Title: The Other Greens
Author: SkyFire (IJ/LJ link in profile)

Rating: PG at most.
Summary: Cloud picks the wrong veggies and, well, things happen. Takes place during FFVII and the search for Sephiroth.
Warnings: Crack!fic.

Notes: For AniMama. Inspired by her beautiful picture of AU Vincent.

Note 2: # FFnet ATE MY QUOTES! Hopefully I caught them all... :o(

Disclaimer: Square Enix owns FFVII. I just own the rabid plotbunnies that chew on it.

..

The Other Greens

Cloud Strife took a deep breath of the warm evening air and sighed. Sure, it was summer now, but fall was coming quickly, and after that? Winter. Winter, with its blizzards, snowstorms, ice, and freezing cold. Gyeh, he hoped they had caught up to Sephiroth before the snows came!

Shrugging off the thoughts of coming cold and snow, he went down the inn's old wooden steps and turned to follow a worn footpath around the side of the building to the garden. He still wasn't quite sure how exactly he'd been roped into going out and picking a basket of greens for the supper's salad, but there he was. Basket in hand, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and blackflies every time he moved into the shadows cast by the slowly setting sun.

Finally, he reached the garden. Stared. Ummm, which plants was he supposed to pick? The garden was full of green leafiness, and in a dozen shades of green at that. A sigh. Couldn't the woman have been a little more specific?

A few Chocobos, either wild or escaped from their pens, stood at the far edge of the garden, occasionally reaching down to snag a beakful of leafy green goodness.

Well, he could rule those greens out. Even leaving out the fact that the patch was slowly edging towards decimation, surely Chocobos would go for Chocobo food, and he'd been told that the greens the innkeepers fed their birds was grown in that same garden.

So. Only a million other varieties to chose from.

"Wark?"

Cloud started at the sound from way too close, turned to glare at the bird that had snuck up on him. "What do you want?" he growled.

He felt guilty almost instantly as the bird's crest flattened miserably, its eyes large pools of sadness at his tone.

"Aww, come on. It's okay. See? I'm not mad at you."

"Wark?"

"Nope, not mad. You just startled me."

The bird made a sound that was almost a purr how could a bird purr? - and reached out to preen his hair in acceptance of his apology.

"Hey, quit it!" he complained, shoving the bird gently away. Great. Now his hair was full of Chocobo spit, the stuff companies collected and diluted to make airship glue. As if his hair wasn't bad enough without the addition of enough bird spit to send the spikes through a rock wall unharmed. Sigh. Then a thought hit him and he looked at the Chocobo. It was worth a shot; they were exceptionally smart animals, after all. "I'm looking for salad greens. Do you know where they're planted?"

"Wark wark?"

"Salad greens. You know, greens. For eating."

"Wark!" The bird warbled excitedly, gently grabbed hold of one gloved hand and tugged him over to a section of garden, pushing another Chocobo out of the way so Cloud could get to the patch of leafy greenery. "Wark!"

"This is it, huh? Hey, thanks!" Well, at least something was finally going right! He knelt beside the patch, set the basket down on the ground beside him and began to pick. A few handfuls later, he couldn't resist the urge to try one of the big leaves. He picked a smallish one just in case, and nibbled. One golden brow rose sharply in appreciation. Hey, those greens were good! Then he kept on picking, sneaking a leaf for himself every now and again.

Roughly a half-hour after she had sent him out, the cook looked up to see Cloud come back into the kitchen with the basket of greens she'd asked him to fetch from the garden. He set it down by the sink at her absent gesture while she checked on the roast, then left to join his companions once more.

One the roast was seen to, she walked over to the basket to wash the greens for a salad, and paused. Wait a moment. Those weren't the salad greens!

oOoOo

When Cloud woke up the next morning, the first thing he noticed was that he wasn't in their room at the inn. It smelled completely different; sort of a combination of warm straw, greens, and feathers. He frowned, eyes still closed, trying to hang on to sleep in some vague hope that he was not sleeping in a Chocobo stable.

But the more he tried to hang on to it, the more sleep seemed determined to elude his grasp. It was sort of like Sephiroth that way. You could chase him all over the planet and only hear rumors of his passing, but the second you stopped looking, there he was, trying to perforate you with that ridiculously large sword of his. Then again, maybe he wasn't exactly the one in the best position to point fingers about ridiculously large weaponry.

Still keeping his eyes closed, firmly rooted in denial, he tried to figure out why exactly he was in the stable. Sure, he'd had pranks like that pulled on him all the time while growing up - well, the manure heap was next to the stables, anyway - and, to a lesser extent, back at Shinra during his cadet days.

He hadn't figured Barrett, Cid, and Vincent for the dump-Cloud-in-the-stable types, though.

At least he was lying in a pile of straw that was deep enough to actually be quite comfortable, if it wasn't for that one blade poking him in the face.

He reached up to brush it away and his eyes popped open in shock when he found that his arm wouldn't quite reach. What the-?

He scrambled to his feet and had a flash of what he supposed must be reverse-vertigo when he found that he wasn't as tall as he should be. He could almost hear Barrett's voice in his head, saying: An' that's sayin' somethin'!

Jerk.

"Good morning, sleepyhead," came the familiar quiet tones of one Vincent Valentine from not too far away. "And how's my Goldie this morning, hmm? I've got a bucket of yummy treats with your name on them!"

Vincent! Cloud turned, ran to the back of the stall, then took a run and vaulted over the stall door to land with only a slight stumble in the stable's wide central hallway. Black Chocobo heads peeked over the tops of their doors, and one lone blue looked cautiously from around a corner. Vincent! Just what do you think you're trying to pull, here?! he demanded.

Or at least that's what he meant to say. What actually came out was "Wark-wark! Wark wark wark wark WARK wark wark?!"

What the-?

"Oh, my. Someone's feeling agitated this morning," Vincent observed. He opened the door to the stall Cloud had just escaped from, bringing a pair of buckets in with him. He filled the greens bin, then the water trough. "Come on in and eat some greens. You'll feel better in no time. Yes, you will!"

Ooooookay. What was wrong with Vincent? He couldn't believe that Mr. Angsts-for-Thirty-Years-in-a-Coffin Valentine was making cutesy faces at him and talking in that baby-speak. Had someone slipped the man something? And what was he wearing? Black and red as usual, yes, but the raggedy red cape had been traded in for a rich red duster, and the headscarf for a cowboy hat. Mr. Gothy-Angst himself was wearing a cowboy hat.

Maybe Sephiroth had taken over the world while he'd been asleep and turned everything just as insane as he was.

And for that matter, why was he himself warking? As if the hair wasn't bad enough!

"Come on, Goldie! Look, yummy greens and fresh water, your favorite!"

Cloud growled. He didn't like this insane Vincent very much. Then the glint of light off the surface of the water caught his eye and he stared, mesmerized. It was sooooo pretty. Maybe he could go back into the stall. Just to look at the pretty water... though he could smell the greens and they were making his mouth water. He wondered if they were as good as the ones he'd eaten the night before.

Cautiously, Cloud stepped into the stable and over to the water. He watched the light play on its surface for a long moment, then leaned forward to get a better view. Caught sight of his reflection. "WARK?!"

All right, so he really should have put two and two together a lot sooner, but really, who could blame him for not coming up with 'So I changed into a Chocobo overnight...'? It wasn't as if it was something that actually happened!

Until now, apparently.

Great.

So Vincent was an insane cowboy-goth, and he was a yellow Chocobo named Goldie. Lovely. What else could go wrong?

"Come on, Goldie, eat your greens! Today's your big day! You get turned out into the breeding pen, remember? You're going to make beautiful little chicks, aren't you? Yes, you are! Yes, you are!"

...He should really learn to stop asking that question.

So he was going to be turned loose, and expected to be the rooster to a bunch of Chocobo hens? Not happening! He might be a Chocobo in body right then, but in his head he was still a human man and the thought of breeding with a bunch of big birds didn't do a thing for him besides make him slightly nauseous.

Vincent must have seen the way his crest flattened in misery because he was there, petting him, scratching the really good itchy spots, giving him a handful of greens as he tried to comfort him. "It's all right, Goldie," he said comfortingly. "You don't have to be shy. Death-By-Chocobo is a big softie, really, for all his size. You'll see; once you lay and sit on your first clutch of eggs, it'll all be all right. Personally, I think he likes you."

Oh, like that was supposed to make him feel better! And 'Death-By-Chocobo'?? There was no way he was-

Wait.

What was that Vincent had said? '...once you lay and sit on your first clutch of eggs...'

No.

He was a female Chocobo?!

WARK?!

oOoOo

Barrett, Tifa, Cid, Aeris, and Vincent stood around Cloud's bed at the inn, watching the blond sleep with expressions ranging from blank-but-amused (Vincent) to outright mirth (Aeris).

"What do you think he's dreaming about, anyway?" Tifa asked, voicing the question they were all thinking.

Cloud twitched slightly, arms and legs twitching as he dreamed, and every now and again a garbled 'wark?!' would escape his lips.

END