General Leo wasn’t a big drinker, but after a week spent in close proximity to Kefka, he was starting to appreciate the relaxing qualities of alcohol. The two of them had been sent to Narshe for a simple talk concerning the town’s mining supplies and the possibility of handing them over to the Empire. It was supposed to be a peaceful affair (the very reason Leo couldn’t comprehend why the Emperor had sent Kefka along to begin with), and as such, Leo had to remind the other man a dozen times and more not to point out the fact that the people of Narshe really had no choice in the matter. While such a statement was certainly true, it was best if they at least thought they were relinquishing their resources of their own free will, no matter how much faster Kefka’s own, far more blunt, tactics were. At this point, however, the General was seriously considering letting the man have his way so they could just get the whole matter over and done with. The Emperor certainly couldn’t say Leo hadn’t tried, and no one could really be put at fault for any actions they might commit when they were forced to spend more than ten minutes in that man’s company.
Yes, this was supposed to be a peaceful affair, and while their talks with the mayor of Narshe went as well as could be expected with Kefka in the room, Leo’s free time was anything but. When they had first arrived in Narshe, they were met with the unpleasant news that only one room remained at the inn, causing his clown of a companion to threaten to burn the place down if another room wasn’t made available, no matter what method was used to make this happen, and Leo was tempted to allow the man’s tirade to run its course, but he couldn’t help but take pity on the innkeeper, who looked like he wanted very badly to hide behind the counter and cry. Somehow Leo was able to soothe Kefka’s rage (compassion for another human being was a double-edged sword sometimes), and he resigned himself to a fate quite possibly worse than death. (Now, of course, if he had then found that the room had only one bed, Leo would have likely hung himself right then and there. And he was certain Kefka would have been more than happy to prepare the noose.)
After a battle over who would take what bed (which really went on for far longer than it should have, considering Leo had given in immediately), and after yet another threat to burn the inn to the ground when Kefka discovered that the place had only one bathroom, he was then subjected to the man’s humming as he went about brushing the hair of a doll he had, for some reason, brought along, only to be stalked out the door when he tried to excuse himself for a walk, a walk that involved Kefka whining about how cold it was outside and how much he resented Leo for making him be out here.
Leo could understand how a man could be driven to murder.
And if he had expected nighttime to bring any relief, he was sorely mistaken when he was kept up half the night listening to Kefka talk in his sleep, all the while being stared at by the doll the man had left (purposely) facing him and propped up against the lamp of their shared night table. And when Leo did manage to fall asleep, he would only be woken up again at the most ungodly hour of the night when the man had one of his apparently frequent nightmares. Perhaps his earlier musings of hanging wasn’t such a bad idea, after all, and he didn’t necessarily have to be the one with the noose around his neck for it to be effective.
The days that followed weren’t any better, and after Kefka nearly succeeded in making good on his threat to burn the inn down just yesterday when he was sent into a panic over a spider, followed by a night where Leo was nearly smothered to death when the man held a pillow over his face because of his snoring (sleeping was hard enough lately without having to worry he might not wake from it), the General had, at long last, managed to elude him by hiding out in one place he knew the man wouldn’t go. Kefka didn’t drink (and thus was fully to blame for his behavior), and he sported an apparent lack of interest of any kind in women, and so with no shortage of urgency, Leo ducked into the local tavern to see if that would give him the peace he so desperately needed.
The evening started out hopeful enough. Leo ordered himself a mug of ale (in preparation for his eventual return to the inn) and was in the middle of picking at a plate of mutton that was a bit on the tough side when a high-pitched voice spoke up behind him.
“Tsk tsk, Leo. I didn’t know a goody-goody like you was into booze.”
Kefka strode around the table in a flash of color before nearly falling into the seat across from him, grinning the usual insane grin that was currently a touch on the smug side.
“What do you want?” Leo asked, suddenly finding it rather difficult to swallow his food with the attention his unwanted companion had brought upon himself. If they spoke, people would actually think he was with this man, and it didn’t help that they’d be right.
“What makes you think I want anything?” Kefka asked, as he leaned back so far in his seat that it nearly tipped over. Unfortunately, he managed to catch himself just in time.
“Well, in that case, I’m currently in the middle of something.”
“I don’t think getting drunk counts.”
Kefka reached across the table and slid Leo’s plate over to him. Not that it mattered, though. There was something about the sight of that man’s garishly painted face that was enough to make him lose his appetite. Kefka extended one arm again with the palm facing up, and after staring at it and trying to derive some meaning from the gesture, Leo handed over his utensils.
“What is it?”
“I hate mutton.” Kefka proceeded to poke at the offending meat with his stolen fork. “Why do they always have to put so much gravy on everything?”
“I really couldn’t tell you.”
Kefka got to work meticulously wiping the gravy off the meat with the side of his fork, grumbling incoherently under his breath all the while, but at least his pale eyes were no longer directed at him, and Leo’s attention turned to seeking out the waitress so that he could get another mug of ale as quickly as possible.
“Do you have any idea how long it took me to find you, Leo?”
“I really wasn’t in much of a mood to go searching for you, either, not after I hardly slept last night, thanks to your idiotic snoring. And I nearly got frost bite.” Kefka paused in his efforts to make the meat more palatable to look up at him. “And I fell down some steps.”
Without any hint of humor in his voice, Kefka said, “You should be.”
Leo remained silent as his clownish companion went back to assaulting the meal Leo had wasted a good 20 gil on.
“I really don’t know how much longer I can stand your snoring, Leo. It’s not like I keep you up at night.”
Leo bit back a retort that had been boiling about inside him for a good week now, instead settling with a response that was much less satisfying, but far safer. Admit it, Leo, you’re a bloody coward. “Well, in that case, I just won’t snore tonight.”
Kefka glared at him. “This isn’t a joke, Leo. If I have to listen to you snore one more night, well…” He started to giggle as a wicked grin spread across his painted, white face. “It’s much more fun if it’s a surprise.”
Leo was far too familiar with Kefka’s surprises. They usually resulted in rather painful trips to the infirmary. They were always surprising, however.
Before the General could contemplate too much over what Kefka’s barely-veiled threat might involve, and whether or not it included fire, the man spoke up again as he leaned in close to his plate to pick gravy from each and every crevasse of the mutton with one prong of his fork.
“And do you know what else I hate, Leo?”
“No.” Yes, he did. Everything.
“I hate the children here, Leo.”
By now, Leo had given up trying to call the waitress over, who, unless he was mistaken, seemed to be purposely avoiding him now. It wasn’t like he needed to subject another human being to this insanity anyway. Plus, ordering more ale would most likely, definitely, only strengthen Kefka’s newfound conviction that he was an alcoholic. Which wouldn’t really be a bad vice, compared to some, however, because it would, at least, have the benefit of shortening his lifespan.
The General rubbed his forehead with one hand. “I’m pretty sure we have those in Vector, too.”
“Not like these, we don’t. These grimy, little brats don’t even know who I am. They don’t scatter like roaches when I show up like the ones in Vector do. Do you know what happened just the other day? A group of them actually laughed at me. They actually had the nerve to point and laugh.”
“And so, what did you do?” He had already heard this story, but he might as well ask. The man obviously planned on telling him again anyway.
“I screamed at them and described all the things I’d do to them if they didn’t get out of my sight at once.” Kefka began forming the gravy into a moat around his pilfered mutton, and Leo winced whenever the fork screeched against the metal of his plate. “Their parents weren’t too pleased.”
Leo arched an eyebrow. “No, I wouldn’t think they would be.” The distinct feeling of being watched caused him to glance over, and he found his suspicions to be correct when he found two people staring at them from a table nearby. He looked away. If Kefka wasn’t so loud, it may have been possible to get away with relatively few people catching them speaking to each other. But, if Kefka wasn’t so loud, it also wouldn’t have been quite as objectionable being associated with him, either.
“And it doesn’t help that I’m bored out of my mind, and you’re absolutely impossible to live with.”
Leo blinked at him. “Excuse me?”
Kefka threw his fork down onto the table with a clatter. “You heard me. I don’t think you realize it, but I can’t be myself when you’re around. This whole week, I’ve felt like I’ve had to hold back because you always have to be so judgmental.”
No, he had definitely not heard those words coming from this person. By the gods, how strong was that ale? “You’re kidding me.”
The other man shook his head, as serious as the ulcer surely forming in Leo’s stomach right now. He could only hope it killed him quickly.
Leo jabbed a finger to his chest. “I’m difficult to deal with?”
Kefka nodded, and his ridiculous feathers bobbed with him.
“We’ve only ‘lived’ together for a week.”
“And it’s been the hardest week of my life, with your snoring and your insistence on taking walks when it’s below freezing out—”
“You don’t have to come with me.”
“—and your whining about how my doll’s been apparently ‘staring’ at you. It’s a doll, General, they don’t stare at people.”
His did. He swore it did.
Leo stared at him with his jaw set. “Is that all?”
“No, it’s not, but I don’t make a habit of complaining about every itty bitty annoyance like some people I know, so I’ll just leave it at that.”
“But, it wouldn’t kill you to bathe more.”
“I take it I smell, then?”
Kefka shrugged. “No, you don’t smell like anything. But, you don’t smell good, either.”
Leo had no idea how Kefka could tell one way or the other what he smelled like over all the perfume he always wore. And he didn’t particularly like the idea of the man being able to smell him to begin with, thank you very much.
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you.”
Kefka sniffed and went back to stabbing at the mutton with his fork, sitting hunched over his plate as he did so, and Leo drank what was left of his ale and tried to ignore the looks of utter contempt the other man kept directing at him in between the intense concentration he had in concern to the victimized meat before him.
They grew silent for a time, a peace that was anything but peaceful when Leo knew his companion would eventually speak up again, and when he worried that, the longer Kefka went without saying anything, the more time it gave him to think up something particularly offensive to say next.
At last, Kefka gave the mutton one final, violent stab and left the fork sticking upright out of it. “Why do I always get stuck thinking up things to talk about?” he said.
Kefka gripped the edge of the table with both hands and leaned in closer to him, causing the wood to creak under his weight. “That’s another thing I hate about you, Leo! This entire week, I’ve been the one forced to bear the weight of all our conversations! Well, I’m tired of it! You think of something for once!” He fell back in his chair and crossed his arms before drumming his clawed fingers on one puffy sleeve.
Leo scratched the side of his face. “Well, let’s see…” Kefka had never let him talk about what he wanted to before. “What about the rumors that have been going around about Jidoor? There’s apparently some scandal involving the opera singer that lives there.” Not the best idea, but he was out of practice. He hadn’t been allowed to have an opinion all week.
“I don’t want to talk about that.” Kefka raised an arm to beckon the waitress over, regardless of the fact that she was currently busy with someone else. She glanced over when his efforts to get her attention became verbal, and she already bore an expression on her face that Leo had had a good deal of practice with. She approached them, and Leo developed quite the inexplicable itch on the side of his face nearest her, granting him the perfect opportunity for hiding behind his hand as Kefka slid the plate towards her. “Take it away,” he said. “And bring me some hot cocoa.”
“They don’t have hot cocoa here,” Leo said before she could respond. He was a gentleman like that.
“Well, why not?”
By now, the waitress was already gone, along with the meal Leo didn’t recall taking more than a few bites from.
“Because it’s a tavern, not a restaurant.” He wasn’t sure how many of the latter served hot cocoa, either, though there were some in Vector that had since included it on their menus after the trouble Kefka had created over its exclusion. It was rather distressing to think he was around to witness the majority of these events. Did he really not have any friends to spend time with?
Kefka huffed. “I really don’t understand what you see in a place like this.”
“I don’t normally go to places like this.”
“Oh, really? You don’t enjoy getting drunk and leering at women that are about ready to pop out of their dresses like all other men?”
Leo crossed his arms on the table. “No, I really don’t. And you’re a man. Do you enjoy those things?” At least, “man” was the best word Leo could come up with on such short notice, even if he wasn’t really sure how accurate it was.
“Of course, not! I’m only here because of you. Admit it, Leo, you came here because you’re a filthy, little pervert. Why else would you be here, of all places?” He swept an arm about him and nearly knocked the lamp off the table in the process.
“Because I’m a hopeless drunk, remember? There, does that make you happy?”
“It only disgusts me, actually.” Kefka plopped his arms down on the table, as well, forcing Leo to give up his stance and lean back in his seat to get farther away from the man, even if it wasn’t far enough. It never would be.
The clownish man grinned, a most worrisome expression indeed, and glanced to the side, and Leo’s eyes unwittingly followed to land on a woman even more…well-endowed than the waitress had been.
“Take a good, long look, Leo,” Kefka said in a sing-song voice, and none too quietly, either. “That’s what you came here for.”
The woman looked over to catch the General in the act of staring, and the corners of lips that weren’t even as red as Kefka’s dipped as she began trying to pull her dress up to better cover herself. He had seen Kefka on the receiving end of glares like that, but never before had it been him.
“Quit staring, Leo.”
The General’s gaze sped away, but no matter how vile the look he turned on the other man, Kefka only grinned wider.
“That really wasn’t funny, you know.”
Kefka giggled and rubbed the palms of his hands together. “I don’t know that.”
“Can we please talk about something else?” He could still feel that woman’s violated stare on him.
The other man tapped both forefingers to his chin. “Like what?”
Leo thought this over. “…I don’t know.”
Kefka began to drum his long nails on the tabletop, while Leo remained stiff in his seat, his arms crossed as he tried to find somewhere safe to rest his gaze. With Kefka in front of him, the woman he had involuntarily molested with his eyes to his left, and a wall, he simply settled for staring at his lap.
“When are you going to see sense and do these negotiations my way? That mayor’s going senile anyway. He won’t even know what we’re saying.”
Leo said nothing.
If he just got up and walked out, Kefka would probably follow him, wouldn’t he?
It gave him a start when Kefka snapped his fingers at him. “Leo. I’m talking to you, Leo. Look at me.”
“I don’t know,” Leo said. He didn’t entirely remember what Kefka had even been saying just now. Something about the negotiations that had forced him to come to this awful place to begin with. Kefka could do whatever he bloody well pleased. At this point, he really didn’t care anymore.
“How do you not know?”
“I don’t know that, either.”
Kefka stared at him, eyebrows raised, before returning to his usual racket, and Leo found he couldn’t take his eyes off the knife the waitress had failed to take with her. The break in their conversation continued far longer this time around, and after a while, the General took note of the fact that Kefka’s drumming had ceased. He looked up, and it took a few seconds to register exactly why Kefka had his face buried in his hands.
His companion shook his head. And sniffled.
Leo frowned. Now where had this come from? He had ignored Kefka’s efforts at conversation plenty of times before (he just regretted not taking that route more often), so that certainly couldn’t be the cause. And Kefka wasn’t that sensitive. Easily offended, yes, but not like this.
The General’s mouth opened and closed as he contemplated just what to say, or if he should simply remain silent, but before he could come to any solid decision, Kefka broke down into sobbing and buried his face in his arms. Leo had seen plenty of shocking things in his life, most of which, in some way, involved the man currently weeping before him. He had seen Kefka become enraged over the most trivial of things or burst into mad cackling when Leo, for the life of him, couldn’t figure out what had caused it. He once started dancing for no apparent reason, and one time, he even sidled up behind Emperor Gestahl and nearly gave the man a heart attack. But never before, not once in these past horrific years of knowing him, had he ever seen Kefka cry, and to be perfectly frank, no amount of military training could have ever prepared him for such an event.
People started to look over, their earlier waning attention of his companion renewed with this latest display, and Leo forced his eyes off them to turn back to the other man, still sobbing as hard as ever and his shoulders shaking for all he was worth.
Kefka only shook his head even more vigorously this time.
By now, it seemed the attention of the entire tavern was upon them, and Leo swept a withering glare across the room. He could think whatever he wanted about Kefka. He actually knew the man. But, this was none of their business.
Leo stood. “Let’s get out of here. All right?”
Kefka made no response, but he didn’t struggle, either, when Leo grabbed him and pulled him to his feet. Without warning, Kefka flung his arms around him to sob into the General’s chest, and he tried to extricate himself, but the man’s sharp nails seemed to be rather embedded into the fabric of his cape. With some maneuvering and a great many frowns directed at the people who seemed to think this was a fine show indeed, he managed to free one arm, while the other was left with no choice but to wrap around his companion’s shaking frame, and he rummaged around in the wallet at his belt to toss a few coins onto the tabletop before leading Kefka, still clinging to him with all his strength, out the door.
It was dark out by now, but Leo could see his breath quite clearly whenever they passed the wavering light of torches and streetlamps, though the biting air did nothing to lessen Kefka’s weeping, and the sounds of his sobbing became even more apparent without the chatter of other people to drown it out. It was an awkward walk back to the inn with Kefka leaning his full weight against him, not that that counted for much, and the chill only lessened somewhat once they arrived back inside.
Leo brought him, now thoroughly shivering, to the inn’s sitting room, Kefka’s mere presence, crying or no, doing a fine job of emptying the room out (Kefka never failed to build a reputation wherever he went, a fact Leo would be jealous of if it wasn’t always of such an unpleasant sort), before leaving to track down the innkeeper, who had also gone missing upon their return, to see about having some hot cocoa made. Unlike at the tavern, this request wasn’t a problem here, as the innkeeper was quite fond of the drink himself, no doubt thanks to the harsh winters that Narshe was known for, sparing him from yet another chance for Kefka to threaten him with bodily harm. The man’s life had been threatened enough this week as it was.
Once he returned with the beverage in hand, he found Kefka in his chosen seat with his legs tucked up beneath him, his sobbing died down at last, and looking like a rather tussled pile of mismatched fabric with a man hidden inside it. He said nothing when Leo offered him the mug, and the General sat down on the sofa nearby, and it was the first time he had gotten a good look at Kefka’s appearance since this whole ordeal had started. With the red of his eye makeup running down his pallid face, coupled with the unsteady lighting of the fireplace, he was a haunting sight indeed, and it struck Leo that maybe it wasn’t a very wise decision to give a man that was prone to temper tantrums and who enjoyed throwing things, preferably at other things, a very breakable cup filled with scalding liquid.
Scalding or no, Kefka got to sipping at his cocoa right away with the mug gripped in both hands, leaving Leo to wonder how someone so sensitive to any slight discomfort could stand it when even the General couldn’t drink his tea without waiting for it to cool first. He didn’t know how long they sat there, with the only sound coming from Kefka’s muted sniffling and the fireplace, but it was the most silence Leo had ever heard, or not heard, from the man.
Nevertheless, when the General shifted in his seat, Kefka’s eyes swept over to land on him, and he went stiff. It was perhaps the alcohol that was to blame, or he had just been thrown off guard after seeing Kefka’s emotions expressed in such an uncharacteristic fashion, but Leo had all but forgotten until now what Kefka could be like when he was in one of his particularly emotional moods. If one wasn’t careful, any sudden movement could set him off, and though Leo had never before caught the man in such a mood as this, he had his doubts sorrow or anger made much of a difference in the end. People got hurt when Kefka was emotional, and Leo had never before been so aware of just how flammable he was. And the alcohol didn’t help. And now he had a growing need to use the bathroom.
The other man’s gaze left him, and Leo released a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. Kefka returned to drinking his cocoa with a sullen sort of silence he had yet to figure out, while an ache eventually developed in Leo’s lower back from sitting so still, and he distinctly became aware of how warm the room was compared to outside.
“I hate you, Leo.”
Leo looked over to find himself the direct target of a rather vile glare. This certainly wasn’t the first time the other man had told him this. He said it to everyone, really (though, it had been a shock the time he had said it to the Emperor, and Leo was quite certain, had it been anyone else, they would have been arrested for saying such a thing), and it was just something you learned to ignore after a while. But, as unpredictable as Kefka could be, he usually didn’t make such statements entirely unprovoked. There usually was some reason for his outbursts, even if they were never very good ones.
“I hate you so much, Leo. You ruined my life. You and Cid.”
Leo put a great deal of consideration into his next response. “And…how did I do that?”
“It’s just like you goody-goodies to think you never do anything wrong, but I see right through you, Leo. Don’t think for a second you can put on your innocent face and fool me like you can everyone else.”
“I wasn’t aware I had an innocent face.” That was a mistake.
He could’ve sworn he heard Kefka growl, and Leo flinched as the man slammed his mug down on the table, before sliding from his seat to alight on Leo’s own, and though the General retreated to the far end of the sofa, Kefka only followed, and he eventually settled in the middle with his feet tucked beneath him.
“It’s getting late,” Leo said, “Maybe we should continue this conversation in the morning.”
Kefka stared at him with his face tilted downward, but it made his gaze no less intense. “You stole my job, Leo. You knew I was struggling, and you just took it from me.”
The other man dragged himself closer, and Leo attempted to press himself further against the armrest.
Kefka’s eyes narrowed. “Give it back, Leo.”
“It wasn’t my intention—” Leo jumped to his feet and skirted around Kefka before the man could pounce, and he nearly tripped backwards over the table before falling into the armchair his potential attacker had just left.
Leo raised a hand as he caught his breath. “It wasn’t my intention to take anything from you.” The Emperor offered him the position after Kefka’s demotion. He certainly wasn’t going to turn it down.
Kefka crawled back over to the other side of the sofa to better leer at him. “I don’t care what your intention was. All that matters is you did it.” He bowed his head. “Once I lose my mind, everyone thinks they can take advantage of me. I was ill. Why should I be punished for it?” He slid his feet behind him until he was sprawled on his stomach with his forehead resting on the arms he had folded on the armrest. “How is that fair, Leo?”
Leo watched the other man closely. Even in such a prone position, he wasn’t letting his guard down. Not again. “It’s not fair.”
He remembered quite clearly when Kefka had his breakdown two years earlier. How could he forget the day their previously reserved general started screaming death threats at anyone that happened to be in his presence, regardless of whether or not he actually knew them, or vice versa? To be honest, it had nearly been as big of a shock to find the man had merely been sentenced to house arrest rather than committed to a mental asylum. In the end, maybe what happened to him wasn’t fair, but it was certainly understandable.
“Oh, what do you know, Leo? You’ve always had everything handed to you,” Kefka said into his arms. “I worked hard to get where I was. And then I lost it all. All people have ever done is take from me. You stole my job, and Cid ruined my mind, and I don’t even remember what it was I did to become general to begin with because my memories have all rotted away to nothing.” He sniffed. “Everything I ever cared about is gone.”
As little as General Leo expected to catch Kefka in the act of crying, it was quite possible he expected this confession even less.
“Kefka, I’m sorry…”
The other man turned his head to the side, glaring doubly hard to make up for the fact that only one eye was free to do so, with no tears apparent even after all the sniffling he had just been doing. “I will get back what’s mine, Leo.”
Leo suppressed a shiver at these words, even if the man’s voice had scarcely been above a whisper, and he looked away when the man’s gaze failed to leave him. “Kefka, I truly am sorry about everything that’s happened to you. I really am. I couldn’t imagine going through what you have, but you’re welcome to talk to me about it whenever you need. And I want you to know that I never meant to take your place, and I just hope there doesn’t have to be any hard feelings between us.”
When he looked back over, Kefka was staring at him with half-closed eyes, an undecipherable expression on his face. And then he pushed himself up to sit on his feet and rubbed his face with the palms of both hands. When he removed them, his makeup was more smudged than ever.
“I thought this conversation was about me, Leo. Forgive me for not remembering that the whole world revolves around you.”
With that, Kefka rose to his feet and stormed off, and Leo tried his best to figure out what had just happened. He ran a hand through his hair. On second thought, he’d never understand, so there was no point in even trying.
Leo decided it would be best if he slept on the sofa tonight.