|chibirisuchan (chibirisuchan) wrote,|
@ 2006-09-27 12:34:00
I normally try to avoid using Japanese in English fics, with the single exception of titles like 'sensei' that don't have an appropriate English-language replacement. In this case, Mother is a perfectly good translation for Kadaj's incessant 'Kaa-san'... but there really wasn't a good replacement for 'Nii-san.' Because 'elder brother' is too formal for Loz's method of speaking, and 'big brother', when coming from someone of Loz's size and stature and being addressed to someone of Cloud's size and stature, is... kind of unintentionally, cruelly ironic. ^^;; English just doesn't have as many appropriate daily-use terms for siblings as it does for parents. So the one bit of Japanese left in here is the brothers calling Cloud Nii-san.
Anyhow, on with the fic. I'm actually pretty nervous about it, because Loz's point of view is really not like anybody else's that I've written before. He's very blunt, very straightforward and simple, and yet not stupid, but at the same time he's so used to people assuming he's stupid that he just goes with that assessment... let me know if the point of view worked...?
Warnings: Still relatively normal... however normal anything having to do with Kadaj's brain is, anyway. But it's not going to stay that way for long. (One or two more fics, probably.)
Disclaimer: Totally not mine. Not even the core concept for this arc; it was based on a fic that I shan't identify just yet, because I want to hear the screams when the shoe drops.
Loz gave up on counting days after a while. It didn't seem like Kadaj wanted to go anywhere. All right, their bikes were totaled, and their weapons were... probably on a different continent, but to Loz, that just meant they needed to go get their weapons.
He knew better than to just flat-out say that to Kadaj, though. Yazoo twitted him about being the dim one, sometimes, but nobody was that dim.
He wasn't sure what Kadaj was waiting for. The three of them were there, and they were all better -- Mother had made them better while they were with her -- and then they'd been put back where they'd started, only even better because Kadaj didn't have the horrible headaches and the staring-visions and the nightmares he woke shaking from anymore.
...When he bothered to sleep, that was.
But everything should have been just like before, only better, without Mother's cries hurting Kadaj. So they ought to be going somewhere. Only they weren't, because Kadaj only sat and stared into the lake. He didn't even talk.
Kadaj not talking was wrong. Really, seriously, badly wrong. Kadaj always talked. Mostly about Mother.
But he hadn't said a word, and he'd only once lashed out with a fist when Loz tried to keep talking to him until he answered, and the rest of the time he just... sat there, and stared. When Loz gave him food, he stood there to make sure Kadaj ate it, because he looked like it tasted foul, and Loz didn't burn things that badly anymore. If he wasn't going to sleep, he needed to eat something.
But he needed to sleep, too. And talk. He wasn't like Kadaj when he wasn't talking about Mother and the Reunion.
Loz was worried, and he didn't like being worried. Kadaj worried too much for all three of them as it was.
Yazoo wasn't much help, either. He alternated between smug superiority because Loz hadn't figured it out, and tight-lipped looking-away. The only things Yazoo would talk about were the boring strategy things: making sure that one of the two of them was standing watch because Kadaj wasn't reliable now, making sure that the fire didn't go out, sharing the hunting and the scavenging.
Once, Yazoo went to the human town to steal blankets; he'd come back with a gun, too, and he seemed a lot happier about it than Loz thought he ought to. Or at least, happier than he ought to be when Kadaj was... broken.
Loz wasn't sure if Kadaj had even noticed Yazoo had gone. And Yazoo just accepted that Kadaj was... well, he wasn't gone, but he wasn't with them, either.
Kadaj didn't want to talk, and didn't want to play, and didn't want to go anywhere. And he wasn't even hurting anymore. Or at least, he didn't cry out in his sleep, or clutch at his head, or shudder and look up with someone else's smile on his face -- but he never looked up with his own smile, either. But he wasn't hurting anywhere Loz could see. It made no sense.
Yazoo could hunt better with the gun, though, so Loz kept guard over Kadaj most of the time. His voice started sounding strange to himself, because nobody else answered it.
Then, one day, Yazoo found some of the magic balls he and Kadaj called materia.
Some of them were pretty useless out here -- it wasn't like this place needed any more ice -- but one of them was green. And it felt ...it felt like Mother had, the only time he'd ever felt her as clear as Kadaj did -- when she touched his cheek and smiled, while they were dead. It felt like it would make things better.
Loz snatched it away from Yazoo and shoved it into his arm fast enough that it kind of hurt, but he didn't care because Kadaj was broken, and fixing broken things was what this kind of magic was for.
Kadaj made a little gasping sound when Loz cast the cure spell on him; but he didn't look up, or turn around, or smile. He just curled up tighter, face hidden in his knees, and his shoulders were trembling.
"That's not how he's hurt, Loz," Yazoo said softly.
"But... it fixes things!" Loz all but tore the magic out of his arm and held it out to Yazoo, and his hand was shaking. "You do it. You're good with magic."
"It's not going to help," Yazoo said quietly, and cast the cure spell over them both.
All the words had gone away. He didn't have any words left to say how much everything was wrong, that the magic that fixed things hadn't fixed Kadaj, and hadn't fixed the place where his chest ached when he thought about Kadaj being broken, and -- and the way Yazoo was looking at him was wrong too, like he hadn't expected anything to get better, like --
The words were just gone. He needed to break something.
Loz turned around and ran headlong into the white shining trees, needing something else to break, because everything that was there at the lake was broken already. Even the magic that was supposed to fix things. Even his brothers.
He came back, hours later, sweat-drenched and panting and bloodied enough to give a proper test to the magic ball.
It fixed him.
Loz didn't know whether he hated it more before, when he'd just thought it was broken, or after, when it was working but still wouldn't fix what needed fixing. With an incoherent growl, he stripped off his leathers and dove into the lake. The chill bit into him enough that he couldn't spend all his attention on being angry, because some of his attention was getting distracted by shit that's cold.
When he was clean again, and all the blood and the monster guts were gone, and his teeth were chattering some, Loz climbed back out of the lake, looked at his leathers, and curled his lip at the thought of what it would be like putting sweat-soaked leather back over cold wet skin. He padded naked and barefoot over to the fire and Yazoo, and poked through the heap of things Yazoo had scavenged from the humans: broken boxes, canned food, ammunition, a pile of old clothes and rags.
Yazoo held out one of the blankets to him; Loz sighed, and wrapped it around his shoulders, and sat down.
"Why won't the magic fix Kadaj?" he asked. "Does the magic hate us?"
"It has nothing to do with the magic," Yazoo murmured, watching the leap of flames in the fire. "It's in his mind. Or rather -- it's not in his mind, not anymore."
"What's not in his mind?"
"Mother hasn't spoken to him since She sent us back," Yazoo said.
Loz blinked, shook his head, and then blinked some more at the cold drops that scattered from the tips of his hair and sizzled in the fire and sent up little twists of smoke. "How do you know?"
"You know how much the visions affected him," Yazoo murmured, flat-voiced.
"But Mother made us better when we died," Loz said, bewildered. "She smiled at me, and she said it would be all right, she'd give us another chance! And here we are -- and we aren't burned or bleeding or hurting, he isn't hurting--"
"I don't think," Yazoo said, very carefully, "that that was Mother."
"How would you know?" Loz asked sulkily. "Mother never spoke to you either."
"If that had been Mother," Yazoo said, "I think She would have hurt him more. Mother is powerful, but... She is not kind."
"It's not very kind to ignore him like this either," Loz said, stubbornly, because he wanted the green-eyed lady to be Mother. She would have been a good Mother. He would have liked for Kadaj to talk to her when she smiled. It would have made him happy, because all he'd ever wanted was to make Mother happy, and anyone who smiled like that had to be good at being happy.
"I think," Yazoo said, "she wants him to choose for himself."
Loz shook his head again, just to make sure all the water was out of his ears. "Mother does?"
"No, of course Mother doesn't want him to choose for himself, dimwit," Yazoo said, his lips flattened into a thin line. "The maiden. The maiden in the Lifestream."
"But I thought she was Mother," Loz mumbled, and then sighed. His head hurt from all the thinking. No wonder Kadaj didn't want to do it. Thinking was what Yazoo was for.
Loz said as much.
Yazoo laughed, a low, tired sound. "I am for thinking, but not for leading. Leading is what Kadaj is for. That's why he hurts, Loz. He has nowhere to lead us now."
Loz blinked, and then blinked again, and then said, "But that's just stupid."
Yazoo actually looked over at him, then. "What...?"
Kadaj hadn't moved, probably hadn't even heard them, but his head came up sharply when Loz grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him around.
"What do you mean, you haven't got anywhere to lead us?" Loz asked, frustrated. "The planet's still here; it's got all kinds of places in it! We can go anywhere! Anywhere you want to go!"
Kadaj made a sound that wasn't a laugh, dangling from Loz's fist. "I can't lead you myself," he said, and his voice was hoarse. "Mother led me. I only followed. And She has abandoned me. There's nothing left in me worth following."
Loz frowned. "You're still Kadaj."
"That's the problem," Kadaj whispered, and his eyes were as wild and mad as when Mother rode in his mind, but there was no bright-burning fire behind it now. "I was never supposed to survive. He was to have led you; He was to have taken the shell of my body and led you and Yazoo and all of the chosen children to the Promised Land. I was nothing but His Vessel; I am nothing without His glory..."
Loz shook him a little, but his head rocked harder than Loz had meant, and he pulled Kadaj under the blanket and rubbed at his back, an awkward, confused attempt at an apology. "You're not nothing," Loz rumbled.
"No," Kadaj said, his eyes focused on another world. "I'm not, and I should have been. Maybe it was my fault after all. Maybe -- I -- I always resented Him, I hated that Mother loved Him more than me, that He'd have both of you and I would be nothing -- and -- if His Vessel was flawed at the Reunion, it was because of me, because I hated Him--"
"Stop it," Loz said, holding him as tightly as he dared. "It wasn't your fault."
"There is no one else whose fault it could have been," Kadaj said. "I was only to be His shell, His chosen Vessel, and when His Vessel failed to fully embrace His spirit at ascension--"
It just figures, Loz thought sourly. He starts talking again, and all he talks about is Mother and Him, just like it used to be-- and I'm still not happy about it. But at least he's talking -- that's better, isn't it?
"He died because of me," Kadaj whispered, and he was shaking despite Loz's warmth and the blanket. "He died because of me, and Mother has forsaken me, and now I cannot lead you because I have nothing left. There is nothing left within me -- just the chrysalis They cast aside, a ragged hollow scrap that cannot even move without Her will--"
The dark-haired barmaid who liked to play hard would have slapped him by now, Loz thought. The word was something like history. Histery. --Hysterics. That was it. But if Loz slapped Kadaj, he'd break him. Worse than he was already broken.
"You're not nothing," Loz growled, holding Kadaj's chin to make sure those mad green eyes stayed focused on his face. "You're here. You're our brother. That's plenty to be."
"But I'm not the brother you need, not the one who could have led you to the Promised Land--"
"You're the brother I want," Loz said. "I don't want him if he takes you away."
Kadaj's eyes shocked even wider, until the whites showed all around, and he reached up and clasped both hands over Loz's mouth urgently.
"Don't," he hissed. "Don't say that, don't think that -- Mother won't forgive me, but She might still accept you -- if if She'd just guide me, if She'd allow me to bring you close enough, then He could still--"
"D'wanna," Loz mumbled into Kadaj's palms; then he pulled them away from his mouth. "We don't know him. He never talks to us. You're the brother we know. You're the brother we want to stay with. So if Mother won't let you in, we'll just stay out too, and then it'll be okay..."
"You don't understand," Kadaj said. "You don't understand what She does to those who deny Her--"
"Nii-san's been denying Her just fine," Loz said, a little sulky.
Something shifted behind Kadaj's eyes in a way Loz wasn't sure he liked.
"Nii-san," Kadaj breathed, half a blessing and half a curse. "That's right. Mother must have rejected him as well; he was the one who struck down her Chosen One. Nii-san will be here, cast out from the Promised Land with us! But..."
Kadaj hesitated, his brow furrowed.
"But there is no path. We cannot simply turn away from the road he chooses in order to find Mother again, because there are too many ways to turn now-- I need Her, I need Her voice, Her strength within me-- I don't know what to do anymore--"
And then Loz had an idea that startled him so much he wasn't sure what to do with it for a moment. He was pretty sure Kadaj wasn't going to like that he'd thought it. Kadaj was ...particular, about how people were supposed to think about Mother, and about Him. But... it was a good idea. Mother wasn't the only one who could have good ideas.
Not that he could say that to Kadaj either, but -- still, it was a good idea.
He lifted Kadaj into the crook of one arm, and frowned at how disturbingly easy it was to do -- Kadaj felt too light, too fragile, like Loz might break him if he held him too close. But that wasn't the Good Idea, so Loz put it away for a moment in order to pay attention to the Good Idea, which included making Kadaj's mouth do things a lot more interesting than talking about Mother.
Like that little gasp he always made when Loz nipped at the ticklish spot behind the arch of his jawbone -- there, just like that. Loz rumbled his approval into the moon-pale skin of Kadaj's throat, and Kadaj shuddered and gasped at the tickling, and so far the Good Idea was going quite well, which was why Kadaj's palm pushing against his face made Loz feel sort of cranky.
"Not the idea," Loz protested, and caught the tip of one of the fingers of Kadaj's gloves in his teeth, and pulled with a little playing-growl.
"Loz--" Kadaj struggled a little in his arms, which meant a challenge; he always wriggled more when they were playing. "Loz, what are you...?"
"I have a good idea, Kadaj," Loz mumbled around the glove in his teeth, and spat it toward the pile of their supplies, and started on the rest of Kadaj's leathers.
"Loz." Kadaj caught both of Loz's hands with his own, and held them still.
Kadaj's hands were too thin now, the bones standing out through the near-translucent skin; Loz was afraid he could count the bones if he tried. Kadaj needed to eat more, and sleep more, and play more, and not spend all his time staring at nothing and wanting to be nothing so that someone else could take his place. Because Kadaj was his brother, and Loz didn't want to follow anyone else -- Loz's eyes prickled, and stung, and blurred.
"Oh, Loz." Kadaj's hands were still his own, still deft and playful and deceptively strong beneath the too-pale skin; his fingertips still dug through Loz's hair the same way. "Don't cry, Loz."
"You need to eat more," Loz mumbled, and coughed so his voice wouldn't break. "So you won't break when I play with you."
"...That was your wonderful idea, Loz? Feeding me?" Kadaj almost sounded like his ordinary self for a moment there, sarcastic and amused.
"No," Loz said, still glaring down so that Kadaj couldn't tease him for the tears. "Well, maybe. Kind of. But not all of it."
Kadaj was stroking his fingers through Loz's hair again, just rough enough to tug a little, fingertips dragging across his scalp just right. "Then what was the rest of it, hmm?"
"You won't like it," Loz mumbled, and tried to catch Kadaj's bare hand so that he could distract him with their bodies again.
"Then it's not a good idea."
"Yes it is." It was a good idea. Just not one Kadaj would like.
Kadaj chuckled softly, and brushed his thumb over the jut of Loz's bottom lip. "Convince me."
"...You're the one who knows how to make words do what you want them to." And he wasn't pouting at all.
"I didn't say," Kadaj murmured, letting one slender hand graze down the tendons of Loz's throat and over the musculature of his shoulders, "that you needed words."
Well, that made everything easier.
The fire was burning down, but Loz was still hot and sweaty and sticky and panting, and Kadaj was sprawled all but boneless against his chest, and Loz didn't want to disturb him, because he thought Kadaj might be resting. He wasn't sure how long it had been since he'd seen Kadaj resting, rather than asleep or passed out from fatigue or pain. Resting wasn't really something Kadaj did much. He was always driven, always searching, even when he wasn't moving.
Stray locks of Kadaj's silk-fine hair had stuck to his sweat-damp cheek, and his nose crinkled a little when Loz's breathing made the tips shift and tickle. Loz brushed it away with a drowsy hand.
"That was," Kadaj murmured, "quite an acceptable idea. I had no objections."
His fingertips traced the tendons in the back of Loz's hand idly, over the flex of his wrist and up the muscle of his forearm to the ticklish spot at the crook of his elbow. Loz snorted at the tickle, so he wouldn't laugh, and pinned Kadaj's hand against his chest instead.
"You really mean it?" Loz asked, just because he knew how quickly Kadaj could change his mind about things. "I didn't think you'd let go of Mother that easily."
Kadaj went very, very still against his chest. "And who," he said in a voice that would have made anyone else tremble, "said a word about 'letting go of' Mother?"
"You said I didn't have to use words to convince you," Loz protested, closing his eyes with a tired sigh. "I knew you wouldn't like the idea."
"Your idea was an evening of sex," Kadaj said, still taut and wary. "Mother is Mother. The two are not connected."
Loz groaned, because it looked like Kadaj was going to make him have to figure out how to say it after all. He scrunched his forehead up and tried to think of a way to say it that wouldn't make Kadaj even madder.
"...You said you needed something else inside you."
Kadaj blinked, and then gave a short, sharp bark of laughter. "I didn't mean it that crudely, Loz."
"I didn't either." Loz pushed himself up on an elbow, the other arm curving around Kadaj's too-sharp ribs to keep him steady. "You keep saying you need Mother's strength, Mother's guidance. I used to be His Strength, and He used to be Mother's. But that's all wrong now. I need to be your Strength, instead. I need to be your Strength, and Yazoo needs to be your Wisdom. If Mother chose Him, fine. You don't need Her anymore, because I choose you. Not Him, not Her. I'm only choosing you."
...Kadaj looked like he'd been hit in the stomach.
...Loz hated words. They made everything turn out wrong. Because Kadaj was starting to cry, and Loz was supposed to be the one who cried. The Chosen One wasn't supposed to need to cry, ever, because his others were supposed to be there to protect him and guide him. Which meant Loz had messed everything up again.
"Don't cry, Kadaj," he begged. "I'll be your Strength, and Yazoo will be your Wisdom, and you'll be our Chosen One. And I'll be inside you whenever you need something inside, and I'll hold you up when you need your Strength, and Yazoo will tell us what to do because he'll be your Wisdom, and it'll all be simple again--"
And he needed Yazoo to come back, because Kadaj had curled up in a tight little knot, shaking with huge, wracking sobs, and Loz didn't know what to do. He wasn't the one who was supposed to know what to do; Yazoo was the one who knew things, and he'd just up and left when Kadaj had started peeling his way out of his leathers, and -- and Loz hated words.
Words just made everything twist around and hurt. Bodies were better. Simpler. Easier to understand. Loz didn't understand why Kadaj was crying so hard he could break.
Yazoo was supposed to be Wisdom, Yazoo was supposed to be here, and explain it all, and make it all right -- if Kadaj broke worse inside, it would be Yazoo's fault for not being here, and not Loz's fault for making him cry--
...no. That was words, and the words were twisting things up again.
Yazoo was the one who'd been granted Wisdom. Loz didn't have anyone else's Wisdom to rely on, and nobody thought very highly of the wisdom he had on his own. But Kadaj needed Strength now too, Strength to keep him from breaking himself to pieces. Loz could try to hold him together when Kadaj couldn't manage by himself; he needed to learn how to be Kadaj's Strength from now on.
Just trying to hold him together wasn't enough, though, because Kadaj was still shaking too hard, his hands fisted so tight in his hair that the knuckles were bone-white.
Maybe having his Strength inside again would help him.
At first Loz didn't think it was going to work, because Kadaj shuddered and twisted and fought to escape Loz's hold, his breath hitching in his throat in the wrong way, the way that said pain fear hurt, not the way that said more do that more yes there more.
But then Kadaj stopped struggling for a moment, still shivering with fine tremors like a wild thing barely poised beneath his hands; and then he twisted around in Loz's arms and wrapped himself around Loz desperately, all bony knees and sharp elbows and desperate thin hands that grasped and scratched and clung tight, tighter, fierce and frantic and trembling.
Loz wrapped his arms around Kadaj and lifted them both, sitting back on his heels so he could rub at the tension-tightness between Kadaj's sharp little shoulderblades as he pushed in.
Kadaj's hands knotted up again, one fisted in his hair, the other digging into his shoulders, and his feet arched and pushed at Loz's hips, as though he could crush Loz's flesh and bone and strength and heat and everything into himself if he just held on tightly enough.
Loz was pretty sure it wasn't going to work like that, not the way it had with Mother. But he certainly didn't mind Kadaj's wordless, panting, needy sounds as he tried.
When they were done, when Kadaj had mostly stopped trembling in his arms and the tear-streaks on his face were blurred away by licking and sweat and Loz's fingertips, Loz asked him carefully, trying not to hope too much: "Better?"
Kadaj tucked his face down against Loz's chest further, his shoulders tightening.
"You don't have to be strong," Loz said. "I'll do that for you. Just let me."
"You don't understand anything," Kadaj said, and curled up tighter. "You can't understand."
"I wish I could," he said, a little rough, because his chest hurt again. "I wish I could be what you're needing."
Kadaj choked on a sound that wasn't a laugh. "You don't understand," he said again. "I'm the one who can't be what's needed. I never could. I don't know how to be something that's chosen. All I know is how to be the placeholder."
Loz thought about that for a minute. "You're right," he murmured. "I don't understand."
"I told you so," Kadaj said, tired-voiced. "Go to sleep, Loz."
Kadaj tilted his head up just enough that Loz could glimpse the flash of acid green eyes through the spidersilk of his hair. "I don't want to talk about this."
"You're the one who makes words do what you want them to," Loz said, and he was starting to get angry too. "Make them make sense. Because it doesn't make sense. --I chose you. I chose you. You don't have to be anything else to be chosen."
"It doesn't work like that!" Kadaj hissed. "You think I can just say to you, 'I choose you to be my Wisdom,' and you'll suddenly know what to do? I'm just His cast-off shell! I can't be enough to be worth your choice! Without the power that was granted to me to hold in keeping for His Advent, I'm empty, and blind -- I can't even begin to find the right path by myself, no matter how much you need me to. I can't lead you to anything but futility. I can't do this."
Carefully, Loz brushed his lips against Kadaj's bare shoulder, and cupped a palm against his back. "Futility's not that bad, is it?" he asked, soft-voiced. "Futility is when you're playing around, instead of doing something serious, right? I like playing."
"I think I'd like futility too, if you were the one who led us there."
Kadaj pulled away from Loz's arms and curled up with his back turned, a pale ghost-wash in the moonlight. "Go to sleep, Loz."
...Stupid, stupid words.
Loz was missing one of them. He knew there was a word for what he needed to say, a word for what Kadaj needed to hear him say. A word that would say I chose you, and I wasn't wrong. A word that would say You can choose yourself, and You need to choose yourself. A word that would say I don't care whose path we're walking on. As long as you're the one who's leading, I'll follow.
And Kadaj would listen to him saying the word that was missing, and it would make everything make sense. And he wouldn't say go to sleep, Loz with that sharp voice any more.
Loz turned away, and closed his eyes tight, and wished the blanket was as warm as Kadaj was.
The word you're looking for is love, silly, Mother said, and all the world was as green as her eyes.
That's not the right word, Loz said. Kadaj says love is why you kept Him, and why you threw us out. He didn't like love like that.
She tilted her head to the side a bit, like a little bird might, and something about her mouth said laughter and regret at the same time. You're more right than you ought to be, she said. But still. It really is the right word, I promise.
He loves you two much more than he loves himself, you know. That's why he wants to give you something better than himself. --He's being rather silly too.
He is silly, Loz agreed, not caring if Kadaj would tease him for pouting. I don't love something better. I love him.
Why don't you tell him that, then? And you could tell him that it's all right if he loves himself a little more, too.
...I really don't think he likes that word, Mother.
Mother sighed, but she was smiling, too, a little sadly. Boys. Honestly, what am I going to do with such boys...
"Futility," Yazoo said in the morning over breakfast, "means something that's useless, Loz."
"You were watching?" Loz asked, curious. "You should have stayed with us. We needed wisdom."
"True as that may be," Yazoo said dryly, "you also needed someone to stand guard. You were both ...rather preoccupied."
"We could have traded off," Loz mumbled, chewing, and then swallowed. "Besides. Playing isn't useful either, but it's good."
"I still don't want to talk about this," Kadaj said, and his gaunt hands were tearing a piece of bread to bits with short savage jerks.
"I'm not surprised," Yazoo said. "You should eat that, not destroy it."
Kadaj looked down at the mess of his plate, and said, "I'm not hungry."
"You should eat anyway."
"You should," Loz agreed. "Yazoo is the one who knows things, remember?"
Kadaj's mouth twisted bitterly, and he flung the bread-tatters into the fire before he stood to stalk away.
Loz looked at his piece of bread, and thought about throwing it at the back of Kadaj's head for a minute. Then he made himself take another bite, because he was going to do what Yazoo said. Because Yazoo knew things, and Kadaj was being... strange, again.
"Yazoo," Loz mumbled around a mouthful of bread, "you know what's wrong with him, don't you?"
"I understand his difficulty, yes."
"So why haven't you fixed it?"
Yazoo prodded at the fire with a stick, silent.
"We're not alike," Yazoo said at last, low-voiced. "We're brothers, Loz, but we're not alike. You and he feel things that I can't feel. He and I share thoughts that you wouldn't understand. And you and I -- we are what we are; and we're content just to be. Kadaj cannot simply be. It is his nature to need to become. To transcend the limitations placed upon us by our state of existence, to join the million scattered fragments of Mother's legacy into the greater whole, to constantly seek out something beyond himself -- you can't simply ask him to stop aching for the Reunion. It would be as if he asked you never to play with anything again."
"But I like playing," he mumbled. "Kadaj doesn't like Him."
"Kadaj's nature was not crafted with any concern for his happiness, Loz. To Mother, his happiness or misery was irrelevant, because it had no impact upon his ability to embody Her will."
"So... if he can 'need to become' someone who knows how to be happy..."
"That simple, is it?" Yazoo murmured, staring into the fire with a wry quirk at the edge of his mouth. "Tell me, then: what should I do to learn to be happy? What should I do to learn to feel so strongly?"
"You're the one who's supposed to know all these things," Loz protested. "You should know."
"I know things, brother. I don't feel them. Not the way that you and he do."
Loz dug both hands through his hair, frustrated. "You're both giving me a headache."
Yazoo ran his hand down the curve of Loz's throat, strong fingertips rubbing at the nape of his neck. "Let go," he said. "It's Kadaj's problem, after all, not yours."
"...But I want him to not hurt."
Yazoo sighed, and tossed the stick into the fire, and stood. "Let's ask him, then," he said.
"Ask him what?"
"Just come, Loz."
They found him sitting half-hidden under the pale, graceful curve of one of the Ancients' shell-structures, a small black huddle that stained the moonpearl-shining.
Loz wasn't sure whether he wanted to pick him up and shake him, or hold him, or both. Yazoo dropped to crouch on his heels at their brother's side, then pulled Loz down beside them.
"What makes you happy, little brother?" he murmured.
Kadaj shot him a sharp, acid-tinged glare, but said nothing.
"Loz," Yazoo said, "what makes you happy?"
"Playing with something that doesn't break," Loz said right away, because that one was always the hardest to find. "Driving really fast, when we had our motorcycles. That sound Kadaj makes in his throat when I push in. And that soft place just on the inside of his hip, the one where he curls his toes when I rub it. And I really like the way it's so hot inside him, and the way it feels when I come..."
"Yes, Loz, we understand," Yazoo said, wry-voiced. "You like sex. Any other topics?"
"I like hunting things," Loz offered. "Running. Doing things. --I like the wind, because the wind gets to go everywhere. Flying would be really good, if we could fly. But I like water too, because it's fun splashing. Water plays with you better than wind does. Water plays back. ...And it never breaks. It never stops being water. It'll splash you no matter how hard you play with it. I like that. --And fires are good for getting warm when you're done splashing..."
"Simpleton," Kadaj murmured, his voice a thick blend of amusement and scorn.
"It's not simple," Yazoo said. "You and I find it quite difficult to seek out such varied pleasures in so many things."
"He's got the attention span of a mayfly," Kadaj said, sharply. "Flitting from one transient instant to another. Neither of you understand vision."
"I understand it doesn't make you happy," Loz said, sulky.
"And that is the best reply you can provide to the presentation of truth?" Yazoo asked. "Truth deserves truth, Kadaj, and not petty insults."
"What do you want from me, Yazoo?" Kadaj asked, tired-voiced. "Loz wants me to pretend I could take His place, to pretend I still have a goal and a path for you to follow. What do you want?"
"I would like you to answer our question," Yazoo said. "What makes you happy, little brother? What is it you truly want?"
Kadaj flinched, almost as though Yazoo had hit him, though Yazoo hadn't even lifted a hand. He hid his face in his tucked-up knees, and didn't answer.
"Think about it," Yazoo said, and settled down at his side. "Loz and I will wait for you."
"I can't stop thinking about it," Kadaj mumbled, not looking up. "I can't stop feeling the hole inside where She used to fill me, when I knew why I lived and what I was created to do--"
"And what else?"
Kadaj looked up at that, incredulous. "What do you mean, what else? I never needed anything else!"
"Now you do," Yazoo said, calm and utterly pitiless. "So. What else?"
"I -- I don't know--"
"It's okay," Loz said, anxious, because it sounded like Kadaj was going to cry again. "You don't have to know; knowing's Yazoo's part. Guessing is okay too. We can figure it out from guessing."
"Guessing?" Kadaj echoed, incredulous. "I can't just guess-- you need me to know where I lead us, why we do what we do. Otherwise it's meaningless, all of it."
"I don't mind if you guess," Loz said. "If you don't know, then you don't know. It's okay. It's not like I'd guess better."
"You shouldn't need to guess at all," Kadaj said. "I'm responsible for you both. It's my duty to you to know--"
Yazoo set his fingertips against Kadaj's lips then, lightly. "Your duty," he said. "You feel duty to the two of us, to lead us to Mother's Reunion, where we will become whole and know joy, correct?"
Kadaj nodded mutely, and his eyes were too bright, his grief caught on the edge of spilling over.
"And so Mother has taken Her guidance from you, and you don't understand your new duty."
"Mother's Will is my duty--"
"You were to lead us to the Reunion," Yazoo said, steady and calm. "You were to lead us to the joy of becoming complete. You still have the duty to lead us to joy. And if the Reunion cannot be found, then we should seek other paths to it."
"And I've told you I don't know--"
"--Which is why I said that we seek other paths. You know how to search, Kadaj. You've searched all your life."
"How?" Kadaj whispered. "How do I search for a goal I don't know?"
"I suspect it may involve a great deal of guessing," Yazoo said, looking at Loz, and the very corners of his lips had quirked upward toward a smile. "So. If you were to guess, what would you guess would make you happy?"
"Mother," Kadaj said, his head bowed over his knees. "I wish Mother could forgive me, for not being Him."
Kadaj managed a sound that could have been a laugh, unsteady around the edges but there. "You have no mercy, Yazoo."
After a moment's judicious assessment, Yazoo said, "I believe that's correct. But it wasn't a guess. So?"
"I..." Kadaj hesitated for a moment, then tried again. "I wish I could find a place where you could both ...be complete. I'd feel... relieved."
"Relieved that your duty was accomplished?" Yazoo asked, and Kadaj nodded. "What else?"
"Isn't that difficult enough? I don't want to want anything else; it's going to be hard enough to accomplish that for you, when I don't know what to do--"
"You don't have to want just the hard things," Loz said anxiously, rubbing Kadaj's shoulder. "Don't you like playing with me?"
"Sex and combat may be pleasant distractions, but it's not enough of a purpose for living."
Kadaj dropped his head forward against his knees with a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a snort. "Never mind, Loz."
After a moment's thought, Loz said, "We need to find more things that you like. Let's go looking."
"I don't need more things to like, Loz. I need a reason to exist."
"Well, then let's go looking for that."
Kadaj lifted his head and stared at him. Yazoo was staring at him too.
"Why not?" Loz asked. "If something's gone away somewhere, it can't hurt to look for it."
"It's not 'gone away,'" Kadaj said, and his voice was unsteady. "It's -- extinguished. Mother was a flame that burned through everything, that illuminated the whole world. She was everywhere, She was everything, and... and -- it's like a blown-out candle; there's nothing left but an ember and a twist of smoke."
"Then let's look for Mother too. I mean, she can't be nowhere, can she?" Loz said. "If we find her, we'll have found her. If we don't, we'll find something else. And there are all kinds of places to look. It's a pretty big planet."
Kadaj was still staring at him; after a long moment, though, he breathed a sigh and tipped his head sideways to rest against Loz's shoulder. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"Well, yeah," Loz said. "We could get motorcycles again. And find you a sword. And there'd be lots of monsters to play with. It'd be good."
"That could be a start, then," Kadaj said, with a strange, rueful smile. "Even if I can't serve my purpose, I can serve yours for a time."
"I have to have a purpose too?" Loz said, nose crinkled. "I don't think I want one. You don't like yours very much."
Yazoo made an odd half-sound that was something like a muffled explosion, behind both hands over his mouth. Kadaj glared at him.
"No, wait, I got that backwards," Loz corrected himself. "You don't like not having a purpose, either. Okay. I'll have a purpose for you, Kadaj. What do you want me to do?"
"Your purpose is to point out where you could be happy," Kadaj said. "You're the best of us at finding happiness, after all. And we'll look for my purpose along the way. And... for Mother."
"Let's go," Loz said eagerly. "We could start out looking for your purpose at that place with the lights and the games and the silly birds that run around in circles!"
"The Gold Saucer?" Kadaj asked, with a funny note in his voice. "Why would my purpose be there?"
"We don't know where it's at," Loz said. "So we've got a lot of places we need to look. So we might as well start with the really good ones! Because when we find it, that means we don't have to look at the rest of the places."
"It would be a long walk," Kadaj said, his voice just brimming with dry, sardonic humor. "And a wet one. There's an ocean in the way, after all. We should find transportation first."
"That's why you're the leader," Loz said happily. "I'll just pick which way we go."
Yazoo made that odd muffled-explosion sound again, and Kadaj scooped up a handful of lake-water and poured it down his neck.
...Well, it looked like they weren't going to get started going anywhere for a while, if the way Yazoo shoved Kadaj into the water was any indication. But Kadaj was laughing around the splashing and flailing, because he'd just gotten a double-fistful of Yazoo's coat and jerked hard, and Yazoo hit the water with a thoroughly unelegant splash.
Loz thought Kadaj playing was a good enough way to start looking for purposes. Better than some of them, honestly, because Loz really wanted Kadaj to find a purpose that made him happier than Mother had.
He wasn't nearly stupid enough to say that out loud either. But it didn't make it not true.
Loz thought about jumping in with them, because it was going to take a while to dry all the leather out again, and it had been such a long time since he'd seen Kadaj and Yazoo playing. But if the searching went well, then he'd have a lot of chances to play with them. He could sit and watch them playing with each other for a while.
...Besides, that water really was pretty damn cold.
Loz decided with some satisfaction that, his brothers' name-calling to the contrary, he wasn't stupid. He was the one who was still dry, after all.