The Chismest sun is a bit dull and clouds are still gray, but now there are flowers sprouting and birds chirping in small, short trees. It’s nothing compared to the bright, vibrant flowers of Langtree or the dozens of autumnal trees in Delphi or the brilliant, sparking sun of Tatango… but it’s progress.
After what went down in the Dream King’s castle, Kiwi’s been traveling a lot more. Right now, they’re with Miriam and the band getting ready to play a gig tomorrow evening. Miriam’s gotten a job working filling in woodwind when need be and also helping move stuff around with her magic so she and Kiwi are basically inseparable. Kiwi’s okay with that. After climbing Mount Ichor, Kiwi doesn’t know how long they can last without Miriam.
“Oh, this is such a cute city,” Viola exclaims. A small butterfly lands on her finger. “Kiwi, you said you were born here?”
“Yeah!” Kiwi bounces on their feet. “We could stay at my mom’s place instead of renting a hotel, if you guys are okay with that…”
Manny rubs his chin. “That’d be swell. With the new stagehands we’d need to rent out two rooms for all of us, so this cuts that down. Sweet. I’ll go with the interns and crap, you guys head to Ace’s mom’s place!” Manny waves before getting back in his newly-acquired truck and driving the equipment and the employees to some hotel.
“Kiwi, what’s your mom like?” Ash tilts their head as Manny’s truck goes. “Is she like you?”
This puts Kiwi at pause. “She’s not a bard, if that’s what you mean. She’s… supportive. Of me. And she loves me,” Kiwi answers honestly. “She was lonely without me because my—uh—dad wasn’t around. But she said he came back after the factory here closed down. So I guess she’s not lonely anymore!”
“She has a good sense of humor,” Miriam offers. “I like her.”
Viola grins widely. “Ooh, you already met the parents?”
Miriam’s face instantly flares red. Kiwi feels their own cheeks redden a bit. “Just the one…!” Miriam says before turning away, embarrassed. Viola smiles devilishly and even Ash hides a tiny laugh behind a hand.
“Th-This way!” Kiwi says a bit too loudly.
The apartment complex where Kiwi’s mom lives in is still painted a dreary blue, but pasted on the door is a decoration of a fruit, with a kiwi smack in the middle. There’s a doormat now that says welcome home.
“Cute,” Viola nudges Kiwi’s shoulder. “Did they name you Kiwi…?”
“Oh, no,” Kiwi shakes their head. “But it’s what I go by. Mom’s supportive, remember?”
“I see,” Viola nods. With a delicate, practiced hand, she knocks on the door. Kiwi braces themselves. The door opens and…
...it’s the Baron.
“Oh,” the Baron says gruffly. “Hello… ah…”
“Kiwi!” Kiwi blurts. “Just Kiwi.”
The Baron nods slowly. “Kiwi… and friends…” he looks down at everyone else. “Come in. Come in.”
“Dearie, who is it—oh, sweetie!” Kiwi’s mom comes rushing out from the kitchen and instantly wraps Kiwi in a tight hug. “And Miriam, darling, hello! And—And you two must be Kiwi’s friends!”
“Hi mom!” Kiwi says. Then, in a lower voice, “Why is the Baron here…?”
The hug suddenly stiffens. “Oh, Kiwi, sweetie…”
“Sir? Are you Kiwi’s father?” Viola asks with her arm outstretched for a handshake.
They pull away from the hug to look at their mother. She nods, a bit tearful, and Kiwi’s mouth drops into a perfect “o” shape. “His name’s Barry,” she whispers. “He’s not very creative, calling himself the Baron, is he?”
The Baron—no, Barry—no, father— looks at Viola’s hand curiously and cautiously. He’s so much larger than everyone in this apartment and he just awkwardly puts a finger in Viola’s hand. It fits almost perfectly and Viola stares at it. “I suppose h—they are. I… was… the Baron, the CEO of the Happy Kid Factory. Now, I am a stay-at-home husband.”
“He’s wonderful,” Kiwi’s mother rushes forward to greet Viola and Ash. “Really. With the factory closed we’ve had so much more small business opportunities! Now, I run a bakery! It’s lovely. I’ll make you all some bread! Sit, sit! Oh, Kiwi, I’m so glad you’ve come to visit!”
“Visit,” The Baron repeats. “Yes, my s—my child. You are here.”
Miriam gives Kiwi a side-eye.
“We’re here on business, actually,” Viola intervenes. Kiwi thanks the stars and Eya that Viola’s good at reading the situation. “You see, Kiwi’s the main vocalist in our band! In fact, they’re the only vocalist. That still makes them the main one, though! I’m Viola, by the way, Mrs…”
“Mrs. Warble is fine, darling!” Kiwi’s mom beams. “So you have a performance in Chismest?”
“Yes!” Viola shakes Kiwi’s mom’s hand. “We’re performing tomorrow evening. Can I expect to see you both there?”
“Absolutely!” Kiwi’s mom turns to the Baron. “Dearie, we haven’t been on a date in twenty years! Come, come, we have to buy you some nice clothes!”
And just like that, Kiwi’s mom drags the Baron out of the apartment.
Ash breaks the silence. “That was… awkward.”
Kiwi shuffles in place. “Yeah! I! Um. Didn’t know. He was my dad. Until just now. So.”
“Oh dear,” Viola murmurs.
“I don’t know who my dad is either,” Ash offers. “He died before I was born.”
Miriam gives Kiwi a look before plopping down on the couch. “What’s your setlist for tomorrow, Viola?”
Viola claps her hands. “We plan on having Ash open with their Wind Sonata, then I will follow with a song I just finished writing, Manny will do his classic drum solo, we’ll perform the song we did at the Crazy Raven, then Kiwi will finish off with the Wandersong! We have room for you to play on your piccolo if you’d like to, Miriam.”
She stares at Kiwi for a second. “Yeah. I think I will. Kiwi, wanna do the Eclipse Duet?”
Kiwi instantly perks up. “Yeah!”
“You’re not slick,” Miriam says quietly. Miriam and Kiwi are sitting in the kitchen, making some sandwiches while Viola and Ash are cuddling on the couch, sleeping on each other. Manny’s at the hotel with the interns and with the band equipment in his truck. “I can tell you’re upset, Kiwi.”
Kiwi’s too tired to try lying. There’s something about Chismest that acts as a catalyst for every single negative feeling they bottle up. “I… not upset,” they say. “I’m not anything. I feel like I should feel upset, or angry, or sad, or even happy at just knowing he exists. But I don’t. I just feel… empty.”
Miriam nods. “If I ever meet my parents I’m punching them both in the face. I’m bitter and angry at them. Have been since I was a kid. But you’re not like that, huh.”
“I just never thought about him! If Eya had wanted me to think about him, maybe he would’ve left photos, a letter, anything! I never even got asked to work in the factory until we staged it. I was so happy as a kid none of my classmates thought anything was ever wrong—that maybe he had just died or something—and maybe that’s what I thought too. But no, he’s the man that stopped us from being able to access the nexus point because of his d-dumb smog! He… he said he wanted to make people happy,” Kiwi says softly. “Am I like him, Miriam?”
Miriam drops the bread she was holding. “No!” she exclaims. Viola and Ash murmur and groan but otherwise stay asleep. “Don’t be stupid. You—” her cheeks go pink. “—You wouldn’t leave me like he left your mom, right? You wouldn’t just disappear into the night and abandon me? Or us?” She gestures to their sleeping bandmates.
“Of course not!” Kiwi whisper-shouts. “That’d hurt too much.”
“Then you’re not like him.”
“But—But I want to make people happy, too!” They say desperately. “I try to sing everyone’s problems away. I tried to end a war with music. I tried to save the world with a song.”
“And you did,” Miriam says patiently. “You tried and you did it. It’s simple, Kiwi.”
“But what if the Baron had succeeded?” Kiwi whispers. “What if Happy Kid took over the world like he dreamed?”
“Then he still would be a neglectful father and a dummy for ignoring his wonderful family,” Miriam hisses. “What’s not clicking? The Baron isn’t a good guy, Kiwi!”
Kiwi hesitates. Miriam presses a finger to their mouth. “No, I’m not hearing it. You were ready to forgive Audrey. I know what you’re about to say.”
“I… He’s not a bad guy either,” Kiwi pauses. “He could be misgendering me, or calling me names, or being mean to you guys. He could be like Audrey, or even like the Dream King a little bit. I think he lost himself in that factory. I think he’s still finding himself right now.”
Miriam groans. “You’re the people person I guess. Come on, let’s practice the Eclipse Duet for tomorrow.”
Kiwi doesn’t see much of the Baron after that. They go to sleep with Miriam in their room which gets them so much teasing from their mom and Viola. Ash doesn’t say anything but also doesn’t stop Viola which speaks for itself. The Baron doesn’t come out for breakfast and when Kiwi, Miriam, Viola, and Ash go out to meet with Manny and the stagehands, he doesn’t come out to say goodbye. Despite this, Kiwi’s mother promises they’re both going to the performance tonight.
Kiwi hopes it’s true.
“Tell me all about Ace’s folks!” Manny grins widely. “Shame I didn’t get to meet ‘em. I’ll see ‘em at the show though, right?”
“They said they were going,” Viola answers swiftly, putting her precious instrument to her chin. “Okay, are we going to rehearse?”
Ash lifts their accordion. “I’m ready to go.”
Manny hits his drumsticks together. “On three, gang!”
The performance goes well.
Chismest has gotten more foot traffic after people found it this was Kiwi’s hometown and the concert only helped to bring in more people. That, plus the people that were already living here made for a good audience. Kiwi didn’t come on until the fourth act, when the whole band played together, and they were busy the whole time matching Viola and Ash’s notes. But when the hype of that performance died down and they performed the Eclipse Duet with Miriam, they looked out into the sea of people for a small, birdish woman in blue.
What they found was their father—the Baron—in a casual button-up shirt with jeans and their mother in a brand new green dress. Their mother was outright crying and dancing like the old lady she was while the Baron stood still and tense.
Kiwi teared up and sung even louder.
After the concert, Manny, Viola, Miriam, and Ash are packing stuff up and talking niceties with the owner of the venue. Kiwi’s chatting with one of the stagehands when Kiwi’s mother rushes to Kiwi’s side. “Sweetie!” She sobs. “You—you did beautifully! Your father was so impressed! I’m—We’re so proud of you, sweetie!”
Kiwi hugs their mom and purses their lips. “Where is… my dad?”
Their mom tears up even more. “He—he went to the outskirts of town. We used to have picnics there, he and I. He said he needed time to think about things. It’s good for him to go outside more.”
“Okay,” Kiwi nods. “I’m gonna go talk to him.”
“Sweetie!” Their mom wails again. “I love you so darn much. Th-Thank you for trying with your fool of a father.”
Kiwi nods and sprints for the outskirts of town.
The picnic area seems to be the nexus point into Orderscape. Kiwi slowly makes their way over to the Baron. “F-Father?” Kiwi calls out.
The Baron is sitting down in the grass, a bright pink flower growing at his side. He’s transfixed by the sunset and the wind blows his white beard behind him. At the call of father, the Baron tenses and turns around slowly.
“…Kiwi,” the Baron says. The syllables grind out, like it took effort for him to say them. “You did… well.”
“Oh!” Kiwi smiles pleasantly. “Thank you.”
The Baron pauses. He’s a slow man, Kiwi realizes. Sluggish, slow, blue. He’s like how Chismest was before. All that dreariness, all that sadness that blew around the city from dusk to dawn was inside of him now. There’s a dark thought whispering in Kiwi’s ear: he deserves this. This is what he gets for leaving you.
Kiwi’s never been one to push forgiveness aside. They even tried to forgive Audrey and give her a second chance. There’s no way they’re going to let this flawed, well-intentioned man blow away into nothingness.
“I didn’t know you were my dad until mom told me,” Kiwi says to break the silence.
The Baron slumps over. His hand curls in the ground, getting dirt under his nails and disrupting the grass. “I did not realize you were my… child… until she told me as well. I was gone for far too long.”
Kiwi swallows a lump in their throat. “Yeah,” they say. “You were.”
It’s quiet for a while, Kiwi staring at their shoes and the Baron staring at the sunset. A pair of birds, one big and one small, fly overhead. “When I married your mother, I had a dream,” he says. “I wanted to make people happy. I wanted to put a smile on everyone’s face. I wanted to make something that could make a difference.”
“You made some people happy for a little bit, at least,” Kiwi tries.
The Baron shuts his eyes. “Is it truly happiness if it is not everlasting?”
Kiwi frowns. “Happiness is never for forever. That’s what makes it so special! I learned that on my adventure.”
The Baron says nothing for a little bit before straightening his posture once more. “I see,” he says slowly. “I… I realize I cannot take credit for this, but it seems I have made something that makes people happy. Much happier than my foolish toy.”
Kiwi tilts their head, confused, before tensing up as the Baron ruffles their hair. “You are my child. I am your father. We are not… friends, I don’t think, but I am willing to try. I rather like the sun. I’ve missed it. And I believe it is still here because of you. You make people happy, Kiwi. You with your music and with your heart. Perhaps if I had thought to leave my factory, I would have realized this sooner.”
“I get it from mom,” Kiwi tries weakly. They can feel hot tears fill their eyes, threatening to spill.
The Baron—Barry— father nods. “You do.”