long pale hair dipping in the water and his sleeves all wet from grabbing her shoulders. He kissed her vengeance for the year he couldn't find her; he kissed her punishment for flying too high.
"You taste like self-pity, sweetest of hearts," he said afterwards, with his coat quite soaked and her eyes damp. "You always were one hell of a piece of work. Won't you come home now?"
"If we live through this?" Her hand swept around the bathroom, all around Kefka and the World of Ruin, bitter and grand. "I'll be in your kitchen and bake you a pie."
"I only stopped loving you once."
"When I knew you weren't going to come home."
"I only stopped lovin' you once."
"When I knew I couldn't."
And - that was enough.
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