I guess I have a lot of these floating around my head, most of which I consider embellishments and improvements on my old stuff. Oh and um... there's swearing. Lots of swearing. But I guess I'm a chapter too late for that, right?
Unfortunately, one of the first words Zidane learnt to dish out like gil at an auction house was the very word that caused the most trouble in a house of young thieves.
Baku had a strong inkling that Zidane was playing dumb for the sake of playing dumb, repeating the word again and again to push his luck and drive his poor boss insane.
"Ge'off yer little rat!" Baku hollered, slinging a fist at the kid who skipped neatly out the way. "This aint yours so keep yer grubby mitts off else I'll lock ya in the goddamn cupboard!"
There was something very comprehending in Zidane's impish eyes, a dash of brazen mischief that wouldn't have brewed if he didn't understand the concept of ownership, a thief though he was.
"Mine," he chirped jovially again, pointing to the sandwich in Boss' hand.
"No!" Baku yelled, too worked up to ignore the bait. "Piss off. This is my lunch. I made it, I bought the ham, I bought the bread so ya can't have it."
But Zidane had stashed in his arsenal something few of the younger Tantalus boys could boast, and something Baku was rather unaccustomed to: Zidane was undeniably, unbearably, vomit-inducingly cute. Washing off his weight's worth of dirt revealed features fit for a cherub, hair as flaxen as sun-bleached hay and eyes like a summer's sky. Baku wondered if he'd fallen out the backend of something more regal than your average Lindblumese family, the illegitimate child of a married nobleman, perhaps. But then Zidane would flash that grin and Baku wondered if he wasn't a devil-sent imp disguised in angelic garb, its sole purpose to punish a man who'd dedicated his life to the vexation of others.
"Minneee?" he drew his favourite word into a sorry plea, eyes shining like coins at the bottom of a spring – gods damn him to Hades' Inferno he'd even mastered The Pout.
"Fine," Baku relented. "But only 'cause a Tantalus always gets what he sets eyes on. That's our number one rule, right?" He tore the sandwich in two and all but threw it at the kid. "But next time yer gonna have to do more than just look cute to get it."
The twinkle in Zidane's eye called his bluff as he devoured his prize in four big bites.
The first sign was the emergence of the bucket. A big, rusty thing with a pinprick hole in its side, so that a persistent trickle of water followed its carrier around like a tail. On reflection, Baku wondered if it wasn't the sight of the bucket that instigated flight, but rather the sound of water pattering onto the floorboards of the Hideout.
Either way, the kids had vanished into various hidey holes like cat-chased rodents by the time Baku had finished filling up the old tub out back, and were practically impossible to find without a trained sniffer dog of sorts (though the bath was drawn with good reason so it was likely they'd be found by the dog's reluctance to venture too close instead). Baku had to enlist the help of both Cinna and Marcus, which only pissed him off more because time spent looking for rodents was time wasted earning much needed gil. But what was even worse, he also had to call in favours from Lindblumese folk who owed him, posting them around the hideout to catch – or at least report – if either of the culprits managed to flee through the upstairs window or back door.
"Zidane!" Cinna crooned as he peered beneath a bed. "C'mere! Where are you?"
"Here kitty, kitty," Marcus joked with a grin, and Blank would've yelled at him if he hadn't been hiding. "Yo, Blank, you better come out. You don't wanna get another beatin' from Boss, right? I hear if you get hit enough times around the head your brains start comin' outta ya ears like jelly."
"You're only makin' it worse fer yourself," Cinna reasoned. "You're gonna take a bath either way and if you keep stallin' the water's gonna get cold."
Still, no reply, so Marcus and Cinna began scouting the room proper, opening every treasure chest, cupboard and curtain, kicking every bundle of clothes and pulling the sheets off every bunk and mattress. Only when the Hideout looked like it had been turned upside down and shaken did they stop to scratch their heads, mentally ticking off the hovels and hidey-holes until Marcus clicked his fingers and pointed down. Cinna's podgy mug split with a wily grin and he offered a distraction by noisily emptying the contents of a cupboard.
Marcus kicked aside the rug at his feet then threw back the trapdoor underneath to reveal a small storage space, big enough to stash some loot and a curled up, redheaded mouse that squeaked, "Eep!"
"Gotcha," Marcus said, plucking the kid from his hideout before he could dash away. "Ehehe. Better luck next time, eh?"
"Leggo you son of a deformed Zaghnol's arsehole!"
"That doesn't even make sense. Quit squirming. You're only makin' it harder for yourself." Blank didn't stop squirming, but Marcus held his arm with Fenrir's grip until Boss swooped in from outside to pluck him like a flower, stashing him under one arm and boxing his ears. That sure made him shut up, and he hung limp as rag in pouty defeat.
"Right," Baku said, all business-like. "Where's the other little shit?"
"He's up there," Blank eagerly volunteered, and when all eyes turned skyward they saw the monkey peering out from behind a cog. The runaway yelped something angry at Blank in his own language, ending it with a very clear: "fucknshit" – one of the many delightful phrases he'd picked up from his brothers.
"I'm dragging you down with me!" was the closest Blank came to apologising.
Zidane slung a calculating stare at the window on the adjacent wall, some twenty feet away, but then wondered just how far the drop to the cobblestones was outside, if he made it to the window at all. Then he remembered what happened last time he actually escaped the building and decided he definitely a) didn't want to go back in the cupboard and b) wanted dinner for the next three nights.
So with his priorities in mind, he clambered down the network of gears and landed gracelessly on his behind. He received a cuff round the head for his troubles, then was picked up by his tail, eliciting an indignant squeal from him, followed by a list of all the bad words he'd picked up over the last few days, including, but not limited to, 'shittinsonuvabitch!' and concluded with an outraged, "MINE!"
"Ehehe," Baku agreed, before dumping them both in the tub of now freezing water, clothes, pouts and all.
While the average thief resident to the hideout was neither bothered nor unamused by Zidane's inappropriate grasp of the Gaian language, his tact left a lot to be desired, so taking him out in public was difficult bordering on embarrassing. Not only would he cuss like a drunk sailor at friend and stranger alike, but none of the store owners appreciated the repeated 'mine' he threw at their unsold merchandise. Baku wasn't about to apologise for the kid's gauche behaviour because no one appreciated a troubled upbringing quite like him, and neither did he scold Zidane as long as he kept his hands to himself - at least while people were watching.
But after a while Baku tired of Zidane's shrill voice chirping obscenities and false claims as he picked his way through a bustling market, and he'd never benefited from unwanted attention yet. To hush him up he took him to a stand that was selling shaved ice and immediately Zidane was in the throes of a fit of 'mines', tossing them all over the damn place like breadcrumbs to pigeons.
"Alright, alright, shut yer damn trap fer two seconds, would ya?" Baku grumbled under his breath, counting gil into his palm while Zidane practically clawed up his trouser leg to see the colourful shaved ice the stall owner was making for the kid in front.
Once the previous patrons had moved along (Zidane's eyes following the other kid's treat like he could magic it into his own hands) Baku gruffly asked for a Strawberry Ice, and just when the guy was halfway through making it, Zidane said clear as crystal, "Nuh-uh, I want a blue one."
Baku stared down at him. Zidane stared back, and when his request went answered he added, "Please?"