The Morning After the Life Before - Pt. II
Author: The Magic Rat
Pairings: Numerous. Some even make sense.
Website – Ex Libris: www.winter-wood.net/ex-libris/…
Live Journal: delaese.livejournal.com/profil…
If you are new to the Rabid Tiger story arc, you can find the entire thing either on my website here:
Or the Rabid Tiger Gallery on Deviant Art here:
Just start at ‘Porcupine Love’ and go from there.
Disclaimer: All Final Fantasy Seven characters, places and situations are the property of Square Soft/Square Enix and are used without permission and without intent of plagiarism or profit. Metalocalypse, the members of Dethklok, and lyrics to Dethklok songs belong to Brendon Small, Cartoon Network and Turner Music. Copyright for all stories and original characters such as Badger the Roadie is with the author, and may not be published, copied, distributed or archived without the author's prior written consent.
Summary: Tifa learns two secrets, Rufus give Lukis a lecture, and Ruskin gets an unwelcome visitor.
Author’s notes: Special thanks to Mirien and Pointy for their suggestions regarding Baby.
Tifa was sitting on her couch in the massive entryway of her donated mansion, reading a book on distilling her own whiskey, when she heard a bird hit the window. Looking up, she saw the little thing sitting on the ledge, dazed but very much alive. It shook its feathers, preened a bit, then flew away. Tifa shrugged and returned to her book. For a few minutes all was peaceful. Then something slammed violently into the side of her house with a loud “BOOM” that shook the walls and windows. Book flying from her hands, she leapt from the sofa and ran to the door, Barret chasing after her, both convinced a car had somehow hit their house. Tifa reached the door first and yanked it open, and squawked as she promptly tripped over a large heap of leather and feathers. Barret caught her before she fell, pulling her back to safety as he looked at the mess on the ground before him.
“What the hell is that?” he demanded, staring at the pile.
Tifa knelt, reaching down to stroke the black feathers. “It’s Sephiroth.” She drew up the tip of one gigantic wing and waggled it. “I think he’s drunk.”
“He cracked the damn wall!”
“Well he’s a big boy. Grab a wing and help me haul him inside.”
“You ain’t haulin’ shit. Get inside, I’ll pull the damned big crow in.”
Tifa rolled her eyes as Barret got both hands around Sephiroth’s wing-bones and pulled with all his might. Slowly but surely, Sephiroth was dragged over the threshold and into the house, leaving clumps of down as he went, the leather coat making odd creaking noises as it passed over the floor. Tifa closed the door, then followed after Barret, who released the enormous black wings just as they reached the couch. Barret watched bits of grey and black fluff float in the air.
“Zack must do nothing but vacuum all day.”
Tifa knelt on the floor and reached out to touch Sephiroth, sensing something was drastically wrong with him.
“Seph? Come on, sit up, there we go…”
Slowly he forced himself off the floor and into a seated position, looking around, clearly very confused. Tifa felt ill as she saw the brutal injury, only partly healed, around his white throat. She heard Barret make a low whistle as he knelt on the floor also, taking Sephiroth’s head in his enormous hands and looking into his eyes.
“Look at the size of his pupils,” said Barret. “He’s not drunk. He’s drugged. Badly hurt too. Look at these injuries. Like someone tried to take his damn head off. Sephiroth? You okay?”
Sephiroth blinked at him. Barret wasn’t sure if Sephiroth had the first idea who he was or not.
“He’s covered in dried blood,” said Tifa.
“Stinks like a corpse, too. Well nothing we can do about that right now. I think he needs rest more than anything. Hey! Baby! You in there?”
The green feline eyes blinked. “Cloud?”
“CLOUD?! Do I look like I’m five foot three and blonde?!”
“No. Currently you are rather blue and have the head of a guppy.”
Tifa snorted with amusement, and hurried off to get a basin of warm water and a wash cloth. Barret was unimpressed. “Baby what’s the matter? Where’s Aeris?”
“I’m not sure.” Sephiroth looked around slowly, wavering appreciably. “What the hell did Zack do to the house?”
“Zack didn’t do nuthin’ to the house! You’re at my house, in Nibelheim!”
“No. You’re here with me an’ Tifa.”
“Oh. That explains why the door wasn’t where I thought it was.”
Tifa returned just then, seating herself on the floor and dabbing at the dried blood with the cloth. He turned his head slowly to look at her.
“Hi Baby,” she said softly, smiling.
He blinked at her, and she sighed heavily as his eyes slowly sank down from her face to end up on her breasts.
“Bloody hell your tits are big.”
“It’s called ‘pregnancy’, Mister Sephiroth.”
“My tits never did that when I was pregnant.”
“That’s because you’re a man.”
“I mean they were enormous before
you got pregnant, but now
, Baby, there is no need…”
“At least if you fall forward you won’t have to worry about breaking your nose.”
Tifa sighed and rolled her eyes, ignoring Barret, who looked like he was very much considering killing Sephiroth.
“Baby where is Aeris?” Tifa asked softly.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I was in… some sort of building. Like the old Shinra labs, but… different. And this crazy woman served me worms.”
“Crazy woman?” inquired Tifa.
“She was wearing a lab coat, and carrying a tray of worms, and she said it was my lunch. And she had on this skirt that was so short I could see her panties. They were pink. But not a pink found in nature. They were this…. vile, electric eye-burning pink. Like pink that glows in the dark pink. It was as if her entire pelvic region was one big pissed-off toxic monster screaming ‘GO AWAY!’ Then it started to rain and I decided I’d had enough of this. But I don’t know if Aeris was there or not.”
Tifa finished wiping the blood off his face and throat, then she and Barret helped him to get onto the couch. Within seconds, he was asleep.
“What’s going on here?” asked Barret. “Look at him! He’s cut to pieces, he’s drugged to the eyeballs… And what’s this about a lab?”
“I don’t know,” said Tifa. “We’ll have to wait until he’s lucid before we ask any more questions. In the meantime help me get his clothes off.”
“He’s filthy and smelly and covered in blood, we can’t leave him like that.”
“Yes we can!”
“I ain’t undressing no man!”
“Fine,” said Tifa. “I’ll do it myself.”
She took hold of one of his gloves and slid it off, dropping it onto the floor. She removed his other glove, then began wrestling with the great black leather coat and its shoulder armor.
“Heavy!” she grunted, pulling and pushing at the coat to get it to move.
Barret rolled his eyes and sighed. “Let me do that. Here…”
He gently moved her aside, then took hold of the coat. After some effort he managed to slide it off, leaving Sephiroth splayed on the sofa, wearing tight leather pants, thigh-high boots, and nothing else. Barret and Tifa stared at him.
“Just think,” said Tifa, “he picked that outfit all by himself.”
“He did?” said Barret, staring at the man before him.
“Uh huh,” said Tifa. “Once you reached First Class, you got to pick your own uniform.”
“And he picked skin tight leather pants for a uniform,” said Barret.
Barret stared at Sephiroth for a few moments longer, then looked at Tifa. “And SOLDIER had no idea he was gay… why
Tifa giggled as she bent to unbuckle the boots, sliding them off his long legs. Then, on a whim, she tried one on. It went as far up her leg as was possible and with some to spare.
“What do you think?” she asked Barret.
“I think if you were two feet taller they’d fit great. Here, give me the boots. I’ll clean the mud and blood off them.”
Tifa handed the boots to Barret, then left with the coat. Barret watched her go, then looked down at the boots he held. Hastily removing his own boot, he attempted to try on Sephiroth’s, only to find Sephiroth not only had longer legs than Tifa, he had smaller feet than Barret.
“Hmph. Don’t know how a man can stand on something that little,” Barret grumbled.
As Barret played with Sephiroth’s boots in the entryway, Tifa was in the laundry room, removing the armor from the coat. The leather itself was not washable, but it had a lining that was, and she intended to toss it into the washer.
She got the shoulder armor off and set it aside, then pulled out the lining, sighing as a rain of dirt and small pebbles fell onto the floor, as well as flecks of concrete, tiny splinters of wood, and bits of a dead plant Tifa had only ever seen near the Northern Crater.
“And the answer to the question of when did Sephiroth last wash his coat is…” she said, picking up a tiny scrap of paper she recognized as a laundry ticket. She held it up and read it. “Cleaned and repaired by Wash Detail 88695. So sometime before he lost his marbles. Yuck.”
It was odd to think Sephiroth would not clean a garment he clearly loved and wore daily. Sephiroth was incredibly fastidious, like most military men, and he did not like dirt and filth in the least. So why not take the coat apart for a proper cleaning?
Something dropped out of the lining, and landed soundlessly on the floor. Puzzled, Tifa bent to pick it up, and gazed in bewilderment at what she held. It was a toy; more specifically it was a baby toy. Once upon a time it had been a bright green chocobo, with vibrant yellow spots and fluffy purple feathers for the topknot, tail feathers and wings. There was a strip of leather around its neck painted gold for a collar. One eye was dangling by a thread, and one leg had fallen off completely and was now lying on the floor. The left side of the toy was stained and bore a cut that could only have been done by a bladed weapon. It was worn and discoloured and ripped, and she could not for the life of her think why he still had it. Tifa set the maimed little toy down on the washer, and called the Fair household.
“Hello?” said a little girl’s voice.
“Miki? It’s Auntie Tifa.”
“Hi. Listen… I was washing your mommy’s coat…”
The child drew a loud dramatic gasp. “You’re washing the COAT?!”
Tifa rolled her eyes. “Yes and I found something…”
“Oh no,” said Miki. “You found…. THE MANKY THING!”
“Is the Manky Thing a toy green chocobo?”
“Well it won’t be the first time. So it’s special?”
“Yeah but I don’t know why. I think Daddy or Uncle Angeal might but I know Mommy gets really tense and nervous if anybody plays with it. I mean not that we wanted to once we reached an age we understood how gross it was.”
“I’m going to try to clean and fix it.”
“So who drugged Mommy?”
“Miki you are far too hip for your age.”
“Is Mommy okay?”
“Yes. He’s asleep on my sofa. I’m not sure what he’s been up to but we will send him home after a nap and a bath.”
“Okay. Don’t catch a disease from the Manky Thing.”
Tifa laughed. “I won’t. See you later, Miki.”
Tifa closed her phone and set it aside, and looked down at the battered toy. She picked it up, and carefully undid the leather collar. Once it had been gold. Now it was worn and only a few traces of gold paint remained. Maybe Barret could repaint it…
There was writing on the inside, and she recognized Vincent’s fine script immediately, even though the ink, nearly forty-three years old, was very faint now.
“To Baby, from Daddy. I can’t wait to meet you.
Tifa began to cry immediately, setting the collar hastily aside and throwing the coat lining into the washer, along with other things that needed a cleaning. Well she now knew the secret of the grotty little toy in Sephiroth’s coat. Small wonder he would guard it like a great treasure; as far as Sephiroth was concerned, it was. The only question was why had Hojo let him keep it? To torment him with the question of who his father was, and where?
She added soap to the washer, shut the lid, and, after taking a few moments to get herself under control, picked up the toy to take to her sewing room. She had a mastered Heal materia that would take out the grime without damaging the fragile fabric, and then it was just a matter of fixing the leg and eye. Maybe she had some little feathers as well…
She walked into the entryway, and found Barret standing there, arms crossed, gazing at the black and white lump on the couch that was Sephiroth. He was face down, but had managed to get his long legs under himself, so his butt was elevated and his face was smooshed into the pillows. One hand hung down and rested on the floor, and his hair flowed like a waterfall over the side of the couch to pool on the hardwood floor in a circle of white.
He looked like an enormous six hundred pound infant.
As Tifa stared, trying to take in what she was looking at, Barret leaned close and said into her ear; “D’ya think maybe we found out why Zack calls him ‘Baby’?”
Reeve had gone to bed for a nap. He had honestly forgotten how tiring his parents could be, and the only way to get a few minutes of peace was to hide in his room. He settled into the gigantic silver bed, drew up the covers, and closed his eyes. He began to drift into sleep almost immediately, and thus, thought the soft little inquisitive sounds he was hearing were part of a dream. They were almost whisper-quiet and questioning.
“Week week week?” Tiny feet scooted across the carpet. “Week week week?”
Oh fuck, the bird was awake and looking for Rufus.
“Week week week?”
Reeve felt the baby chocobo land on the bed, and opened one eye to watch it creep up onto his chest, and settle down, staring at him. Then, slowly, cautiously, it reached out to take hold of his nose.
“Your mother and I will be discussing this behaviour,” said Reeve. “My nose is not a pacifier.”
The baby chocobo disagreed, and sat quietly on Reeve’s chest, holding his nose.
Meanwhile, unaware that his husband was in a nose-hold with a baby chocobo, Rufus was facing Lukis in his office, and watching the small young man fall completely to pieces. Pickles and Darren had warned Rufus that Lukis cried at the drop of a hat, but to actually witness it was another thing. Currently Lukis was seated in one of Rufus’ office chairs, holding Pom-Pom Bunneh close and blubbering into the soft silvery fur.
“I didn’t mean to ruin your whiskey, I really didn’t, I’m so sorry, I was just so mad and so tired of people making comments, and they don’t make them to Pickles because Badger would kill them but they say it to us and they say it to me the most because I’m little and and and I’M TIRED OF IT and please don’t kill me…”
“I will not kill you,” said Rufus. “But I cannot for one moment understand what made you think breaking into my office was a good idea. If my Turks had been here in the house instead of out looking for Aeris you would have been a smear on the carpet before they even realized who you were. They are paid and trained to perform specific tasks; specifically
to keep people out of my office.”
“I know, I’m so sorry!”
“Lukis… I am not a nice man. And when I open my doors to strangers I do it with the understanding they will respect my home, and not cost me over two million gil. Just because I have
it does not mean I view such things as a joke. Pickles has offered to replace the whiskey, and even though I am strongly of the opinion that you
should have to do it, I have decided to accept his offer. But I want to let you know that you are not going to be little and cute and doe-eyed forever. Eventually it is going to wear very thin for all involved, and from what I hear through the grapevine you have a very long and glorious history of “accidentally” causing major blow-ups.”
Lukis snuffled, wiping at his eyes. “I wasn’t trying to make a mess! And I’m not a bad person!”
Rufus stared at him coldly. “Lukis – you’re a terminal victim. You have genuine issues from your life as a child, but you haven’t noticed you’re not three anymore. There is no need for a twenty year old man to bolt wildly into the ether and not notice the wake of destruction he leaves. And crying to me that it is not fair for me to call you on your shit after you ruined a two and a half million gil whiskey and only dodged death because the Turks were not here to defend my property will not work. The only difference between a Turk and a Gear is the uniform. If Tseng or Reno or Veld or Elena heard someone in my office when they knew no one was supposed to be there… I would be having you steam-cleaned out of the carpet and explaining to Pickles and Darren that I had no idea why you were there in the first place. And what if it had really been the nanites? Are you really ready to be a parent at this age? I’ve got to say, Lukis, “I’ll show you” is the most common reason dumb shit happens, and one of the worst ever.”
“I just wanted Mr. Morgan to get off our backs,” said Lukis. “I’m tired of explaining over and over to people that we’re happy, and fighting to justify something that’s none of his damned business. I don’t drag up his drinking; he’s got no right to mess with my family.”
“Have you told him that?”
“Darren has, repeatedly. Pickles says he’s screaming into a wind tunnel. I’m not sure what that means, but we have told him.”
“Maybe he needs to hear it from you, too.”
“He doesn’t talk to me about it. He doesn’t talk to Pickles either. He knows I’ll start to cry and he knows Pickles will hurt him. So he saves it all up for Darren. The only time he brings it up to the three of us is when there are other people around.”
“So he’s a bully and a control freak.”
Lukis squirmed. “He can be. Look… I don’t like talking bad about Mr. Morgan…”
“But if he had not been leaning on you then we would not be having this conversation. I would be drinking whiskey and you would be avoiding helping Pickles and Darren pack.”
“I’m not allowed to pack. Charles and the Gears insisted after I lost Deddy Bear. Look… I really am sorry, Mr. Shinra. I don’t know what else to say. I just… get scared and I want the bad things to stop, but I don’t know how to make it stop. Then it’s like everything goes dark and I’m a car but somebody else is driving. I never had a family. I have a mom with a serious mental illness and no one else. If Darren and his family hadn’t taken me in I’d be dead and I know it. But that doesn’t change all the times I had to try to look after an insane woman with an undiagnosed illness, who would hurt me for doing and saying things I never did. Now I’m grown up and she’s in treatment and I get to actually talk to her, but it doesn’t change that instinct to run the moment something happens.” Lukis sniffled and wiped at one eye. “It was stupid and I know it, and if I had two and a half million gil I’d replace the whiskey myself. But all I have is rabbit beans.”
“A most useful commodity I am certain,” said Rufus dryly. “Look, Lukis, I forgive you. I really do. But I think you need to speak to someone about getting help for your panic disorder before you blow something up or cause a hurricane or end up in the Northern Crater trying to split the world in half.”
“Never mind. Are you going to think about what I said?”
“Actually I have, a lot. But it scares Darren. He thinks I’ll go into therapy, get healthy and dump him.”
“It has been known to happen,” said Rufus, amused.
“We went into therapy at the beginning of the relationship to make sure no one was being dismissed or in danger of becoming a third wheel or just treating this like a non-relationship,” said Lukis.
“What did the therapist say?”
“Well the first one said we were sick and we should pray for salvation. Then after Charles bailed Pickles and Darren out of jail I had to get a job in the Mordhaus library to pay for the desk, window and car they broke.”
“Why did you
have to get a job to pay for that?”
“Because I was the one who suggested they throw his desk out the window and smoosh his car like a bug.”
“So what you are attempting to tell me is that, in your case, punishment is not a deterrent.”
“No one said they had to listen,” said Lukis. “But Charles says me and Darren are a bad influence on Pickles.”
“And that just boggles the mind,” said Rufus. “Look, Lukis… you’re very sweet and very cute, but come into my office one more time without invitation and I will have to have you killed.”
“Okay,” said Lukis. “Oh, Charles wants you over for dinner and Monopoly next Monday.”
“I shall be there with bells on. Now, have you got everything? Boots, belts, bunny?”
Lukis smiled and hugged his bunny. The thing stared dead at Rufus, who would have sworn the eyes turned red and it growled. Lukis set the creature down, then walked over to Rufus for a hug. Whether Lukis knew it or not; the mere fact he was actively seeking hugs when on first arrival to Gaia he would cringe and cry if someone moved too fast was an enormous breakthrough. Which was great; Rufus never turned down a chance to hug small pretty things.
Lukis departed, and Rufus decided to go see if Reeve was still naked, alone, and unprotected in the bedroom. A little Reeve-molesting was definitely called for. He reached his bedroom, but was halted by one of his underling Turks; a kid by the name of Vaettir. He was roughly twenty and incredibly cute and only allowed in the mansion because every other Turk Rufus owned was out looking for Aeris.
“What’s going on?” Rufus asked.
“Hostage situation, Sir. Very serious.”
Rufus peeked into the bedroom to see Reeve pinned down by a baby purple chocobo who was holding onto his nose.
“I see,” said Rufus. “Well what have you tried to amend this situation?”
“Negotiations in the form of greens, nuts, berries, and standing at the end of the bed and calling “Here birdy birdy
.” None of the attempts were successful.”
“Very well, I’ll handle this myself. Thank you, cadet.” Rufus walked into the bedroom, grinning. “Here Perkle.”
The tiny purple terror turned and began squeaking excitedly, hopping into Rufus’ arms. Reeve slowly sat up and rubbed his nose.
“How was your nap?” asked Rufus.
Reeve was not amused. “Rufus if you are going to insist on keeping that thing in the house, and I know you will because that is just the sort of disturbed thing you will do, at least buy it a parrot-diaper and train it to use it. And what did you call it?”
“Perkle. When I was small I couldn’t say ‘purple’, I would say ‘perkle’, so of course…”
“Yes well Perkle needs potty-training. I’ve been pinned down, held hostage and shat on for twenty minutes. If this is all part of a twisted plan to get a divorce then it’s working.”
“He just wants you to know he loves you!”
Reeve tossed back the soiled covers with a sound of disgust, then rose to his feet to face Rufus. “I can live with this thing obsessing about my nose. But Mr. Shinra if you do not get a diaper on that bird before it hops into bed with me again, then you are going to have to change your name to Eggbound, because you are not
getting laid. The end.”
Reeve left, heading for the bathroom to take a bath. Rufus looked down at Perkle, who was blinking back at him.
“We have a serious issue, here, Perkle. But fortunately your Daddy is rich, and stupid. So let’s get you some birdy-pants, and then we will call Miss Miki and ask how she potty-trained Edgington.”
“Well of course we are getting you matching booties and a bonnet!”
“No I don’t think you need a bib. But maybe some little shorts might be in order. Vaettir!”
“Yes Mr. Shinra?”
“Where are my senior Turks?”
“Tseng, Veld and Rude are at the old reactor, Elena and Yuffie are patrolling the grounds, and Vincent is home, asleep.”
“All right, keep me posted. Perkle and I are going shopping. See to it all the bedding is washed, Perkle had an accident.”
As Vaettir stared in horror at the bedding, and Reeve poured himself a bubble bath, Rufus danced his way down the stairs and out the door, Perkle in his arms. He loaded the baby chocobo into the roadster, slipped in behind the steering wheel, and took off to Sunny Bunny Pets, the most lavish pet shop anywhere, and the one place Rufus was guaranteed to find chocobo knickers.
Dark heard the roadster drive away, but she was currently watching over her designated charge – Ruskin. The baby was becoming restless in his sleep, a sure sign he would awaken soon, but the great guard-hound stayed at his side, her small pointed ears twisting as she listened to the sounds of the house, comforted by the predictability of the noises. She heard the Turks patrolling, the trainer working the racing chocobos, the smaller children down the hall being tutored while the older children were in school… and one other thing.
Dark raised her head, cocking it to the side, small ears forward. This was not a common sound. This was a sound she had never heard before. It was a scuffling, and scraping, and… well it sounded as if something was trying to get in.
Dark silently hopped out of the crib and prowled to a hiding spot near the window, eyes glittering, tentacle waving. She hunched down, body tense. This might be a friend. On the other paw, it might be an enemy.
There was a scrape at the window, and Dark tensed, muscles bulging under the gleaming black coat. Brilliant yellow eyes watched the window opened, and a fat man in a caramel coloured suit pushed his way in, huffing and puffing.
“Why do I get all the hard jobs? Ugh! I used to be the head of the space programme! Now here I am stealing babies. Oof!”
The fat man fell in through the window and lay on the carpet, gasping. Well he had to be somewhat clever to get past the household patrols. Or perhaps not, with the senior Turks away attending to other matters and the newer Turks not quite grown into their boots yet. Dark watched the fat man struggle to his feet and begin waddling to the crib, unaware he was being stalked by a silent black shape. The man bent over the crib.
“Hey hey hey! Hi little guy! Wanna come with your Uncle Palmer and…?”
The tentacle on Dark’s back lashed out like a whip and Palmer dropped without so much as a whimper, his skull split like a melon and his brains leaking onto the blue carpeting. Ruskin jumped at the sharp noise, blue eyes blinking open. Dark expertly used a paw to bat down the side of the crib, leaned in to pick up Ruskin by his jammies and carried him away from the mess, taking him to the best and safest place she knew; the large metal bin that held the clean laundry pile. Ruskin spent the next forty minutes of his little life lying in a pile of clothing being tongue-washed by a great hairy black beast, while the entire household went mad looking for him. He was eventually found by one of the five Shinra laundresses. She bent to pick up the infant, but Dark snapped her tentacle warningly. However Mrs. Wren was sixty-seven and had been looking after various Shinras for many years. She was not about to take guff from a guard hound.
“You’re not lying on my laundry with a stinky baby! Why are you down here, anyway?”
Dark made a huffing noise. Moments later Reeve appeared, clearly frantic.
“Mrs. Wren have you seen…?”
“A smelly baby with a full nappy on my clean clothes with a big hairy guard hound? Funny you should ask that.”
She indicated the laundry pile, and Reeve sighed with relief, bending to pick up his tiny son.
“Oh thank all the gods of Gaia,” he said.
“Why did Dark take the baby down here?” asked Mrs. Wren.
“I don’t know, but I’m glad she did. There’s a dead man in Ruskin’s room. It looks like he crept in through the window and was going to take Ruskin. Dark broke his head open and took Ruskin here.”
Reeve took Ruskin to the baby room set up for such things as baths and diaper changes, leaving Dark to lie in the enormous bin in which the clean laundry was deposited to await folding. Mrs. Wren stared at the big cat for a long moment, hands on her well-furnished hips. Then she walked away, only to return a few minutes later with a joint of lamb that had been meant for the Shinra family dinner. However, in the opinion of Mrs. Wren, it was the hero of the day who deserved it more, and absolutely no one would disagree.
They were stuck. They had no idea where Aeris had gone, who could have taken her, or where she might be. It was just past sundown when Tseng and Veld dragged themselves back to Shinra Manor, and were greeted at the door by Elena.
“You won’t believe what we caught,” she said.
“Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?” asked Tseng.
“None of the above,” said Elena. “It was Palmer.”
Tseng and Veld stopped dead on the doorstep, staring.
“That’s not possible,” said Tseng. “Palmer was hit by a truck. According to Cloud, who witnessed the incident, it was a very large semi-truck.”
“I know,” said Elena. “But Palmer was in Ruskin’s room and Dark used her tentacle to split his head open.”
“And you told her she’s a very good kitty, right?” said Veld.
“Well someone gave her a whole joint of lamb so I think she got the message that she is a good kitty, but that still leaves us with one question.”
“Namely where did Palmer come from when we know he was killed,” said Tseng. “I helped scrape him off the road afterwards. He bounced off the front grill and hit a tree. He was not alive. He was not badly hurt. He was dead
“Yeah I know,” said Elena. “He was a mess. But he’s still climbing through windows, and we’ve got the dead body to prove it. Come on inside, I’ve got tea and soup waiting. You can warm up and eat while I tell you the rest of this lurid little tale.”
The three walked into the silent manor house, creeping into the kitchen. With Dethklok and their Gears moved out, the house seemed eerily empty. They entered the kitchen, and Tseng began ladling some soup into a bowl while Veld poured the tea.
“You know the helicopter Yuffie shot down?” asked Elena.
“Yes, what about it?” asked Veld, looking for lemon for his tea.
“Guess who was driving it.”
“The Three Stooges?” said Tseng.
“Close!” said Elena. “Try Scarlet and Heidegger.”
Tseng dropped his bowl, which shattered against the stone tiles of the floor, throwing soup in all directions. He stared at her in horror.
“You’re kidding me. They’re dead
, we know
they are, Cloud and his little friends got them! Elena are you sure?”
“The bodies were too damaged so we sent them to Healin for identification. It was Scarlet and Heidegger. So that makes three zombies.”
“I wonder if the fourth is the old President?” asked Veld.
“Why would the old President want Ruskin?” asked Elena.
“Perhaps because Rufus was such a disappointment,” said Tseng. “Speaking of Rufus, does he know?”
“No,” said Elena, “and Reeve actually ordered us in big four-lettered words to not tell Rufus. He’s only just begun to calm down from the time Phoenix said he saw Palmer in the garden, can you imagine what he’d do if we told him Palmer was in Ruskin’s room?”
“Speaking of Wiggles McShinra,” said Tseng as a pair of headlights shone in the window. “Where’s he been all day?”
“Meetings with engineers to see if it’s a good idea to build a hydroelectric dam near here, and a shopping trip,” said Elena.
“Alone?” said Veld. “That’s not a good idea.”
“Well it’s just business,” said Elena, “but if you ask me I think after today we should either go with him or have him shadowed.”
“Agreed,” said Tseng, looking down at the mess he’d made on the floor. He sighed and went in search of a broom and dustpan for the glass and a mop for the liquid. He’d managed to get the better part of it cleaned up before Rufus walked in. They could hear him before they saw him, trailed as always by a constant “week week week”. Except this time the “week week week” was accompanied by a soft “beep beep beep”.
Elena squealed like a disturbed dachshund when she saw Perkle. The little chocobo had on his new parrot-nappy, which would spare both the Shinra furniture as well as the Shinra housekeeping staff from constant “spot-cleaning”. But Rufus had not stopped at nappies. Perkle had on little four-toed baby-bird-booties, which would stop his clawed feet from slipping on smooth surfaces, as well as making little “beep!” noises with each step. There were also little baby-pants with ruffles on the fanny, and a matching bonnet to keep the sun off of his currently-naked little head. Elena picked the baby ‘bo up and cuddled it, squealing and squeaking at the cuteness at a level that could shatter glass. Tseng sighed heavily.
“Elena, you’re a Turk, please behave like one.”
“That order never works when I give it, I fail to see why it should when you give it,” said Rufus. “How went the hunt?”
“Well Sephiroth turned up in Nibelheim, he’s currently sleeping off a near-overdose of Halcinol and a very bad neck injury resulting in massive blood-loss,” said Tseng. “He’ll be all right but we really have no idea how he got to Tifa’s or where he was in the meantime. We’re hoping once he is lucid then he can give us some information on Aeris.”
“And you were so excited at the prospect you naturally threw soup around my kitchen in celebration.”
Tseng grumbled and resumed cleaning. Then Darren walked into the kitchen, clad in his chef’s uniform.
“Didn’t you move out this morning?” asked Rufus.
“Yeah but I’m still hired on as the chef here,” said Darren. “Your old chef quit, remember?”
“Ah, yes, that’s right,” said Rufus. “I’ll have to ask Nadine to hire me a new one. How’s Lukis?”
Darren shrugged. “Not so hot. Dad wrote him an email explaining the effects of making a baby with a drug-addicted parent. I don’t know what you said to Lukis earlier today but he finally got mad and emailed him back an article about bullying, emotional abuse, manipulation and control. He also sent Dad an article on substance abusers who swap out one addiction for another. So Dad called him up and told him he was an ungrateful little bitch and Lukis screamed for Charles to take out a restraining order, which was delivered by five Gears.”
“Oh dear,” said Rufus.
“We’re hoping,” said Darren, “that after a few months of no contact Dad will realize what this crap could cost him. I mean… okay, I get it. He’s not a fan of three-way relationships. So nobody is making him have one.”
“Maybe he’s just jealous,” said Elena.
“Maybe Mom would kick his teeth in if he suggested it,” said Darren, grinning. “Nah I think Dad will cool off once he realizes if he keeps this up he’ll be living alone on another planet. I think Mom wants to stay. I know Ashley does – too many pretty boys to ignore.”
“What about you?” asked Rufus.
“Well Pickles worked too hard to get where he is on Earth, he doesn’t want to disappear. But Dethklok have decided when it’s time to hang up the rock star lifestyle they’re going to just vanish and come to Gaia and let people freak out for the next hundred years about where they went.” Darren looked up at the clock. “Getting late. I better get cooking. We’re having Perkle Soup for dinner, right?”
“Hilarious,” said Rufus. “Oh, and if an extraordinarily worried elderly couple come in here fretting about wanting to chip in for the food budget or try to talk you into not feeding them because the children are more important… tell them the children and Reeve will be heartbroken without them.”
“Right,” said Darren, opening the fridge and hauling out onions, butter, garlic and eggs. “Guilt-trip the old folks, got it.”
Rufus walked over to Elena to take Perkle. “Exactly. Now to go look in on my first-born son.”
“He’s with Daddy visiting the grandparents,” said Elena.
“Oooh I bet that will be exciting,” said Rufus. “I can’t wait to get a chance to explain to a terrified elderly woman all about the birds and the bees and the nanites and why it’s important to check what you are putting into your scotch. Oh! Speaking of which, Darren this is for Lukis.”
Rufus took something out of his pocket and tossed it to Darren, who caught it. It was a vial of clear liquid that glittered, though it was impossible to see what exactly was sparkling.
“For when he’s sure that the time is right,” said Rufus. “I’m not sure Pickles ever will be.”
“Oh great!” said Darren. “What happens if they both get pregnant at the same time?”
“I’m sure Badger will be on hand to help.”
“Yeah and to point and laugh,” said Darren. “But… thanks, Rufus. Lukis will really appreciate it.”
“Put it someplace safe,” said Rufus, as he set the wiggling chocobo down. “Come along, Perkle, we have to let Daddy and Ruskin see how you look!”
Rufus Shinra left the kitchen in a swirl of white vicuna, refinement made flesh, and chased hotly by a weeking, beeping baby chocobo in little booties and pants with purple ruffles on his fanny. The three Turks watched him go, then silently slipped out of the kitchen and dispersed like a pack of wolves. Elena had patrols to make, Tseng needed to see his children and get some sleep, and Veld was off to Healin, to speak to one Professor Ryu. If anyone would have any ideas as to what was going on, he would.
Rufus had nearly reached the room where Reeve’s parents were staying, when his phone rang. He took it out of his pocket and looked at it. The display screen read ‘Cloud Strife’. He answered it.
“What do you want you leather-addicted spunk-trumpet?”
“You know,” said Reno’s voice, “I did not actually believe Cloud when he said every time he called you, you had a new insult for him.”
“Reno, darling! How is my adorable brother?”
“Well funny you should ask,” said Reno. “Because when I woke up from my nap the nurse said you had come to visit. Why did you come to visit and not stay?”
“Reno if I had come to visit you, rest assured I would have stayed until you awoke.”
“So you didn’t come for a visit? The nurse swore it was you. Actually Andy said he saw you as well.”
“No I spent the better part of the day shopping and in a meeting with some engineers.”
“I guess they were mistaken then. When are you coming up to see me?”
“Tomorrow, I promise. Reeve and I will bring Ruskin.”
“All right, see you then.”
Rufus closed the phone, and slowly replaced it in his pocket, feeling troubled. He didn’t know why, but something about this situation was very, very wrong.