Broken bones, broken teeth; the forming of a brotherhood with lessons learnt the hard way. Contains swearing. I haven't stopped writing Foundations, this was just a fun outlet because I love dem Tantalus boiz. Any reviews will be much appreciated.


D

i.
the dare

"It's not impossible; you could totally do it."

The challenge was undisguised behind those words; a dare, a taunt, and a promise of postponed ill being respectively. There was an undertone of mockery too, poorly masked to the ears of the older listeners behind a singsong lilt, but not to the boy who stared thoughtfully at the cabtracks below.

"Y'think?"

Zidane considered his options carefully, yet not without haste. Lingering would give an impression of cowardice, an impression he was not eager to make in front of his brothers, who exuded the cocky confidence Zidane could only feign at his age, where common sense was replaced by the enthusiasm to please those who earned his admiration.

Buying time to mull over his prospects, Zidane turned to his fellows and loftily inquired, "Why don't you do it then?"

Blank cut a casual figure against the higgledy architecture of a looming metropolis. The boys stood above cabtracks that cut through the infinite labyrinth of Lindblum like a scar, accosted on all sides by industry. Overhead an aircraft droned, drifting through the grey sky like a bubble of scum on the surface of stagnant water.

Blank was balanced flawlessly on a metallic precipice of scaffolding which clambered up a half built bridge like some bizarre exoskeleton. Marcus and Cinna were behind him acting as brutish lackeys, standing on more reasonable ground of wide, wooden slabs. Blank was undeniably showing off, marking his status as the elder, cockier, more talented.

Zidane was on all fours atop a twist of metal, little tail stretched out for balance, and he glanced askew at his brothers, waiting for a reply.

Blank shrugged, eyes never leaving Zidane's. "I've done it. We all have."

"Is it a rite of passage?"

Cinna and Marcus exchanged a glance; their smirks were impish, their expressions untrustworthy.

"Yeaah," Blank drawled agreeably. "Sure it is. So you hafta do it."

Zidane averted his eyes to the cabtracks and swallowed loudly. From where he was crouching it seemed like a pretty big drop, especially for a five year old, but he sure didn't want to look a fool in front of his older brothers.

"Chicken!" Cinna accused, then stifled a snort with his hands, cheeks ballooning obscenely.

"I am not!" Zidane objected. "I'm gonna do it! I don't ever turn down a dare!"

"You have to be daring to be in Tantalus," Blank acquiesced with a solemn nod.

"Bro…" Marcus cut in. "You're not actually gonna let him –"

"It's fine!" Blank snapped. "It's really not a long way, right? Like, fifteen feet or somethin'."

"But wasn't there that guy who threw himself off this bridge and died? He got splattered all over the tracks and they had to stop the line."

Zidane suddenly felt quite ill.

"Naw," Blank said. "He threw himself in front of the cab. Totally different."

"I… I'm not feelin' very well…" Zidane tried lamely.

"You chicken?" Blank repeated, and flapped his arms and squawked. The brothers giggled.

Zidane gulped down his fear and stood up, little face red with adrenalin as he shouted, "Shut up! I'll show you!"

As if to challenge the boy's declaration, the familiar rumble and clatter of an aircab sounded some way ahead. The scaffolding vibrated beneath their feet.

"Mind the gap!" Blank chimed.

Zidane spared a moment to gesture rudely at the redhead before returning his attention to the cabtracks below, where broken glass and random debris jutted between the slates like unearthed bones. His head span with cloying anticipation.

You can do this, he told himself. It's just like jumping from the hideout's rafters.

The aircab rattled into view, chuntering its bilious way along a metal spine. Marcus tried to voice another concern. Cinna stuck his knuckles in his mouth and Blank watched on with begrudging admiration as Zidane appeared to genuinely ponder the jump.

He's not actually going to do it? Blank thought, just as Zidane leapt off the scaffolding.

The brothers shrieked in unified alarm.

And Zidane shrieked too, but a crazed note that forced itself shrilly through his chest as he fell into a rush of winter air. There was no time to savour the weightlessness of falling, nor time to regret it. He hit the roof of the aircab with such jarring force that his legs buckled neatly beneath him. He fell sideways against a metal roof shiny and smooth, free of handholds, and during the few minutes that he slid along his belly he scrabbled for a purchase that never materialized. Abruptly, he ran out of roof and fell off the end with a sharp inhale.

He hit the tracks and the bone in his arm shattered against a metal vertebra.

None of the Tantalus boys ever tried to ride an aircab again.

ii.
swimming lessons

Boss stirred in his armchair and turned an incredulous gaze toward the blonde ragamuffin he had magnanimously named an underling. The armchair was Boss' favourite furnishing, a ragged, moth eaten monstrosity that cowed beneath his weight, retching sponge from fraying tears. The stains were numerous and unidentifiable. It smelt of liquor and cigars.

"Y'what?" Boss said.

Zidane twisted his shirt between his hands, tail ticking at the tip. "What?"

Boss turned to scrutinise him closely. The chair groaned.

"What d'ya mean ya can't swim?"

The boy glanced worriedly at his nearby brothers, in fear of being overheard. "Th-that's got nothin' to do with what I was tellin' ya! I was sayin' how I saw Big Tomas in the lake and he were beatin' up that friend o' yours 'cause he didn't have no money –"

"But you didn't get too close 'cause you couldn't swim, is what you said," Boss confirmed. "Geez, kiddo, why aint ya ever learned?"

Zidane pouted, his blue eyes tracing the wooden floor's grains. "Just don't like water…"

He recalled something faintly from his early childhood, of water hard and still, its depth unfathomable beneath the perfect mirror of its surface, glowing blue under a sunless, unchanging sky. Those waters were dead, lurking, quiet. Venturing into such a macabre substance had never been a desire of his, nor would it ever be.

Boss turned back, indifferently said, "Yer gonna have to learn."

"Noooo!" Zidane wailed. "I don't wanna!"

"It's an order," Boss said. He called, "Blank! BLANK! Teach this kid how to swim. I want a fucking champion by the end of the week."

"Why me?" the redhead whined initially, then before the boss could raise a promise of beating, he became quietly obedient. "Yes, boss…"

And so the next day, during the early evening when Lindblum Park was mostly sparse of inhabitants, Zidane found himself trembling in front of a large pond. It was a smear of dirty colour against the green fabric of parkland, where rippling reeds beckoned him deeper and fish were gloomy, ominous shadows darting out of his periphery.

"Don't wanna…" he said for the millionth time.

Blank rolled his eyes. "Let's just get this over with. It's fucking embarrassing as it is and moaning is only gonna make it worse. I reckon we've got about half an hour before the wardens kick us out for playin' in this shithole, so let's get movin'. Strip."

Zidane's tail corkscrewed in agitation, but he grudgingly removed his shirt, trousers and undergarments. Blank did likewise, and soon both boys were pale slips in the dying light, an odd spectacle for the occasional passer-by unlucky enough to be wandering the encircling pathways.

"You first," Zidane prompted.

"You can't boss me around," Blank said. "I'm older than you!"

"Not by much!"

"Fine," the redhead relented. "But if you run off while I'm in there I'll catch you and make you sorry, understand? Or even worse, Boss'll catch us both, and then we'll be really fucking sorry."

Zidane nodded. Boss was unforgiving in his discipline; their obedience was fleckless.

Blank waded into the water, shoulders bunching against the cold slap of a non-existent tide. Duckweed clung to his shins and a single frog voiced its displeasure.

"Right," Blank called when he was deep enough. "Come on."

Zidane hesitated, dipping a toe into the surface in a decidedly effeminate gesture, hands clamped beneath his pits and tail curling into fretful shapes.

Blank shouted rudely.

Zidane waded in, eyes clamped shut, waiting for the demonic hand to tug him under.

None came. He strode up to Blank and blinked at him with pleasant surprise.

"Yes, you're still alive," Blank confirmed grimly, then shivered against the autumn air. His teeth began to chatter. "You're still in the shallows so you wont drown with me here, so don't be a pussy about it all."

Zidane tried not to be but it was very hard at first when solid, slimy things bumped against his ankles then careened away in a swirl of gluttonness mud, which oozed between Zidane and Blank's toes, sucking and popping obscenely. A group of kids briefly hollered abuse from the pond's side. They were acknowledged with miserable grimaces and a barrage of hand gestures.

As Blank crisply aided and directed Zidane in the art of swimming Zidane quickly realised these waters were dissimilar to the alien solution of his forgotten origin. Swimming was a difficult thing, but he felt safe with Blank; the boy was always at hand to pull his spluttering form from beneath the surface and shake his head despairingly at the frantic pleas Zidane constantly mewled, helpless as a kitten in a grease barrel for the majority of their session.

They made progress. Blank was cold. He said they'd done enough for the day.

Together, they tracked a laborious path to the edge, groaning against the mud's stubborn hands. As the water gave way to grass, Blank glanced around for his clothes and spotted Cinna and Marcus instead, a good way around the pond and waving flags. They were grinning wildly.

Blank frowned.

Zidane said, "Where are our clothes?"

It was a cold, embarrassing walk back to the hideout, and as it turned out the Lindblumese policing unit didn't take kindly to undressed civilians. They had to run most of the way.

iii.
gangs

When they were old enough to understand, Boss sat the kids down and attempted to teach them about gangs.

Essentially, Tantalus was a gang, Boss explained, and like any gang they brewed rivals. Boss was a reasonable man, albeit ruthless, but he didn't take kindly to the futile, self-proclaimed wars of the underworld. Even the most deluxe of boats have a grimy underside, Boss told them, and it was always best to stick together while running errands (especially the illicit sort) and to mind your Ps and Qs while crossing the territory of hostile gangs. It would result to unnecessary trouble, to unwanted attention, to grave circumstances.

The Tantalus boys promised to be careful.

Zidane broke his promise.

He returned to the hideout with a busted lip and swollen eye for his disobedience, concealing other raw scathes beneath his tarnished clothes. The obvious went noticed. Boss was furious. Zidane got another black eye.

Yet a peculiar thing happened while he sulked within his cobweb of rafters and probed his battle wounds with exaggerated scruple. The door sounded and silence followed as his brothers left on an errand and he was alone with Boss, who slept noisily on the couch below.

Hours passed.

Then at some point during the smog-choked night, the missing thieves returned. Zidane jumped down and noted with curiosity their busted lips and swollen eyes and Blank cracked a grin and cockily said, "We got 'em back for you, kiddo. No one fucks with Tantalus and gets away with it."

Zidane forgot about his bruises and cuts long enough to appreciate what being part of a family meant to people like them.