Nope, I'm not dead-I know you're all thinking it. Here I am and here is the next chapter of Musical Chairs! I could provide all the usual excuses and explanations for WHY this chapter took so bloody long, but instead, I'll just thank those users who messaged me A) asking if I was live, B) asking where the next chapter of this story was, and C) in consequence, making me punch my Enterprise into warp speed. Or, somewhat warp speed. And by Enterprise, I really mean just me, so maybe that wasn't the strongest metaphor.
Users who I'd like to thank, in no special order except alphabetical: Candlestic, Dinosgorawr3, EmmerzK, and ILOVENICOX1000! Seriously, thanks, guys, I don't think I would have finished the chapter if not for you guys :). I think I legitimately forgot about it.
Onward! (A brief refresher, you guys probably need it: Nico and Pedro just got banned from The Branch thanks to an onstage brawl with Calysta, who somehow managed to appear innocent to Miguel. This has left Nico slightly injured.)
Pedro turned into the first alley he came to. Not that he knew where that was, exactly—his body had been moving of its own accord, apparently in search of some quiet, remote place to just sit and absorb.
And rest. Nico was getting heavier and heavier the farther Pedro dragged him, as if Miguel's words were steadily sinking in with more distance. Pedro had started with one arm under Nico's tiny shoulders, gently supporting the canary in a clumsy, slightly stupefied walk, but Nico's motions had turned considerably less functional the past minute, so Pedro had just picked his friend up to find somewhere for him to lie down. Nico didn't seem to mind at the moment, he was being very quiet; but Pedro wished he had a camera. Or that Ralfy was here. Or that Ralfy was here with a camera.
Pedro stopped in the middle of the alley, where a random tire lay next to a trash can. Thanking the sweet Gods above, he heaved Nico onto the tire. The motion startled the small bird out of his weird semi-conscious reverie.
"What the WHAT—"
"Are you calling me fat?"
Nico laughed and swung into a sitting position. "You need to work out more."
"What are you talking about? I'm RIPPED."
"Hey…you know that armadillo that's been following us for, like, 3 blocks?"
Nico beckoned Pedro closer and leaned in for a confidential whisper. "Well there's this armadillo that's been following us for, like, 3 blocks."
"Nico, how hard did Calysta hit you with your bottle cap?"
"When did Calysta hit me with my bottle cap?" Nico frantically gripped the hat on his head as if to stop it from suddenly flying away. "It's still here."
"No, earlier, like ten minutes ago."
"This isn't ten minutes ago?"
"I thought it was ten minutes ago. My watch must be wrong. It doesn't adjust for vector flight patterns and that blue box in the corner."
Pedro instinctively looked behind him, where the corner of the alley conspicuously yielded zero blue boxes.
"What are you talking about, Nico?"
"I said YES."
"NO YOU DIDN'T."
"BUT WHAT? NOTHING YOU'RE SAYING IS MAKING ANY SENSE! YOU'RE LIKE BLU! BUT A THOUSAND TIMES WORSE!"
Nico cocked his head. "Who's Blu?"
All of Pedro stopped for a second. "Blu…? One of our best friends?"
Nico stared blankly as Pedro's concern levels rose from "worried" to "freaking out." The cardinal took a deep breath to prevent his inner thermometer from spiking to the point that was just an angry red face covered with emotion squiggles. "Ok, Nico, I think you have a concussion. I think you should get some sleep." Pedro remembered reading somewhere that people with concussions should sleep.
Nico didn't fight it, but instead flopped onto his side and limply closed his eyes. Pedro started pacing back and forth in front of his incapacitated friend.
Well, so far as Pedro could put it, the main problem was Calysta. She stole their song, changed the lyrics from groovin' to catty, and then beat Nico up on stage. (Nico had started it, but really—what else was he supposed to do)? Unfortunately, this little technicality had occurred on an extremely important night, also inspiring the wrath of Miguel, prompting him to make one of the worst decisions of his life, which was to forever ban him and Nico from their home, their sanctuary, their love. What would they do without The Branch?
Well, that could be answered later. First and foremost: what would they do about CALYSTA? They couldn't just let this PASS. True, Nico had given her a proper (and well-deserved, even if she was a girl), walloping on stage, but Calysta had apparently done worse damage on the tiny sleeping canary. Pedro glanced over, where Nico still lay on his side, breathing evenly and deeply. Some sleep would be good for the little guy.
Pedro continued pacing. He wished he had a deerstalker. Although he guessed he wasn't really solving a mystery so much as just solving a problem. Different.
But how did Calysta even know Till the World Ends in the first place? That might be a good thing to figure out. Maybe Pedro could employ deductive reasoning. Huh. He would have to find a deerstalker.
Now how best to teach her an immediate lesson…? Detective work might take some time. Revenge had to be his first priority. Nico tried, but he had just ended up with a concussion. He needed to sleep.
Now then…Calysta…banned…clubs…songs…original songs…revenge…fighting…during the time of the club feud, too…
Pedro stopped pacing. An idea sparked like a firecracker in his mind, steadily sizzling faster and faster down the thread running through his brain. He was about to jump in the air when his brain lit another firecracker.
Wait…did I read that people with concussions were SUPPOSED to sleep, or NOT supposed to sleep?
The firecracker exploded.
Pedro all but screamed and roughly grabbed Nico by the shoulders, shaking him maybe a little bit too hard. "Nico! NICO! Ni-CO!"
The canary started and opened his glassy and bloodshot eyes. "WHAT?"
Pedro exhaled. He hadn't even realized he'd been holding his breath. "No sleeping."
"…did you just call me Pablo?"
"Okay, you've gotta go to the bird sanctuary." Pedro easily slipped Nico onto his back, although he had difficulty making the canary hold on. As he struggled to properly position his friend, Pedro saw a second tire hiding behind the first one, and an overturned trash can gleaming in the moonlight.
He shook his head and flapped away, thoughts full of taking Nico to the bird sanctuary, dealing with Calysta, maybe learning to actually read, and trying to forget the alley where Raoul had tried to kill them.
"Miguel!" Rafael waved, although he was starting to suspect the pelican was ignoring him. "Miguel!"
Miguel finally turned and beckoned Rafael over.
"I got all the other club owners to go away. Told them they could come see tomorrow night's performance."
"And when that didn't work, what did you say?"
"That I'd sick my kids on them."
"So now they've seen my club crash and burn AND we've threatened them."
"Noooooo, it didn't crash and burn," Rafael comforted. "Just crashed."
Miguel stared at Rafael with an unnerving eye. Frightened of letting that expression become words, Rafael blurted, "Where'd everyone else go?"
"Bruno and Calysta went home or wherever."
"And Nico and Pedro? Tell me you sent them to the bird sanctuary?"
"I don't care where they went, so long as they left my club."
"Gave them a lecture, huh?"
"One they'll never forget."
Rafael raised an eyebrow. Nico and Pedro were used to lectures, sure, but the way Miguel looked and sounded, this lecture didn't seem like one of the usuals. "What exactly did you say to them, Miguel?"
"They're no longer welcome here."
"…in your heart?"
Miguel actually jumped from Rafael's forceful exclamation. "YES, The Branch! They may have ruined the club's reputation AND future!"
"SO YOU BAN THEM? THEY'RE YOUR HEADLINERS!"
"ARE YOU NOT LISTENING TO A WORD I'M SAYING?"
"NO! I'M NOT!" Rafael actually stomped his foot, something he hadn't done since his youth. "You not only just ruined any chance your precious club had of making up for last night, but you might have ruined any friendship you had with those two! Dios, Miguel, what were you thinking? Banning Nico and Pedro from The Branch?"
"I DON'T CARE! Nothing you say at this point will make sense! You're like Blu, but a thousand times worse!" Rafael turned angrily and stomped away, aware that Miguel was sputtering but choosing to ignore him. He knew he had to find Nico and Pedro, and if either of them had any sense (a long shot), they would be at the bird sanctuary.
Pedro had never actually taken Nico to the bird sanctuary, despite all of Nico's past injuries. Sure, he'd gone with him, but Ralfy had technically taken him—the toucan's paternal instincts allowed him to lead the way, catch the attention of Linda or whoever else was there, and then wait patiently until he heard results. Sure, Pedro had gone, but…he didn't really do anything. He didn't know the protocol.
It was also nighttime. Employees manned the sanctuary at night, but admittedly, not as much as during the day. Standing outside on the railing with Nico almost slipping off, Pedro peered through the window, hoping to be noticed by some ghost figure wandering by. Any of the other birds—Rafael, the Blue Macaws—would have a shot at that, but he and Nico were smaller and also not as prominent there; Pedro might actually have to take some initiative.
He shifted Nico again and realized the canary wasn't holding on as strongly as before. "Nico? Are you asleep again?"
No answer. Pedro roughly swung the canary back to the front and shook him again. "I SAID NO SLEEPING."
"I'm not…sleeping bag…"
"I'm not a…sleeping bag…"
"What is that?"
"Have you ever noticed how cute turtles are?"
"That's a shame. Cuz…they're really cute…"
Pedro ignored his friend's ramblings and took his hand like a parent leading a child into the doctor's. Which he was basically doing.
"Okay, Nico, you're going to stay here for a while," he explained soothingly, pushing open the window Linda had had installed specifically for this purpose.
"Because…because I said so."
"Because…there's a surprise?"
Nico took no notice that Pedro's promise was in the form of a question. "What kinda surprise?"
"The best kind."
Nico's eyes grew large and round. "OOOOOOOOOO."
"Yeah. So…follow me." Pedro led Nico into the dimly lit sanctuary, craning his neck for a human. Why wasn't anybody around?
Well…he didn't have time for this. If Phase 1 of his plan was to be successful, he had to execute it pronto. But he couldn't leave Nico alone, not in this state…
"Blu!" Pedro almost screamed. Actually, he wasn't even sure if it was Blu, but there was a definite flash of blue on the porch outside…
Pedro saw that serendipity was his ally tonight as the Macaw turned. Smiling wider than that creepy McDonald's clown, Pedro jumped up and down and waved. Nico followed suit. Although Blu looked a little confused, he left his perch on the porch and opened another bird-friendly window.
"Guys? What are you doing here so late? Are you hurt?"
"Nico might have a concussion. But what are you doing here, boy?"
"Why you here so late?"
"I'm playing chess with Linda." Blu gestured to the board outside that Pedro hadn't noticed. "She left to take a phone call from Tulio. Now what's this about a concussion?"
"Nico has one. I'm pretty sure."
Blu turned to the canary, whose head was tilted to the right. "Nic? Are you okay?"
"Never better! You look funny, you know that?"
"I like your beard."
"Yeah. He's got a concussion."
Nico turned to Pedro, although his whisper was definitely not quiet enough to be considered confidential. "Who is this guy?"
"What? Nico, I'm…Blu. I'm literally one of the last five Blue Macaws in existence."
"Nah, not ringing a bell."
Blu turned to Pedro, expression miserably trying to hide confusion and concern.
"Yeah, he's been doing that…" Pedro explained. "He didn't know who you were earlier when I mentioned you, and he called me Pablo."
"NO!" Pedro frowned. "For the last time, I don't know who that is!"
"Silly Pablo Neruda."
Pedro struggled to refrain from strangling his friend and turned to Blu. "Look, would you take him? I know he's not supposed to sleep, and…I may have ruined that earlier…"
"What do you mean may?"
"He fell asleep for a little while."
Blu released a sound of exasperation and started shepherding Nico away, who followed obediently, mumbling unintelligibly under his breath. "I'll take care of it. How did this happen, anyway?"
"Um…we…got into a fight about…samba."
"Wait, someone else here hates samba?"
"Yeah, and look what it did to Nico!"
"Well, it's no cause for a physical fight or anything, but…"
"Okay, you win, great, I'm coming back to check on Nico later, bye!"
Blu turned around to retort, but Pedro was already gone.
Blu yelped as Rafael swished through the window. "WHAT?"
"Have Nico and Pedro been here?"
"Yeah, I was playing chess with Linda and she left to take a phone call and then Pedro showed up saying something about Nico getting a concussion and—"
"Where'd they go?"
"Well I dunno where Pedro went, but Nico's in—"
"Wait, Pedro isn't here?"
"No. He left and said he'd be back later."
"Pedro left his best friend, who has a probable concussion, here without proper observance?"
"Well gee, thanks," Blu mumbled. "He's in the observance room, by the way, playing with this awesome bell I found."
"So we can make sure he doesn't sleep. I mean, there's tons of stuff in there to keep him awake, but we've also got a video feed." Blu used his foot to click a remote on the floor and a small TV monitor behind him popped on. Although it was black and white and a little fuzzy, Rafael could clearly see Nico in a small room (how long had that been there?) poking a small silver bell and delighting himself every time it elicited a noise.
"I'm worrying about him more than normal."
"What? That bell is totally awesome…and there's a xylophone in there he's pretty fond of too…but, he's doing some other weird stuff."
"He kept calling Pedro 'Pablo' and he's got no idea who I am."
Blu recoiled. "Yeah, I mean, it's weird, he's forgetting stuff."
"CALYSTA HIT HIM THAT HARD?"
"What? Calysta? That bird we saw at the club the other night?"
"YES! She and Nico got in a fight onstage!"
"…about samba? THAT'S who Nico was fighting?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Pedro said Nico got into a fight with some other bird about samba."
"Nico had to perform a song with Calysta and it ended in a brawl onstage. Which resulted in Miguel banning them both from the club."
"…banning Nico and Calysta?"
"Banning Nico and Pedro."
"WHAT?" Blu took a subconscious second to ponder about all the loud WHAT'S that were being yelled that night. It gave way to wondering why Pedro had lied to him. "Well…Pedro didn't tell me that!"
Rafael crossed his wings. "Why is that boy lying? Where'd you say he went?"
"I didn't. Because he didn't say."
"Well, he'll be back to check on Nico in a little bit. We may as well wait for him."
They waited until morning. The cardinal did not return.
Well, Nico is pretty much incapacitated, (don't worry, he's not out of the story), and Pedro is alone to solve a problem. For those of you who asked for a reversal of Ambitions, you got it!
Anyone who knows who Pablo Neruda is gets a shout-out before the next chapter, and anyone who understands the 'blue box' time travel reference gets DOUBLE shout-outs. (Sorry I can't give you anything cooler, I honestly just want to see if anyone knows.)
Sorry for the wait, guys, hopefully the next chapter won't take so long! Drop a review if you've got the time. :)