As promised, a short fic about a Brimstone birthday for my birthday. Comment below for a chance to enter the drawing!
"That's the date he's always used?" Captain Shax squinted at something on his reader.
Verin snorted a cloud of steam and shrugged. "He says they gave all the kids in that fucking orphanage the same damn birthday cause they didn't fucking know. And that doesn't answer what the fuck I'm supposed to do."
Curled up at the end of the bench in the corner, Heckle half listened while he scanned through inventory. The lack of more interesting cuss words told him Verin was frustrated already. He didn't want to say anything that might make it worse. While Heckle certainly didn't know when his birthday was and Verin probably didn't know his either, it seemed to be more important for humans.
The captain's summons startled him out of minding his own business. "Sir?"
"Can you run the fuel figures for me? My brain can't do mathing this early."
"Of course, Captain." Heckled found numbers so much easier than letters and his brain liked to think while it mathed. Er, did math. "Cake."
"Pardon?" Captain Shax blinked at him when he handed the reader back. "Was that a comment on how easy the calc was? And how brainless I am?"
Heckle stared back, horrified. He'd never imply that anyone else was stupid for something they were struggling with. "Oh, um, no. No! I meant cake. For humans. Human birthdays. They, um…don't they? Usually?"
"Ah. Yes. Yes, that's true." Captain Shax still looked like he might fall back to sleep. "We need to get Corny a cake. Chocolate. From Ms. Cleo's since will be in Thinis this afternoon. And we should sing, I think?"
Verin snorted again, this time with sparks. "I don't want to sing, numb nuts."
"It's a stupid song, anyway," Julian muttered from where he was digging in the cabinets. Probably for tea. Julian sometimes liked tea in the morning. "No one likes it. No one likes singing it. No one seems able to pick a key and stick to it. And it was written after Corny left Earth."
"Well. Someone's grumpy this morning." Captain Shax looked a little more alive since he'd started his second cup of coffee.
"It's just a ridiculous song, oh prince of the sleepy eyes, and it won't mean anything to Corny."
Captain Shax waved a hand back and forth. "Fine. We'll find something else. What else do humans do for birthdays? Are there orgies?"
Julian sputtered and coughed while laughing. "I guess sometimes, but it's not traditional. Cake, presents, silly hats, noisemakers. Maybe that's only for children's parties. You know, I'm probably not the best person to ask."
Some consultation with Mac verified the cake and presents, but probably not the silly hats and noisemakers. They divided up tasks and elected Heckle to go see Ms. Cleo because she liked him. Not that he minded. Heckle could've spent all day in her bakery just taking in the delicious smells.
Heckle trotted into Ms. Cleo's about mid-morning, after her breakfast rush had ended. She looked up from the tray she'd been rearranging and smiled at him.
"Hello, handsome. What can I do for you today?"
"Um, hi, Ms. Cleo." Heckle twisted his tail in both hands, suddenly shy. "I need…I mean, I'd like…a cake."
She rested both elbows on the counter, her dark eyes crinkling in amusement. "A bakery's a good place for that."
"Oh. Yes. Of course." Heckle waved his hands, completely flustered and blurted out, "Birthday. A birthday cake. For Corny."
"The cowboy? I think I can manage something. I'm going to assume chocolate since the other cakes for you boys have always been." She waited until Heckle nodded, amazed that she remembered what the crew had ordered before. "Does Corny like a little spice?"
Heckle nodded more enthusiastically. "He does. He makes the best chili."
"Good." She went into the back and returned with a rectangle cake. Round cakes were prettier, but Heckle knew by now how quickly they vanished. Disappointing if someone wanted a second slice.
"This is a special cake I make with guajillo peppers. Spicy, but not so spicy it drowns out the chocolate."
She got out a decorating tube and Heckle pulled one of the counter stools over so he could watch her write Happy Birthday in darker chocolate icing on top. When she was finished, the cake had all sorts of flowers and vines along the edges and sides, too, so it was just as pretty as any round cake.
"Do you have a present for him? Are you doing presents?" Ms. Cleo asked casually as she boxed up the cake.
Was I supposed to? Will everyone else? "Um...no. Yes. I mean I don't. We are."
She shook her head and sighed. "You are the cutest being I've ever met. Wait here."
So Heckle waited, blushing probably the brightest scarlet an imp could manage, until Ms. Cleo came back to hand him the cake box with a bag on top.
"There. Those are for you to give to Corny. Guajillas for when he makes chili. I guarantee he'll love them."
She patted his shoulder and sent him on his way and Heckle found himself smiling as he trotted back to the spaceport. She did like him. Someone not crew. And he felt successful. Like he'd accomplished something important that day, even if it was just cake.
Cake and presents on the galley table, everyone crowded in with Leopold, Max and Nic climbing atop Fluffy to save some space. Only Verin and Corny were missing, though not for long. Their voices carried down the corridor.
"I said I didn't want no fuss, Ver. Damn demons," Corny grumbled, his frown deepening as he stopped short in the doorway to take everything in. "This is definitely a fuss."
"Yeah. I know, Corn. But I thought…" Verin was staring at the floor, scuffing one scaled foot along the plates. "Just once, right? You should have one nice fucking birthday with people who, you know…"
Corny's expression softened. He leaned in to kiss Verin's temple. "I hear you, Hammer. I do. All right. Leastwise, there is cake."
Front several legs waving, Max began to sing. Not the birthday song Julian loathed so much, it was just Corny's name sung in Max's best operatic voice. And somehow? Max made it a birthday song.
After a moment, Corny even smiled. "Thank you. All y'all. Now, I reckon we better get to cake first since it'd be cruel to make you wait."
There were no silly hats or noisemakers, no stupid birthday song, but the cake was delicious, Corny liked his presents, and Heckle was certain that as human birthdays went, this was one of the better ones.
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.