The Road We Choose – Pt. VIII
Author: The Magic Rat
Pairings: Numerous. Some even make sense.
Warnings: Parents, scary things, obscure music terms.
Word Count: 6865
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 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 Copyright for all stories and original characters such as Badger the Roadie is with the author, and may not be published, copied, distributed or archived without the author's prior written consent.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: Aeris is busy, Lukis is upset, and Kin makes a trade.
Author’s notes: It is simply NOT POSSIBLE to listen to “Down on the Corner” by CCR and not smile. Don’t believe me? Try it.
Aeris paced, making hysterical little squeaking noises as the sun began to set, Sephiroth lay on the ground with a chain about his throat, and no help was in sight.
“Okay, okay, okay, there has to be a way out of this, there has to be a logical way of dealing with this mess, dammit I do not have an over-inflated sense of my own infallibility!” She stamped her foot, then looked to Sephiroth. Well be that as it may, if she didn’t do something, then the Silver Tiger would be a memory; something he once swore he would never be.
She crept to the reactor, peering into its darkening interior at the broken chain. It was writhing slowly, like a tormented worm, feeling and seeking its broken half. She then looked back to Sephiroth, and an idea came to mind. She had no idea if it would work, but she would try.
Aeris went to find a stick, locating one that was about two feet long. She carried it into the reactor, then threw it at the hanging chain. The chain snapped out with lethal accuracy and caught it, and proceeded to slowly grind its way through it. Okay, so – she now knew this thing went for movement. Aeris went off to find a larger stick, eventually locating a broken tree branch that was thick enough to be sturdy, but not so large she couldn’t lift it. She carried it over to Sephiroth’s still body, and began moving the tip on the ground, hoping to catch the attention of the strange monster. Within moments she could tell it noticed the stick, and then, suddenly it abandoned its now-still victim in favour of a moving one. It lashed out and grabbed the stick, tangling around it, barbs and spines digging into the wood. Hastily Aeris carried it to the reactor, then threw stick and chain both into the room with its broken counterpart. She then yanked the door closed in the hopes it would not try to chase her and ran back to Sephiroth.
The Silver Tiger had looked better. Aeris had seen him gooned out of his head on Halcinol after a particularly violent fight with Jenova and he had looked better. Mustering what was left of her strength, she began using her healing powers on him. She was nearly exhausted to the point of collapse, but she was not leaving him to die. Slowly, finally, after long last, the bleeding stopped, and Aeris fell into the grass, weeping.
“This is my fault, this is all my fault! What was I thinking?”
She didn’t like the voice that crept into her mind at all, and knew where it was coming from. “You were thinking the same thing you always do. Poor sad little Aeris. Everything is so hard for her.
She sat up and looked at him. “Your head is currently being held on by little more than your neck-bones so if I was you I wouldn’t give me reasons to pull it off the rest of the way.”
She turned to face him. “Why do you hate me so damned much? Okay so I’m not a pillar of morals and great decisions. Let’s talk about some of the shit you’ve
done, Mr. Sephiroth, and blown off as insanity.”
“Oh no you don’t. You’re not wiggling out of this by playing ‘your-heap-of-shit-is-higher-than-my-heap-of-shit.’ You got into this by doing exactly what you are doing now; blaming your own actions on other people, lying to other people, disregarding the feeling of other people, and if you truly want to know why I hate you, little flower-girl, it has to do with the time Zack’s parents’ begged you to tell them where he was, and you marched outside to ask Cloud if he was jealous that Zack had been your first love. The same first love you, when Cloud asked if you were serious, said “No but I liked him for a while.” He’s beautiful and strong and funny and wise and I love him so fucking much, and you LIKED HIM FOR A WHILE?!
“What do you care what I said?! You’ve got five kids with the man! You pop out babies so fast and often they ought to call you the Silver Popcorn Machine! You’re probably pregnant right now, aren’t you? And if you’re not I’ll ask again in fifteen minutes! And let me ask you this – if Zack died, would you remain alone the rest of your life, or would you find a new love?”
“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be fucking a demonically-possessed wallpaper salesman while he still had a heartbeat.
“I hate you.”
The two sat in silence for a few minutes, then Aeris looked at Sephiroth.
“I don’t hate you,” she said. “But you don’t understand what that time was like for me. It was stupid. But I’m tired of apologizing for it. At least I felt horrible for it afterwards, I don’t think he ever did. But the next person who throws that in my face is getting a fire materia straight up the ass and THEN I’ll invoke it!”
“You’re so adorable when you’re indignant!
“I HATE YOU!”
Despite her words, she looked around, not liking the eerie semi-light of these hills. The last vestiges of the day would linger longer here than anywhere, and for centuries these hills were wrapped in fear and superstition as the peaks continued to glow with dusk-light for hours after the rest of the world was asleep. She suddenly had a horrible feeling they were not alone, and she began slowly scanning the area.
“Do you have any weapons my size?”
He didn’t ask her why she would want it. Clearly he felt something too. “In my boot.
She reached into the boot, finding a hidden sheath with a very long and thin stiletto-like dagger. Like the masamune it was heavier than it looked, and a work of art. There were delicate runes filigreed into the blade, and it was permanently set with fire, ice, and added-effect materia.
“Oooh this will make a nice mess,” she said.
“Don’t accidentally stab yourself with it
“No fooling,” she said, gazing at the blade in respect. The fire and ice materia would enable the wielder of the blade to cast those spells. The added-effect materia meant whoever was cut by it would also be flash-fried and quick frozen. Well she wasn’t trained in knife-fighting, but with this she didn’t really need to be. She glanced at Sephiroth, and wished he was on his feet. However considering how bad he looked, it could be days before he was standing. Nearly every drop of blood he had was staining the grass, carrying away virtually every nanite. The few left would be hard put to do their duties.
She rose to her feet and looked around, shivering in the chill October air. Something was there. Something horrible and gruesome. Something… dead.
She had thought the reddish thing was a large, half-buried stone. But now as she looked at it, she realized it wasn’t in the earth; it was in fact poking up over the edge of a short embankment. And it wasn’t a stone. In fact it seemed to have random scraps of black hair stuck to it. And it seemed to have eyes; enormous, insane, staring eyes. Slowly the corpse stood up, giggling quietly like one who has lost his mind. No make that her
mind. The ghoul seemed to be wearing what was left of a flowered sun dress.
“Do you want to come play with me?” it asked.
“No…” said Aeris, her voice small and high pitched.
“Then why are you here when we’re all getting ready to come out and play? It’s nearly night. It’s time for all of us to come out.”
Aeris was suddenly very aware of other heads peering over the embankment. She rose to her feet, terrified to her soul but unwilling to leave Sephiroth. He seemed to sense this.“Run,
” he said.
“Like hell! Then they’ll eat you and it’ll be my fault and Rufus will rebuild the labs just for me. I will not, if you’re gonna get eaten then I’m gonna get eaten right alongside.” “You’re being selfish again.”
“How would you like a crew-cut?”
“We just want the blood,” said one of the ghouls, creeping close on all fours. It too had once been a little girl. “Can we not just have the blood? It is already spilled, will you waste it?”
Being nice to these creatures might be a better idea than picking a fight. Hideous as they were, they did not seem to be mindless. She nodded.
“You may have all the blood on the grass and stones. I’ll just… move him…”
Hauling Sephiroth a few feet was damned near impossible, but the extra adrenaline brought on by terror helped. She pulled him out of the puddle, and the ghouls descended to lick it up. She really hoped this was a good idea. She had no idea what nanites would do to the undead. But if it kept the undead from eating them…
Aeris glanced to the reactor, then back at the “children”. “Where do you live in the day?” she asked.
“The secret place,” said the smallest ghoul. “We’re not allowed to say.”
She picked up some blood-soaked mud and shoved it into her mouth with all the gusto of a child eating fudge. Aeris glanced at Sephiroth.
“You need to get well. I think we both know where the others are…”
Both looked up as behind them the old reactor moaned into life. There was a stink of mako, and a green light illuminated the area with a toxic glow. She was honestly scared, and she didn’t mind admitting it. But her husband and friends were somewhere in that reactor, and she had to do something.
“Sephiroth? How long until you can move?”
He didn’t answer. He was either asleep or unconscious. She clenched her fists, not daring to leave him alone. He would be an easy meal for any monster that came along, even these small ones. There was an enormous boom that made the ground shudder, and a cloud of mako puffed out, coating the area in sticky residue. She coughed, becoming angry.
“Dammit I have had enough of this!” She stood up and was about to head for the helicopter, when she noticed the small ghouls perking up. Oh great – she would leave to call for help and they’d eat Sephiroth.
“He’s so sick anyway…” one said
She invoked the dagger, and suddenly there was not a ghoul to be found; they were scattering in all directions. She ran to the helicopter, picked up the radio headset and tried to figure out how to use it. Someone on the other end answered, and she sighed in relief.
“You have to help me!” she sobbed.
“Where are you?” asked the male voice.
“Outside Midgar, near the abandoned reactor. There’s mako smoke everywhere and monsters and my friend is hurt…”
And he cut her off, just like that. Why would he cut her off? Did he think she was lying? Did he think she was just playing a bad joke? Crying in fear and frustration, she tried to work the radio once more, and this time got a distant, staticy voice. At first she didn’t recognize it, then realized it was Zack.
“Zack?! Zack it’s Aeris! Zack can you hear me…?”
The voice was hollow, distant, and eerie, and left her filled with utter terror.
“Affirmative. Major Zack Fair, First Class, signing out.”
Lukis sat on the floor of the indoor chocobo nursery, holding his bunny on his lap, watching Rufus Shinra hand-feed the purple baby chocobo. It was a silly little thing, with random-looking feathers jutting in all directions, enormous feet, and a beak that seemed too big for its head. As for its colour, that was an inexplicable, but very pretty, mutation. As far as anyone knew there had never been any such thing as a purple chocobo.
“Is it hard raising chocobos?” asked Lukis, cuddling his bunny.
“It’s a lot of ‘wark’,” said Rufus.
Lukis rolled his eyes. “That’s terrible.”
Rufus just grinned, petting the baby as it pecked at the greens and seeds it had been given. “They’re not hard to look after, and they like people, which is nice because their ancestors ate them for dinner. Thinking of becoming a chocobo-trainer?”
Lukis shook his head. “Nuh-uh. I mean I really like them, but Pickles and Darren both say I have too many pets already. I mean I have Pom-Pom, and Thurston, my kitty, and Jervis the bandersnatch…”
“That is quite a crew,” said Rufus.
“Pickles had a custom bed built to hold all of us. Reeve said the bandersnatch will be taller than Darren when he’s grown, and Thurston will be over two hundred pounds. So… no chocobos. At least not for a while.” Lukis rested the side of his face against Pom-Pom Bunneh’s soft fur. “And tonight Darren and I will perform live for the first time. I’m scared.”
Rufus looked at the young man. “Your band? Really? Where?”
“A club in Costa del Sol – Runner’s End.”
“Really? That’s rather an exclusive club for a first gig.”
“Yeah,” said Lukis. “But it’s just a talent night, they hold them once a month. We just have to make sure we rock. Charles has offered to help us get gigs, but Darren and I agreed we want to get jobs because we can play, not because we’re Pickles the Drummer’s arm-candy.”
“And how does Pickles feel about that?” asked Rufus as the baby chocobo forced its way onto his lap and settled for a nap.
Lukis shrugged. “He yodelled about it at first but he understands. He just thinks we’re too wonderful to have to do the grunt work other bands do.”
“I suspect he’s biased,” said Rufus.
“Are you going to come see us play?”
Rufus looked down at the bundle of purple feathers on his lap. “After nap time, I shall.”
Lukis left Rufus and his chocobo to bond and went to his room, putting Pom-Pom in his box. He paused a moment to look around the interior of the huge room, gazing at the delicate stonework framing the windows, the ancient trellises outside the window, and the silk tapestries adorning the wall. He loved this house. He truly wished it was his own. As much as he loved Pickles, he was less enthusiastic about the dark and brooding aspects of New Mordhaus, so much so he had taken Charles aside and asked if it would be okay to have just one room
in the whole house
decorated in the style of Shinra Manor. Charles agreed to talk to the band about it, and Lukis hoped he was successful.
He slipped out of his clothes, and walked naked across the floor to the enormous bathroom. Oh he was going to miss this too, why oh why could they not live here? Apart from the fact that it was not their house and Rufus had been as tolerant of all the house-pests, er, guests, as could be reasonably expected. Lukis showered, dressed, and was in the middle of applying his make-up when his cell phone rang. He picked it up from the vanity where he was seated and opened it.
“Darren where are you?”
“Not my fault!” said Darren’s voice on the phone. “I got lost. Where’s Pickles?”
“Isn’t he with you?”
“I thought he was with you,” said Lukis.
“Ah, not an issue,” said Darren. “He won’t miss our first performance. He loves us.”
“He does,” said Lukis. He smiled. “Love you. Hurry home.”
“Love you too. Be home in a few minutes.”
Lukis closed the phone and set it aside, then resumed putting on his make-up. He liked Gaia; he liked the fact that he could live as he pleased, and that if he wanted to put on cosmetics and dress like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind he could and no one would look twice at him. He felt safe here. He felt comfortable. He knew they would have to go back to Earth from time to time because Dethklok had obligations, but Lukis knew at some point when Pickles was done being a rock star, they would come to Gaia forever.
The door opened, and Lukis heard some scuffing and shuffling. He grinned.
“Are we a little drunk, baby?”
A small boy appeared. “I’m not old enough to drink!”
Lukis felt his heart drop. “Mikey?!”
“Hi! We came up to see you and Darren play! Is that okay? WOW! Your bed is GINORMOUS!”
Mikey climbed onto the bed and began to bounce. Lukis turned back to the mirror, picking up a jewelled lipstick.
“Is the whole family here?” he asked nervously.
“Yup! Me, Mom, Dad, Ashley… are Dad and Pickles still fighting?”
“I hope not,” said Lukis, opening the lipstick.
“Me too. What ya doing?”
“Putting on lipstick.”
“Is it fun?”
“I think so.”
“Can I have some?”
“Sure. Just don’t mess it up.”
By the time Darren came home, Mikey had managed to dot his lips with a single spot of every shade of lipstick Lukis had. Darren didn’t think it would ever catch on as a look, but it was certainly interesting.
“Hey troll-turd, when did you get here?” asked Darren.
“Last night,” said Mikey, “but we were all too sleepy to come say hi. We came to see you play!”
“You did huh?” said Darren, eyes on Lukis’ slender frame as the young man went into the bathroom to change. “Where are Mom and Dad?”
“Downstairs I think. Nope! There they are. Hey Mom! I put on lipstick!”
Sylvia Morgan raised an eyebrow at the splotches and speckles of random colour. “Funky. Looks like you have a disease.”
Sylvia walked over to Darren and hugged him, while Michael Morgan senior hung back to watch the scene. Things had been a little tense of late, and Darren hoped that if his father was going to cause a stink, it would be after the show. He didn’t need Lukis upset on stage during his first performance. Then Darren froze as he heard an all-too-familiar female voice in the hall.
“Another planet?! He’s been hanging out on another planet? And it’s a cool planet and he didn’t invite me?!”
“Hide me!” said Darren.
The bathroom door opened, and Lukis stepped out, looking like a ghost clad in mist and cobwebs, the fragile outfit almost seeming to float as the layers of delicately thin silk seemed to hover in the air. Darren stared at him and wished with all his might for the room to suddenly be devoid of people. Lukis blinked nervous brown eyes at Darren.
“Do you like it?”
Darren stared, trying to get his brain out of his pants and back up into his head but it wasn’t moving. Sylvia spoke up for him.
“It’s beautiful, Lukis. What time do you go on stage tonight?”
Lukis glanced to the standing grandfather clock. “Little over an hour. Ooh! Darren! You have to… hi Gretchen!”
Gretchen’s name was enough to get Darren motivated. He scooted into the bathroom like a naughty kitty and locked the door as his long time friend and nemesis strode into the room, accompanied by Darren’s sister Ashley. The tall, athletic girl with the heavy mane of golden-blonde hair paused in the room and looked around.
“I wanna live here,” she said. She looked around as she heard Lukis’ greeting, but dressed as he was she did not recognize him at first. When she did her whole demeanor changed. “Lukis! Baby look at you, oh my god you’re beautiful! Give me a hug!”
Lukis did. “I’m so glad you’re here. We’re going to be playing tonight.”
“Yeah I heard, that’s why I came along! How are things going? You’ve got a lot to tell me! Hey where’s your rock star?”
“He’s around,” said Lukis, pretending he didn’t notice the ‘told-you-so’ look Michael gave Sylvia. Lukis pulled out his phone and called him. After a few rings, Pickles answered.
“Pickles where are you?” Lukis asked nervously. “We have to leave soon.”
Pickles walked into the room just then, grinning and closing his cell phone. Lukis ran to him in a graceful cloud of fluttering grey silk, and Pickles caught him, holding him tightly.
“I wouldn’t let you down,” said Pickles. “Not for your first show.”
“Hello Pickles,” said Michael, ensuring the little red-head knew he was there. Lukis felt his stomach clench into knots, and his eyes became damp. Pickles held him a little tighter, becoming protective. Lukis wished Michael would back off, because one day there would be violence. Pickles had faced off a whole group of armed assailants to protect what was his – Lukis had no idea why Michael seemed to think he was immune from Pickles’ temper. Maybe because Darren would never forgive him. Maybe because if Michael badgered him hard enough, Pickles would
attack, and Darren might understand, but he would never get over it, and there would be a rift, and his very own little family would begin to come apart…
“I have to throw up,” Lukis said, and fled the room.
“Is he okay?” asked Ashley.
“Stage fright,” said Pickles, watching after Lukis’ fleeing form as he bolted for the nearest guest room. “First shows are pretty nerve-wracking.”
“I guess he’ll get over it, huh?” she said.
“Depends,” said Pickles. “Some guys never do. Supposedly Bill Wyman of the Stones threw up before nearly every show.”
“Cool!” said Mikey. “Hey Pickles, I have lipstick on!”
Pickles looked at the mess of colours. “Dood! Awesome. Looks like a disease. Hey where’s Darren?”
“In the bathroom, hiding from Gretchen,” said Ashley.
“Dood. Terrific. Now I know what it’s like to be Charles. DARREN! She’s not allowed to beat you up until after the show!”
“She will anyway!” Darren yelled from behind the locked door.
Pickles sighed loudly, then looked at Gretchen. “I’ll give ya a hundred bucks not to beat him up at all.”
Cloud was lounging on the beach, wearing only a pair of blue Bermuda shorts with bright yellow flowers on them that Reno had given him. Reno wasn’t home yet; and wouldn’t be for a couple days. He had insisted that Kael be brought to the room in Healin, and Cloud agreed. He knew Reno would just fret if he could not be close to his newborn, and it gave Cloud some bonding time with his daughter.
Cripes when did he become an adult?
The sun was sinking, but it was too warm to go back home yet. In another few minutes he would walk Kin down to the little beachside grill that sold the best fried chicken anywhere, and they would get takeout, then maybe watch a movie. Then Kin would go to bed and Cloud could just bask in the silence.
He loved Reno. He loved his family. But a night more or less on his own was welcome too. He watched Kin as she ran over to scoop up some of her toys, leaving behind her very favourites, and tore off to play with another little girl by the beach. There was a lot of excited chatter and giggling. A trade seemed to be reached, and the other little girl raced off delightedly with a floppy pony Kin was never keen on while Kin was happily scooping something into a bucket, which she then carried into the surf to rinse off. She cleaned her treasure, then ran over to Cloud with the bucket, looking utterly thrilled with herself.
“What did you get, shortcake?” he asked her.
She showed him. She dumped it right out on the beach towel he was lying on – a baronial ransom of rubies. Cloud would have known that oh-so-distinctive set any place on the planet, including the gold collar Kin was now placing on her head like a crown.
“I gots red diamonds!” she announced.
“I see,” said Cloud, wondering how in the hell he was going to get Vincent’s wedding gift away from his baby daughter. He was distracted by the mother of the little girl walking over, looking a bit nervous.
“I hope it’s okay,” she said. “I mean Claire trading her old costume jewellery for the pony.”
Cloud coughed, trying to keep his cool. “Yeah it’s fine, I mean as long as the kids are happy, right? Where… where did she get this? I have a niece with a birthday coming up, so I might get her a set too.”
“Oh she found it! They were in an old tin box, partly buried in the sand down near the tideline. I guess some child forgot them there.”
Cloud nodded. More likely whoever broke open the strongbox hid them in the sand after stealing the set, then forgot where they stashed the treasure. Claire found the box, played with the gems, then got bored with them and traded them to Kin for a floppy gold pony with wings made of real gold chocobo feathers.
“You’re certain the trade is all right?” the woman asked again. She could probably tell the pony was not cheap, and it wasn’t – Rufus Shinra did not give HIS niece cheap ponies.
“It’s fine,” said Cloud, trying desperately hard not to blow his cool. “She never plays with it, so it may as well go to a kid who will love it.”
The woman broke into a huge grin, likely dreading the fight with her own daughter if Cloud insisted the toy be returned.
“Thank you very much!”
“You’re welcome. Take care.”
The woman and her daughter left, rather hastily, in case Kin suddenly changed her mind. But Kin was not going to change her mind. She had what she wanted – sparkly pretty things! And Cloud had a headache. How exactly did one extract roughly a quarter of a million gil in rubies from a child?
This sounded like a job for Uncle Rufus.
Cloud picked up his phone and called the man. He smiled as he heard a sleepy response as well as the relentless peeping of a baby chocobo frightened out of a nap.
“You woke my bird you… bird-waker.”
Not one of Rufus’ more creative insults.
“Sorry,” said Cloud. “Uh… we have a delicate situation here, Mr. Shinra.”
“It involves both your niece and your Turks.”
“All right, I’ll bite. How?”
“You will never guess what Kin just traded the winged pony you gave her for.”
There was a long pause, then Rufus said “No. You’re joking.”
“No I am not, I am looking right at them, Vincent’s wedding gems, all of them. Another child had them and Kin did a bit of horse-trading. Literally.”
“How did the other child get them?!”
“As near as I can figure, the thieves stashed them in a tin box by the surf, then either forgot where they put them or the little girl who had them found them before the thieves could come back. The problem is Kin loves them. And as much of a softie Cid is for Kin, I can’t see him letting her keep them.”
“No of course not. All right, I’ll have a suitable trade made up so there are no hurt feelings. Then I think you should hang onto them for at least another four days.”
“What happens in four days?” asked Cloud.
Rufus laughed. “October the thirteenth. Vincent will lose his mind when he sees what you got him for his birthday. Oh, Cloud, speaking of Turks, have you seen mine?”
“No, but they would be up at Healin visiting Reno.”
“They’re not. I sent them to the hills behind Midgar to get Aeris and Sephiroth and they haven’t returned.”
That was odd. Turks didn’t sneeze without letting Rufus know. “Okay, if they’re not back by morning, you come get Kin and I’ll go looking.”
“Deal. Now say you are sorry to my bird.”
Rufus pointed the phone to the hysterical chick. Cloud rolled his eyes at the peeping, squeaking and beeping that sounded like a tiny car alarm having a nervous breakdown.
Lukis was sick and nervous, but only a part of it had to do with his first public appearance as the drummer of Meddle. Lukis wasn’t crazy about the name, but naming the band had become an endless debate with no one liking anyone else’s choices. One day out of the blue Darren asked Charles what the title of his favourite album was, and Charles replied it was Meddle by Pink Floyd.
Well they certainly couldn’t call the band Pink Floyd, but they could
call it Meddle.
Still, his nerves had little to do with the band name or their appearance. It had to do with how Darren’s father was just ever-so-politely egging Pickles as they sat at the table in the bar, waiting for their turn to go on.
“So, Darren, will you and Lukis be taking the band on the road?”
“Maybe,” said Darren. “We’d have to check with Pickles and make sure he can come with us.”
“Ah Pickles can stay behind, he won’t mind.”
Darren opened his mouth to speak, then sighed. Instead he looked to Pickles, smiling.
“Would you mind?”
Pickles leaned forward to touch noses. “Ah hell no, I’d lay around and drink beer in my underwear.”
“So business as usual,” said Darren, grinning.
They kissed, then Pickles said “Y’know one day we might have to go on separate tours.”
“Yeah,” said Darren. “But that’s what phones are for.”
“And we can arrange to cross paths in different cities,” said Lukis.
“And Pickles can just make sure his other lovers stay away those nights,” said Michael.
Pickles and Darren looked at each other, then Darren shrugged. “Depends on if they’re ugly or not.”
“Oh so he’s allowed to keep the not-ugly ones,” said Michael.
Darren managed to ignore him, but it wasn’t easy. Pickles cast a glance at the older man, then flagged down a passing server to order a pitcher of beer for himself and Darren. He then looked to Lukis.
“Baby what do you want?”
Lukis slowly stood up, looking green. “Excuse me,” he said softly, and fled to the bathroom. Pickles and Darren watched, concerned.
“That’s twice tonight,” said Pickles.
“Stage fright?” suggested Darren.
“Dood. Maybe being a rock star isn’t for Lukis,” said Pickles.
“He is kinda fragile,” said Darren.
Sylvia Morgan could not help but notice the matching expressions of concern the pair wore. She didn’t pretend to understand this arrangement, and personally she didn’t approve, but Darren and Lukis seemed happy and to her that was the bottom line. She wasn’t the first parent to be puzzled and exasperated by her child. But as long as Darren seemed okay, that was all she cared about. And seeing Lukis throw up from stress was hardly new.
“He’s fine, you know he is,” she said softly. “He always gets sick when he’s nervous.”
“I’ll go get him,” said Darren.
He rose from the table, giving Pickles a quick kiss as he did so, then jogged after Lukis, finding him in the bathroom of the bar. Lukis was shivering, and had clearly just been sick. Darren drew him close, lowering his head to speak softly in his ear.
Lukis nodded. “Just nervous I guess.”
“You’ll be okay. C’mon, let’s get back to Pickles.”
Lukis allowed himself to be led back to the table, arriving just in time to hear their band name called. Something red and gold shot by him.
“We’re on we’re on we’re on!” squeaked Phoenix in excitement. Lukis giggled, despite the knot in his stomach. Darren sighed.
“Great. A guitar player, a bass player, and a drummer. We’re a damn skiffle band.”
Lukis giggled again. “To be a skiffle band we’d need a gut-bass and a washboard and no drummer.”
“So we’re a half-assed skiffle with a backbeat,” said Darren. “Come on, let’s go on stage and commit social suicide.”
Lukis squeaked. “Half-Assed Skiffle!”
Darren broke into a huge grin. “I love it! Awesome, we finally have a name we like!”
“But we’re not a skiffle band,” Lukis pointed out.
“That’s why the name works.”
They suddenly heard a distinctive Wisconsin accent. “GIT AHN STAGE!”
The pair scampered onto the stage. Phoenix was already there, holding his red and gold bass and bouncing up and down. He would continue to do that throughout the entire performance. Phoenix was the most important member of the band – he played drums, bass, guitar, sitar, keyboard, and was working on learning the saxophone. Phoenix may not have been bright, but he certainly had a talent for both warfare and music. He was, in many ways, the perfect blending of his parents, who were just now seating themselves in time to see their baby play. Phoenix waved.
Darren winced, then looked over to Lukis, who nodded and began to play. Phoenix proceeded to do what he did best, which was play bass while Snoopy-dancing back and forth across the stage. Darren sucked back a smile as Pickles held up a lighter and flicked it.<center>Early in the evenin' just about supper time,
Over by the courthouse they're starting to unwind.
Four kids on the corner trying to bring you up.
Willy picks a tune out and he blows it on the harp.
Down On the Corner, out in the street,
Willy and the Poorboys are playin';
Bring a nickel; tap your feet.
Rooster hits the washboard and people just got to smile,
Blinky thumps the gut bass and solos for a while.
Poorboy twangs the rhythm out on his Kalamazoo.
Willy goes into a dance and doubles on kazoo.
Down On the Corner, out in the street,
Willy and the Poorboys are playin';
Bring a nickel; tap your feet.
Down On the Corner, out in the street,
Willy and the Poorboys are playin';
Bring a nickel; tap your feet.
You don't need a penny just to hang around,
But if you've got a nickel, won't you lay your money down?
Over on the corner there's a happy noise.
People come from all around to watch the magic boy.
Down On the Corner, out in the street,
Willy and the Poorboys are playin';
Bring a nickel; tap your feet.
So far so good – the first song had gone over well. People seemed to like it. That or Pickles had paid the audience off to think they were awesome. With the money Pickles had, it wasn’t such a far-fetched idea. Darren finally glanced over at his mother. He knew mothers were supposed to think their kids crapped gold, but his mother had never lied to him. If she thought they stunk she would let him know, and the look in her eyes told him they did not
The set was all too short – there were a lot of other bands anxious to be seen on stage at the Runner’s End, and none of them were exactly jumping in joy when the newly-dubbed Half-Assed Skiffle got called back for an encore. Then they went to the table where Pickles was waiting, and Darren could tell Pickles was excited for them. They came, they saw, they kicked musical ass with only a drummer, bass player and guitar. Despite the help they got from Pickles and Skwisgaar as instructors, it was still quite an accomplishment. For one brief, perfect moment, Darren was on top of the world, one arm around Lukis, one arm around Pickles, and the three of them sharing the mutual high of their first performance. Then Michael Morgan stood up to growl at his son.
“Darren for crying out loud, stop that! People are looking!”
Yeah that was it – the one thing guaranteed to wreck any good time; an angry disapproving parent. Darren looked up.
“Thanks Dad, you picked the perfect moment to let me know you’re ashamed of me.”
“I’m not ashamed of you! I just don’t think you should be flaunting this… arrangement… in public.”
Lukis cringed and turned green. Darren cuddled him with his right arm, while his left hand tightened on the back of Pickles’ shirt. He was fully aware of what the tiny drummer was capable of, and as much of a jackass as his dad could be, he did not want Pickles tearing him to pieces. And for the first time in his adult life, Darren was not backing down.
“Well maybe you should just start repeating that prayer they taught you in A.A. Something about accepting things you cannot change?”
“Oh I see. You move out and suddenly you know everything.”
“I know our personal life is not your business, and I can’t believe you picked now to turn this into an issue.”
Phoenix popped up, wedging himself into the three-way hug and trying to draw Lukis away from the disagreement, probably smelling the stress wafting off the fragile young man like a toxic cloud. Darren saw his father open his mouth and almost
say something, but fortunately the Brain Fairy woke up and stopped him. The last thing Michael wanted to do was face off with Genesis, who would
defend his baby in a bloody and spectacular manner. Lukis stood, head down, not wanting to stay, not wanting to leave. Then he said something that sent cold chills down Phoenix’s back.
“He can’t have my family,” said Lukis in a tiny voice. “I never had my own family before. I never had anyone but me. Now we’re a family, and they’re trying to take it…”
Phoenix recalled hearing that refrain all too clearly. He gazed at Lukis, watching him stand with his head down, shaking, turning green from the tension.
“This situation is
going to be an issue if you plan on bringing kids into it,” said Michael to Darren. “What are they going to say their first day of school? I’ve got two daddies and a mommy who’s a druggie?”
Phoenix hopped back as Lukis’ head suddenly shot up, and for the first time in his life he faced down the man who was the only father figure he had ever known.
“You don’t have to worry about it,” said Lukis, small fists clenched, brown eyes enormous with pure terror. “Pickles isn’t pregnant. I am.”
Lukis fled the bar. Despite the sound of people all around them watching the band on stage and having fun, at this table there was dead silence. Pickles and Darren slowly turned to look at each other, blinking, each silently asking the other if they had each heard their small boyfriend correctly. Then Pickles hastily departed, following Lukis. Darren sat down as if he’d been shot. Sylvia leaned forward, looking into her son’s eyes.
“You didn’t know, did you?”
Darren slowly shook his head. Michael looked like he wanted to tear his hair out.
“Darren what the hell were you thinking?!”
Darren looked up, recovering his composure enough to be indignant. “Oh gee Dad, I don’t know, let’s see, uh, Lukis is naked on a silk sheet wearing body oil and glitter. Uh… yippee?”
Sylvia had to clamp both hands over her mouth to stop from roaring with laughter. Darren got up from the chair and ran outside to stand beside Pickles, who was watching the tail lights of their black and red Shinra roadster vanish into the distance.
“Is that Lukis?” asked Darren.
“Yeah,” said Pickles. “We gotta go catch him. I think he’s heading for Shinra Manor.”
“Catch him with what?”
Pickles looked around, then spied Phoenix’s gold motorcycle. “On that. C’mon.”
“Is Phoenix gonna mind?”
“Only if we crash it.”
Pickles got on the bike. Normally Darren would complain that he should be the one driving, but tonight he simply got behind Pickles and held on for dear life.
Complicated. Allllllll too complicated.