For 'The Key to Oblivion', because they asked. And of course because I love these boiz and general drabble. Review if you enjoyed, pwease.
(Fears and Fairies)
Baku was busy. Busy and stressed. That much was clear to anyone, but particularly clear to the Tantalus' boys, who had learned in their short years to read Baku's nuances like a sailor reads the stars. Respectively, they knew when to keep their distance and when to humour him, and when it was safe to hassle him. Momentarily, his hunched back, muttered curses, brusque gestures and the large flagon of beer at hand indicated that he was in a dangerous temperament and should be left well alone.
The boys never could decide whether Zidane was stupid, unobservant or brave, but it was always he who disregarded Baku's body language. It also explained why Zidane was usually a patchwork of fading bruises.
Baku was seated at the table, furiously counting money into piles and referring to sheets of notes and invoices. Judging by his expression, it wasn't going well.
"Boss. Boss! Boss boss boss!"
Baku turned slowly in his seat. It was a monstrous movement, as he was a monster of a man, especially to the eyes of an eight year old, and the little wooden chair creaked beneath his girth. He stared over his shoulder at the blonde boy with an expression better suited on a dragon that had just been disturbed by a reckless adventurer.
Zidane rung his hands sweetly. "Boss, can I ask you question?"
Baku's ear flattened against his head and his beady eyes narrowed. He said nothing.
"Cinna said that when my tooth falls out I can put it under my pillow and when I fall asleep a pixie or fairy or something will come and take it away and leave ten gil there, or one, sometimes, but Blank says he's lying and the story's for babies, but he keeps trying to knock my tooth out anyway and I really don't want it to come out 'cause then I'll have to drink soup for a week and I hate soup, BUT, I'm thinking that if I do knock it out and the fairy is real –"
"You have two seconds," Baku said, "to get out of my sight, or the fairy'll be swimmin' in teeth by tonight."
"What I'm sayin'," Baku said levelly, "is that I'm gonna knock all yer teeth outta yer head if you're not gone in the time it takes me to blink."
Zidane's rambling trailed off and he stopped ringing his hands.
Baku stared at Zidane and Zidane stared at Baku.
Zidane opted to keep his teeth.
"It's real, alright," Zidane said two minutes later. "Boss said so."
"Uh, yeah. Kinda. Just with less words."
Blank and Marcus stared at Zidane sceptically, but Cinna nodded his head. "Told you guys."
"I don't believe it," Marcus said.
"You callin' Boss a liar?" Cinna challenged. "We gotta go ahead with this; it's the real deal, all right. We could make big bucks."
"A gil?" Blank said sarcastically.
"Naw, it can be, like, fifty sometimes!"
"I thought you said ten?"
"Depends who it is. Zidane is weird so he's probably got special teeth."
The boys stared at Zidane who touched his front tooth with a sceptical frown. Blank said, "Well I can't argue with that. And it's comin' out anyway, so no harm in trying. Come here then, let's get it out."
Zidane took a step back, alarmed. "Wha? It doesn't hafta come out now! It aint ready!"
"I don't wanna wait," Blank said. "Don't be a baby, it won't hurt. Much."
Zidane pushed his tongue against his wobbly front tooth and it tilted forward grotesquely, hanging on by a fleshy chord. "How ya gonna do it?"
Marcus cracked his knuckles and Zidane scowled. "No way."
"How 'bout we get a piece of string, tie it round his tooth, then tie the other end to a door handle, slam the door shut and bam! The tooth'll be flying out in no time."
"That might work," Blank said, "but we don't got any string fine enough. Zidane's teeth are too small and we only have the kinda rope that we use to climb walls." He paused for a minute, and then clicked his fingers. "We'll just get it out with pliers! Just one twist and a good yank should do it."
Zidane recoiled, wrinkling his nose. "That'll hurt."
"It's gonna hurt whatever," Blank told him matter-of-factly. "You got sucker up and do it."
"No, no, no. No way. I aint doin' it, not even for a hundred gil!"
"Why've you gotta be sucha baby? Fine. I'll mix you up some numbing potion, okay?"
Zidane nodded eagerly but Marcus' expression clouded over. "Uh, bro, I don't think that's a good idea. You're not very good at mixing that potion…"
"I am too! I'm the best out of you lot anyway."
"That's not sayin' much… And if Boss finds out that you've gone through his stash again he's gonna be mad."
"He wont find out," Blank said, "'cause no one's gonna tell him. Right?"
The boys nodded gingerly and sat down in the Hideout's dingy basement, while Cinna took up watch at the top of the stairs and Blank fetched his alchemy kit. Unfortunately, Baku remained oblivious.
Numbing potion was better known as Torpeo Septim, and was made by mixing poppy milk, Elixir resin, powered willow bark, water and honey. It was potent and dangerous in large amounts, especially for children, and the ingredients had to be precisely measured and pure.
"Do you think Elix is the same as Elixir resin?"
Marcus stared at the white power Blank was measuring with a set of scales. "Isn't that the stuff Boss gets Benero to sell at the docks?"
"I've seen people put it up their noses to make themselves happy," Cinna piped in. "Boss'll kill you if he knows you've taken it. You know he don't let us near stuff like that."
"It's extracted from Elixir," Blank said, ignoring them and supplying an answer instead, "so I reckon it's pretty much the same thing, but I'll cut the amount, just in case."
"Bro, I don't think –"
"Will you shut up?" Blank snapped. He took a pinch of willow bark and added it to the vial, then shook it vigorously. The water turned from blue to red and the boys stared at it doubtfully.
"Is it meant to be that colour?"
"Uh… yeah. I guess," Blank answered. "I've never made it before but I've seen it being made…"
"Was it red?"
"Stop asking questions and trust me! If you want to know what it feels like to have your tooth wrenched out without pain killer, then keep talkin'."
Zidane immediately fell silent, while Marcus fidgeted apprehensively.
Blank poured some of the potion into a spoon and handed it to Zidane, who swallowed it without question. The boys stared at him apprehensively, waiting to see if he dropped dead on the spot.
He didn't. They waited a quarter of a bell, and then Blank fed him two more spoonfuls. Another quarter passed, and so did three more doses, and after the third, Blank went to pour him another, only to find the vial empty. He stared down its neck, went a bit pale, then turned to look at Zidane.
"Err… how ya doin'?"
Zidane was leaning heavily against the basement wall, head slumped against his chest.
The boys stared at Zidane and he slowly lifted his head. He was wearing a dopey grin and his pupils were like black saucers.
"You… okay?" Blank asked as he clicked his fingers in front of Zidane's face. He didn't blink. "Can you feel anything? Did it work?"
"I'm pretty sure it worked, bro," Marcus said.
Zidane looked down at his hands, his movements languorous like he was underwater. He slowly clenched and unclenched his hands. "I feel… fuh-funny… hehehehe…"
"We should pull his tooth out now," Cinna said as he edged closer to the giggling boy. "You got the pliers?"
"I think we should get boss," Marcus said.
"No! No way. We'll just pull his tooth out then put him in bed. Hopefully he'll go to sleep…."
"I don't think he's gonna go to sleep…"
Blank approached Zidane more like he was slumbering beast than a giggling eight-year-old, pliers outstretched. He was about to command Cinna and Marcus to hold him still, when Zidane leapt to his feet with more dexterity than the potion should have allowed for.
He looked once at Blank then down at himself, and said with surprising calm, "My clothes are on fire."
"Wha-" was all Blank managed before Zidane tore off his shirt and went charging up the stairs.
The brothers remained on the floor for a long minute until Baku's roared "WHAT IN SEVEN HELLS -? ZIDANE DON'T YOU GO –" jerked them to their feet and up the stairs, just in time to see Zidane tear off his last article of clothing and hurtle out the front door screaming 'I'M ON FIRE!'.
They stood in a line gawping at the door until a mountain rose up behind them and all but hurled them by their scruffs out the door, bellowing, "GO GET HIM BEFORE THE PISSING GUARDS DO AND IF YOU COME BACK EMPTY HANDED YOU'LL BE WEARING BLACK EYES FOR A YEAR!"
While Marcus and Cinna picked themselves up from the cobblestones beneath the curious eyes of passers-by, Blank approached a lady and asked, "Excuse me, did you see a naked boy run by here? He's blonde and has a tail."
"I don't think you need to describe him, bro," Marcus said.
The woman pointed down the street and the boys took off in that direction. They followed the trail of stunned expressions until they caught up with him, which didn't take as long as they'd first feared, as the potion had made him slower than usual. Blank sent a quick thanks to the gods, because they would never have caught the monkey otherwise.
"At least he's not shouting 'fire' anymore," Marcus said.
Zidane was staggering in an odd way while somehow maintaining his balance. The boy twisted around to glance at them when they called his name, his expression as confused and startled as those he ran by. Then he turned back and ran full pelt into a lamp post and knocked himself unconscious.
The boys caught up with him, panting and sweating, and stared down at his naked, insensate form. They couldn't think of anything to say about the whole thing until Cinna stooped down with an ecstatic cry and held something up to the light.
"We got Zidane's tooth out!"
When they got back to the hideout with Zidane in tow, Baku made sure they all lost a tooth or two, and told them the tooth fairy could pay for the expenses they incurred.
It was late. Too late, to be precise. He should be sleeping soundly, dead to the world outside his cloister of sweet dreams. He'd even settle for a dreamless sleep, if it meant having sleep at all. Anything but this again.
The floorboards creaked once.
The boys of Tantalus were much chagrined by the creaking floors of the Hideout, and had attempted many times to learn and traverse their lengths so their night time exploits and pranks would go undetected. But the floorboards seemed to grumble indiscriminately. The noises shifted along the wood as if the whole place was a ship lurching through waves. There was no way to avoid it and so the Hideout heralded any person who crossed from one room to the next like it was holding a grudge.
Zidane, however, evaded sound. He was crafty and quiet and light on his feet, as any thief should be, but he even more so. It was unnatural, Blank thought. But even the tailed eight-year-old could not avoid the floorboard's whims completely.
And so the floorboards creaked once, and it was enough to rouse Blank from slumber. They were all light sleepers, having come from the streets where one never knew if the creeping shadows were city watch, drunk men, stray dogs or cut throats. It was only recently that he had stopped jerking upright and groping for the dagger beneath his pillow. Now he came awake quietly but abruptly, listening for signs of danger before his mind registered what was happening.
Blank opened his eyes, and by then Zidane had slipped under the covers and clamped his cold little hands around Blank's torso.
"Ah- ah! You're col –"
Blank was angry, but Zidane's pleading tone shushed him right up. He could hear the tears in his voice, and he let out a gusty sigh. Blank was angry and he was tired, but Zidane was his little brother, and big brothers don't ignore stuff like this.
So he lay very still for the better part of a quarter bell, waiting for Zidane's trembling and muffled sobs to subside. Zidane's hair tickled his arm and his tears made his pillow gross and wet, and his tail coiled too tightly around his ankle, and he was sweaty and cold, but Blank tolerated it.
No one else knew about Zidane's night terrors. If they did, they were kind enough not to say anything. He got them worse than anyone Blank had ever seen. Cinna tossed and turned, and Marcus mumbled incoherently, Baku's snores were like thunderclaps and he cursed and shouted and all but brawled in his sleep, but Zidane was something else. Zidane screamed. It was a chilling sound rooted in pure fear, a fear of something that lay dormant in his mind like a monster biding its time until night fell, when Zidane was helpless to battle it.
He was sleeping so badly at one point that Baku prescribed him sleeping weed. Zidane had been staying up all night, sitting at the windows hollow eyed and frightened, his arms peppered with bruises from where he pinched himself awake. The sleeping weed worked wonders, but Zidane was young and quickly became dependant on it. It took months to wean him off it, inducing shakes and sweats and fevers, but they did it. And after, the night terrors returned.
It was bad, Blank knew. But he had never been very good at comforting. "You still cryin'?"
"They're just dreams, y'know. They can't hurt you."
Zidane curled closer to him, still snuffling.
Blank sighed. "Do you remember what it was about?"
"Really? Nothin'? But you get so scared."
"It's jus-just the feeling a-after… I don't luh-like it."
"Are there monsters?"
"I dunno… Just blue. A scary man in buh-black. Maybe monsters…"
"Maybe he's a monster," Blank suggested.
Zidane stayed quiet. It seemed like he'd stopped crying, so Blank carefully peeled his hands away.
"Go to sleep, Zidane. It's justa dream, okay? You can't b –"
"I know," he said fiercely. "I know that. I can't help it… Please can I just –"
"You big baby."
Blank huffed gruffly in hopes that it might cover up his wretchedly sympathetic heart. "Fine. But I'm havin' the pillow and you're sleepin' over there."
Zidane shifted away to the edge of the bed and curled into a little ball. The pillow was all damp and snotty and Zidane stole most of the covers during the night, and his hair tickled Blank's arm and when he fell asleep he snored a little bit. But Blank tolerated it, just as he tolerated the little tail still firmly wrapped around his ankle, because that's what big brothers did for little brothers in Tantalus.