The Morning After the Life Before - Pt. VII
Author: The Magic Rat
Pairings: Numerous. Some even make sense.
Warnings: Awkward sex, uncomfortable discussions of age and gender issues.
Word Count: 8980
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 Copyright for all stories and original characters such as Badger the Roadie is with the author, and may not be published, copied, distributed or archived without the author's prior written consent.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: The FF crew is on the road again, Teddy helps Veld with his love-troubles, and Edgington calls home the past.
Author’s notes: Just taking a break from commissions to get the RT crew riding to the rescue. Next commission up – a Yaz/Andy fic for Elflover59.
“On the road again. I can’t wait to get on the road again…”
“Cid stop singing!” complained Yuffie, holding an ice bag against her head, her face an amazing shade of green. “I’m already air sick!”
Cid adjusted the wheel of the great black and red airship. “My ship, my rules, I can sing all I like. You don’t like it, get out and walk.”
Yuffie looked to Sephiroth for back up. “Can’t you get him to stop?”
Sephiroth was not sympathetic to Yuffie’s plight. “I live with five children, two roommates, one of their children, and Zack. As long as he is not jumping on the bed singing the ‘Song that Never Ends’, I don’t care.”
“Oh I love Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop!” said Cloud. “Kin and I never miss her.”
Even Vincent stared at Cloud as he said that. “What?” Cloud asked defensively.
“Oh gods we are all getting so lame,” said Yuffie. “Am I the only cool one left in the group?”
“I’m sorry,” said Cid, “who was asking me about life insurance earlier? Was that you?”
“I’m still cool!”
“Until the airsickness kicks in.”
“Yeah and people start noticing your middle-aged spread,” said Yuffie.
“MIDDLE-AGED SPREAD MY ASS!”
“Yeah that’s the part that’s spreading,” said Yuffie.
Cid gently moved Vincent over to the ship’s wheel. “Hold this, babe, I gotta kick the brat’s ass.”
Vincent held the ship’s wheel, looking perfectly at ease as Cid tore after Yuffie. Cloud drew out his phone and called Reno, just to hear his voice. Tseng stood near the observation window, clad in his black uniform, talking on his own phone.
“Anise listen to Nancy. Yes, you have to. She’s in charge until Mommy comes home. Yes she knows the rules. Yes I told her where the… what smashed? Anise why are Mommy’s goats in the house? Tell Ifalna to take the goats out of the house, and… where’s Nancy? Anise I’ve told you not to play with Daddy’s handcuffs.”
“I disagree with Yuffie,” said Tifa. “I don’t think we’re getting lame. The natural weirdness is just evolving. What do you think, Barret?”
He shook his head. “Sorry. I was still stuck on the mental image of Cloud and Kin watching Shari Lewis.”
“Nobody sing,” growled Sephiroth warningly.
Barret, Cloud, Tifa, and Vincent exchanged glances. Then the four burst into song.
<center>“THIS IS THE SONG THAT NEVER ENDS,
IT JUST GOES ON AND ON MY FRIEND!
SOME PEOPLE STARTED SINGING IT
NOT KNOWING WHAT IT WAS,
AND THEY’LL CONTINUE SINGING IT FOREVER
JUST BECAUSE THIS IS THE SONG THAT NEVER ENDS,
IT JUST GOES ON AND…”</center>
“THAT’S IT! EVERYBODY DIE!”
“Watch it, everybody!” said Barret. “Big Bird’s all pissed off now!”
“I LOVE Big Bird,” said Nanaki. “I bet he would be fun to chase.”
“You do know Big Bird is a man in a suit, right?” asked Barret.
“He’d still be fun to chase.”
Cid returned from dealing with Yuffie, coming to the helm to stand behind Vincent, slipping his arms around him.
“Hello, handsome, come here often?”
“Better be careful,” said Vincent. “My husband is the jealous type.”
“Big, blonde?” inquired Cid. “Blue eyes, square jaw, tons of charisma? I’d do him.”
“Only if I can watch.”
Cid nibbled Vincent’s neck. Barret rolled his eyes.
“How long have you two been together? Thirteen years? You’re married, you got three kids… you shouldn’t be carrying on like that.”
“What’s wrong with how we carry on?” asked Cid. “Are you saying I shouldn’t love my husband?”
“No, I just think you two should stop acting like damn teenagers.”
“You’re just mad that your boyfriend has those funny lumps on his chest,” said Cid.
“Can we please leave my breasts out of this?” said Tifa.
“Hell no,” said Cid, “if we lose power over the water we’ll be using them as a floatation device.”
“Cid explain to me why we keep you around?”
“I’m fucking adorable.” Cid nibbled Vincent’s neck, his hands gently straying over Vincent’s light frame. “Let’s make a baby.”
Vincent sighed. “Cid if you find a bundle of gil in that installation that will pay for a new roof and clear out the bills, then you can get me pregnant.”
“Awesome,” said Cid. “I am now a man with a mission.”
“I thought we already had a mission,” said Tseng.
“Oh yeah right! We’re looking for what’s-her-face.”
“I’m going to tell Aeris you said that,” said Tifa.
“Yeah she’ll be shocked I’m sure,” said Cid.
“That’s another thing,” said Barret. “What is it with you two and all the babies? You and Valentine got three, Baby over there has FIVE, and there’s the random grandson showing up…”
“So what you are trying to say,” said Cid, “is you really don’t love Tifa anymore now that she is pregnant and her breasts have been reclassified as planets.”
“That’s it,” said Tifa, “I’m going to get a snack. Vincent try not to get pregnant while I’m gone.”
Vincent smiled. “Well that might be hard.”
“It’s definitely hard,” growled Cid.
Barret just threw up his hands and left, muttering about being the only straight man on the planet. Cid glanced over to Tseng, and noticed the distracted look in his eyes. The man was in pain. It was time to reunite his family.
“Speaking of Aeris,” said Cid, “We’re getting close to the mountains. It’ll be daylight in about an hour. I’m gonna set the ship down out of sight of the installation, and tonight we’ll go in under the cover of darkness. We better get some rest.”
Tseng nodded and departed, clearly tired and stressed. Others followed, and soon it was only Cid and Vincent at the helm; Cid’s arms around Vincent, holding the wheel of the ship, nuzzling Vincent’s neck.
“So what is it with you wanting to give me a baby every five minutes?” asked Vincent.
“I don’t know. I mean I really don’t. Years ago when you and I first began getting serious I remember thinking – it’s great, he’s a guy, he’ll never get pregnant and I’ll never have to find out if I’m like my dad. Then… you did get pregnant. And… to be honest Vincent I was scared out of my tree. There were at least three instances when I packed a bag in the middle of the night was standing with one hand on the front door knob and… and it wasn’t that I didn’t love you, I did, that was the whole problem; I couldn’t stomach the idea that I might hit those kids. Or you. The first two years those babies were here it was like I was holding my breath, waiting to lose control the way he did. And it just never happened. Even when Benji painted dinosaurs all over that plane I was repairing for a customer. Slowly it dawned on me that… I really was not like him. Okay I yell and I rant and I get mad but… not like him. And somehow… that feeling of relief over finding out I am not a violent prick has translated into this urge to get you in the family way damned near every time I look at you. It’s like this huge release in my heart and now I just want as large a family as I can get away with.” He looked at Vincent. “Does that make any sense?”
“Yeah,” said Vincent, slowly turning in the tight space between Cid and the wheel to kiss him. “It does. You found out you can have something you’ve probably wanted all your life – a large loving family. I’m just sorry I keep bringing reality into your fantasy.”
“Yeah well part of the reason we work so well is that, left to my own devices, I’d have sixty kids and no place to put any of them. I need you to tell me the roof leaks and the wolf has to go to the vet and the kids need new shoes. You keep me grounded. Pilots don’t like it but sometimes it’s necessary.”
“Yeah,” said Vincent softly. “And sometimes Turks just need to look up and see how blue the sky is, instead of always focussing on the task ahead.”
Cid’s eyebrow went up as he felt a slender hand open his pants. “Mr. Valentine, what exactly are you doing?”
“Let’s make a baby.”
“Here? Now? While I’m flying?”
“Yes.” Vincent leaned forward to nibble Cid’s ear. “Unless you can’t, Mr. Highwind…?”
Cid made a noise like a stallion scenting a mare. “Damn rights I can.”
They would have to be quick – there were not alone on this ship. There was a large percentage of their friends on board and that didn’t include the crew. Cid got his pants open as Vincent slithered out of his, and, with his butt against the wheel and his legs around Cid, they proceeded to have some of the most ridiculous and chaotic sex of their lives. There was no foreplay, just penetration, with Cid thrusting hard and deep while holding onto the ship’s wheel and trying to not steer them into a mountain. It was not his steadiest flight, and as Cid panted and thrust, building towards release, Barret could be heard screaming over the intercom, asking Cid why the fuck the ship was rocking. By the time he showed up on the bridge to ask the question in person, Vincent was dressed and Cid had his pants closed, but they in absolutely no way looked innocent. Barret stared at Vincent, who was smoking a cigarette, then looked to Cid, who was sweaty and out of breath.
“Are you two for real?!” Barret demanded.
“Sure felt real to me,” said Vincent. “But we should do it again in a half an hour to make sure it was. By the way I’m pregnant.”
Cid glanced at him. “And you know this how? I mean we finished like three minutes ago.”
“Educated guess. It’s the right time in my cycle for it.”
“I DON’T WANNA BE HEARING ABOUT YOUR DAMN CYCLE!”
“So definitely ovulating, then,” said Cid.
“Yes,” said Vincent.
Barret left, miming tearing his hair out. Vincent watched him leave.
“That man really needs to learn to relax,” said Vincent.
“So… are you?” asked Cid. “Or did you just say that stuff to wind up Barret?”
“Well if I’m not ovulating I’m very close to it, so I probably will be when things have had a chance to travel. Sperm can survive up to three days but even if they didn’t I’m sure there will be a fresh supply soon. What do we want, a boy or a girl?”
“Well we have two little boys and only one girl, so let’s see if we can make another girl. Then we have two of each and that should be a big enough family.”
“Uh huh,” said Vincent. “So you say now.”
Cid just grinned. “Hey… do you think Barret’s jealous? I mean we do still carry on pretty much the way we did when we first got together.”
Vincent smiled and shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe a little. But I think he and Tifa are happy together, and I think the only thing he really regrets is he’s a bit too conservative to do some of the things we do. Or even some of the things Tifa has done.”
“Like having it off with Sephiroth in the supply closet at Shinra Tower during the height of his insanity. Yeah the girl definitely has a hidden wild side. But I thought Seph was 100% gay.”
Vincent shrugged, then shook his head. “He doesn’t know what he is. He’s programmed. He probably is naturally attracted to men but I could see Hojo tinkering with his brain. They didn’t want him fathering children. I’m not sure why. So they make him like men then programme him to respond to Zack. But apparently programming doesn’t conquer all – when Tifa gave him an opportunity he took it. So is he gay? Who knows. He’s happy and that’s all I care about.”
“Yeah,” said Cid. “So he fits in just fine – he’s messed up but basically happy, just like the rest of the family.”
Cid sailed the large airship into a small valley, hiding it away from prying eyes just as the sun came up. Together he and Vincent walked to their cabin, undressing and falling into bed. Vincent nudged Cid into making love once more, laughing as Cid complained that he was tired, but Vincent knew there was no way Cid would refuse him. Afterwards they settled together, holding each other close, sliding into sleep to rest before the battle.
As Cid and Vincent were falling asleep, Teddy was making waffles for the Highwind children. He was alone in the house except for the children – David was assisting ecologists on a hike into the interior of one of the tiny volcanic islands up north, and Serafina was visiting a friend. So he was the only adult to see Azurea skulk into the kitchen, clearly hoping to get past Teddy unseen. Luck was not on his side that morning.
“Az, Cid and Vincent had very few rules for you living here,” said Teddy. “I think the least you could do was respect them.”
Azurea seated himself at the kitchen table in a rustle of lace. “I know, you’re right. But I wasn’t out just… being stupid. I was having the most intense conversation of my life.”
Teddy glanced at him. “What about?”
Azurea shook his head. “It’s hard to explain. Well… you know I’ve been… seeing someone.”
“I know you’ve been telling Cid and Vincent you were out with me when you were not. Az… I’m trying really hard to like you, but you are not making it easy.”
“I know! I know, I’ve been wrong, but… I have to handle this situation carefully, and in this instance it’s safer to beg forgiveness than ask permission, because the answer will be ‘no’.”
“All right,” said Teddy, “so what’s happening?”
“Well not long ago I met this man. He approached me outside of a bookstore and at first I thought he was just a creep. But… he turned out to be really nice, and I started to like him. We talked about poetry for a while then he asked me if I’d like ice cream on the boardwalk. I mean… how could I resist? He treated me like… a lady. Which frankly is how I would like to be treated. Then he asked me out again and I said yes. We saw a play in the park, and he asked me out again. That was last night, and I knew I had to tell him who and what I was because by then I knew I really liked him.”
“Hence the intense conversation,” said Teddy.
“Yeah well I’ve never liked having to say ‘Hi! I’m a hermaphrodite and a genetically-altered freak!
’ to people. He seemed a little taken aback by the news. But what really got him wound up was when I told him my age. I thought he was gonna pop a gasket. It was really hard to get him to calm down and listen to me after that and I was scared he would just march me home and spank me, but… we started to talk. I know Vincent is planning me a party when I turn eighteen in eight weeks, and my friend said that… he would come to the party and be introduced to me properly and take it from there. When I was legally an adult. Then he asked me if I was a boy or a girl. I said how I see myself is seventy percent female and thirty percent male, and I’m happy with that. I like being different, and I asked him if it was important to him to know how I saw myself. He said he liked women and he’d be more willing to take a chance if I saw myself as female. I’m not sure I do but I definitely don’t see myself as male. It just… got very involved and very intense. There was all this stuff to analyze about age difference and gender perceptions and what we each expected in a relationship and… and the next thing either of us knew it was ten past six and the sun was up.”
Teddy gave the kids their waffles, then sat at the table with a cup of tea, giving Azurea a cup of coffee.
“So how old is this man?” asked Teddy.
“Sixty-nine,” mumbled Azurea.
“Wow. You know Vincent and Cid are going to have Day-Glo purple puppies when they find out about this.”
“Yeah especially when I tell Vincent the man I’m seeing is his friend Veld.”
Teddy spat tea across the table, then went for a cloth to clean up the mess. “Cripes when you fuck up you do it on a pretty grand scale don’t you? Have you been taking lessons from Lukis? I would have sworn Veld was straight.”
“He is, he’s just incredibly lonely. I guess he figures “mostly girl” is better than “no girl”. He was pretty damn mad at me when he found out I was actually Vincent’s grandson. I thought he was gonna mail me home in a box. Then when he found out I was seventeen, oh man. He was livid.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t drag you home by the back of your neck.”
“He wanted to. He tried to. But I started crying and you know what guys of that generation are like when mostly-females burst into tears. Anyway I got him talking, and we were… well it was pretty intense. All I know is I really like him.”
“The age thing is going to be a massive problem,” said Teddy.
“Yeah, that’s what he said too,” said Azurea. “But I don’t think it will be as big a problem as some would suspect. I mean I know most kids my age want to go clubbing and have fun and be stupid, and I want some of that too, but honestly I’m tired. I’m exhausted to my soul. My whole life has been poverty and homelessness and wandering and lies and bullshit. I’ve lost a child and been chased by crazed scientists and nearly sold to a lab by my own grandmother, who murdered her own daughter, my mother… I’ve got to tell you, Teddy – ice cream on the boardwalk is definitely my idea of a wild and crazy time. He treats me like a lady and we have fun together. But he did make me promise to go to college and get a degree in something. And I made him promise to learn how to ride a chocobo. We each have until the night of my party to make a decision or learn the basics of riding.” Azurea looked to Teddy. “You don’t approve of any of this.”
“It’s not up to me to approve or disapprove. Do I think you’re young, dumb, and in love? Oh yeah. Do I think Veld is too tired of being alone to have any common sense left? Absolutely. And do I think Vincent Valentine is gonna turn inside out, grow wings and kill the both of you? DEFINITELY.”
“I thought hippies were open-minded.”
“Az there is open-minded, and then there is seventeen wanting to date sixty-nine. Granted it’s a great number but I think you’re both completely insane.”
“Look it would be really great if just once someone recognized the fact that while I may be young I’m not an idiot.”
“I’m not saying you’re an idiot. I’m saying there is a massive imbalance in life experience here. And I think the two of you are mistaking mutual desperation for love.”
“Cid was thirty-two and Vincent was fifty-seven when they met.”
“Yeah but Vincent spent thirty years lying in a box wondering why his life sucks. That doesn’t make for a whole lot of life experience either. Technically he was twenty-seven when they met.”
Azurea rolled his eyes and rose from the table. “I have school. I’m sorry I said anything. I should have just screamed something about you ruining my life and ran upstairs to my room. I thought it would help if I tried to let you in but it’s all the same shit - I’m too young, I don’t know what I’m doing. Well maybe I am but after miscarrying in a dumpster I can honestly say I’d rather have ice cream with Veld than anything with anyone else.”
“Azurea… we just want you to be okay.”
Teddy felt the rage – felt it blare up in Azurea like a dragon; a great violent roaring beast. This was not teen hormones – this was outrage. This was anger like an apocalypse, at how dare Teddy say such a thing to him after all the shit he had been through. Teddy backed up a step, waiting for Azurea to turn on him, but the boy didn’t. He made himself calm down, and looked at Teddy.
“I appreciate the sentiment but to be honest, if what I feel for Veld is a mistake, then please let me fall on my face. Because when I’m with him I get to do something that I don’t get to do very often. I get to like myself.”
Teddy nodded. “Okay. Yeah I guess… everyone has the right to a romance their guardians won’t approve of. So when you meet Veld at the party are you going to pretend you never met him before?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things. Maybe in eight weeks we’ll have realized we really don’t like each other as much as we thought we did. All I know is last night for a moment we were standing close and he almost kissed me. And I never felt anything so damned intense in my life as NOT kissing him. I can’t wait to actually make lip contact.”
Teddy rolled his eyes. “Well get ready for school.”
Azurea hurried up the stairs in a rush of black lace. Teddy looked to Benji and Aiden, who were staring at him. Teddy suddenly knew he was in deep shit.
“You two aren’t going to tell Mommy and Daddy, are you?” asked Teddy nervously.
Aiden smiled sweetly. “Not if you let us watch “Haunted Midgar” on TV tonight.”
“Fine. But if it gives you nightmares then don’t blame me. Now finish up.”
The phone rang, and Teddy answered. “Highwind residence. Oh wow. Oh really? How bad? Oh… dude… harsh. Yeah I’ll tell him, I’m sure he’ll be devastated.”
Teddy hung up, then went upstairs to Azurea’s room and tapped on the door. “Az? Forget about school. Someone apparently thought blowing up the septic tank would be hilarious, the place is three inches deep in shit.”
Azurea giggled. “Well I’ll try not to act too disappointed. Well in that case I’ll be a good boy and go to the museum and get some work done on my history project.”
“Oh let me get the kids off to school and I’ll join you.”
Teddy got Benji and Aiden off to school, tidied up, and got Rhiannon ready to go out. He was just about to call to Azurea when he came down stairs, books in hand, parasol over his shoulder. He was clad in what could only be called a Victorian-era gown of black lace, complete with corset, gloves, hat, and a very small cloth bag on a satin cord around his wrist known as a reticule. With his makeup artfully in place and his body shaped by stays and lace, it was small wonder Veld mistook him for a woman in her early twenties. Most men likely would.
“Pretty,” said Teddy.
Azurea smiled, a little sadly. “Wrong body, wrong century.”
“I thought you said you liked being different.”
“I do, I just… hope Veld likes it too.”
“You really do like him, don’t you?”
“Yeah. And you know… I had no idea how old he was either.”
The two left the house, leaving Skippy in charge, and began walking to the small museum.
“How old did you think he was?” asked Teddy.
“Forty-three, maybe forty-five. I mean I knew he was much older than I was but the sixty-nine nearly knocked me on my butt. I tend to go for older men anyway, especially since my baby’s father couldn’t get away from me fast enough when I told him I was pregnant.”
Teddy shook his head. “Too much living in too short a time, Az.”
“Tell me about it. Well no one is getting up my skirt again without a ring. ‘I love you baby’, just will not cut it anymore. I hope Veld and I get married some day, and I run into Mr. Sammy Coopersmith. I’ll set my husband on the bastard.”
They went to the museum, heading for the natural history exhibit. Azurea made a small gasp of excitement as they entered the great hall, and Teddy smiled wryly as he saw Veld. He was escorting around a few of the older Shinra adoptees. Veld was cleaned and groomed, but not holding up as well as Azurea after an all-night conversation. He looked like he would much rather be face down in his bed with his little birds piled around him, but he was on duty, and no Turk called in “Up all night with a bad case of drama.” Veld spied Azurea moments after Azurea noticed him, and their mutual body language spoke of two people who were very uncertain of what to do in each other’s presence.
Azurea set down his books on a bench, and drew something out from the reticule. As Teddy watched, Azurea walked slowly in Veld’s direction, parasol over his shoulder, lace skirts trailing, looking like a Steampunk version of Morticia Addams. Veld watched as he drew near, then slowly passed, “accidentally” leaving a black lace hankie on the floor behind him. Azurea then paused briefly, gave the older man a smile from over his shoulder, and kept walking. Veld scooped up the hankie and tucked it into his pocket, then checked to make sure all his wards were accounted for as Azurea strolled over to a glass case full of butterflies. Teddy walked over to Veld and smiled at him.
“So how was your night?” he asked.
“Terrible,” said Veld, looking harried and tired. “He said ‘seventeen’ and my entire life flashed before my eyes. I swear Teddy if I had known I would have never asked him out. Seventeen, a boy, and my best friend’s grandson? No, no, and no.”
“Frankly I can’t believe you didn’t notice how young he was.”
Veld shook his head. “I thought he had to be a university student, studying art and politics. He is frighteningly intelligent. I know children his age who can barely articulate “pass the salt”, and here he
is arguing political matters that happened in my
youth that I thought I knew pretty well. I told him it would be a shame to waste that brain. Personally I suggest diplomat or ambassador for his career.”
“So are you going to restart this whole affair at his birthday party?”
“Please don’t say ‘affair’, Teddy. It makes me nervous.”
“All right, friendship.”
“I would like to. But until he’s eighteen I am going to keep my distance. If Rufus thought I had a thing for underage boys or girls they would never find my body and that is the truth. And Vincent would be helping to bury me. And I don’t know if I can get over his being male. I’ve never been attracted to males.”
“He’s… not really male. He’s been pregnant you know.”
Veld’s gaze immediately went to Azurea, who was still standing by the butterflies. “No,” said Veld. “He didn’t mention that, but there was so much else to talk about. Where is the baby now?”
“He lost it. He was living in a dumpster at the time, and the stress of his situation…”
Veld held his ground, even though Teddy could sense that every single instinct in the man’s body told him to go to Azurea. Finally he shook his head and looked back to Teddy.
“So he is…exactly as he described himself. Seventy percent female, thirty percent male.”
“If you ask me the thirty percent part is a bit high,” said Teddy. “You really need to read his blog on making patterns for, sewing, and lacing corsets, and how to tell if it is a corset or a bustier. He also includes make-up tips for looking like a proper Victorian lady, admitting that he personally goes for a more Gothic, undead look.”
“So he sews.”
“Sews, grows orchids, embroiders… he’s currently taking photos of Edwardian tapestries in museums and creating his own cross-stitch patterns. I know he’s a little confused about how he sees himself, but I think when he’s a little older and a little more secure he will probably settle in to what makes him happy, which is being a Victorian lady. In a couple years he’s going to make someone a very beautiful wife.”
Veld gave Teddy a sidelong look. “Are you seeing things that I am not?”
“Not me, man. What do you think I am, psychic?”
“Very funny Teddy.” Veld looked to Azurea, who was still peering into the glass case at the myriad of butterflies within. “Butterfly,” Veld muttered, shaking his head. “I can’t believe I fell for that.”
“He does love the theatre,” said Teddy. “I know it is one of the things he wants to study at college.”
“So he is going to college, then?”
“He wants to. Vincent said he would pay for it. Right now he’s just trying to decide what he wants to do in life.”
“Does he have ID? He mentioned he was homeless at one point, does he have any?”
“No, I don’t think he does.”
“Well he’s going to need it. I could… help with that, getting it for him more quickly. I mean… I am a Turk, I do have connections…”
Teddy smiled at him. Veld blushed violently. “I’m just trying to help!”
Teddy’s smile broadened to a grin, then he called to Azurea across the room, catching the boy’s attention. He motioned to him to come over, and Azurea complied, reddish-brown eyes filled with curiosity.
“This nice man wants to get your identification for you so you have it when you go to college.”
“Do you have any?” asked Veld.
“No,” said Azurea. “Not even a birth certificate. Will I need it?”
“Well you’re almost all grown up now,” said Teddy sweetly.
“Teddy please don’t make me kill you,” said Veld.
They seated themselves on some benches in the gallery. Veld drew out his phone, Teddy noticing the way he and Azurea leaned into each other to look at the screen. He had a funny feeling that eight weeks was going to do nothing to dampen their feelings. Veld accessed a government site, and looked to Azurea.
“Right,” said Veld. “Mother’s name?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know my father’s name either. My grandmother’s name was Allana Kyle.”
“And Vincent Valentine is your grandfather. Right. So…” Veld accessed the public records and began searching through them. “There is your mother’s birth certificate. So your mother has a name. Sunny-Anne Kyle, born January 1978. Now let’s dip into her files… here is a marriage certificate. Wow. She married young. She was 16. And she married… Victor Vane. So men with two Vs in their name run in your family. And he was only eighteen.”
“Is he still alive?” asked Azurea.
Veld checked. “No, he was apparently killed by an undiagnosed heart defect when you were two. And together he and Sunny made one itty-bitty little Azurea Sun Vane.”
“That’s my name?” asked Azurea. “Azurea Sun Vane? I was always told my name was Azurea Kyle.”
Veld shook his head. “No your name is definitely Azurea Sun Vane, and when is your birthday?”
Veld shook his head again. “June the eleventh. You were born five weeks after your mother and father got married, June the eleventh, nineteen…ninety…four.”
Azurea blinked. “No, nineteen ninety-seven. I’m seventeen.”
Veld searched through the files, looking to see if there was perhaps another child, but he found no indication of one. Azurea was the only child of Sunny and Victor Vane, and his birth certificate clearly read DOB June the eleventh nineteen ninety-four. Azurea took the phone and stared at the document, blinking as if he could not believe what he was seeing.
“I’m twenty?! How did I get to be twenty?! I was told…”
Veld took the phone back and checked deeper into the files, accessing areas the average person would not be able to find. “Here we go. Typo on the documents at the lab where you were kept. They had your age listed at three days, then someone came along later, crossed out ‘days’ and wrote ‘years’. But I guess no one checked back. One typographical error on one document erased three years off your life. You’re not eight weeks shy of being eighteen, you are four months into your twentieth…”
Azurea lunged at Veld, throwing his arms around his neck and kissing him so hard they both fell off the bench. Teddy winced at the noise Veld made when he hit the marble floor under a pool of lace.
“I’ve been wanting to do that since our first date,” said Azurea.
“What, break my hip?” asked Veld, clearly in pain.
Azurea kissed him again. Slowly the pair picked themselves off the floor, Veld seating himself on the bench again. Azurea sat beside him, taking his hand and holding it, looking into Veld’s eyes.
“So we can see each other now? We don’t have to wait? We can go to plays and the boardwalk and…?”
“You’re not having second thoughts, are you? If it’s about the penis can you just pretend it doesn’t exist? It’s not that big a penis.”
“There’s something you don’t hear your girlfriend say every day,” said Teddy dryly.
“Azurea…” said Veld. “Look… please slow down, you just aged three years in ten seconds and my brain is trying to catch up.”
“But it’s such a relief!”
“Yes, I agree, especially for me,” said Veld. “I’m no longer a child molester.”
“Pfft,” said Azurea. “You never molested me once. Even when I asked.”
Veld smiled, taking Azurea’s small hands between his own. “We still have to go slowly. There is still a very large age gap. I know this is all new and exciting now, but believe it or not there are going to be days where I need to sleep.”
Azurea laughed quietly. “I’ve heard of it. Oh Veld please tell me you’re happy. Can we go for a walk on the boardwalk tonight? It’s the hundredth anniversary of the Costa del Sol amusement park, I can wear my best dress…”
“I already have tickets.”
Azurea squeaked and kissed him again, flinging his arms around Veld’s neck. “Thank you! Oh I have to go home and pick out my dress and make sure it’s clean and get my homework done… what time are you picking me up?”
“It starts at seven pm so… six-thirty?”
“I’ll be ready.”
Azurea kissed him again, then hurried off. Veld looked at Teddy, clearly exhausted. “Oh dear gods I need a nap.”
“How do you feel about all this?”
Veld shook his head. “I don’t know, Teddy. He’s so young and… and he’s…a he. How does that joke go? My girlfriend said a small penis won’t affect our relationship, but I still wish she didn’t have one.”
“He’s far more female than male, can’t you overlook it?”
Veld looked at Teddy. “Could you love David if he wasn’t a man?”
“But Az is not a man,” said Teddy. “And in your heart you already know that his soul is female. The outer casing doesn’t matter. In the last few minutes I’ve seen you flirt, kiss, and make a date with him. You wouldn’t be in this mess if you did not sincerely understand there is a Victorian lady of quality in that body.”
Veld shook his head. “This is all so damned confusing…”
“Veld,” said Teddy softly. “I make it a practice to say nothing about what I see unless specifically asked. But in your case I am going to make an exception and speak up. You have two roads before you. One full of chaos and laughter and new adventures. And one full of peace and safety… and a profound loneliness.”
“And both roads rather short in either case,” said Veld. “I suppose you have seen that as well.”
Teddy nodded. “Yeah. Your heart. How is it?”
“The doctor says it’s calcifying. A rather predictable form of heart disease in someone of my age. I won’t see eighty. But with a twenty year old girlfriend that won’t shock anyone.” Veld smiled faintly. “Rather puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? I’m sitting here worrying about whether Azurea is male or female, while my heart slowly turns to stone in my chest. And some instinctual part of myself already knows he’s a woman. All that needs doing is for him to add an ‘s’ to a short, two-letter pronoun.”
“So you will take this gift?”
Veld shrugged. “I’ll see how it goes. I can’t swear that I will be able to overlook even a small penis. Chances are once Vincent finds out about all of this it will all be a moot point anyway, I can’t see him being pleased.”
Veld drew out the lace hankie and looked at it once more. Teddy gave him an affectionate nudge, and Veld smiled.
“What have I got to lose?” he asked softly.
As Cid and Vincent lay sleeping, and Veld and Teddy sat together in the museum, Angeal was fielding his fifth complaint from the neighbours.
“Yes, Mrs. Drover, I’m very sorry, I know how loud it is but they won’t stop… Mrs. Drover look I can promise you the noise will end soon. Well it’s just standard behaviour with these birds. Yes I know it sounds like three semi-trucks looking for lost offspring. I’m sorry, all we can do is let them get it out of their system.”
As Angeal was talking to Mrs. Drover, Akira walked over and signed; “I may be deaf but I can feel the vibrations!
Angeal ruffled the boy’s hair, then hung up the phone. He and Akira walked to the front door and looked over to the old chocobo shelter where Gunner was staying until Loz completed his barn. Currently Gunner, along with Poof, Striker, Flack, Sniper, and Edgington, were all milling about in the yard, raising a cacophony that was receiving complaints from as far away as twenty miles. The reason for the noise was simple – Edgington, the herd matriarch, had laid an egg. The reason for the continuing noise was that Zack and Sephiroth were not there to witness the event, and since they were part of the flock they should be informed of this momentous occasion. With Zack in isolation and Sephiroth heading to the northern continent, they were not on hand to witness the blessed event. That left Angeal stuck on a hill with six enormous turkeys raising a din that could drive a man to cooking sites on the internet. Finally, in a last ditch effort to make the noise go away, he drew out his phone and looked through it for video clips, eventually locating one that contained Zack’s voice. Angeal hit play, and Zack’s voice could be heard, speaking to the bird on a day three years ago.
“Edgie! Look what you did! Who is a good Edgie? Who is a good big green bird?”
Edgington strolled over to the phone and looked at it, crest up in curiosity. She cocked her head, hearing Zack tell her she was a good bird. After a few moments she decided that this counted as Zack’s presence, and the noise briefly ended. Then she looked around, and started a “chuck-chuck-chuck
” noise that would lead to a continuation of the flock braying with a clamour like a truck buggering a transformer. Eventually he located a clip of Sephiroth speaking to the bird.
“I can’t for one minute imagine why you think you need my approval in this matter.”
The noise finally stopped, and the entire area breathed a sigh of relief. Angeal closed the phone, and walked into the shelter to see Edgington’s egg. It was black and shiny as glass, meaning Sniper had now been outed as to what sort of chocobo he really was. He was a blue. Piled around Edgington’s egg were more eggs – unfertilized ones laid by the other females to distract predators from the Matriarch’s. These were a soft cream colour. Angeal helped himself to two of the spares for the family lunch and looked to Edgington.
“Edgie! Whose eggie is that?”
“Who’s a happy girl?”
She bobbed and flapped, ignoring Ralph as he walked up to see what all the excitement was. He was not of a species known for eating eggs, but Angeal could see him deciding a chocobo nest made a great place for a nap and crushing them. Angeal called to the big green-blue amphibian.
“C’mon Ralph, lunch time.”
Ralph trudged after Angeal, following him into the kitchen to await his natural prey – a ham sandwich. Suitably placated with his offering, Ralph carried his sandwich into the next room to eat, while Angeal used the two gigantic eggs to make a few quiches suitable for feeding two adults and four children, with leftovers for when Charon and Phoenix came home from parts unknown. There were days Angeal wished his boys were still little, instead of near-adults with schedules of their own. It would be nice to have little ones again.
He left the quiches to bake and walked into the bedroom where Genesis lay, sunk into the bed, blinking sleepily. Angeal lay down beside him, holding him close.
“How are you, babe?” he asked softly.
“Weak,” said Genesis. “Really, really weak. I just… want to sleep.”
“Okay. You sleep. I’m here if you need me.”
Angeal kissed him, then quietly left the room to let his lover rest. It was the same old ailment. There was nothing they could do. He just wasn’t healthy. Teddy’s wish materia had cured the current bout of degeneration; it had not fixed the overall disorder. Fortunately they knew how to keep it in check so he would not get too sickly, but he was fragile once more, and fragile he would remain.
Angeal was just about to sit in a chair and open a book when he heard an ominous “chuck-chuck-chuck
” noise. He sighed as once more the birds started up their engines, setting aside his book and going outside to see what they were up to now. They were calling the herd in once more, but Angeal could not think of anyone else they would want to see the egg. The kids had seen it, Angeal and Genesis had seen it, Zack and Sephiroth… there was just no one… else.
Angeal sighed loudly and called Loz. “Loz can you come up here please? The birds want to show you something.”
So Loz came to see the egg. Then Andy and Yazzy. Then several neighbours. Then Angeal phoned anyone he could think of that Edgington might consider part of the herd. At one point Angeal even gave her the sign for silence, indicating there may be enemy soldiers around. She looked at Angeal, looked around the area, then back to Angeal. Her expression adequately conveyed the opinion that she believed him to be full of shit. The noise continued unabated. Desperate for a stop to the uproar, Angeal went into the house and to the computer, searching records for any other chocobos in Edgington’s unit. He found one – a little yellow female named Davy. She was too small to be ridden by a grown man but she was impossibly fast and very smart. She had run messages from one unit to another when other methods failed, and was the only creature Edgington could possibly be calling for.
Angeal searched the files on Davy, finally locating her home. She was currently living with her original handler’s brother, who had been willed the bird when her handler died. After asking Andy to look after Genesis for a while, Angeal went outside to hook up the trailer. Then as he went to the cab of his vehicle, he saw Miki in the passenger’s seat.
“Are you getting another chocobo?”
“Nah I’m just borrowing this one. Do you want to stay home? It’s kind of a long drive.”
“Are you kidding!? With all THIS noise?!”
“Okay then, buckle up.”
It was an hour-long drive to the house where Davy was living, but the moment they saw it, Angeal had a very bad feeling. The house was nice enough – in need of some maintenance but not too bad. The chocobo shed, however, was a decomposing shack, black with rot. The floor was covered in filth and old rancid bedding, with a partially collapsed roof. Standing in the shed, soaking wet and shivering, was a chocobo chick, not more than a few weeks old. Angeal growled.
“Miki you go steal the baby, I’m gonna have a word with the former owner.”
Miki nodded and went to get the baby, while Angeal walked to the front door of the little house and beat on it with his fist. He heard a voice ask him what the hell he wanted, so he opened the door and walked into the house. There was a man, seated alone, in a chair before the TV, clearly very drunk. He squinted at Angeal.
“Who th’ hell are you?”
“How th’ fuck should I know? Who are you? Th’ chocobo police?”
“My name is Angeal and I served with your brother. You were asked to look after his bird when he died, now where the hell is she? She has a lone chick in the shed soaking wet and starving and I want to know where she is!”
“She’s gone, I took her to the chocobo marsh and let her go, she’s happy!”
“And kept the chick.”
“Well it’s valuable! People pay good money for a military chocobo.”
“I told you, I let her go in the chocobo marsh, she’s running around with her buddies, she’s happy.”
Angeal walked over to a curio cabinet and opened the glass door, ignoring the old drunk as he demanded to know what the hell he was looking for. Angeal found what he sought – Davy’s one medal, which simply stated she had been a service bird, and her uniform, wrapped in coloured paper and properly folded, no doubt by her previous owner. Angeal took it, then looked to the drunk.
“Since you let her go to be happy then you won’t be needing these.”
Angeal left, slamming the door behind himself. It was mid-afternoon by now, and a light rain was starting to fall as he jogged across the muddy ground to the truck. He got in, and looked to Miki, who had the chick on her lap. It was impossible to tell what colour the baby was – parasites seemed to have eaten away most of its feathers, save for the one crest feather popping up that indicated he was a boy. Angeal drew a small blanket out from the back of the vehicle to pass to Miki.
“Here, wrap the little guy in this. Was there only the one baby?”
“Yeah. I looked all around the shed and the paddock. This is the only bird. Where’s his mommy?”
“Not sure. There’s a large chocobo marsh near here marked on the map, he said he let her loose there. She must be losing her mind without her baby.”
They drove to the marsh, taking the truck close to the wide shallow expanse of water and weeds. Some wild chocobos fled as the truck slowly came to park beside the water, and Angeal got out, looking around. He could see chocobos scattered around, most wild, a couple with belled collars on who had hopped the fence to spend the day munching weeds and worrying their owners. But none that looked like Davy. No tiny females with long legs who could run like the wind. Finally Angeal jammed his fingers into his mouth and whistled “assembly”, a call that would bring any bird with military training running. It did in fact bring a big old bird with a bell around his neck immediately. He pranced up very full of himself, eyes bright, crest alert, looking like a proper chocobo. Angeal could almost hear him speak.
“Reporting for duty, sir!”
Angeal rewarded the old fellow with some treats. Then Angeal heard a little boy in the far distance shout something that sounded like “Terry.” The chocobo looked from Angeal, to the sound of the little boy, and Angeal smiled at the faithful bird torn between home and duty.
“Dismissed,” he said softly, and Terry ran off, followed by the other belled birds, heading for a warm bed and a loving family. Angeal looked around, wondering if Davy was here at all, or even alive…
She came out of the bushes, head down, limping very slowly, dutifully answering the call. Angeal swore and ran over to the little chocobo, scooping her up and carrying her to the SUV. She was little more than bedraggled feathers and bones. Angeal decided not to use the trailer and put Davy on the back seat, settling her on some blankets. He then put the chick on the seat with her, listening as they made quiet noises of reassurance to each other.
“Why was she in the marsh?” asked Miki.
“I don’t know,” said Angeal. “Looks like she hurt her foot and her owner didn’t want to pay the vet. So he took her down here and left her.”
“Are you gonna burn his house down?”
“No. I’m pretty sure there are laws against it.”
“There’s laws about being mean to animals, too!”
“Yes there are, and don’t worry, we’ll tell the proper authorities. Let’s just get her home and hopefully your mommy and daddy don’t mind me turning their yard into a home for wayward chocobos.” He glanced in the rear-view mirror. “How ya doing back there, Davy? Huh? How’s the birdie?”
Davy was nibbling and preening her chick, clearly very glad to see him.
“He’s covered in bugs,” said Miki.
“Yeah, they both are. And the baby is missing most of his feathers. Guess he will be sleeping indoors.”
“Can we get rid of the bugs first?”
He grinned. “Well after we put him in your bed they should all run off.”
“We’ll give him a bath,” said Angeal. “Mommy too. They’re both so little they can stay in the house. I have no idea if she’s a really tiny Standard or a really large Dwarf.”
“You can’t even tell what colour she is,” said Miki. “Poor birdie.”
They drove back to Zack’s Hill, driving into the yard to hear the warking and howling and “chuck-chuck-chuck
” of the herd. Angeal parked the truck, then got out and walked around to the side where Davy and her chick were now lying. He opened the door, gathered Davy up in his arms, and carried her over to Edgington, as Gunner sat on the heap of eggs. Sniper was pulling his tail, making the point that those were HIS eggs, but Gunner stayed put, looking positively smug.
“Gunner you know that’s not your egg,” said Angeal, as Miki picked the baby out of the back seat of the truck.
Gunner didn’t care. Besides – it wasn’t as if anyone could actually make him get off the egg. Edgington walked over to the newcomer, and the two birds began nibbling and cooing to each other. Satisfied all was as it should be and everyone was accounted for, Edgington ceased her cacophony at last and the area breathed a sigh of relief as the noise stopped. She and Davy nibbled and cooed, reassuring each other, then Edgington went to sleep in her shelter as Angeal and Miki carried Davy and her baby into the house.