|chibirisuchan (chibirisuchan) wrote,|
@ 2008-04-16 00:31:00
Drat, it looks like I missed the deadline by about 45 minutes. Sigh... hopefully this is close enough?
(Hell or) High Water
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
Pairing/Character: Kadaj and Loz
Rating: R for brainbreaking
Table of contents of the 25 streetsigns fics
Warnings: Clonepreg and brain-warping interrelationships. On the other hand, when it comes to Jenova genes, brain-warping interrelationships are practically mandatory.
Disclaimer: (hee, I can finally post this up front!) This series is a collection of fan-fanfic of white_aster's cheerfully crackilicious Expectant. I made puppy eyes at her and she said yes, I could write fan-fanfics of it in order to have the excuse to use the phrase "pregnant with his mother" and have it be completely, brain-meltingly accurate. :3
Read the others (particularly Detour) first, in order to know what's going on and why Yazoo is the one having the panic attack... :)
(絶対 - zettai: absolute, unconditional, through desperation, no matter what -- 'come hell or high water' )
Yazoo wasn't certain how breakfast had become the signal for everyone to take leave of their senses, but the result was appalling. Around a mouthful of fire-crisped bread, Kadaj had casually mentioned something that ...couldn't be interpreted as possible, let alone sane.
So he'd asked, quite reasonably given the available evidence, whether one or both of them had slammed their heads too repeatedly or forcefully into the iron rails of the bed's headboard last night.
It had degenerated into an argument of the sort that Yazoo thought no rational individual should ever need to have, involving phrases like "what do you mean, he can't be going to have a baby who's our little brother?"
To which, he'd once thought, the answer should have been self-evident -- and yet it somehow wasn't.
And now the pair of them were staring at him as though he were the one that had recently lost his mind.
Yazoo resisted the utterly nonsensical urge to hit his head against a wall and see if it might cause his world view to realign with theirs, or else to cause his head to hurt less by comparison.
"There's no way," he said, for the fourth or fifth time. "Kadaj -- we're all male. Males don't do that."
"I am whatever Mother needs me to be," Kadaj said, in soft, unshakable complacency, and his unfocused eyes were staring into some other world entirely.
Whatever Loz had done last night to finally fuck him so delirious that his entire grip on reality snapped, Yazoo really, really wished the big dolt had seen fit to restrain himself.
He realized his hands were shaking. He pressed them flat on the table to try to collect up the shards of his self-control, and Loz was staring at him like he was the dangerously insane one, and...
...Yazoo remembered profanity, dimly. He'd never really appreciated its value before. It was so messily emotional, such a surrender to impotent frustration and rage. It was a rejection of rational discourse and of those who cared to contribute to it.
But, clearly, rationality had nothing at all to do with the current discussion.
The farmers had left behind a set of encyclopedias twenty years out of date, but surely the basic biological facts of hominid reproduction hadn't changed in that time. He pulled five of them off the bookshelf, slammed them down on the table with more force than was constructive, and began to point out the diagrams of the corresponding physiological processes.
None of it touched them. Loz kept looking at him, with that bewildered-and-worried wrinkle between his eyebrows, and Kadaj was securely wrapped up in whatever delusion he'd constructed for himself, and...
"Will you two idiots actually listen to me?" Yazoo snapped. "Kadaj, we're men. Men don't give birth."
"But we're not men, Yazoo," Loz said carefully, as though he were afraid that Yazoo might lash out. "We're not like the humans, remember? Mother made us better."
"Better?" Yazoo's voice broke, and he stopped himself short, because that line of questioning had finally pulled Kadaj's attention back from his private inner visions. "Yes. We're better than humans. But we're still male."
"You probably are, yes," Kadaj agreed, and damned if he wasn't indulging Yazoo when he said it. "Mother made us in His image, after all.. But, even more than that -- I'm His Vessel. I always have been. I simply wasn't ...enough, the first time. So this time Mother's chosen a simpler way to prevent me from failing Her needs again."
They were both staring at him again.
Yazoo collapsed back into the chair he'd abandoned quite a bit earlier in the argument, shut his eyes, and concentrated on just breathing until he was certain that the next contribution he made to the argument wasn't going to be useless, uncommunicative, and completely irrational.
His hands were still shaking when he tore a page out of the encyclopedia and shoved it in front of them.
"Ignoring, for now, the fact that we're male, the fact that males don't carry young, and the fact that the thought of someone giving birth to his own mother has got so many logical fallacies built into it that I can't even begin listing them all--"
Yazoo stopped and took another set of careful breaths, because his voice was ranging toward hysteria again, and he'd be damned if he gave them any more reasons to treat him as though he were the irrational one in this situation.
"...Here. Here's the steps in the diagnosis. Let's go through this logically, all right? Step by step. One step at a time." He picked up a pencil and pointed at the first item on the list: "Cessation of menstrual cycles."
Kadaj was indulging him again. "Yes, they've stopped," he said, with that maddening little smirk.
"You've never had a menstrual cycle!" Yazoo protested.
"Therefore, they've unquestionably stopped," Kadaj replied, smug. "Next?"
Somehow, Yazoo's pen had imbedded itself in the door twenty feet across the room. He didn't remember throwing it. Cautiously, Loz took the page away from him, and then he squinted at it; he traced the words with a careful finger as he read.
"'Ele-vated le-vels of hu-man... human chore-yo-... uh... something or other... in the blood-stream'..."
"Just ignore that," Kadaj said. "That's a human thing."
Loz frowned a little. "But is it important?"
"I'm not giving my blood to a scientist," Kadaj said, sharply. "We're not giving anything to scientists. Not ever again." He tore the paper apart through that line, and put the rest of the page back into Loz's hands. "Next."
...Well, at least Yazoo wasn't the only one getting the worried face now. But Loz's expression cleared when he realized the next words were simpler to read.
"'Tender breasts.' I know what breasts are. Yours are really tender, Kadaj. Remember when I was chewing on you last night and you--"
"Yes, all right, fine, yes," Yazoo said before Loz could get any more specific, and took the page back. "Next. 'Mood swings: irritability, excessive bouts of joy, tears, or anger, uncontrolled outbursts...'"
Loz blinked. "Kadaj? How long have you been pregnant?"
Kadaj's pupils contracted all the way down to fine slits. "...What?"
"Well, you've always had mood swings like that," Loz said, puzzled, "and you've always been His Vessel, right? So maybe you've always been kind of pregnant, and that's why you're so--"
"--Don't throw him through the wall, Kadaj," Yazoo interrupted, because the boy's fingers were twitching spastically. "We'll just take it as another 'yes'. But you're not having morning sickness, nausea, and vomiting."
"Not in the mornings," Kadaj agreed, frowning. "Only around Mako and materia. Mother's been far too vehement about Her grudges against this world's magic lately."
Yazoo barely kept himself from asking when Mother hadn't been far too vehement about her grudges about anything, because one irrational argument at a time was more than enough. "No cravings to eat substances which aren't food -- no rocks, gravel, coffee grounds..."
"And no lightheadedness or fainting."
"What's fainting?" Loz asked.
"It's... like falling asleep when you're still standing up," Yazoo said. "At least one of us would have noticed him falling over."
"He falls asleep on me as soon as we get done playing," Loz offered. "But he's always done that, too. Are you sure he hasn't always been pregnant?"
"Loz, trust me on this," Yazoo said. "It's not the same. Fainting is more like... getting hit hard enough to knock you down, only nothing's hit you."
"Like when he kind of crumples up when Mother pushes all those visions into his head and the headaches get really bad and he makes those awful hurting sounds?" Loz gave him a disconcertingly keen look. "Are you really, really sure Kadaj hasn't always been pregnant?"
"That's not fainting, that's -- look, fine. Whatever." Deciding it wasn't worth the argument, Yazoo marked it off, looked at the tattered page, and added wearily, "This still doesn't prove anything."
"Because it doesn't disprove what you wanted it to?" Kadaj asked, still stung by the observations on his mood swings. "Because it's only 'logical' if it's your idea? Why can't you ever admit it when I'm right?"
"Kadaj -- you don't have a vaginal passage. You don't have a uterus. You don't have--"
Kadaj looked up at him through the soft, pale spill of his hair, and his expression was almost pitying.
"When Mother chose Him over me, She reshaped my flesh in the space of a heartbeat," he said, as slow and patient as though he were speaking to Loz after a bad dream. "Not into His image -- into Him. I simply wasn't ...enough to hold Him, not all at once. And then the earth-witch nearly destroyed Her. So Mother can't reshape me as swiftly now, that's all. She's been forced into patience, and into calculation. But I still serve Her needs." His hands rested lightly, almost hesitantly, on the slight curve of his stomach, and he added, half to himself, "I still serve Her will."
Yazoo heard something crackle, and realized he was gripping the edge of the table too tightly. But the table was solid, and real, and resting against the stability of the earth, and... he needed that connection. He needed the anchor to something that wouldn't change its shape and its purpose with a smirk and a casual handful of words that upended how the world worked.
"Kadaj," Yazoo said, and reached over and took his brother's hand carefully. "What, exactly, do you think is happening to you?"
For the first time since this whole ludicrous conversation had begun, Kadaj glanced up at Loz with a flicker of uncertainty in his eyes, and his voice was too light and careless when he said, "Go play with your chocobo, Loz. Your brothers are going to talk in big words."
Loz shook his head, brow furrowed. "It's about you," he said. "About you and Mother. About family. I want to know too."
"Tell us both," Yazoo interrupted, because he had no intention of letting Kadaj escape the question during the argument it would take to get Loz to budge when he didn't want to go. "We both have the right to know."
Kadaj blew all the air out of his lungs in a frustrated sigh, and tipped his head back to rest against the strength of Loz's shoulder. Eyes closed, far too still and intent for his usual restless, careless energy, he picked through his words as carefully and as precisely as though they were buried amid broken glass.
"Mother was too impatient, before," he murmured. "I couldn't become enough, not that quickly. And She remembers His first incarnation. She was there, after all. She must have learned some things from the way the humans breed like vermin. So I think..."
He hesitated, and Loz immediately moved one strong hand to cover both of theirs.
"Is something wrong?"
"No," he said immediately, but he'd closed his eyes again. "Not wrong. I think I can finally give Her what She needs from me."
"You're saying lots of words, Kadaj, but you're not explaining," Loz mumbled. Kadaj made a soft, rueful little sound of amusement, and dug a hand through his hair.
"It's simple enough," he said, although he sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than anyone else. "Mother knows what it is to ...multiply. To become more than Herself. She knows what was needed to create Him perfectly, not warped through the lens of my flaws. And She needs to use a physical body to recreate Him, to give Him rebirth. So..."
Kadaj drew an unsteady breath, and his hand tightened against Yazoo's.
"So as Mother grows stronger, I think She'll remake me again. She'll use me as Her physical shell, just like before, but this time Mother will be the one who comes into the world through me. As she regains Her strength, She'll finish... consuming me, becoming Herself... and..." He stopped himself short, and glanced quickly up at Loz, and then looked away again at the pain and distress twisting his face.
"I can do this," Kadaj said, quick and sharp and desperate. "I can give Mother the incarnate flesh She needs to carry Him for Herself. She's taking my body to... to give rebirth to Her best beloved son. So I won't fail this time! I'll finally be able to give Mother the only thing She's ever wanted from me. So there's ...nothing wrong."
"But you said you were going to be fine," Loz whispered. "When the other mother, the good mother, gave you back to us. You promised."
"I will be," Kadaj said, but his eyes were shut tight. "You'll have our Mother with you, and His vision to guide you, and I'll have fulfilled my purpose, and She'll finally be happy -- how could anything be better?"
"No!" Loz shouted, and Yazoo had to struggle to keep the strength of his desperate clutch from breaking bones in his hand. "I don't want them! I want you, Kadaj-- you promised!"
The sound he wrung out of Kadaj was pure shuddering pain, but it wasn't clear whether or not the source was physical. Loz's fingers made sharp white crescents into Kadaj's collarbone, and he wasn't listening -- "Loz," Yazoo tried again, pulling on his shoulder; "Loz--" and Kadaj made that sound again.
Yazoo said something quite unconducive to rational discourse, tore a leg off the steel desk-chair he'd been sitting on, and slammed it into the wall sharply enough that the retort was like a gunshot. It startled them both into stillness for a moment, and a moment was all he needed.
"He's wrong, Loz," Yazoo said, tiredly. "Next time, ask me before you panic."
"Why am I wrong?" Kadaj demanded, shivering in Loz's desperate grip, but he still held his head as high as ever. "Because it was my idea instead of yours? Because your logic still can't encompass granting Mother the power to reshape my flesh according to Her will? She willed us into being, Yazoo. This is nothing to Her."
"It would have been nothing to Her once," Yazoo corrected, and tossed the chair leg onto the table, and sat gingerly on the edge. "And if the physical alterations continue to ...progress, I might -- might -- grant you that it's to accommodate some form of reproduction. But She's not taking you."
"Of course She's not taking me," Kadaj said, and his voice trembled. "She doesn't want me. Just Him."
"You're not listening, Kadaj," Yazoo said. "She's not taking you. While you carried Him toward the Reunion... we saw Him in you, sometimes. The way you spoke. The way you ...treated us. Sometimes the change in you was physical. More often, it... just wasn't you behind your eyes, behind your voice. But ever since the Maiden sent us back, it's always been you. Only you."
"Yes," Kadaj said, distracted, "that's the problem exactly -- that's why I went to find the Planet's witch, to make her give Mother back--"
"Kadaj," Loz said, and shook him, carefully. "Stop fighting. Let Yazoo be right. I want to keep you."
"But it doesn't make sense otherwise," Kadaj said. "I shouldn't be the one who bears Him; Mother should. She's the one who knows what's necessary."
"I thought that was my point," Yazoo said drily, and Kadaj looked at him with the first traces of fear on his face.
"Then... what am I doing wrong? I told the earth-witch I'd give up everything, everything at all, if it would make Mother happy-- I'm not holding anything back from Her; what's gone wrong? Why isn't Mother taking me?"
Brows furrowed in distress, he added quickly, "Maybe it simply hasn't been long enough? Maybe She hasn't had the strength to spare, because She knows how easy it is to overpower me. She always did give all Her attention to Him, after all, and He's obviously developing--" Kadaj prodded at his faintly distended stomach with a scowl.
"It's been a few months," Yazoo mused. "And Mother's shown no more of Herself than She did that first day. If anything, She's shown Her will less stringently once we left the reactors behind. Little brother... I think you need to look at this from the Maiden's perspective for a moment."
"I don't want the witch's perspective," Kadaj said, vexed. "She took Mother from us; she threw us away; she's responsible for this entire situation. Maybe I haven't been dutiful enough about Mother's wants? If I can make myself a more compliant host for Her desires, maybe then She'll accept my body as an offering and--"
"Do you have any idea what Mother's perspective is?" Yazoo interrupted, flat-voiced. "Has She spoken Her will to you even once? I don't mean nausea at the stench of the reactors -- I mean the power that used to blind you with Her visions and burn Her prophecies into your very bones."
"She's still regaining Her strength," Kadaj whispered, too stubborn to yield his last hope.
"Kadaj," Yazoo said, "Mother isn't taking over your will because She can't. Just think for a moment. The Maiden would never have let you bring anything of Mother back if Mother could still use you."
The blood drained out of Kadaj's face as abruptly as though he'd been stabbed. Loz shot Yazoo an appalled, furious glare, and then turned all his attention to comforting Kadaj.
"Ignore him," he said, rubbing Kadaj's hands between his own as though to ward off a physical chill. "Never mind him. It's still okay, right? Everything's going to be okay. The nice mother gave Her back when you asked, because she's the nice one. So you still have Mother, and we still have you, so it's all okay. And you're even making a new brother for us! So we're all still fine -- you'll be Mother for him, and we'll be--"
"I'LL be Mother?" Kadaj echoed, horrified. "I can't be Mother!"
"Once upon a time," Yazoo pointed out wearily, "that used to be my point."
His face was still far too pale. "You don't understand--"
"Also my point," Yazoo observed.
"--I can't do this myself!"
"Still my point."
"She was supposed to consume me first!"
"No She wasn't," Loz said, as stubborn as stone, and as immovable. "Nobody gets to hurt you while I'm here. Not even Mother."
"How is it not supposed to hurt?" Kadaj demanded, his voice breaking high and shrill like a child's. "How long do I have to live like this, watching Him growing in my body, knowing the entire time that She's chosen Him over me? At least the last time I didn't have to watch Her choosing Him before I died knowing that I wasn't enough--"
"Kadaj," Yazoo cut in, firmly. "You're not going to die of this."
"Because that would have been too merciful?" he asked, bitterly. "I should have known she'd want me to suffer."
For once it wasn't clear which of the too-powerful women in his life he was referring to; but if they got involved in that argument, they'd lose track of what was important here.
"You're not going to die," Yazoo repeated patiently, "because mothers have to be able to survive the reproductive process, or else there would never be brothers. And you're not going to die because that's clearly not the way the maiden likes to handle such things, considering the number of times she's sent our golden brother back -- and now you as well. I told you that you needed to think more about the Cetra witch's perspective."
"She can burn in hell for doing this to me!"
"Kadaj," Yazoo said. "You asked for this."
"I asked her to give me Mother back, not this-- this sick travesty--"
"You asked her for Mother," Yazoo agreed, calm and implacable. "You didn't ask for Him. I suspect that she's given you precisely what you asked for -- on her own terms, of course. And it would have suited the Cetra's purposes quite nicely, to trap Mother far away from His strength... caged within the limitations of a weak, helpless child's body, barely more than human."
"Can she do that?" Loz asked, blinking.
"If the two of you are correct about his ...condition, I'd say she already has," Yazoo replied. "And if so, she's trapped Mother twice over: once in flesh itself, and once again while She remains imprisoned within our brother -- the only one in all the worlds who still cared whether She lived or died."
Kadaj stared at him, trembling with the tangle of dismay and thwarted rage and stark, unreasoning terror.
"You asked for this; you begged for this," Yazoo reminded him. "And if your theory holds true, it seems that she gave you precisely what you asked for... in the particular way the minx wished to give it."
"But Mother will hate me," Kadaj whispered, stricken to the heart. "If I'm useless for Her plans now -- if I'm just a living prison to keep Her enslaved to the Cetra's will, Mother will hate me--"
"You're not useless!" Loz burst out, glaring back and forth between Yazoo and the top of Kadaj's bent head. "You're the opposite of useless, Kadaj! You're the one who loves Her best of all. She couldn't hate you. Nobody could hate you."
That last point was debatable enough, if humans' history of blanching, screaming, and aiming any available weapon in their direction could be relied upon as an emotional indicator. But Yazoo was inclined to let rhetorical accuracy slide for the moment because Loz's loyal heart was so unquestionably sincere, and because Kadaj looked so ...desperate.
"Yazoo?" Kadaj asked, clinging to the support of what he knew -- both Loz's strong faith and their eldest's sharp intellect. "Do you think Mother will hate me...?"
"Don't ask me what anyone will feel, Kadaj," Yazoo said tiredly. "Least of all Mother. You know I've never understood Her emotions." Or yours, the inner voice of honesty added, or Loz's, or even my own.
"...But you said Mother could never use me again, and... I don't want to be worthless, I..." His voice broke; Loz picked him up, wrapped both arms around him, and nestled Kadaj's cheek against his heart, rocking him back and forth fretfully.
"Yazoo," Loz said in a voice full of reproach, "fix this. You're the smart one. Make it all better again."
Yazoo dropped his head forward into his hands. "Intellect only assists with issues of logic, Loz," he reminded, eyes shut tight against the throbbing headache that was knotting up his temples. "And this entire situation has got nothing whatsoever to do with logic."
"Because you still can't stand to admit that I was right?" Kadaj sniped, miserable and lashing out because of it.
"But you're not, Kadaj," Loz said, soft but stubborn. "Because you're not happy. None of this is right. It was supposed to go better than this. --Can we start over?"
"Can we start what over?" Yazoo asked, feeling ...frayed, somehow. "Undoing whatever it was Kadaj did to get himself impregnated by the dead Cetra girl? Or maybe the last fight between our elder brothers? Or while we're at it, why not go all the way back to the crater and not lose Mother to the President's men? How are we going to start over? Do let me know, because this is all so ludicrous I almost wouldn't be surprised if you had a good idea."
"Stop being mean, Yazoo," Loz growled. "This isn't how it was supposed to go! Kadaj wasn't supposed to get upset. You weren't supposed to yell and break things."
"So how was it supposed to go?" Yazoo asked, wearily resigned.
"We're all supposed to be happy," Loz said, full of reproach, as though it was the most obvious, self-evident thing in the world. "When Kadaj says something like 'I have Mother back, so I'm happy, and also I'm having a little brother, okay?' That means you were supposed to say 'Okay! Here's what we need to do. We're going to make sure we take care of you and the new little brother because we're brothers and brothers help.' And then we'd all know what to do, and then we'd go and do it, and Kadaj would make us a little brother. So we'd all be happy. Only it sounds like it's going to be a little girl-brother who's Mother too, but that's okay, because she's still family and family is supposed to be for each other. That's how it was supposed to go!"
Yazoo looked at Kadaj, utterly blank.
For once, even Kadaj couldn't wrap words around the situation either. Yazoo supposed he couldn't blame him for that.
Into the echoing silence, Yazoo cautiously offered, "A girl-brother is called a sister, Loz."
"Oh," Loz said. "Okay."
The silence stretched out again. Loz's brow was furrowed, and he was mulling something over fiercely.
"Are sisters something bad?" he asked. "Because Mother never made us one. And you're not happy. What's wrong about having a sister who's also Mother?"
"As a general rule, Loz," Yazoo said, rubbing at his temples, "people can't give birth to their own mothers. Or their sisters. The word for someone's girl-child is daughter."
Loz groaned and dug both hands through his hair. "Too many words!" he complained. "They all mean family, don't they? And family means us. So what's the problem?"
Yazoo buried his face in both hands, and tried to will his heart rate and his respiration to slow into a more acceptable, less ...hysterical pace.
"The problem," he began, and then stopped and swallowed hard when he heard his voice crack like one of Kadaj's frenzies. "There isn't just one problem. There are dozens. We don't know what the Cetra's done to him on the inside. But on the outside, Loz, I'm fairly certain you would have noticed if he'd acquired the orifice that's necessary for a child to be born. Since we don't know what's happened on the inside, we don't know if this process is ...safe, or survivable, or--"
"Stop it," Loz said, trembling. "You're being stupid, Yazoo. It's going to be fine. You're supposed to say it's all going to be fine because that's how it's supposed to--"
"All right, genius," Yazoo snarled. "You know so much about how this is supposed to go? You tell me how he's going to give birth without a uterus or a vagina through a pelvic structure that's not designed for childbirth--"
"We're not human," Loz shot back, "remember? We're what Mother wants. And the nice mother wants Kadaj to have a mother-baby so he can be happy. And she's the nice one. She doesn't make his head hurt. Besides, the person who gave Kadaj his baby is a girl and she's dead! So this has all got to be different than your dumb books say!"
Yazoo gave a sharp, short laugh. "That," he said, "may be the only part we agree on. Human or not, we still have flesh that tears and bleeds, bones that break. We're imitations of humans. And if we have to cut him open to get the fetus out, we'd better hope materia works once he's free of Her--"
"Nobody's cutting anybody open!" Loz shouted, clinging to Kadaj's stunned, trembling frame. "Look, we're like materia too, right? We're thoughts inside body-stuff, and materia are like that too. They let us use their fire-thoughts or their fixing-thoughts or whatever, and when they're happy with us, they make more materia. And they all go in and out just fine. You just kind of twist and push, and they come out. So the nice lady put Mother-thoughts in Kadaj to make a new person with, just like making a new materia for fire-thoughts to go into. So once She's all ready to come out, he can just ...push, and it'll be fine."
"Stop trying to make it not okay!" Rocking Kadaj back and forth in his arms comfortingly, Loz smoothed their youngest brother's hair back from a tear-streaked face, and added, "It's all going to be okay. 'Cause I'm your strength, Kadaj, and I'm not going to let you down. Not ever. I promise."
Yazoo took a deep slow breath, and then another, and then blew it all out, and then he thought he might be stable enough to trust his voice.
"Do you remember when I said I'd lost track of what was the least logical part of this conversation?" he asked. "I stand corrected. That was the least logical part."
"I'm not going to let you make me be wrong!" Loz snarled, holding Kadaj so tightly he made a pained noise. "You don't get to hurt him just to be right--"
"I didn't say you were wrong," Yazoo interrupted, leaning his face into his hands to try to block out the light and the noise and the throbbing headache. "Under the circumstances, I suspect nothing would truly surprise me now. When trying to solve the most irrational available problem, we might actually need to find the most irrational available solution."
Loz blinked at him, still suspicious. "...What?"
"He's saying," Kadaj offered in a small choked voice, "that two stupids might actually make a smart." He scrubbed a hand across his face; with an acid-green glare, he added, "Only he tangles it up in words, because he can't stand admitting that he can be wrong, or that someone else can be right."
"The correctness of a hypothesis," Yazoo said stiffly, "has nothing to do with whose idea it was, or with who 'wants' to be right. It requires empirical evidence and observation to determine--"
"Stop it," Loz said, quiet but stubborn. "Just stop. Nobody cares about possithisses. If you don't know how we need to take care of Kadaj because your human books are too dumb, just say so."
The physical sensation that suggestion produced was uncomfortably close to ice poured down his spine. Even a fraction of a second's contemplation of how badly this could go if Loz thought they should just make it up as they went, given his sheer strength and the aggressiveness of his 'playing' and the physiological changes and what would happen to Kadaj if Loz killed the fetus accidentally-- no. Even a fraction of that thought was completely unacceptable.
"I know how to take care of Kadaj," Yazoo said firmly. "It's very important to be careful with him, Loz. You're going to have to play more gently. Much more gently. Don't strike him in the stomach, don't let him fall, don't do anything that means we might need to Cure him--"
"You could have just told us all this stuff to start with, instead of shouting at us," Loz said irritably, and then cocked his head to one side. "Are we supposed to be careful because we're getting a new little Mother-sister-person? Girls don't all break. Nii-san's woman plays hard."
"His woman is fully mature and fully trained," Yazoo insisted. "The children broke much more easily than she did, remember? The smaller they are, the more careful you have to be. And this new one, the--" Fetus won't mean anything to him, Yazoo reminded himself quickly. Not Mother the way we usually mean it, not sister, not daughter because it's Mother as well -- "The ...motherling. It's so small that it still fits inside him. That means it's very, very fragile. Be careful, Loz. If you hurt or kill the motherling, even by accident, you'll make Kadaj very sick."
Loz blinked, and then stared down at Kadaj in slowly growing concern. "How much careful is careful enough? Did I hurt you? Or the motherling? I don't ever want to hurt you, not ever..."
Kadaj shook his head, but his eyes were dilated and his face was paler than it should have been. "Yazoo, why didn't you tell me any of this sooner? If Mother's entire life depends on me... I... I can't... what do I do? I can't afford to make a mistake with Her life!"
"I did tell you all this," Yazoo pointed out wearily. "I told you when I showed you the diagrams."
"Why was I supposed to pay attention then?" Kadaj protested, his voice rising. "I thought Mother was going to be the one doing all this! I don't know what to do, or what not to do; I don't know any of this! I don't know how--"
"It's going to be all right," Loz said for the dozenth time, and turned immediately to Yazoo. "What do we do?"
"Err on the side of caution," Yazoo said. "You can't be too much too gentle. Think about when we cooked the eggs."
"That's not fair," Loz protested, because his attempts at handling eggs hadn't been notable for their success. "Brothers aren't like eggs at all."
"Kadaj is exactly like eggs," Yazoo corrected him firmly. "Don't you remember the diagrams I showed you? Eggs are where everything about the reproductive process begins."
"But the nice lady got him pregnant in his head, not between his legs," Loz said, a little desperate. "And she didn't talk about eggs, did she, Kadaj?"
Briefly, fervently, Yazoo wished that he'd ever encountered a substance that was capable of producing a state of intoxication despite the resistance of his inhuman metabolism.
"She didn't explain anything," Kadaj whispered, his gaze focused somewhere bitterly inward. "All she told me was to remember that I'd asked for it."
"But you did," Loz said, bewildered. "You wanted Mother an awful lot, so the nice lady gave her to you. And that was what you wanted more than anything! That was going to make you happy, so how come you're not? You're scared and Yazoo is yelling and... I just... I don't get what's wrong."
He rubbed a careful palm over the pale crescent of Kadaj's abdomen, achingly gentle, and said, "All we have to do is take extra good care of each other. We take extra care of you so that you won't have to fight or be hurt by anything, and you take extra care of yourself because that means you're taking care of where Mother is." Then Loz ruffled Kadaj's hair and added, "It'll be good practice. Because you don't pay enough attention to being careful with yourself, not when it's just you inside there. But you've always been extra good at thinking about what Mother needs."
When Kadaj cast a weary, bitterly resigned glance up at him through the silken shambles of his hair, Yazoo realized with a jolt that the boy was waiting to be told again why that was wrong. To be told again why he wasn't good enough to succeed at this, because he was never good enough.
He was expecting to be told why he could never be what Mother needed him to be, just like always -- because Yazoo had been telling him nothing else the entire time.
After all, no matter what Loz had suggested to try to make it 'all right,' he'd dismissed it all out of hand because of its illogic. He'd given no regard for Kadaj's perpetual sense of worthlessness amid the demands of scientific objectivity.
Whatever it was that knotted itself up in the pit of his stomach, it didn't feel pleasant. Something to do with regret, and discomfort. Not quite shame, but... guilt. That was the word for it.
"He's right, you know, Kadaj," Yazoo said softly.
Under other circumstances, he might have found amusement in how visibly that shocked them both.
"Wait a minute, you're admitting that someone else can be right?" Kadaj asked lightly, flippantly, but he was brittle with the ingrained need to resist hope. Yazoo never told him that he could hope for anything, and Loz never told him anything else... so their advice contradicted each other. And so he never dared embrace hope, because it was dangerous, and it was always disappointed, and...
...he wanted Kadaj to succeed, this time. To not be disappointed, and to not think himself inadequate and a predestined failure when he'd barely begun to grasp the edges of the difficulties he would face.
It was a completely irrational burst of emotion, of course. But Yazoo decided that there was no point in even pretending to look for rationality in any of this.
Still, if he was too gentle in his attempts to ...make amends, he'd likely frighten them more than reassuring them. He didn't do gentleness. Gentleness and enthusiasm and joy were Loz's gifts, not his own.
With the arch of one exquisitely sardonic brow, Yazoo said, "You'd have realized that Loz has just described the recommended lifestyle for a parturient human specimen, if either of you had been paying attention to the diagrams."
...Good. They'd started to tune out at the scientific terms, and the reference to the diagrams had clinched it; Loz actually rolled his eyes. It was a response he was used to seeing -- but, more than that, it was a response they were used to feeling. It was familiar, and expected, and it wasn't treading yet more shaky new ground when he needed to bring them all back to some kind of equilibrium.
"This is what we're going to do," he said, leaning on the familiar, aloof, slightly-bored voice of intellectual authority. "Kadaj, you're going to need to practice listening to your body. Eat when you're hungry, rest when you're tired, and don't keep pushing yourself because you think you 'ought' to be stronger. The motherling--" it was getting easier to say it, somehow, which was disturbing all by itself-- "the motherling will take more of your strength than you can imagine, and you need to consistently replenish yourself to make certain she can take everything she needs from you. Because she depends on you for absolutely everything now. When you care for yourself competently and completely, you fulfill Mother's needs at the same time. Loz, your task is to practice gentleness. Train yourself as you would study a new attack. Eggs, chicks, breeding animals, childing human females; you need to learn control, no matter what the circumstances. Even when you're playing. --Especially when you're playing."
He closed the nearest encyclopedia with a puff of dust, and added, "My task is to find more complete, more authoritative references. The Soldier program is more recent than these encyclopedias, and He was a Soldier; surely there must be records of what happened when Soldiers bred, and the effects of mako and Mother's cellular alterations on their bodies. There may be parallels between those events and Kadaj's situation. Are we clear?"
Loz and Kadaj traded a long, quiet look.
"You could," Kadaj said, "have told us that to start with, you know."
"Yeah," Loz agreed. "Still, it's not Yazoo's fault those are lousy books. Look how dusty they are; if nobody's read them for that long, they must not have been any good."
Don't scream, Yazoo reminded himself. Don't throw the book. It's not worth the argument. And -- this situation obviously lacks research. I can do research.
"I'm sorry," he said, around what felt like a throat full of rocks. "Nothing I've ever known about the world's functioning has prepared me for ...a situation like this."
"You just need better books, that's all," Loz said sympathetically, and patted his shoulder. "Like I need to practice with breaky things and Kadaj needs to practice being nice to himself, just like you said. You're plenty smart when you stop letting dusty old books tell you dumb stuff." Then, with a proud grin, he told Kadaj, "See, you won after all. You're doing something He never did for Mother! Doesn't that make you happy?"
Kadaj's head lifted sharply; if he'd had to put a name to the emotion in his eyes, Yazoo would have called it panic.
"Isn't it selfish of me to be happy about any of this?" Kadaj asked. "I'm Mother's prison, and I've never been able to do anything right without Him, and... I got what I asked for, but did I ask for the wrong thing...?"
Yazoo bit back the it's too damn late to ask that NOW, you rash little fool that struggled at the back of his tongue. Instead he swallowed hard, and reached over, and threaded his fingers through his brother's.
Full of shining confidence, Loz cuffed him lightly across the head -- overly careful of his strength; he barely ruffled his hair -- and said, "Now you're being really silly, Kadaj. If you're happy, then that automatically means it was the right thing to ask! I bet you just don't want to have to be nice to yourself," he added, brows crooked together. "You always did like running yourself down and wearing yourself out too much."
"I didn't like--" Kadaj stopped, and shook his hair back from his eyes, and sighed. "It's just different training for all of us, isn't it. You learn to restrain your strength; Yazoo learns to retarget his intellect; I learn..." He hesitated a moment, then said, softly, "I learn to care for myself, in order to remain a vessel for what I carry. Yazoo, why does that sound so wrong?"
"That sounds wrong?" Yazoo asked, incredulous. "This morning has seen comments along the lines of 'why couldn't the dead girl make him get pregnant with our mother,' and taking care of yourself is the part that sounds wrong to you?" He threw both hands in the air. "Loz, this is your field, not mine. The more we talk about this, the more it becomes apparent exactly how far any of this is from logical."
"You both keep trying to make this all complicated," Loz said. "Chocobos don't talk it all over before they make eggs. They just make eggs. And materia don't even talk. They haven't got mouths. Or brains, either. But they do it just fine even without brains. So this has got to be easier to do than you make it sound."
Yazoo shuddered, suddenly overcome by the mental image of materia 'doing it' inside their flesh. He shoved himself back from the table in order to get far enough away from Kadaj to be able to unequip his Sense materia, just in case. It was reassuringly still in his hand, and not ...vibrating or pulsing or anything else suspicious, but he put it on the mantelpiece and backed away slowly.
"Never mind," he said, still feeling vaguely nauseous. "Right now we're trying to convince Kadaj the world won't end if he's at peace, well rested, and happy, remember?"
"It's not like that," Kadaj said, sulky-voiced.
"It's not?" Yazoo asked, skeptical. "Kadaj, have you ever simply been content? Or have you always, every time you might be in danger of peace, flagellated yourself with guilt that you might have a moment's contentment while Mother hadn't come back into the world and She wasn't satisfied yet? You don't have that refuge anymore. This time Mother's coming is entirely dependent on you, and there's no reason for you to blame yourself for anything you haven't done for Her sake. You've broken most of the natural laws of existence for Her sake, in fact. Even She couldn't ask any more of you. Now you get to learn to know what it's like to be at peace, whether you like it or not. You're certainly not going to be able to keep fighting as you grow heavy--"
"Yazoo," Loz said, "you said this was my field, right? You kind of might want to shut up a little."
"Of course I have to be able to fight," Kadaj said, and his breath was coming quick and shallow. "I have to protect Her. I have to. If I can't fight, I'm--"
"I keep telling you! You aren't ever useless!" Loz said fiercely. "You're the most important person in the world to Mother. You are Her world. She needs you, not Him, not anybody else. Mother needs you to live. And He can't ever take that away from you. He couldn't do this the way you can. He never had to be alive because of anybody except Himself. And you don't have to search anymore, because you found Her and rescued Her all by yourself. He didn't help a bit. You saved Her, and you get to keep Her, and you love Her more than anything. So it's okay to love yourself some too, because you're taking good care of Her, right? She's safe with you, and you love for Mother to be safe, don't you? You don't have to fuss about what you ought to be or what He used to be or anything else. You already are everything you need to be, right now. Our brother. Mother's Vessel. Our Chosen One." Huskily, he added, "It's not hard to love you. I've always known how to do that, and I'm not the smart one. You should practice some. It's a lot of fun practicing."
Kadaj had his hand pressed hard against his mouth, his head tucked against Loz's chest, but the little gasping sounds betrayed him anyway.
"Don't cry, Kadaj," Loz begged. "You're supposed to be happy. Because when you shouldn't fight, I'm going to smack anything that makes you not happy, and I smack things really hard. And I don't want to smack you. So do you think you can be a little bit happy, just for practice?"
"Loz," Yazoo said, "I don't think threats are what's called for here--"
But the little gasping sounds had shifted somehow; Kadaj gulped hard, and scrubbed at his cheeks with the back of his hand, and his voice was caught somewhere between tears and laughter.
"That really," he managed to choke, "really doesn't make sense, Loz."
"Good," Loz said. "I like making happy better than making sense."
"So long as we're clear, then..." He gulped again, and sniffled back tears, and looked shyly up at Yazoo through the curtain of his hair. "Is it... I mean... it's not... not wrong, for me to be happy like this?"
Yazoo didn't need the prompting of Loz's furious glare to know what the correct answer to that question was.
"Of course it's not wrong," he said. Illogical, certainly. Irrational, by definition. But not ...wrong. And... I think this is my fault.
I told them Mother paid no heed to his happiness when She gave him his purpose. I told him the truth. But... I never told him that it wasn't disloyal to seek out happiness anyway.
"It's no more wrong for you to be happy than for me to be logical," Yazoo added, quietly. "It's simply a way of being."
"It's really nice, though," Loz said, barely restraining himself from wriggling, like a puppy on a leash that was starting to give. "I mean, I think so, anyway."
"And it's important," Kadaj murmured, testing out the shape of the idea, "that I live. It's important that I live. Because this time I'm the one Mother needs."
"That's correct," Yazoo said. But it's not complete. Your life is important because it's your life. But I think I'll introduce you to that thought later; you've been shaken enough for today...
"It's important 'cause I need you too," Loz said, and took the internal debate out of his hands. "You're important all over. So you should eat breakfast."
Kadaj immediately picked up his plate and took a bite of eggs, but then he wrinkled up his nose. "We argued too long," he said. "It's all cold."
"That's okay," Loz said. "I have to work on eggs anyway, remember? Let's practice."
"You have to work on not breaking eggs, Loz," Yazoo reminded him quickly. "Don't forget that part."
"I know," Loz said, and curved a cautious hand around Kadaj's waist. "I'll be really careful. I promise."
"Come on, then," Kadaj said, tugging on Loz's large hand. "You'll hand me the eggs. And I'll cook for everyone. I have to practice taking care of more than myself, after all."
For everyone? Yazoo thought, but bit his tongue. If it taught their mercurial younger brother to settle himself, it would be worth the occasional internal upsets until he learned to pay enough attention to the stove...
...except that Loz was following him into the kitchen. And Loz thought that oil was an intimate lubricant, not a frying pan lubricant.
Maybe, if he was lucky, none of the eggs would come back out of the skillet--
--no, then Kadaj would sulk and mope about his failure in something Mother needed him to master, regardless of whether it mattered who cooked the eggs as long as he ate them...
"Wait for me," Yazoo said, thinking fast. "We're all in this together, aren't we? That's what brothers are for."
Kadaj's sudden smiles could be absolutely breathtaking.
Yazoo wondered if they might appear more often now. Hope was a fickle, unpredictable thing; but still, despite all logic, he ...hoped so.