A/N: I'm uploading for completion purposes… By now, clone!SHM are obviously non-canon, boring and OOC, but I stumbled across an old draft of chapter 11 while cleaning up my PC, and thought I'd rework and post it. Okay, so it's been one and a half years, but like I said…for completion purposes only.

Disclaimer: Characters are all copyright to Square-Enix.

Ameagari: After the Rain

Chapter 11: Tug of War


Yazoo should have guessed that his brother's sulk would carry on to the next day. He, Yazoo, had twelve years of experience in dealing with that tantrum; Kadaj, twelve years of perfecting it; and Loz, twelve years of learning to sleep through it.

Snooore. Roll over, grunt, exhale.

Yazoo cast an irritable – though more resigned – look at Loz, before sitting up in bed and confronting the sight opposite him. It had barely hit sunrise. Kadaj was knelt on the floor, re-packing his bag. Yazoo assumed that the crash from earlier was Kadaj dropping his things, and on purpose at that. Kadaj wanted to put on a drama, and he needed an audience. He was already dressed.

He only spared Yazoo with a contemptuous look, which would've been mildly threatening if he didn't have an apple in his mouth. "Goo' morning."

"Morning. Where are you off to?" Yazoo asked the question Kadaj was wordlessly begging to be asked. The youngest brother stood up, took the apple out his mouth and stuck his nose up.

"I'm catching an airship to Nibelheim," he said seriously, as if making a eulogy. "On my own."

An imperious wave of the hand, a glare, a resounding huff every time he exhaled. Nothing Yazoo hadn't seen before. He flopped back onto his bed, staring up at the ceiling. "All right then. See you."

He could practically hear Kadaj's hair stand on end. "That's it?" He slammed a hand on the doorknob, threatening. "I really will go, you know. I won't come back to you or dumb Loz, not this time." His voice shook with pride. "I've been planning all night…!"

"Loz isn't dumb," he answered on automatic, and Loz unconsciously agreed with a small grunt. "Not dumb enough to pretend he's abandoning us as a plea for attention, anyway."

Crash. For the second time that morning, Kadaj's bag received the brunt of his temper. He marched over to the bed, towering over him. "I've been planning," he said again. "I've already packed your gun. I'm going to sell it so that I can buy a ticket for the airship. Then I'm going to catch a bus from Rocket Town to Nibelheim. They had pamphlets downstairs at the front desk all about it."

Yazoo nudged his head to the side, keeping the action subtle. Sure enough, he only felt feathers and softness. His gun had been taken, right from under his head, while he had been sleeping. How had Kadaj managed it? Yazoo was a light sleeper; he woke up at the sound of anything.

"You were sleeping like a rock," Kadaj ploughed on, correctly guessing his train of thought. His eyes were bright with malice and happiness. The emotions coincided a little too harmoniously. "You were worn out from all that lecturing yesterday, I bet. Well, I'm sick of your lectures, so that's another reason for me going. The main reason I'm leaving is obviously because you're holding me back. Pretty much all the time."

Yazoo sat up again. Unfazed, Kadaj chomped on his apple, only eating about half of it, before giving up and tossing it onto Loz's bed.

"I held you back yesterday because you ordered Loz to kill Hojo. And what's important isn't whom you were targeting, but rather that you dared to bully Loz into doing such a thing. He's six years older than you. What gives you the right to boss him around?"

Kadaj scoffed. "Surprise, surprise, you're taking Loz's side…"

"And surprise, surprise, you're being ever so grown up about it."

He watched as Kadaj's face contorted, smoothly transitioning from petulance to humiliation. He hitched up his trousers and stalked to the door, one of his laces trailing behind him. "I can't be grown up with you ragging on me all the time."

"That's very true." Yazoo turned his head to look left. Loz was still sleeping. "Well, don't let me keep you."

"Bye." Kadaj yanked open the door. "No need to see me out."

Kadaj nodded with satisfaction at his last words, slinging his bag onto his back. That he had deemed Souba unworthy of coming along did not go amiss. Yazoo waited three seconds, using that time to slide his legs out of bed, before calling lightly, taking extra care to sound pleading, "Don't go, Kadaj. Come back."

There was silence, except for the clear cut sound of Kadaj's triumph. Just before the door swung shut onto him, Kadaj caught it and hissed, "I knew it!" Yazoo didn't need to see it to know there was a smirk on his brother's face.

"Don't go," he said again, and then he let a smirk of his own cross his face. He let Kadaj relish in supposed victory for a moment, before adding, "Your sweater's back to front."

A flash of a green glare was Yazoo's single warning and ultimately, his desired outcome. Kadaj stomped back inside, slammed the door and marched over to him.

"You! You're such a bitch! I'm just about to leave you for good and you stilltreat me like a baby!" He smacked him on the arm for emphasis, cheeks burning red, screaming incoherent words and beating his fists against Yazoo. As usual, Kadaj ventured through a flurry of conflicting emotions – embarrassment, relief, humour, exhaustion – and wound up settling for his default, whininess. Yazoo narrowly missed having his eye poked out, but he welcomed this childish strop over his insanity any day.

"Stop flailing, honestly. You're like a fish out of water." Yazoo seized Kadaj's arms, forcing them out of their sleeves so that he could turn the sweater round. "And don't scowl like that. It's not my fault you made a fool out of yourself."

"Well, both sides of this top look the—"

"You know that's not what I mean. Running away and leaving us? Seriously, Kadaj? You'd get as far as the bottom of the stairs." Yazoo was rewarded with another glare, but by now, he was immune to it. "Two words for you. Empty, and threat."

"Yeah? I have two words for you—"

"Stupid Yazoo, I know," he cut in. Honestly, his brother was like a broken record. "You have ideas and plans and plenty of temper, but what good are they if you're stuck on your own?"

"I'd find new people. Friends," he muttered. His answer lacked heart.

"You can't get friends," he replied, keeping his voice light to mask what little sadness he felt from the statement. "That's why you have Loz and me. Besides," he finished slyly, "I've deliberately brought you up so that you'll always need me to tie your shoelaces and Loz to feed you."

There was the start of a scowl. Then, Kadaj's shoulders relaxed, and he rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. "One day I'll be deadly serious when I abandon you, and you'll regret playing around and taking it as a joke. Mark my words."

"Okay, fine." He had taken Kadaj's dramatics into stride until now, when he just realised that Kadaj did have a 'friend' that neither Yazoo nor Loz had. His gut wrenched at the thought. The realisation caught him by so much surprise, that he practically dropped to the floor to serve the dual purpose of doing up Kadaj's laces and hiding his face from view.

Kadaj's hand played with Yazoo's fringe, curbing both brothers' annoyance with one another. "…He told me that I don't need either of you."

It was just as Yazoo had supposed, a nasty fact he liked to pretend he had no knowledge of. But he did know, so painfully aware that the more Kadaj matured, the more superfluous he and Loz became. With Sephiroth alluding to it, Kadaj would work out their irrelevance and then what? By now, Yazoo was certain that Kadaj could easily abandon them for Sephiroth. How much time before Kadaj's threats became the truth? How much longer before Yazoo and Loz had to give up the ball in their court and pass it to their young brother?

"Listen, Kadaj. Perhaps you heard him wrong," Yazoo opted to reply.

"Hmph. He was quite clear about it, actually."

"And you believe him, I take it?"

"…He had me for a second," he replied, adopting a solemn, lifeless voice that sounded uncannily like Yazoo's own. Yazoo couldn't disguise his relief.

"Look," Kadaj snapped, regaining his usual nasal tone, "this wouldn't be an issue if you learned to stop smothering me. I can look after myself, honest. I can be responsible if you give me the chance. I'm not always going to be twelve."

I know, Yazoo thought, weary at the reminder. "I'll give you a chance to be responsible, then. Why don't you go and check with the front desk for information about airships? See if you can find a timetable, the fare for us three and where to buy our tickets from. But before you get onto that, fetch some breakfast for Loz." He countered Kadaj's frown with a raised eyebrow of warning. "You asked for responsibilities, so you're getting them. I'm not going to let you think it's all fun and games. Loz went to sleep upset like yourself; breakfast – and a heartfelt apology from you – will cheer him up."

Kadaj nudged his bag aside, wandering over to the door again. "I didn't say a word of complaint, by the way, so there's no need for the look. I'll get Loz a breakfast fit for a king. Show you how responsible I am, you big girl…" He fell into a low, vehement series of mutters.

"And for future reference," Yazoo called after him, "responsible people don't throw tantrums at every available opportunity!"

"I wasn't throwing a tantrum!" Kadaj screamed back up the stairs. "I was being emotional, there's a big difference!"

A grunt from behind Yazoo caught his attention, and he turned to see Loz roll over in his sleep, mumbling, "Urgh, shut up…"

"Awake now?"

"Been awake ages…" came Loz's muffled – and very unconvincing – response.

"Being half-conscious doesn't count."

"Ugh…awake, promise…what's…what is that?"

Yazoo picked up Kadaj's half-eaten apple (which had rolled to rest in front of Loz's sleepy face) and dropped it into the bin. "You can sleep for a bit longer. Kadaj has gone to fetch you some breakfast. He's making an effort to be nice, so return the favour, okay?"

Loz just burrowed deeper into his quilts. "Mm, fine…I heard you arguing…talking…he had a tantrum. Was…serious, Yazoo?"

"Very serious, but don't you worry. You'll forget about it and go back to sleep."

"F…forget what?"

"See?" He slapped Loz's shoulder. "Just sleep."

He grabbed some fresh clothes, retrieved his gun from Kadaj's bag and shut himself in the bathroom. He leaned against the door with more force than required. Suddenly exhausted, Yazoo had to wonder what godly trait made Kadaj so skilled in changing moods at the flick of a switch. It was getting harder and harder to keep up with him, to maintain a grip on him. Yazoo could feel it – the safety net he had weaved for Kadaj, starting to break as he grew too big, became too different. It was going to fall apart, and Sephiroth was at the bottom, waiting to catch him.

Yazoo threw off his cotton pyjamas and got in the shower, deliberately turning the cold tap all the way, hoping the jet of freezing water would wash away his persistent worries. The water pounded against his face and tore down his body. He shivered and flinched and groaned, resting an arm on the tiled wall and curling up his toes.

"I'm playing tug-of-war with a figment of his imagination," he said, though he couldn't hear his own voice. He was pulling for possession, while Sephiroth was doing the exact same on the other side. Sephiroth was tempting him through dreams and whispers; Yazoo was smothering him every minute he was awake. If it continued like this, if Yazoo didn't change his ways, then he was going to lose his brother to a complete stranger.

Did Kadaj not realise the great lengths Yazoo and Loz went to look after him? Did he even care? Or did their efforts just pale in comparison to what Sephiroth had to offer? What did Sephiroth have, that beat Yazoo's company and Loz's reassurance?

The time to himself gave him no answers, in the end. He needed to pick Loz's brain if he was to get anywhere or better, muster the courage to ask Kadaj himself.

"You're shivering," Loz pointed out unnecessarily, when Yazoo walked out of the bathroom, his hair sopping wet. The eldest brother still looked sleepy, but the bemusement at the sight of breakfast in bed was clear on his face. "What've I missed, Yazoo? Did something happen?"

"Nothing unusual," he replied, deciding it wasn't far from the truth at all. "That's a lot of breakfast you have there."

"So help me." Loz eyed the bread rolls, bacon, scrambled eggs and hash browns. "How did you get to take this food anyway? I thought we're not meant to eat upstairs."

Kadaj sat on the end of his bed, taking a bit of egg for himself. "I have eyes of persuasion," he replied happily. "The woman on front desk loves me. She even gave me these." He delved into his pocket and pulled out a number of hard boiled sweets, as well as a flier depicting an airship. "There's an airship to Rocket Town every two hours from midday. It's 750 gil for the three of us – she said we can get tickets at the front desk. We do have enough money, don't we? Pass me your glass, Loz, let me refill your drink for you."

"This nice behaviour is weirding me out," Loz remarked. He didn't object to Kadaj's offer, though. "I'll be impressed if you even keep it up for an hour."

Yazoo wrung his hair out with only a vague awareness of what he was doing. He knew he was waiting for an opportunity to cut in, to pull Kadaj aside and talk to him. What he was planning to say, he didn't know. He wasn't sure he could do it, look at Kadaj and treat him as if he was anything but his baby brother. Yazoo had never meant to smother, that had never been his intention…but it was clear, he realised, that he needed Kadaj more than Kadaj needed him.

"Kadaj. Do you want to come downstairs with me to buy tickets?"


Loz frowned, chewing on a hash brown. "I can come with you—"

"Eat up," Yazoo cut in. "Take it easy, hmm?"

He appeared unnerved and almost frightened at the abundance of kindness this morning, so Yazoo clarified, "I don't want any rehash of yesterday. That means no bossing about, bullying, lecturing (save for this one) or arguing; and definitely no attempts at murder."

His brothers nodded solemnly. Loz looked pained at the mention.

"And no crying," Yazoo added. He held the door open and seized Kadaj's shoulder before he could run off. "See you in a few minutes, Loz."

"750 gil," said Kadaj. He didn't deem it necessary to grant Yazoo with a bit of peace and quiet while he counted out their money. "The flight's five hours, apparently! So we'll get there by evening and—"

"Listen to me for a second," Yazoo interrupted.

Kadaj's eyes narrowed. "I thought you said no lectures!"

"I'm not going to lecture you. I want to ask you for a favour. Kadaj, look at me when I'm talking to you please." He took his brother's shoulders. He'd later look back and recall how thin and fragile those shoulders felt. "Sephiroth talks to you. Even though he's reported dead and you've never met him…"

"Not talk, as such," corrected Kadaj. Without warning, he grinned past Yazoo and waved at a man passing them to go downstairs. The man smiled and waved back. "He works on front desk," Kadaj explained.

Yazoo geared him back onto topic; he didn't particularly care for anything else at the moment. "He doesn't talk to you? I thought you held conversations with him?"

"I never said that!" He crossed his arms. "It's more like thoughts. As though he's thinking and speaking on behalf of me, and later I wonder why I said it, and then realise it's him interfering. It's hard to explain."

"That's the favour I want to ask of you." Yazoo was aware of how his breaths got caught in his throat, how his fingers shook at his words. He disguised everything with a smile. "If you can, can you tell me when Sephiroth interferes, and what he's telling you?"

"Sure," Kadaj replied, a little too easily for Yazoo's liking. "A lot of the time I forget, though."

"Just tell me what you can, when you can."

"All right. Do I have to tell Loz too?"

The question hadn't crossed his mind, but the answer came within a second. He didn't even need to think about it. "You tell Loz as well. Or if you're too uncomfortable, tell me and then I'll relay it to him."

"Okay, fine. Can we get airship tickets now? I'd like to reach Nibelheim before I die, thanks."

Yazoo nodded and headed for the stairs.

"Wait up," called Kadaj, and their hands locked in a familiar hold. Yazoo, for the life of him, couldn't remember if he had initiated the contact, had let that terrible tendency to 'smother' get the better of him; or if Kadaj had acted of his own accord, rendering their morning's conversation pointless and blissfully unnecessary.

A/N: I reckon I have about three more chapters to go with this fic. Should take me about....four and a half years??! :) Feel free to review if you like; thanks for reading this far!