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Jockeying

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Aeris found Barret at the bar in Chocobo Square, a bottle of root beer in front of him, watching the races. "Hey," she said, as she sat down at the table with him. "What's up?"

"Oh, hey." He looked at her for a second before looking back up at the view screen. "Nothin' much. Just watching the races."

She looked up at the screen, watched the racers coming around one of the curves, a blue and a green feathered head neck-and-neck. The background was so bright she almost had to look away. "So that's why none of the others could find you," she said. "Nobody thought to look here."

He nodded. "Yeah, well, needed to take a rest after all that driving. That thing ain't exactly easy on the back."

Aeris couldn't blame him there. She'd had a little trouble getting used to their new buggy too, especially with some of the terrain they'd had to cross. And after what they'd been through the last time they'd shown up, maybe this was the best place they could've found him.

She looked at the race a little longer before she turned back to look at him - really look at him, at the way his eyes were fixed on the screen, the way that he straightened up a bit and grinned every time one of the birds crossed the finish line. He wasn't just watching because he needed a distraction, or because he wanted to sit down for a while. "Do you want to ride a chocobo, Barret?"

He shrugged. "Rode 'em before, back home. Wasn't nothing special about 'em. They don't tire as fast as we do, and they were more reliable than machines half the time -"

Aeris interrupted him with a giggle and a light swat on the back of his good arm. "No, silly! I mean in the races! Doesn't it look exciting?"

"What?" He turned to look back at her, his eyes wide. "That's... that's crazy talk, Aeris. I can't!"

"Why not? You know how to ride already! Why let Cloud have all the fun?"

"I know how to ride work birds, Aerith. This is different, this is... well, look at those guys." He waved at the jockeys gathered around the bar, sipping their brightly-colored drinks and chattering to each other. "You notice something they have in common?"

"Flashy clothes? That wouldn't be so hard to fix." She looked him up in down. "You'd look good in red, I think! And maybe a nice hat, like that other jockey -"

"That ain't what I mean," he said, sputtering slightly. "No, see how every single one of 'em are short and skinny guys? I mean, Cloud ain't exactly a giant but even he looks huge in front of those guys."

"So what?"

Barret sighed. "Look, Aeris, it's like this. Chocobos in these events, they gotta be in a certain weight class, right? They can't be too little or else they'll be at a disadvantage, but they can't be too big or too strong, because that wouldn't be fair to the rest of the racers. So you've gotta make sure they don't have too much to carry, an' that means that the jockeys can't be too big or too heavy. And I'm a big guy with a big metal gun on my arm. You see where I'm coming from here?"

"Hmmmmm...." Aeris drew the hum out, her expression an exaggerated copy of contemplation. It wasn't that she didn't understand, or that what he was saying didn't make sense. But she also understood that someone didn't spend that much time watching something he wasn't interested in. "Sounds like a lot of words saying that you can't do something you want to do to me," she finally said. "Why don't we do something about that?"

He shook his head, but she could see him smiling. "Hey, if you wanna talk to Dio about it, be my guest. I doubt he's gonna bite, though."

"Oh, don't worry. I can be pretty persuasive."

"Yeah. No doubt." He looked at the birds again, then turned to look back at her, the grin widening on his face. "You really think I'd look good in red?"

She winked back at him. He was definitely sold on the idea! Now she just had to deal with Dio. "Absolutely."