"It's not a matter of trust," he said simply, resting his right arm over his knee. "And it's not about competition either. She's her own person; if it happens that way, it happens."
"Then what is it about?" asked Blondie.
"The point is that there's more to it than who can offer the most stuff."
Blondie coughed. "You're going to rely on charm?"
Brown-hair shook his head. "I told you; it's not that simple. *She's* not that simple. Brother, it ain't just one thing; it's complicated, intricate, deep."
"Any woman worth the time of day... well, you have to treat them accordingly. Not just, 'give this much gil in gifts' or 'say this, this and this'; they're not machines, y'know." He gestured to Blondie with his free hand. "Gotta respect that, respect *them*."
"I'm not disputing that, but where does that leave you?"
Brown-hair inhaled deeply, and then exhaled slowly. "Me?" he almost whispered, smiling faintly. "I'm just a guy who wants to walk on the same path."
With a snort, Blondie asked, "And you think you're going to win her over with *that*?"
"No," he said simply, standing up. "I'm not trying to win her over."
Blondie was visibly confused as he moved to his feet. "You're losing me."
"It's not about winning." He paused to scratch an itch on the back of his neck. "She's not a goal, brother - not something you achieve or acquire."
"Then what is she?"
"Who is she," he corrected with another small smile. "She's someone to share a goal with."
The blonde-haired Hume stared at his friend, still puzzled; slowly, the idea settled into his mind. "I... I think I understand," he said quietly. "Though it's awfully philosophical, don't you think?"
Brown-hair chuckled. "Yeah, yeah, I know. Talk is cheap, innit? Well, we'll see."
"Oh, we'll see, all right." Blondie reached into his satchel. "Here's how I see that going down, and for illustrative purposes I'm going to use finger puppets to convey this."
The Blonde Hume held up one of his hands, now covered by four cheap paper puppets - one of them obviously a Mithra, the rest more ambiguous. "This is you-know-who, and the rest is her entourage of admirers, companions, and meat shields." He held up his other hand, displaing a particularly clueless-looking finger puppet. "And this is you."
Brown-hair massaged his forehead. "Aw geez, not this shit again."
"I'm gonna keep doing this until you learn. Now, watch." The Hume puppet gleefully bounced over to the crowd. "Oh, look what we have here!" Blondie croaked, a poor imitation of his friend's voice. "It's that Mithra I like! Hey, Mithra, how's it going?"
"Tee-hee!" Blondie squeaked. He made an odd purring noise and then mock-pounced the Hume puppet with the Mithra, then had the Mithra puppet rejoin the other three. "Ahh, Mithra," crooned one of the three, "so strong, so pretty..." "Let me protect you, Mithra!" "Mithra, let me help you with the Dungeon of Godforsaken Difficulty that mysteriously appeared last week!"
"I'm getting ready to hit you," said Brown-hair flatly.
"Aww, man," moped the Hume puppet. "How can I compete with those guys?" Then he adopted a narrator voice as he stuffed a hand back into the satchel, producing a crude Yagudo puppet. "Uh-oh, what's this? A mean ol' Yagudo is coming along!" "KAW!" The Yagudo puppet began beating, somewhat cruelly, on the Hume puppet.
"Oh, come on, I could take one measly Yag..." Brown-hair stopped and blinked twice. "Wait, why am I listening to this??"
"Suddenly!" Blondie hummed a short fanfare, launching the Mithra puppet at the Yagudo with a dramatic "Rawr!" The Mithra eagerly pounded on the Yagudo, beating it senseless and presumably to death. "Nobody touches my Hume and gets away with it!" Again with the purring as Blondie had the Mithra puppet fawn all over the wounded Hume puppet. "Arrrre you all right?"
Brown-hair groaned, shook his heand and waved a hand in defeat. "For the love of all that is holy, please stop. Your Mithra voice is horrible, along with everything else that's wrong with this."
Blondie mercilessly continued. "Therrrre therrrre," he murmured, exaggerating the trills, "let me make it aaaaalllll better..." He then started rubbing the two puppets together, making mangled moaning and kissing noises until Brown-hair finally reached over and grabbed both of his hands, crushing as many of the puppets as he could at once.
"This ends here," the unamused Hume stated simply.
"All right, all right, all right," Blondie finally conceded, twisting his hands free and putting away the puppets, "but my point is you gotta use what's at your disposal. In your case, that's your near-constant need for protection. Play the pity card."
"The pity card is overrrrrated," a nearby female voice said.
"Eh?" Blondie grunted, cocking his head towards the voice and finding himself face to face with an amused, familiar red-headed Mithra. His face started to pale. "Uhhhh... uh-oh..."
Brown-hair chuckled and patted his friend on the shoulder. "Just go, brother."
"Going," the blonde Hume replied before meekly shuffling off.
Brown-hair watched him slink around a corner, half-smiling, and shook his head. He turned back to Redhead. "Don't mind him; he's all right, I think he was just getting back at me for that Shantotto thing."
Redhead grinned, baring her teeth. "He does bad impressions."
"That he does." Brown-hair laughed softly, folding his arms over his chest. "What brings you to this part of the Woods?"
"Oh, nothing important," she said, a faint lilt to her voice that could have been mischief. Her eyes examined his curiously, her tail gently swaying back and forth. "Just out for a stroll."
"Sounds nice." He smiled. "Mind if I tag along?"
"I was hoping you'd ask. Come, walk with me."
She started towards a nearby dirt path, and he was quick to join her. The two walked side-by-side in contented silence for close to a minute, before he felt the unmistakable sensation of her tail coiling partway around his leg.
"So," she began, the smirk audible in her voice, "I'm intricate, hmm?"
A slight flush came to his cheeks as he grinned. "To say the least, Siv, to say the least."