I'm trying to get back into the swing of writing again so I thought I'd warm myself up with this chapter. Reviews are always appreciated. Enjoy!
(Assessment of the Monkey)
It was fair to say that the Hideout hadn't seen half its worth of mischief before Zidane came about, which was quite remarkable considering the nature of its residents. But that kid seemed to brew mischief like beer in a brewery. A day without drama was rarely looked upon as a blessed relief; uneventful days were ominous in their nature, often treated like calms before a storm, especially where Zidane was involved, and he inevitably was, one way or another.
While Baku wasn't adverse to randomly pointing fingers and flailing fists (perhaps more out of laziness than to abide by a guilty until proven innocent rule) he could sniff Zidane's involvement out like a Qu to a frog. Not a particularly hard feat, considering Zidane turned tail the moment he caught whiff of an impending punishment. True, Zidane's absence announced his guilt with more efficiency than a town crier. The words 'Where's Zidane?' inevitably heralded something ill-omened and his absence was obvious for one simple reason.
Zidane was clingy.
Baku deduced that his initial aversion to company was actually the result of fear and disorientation; following his initiation into the group he quickly exhibited a dislike of being alone. His outright refusal to be left behind on any occasion – be it a trip to the market or one of Tantalus' more delicate missions – was initially mistaken for enthusiasm for the trade, but Baku soon realised otherwise. Maybe it was to do with his past: maybe the kid hadn't had a family before and was now relishing it, maybe he was scared of being abandoned again, or maybe he didn't have enough imagination to entertain himself.
Regardless, Zidane was indisputably clingy.
He sat on laps, he gripped hands, he hugged legs and clung to backs. He was especially attached to Baku, and much to the large man's annoyance he seized every chance to scale his back and seat himself on Baku's shoulders, hugging his head while considering the world from this advantageous perspective, earning him the nickname 'monkey boy' heedless of his tail.
Once attached to his victim, Zidane was nearly impossible to remove, like a burr on cotton pants. No amount of shaking would release his titan grip on a hand; no amount of kicking could shake him from a pant leg. So stubborn was his need to cling that he even shrugged off the occasional punch from a particularly querulous brother (though he wasn't afraid to bite the hand he held if need be, so the other boys usually tolerated the attention for their own sakes).
Today, Zidane's affection had turned to Blank, which was quite unusual. Of all the boys, Zidane tended to leave the redhead well alone, even opting to risk a bash on the head from Cinna's hammer in place of clinging to the other. Baku hadn't figured out why exactly, though Blank certainly hated Zidane's attention with more fervour than any other member and rarely surrendered the good fight, and a fight between those two never ended well.
But Zidane had little choice today because Baku was carrying something bulky over his shoulder, Marcus had his hands full and the Tantalus construction worker, Kina, had given him such a nasty swat round the head that Zidane wisely decided to steer clear.
"Don't, Zidane, you're makin' me trip!" Blank yelled for possibly the thousandth time as he did indeed stumble over his own two feet, hindered as they were by his smaller brother, who had locked himself onto Blank's arm. "Boss! Boss!"
But Baku ignored him, as he had done the other nine hundred and ninety nine times, because if everyone else could adjust to Zidane's clinginess without whining, so could Blank.
"Let go!" the redhead yelled again as he attempted to unpick Zidane's little fingers one by one. When that didn't work he slapped him round the head, which earned him a look so imploring even he had to admit defeat.
Zidane was scared.
Blank acknowledged this with a superior kind of sympathy (he wasn't a little kid like Zidane anymore so he wasn't scared of those things because he knew better) and decided to educate the blonde in hopes his arm would be released.
"It's alright, Zidane," he said, pointing upward. "They don't hurt you. They're not even alive. Yeah they're big and make alotta noise and well… I guess sometimes they can hurt you if they crash n' stuff, but they're sitting now so they can't hurt anyone. Unless they explode."
Zidane, who was picking up Gaian at an unholy rate, managed to stem together bits of what his brother was saying. He stared balefully upward and repeated, "Dead? They all dead?"
"Yeah, they weren't even alive in the first place. They're just, y'know… objects. Like Cinna's hammer or um… Boss' armchair."
"But but… they things move." He briefly unhooked a hand to flap it like a wing. "Up up. At the sky."
"That's called flying," Blank told him. "But they fly because of the machines inside of them. And the machines are worked by men. Anyway, you can see for yerself 'cause we need to board now."
"No!" Zidane yelled. He liberated Blank's arm and rooted himself to the wooden planks, tail drooping between his legs.
Blank stopped and stared at him, then glanced over his shoulder at the retreating figures of Boss and Kina, either oblivious or indifferent to his plight. His eyes then trailed upward to the looming monstrosity overhead, the grumbling of its engine amplified by the distant eaves of Lindblum's Airship Dockyard.
Blank didn't understand why Zidane was so afraid of airships. Blank had grown up in Lindblum and airships were about as common and numerous as birds in the sky there. In that respect, if he didn't come from Lindblum it kind of made sense that Zidane might be frightened of them. Maybe they didn't have airships where he was from? Or maybe they did, and he fell off one and hit his head. That would explain why he couldn't talk properly and acted weird. And nothing made Zidane act weirder than an airship. He ducked into shadowed nooks whenever one flew overhead, no matter how distant, and wouldn't come out until someone dragged him. Just the sound of an engine sent him scuttling like a rabbit into a burrow; it was a miracle Boss had managed to draw him as close as he had today. Baku said he didn't care what happened in the past because Zidane was going to get used to going on airships and he was going to get used to it now.
Easier said than done, Blank thought, when Zidane was as stubborn as hell's fire.
"Come on, we gotta go!" Blank pleaded, noticing that Boss had already boarded.
"No," Zidane said.
Blank shook him by the arms. "You're annoying! We have to go or we'll get left behind."
"Rrrrgh! I'm gonna drag you in a minute!"
He had that look in his eye, Blank noted. The one that said he was ready to run. And if he ran Blank couldn't catch him, and then Boss would beat him bad. Blank wasn't really a boy of words, despite his intelligence, and if he'd been big like Marcus he would've just picked the kid up and carried him, but that just wasn't an option.
His gaze swept the dockyards self-consciously, then he said, "I'll let you hold my hand, okay?"
Zidane fixed him with a calculating look, then his shoulders relaxed and his face drooped into a sulky, conceding pout. "Okay."
Unfortunately for Blank, Zidane didn't let go until they landed in Alexandria, two hours later, and by then every member of Tantalus was witness to Blank's mortification, and the ribbing he got consequently just wasn't worth it.
Baku knew his boys would never be shining examples of etiquette. He had neither the time nor motivation to teach them, so naturally they learnt from example, either from Baku or the charming civilians of Lindblum underworld. Nevertheless, they weren't bad as kids go; each had their own perks: Marcus was calm and obedient, Blank was intelligent and reasonable, Cinna was enthusiastic and creative and Zidane… Well, he sure was something… Baku could have coined all kinds of terms to define that kid, but he didn't know what to make of him. In fact, right now, Baku was hard pressed in finding even a single positive.
"What the hell are you doing, boy?" Baku roared as he yanked Zidane up by his collar. This was a rash move on his behalf, because a few seconds later things might have gotten messy; the four year old had been about to urinate on the sign outside Malcov's Item Shop in broad daylight in the middle of Lindblum. "I dunno what hovel you crawled out of but normal people don't take a piss in the middle of a street! Don't ya know that much?"
For reasons Baku couldn't hope to determine it appeared that Zidane didn't, and regardless of Baku's fury he was squirming and whimpering in his grip, eyes pleading and desperate.
"Oh for the love of Shiva's frozen tits, hang on just a second, would you?" Baku relented with a roll of his eyes. He dropped Zidane to the cobblestones then dragged him into the pub opposite and through to the outhouse, a disbelieving Cinna trailing in their wake.
"I told you he wasn't house trained," Cinna mumbled. "Or street trained…"
"Now listen here, boy," Baku yelled through the wooden door of the outhouse. "You tell me when you need the bathroom, got it? You'll have the fuckin' Lindblum Watch on our asses if you pull crazy shit like that, and that's the last thing we need considerin' our fuckin' profession. You listenin'?"
Zidane gingerly emerged still pulling up his oversized pants. He wore an expression that was both baffled and rueful, though he generally understood what the mountainous man was bellowing about, even if he didn't understand why people couldn't just go wherever they please. It's not like that sign had been clean in the first place!
Baku rubbed a hand over his face, sighed, then picked his way back through the tavern, barely fighting off the urge to knock one back even though the midday bells had yet to chime.
Despite Zidane's lack of… generally anything resembling a civilised person, Baku was surprised to discover a streak of genuine goodness in the kid's heart at just the tender age of four, when kids are meant to be a blur of impulsive, selfish emotion. Thieves in particular were notoriously selfish for reasons more related to poverty than bad character, but as Baku stared out the window at the kid he couldn't help but recall the day's previous incident and his own miscalculation of the boy's persona.
Even before the Hideout was close to being finished, each Tantalus member had their own stash of personal belongings, secured and fiercely guarded in hidey holes throughout the clocktower. Zidane had his own too, coined 'the Zidane pile' by his brothers, because it literally was a pile in the corner, blatant as the furniture, but safe from stealing hands because it was a pile of rubbish.
Baku had to admit that Zidane was a remarkable thief. Baku was in the process of training him out of the 'mine' phase, but anything that piqued the kid's interest was as good as gone. With no clear concept of ownership Zidane had no reservations about stealing. Unfortunately, he also had no concept of value. Half the time he returned with things as useless as they were worthless: the rubber head of a mallet, an empty ink pot, a bent fork. Baku attempted to educate him on what was considered valuable, but the kid still managed to include his own personal twist to his takings, nabbing rings that were cheap but shiny and silk handkerchiefs bearing colourful stains.
While Baku confiscated these for financial aid (pitiful though it was), he magnanimously allowed him his pile of crap if it kept him happy. In addition, the kid had made a nest of it and claimed it as his sleeping spot, shunning the crowded mattresses and blankets fought over by the other boys, which spared Baku a headache every night.
However, he was just as finicky as the others over his 'territory', so even now he watched warily from the crown of his junk as Cinna hopped over to nosily poke through it all.
"I just don't get this kid," the podgy eight-year-old commented as he turned an ambiguous object over and over in his hands. "What is this anyway? It's made of wood."
"It's the handle of a saucepan," Marcus observed as he joined the rummaging. "Look at this one shoe – not even the laces are in it. He could've at least nicked one with a buckle… And what the hell is th – ack!" Marcus dropped the thing he'd been looking at. "It's a rat's tail! That's just wrong, man."
"Hey!" Cinna chirped brightly, ignoring Marcus' grim discovery as he made an agreeable one. "Look at this hiding at the bottom; it's a stuffed chocobo toy! This is a pretty sweet find, only rich kids get these."
"Aren't you a bit old for stuffed toys…?"
"Shut up!" Cinna barked petulantly. "Hm, well, I'm sure Zidane won't mind if I take this. He's got so much stuff anyways."
The words were barely out of his mouth before Zidane jumped on him with an outraged 'Mine!'. The chocobo was wrestled from his hands and when Cinna rolled onto his back with a snuffly 'Hey!' Zidane had already lovingly replaced his prize at the peak of his pile and was sitting atop it like a broody mother hen.
Baku thought then that the boy would be no different to any other thief he'd met. Knowing true poverty made a man humble, but distrustful and greedy, so he wasn't surprised by Zidane's lack of magnanimity towards Cinna. Baku thought he'd sussed the kid out.
But the kid proved him wrong.
On a typical warm, lazy afternoon Baku was playing cards with the builders whose lunch break had surpassed excuse and reason. All the boys were running errands aside from Zidane, who was sitting on Baku's lap staring out the window. He'd been quiet for such a long time Baku thought he was asleep (another of Zidane's inconvenient perks; he slept at the oddest of times) until his observation broke that reflection.
"Uh?" Baku grunted, squinting at the splayed cards in his hand.
"Kid cry," Zidane repeated, tail swinging lazily against Baku's leg. He seemed largely unconcerned, so Baku deemed it unworthy of his attention, though he did indeed hear the sound of a baby wailing outside; before now it had simply blended into the general racket of a Lindblum day.
"Yeah," he placated the blonde. "Kid's cry."
Zidane brooded on this a moment. His tail coiled briefly, then he hopped down from Baku's lap and padded across the floor. Baku paid him no mind until he heard the front door slam, them he swivelled in his chair with a frown because Zidane wasn't allowed to wander around Lindblum without permission and he damn well knew it.
Through the dusty windows of the Hideout Baku could see the quiet street outside, lit by steady afternoon sunshine. A familiar metropolis fell beyond the cobbled streets, and centred in the foreground was a woman bent over a pram, quelling a child whose wild cries could be heard even from within the hideout. Zidane approached the woman with something tucked under his arm, and the woman looked up in surprise, said something, and Zidane peered over the lip of the pram, tail curling like a fish hook as he stood on his tiptoes. Then he offered the woman what he'd carried from the Hideout and Baku recognised it as the chocobo toy. The woman's baffled expression dissolved into a smile and she tucked into the baby's chair. The baby's cries stopped, and Zidane and the woman exchanged words.
When Zidane returned he said nothing of the incident but curled up on Baku's lap and fell asleep, and though Baku said nothing of it either, he found himself severely reassessing the kid's character. Maybe he wasn't your average thief, afterall.