|chibirisuchan (chibirisuchan) wrote,|
@ 2007-05-30 23:10:00
Title: Right of Way
Theme: #26 (shhh!)
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
Pairing/Character: Kadaj and Loz
Rating: R for violence
Table of contents of the 25 streetsigns fics
Warnings: Yazoo's headspace is a really, really weird place to be. Still part of the ongoing arc. (Things go boom next time, though the fallout happens in the one after that.)
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. (Also, the community mod was kind enough to let me add an extra sign to make my plot arc work...)
26. Right of Way
(殆んど: Hotondo: almost, but not quite)
It took them longer than Kadaj liked to be able to leave the island that held the ruins of the Ancients' city. The previous time, Kadaj had simply told Yazoo to shoot the ferryman so that they could take his boat. They were at war against the entire world, and enemy casualties didn't matter; only their goals had mattered. --Only Mother's goals had mattered.
Now, though, whether or not Kadaj liked it, Yazoo knew that they couldn't afford to be at war with the entire world. Without the geostigma at their call, without His power for Kadaj to call upon, without Mother's demands driving them to a swift conclusion -- the pattern of the world had changed, and Yazoo doubted the others understood the difference.
"Where's your gil?" the new ferryman's voice asked through the tinny-sounding speaker on the wharf, and the man himself was ensconced in a steel-reinforced cabin on a boat at least 100 meters out.
That was one of the problems with humans. They learned too quickly.
"Who?" Loz shouted back, not quite understanding that he didn't need to cover the distance with his voice.
The ferryman didn't bother responding; he put the boat into reverse and started pulling away.
Kadaj shoved Loz to one side. "I'm Gil!" he declared.
That was one of the problems with his brothers. They learned quickly as well, but there was too much information each of them didn't have to start with.
In hindsight, Yazoo understood that he should have explained the concept of 'cash' and 'remuneration' and 'purchases of services and goods' to them, but he hadn't understood exactly how much they'd forgotten.
Last time, of course, his bullets 'bought' what they needed, because they were at war with the world. This time... they simply couldn't afford it.
"Come back here, you pathetic mortal vermin!" Kadaj shouted into the speaker, as though even without Geostigma he could still command the humans through his sheer force of rage. Unfortunately for Kadaj's temper, it wasn't working. The ferryman's response was ...impolite, not to mention physiologically questionable.
Without Yazoo's Velvet Nightmare or any other projectiles at hand, Kadaj tore the speaker off the post and flung it a startling distance toward the ferry, then followed it with the post itself -- and the ferryman accelerated in his departure.
Kadaj's thwarted fury could have burned steel if he'd had any materia. In Yazoo's one bit of foresight, he'd packed their materia before they left their camp. He was glad of that, now. A Bahamut summons, for example, would have both slaughtered the ferryman and sank the boat, and a fire materia in Kadaj's hands right then might well have set the steel itself on fire. In either case, they wouldn't have gotten a functioning method of transportation from it.
They couldn't afford to be at war with a world they had to live in, a world still populated with hundreds of thousands of humans and only three of them. Sooner or later, now that they no longer had Mother's blessing and the power of Geostigma -- sooner or later, through sheer force of numbers, the humans would win the war. There was no tactical sense in fighting when you were virtually unarmed and that badly outnumbered. Now, the intelligent tactical decision was to lie low. To not be noticed.
...To not, for example, ask who "gil" was and then attempt yet again to murder a ferryman and steal his property.
After Kadaj had finished destroying the entire wharf with his bare hands and his incoherent, white-hot rage, Yazoo still put a hand out to stop Loz from trying to touch him as Kadaj stormed off into the forest.
"But he's not happy," Loz protested. "I'm supposed to lead him to somewhere that will make him happy, Yazoo, remember?"
"Letting him maul you won't make him happy in the long run, Loz," he observed. "What will make him happy is a way to leave this subcontinent."
"But I don't have a boat to give him!" Loz's brows were crooked together in misery, and his eyes were too bright, too distressed by the overspill of Kadaj's molten fury.
"We don't need a boat," Yazoo murmured.
"I can't swim that far," he protested. "If I can't, I know Kadaj can't. He doesn't eat enough--"
Yazoo set fingertips to his brother's lips and waited for him to stop fretting. Once Loz had stilled, he nodded his approval, and said, "Just follow me, Loz."
"Even though I'm supposed to be the leader?"
"Leaders know when to listen to other people," Yazoo said. "I am still our Wisdom, aren't I? Come, and be quiet."
Loz nodded, subdued, and didn't say another word.
The chocobos in the Ancients' forest were whites; it was one of the few places in the world where such strikingly pale, luminous coloring allowed a creature to blend in rather than to stand out. Again, Yazoo found himself regretting his lack of explanation beforehand, though. When he led Loz to a grazing flock and 'explained' with catching gestures, Loz nodded eagerly -- and charged straight in.
Loz had the speed and strength and lethal grace of a wild tiger -- and, also, the subtlety of a wild tiger. Which was to say that once he'd made his attack, all that mattered was playing for a while and then bringing down the target.
He really, really should have taken the time to specify 'alive' around the 'catching,' Yazoo thought wearily, watching his brother demolish one of the birds.
Loz had damaged one badly enough that there was nothing it could do but shriek and peck feebly; since it wasn't good for playing anymore, he snapped its neck with a well-aimed punch, then picked up the corpse and tossed it over a shoulder and came trotting back like a happy puppy with a favorite stick.
Still, Loz had provided dinner, and meat for smoking for travel. So Yazoo praised Loz's hunting skills with an untroubled calm.
Kadaj was drawn back by the firelight and the scent of roasting meat; he was still half wild himself, still seething with the futility of his loss of the command that had been his birthright, still bitterly questioning the purpose in his existence without it.
Yazoo took one look at his eyes and pulled a fistful of meat off the bird's carcass to take with him on watch, because a half-second later, Kadaj had knocked Loz flat and knotted both hands in his hair and was kissing him as though somehow he could draw out all the strength in Loz's sturdy soul by sheer force of needing.
Being on watch for a time would give him a chance to put his thoughts in order, after all. They still needed to understand basic human financial interactions.
And yet again he'd miscalculated, Yazoo thought gloomily, watching them. He'd known better than to enter the circular inference problem of needing to define 'money' with 'purchase' and needing to define 'purchase' with 'money' when they didn't understand either word. He'd thought to start with the elements of supply and demand instead. But still...
"Why are you making 'supply' and 'demand' sound so complicated?" Loz asked lazily, still sweat-shining and half-dressed, nibbling on a piece of thigh meat he'd taken from Kadaj as proof of his point. "We 'demand,' they 'supply.' Simple."
"Yes, but they have to want to supply," Yazoo said. "There must be motivation."
"Their motivation is 'they supply so we don't kill them on the spot and take anyway,'" Kadaj said with a sinuous shrug.
"...Most humans want a better rationale than that."
"What better rationale is there than 'do what I say and you get to keep breathing?'" Kadaj replied, trailing his fingertips along the curve of Loz's collarbone. "Loz's version makes more sense."
Yazoo had the strangest urge to beat his head against something solid and unyielding as practice for the frustrations of microeconomic education. Upon rational reflection, increasing his headache wouldn't solve the problem, but perhaps it would give him a different metaphor for comparison.
And Loz was so delighted by Kadaj's praise that Yazoo couldn't have gotten anywhere with an attempt at correction, so he retreated into the forest to resettle his mind and attempt to gather educational tools.
"...So the shells," Yazoo finished with dogged determination, "are placeholders. Carrying an entire chocobo around is bulky and messy, especially if you're traveling for weeks. So. The person in the first town gives us shells for the chocobo we leave with him--" Yazoo placed a feather beside the apple sitting inside the circle he'd drawn in the dirt, and handed the shells to Loz.
"Then we go to the next town. And we want to buy fresh chocobo meat there. Fresh meat that hasn't had to stew in the sun and go rancid while we travel. So we carry the shells as placeholders until we get to the next town." He drew another circle in the dirt and put a rock and a pile of feathers into it. "Now, we talk to the shopkeeper and tell him to give us a chocobo for the shells."
"But that's just stupid," Loz said. "Who'd want to give up perfectly good meat for a handful of shells?"
"It's... an agreed mechanism of exchange," Yazoo offered. "Having shells means that you don't have to carry the whole bird. If you have shells, the shopkeeper will give you chocobo meat for the shells. And then the shopkeeper has the shells. So the shopkeeper can give someone else the shells for more chocobo meat..."
"Wait," Loz said, brows furrowed. "You mean there are lots of people stupid enough to trade meat for shells?"
"It's because of portability," Yazoo said. "It's much more portable to carry shells. Or rather, gil."
"Yeah, but what happens when we meet a shopkeeper who's not stupid enough to trade meat for dumb old shells?" Loz asked, chewing. "Do we get to kill him and take the meat anyway then?"
"It would be illegal for him not to trade meat for shells. --Gil. Gil."
"...Bad. Wrong. He would be in trouble with the rest of the humans. They depend on being able to trade ...shells for what they need, or else the whole thing doesn't work."
"...It's wrong to say 'hell no, I don't want your shells, I want to keep my meat'?"
"No wonder Mother wanted them all destroyed," Kadaj put in, rolling his eyes. "An entire society based on stupid rules designed to make the vermin trade useful things for useless things just because the Shinra vermin told them to? The world would be better off without them, if they're that easily bullied into foolishness."
Then he glanced up at Yazoo sidelong, with an unsettling spark in his eyes. "And you say you don't think we could win against them now? Why couldn't we?"
It took Yazoo a great deal of fast talking to head that idea off.
Shaken by his repeated failure to present human financial interactions in a way that his brothers considered valuable enough to comply with, Yazoo turned his focus to the other dilemma.
He had always known how to use his beauty as a weapon against humans; it was bred into him, simply another strategic advantage to be calculated as precisely as the aim of his gunblade. But chocobos respond to entirely different visual cues, and different scents. He didn't know how to ...flirt with chocobos.
He didn't particularly want to flirt with chocobos, either. But as a mechanism for acquiring a captive chocobo that was still both physically and mentally intact enough to provide them with transportation... well, it had to be better for their purposes than Loz's approach.
Still, chocobos had to eat, and he dimly remembered the shape of the grasses they liked. There had been a long building, with rows of birds in boxes, and...
A laughing human, with a black crest. And teasing about... about...
...That much was gone, but the shape and scent of the greens weren't.
Once he'd acquired a good collection of greens, Yazoo headed toward the place where they'd found the birds earlier, and sat down in the clearing, and waited. Most prey animals were well aware of aggression and wary of concealment; therefore, he had to be readily visible, smaller than they were, and above all still and calm.
Yazoo closed his eyes and filled his mind with bird-thoughts: speed and near-flight as he and his brothers raced each other down the roads, the feathery texture of Kadaj's flyaway crest, the sharp scent of the greens...
It was sunrise by the time one of the birds had ventured close enough to snatch a beakful of greens from his lap. It pulled back and eyed him over its mouthful; Yazoo didn't smile, because a prey animal would consider that simply a hostile baring of teeth. Instead, he gathered a handful and held it out, waiting.
Once the first bird had snatched greens out of his hands, its more cautious shadow grew impatient that its bolder friend was receiving all of the food. The second bird ruffled its feathers and squawked at him, beak open like a chick's; Yazoo presented an offering to it as well, and it actually stepped closer to take the greens.
When the two of them began 'arguing' over whose greens they were, rather than hesitating over whether he was a potential predator, Yazoo knew he had them.
"You're so smart, Yazoo!" Loz said when he saw the chocobos. "Now we don't need any stupid shells!"
Yazoo froze in the middle of fashioning halters out of rope left from the destroyed wharf; he turned slowly, carefully, to face his brother.
"Because if they're still alive, they don't go rotten and smelly and stuff," Loz said, brows quirked together. "So we don't need shells. Isn't that why you got them?"
"Shells -- gil -- are used for more than chocobo meat," Yazoo said weakly. "They're used for ...weapons. Fuel. Places to stay."
"But we take weapons and fuel with us, and places to stay remain where they are," Kadaj said, narrow-eyed. "Why would they bother with shells for that?"
"I'll... I'll explain later," Yazoo hedged, wondering if the sensation of spinning in his mind and the hot prickle across his shoulders and the accelerating heart rate was caused by what the scientists had termed a 'panic attack'. Loz had been prone to them, but he himself had never been emotional enough to respond like that. How ...unsettling.
"So why did you get the chocobos?" Kadaj asked, giving the bigger one an antagonistic stare, perhaps in case it had developed any delusions about which of them was shortly to be in control of the situation.
"I believe this kind can swim," Yazoo said. "There are wild whites on the continent, where the coloring would be a definite disadvantage in terms of concealment from predators. So they must have come from this island. In order to do that, they should, logically speaking, be able to swim."
And the concern that his reasoning might have failed him yet again was an uncomfortable knot lodged in the middle of his chest.
Their safe arrival on the shores of the western continent did much to shore up Yazoo's faltering confidence in the ability of reason to master the world around them. Unfortunately, it did just as much to shore up Loz's confidence that Yazoo was smart enough to think a way around their needing to bother with 'shells' at all. And Kadaj had begun muttering that if Yazoo wasn't smart enough to out-think stupid humans, then he had no business calling himself their Wisdom to begin with.
"It's like cooperation," Yazoo suggested. He'd given up on establishing the abstract of 'gil' until they had acquired some gil that he could show them, and he was working harder than ought to have been necessary to simply establish the foundation of 'shells' as 'a mechanism for temporally delayed exchange of goods'.
"No it's not," Kadaj said. "You said it was like supply and demand. Shinra demands they use shells, and they supply chocobo meat for shells when they're afraid someone is going to demand their life instead. That's not cooperation; that's fear."
"But that's not all of it," Yazoo said, and his head was hurting again. "It's like... like the way that I shoot things that are far away and Loz punches things that are up close. It's not practical to try to punch something far away, and it's not practical to try to shoot things that are too close. But the humans aren't all family, so they haven't learned what each person is good at. So they use shells to symbolize their exchanges. That way, strangers can agree on the value of an object or a task..."
"But why don't they just tell each other 'you shoot things and I punch them'?" Loz asked.
"Because not everyone needs someone to punch things," Yazoo said, wondering why the conversation was reminding him of the way it felt to cling to the tip of a very long and unsteady rope. "Some people need something built, for example. So if all I do is shoot things, and I need someone to repair the Velvet Nightmare, but the repairman needs someone to fix a hole in his roof -- then I shoot things for someone who needs meat. They give me shells. I give the shells to the repairman, who can--"
"If you need the Velvet Nightmare repaired after we get our weapons back, just give it to Loz," Kadaj interrupted, with half-lidded eyes. "He's good with his hands. You ought to know that already, Yazoo."
...This wasn't working at all.
Loz had wanted to head straight for the Gold Saucer. Yazoo had dutifully agreed, since Loz was the new 'leader' -- but Yazoo was the one who remembered the things like reading, and maps, and distances. He'd directed Loz to 'lead' them straight to the Gold Saucer via the most circuitous roads he could recall.
Yazoo didn't mind arriving at the Gold Saucer eventually, of course. Loz was the most experienced at happiness, and Loz wished to go there. But in the immediate short term... it seemed more prudent to practice their human interactions on a smaller, less world-renowned location, with fewer large flashing electric things to demolish in fits of pique, and a smaller contingent of less well trained security guards. North Corel fit the bill nicely on all counts.
"Those are gil?" Kadaj asked with a curled lip, watching a child hand the little golden discs to a vendor in exchange for an iced sweet. "They're more useless than shells! You can't even break one to make a weapon of it."
"But the point is that the system worked," Yazoo said. "The little girl gave him her gil, and he gave her the sweet. Later, he'll give her gil to someone else in exchange for something he wants."
"But where did she get the gil from?" Loz asked. "She's too little to punch or shoot things, isn't she?"
"I'm sure her parents gave it to her," Yazoo said. "Typically speaking, human parents simply give their children the things they want and need. Now, the point of this exchange -- about the gil --"
But Kadaj's face had gone tight and shuttered, and he pulled away from them sharply and stalked off into the crowd. Loz gave Yazoo a look that was inexplicably disappointed.
"I know you think, Yazoo," he said in a voice full of reproach. "But you just don't feel often enough." He turned and hurried after Kadaj.
It took Yazoo a long period of reflection to come up with a handful of working hypotheses about what could have offended Kadaj about that statement.
Perhaps, because Kadaj so keenly felt Mother's absence, he envied the human children their mothers despite his contempt for their use of gil. Or perhaps he resented Yazoo for a statement that indirectly criticized Mother for not providing them with what they needed. Or perhaps he resented Mother herself for it, and couldn't express it in any way other than anger at Yazoo for pointing out Mother's insufficiencies.
None of those reactions were rational, of course. Mother's abandonment was a simple fact to be worked around, not an event that could be changed if only Kadaj could be violent enough about the force of his tantrums over it.
Still. There were new and, apparently, uncomfortable similarities between their current position and the position of the orphaned children of Midgar who had been so eager to be swayed by words of their loving Mother and promises that She would heal their pain.
Kadaj had gathered the children into their family of warriors because he believed in Mother's promises to avenge those the Planet rejected.
And now that both the Planet and Mother had rejected the three of them...
Perhaps that was the source of Kadaj's displeasure. Even Yazoo found it oddly ...unnerving, to think of how utterly alone they were now.
It was as though, having been cut loose from what he'd once considered a firm foundation, there might not be anything greater than each other to hold onto anymore. Without a ground that held them fast, there might not be a way to keep all three of them from falling uncontrollably into the infinite void of the sky.
Yazoo kept his eyes lowered as he walked. When you were no longer certain you had confidence in the ground, there was, suddenly, far too much sky.
The jingle of the coins in the little box the woman shook was what first caught Yazoo's attention. She was a middle-aged human, not yet elderly but no longer young, and plain as the mud of their precious Planet: brown-haired, brown-eyed, brown everything, except for the pink ribbon she'd tied around her arm.
He remembered the ribbons, vaguely. The Planet's warriors had worn them, and he silently cursed the loss of his gunblade.
But at a second, sharper look -- this one couldn't have been a warrior; her body was too soft, and there was no wariness in the way she looked at passers-by and shook her box as some odd form of enticement.
"Save the orphans," she called. "In the Maiden's name, help us save the orphans..."
One of the women she called out to dropped a coin into her box -- but the passer-by received nothing for it beyond a smile.
Yazoo frowned a bit; that wasn't how he understood financial transactions to work. If the ribbon-woman had nothing physical to give to the one who had purchased a unit of value from her, she still should have responded with some type of value in exchange -- sexual favors, a fanciful prognostication of the future, something that women traded for the gil they received.
He stood in the shadow of a half-ruined building and watched three others drop coins in her box over the next twenty minutes. The ribbon-woman gave them nothing but thanks. Thanks were far from financially negotiable currency.
Fewer and fewer people were passing by; Yazoo supposed that the time was near the end of a commonly accepted break in the human work schedule. But the woman didn't leave to return to any more typical form of employment. She simply sat down on an old barrel and started counting what people had put into her box.
Yazoo silently hoped that neither of his brothers tracked him down before he'd unraveled whatever financial logic there was behind her box. He'd never be able to convince them that gil was better than violence for resolving their unmet needs, if you sometimes gave gil to a human who gave you nothing at all in return for it.
After an hour of waiting, no one else had approached her; she'd finished counting and was shaking her box a little despondently, looking bored.
Apparently, not even boredom was sufficient to make a human truly aware of her surroundings; Yazoo could feel his brothers' lives threading a path closer to him from at least a kilometer away, and yet this one squawked in fright when he stepped out of the alley at three meters distance. Definitely no kind of warrior.
"S-s-save the orphans?" she asked, and the box in her hands was shaking perhaps more than she intended it to.
"What are you doing?" he asked. Best to use simple words, in case fear had dulled her wits further.
"I'm -- collecting for the orphans--"
"You misunderstand," Yazoo said. "Why do the others give you gil in exchange for nothing?"
She managed a nervous laugh. "But it's not for nothing! It's for the orphans. We're going to feed them with the gil they--"
"You have done nothing for those who gave you gil," Yazoo said, and he was beginning to ...feel, a little. He thought the feeling might be frustration. "Your orphans have not seen those who gave you gil, and therefore cannot repay them. Why does this happen?"
"Because," the woman said, and now she was looking at him strangely. "Because orphans don't have anything. So people who have a little extra -- they give for the orphans, so that we -- the Maiden's devotees -- can take care of them..."
...oddly, he recognized that look she was giving him. He gave it to Loz fairly frequently. How strange...
"Why do we take care of them?" she asked, still with that look, the one that said you can't really mean that, or you can't not understand that. Yazoo nodded a little, warily.
"Because the Maiden cares about all of us, but she's no longer with us. So those of us who are left have to help Her offer Her kindness to those who need it most..."
"But they're not yours," Yazoo said. "They're not your burden, but you burden yourself with them anyway? Why?"
"Because they need it," the woman said, wryly indulgent. "Because they've lost their parents. They need someone to care for them just as much as their parents did."
...Because they've lost their parents?
Humans help each other in the place of lost parents...?
Awkwardly, Yazoo said, "We lost our Mother. Can you help us?"
Something wary flared behind her eyes, and she held on to her box more tightly. "Now see here, young man," she said. "Don't think you can steal money for orphaned children just because you're big and strong and--"
"You stole," Yazoo said. "You took others' money, and gave them nothing for it."
"I didn't steal anything! People gave me this money to help children," the woman said, backing away. "Not bullies and street punks like you!"
"But we are orphans," Yazoo said. "Why won't you help us?"
The woman started to scream at the top of her lungs, apparently because she lacked any logical or rational response to his question. "Help! Help! Thief! Help me!"
She was worse than useless as a fighter; when he slammed her up against the wall, she scratched at the leather on his arms, banged her heels against the wall, and generally did nothing that would have helped her situation. He held her there one-handed, gripping her face to keep her noisy mouth shut, and looked at her in ...something that felt Kadaj-like. Annoyance. That was it.
"We need help," Yazoo said, in case the words hadn't been simple enough for her. "Kadaj is lost inside his own mind, and Loz isn't a leader. We need help. We are orphans, and you help orphans. Help us."
But her eyes had gone wider and wider the more she looked at his face; she looked like a panicked animal, the whites showing all around the edge of her frantically rolling eyes, and after a moment's thought he set her down in case he'd tilted her neck far enough to compress her windpipe.
"Why won't you--"
But with the first deep breath she dragged back into her lungs, she screamed, "MONSTER!"
...ah. His eyes. She'd noticed.
Dimly, Yazoo wondered why he was surprised, given their proximity; but then, she'd hardly seemed observant enough to notice anything at all earlier... Humans. Fixating on the most trivial details and overlooking the larger problems entirely...
He took a grip on her neck, enough to tear out her throat if he needed, and tried one last futile attempt at reason: "We are like your orphans. Our Mother is gone. Why won't you--"
"We're not like them!" Kadaj shouted, and leapt down from the roof and seized Yazoo by the shoulder. "We're nothing like them! They're human. They're disgusting. No wonder Mother hates them all--"
"We are like them, Kadaj," Yazoo said, ignoring the woman's ridiculous attempts at wriggling. "We don't have our Mother--"
"Mother isn't DEAD!"
He was shaking all over, rage pouring off of him without an ounce of actual power to affect anything; it might have been comical, if it weren't somehow sad. To think that they were reduced to impotent, helpless shouting in the streets...
...ah. Part of that noise was from the woman, who'd managed another breath. He couldn't deal with them both at once; he snapped her neck and dropped her body, then turned his attention to Kadaj.
By the nature of reason, of logic, he should ask. Because the answer would naturally change the conditions of their ...unexpectedly extended tour of duty.
He should ask. More, he should explain it. That Mother's last physical remnants had been kept in that box. That the Maiden's rain had burned away everything Mother touched -- infection, Geostigma, them. That Kadaj had been gone, that he had gone first of all, and Yazoo had seen him disintegrate. That if none of them, even Kadaj who'd felt most passionately about Mother -- love, hate, it was all passion in the end -- if not even Kadaj could feel her now, then there was no practical difference between 'missing' and 'dead.'
That, in fact, there was no objective evidence that would suggest Mother wasn't dead.
He should ask whether Kadaj was sure. With his crippled capacity for emotion, his ability to assess a situation depended entirely on the accuracy and completeness of the data he used to analyze the world.
But Kadaj was crying, in great shuddering gasps that shook him all over. Forcing him to truly face the question -- he had always been the Vessel. He had always been filled with visions that were not his own, and he had lived hollow all his life in order to be able to contain the impossible power of Mother's best-loved son at His Ascendance.
With neither Mother's goal nor her Chosen's power to fill him, Kadaj had nothing left to buffer him from the shocks of this human-driven world.
Emotion was difficult to assess, but physics was another matter entirely. A brittle container filled with a mobile liquid could transfer some of the kinetic shock of impact to the fluid it contained. A brittle container left empty would break under the same level of shock, with nothing to absorb the blow.
Even if there was no functional difference between 'absent' and 'dead;' even if there was no reason to believe that Mother still lived -- or that Her absence from the world of the Maiden's rain wasn't permanent; which, again, left no functional distinction from dead... even so, Kadaj was still ...important. Still necessary.
It would be irresponsible to risk destroying a valuable asset by subjecting it to more pressure than a reasonable structural analysis would advise. They had too few assets as it was.
Loz was petting Kadaj, carefully, as though he were either a soft-furred animal or something with claws, or perhaps both at once. When he'd gathered Kadaj into his arms and the boy hadn't tried to lash out at him, Loz relaxed a bit and held on more securely.
Perhaps Loz had an instinctive understanding of the physics of emotion, at least when it came to Kadaj. It seemed as though he was responding viscerally to their Vessel's need for insulative protection. Yazoo considered observing that the shock Kadaj struggled with was neither physical nor thermal, so that Loz's mass and body heat weren't actually operating against the force which had been applied to him. ...But at the same time, it did no harm; Kadaj seemed no worse off for it.
The woman's box had broken when she dropped it; Yazoo knelt in the street and began to gather up the fallen gil.
"I thought you said we weren't supposed to kill them," Loz said, sounding dubious.
"Ordinarily, we're not," Yazoo said. "This one was being ...exceptionally unreasonable."
Yazoo did hesitate a moment to choose his explanation carefully. Beginning with Even if Mother isn't dead, for example, would have been a misstep.
"She said that her purpose was to help those who had lost their parents," Yazoo told him, putting the muddied coins back into the box. The lock had broken; the hinges, though somewhat twisted, were still serviceable enough. "I told her that we had lost our Mother, and yet she wouldn't help us."
"Why not?" Loz asked, brow furrowed. "We've got an awful lot of looking to do, and there's only three of us. We could use some help."
"I know. That's why I considered her unreasonable," Yazoo pointed out, feeling his way back to surer ground. "In any case, she's helped us now."
"By being dead?" Loz asked, with a faintly queasy look. "Like the chocobo? Who's going to want to eat her?"
"She collected gil to help children who had lost their parents," Yazoo said, straightening. "She accomplished her task. On behalf of our family and our search for Mother, I thank her for the assistance she has provided us... even though she may have needed to be encouraged a bit too forcefully."
"Oh." Loz looked like he was chewing that thought over pretty hard. "Yazoo?"
"Why didn't you just tell us we could kill people and take their gil? People are a lot easier to kill than monsters, and monster guts get everything all sticky and sometimes it burns holes in things and... yuck. I'd rather kill people."
"Oh," Yazoo said. "Um." ...Shiva take it, he wasn't accustomed to having to think fast around Loz.
"This gil was for orphans, remember," he said, hoping he sounded confident enough. "We have lost Mother. We were suitable candidates. The woman wasn't doing her duty when she tried to keep the gil for herself. Understood?"
"So we can kill people who collect gil for orphans?"
"It's more efficient not to," Yazoo said, wondering why his headache was back so suddenly. "If we leave them alive, they can collect more gil. Once they're dead, they won't be useful in the future. This one should have just stopped screaming..."
"You're making things complicated again," Loz complained. "We can only kill screaming people who collect gil for orphans?"
"We can't do it too often," Yazoo temporized. "Just make sure to ask me first, all right?"
"Okay." Loz smoothed Kadaj's hair lightly, then said, "Hey. We've got gil now, like you said we needed. So can we go look for Mother at the Gold Saucer now?"
...This is such a terrible, terrible idea.
"Yes, Loz," Yazoo said, too exhausted to continue the debate. "We can go to the Gold Saucer now."