(A/N: I return to you again, after what feels like a lifetime of despair! I'm so sorry, guys, if you only knew what I've been going through all of this time you would understand, but now I make it all up to you with a chapter. I hope you all forgive me: deals out all of the brownies, shrooms and chocolate drops she can find :)
"Stupid, stupid, stupid...you are so, stupid..."
Thick clouds blocked out the afternoon heat as they folded over the sky. They sheltered Azul carefully, hiding him away in the shade. Even in the cool he felt sweat running down his forehead, as he tugged lazily at the rope around the joints on his raft.
He grit his teeth, thinking: Nerves, nerves! That's all it is! What else could it be, I'm not doing any flippin' work to get me sweating! He wiped away at his head with the back of his wing, and shot a glance over his shoulder.
He couldn't keep up this game for long – too soon he would be discovered and then the whole suspicion would be afoot. Azul, their brave, sensitive hero would be nothing more than a smudge on the cover of their weekly magazine. He hadn't been a liar, no, no! Far too harsh a word – too harsh. Besides...he could never create someone like Strega and pretend that she was a fiction in his brain.
He tossed his tool down into the grass. Strega! It was all her fault he was here. She drove him away, unwanted. Turned him off like a slap in an argument, and he was still recovering from the after burn.
He had come all of this way to get as far away from her as he could. Staying there, seeing her everyday and hearing her tinkle of a laugh would eventually bring him to madness. He wanted to get even somehow, make her hurt... show her how it really felt to have the heart ripped out of his chest.
"Gak, Strega!" he said, angrily. "I hate you."
Tears stung his eyes.
"I hate you, I hate you, I hate you," he growled.
He pulled tight on the rope, pulling and pulling until every pore in his body screamed for breath. He used it as a stress relief, to force all of the anger out of his system. He never used to do it that often, come to think of it...
He stopped, panting, fully washed of his rage. Guilt coursed through him.
Dear, sweet, Strega...how could I think those things? How could I say those things? She's my angel, my first love, my everything – and she hates me, it's my fault it all happened, she's not the one to blame...
"No," he whispered, dropping his wings. "No, I'm sorry...I didn't mean it. It's my fault. My fault. Blame me!"
He numbly reached out and picked up his tool.
"I don't hate you, I don't!" he cried. "I don't hate you."
Who am I talking to? She's not here.
"I'm hoping that's a good start," came Rocky's laugh from behind him.
Fool! Azul abruptly spun around. Rocky and Ginger stood there, watching him with careful eyes. Ginger's especially were filled with confusion. She stood a little bit out in front, a subtle frown crossing her eyes and her foot tapping (as it always did when she was concerned about something). Rocky seemed more at focus with looking for glimpses of sunshine at the moment.
"Roc – Ginger!" Azul spluttered.
Ginger stared, softness in her voice. "What are you doing?"
"Do – doing...?" Azul pushed large layers of grass around his raft, surrounding it. He felt his cheeks flame up in embarrassment, and hoped he wasn't turning red. Mentally he pounded himself for being such a delinquent. The tool was hidden behind his back. "Why, nothing!" he gulped.
"You sure?" Rocky finally asked him. He laughed to himself heartily at Azul's expression. It certainly didn't look too well at all. Pale, and clammy...his eyes wouldn't stop staring open.
"Looks like you're chokin' on a bug!" Rocky chuckled. Ginger groaned to herself and gave him a shove, causing loss of balance and sending him on a roll down the nearest hill.
Azul held back a laugh, removing his grin when Ginger turned back to him.
"I've been meaning to do that for a while," she joked.
Azul gulped again.
"Because it's you I want, Azul. Not Rocky, you."
"Oh, Ginger. I want you too. I think about you most of the time. I could even come close to saying that – yes, I love you. I love you, Ginger!"
Oh, how I wish that would happen, Azul thought bitterly. The last two sentences had played out into his mind like a masterpiece on paper. The perfect love story. Often he found himself retreating into his own fantasies to gain his desires. His dreams didn't help either. Sailing across water...reaching the shore, and seeing Ginger's smile. The same shore that I left Strega behind.
He sighed. "What brings you out here, Ginger?"
"Well, actually," Ginger began, "It was about -- "
But she was stopped by the sound of Rocky's gasps, as he pulled himself up the rest of the hill. He flopped down and glared at her, exhaling deeply. "Y'know, that was the most uncomfortable thing that's happened to me," he said, brushing loose grass strands from his comb. "Really."
Ginger eyed him, pulling twigs from his feathers. "You wait until tonight then," she laughed. "You won't know what's hit you."
Rocky chuckled in embarrassment. Azul felt himself coiling in repulse.
He stood up shakily, buying time. Distracting himself. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a group of chicks building a fort out of dry grass. Fowler pacing along the lines like a general, eyeing suspicious behaviour. Bunty napping. Babs pushing Susie too high on the swing. Susie squealing to get down.
"Tease," he heard Rocky whisper. "You're almost as good as I am."
"I've got to go," Azul mumbled, jolting.
This made Ginger turn. "But – Azul, I was just going to tell you that Rocky wants -- "
" – You," finished Azul. "It's fine. I understand. If you two want to catch up and spend some time together, it's fine by me. Really, it's fine." His voice sounded more cheerful than expected. He brushed a feather under his beak, banishing a sniff, and turned to leave.
"Wait." Ginger took hold of his wing. "Azul," and here he sighed at the way she said his name, "That's not the reason we came up here. Rocky wanted to talk to you. We weren't telling you to leave, or whatever it was you were thinking. It will only be a few minutes. Please."
But it's you I want to talk to, Ginger. Not Rocky. I just can't get you alone.
"Maybe later," said Azul. "I've...got the raft to work on."
"Azul, please -- "
The rooster picked up the rest of his discarded tools, and dragged his raft limply down the hill. Anger burned through him like blood through his veins. What was her game? Was she flirting in front of him on purpose? Or was she trying to prove something?
She is so confusing. So bloody complex all the time. I just wish I knew where she was coming from.
He dropped one tool halfway down, and groaned in exasperation. There was a slight tension building up behind his eyes. The heat. He would blame it on that. Even if there was a lovely cool shade shadowing over everyone, and not a speck of sunlight to be seen. I'll just blame it on something that doesn't exist anymore. I'm good at that.
"Uph!" he cried out, catching his foot in a tight ditch and falling over sideways.
Great job, old boy. Juuuust great.
He thumped the ground in his anger and inspected his foot. It wasn't too bad, not even twisted. Blood filled his face as he felt ashamed of himself. Looking up he saw Rocky and Ginger peering down at him.
"Hey, buddy! You ok?" Rocky called.
"Yes, yes, don't bother!" Azul answered, moving to get up. There was a tingling in his toes and his foot felt numb, but he didn't want to say so. The raft was still in perfect shape. How ironic.
"Hold on!" came the voice again.
Leave me alone, Yank. You've already taken Ginger as well as my pride.
Before he had any time to move, Azul felt Rocky's wings around his shoulders, helping him up. The support was grateful, though he didn't feel it was at all necessary.
"I already said, you don't have to -- "
"I'm offering, ain't I? You fell down pretty fast there. Sure you're not hurt?"
The kindness in Rocky's voice only made Azul feel worse. He turned away, not wanting to look into the rooster's eyes. What an idiot he felt! Thinking back on the excuses he made to leave so suddenly made everything sound childish. The things they were saying... It made him feel empty inside.
What do I feel at the moment? Everything's so muddled.
"I'm fine," he told Rocky. "Nothing's broken, or sprained, or twisted, or...whatever."
Rocky sensed the tone in his voice and tightened his grip on his shoulder.
"I wasn't getting at ya, pal. In fact, that was the last thing on my mind." He sighed, running one of his wings through his comb. "Ginger was trying to say so before – before you cut her off, that is -- "
Azul blushed again.
"Anyway, I've been looking for ya all day," Rocky finished. "I've wanted to split words but you always seem to be hiding away, and sneaking off!" He laughed. "It's like you're trying to avoid me, or something."
Don't you know it.
"Of course not," Azul spluttered. "Why would I want to – why would I do that? I don't know why you would want to see me anyway. We haven't exactly had the most comfortable time getting to know each other. I don't even know anything about you."
He turned to leave here, but Rocky held him fast.
"There's your problem, ya don't wanna hang around enough to know me. It's like your always looking for an excuse to run away from everyone."
"That's not true!" Azul cried.
"Yeah? Well, go on then."
"Ask me a question. Go on, anything ya want. Anything ya wanna know."
Azul stopped, cut off for words. Ridiculous, just plain ridiculous. He felt as if he were arguing with a child. What could Ginger possibly see in this immature excuse for a rooster? It seemed as though he was always looking to pick fights or faults. It filled Azul up with a red hot rage.
"Why?" he asked slowly.
"So we can get to know each other," Rocky simply replied.
But I don't want to get to know you. Azul, although wanting to be on good terms with Rocky, really wasn't in the mood to become sharing partners. Right now, all he wanted was to be left alone, so that he could plan his next move. He'd had a few close escapes with his raft, already with Babs and now with Rocky and Ginger.
Ginger. God, now he felt like a fool again!
"But – Azul, I was just going to tell you that Rocky wants -- "
" – You."
What was he thinking? Shooting his big mouth off –
He searched for words. "Maybe now isn't the best time," he started.
Rocky laughed incredulously. "What makes you say that! In your case, it's not a 'best time' for anything! You're like the little 'duck n' cover', never wanting any contact from anyone unless they're asking about your life!"
"I don't have to listen to this nonsense," Azul snapped, after a short silence. A vein in his head was beginning to pulse hard. Blow Rocky and his uselessness! Who was he to classify his character? He had no right to speak of him like this as if he knew him!
Rocky rushed forward and grabbed hold of him again, impatience swelling. "Look, it's not nonsense; you just wish it were, that's all! Are you gonna walk away from me every time I try to get chummy with ya? I'm just being friendly, pal. Ginger reckons I owe it to ya after the way I acted when you came. Now I'm wondering why," he added, releasing him.
Azul felt coldness in his bones. Ginger? She wanted Rocky to do this?
Questions spun around him. "I don't want any favours," he said quietly.
"It's not a favour. I already feel bad about before, how many times do I have to say so?"
There was a long, annoying pause between them.
Azul looked at the ground.
"There was...something I wanted to say," he said.
"Huh? What's that?" Rocky asked, expecting another confrontation. He couldn't get his head around this guy more than he could get it around Ginger. They were both so complicated that at times he felt like screaming. I never know what the hell they want.
"It's just...Strega," Azul mumbled. "Seeing you, and Ginger...it makes me - "
"Jealous?" Rocky finished.
Azul paused. Was that how to describe it? It didn't really feel as though he was jealous of what went on between the two of them, it was more like he wanted Ginger and not the compassion. That was it. He was jealous, but of her being with someone else instead of him.
But I thought I'd love Strega forever.
He found that he could only nod as a reply.
"Well – hey, we'll just watch the smoochin' when you're close!" Rocky replied, cheerfully. "Why didn't you say so? I forgot that you're probably still hurting. It wasn't that long ago."
Now Azul didn't know whether he felt better. In his opinion, if Ginger was with Rocky he still wanted to know what went on while he pretended not to look, but then again...ah, things were getting worse! There was nothing more that he wished than to tell Ginger how he really felt. The feeling he had for her was different to the one he had with Strega, he thought he was in love with her; but now he was unsure.
He smiled. "Thanks, Rocky."
"It's no problem, pal. C'mon." His wing was put around his shoulder as he helped him limp back to his hut. Not another word was said between them, and Azul was grateful for it.
"Azul!" he heard a voice call out in the distance.
Babs was waving at him.
He smiled, and waved back.
: To be continued :
(A/N: Please read and review! You can bash me about my lateness if you want! ...)