cheloya: (FF7 >> four point)
[personal profile] cheloya
Title: Faith and Feather
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: Yuffie/Vincent
Words: 3341
Notes: To those who waited patiently, and those who did not, I am sorry this took so long, and so very glad to be able to give this to you at last. I dearly hope you find it worth the wait.

Chapter Two




Chapter Three: On Swimming in Concrete Boots



[Day 5, 0300 Wutai Standard Time]

Darkness. Silence. Peaceful breathing.

Beep, beep, beep.

Answering the pager was automatic. Recognising the boss’s number took him a minute, because of all the people he expected to call at – he squinted at the screen with growing dismay, hoping that he was imagining things – quarter-to-three in the goddamn morning, the boss wasn’t it. Reeve remembered things like timezones and currency conversions, and he was pretty polite about waking people up. So Reno groped for his cell, hit the speed-dial, and rolled onto his back, scratching absent fingers through his hair.

The pickup was immediate, and it wasn’t Reeve. When the woman on the other end told him why it wasn’t Reeve, Reno’s hand froze, and his mako-green eyes widened in the darkness.

"Fuck," he said softly, with feeling, and rocketed to his feet. He was talking as he slid the wood and paper door back and slammed his shoulder carelessly into the frame. "We’ll be in the air inside an hour, might be there by sundown. Right. Fuck. Yeah, thanks."

Elena was across the hall from him, Rude was the next door down. Reno rapped on both their doors sharply, already moving down the corridor to where he knew Strife and the rest of AVALANCHE were rooming. They were Turks; they’d be ready by the time he had Strife and Highwind out of bed.

He realised belatedly that he had no idea who exactly was sleeping in which of these rooms and decided pretty immediately that he did not give a fuck. He hammered on a convenient wall.

"YO, STRIFE!"

Immediately around him there were the sounds of angry AVALANCHE members disturbed from slumber: heavy steel dragging from floor to hip or shoulder; Tifa’s soft, sleepy dissent a moment before her feet hit the floor; muttered cursing from both Barret and Cid. The only silent one was the cat, but the dim scarlet glow on the other side of the sliding paper doors was enough to give him away immediately.

Cloud emerged with a certain hairstyle and an expression that told Reno his own hair wasn’t too different at the moment. Blue eyes narrowed. "Problem?" He inquired simply. Reno grinned out of sheer fucking it’s-three-in-the-morning craziness.

"I’m borrowing your pilot and your airship, Strife. Reeve’s been attacked."

Cloud blinked, and echoed Reno’s sentiments. "Fuck."

***

[Day 5, 0400 Wutai Standard Time]

Even where land met sea, in the hours before dawn there were few air currents to work with, and Chaos was beginning to struggle. More than twelve hours in the air, first over the frozen north, then cold open ocean, was more than enough to tax its reserves, and that the journey had been undertaken in darkness, with no thermals to offer easy passage, only deepened the creature’s exhaustion.

Even so, it might have made its destination, had not another beast come roaring out of the dark clouds massing in the pre-dawn sky and attracted the attention of the host. Chaos flew far below the metal beast, too small to be noticed by those on board, but the host mind leapt forward, recognition lending it strength. The Highwind! Chaos knew this metal beast that carried the host’s allies; knew, too, the man who tamed it (Cid), the woman who fed and groomed it (Shera) and with each recognition the host’s mind grew stronger, pushed himself through Chaos’ mind and reached for control of their body with a single bewildered thought:

They are flying away.

Chaos’ wings folded, thinned, ran away into human skin. Monster and half-formed host plunged, scarlet cloak streaming out behind them, and then only behind him, and Vincent stretched both arms out to break the ocean’s surface before his face.

He trailed bubbles six feet underwater, struggled with weight and a distinct lack of streamlining for desperate seconds as the ocean churned around him. When he broke the surface at last his vision was spotted with black and crazy colour, his limbs heavy with Chaos’ exhaustion. He tread water as best he could for as long as he dared, regaining his breath, regaining his sense of direction, and then struck out toward the distant line of coast that marked northern Wutai.

***

[Day 5, 0500 Wutai Standard Time]

Yuffie hadn’t meant to sleep before the Turks had left the house; she’d meant to stay awake until she’d finished with her father’s library, until she’d found out where that crest had come from, but when Reno came crashing through the house like a bright red drunken elephant she’d been folded right forward over her table, forehead on the body of a scroll, drooling on the part she’d been trying to decipher and now probably never would.

Now that she was awake again, even though Tifa had marched her to her room with stern orders to get some real rest I don’t care if you’re the Lady of Wutai, she couldn’t sleep. She lay there for a while in the sticky heat of Wutai’s night, wondering absently if the buzzing in her ears was overtiredness or mosquitoes, and then she rolled to her feet and stepped off the end of her futon onto tatami.

Traded the thin sleeping robe for vest and riotous undershirt, shorts she’d probably die in, so worn they were practically frictionless. The split materia was transferred to her hip pocket automatically. Shoes were likewise an afterthought, thin-soled and tight-laced. Light as a feather, light as her ten thousand cats, light as a shadow to the window and out of it and shimmy-shimmy-brace-flip onto the roof, where she paused.

Listened.

Her home was full of sleeping sounds. There was maybe an hour until the sun poked up over the ocean (or over the ocean if you could see it through the clouds), so that wouldn’t last long, but it was plenty long enough to stretch her legs.

She started off along the roof of Kisaragi House, low to the tiles, wondering idly if her old man’s guards were still on their rounds. Turned out they were, though they seemed a little nervous; no master to guard, she supposed with a shrug and a sidestep into the sakura, slow rolling steps so the branch bent and rebounded as though with the breeze. She toyed with the idea of surprising a few of them into a sparring match, but quickly decided it wasn’t worth her while – if Tifa heard about it, she’d skin Yuffie alive, and Chekhov wouldn’t be too happy with her ei—

Yuffie clenched her fists, clenched her jaw, and moved on.

She had just slithered up the side of the House of Cats when she heard a heavy tread on the bank of the Leviathan, and froze. The steps were not uneven but mechanical, as though the traveller was placing his feet according to some rhythm in his head; they were heavy enough to convince her that this was only the case because the traveller was exhausted. Yuffie settled into the shadows in the lee of the house that was hers, had been her mother’s, and breathed slowly through her nose, eyes half-lidded. They weren’t mako eyes, but eyes stood out, even in darkness, and she didn’t want to be spotted by just anyone.

He was moving slowly, but there was no mistaking the cloak or the dull glint of bronze even in the well-clouded night. Her final hint of confirmation came when he stepped onto the cobbles of the square and his shoes made a dull grinding metallic sound with each slow, measured step. She grinned within her shadow and dropped lightly from the House of Cats, risking long leaps between rocks over the Leviathan to race down the bank and crouch in the shadows, call, "Fru kuac drana?" in as fierce a voice as she could muster, even though he’d totally noticed her already, not like she was being careful, and vaulted over the hand rail of the third bridge to land smack bang in the middle of it, right in front of him.

Vincent stared at her, clearly not having heard or seen her coming at all, and said, "Hello, Yuffie," in a voice that was perfectly his own, only with a side of exhaustion and a healthy dash of I Have Just Been Breathing Seawater dressing. Yuffie worried for about half a second and then stomped on it, because if you were worrying about Vincent, the world was coming to an end again, and she’d had enough of that sentiment from the local lords.

"Oh, gawd," she said, clearly disgusted, and grinning like a catfish that got the canary, or however the hell that one went. "It’s you. I thought you were my awesome friend from out of town who sleeps a lot and never returns my phone calls."

Vincent swayed slightly. If it hadn’t been dark and his face hadn’t been plastered with damp hair (What, had he been _swimming?_ Without her?) she might have actually believed she caught the tail end of a tiny deformed baby smile, which might have really convinced her that he was sick. Instead she sashayed forward and punched him in the shoulder in greeting, only instead of greeting what emerged was a strangled sound of indignant disgust, and instead of a punch it was only kind of a damp smoosh with force behind it, because he was dripping.

"Grossness, you’re all wet!" Understatement of the century. And he’d swayed again. Her mouth took over, even as she slipped herself under his arm (heard him grunt in surprise and probably disapproval, but screw him and his lack of tactile appreciation) and started hobbling them both dramatically back to Kisaragi House. "Were you in the vampire olympics, Vincent? Did they sign you up for swimming in your clothes, or did you just forget a bathing suit? You probably had to swim in your clothes because your negative tan would blind all your competitors, not to mention turning them into ash which would be hard to filter out of the pool."

Vincent gave another sigh that was two parts long-suffering and one part what she swore was a chuckle, and spoke in a way that made her think just setting one foot down in front of the other was taking up all of his concentration. "I am a terrible swimmer."

"I can tell," she told him. "You sound like you drank half the ocean and ate all the sand."

There was no reply to that, possibly because he was even more of a zombie than he usually was, and possibly because he did not want to admit that he had been drowning, which was silly, because at least he didn’t throw up every time he went near the ocean; like there was anything more embarrassing than that.

"The Turks just left," she told him. "A couple of hours ago. Reeve’s in trouble, too, apparently."

She felt Vincent stiffen as they began to ascend the steps toward the large square that connected all of Wutai’s most important monuments, Da Chao aside. "I saw them leave," he confirmed. Yuffie gave him an incredulous look.

"Did you seriously swim here? What happened to Obsydia?" she asked, and felt rather than saw Vincent’s grimace.

"Chaos," he said shortly. "She will return to Nibelheim."

"Oh," she said, and directed her attention to waving off the guards that had hastened down the steps to meet them.

"Myto Yuffie—"

"Crymm fa—"

"Just help me get his boots off, will ya, I can get him inside by myself," she said, trying vaguely to remember whether there was something improper about removing a man’s boots and pretty sure that there was, but figuring it could go to hell either way. "No need to accompany us, either, but when your shift changes I need one of you to talk to Saac about breakfast and an extra room." Not that Vincent couldn’t just crash in one of the Turks’ rooms, but Yuffie was pretty sure no one wanted to sleep in the same bed Reno’d occupied without a healthy dose of alcohol, and Vincent could be pretty OCD.

The guards made short work of Vincent’s boots and socks and Yuffie marvelled for so long at the fact that Vincent had feet that it was Vincent who muttered a weary, "Syho dryhgc," and left her blinking at him.

"You speak Wutaian?" she asked as she shoved open a door with a clatter and probably woke up half the house again. "Could have mentioned it, Vinnie, think of all the fun we could have had, confusing the hell out of the human smokestack."

"I get by," Vincent said, completely ignoring any suggestion of mischief, and frowning as they turned an unfamiliar corner. "Where...?"

"Somewhere to sleep," Yuffie said, cutting him off. Vincent’s concerns were usually sensible enough that anyone could predict them, and his hangups were about the same, so she kept her answer pragmatic and appropriately lacking in detail. "You oughta take a shower, I guess, but this is Dad’s house, so it’s bath house or nothing, and not to put too fine a point on it, Vinnie, but you’d probably drown. Also turn red like lobster, but you have the claw for it, and red is probably the new black."

She slid back the door to her father’s study and Vincent didn’t move with her when she tried to make him step forward. "C’mon, monster man. Left foot, right foot, just like momma showed you."

"Yuffie," Vincent said, like he was dying a little, only of some sense of propriety and mortification rather than pneumonia, because he was saving that for tomorrow.

"Left foot," Yuffie repeated, bright and expectant, and Vincent sighed the sigh of dead lungs deflating for the last time. He stepped into the room with his left foot, continued without further direction, and that alone was enough to make her congratulate him in a voice high and practically poisonous with sugar. "Atta boy!"

She let go of him near the futon and he sat ungracefully on the floor, stick limbs collapsing like a broken deck chair. (Or just a regular one. She’d never had much luck with deck chairs.) He watched her wordlessly as she pulled out an extra blanket, three towels (he needed them) and rummaged through a sidetable for her father’s sleeping robe. She dumped them all on the floor in front of Vincent, and he stared at them for a few seconds before his gaze drifted upward to her face. He really was exhausted, she thought, if he was that slow about everything. Exhausted and probably cold, which was crazy in this heat, but pretty normal if he’d swum here, and by the sound of things, he had.

"Dry off and change into those," she told him, miming both actions just to be obnoxious. "I’ll go make you some tea." She imitated sipping, both hands cupped around hot steaming nothing. "And maybe some toast or something, I don’t know what Dad eats these days, but if you’re lucky it won’t be natto." She made like she was vomiting – which was one thing she ought to know how to mime, all things considered – and strode out of the room, damp from Vincent’s clothing already becoming warm and uncomfortable along her left side. "Just don’t fall asleep on me before you’ve eaten anything."

***

He did not fall asleep, but he made no attempt to don the sleeping robe, either. He towelled his hair until it was no longer clinging to his neck and shoulders, rubbed at his slacks until they were no longer plastered to his skin with moisture, and after a few uncomfortable seconds, shifted his weight from the futon to the tatami. No matter Godo’s absence, no matter his daughter’s permission, no matter that this was the only available room in Kisaragi House...

Yuffie interrupted his thoughts, clattering through the door with little regard for the rest of the manor’s sleeping inhabitants. She took one look at him, and her expression and the snort she gave were more than eloquent enough. She set a tray down on the desk, where the tea and rice she had made for him steamed invitingly, out of his reach.

Then she walked to where he had left Godo’s robe, picked it up, and tossed it at his head. "I’m gonna turn around and give you maybe three minutes to get your wet pants off and get that robe on," she said brightly. "And when I turn around I want you in that bed, or in your underwear. Ready?" She turned smartly to face the silk screen on the wall, one leg out and then snapped back together, like a Shinra soldier. "Go!"

Vincent stared at her for long enough that she began counting the seconds aloud, and that was enough to convince him that she was perfectly serious. He did not scrabble; he was too tired for that. Nevertheless, he was glad that his fingers had been trained to deftness even when numb and bone tired, particularly when Yuffie began to count down his final thirty seconds and he was still on his knees attempting to tie the robe closed with something approaching neatness. She spun around mere seconds after he had arranged his limbs beneath Godo’s blankets, and she grinned at him.

"For the best, I guess," she said as she slipped back to the desk, tray tilting in her hands with calculated clumsiness. "I mean, Cait’s not even around to help me with the blackmail, and we’ve really got enough photos to be going on with."

She set the tray down next to him and plopped herself down on the floor, cross-legged and leaning back on her hands.

"So, when you die of pneumonia, can I have your shoes?"

Vincent tried to ignore the vast difference between the temperature of his skin and the temperature of his tea. "They wouldn’t fit you," he said, and sipped. He shivered at the feeling of warmth spreading through his cold flesh in squirming threads, a response that Yuffie obligingly ignored. He was grateful.

With warmth and sustenance came, simultaneously, a feeling of great drowsiness and recollection of his reason for being here in the first place. He moved from the tea to the rice, and glanced at Yuffie expectantly, marginally more alert and intending to make use of it. Yuffie tilted her head further back for a few seconds, then flung her torso forward and rested her elbows on her knees, chin on the heel of one hand.

"Dead: Gorky, Shake, Chekhov. Missing: Staniv, Godo. Hurt: Reeve. There’s an unidentifiable mon on the top floor of the pagoda, which Elena thinks she’s seen before. We have photos of the pagoda as it was before cleanup, and—" She rummaged briefly in her pocket. "—I have one broken materia." She held up the two distinct halves of what had once been a mastered Leviathan, and let her hands drop, clearly sick of the entire situation. "You can take a look after you get some rest. Like I said, the Turks only left a little while ago, so we don’t have any information about Reeve just yet."

Vincent nodded. It seemed unlikely that Reeve’s situation was unrelated, but any information they had to relay would be twelve hours away at best. As long as he rested, and examined what information was available to them in Wutai before they received new information, Vincent would not be holding them back, although he might be giving them more to worry about. He set aside his bowl, and Yuffie stretched impossibly to retrieve the tray.

"Wake me when Cloud arises," he said. Yuffie raised her eyebrows at him, and he added, "All is not well."

"Weren’t you going to call if that happened?"

Vincent gave her a rare, wry smile, felt the insidious drowsiness deepen.

"My apologies. The demons had other ideas."




Chapter Four: ...And Fighting Old Wars
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June 2013

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