A/N: Part of my short-fics series of pieces I do as character studies or whenever I have a strong enough idea in my head. This particular story is set after the events of my in-progress sequel to "Feathers" and as such, the setting may be a little difficult to place.
My OC Ginger Cordova is working for the Academy as consultant-in-chief on Bhunivelze's chocobo breeding programme.
Crowds are gathered throughout the main hatchery bay, chattering in excited tones and jostling for a good position as they await today's main event. Before me in a specially-designed incubator is a brood of chocobo eggs; the first ever to be raised on Bhunivelze.
Their creamy white shells, speckled with flecks of brown and ochre to varying degrees, lie motionless in amongst a bundle of hay. It's an odd sight to behold in a lab of polished chrome and spotless work surfaces, but that had been my own addition. Since the Academy's technology can take care of an egg's every need, the natural material is mostly an aesthetic touch and doesn't really suit a purpose. But when the eggs had first been transferred into the artificial nest, they'd seemed so glaringly out of place.
In a way, they reminded me of myself; thrown into a world entirely different to the one in which I'd grown up. Incongruous and somewhat innocent, still trying to fit in and be accepted. Maybe it was nostalgia. Perhaps even a little longing for the familiarities of home, of Gran Pulse, but I'd thought about asking for the hay one afternoon.
Convinced the Bhunivelzian scientists would think me peculiar, I'd been apprehensive to voice my suggestion and kept quiet. It was on my mind all day and then I mentioned it offhandedly to Hope at dinner. When I got into work the next morning, I found a bale of hay waiting at the door to the hatchery with a written note on the top. It had my name on and read:
Hay! This is the final straw. No more baleful expressions at dinner, okay?
Love, yours truly.
PS. Next time just ask. They are working for you, after all.
No-one can accuse the director of not having a sense of humour, though we did have a serious talk about the quality of his puns when we got home. He'd grinned at me and mentioned something about coming up with a better bundle next time.
Behind the clear glass windows of our hatchery countless faces peer in from the corridor as fingers point excitedly and hands wave in greeting. Amongst a sea of Academy uniforms, I recognise officers and orderlies, catering staff, an off-duty security guard here and there, and even several members of Hope's research team. It seems every part of the Academy is represented here in some way, attending this most auspicious of occasions.
The atmosphere is upbeat and positive but I always feel restless before a hatching; like a mother hen anxious for every one of her eggs. My outward self is sitting quietly but inside I'm jittery, unable to settle. Stroking one hand along the rim of our artificial nest, I attempt to quieten the negative energy threading itself through my innards.
Carefully designed to simulate the functions of a real bird nest, the device is currently home to twenty chocobo eggs; an average sized clutch. It has a clear perspex dome lid that is normally kept closed to seal in the warmth but can be lifted up should anyone need to carry out a closer examination. Each egg rests loosely in a depression within the chrome bowl itself, padded with soft spongy material and surrounded numerous electrical sensors.
These tiny little things waiting to be born have the best chance possible, I tell myself and study each egg in turn. I'm halfway around the nest when someone grips my shoulder firmly.
"How are you doing, Ginger?" One of the senior biologists, Dr. Hiroshi, stands above me. His peppered grey brows arch slightly upwards and he regales me with a tempered smile. "Excited?"
"They'll be fine, you'll see. And then the real work begins." He leans towards me and asks in a quiet voice, "Is Director Estheim not here yet?"
I quickly cast my eyes around the room but see no sign of my silver-haired Hope. Forcing a smile onto my face, I shrug. "He probably got held up in a meeting. You know how it is."
"Very likely. They ... oh, look. It begins!"
Hiroshi squeezes my shoulder and then points to the centre of the nest. One of the eggs is rocking ever so slightly, gentle movement passing over the creamy shell like a shiver. I hold my breath as his voice carries across the room, calling for all visitors to vacate the hatchery immediately. He takes a seat next to me and at the edge of my vision I see other members of our team settling down into position. All of my attention is focused on the eggs.
Silence hangs in the air. Nobody dares to even breathe as the first egg picks up momentum and rocks. Gradually, it falls onto its side and then there's a spurt of movement, a faint tap-tapping noise coming from within. Like a clarion call to action, the first chick's escape attempt draws the attention of others and they too begin the hatching dance.
The pioneer chick breaks through and I'm there with him, picking up the pecked-apart shards of shell and moving them aside. Elation wells within me at the sight of new life taking its first tentative breath. Tiny black pearls blink open and closed, adjusting to the dimmed light of the hatchery. As his little beak trills a plaintive cry, I gently lift the chick up into the palm of my hand and set him down.
"By the Goddess," someone breathes by my right ear. "He's perfect. Look at him. Bhunivelze's first newborn chocobo."
That sentiment is echoed beyond the panels of glass, amongst the crowds clamouring for a glimpse of the hatchling. A cheer rumbles through, muted by the barrier separating us but no less thrilled by that fact. There's little time to spare before eggshells begin to break all across the nest. Performing a quick visual check on the first chick, I carefully pass him into Dr. Moore's waiting hands, an awed expression gracing her rounded face.
Soon everyone is involved in the flurry, squeaking chocobo chicks tended on all sides by enthralled scientists. Every so often I'll glance up and look around for Hope. I wanted him to be here for this after everything we've been through together. Being director of the Academy isn't an easy job, I know, and nothing short of an emergency would have stopped him coming here, but it still aches. That feeling tempers the euphoric joy within me, causes me to worry when I know I shouldn't.
And then there's one remaining egg. It sits unhatched amongst fragments of scattered shell, the former prisons of its siblings; completely unmoving and oblivious to everything outside. My gaze is drawn to it whenever I get a chance, but with so many other tiny hatchlings to pay heed it'll have to wait.
Finally, when nineteen healthy chicks have hatched and been carried away to the nursery, I have time to spare. The egg itself looks undamaged and all readings from the various instruments monitoring it seem normal, but there's no movement. Perhaps this chick wants to take his time.
An hour passes and I sit by the nest in quiet vigil, saying farewell to each member of our team as they head home for the night. Only myself and the most senior member of staff are left. Twilight begins to darken the sky outside. Against a backdrop of inky blue, the city of Academia twinkles into life slowly, one set of night lights at a time. Still the egg remains inert, sound nor motility stirring within its milky smooth shell.
"No sign?" Hiroshi asks gently around 7:30pm. I know he's not simply asking about the egg.
"Nothing," I sigh. Fatigue stirs torpidly within the confines of my head, the makings of a migraine. It had been an early morning for me and I'd only had chance to eat breakfast with nothing else all day.
"He'll arrive." The middle-aged scientist touches my arm lightly. "Who wouldn't for such a pretty girl?"
"Go home, Hiroshi." His efforts to stir up amusement within me are much appreciated and I smile. "Your lovely wife will be waiting for you. With your dinner on the table, no doubt!"
"That she will. Okay. If you need anything, please give me a call. If not, bright and early tomorrow."
I'm about to reply when our attention is drawn to someone racing down the corridor outside, none other than my silver-haired director himself. He comes tearing around the corner at great speed and there's not a hint of formality in his behaviour until he sees the elderly scientist standing at my side. Snapping into that unmistakable work mode, I watch Hope's posture straighten and his disarrayed expression settle into something akin to order.
"See?" Hiroshi winks at me before turning to Hope. "Good evening, sir."
The director nods in response, apparently too breathless to reply with words and then Hiroshi makes his exit, leaving the two of us alone. Hope staggers and sits down in the chair beside me, takes both of my hands in his. As quick as it appeared, work mode is lifted.
"I am so sorry," he manages when he's caught his breath. Each word is spoken slowly, enunciated with feeling. In the darkened atmosphere of the hatchery Hope's sea-green eyes shimmer beautifully.
"It's okay. What happened?"
"I couldn't get away. One outpost was attacked earlier and we had Pulsian diplomats over from the embassy and … I'm so sorry. Let's not talk about work. I've already ruined this for you."
"You're here now," I say leaning in to rest against his forehead. Through our contact, I can feel Hope's heart pounding with a puissant thrum and notice a clamminess on his skin. "Did you run all the way from your office?"
"Yes." The director leads me gently into a nuzzle. "I did. I'm sorry I wasn't here on time."
"Stop apologising," I say with a smile.
"But I know how much this meant to you. It meant a lot to me too and-"
Halting the words mid-flow with a kiss, I withdraw slowly when he quietens under my embrace. Hope then follows my line of sight to the solitary egg, sitting there amongst the hay in its stubborn defiance. Jadeite irises hold mine in a questioning gaze, the slight frown upon Hope's brow asking me what words need not.
"This little guy is just late. Somewhat like a certain director I know," I answer lightly.
"So it would seem," he sighs, sliding around to face the artificial nest with its one inhabitant. "May I?"
Upon my nodded acquiescence, Hope reaches out with careful fingers and slowly brushes along the contour of the shell. I've tried everything I can to hasten this little chick's arrival and nothing has worked, so I'd become resigned to waiting it out. If anything, a decade of chocobo breeding down on Gran Pulse has taught me that sometimes, patience is all you need.
"It's warm," Hope breathes with a voice steeped in wonder. Amazingly, the egg suddenly begins to move back and forth as if the director's touch provided a spark of kinetic energy. We face each other, awestruck. Soon, a tiny beak is poking its way through the splintering eggshell and happily chirping a greeting to us. It's plain to see this chick isn't like his siblings when he's resting on Hope's flat palm.
"A silver chocobo!" he exclaims, looking across at me and reflecting the same incredulous joy I feel buoying up my heart in his beaming expression.
In all the years I've spent raising chocobos I've never once seen a silver or gold feathered bird, so this is a new experience for me too. They're rare genetic anomalies, cropping up occasionally in bloodlines otherwise sturdily predictable in their outcomes. Grandfather's notebook mentioned such things in amongst breeding tips and progeny lines, but I never thought I'd live to see it.
"Since he bears twice the resemblance now, it's obvious what we should call him," I laugh, barely able to hold in my elation. Hope turns to me with a softened gaze, affection caressing the upward curve of his lips and suffusing his typically erudite composition.
"Little Hope, eh?" the director smiles proudly as he strokes the chick's silvery down with one finger. "I'd be honoured."
"Well, you did coax him out of his shell. I think you should have the honour of naming him." I lean against Hope's shoulder and thread one arm through his, watching as the chick rocks sleepily on the palm of his hand. A soft yawning cheep escapes the diminutive grey beak.
"Poor guy is worn out," Hope remarks. He notes my reclined position and chuckles lightly. "You both are."
"It's been a long day," I sigh as fatigue begins to gnaw at every unguarded part of me. "Let's get him settled in the nursery and we can head home ourselves. You can buy us dinner, I think."
There's a clever quip hiding in amongst all of this. Something along the lines of hope arriving just when it needs to but for now I'm content to look at them both, forming a bond that goes beyond their shared identity. My esteemed fiancé and the twentieth of Bhunivelze's new chocobo chicks staring at each other in silent wonder.
When such scenes exist it's easy to let go of the past and just be lost in the moment. There comes a point where you have to accept life for what it is and ease into the flow. After the year Hope and I have had, I'm not quite sure what to expect but I'm not afraid any more. We will stand through it all.