cheloya: (FF7 >> kyoudai janai)
[personal profile] cheloya
Title: Faith and Feather
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: Yuffie/Vincent
Words: 3953
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 Three




Chapter Four: ...And Fighting Old Wars



[Day 5, 0900 Wutai Standard Time]

When Tifa slid back Yuffie’s door just enough to peek inside, the first thing she saw was crimson on tatami, and so the rest of the door was slid back with more force than she’d originally intended. The door hit the far end of its frame with a sharp crack, and by the time she realised that the scarlet puddle was a cloak, not a bloodstain, both of the room’s occupants were awake enough to focus on her; Yuffie in the corner of the room already on her feet, and Vincent bolt upright on the futon, apparently halfway through the realisation that he had no gun immediately on hand.

"Omni, I thought—sorry to wake you both," she said, immediately contrite. "I saw the red, and..." She banished the thought with a wave of one hand, her muscles aching slightly from the speed with which she had clenched her fists. "I made breakfast. I wanted to know if you were awake. When did you get in, Vincent?"

Yuffie stretched both arms high over her head, yawning widely and arching from one side to the other. "About half an hour before sun-up," she said, before Vincent could speak. "What kinda breakfast, Teef? I’m starving."

"Shortly after five this morning." Vincent’s confirmation was sedate despite his disarrayed and slightly groggy appearance. He sounded as if something had been chewing on his vocal chords. Tifa hid a smile. He had not been so sleep-fuddled the first time they met, or very often afterward, but the sight always amused her. Vincent carried himself with such gravity that any crack in his professionalism was an instant source of entertainment. "Is Cloud awake?"

"He’s up," she grinned. "He’s not awake yet. He might be, by the time we’re done eating." She took a step backward, hand on the door, smiling as Yuffie bounced out of her stretch and made to follow. "Get some clothes on and come out when you’re ready," she said to Vincent, and Yuffie spun on her heel.

"Your chance to dress like an emperor, Vinnie," she said. "Your stuff is all wet—" ("No thanks to your leaving it on the floor," Vincent muttered.) "—so grab whatever you want. Dad won’t mind." And so saying, she pulled Tifa out into the hall, and gave the older woman an expression of calculated innocence. "What?"

"You could have hung them up, Yuffie," Tifa scolded, without much vehemence. Yuffie scoffed.

"They wouldn’t be dry even if I had," she said. "You should’ve seen him when he got here, Teef, he was half drowned. He swam here."

Tifa stopped, stared at the younger girl. "He did what?" Her surprise morphed swiftly into concern. That long in the ocean... She started back toward the room. "You got something warm into him, right? And he had plenty of blankets? Did he take a sho—" But Yuffie was tugging her into motion again, brushing her concerns aside with small skipping steps and brusque flicking motions of her hands.

"All taken care of, except the shower part. He looked ready to collapse, so I wasn’t gonna put him in the bath house." She jumped onto the handrail as they passed through an open section of the manor. "He’s lookin’ much better already, and he can’t have slept more than four hours, so he’s probably fine. Said he wanted to speak to Cloud straight away, though."

Tifa’s brow furrowed, and her teeth worried briefly at her lower lip. "Do you know where he was?"

Yuffie shook her head. "Something must have gone wrong." The ninja shrugged, and jumped down from the railing as they reached the rooms Godo typically dined in.

"If he hadn’t been about to fall over, he’d probably have woken you all up. He’ll get to it. Probably over breakfast." Yuffie made a face as she slid the door aside. "He’s really gotta work on his sense of timing."

Cloud was already sitting at the low table, expression pained, spikes sadly drooping. "Why doesn’t your father have coffee?" he rasped at Yuffie, and she stepped up behind him and ruffled his whole head viciously with both hands, while he squawked and groaned in protest.

"None of your poison for Wutai, foreign dog!" she said, entirely too loudly for Cloud, who ducked his head, cringing. "Here we drink the drink of true invigoration: hot leaf juice!"

Cloud groaned, and swilled his cup without enthusiasm. "You can keep it," he said. "Not enough caffeine for me."

"Well, no," Yuffie agreed, plopping down beside him and stealing his toast. "But it does smell pretty. Vincent arrived, by the way."

That distracted Cloud enough that he didn’t bother trying to get his toast back, and so Tifa started dicing bacon and mushrooms as the wok reheated and Yuffie answered Cloud’s questions as best she could. Kisaragi House’s kitchen seemed to be one place that Shinra technology had never touched: the ‘stove’ was a firepit, if firepit it could be called, being raised and set so that a pot could be set at the height of the benchtop. It wasn’t what she was used to, but the kitchen had a lived-in feel to it that was comforting, and she was quickly getting used to it – although how long they would be staying here was anyone’s guess.

Vincent entered just as she added the egg, looking far more alert than he had in Godo’s bedroom. He had traded the white sleeping robe for a plain robe, dark blue struck through with black and gold thread, and what was probably the most sober obi in Godo’s wardrobe. It was bizarre to see him without his signature cloak, especially with the claw sticking out one sleeve like a piece of armour he’d forgotten to remove, but Tifa thought the look almost suited him.

Yuffie, sitting on the floor, broke into applause; with her mouth still full of Cloud’s toast, she could do little else without spitting everywhere or choking. Vincent studiously ignored her, choosing instead to nod in greeting to Cloud, who was plainly struggling to disguise a grin of his own.

"Morning, Vincent. Yuffie says you swam here?"

Vincent nodded shortly. He did not sit down, but stood at one end of the table with his arms folded, head slightly bowed. "Not far. Chaos carried me the greater distance from the Crater, but I fear we must return there."

Tifa glanced up from scooping omelette onto a plate, and Cloud’s gaze sharpened abruptly. "The Crater? What were you doing there?"

Vincent did not answer for just long enough that his hesitation was marked, by all three of them. His voice was carefully neutral. "I had sensed something in the north, something in which the demons seemed to take great interest. This was why I could not attend... to you all," he finished, awkwardly. Tifa wondered if he was referring to Godo’s disappearance specifically, or to their reunion in Kalm as well, and her throat tightened. She set the plates on the table, in front of Yuffie and at the end near Vincent, and sat back on her knees to listen to the rest. "I reached the Crater yesterday."

Tense silence. Yuffie smacked her palm into the table, making Tifa jump. "And what, Vincent, gawd, this isn’t some kind of dramatic reading." Tifa resisted the urge to kick her under the table. But Vincent was not really paying attention to any of them; his gaze was distant, angled between his feet and the edge of the table, and his brow was furrowed as he considered. Tifa’s fists clenched slowly on the table as she watched him, and she understood some of Yuffie’s impatience: Vincent’s impressions of the world and the information he was willing to surrender to the rest of them were often worlds apart, and watching him try to knit the two together was very often an exercise in frustration.

"There was nothing visible. The area was silent, but for the wind. Yet... the demons were agitated. They grew moreso as I approached the centre of the crater." He shook his head, a minute motion of frustration and confusion. "The area was so covered in mist that I could hardly see, and when it lifted for a moment, Chaos bore me away. Toward Wutai. But for the moment that I could see the crater clearly, I am certain that I saw... crystal. Black crystal."

His red eyes flickered up, locked onto Cloud’s face.

"Like that in which Sephiroth was once encased."

Tifa opened her mouth to say, that wasn’t black, but no words came out. Cloud’s jaw had tightened, the tendons standing out in his neck, and his hands were pressed flat into the tabletop, fingers blotched from the pressure he was exerting. Yuffie was gaping, pupils like huge clouded marbles, whites visible all around the edges of her eyes.

"Black materia," she said. "You’re saying there’s a giant chunk of black materia up there."

Vincent hesitated again. He made an awkward half-shrugging motion with his shoulders.

"I cannot say for certain. However, that is what it looked like."

Cloud sat back, rubbed his hands over his face briskly.

"Right," he said, and his voice was no longer muffled with sleep. "Breakfast first. Vincent, take a look at the pagoda while you’re here, but we need to get back to that crater. Yuffie, we need a pair of chocobos."

That was enough to shake Tifa from her silence. "Three chocobos," she corrected, glaring at Cloud when he looked apt to protest. "And—"

"Like hell," Yuffie said. "Like hell I am not coming with you. Vincent, hit the pagoda and then come to the weapons shop so I can show you the photos Shuichi took." She stood, and glared down at them all. "I’ll be with the council. It might take all afternoon, but we’ll have a goddamn flotilla of chocobos by morning."

She slammed out of the door like it had done her a personal wrong, and despite the thousand other things that must have been racing through his head, Cloud looked at Tifa with a tiny smile and a little bewilderment. "She has a council, now?"

"She has grown," Vincent said, and sat down. Whether his statement was a response to Cloud’s question, or merely a vocalisation of his own interior musing, though, Tifa couldn’t say.

***

[Day 5, 1530 Midgar Standard Time]

Reeve’s doctor met them in the lobby of the long, low-slung building that was serving as the combination Science/Medical Department. There was a mechanical cat at her heels. Cait Sith should not, technically speaking, have been capable of worry, but Reeve was not a master engineer for nothing – the cat’s crown was crooked on his head, the angle of it no longer jaunty, and the way his tail twitched back and forth spoke volumes about his agitation. His ears perked up when he saw the Turks, however, and he skittered forward to greet them.

"Thought you’d never get here," he called, voice cheerfully abrasive despite his previous ill-humour. Reeve had programmed that a little too well, in Reno’s opinion. "We were startin’ t’ wonder ‘f you’d been clobbered as well. Come through, come through, he’s in a bad way."

Reno nodded to the doctor. She was maybe forty-five, with square-rimmed spectacles and pale blue eyes that gave her face a severity to match her mechanically wavy hair. It cut off just above her collar and a necklace with two round dull jewels that looked something like rubies might if they had the flu. The collar and accompanying labcoat were laboriously starched and ironed, and clean like she’d gotten dressed five minutes ago, which always tended to make Reno think these people just weren’t working hard enough. He’d never understand how they managed to stay so neat. (His own clothes were perpetually rumpled; this was how you could tell he earned his hazard pay.)

"How’s he going, doc?"

"Not well." Ayuki’s thin lips flattened further as she led them down a long corridor and into her office. "You can see for yourself, but I must ask that you not enter the room. It’s being kept at a specific temperature, and even opening the door could be a shock his system doesn’t need."

The room in question was connected to her office and personal lab – a small, sealed room with a dozen monitors and a gurney that might have belonged in a morgue as easily as a hospital. Cait Sith leapt onto a stool by the observation window, clearly placed here for this very purpose, and pressed his face and front paws against the glass like an eager child at the zoo. Almost immediately, his ears drooped. Reeve was visible through the glass, his beard no longer so well-defined with the additional growth of a day or two on his cheeks. There were tubes in him, emerging from his nose and protruding from the back of his visible hand, like the quills of a porcupine. Elena made a miserable sound next to him, but Reno scowled at the vision through the glass.

"Any word on what happened to him? Security footage?" Reno prompted, and Ayuki shook her head.

"We have one witness, his last appointment that evening, who will be reporting shortly. Whoever it was took out all the cameras in that building. Set them on an infinite loop, as I understand it." Reno grimaced. The rest of the building would’ve looked normal on a loop at that time of night, but he’d love to find out which morons were watching Reeve on a loop for all hours without realising there was a problem. Were the Turks the only ones who busted in and told him to get some goddamn sleep?
Probably. Reno made a small sound of disgust.

"I’ll go meet this witness. Ayuki, tell Elena about his condition. Wounds sustained. What’s wrong with him. If we’re lucky, it’ll give us a weapon of choice." He turned for the door, shook his head when Rude twitched one eyebrow. He didn’t need backup.
He heard a telltale jingle as the cat came skittering after. "She’ll be reportin’ t’ me," Cait said in explanation. "She’ll know you, o’ course, but y’ hardly want t’ miss each other, do y’?"

They were halfway down the hall when Cait tugged impatiently at his slacks, and Reno
hauled him onto one hip, letting him sort out his own way to the Turk’s shoulder.Once settled, Cait bent as best he could, to mutter conspiratorially, "I dinna like her. The doctor woman," he clarified. "Gives me the heebie jeebies."

"She probably likes her life a little quieter," Reno said dryly, but he agreed. He didn’t like the woman’s cold, calculating eyes. He’d been on the wrong end of guns belonging to people with eyes like that, and they did not induce comfort. "Who am I looking for?"

"Lieutenant Meltzer," the cat said. "Canna miss her. More important, where’s the rest o’ y’?"

Reno glanced at the robot’s face. "Out front. Security restrictions. Why d’you ask?"

"I dinna want to mention anythin’ t’ her," Cait explained. "But the boss set all we Sith units t’ track access t’ his system, in case o’ theft and suchlike, and Ayuki dinna mention it, but his computer was hit, too." Feline eyes gleamed yellow-green in the corner of Reno’s vision. "If y’ can get me a wee bit o’ technical assistance, I might be able t’ extract some information as t’ what they were after."

Reno reached into a pocket and flipped the cat his cell. "Let Highwind know you need him, and meet him at the boom gate. Security won’t let them through without you."

Cait chuckled. "W’nae they just love that?"

***

[Day 5, 1600 Midgar Standard Time]

Meltzer was, indeed, pretty hard to miss. If the red uniform in a lobby full of suits wasn’t enough, the hair – a cavity-inducing pink – was a dead give-away, and if that wasn’t enough, she was tall enough that she’d spotted him the second he walked in the door. Her walk was brisk and businesslike, and when she saluted, angled and timed to perfection, Reno turned a chuckle into a cough.

"That hair regulation, too, Meltzer?" he asked. Aside from the colour, it was longer than most soldiers’, finishing up around her shoulder blades. The front wings were braided with some kind of leather, providing a bright frame for a coffee coloured face. Her eyes were pink, too. Reno hoped to hell they were contacts; he didn’t want to think what her parents had been drinking if they weren’t.

"Not sure you’re one to be talking about regulations, sir," she said smartly, contralto with the slightest hint of a rasp, completely devoid of humour in a way that told him she’d been innocently taking the piss out of instructors for years. Reno grinned, straightened his jacket with an overdramatic flourish, adjusted his goggles, and indicated she should walk with him.

"My regulations depend on the job at hand," he said as she fell into step beside him. Reno, automatically measuring her against his partner’s height, came to the conclusion that in comparison to Rude, she was still pretty damn tall. "President Tuesti’s had you out on assist and defend, am I right?"

"That’s right, sir. A and D in Sector Three, clearing the area and setting up housing blocks." She stepped behind him as he flashed ID at a pair of guards in the hall of offices dedicated to administration. "And if we’re not going to get down to business, sir, I’d rather get back to my squad."

Reno spun on his heel, fast enough that her step faltered cautiously, but he continued moving – backward – down the corridor. "Work with me, Meltzer, I don’t like to dive right in," he said, all good-natured appeal, and her expression quickly morphed into one of skepticism.

"Forgive my haste, sir," she said, disapproval plain. "We lost two presidents last year, and I was counting on keeping this one for a while. If you’re not ready to dive in just yet, then I’d rather be dismissed so I can get some work done."
That had been what he was waiting for. Reno grinned, slowed, and turned just in time to set his hand on the door to Reeve’s office. "Well, you were his last appointment," he said. "So why don’t you tell me how that went, while I take a look at this office." He opened the door, and stopped. Meltzer’s voice from behind him was wry.

"I’ll tell you all you want, but first let me tell you how the office was this morning, before Ayuki had it tidied."

***

"So in layman’s terms, it’s shock." Elena furrowed her brow and looked very puzzled and sincere, and very pointedly did not look like she was seething. "And you think whoever attacked him used some kind of materia?"

"He’s exhibiting all the signs typically associated with heavy Ice damage," Ayuki repeated, not quite impatiently. "We’re raising his body temperature half a degree at a time."

"Oh!" Elena said, with all the excitement she could muster. "Like for frostbite?" Ayuki nodded, seemingly relieved, and glanced at her watch.

"I’ll have to leave you with those, I’m afraid," she said, gesturing to the photocopied notes on Elena’s lap, and her expression softened, though her eyes did not. "Time to move some of his tubes around."

Elena jumped to her feet, lost the papers, made a small sound of distress and embarrassment, and crouched to start scooping them together. "We’ll get out of your way," she said when she’d mashed them into some kind of order. A glance over her shoulder at Rude’s deadpan expression told her she was doing a fantastic job. "And let Reno know the details. Call us if anything changes, won’t you?" That hint of concern in her voice, at least, was sincere; Reeve was one of the few men in her life who appreciated her talent with a keyboard, and she kind of wanted to keep it that way.

She stepped left when she left the ward, laughed high, false laughter when Rude emerged and said, "Elena..." as though she were going crazy, and as soon as she was sure they were out of Ayuki’s sight and hearing, she stuffed the ‘medical report’ in the nearest trash can. Rude’s silence trailed along behind her, patient and mildly curious, and she turned around to face him with her teeth clenched, the muscles in her neck knotted with rage.

"Bullshit," she said. "One hundred per cent bullshit, from the opening diagnosis. They’d already be up to at least fifteen degrees in that room if he was rigged up by eleven, and did you touch the glass in there? It was freezing." She stormed a few steps away from him, and then back again, frustrated and with nothing to punch. "What, is she trying to keep him in stasis?"

Rude was silent, but it was a comiserative silence, and a silence that didn’t buy into the dumb blond act she’d been putting on for the doctor. The fury drained on out of her and left her wanting a coffee and a good long nap. "I know." She shouldn’t let it get to her. Rude started walking, and she followed, checking her pager; the low priority message that had vibrated at her hip halfway through Ayuki’s explanation still marqueed across the screen.

BOSS MAN’S OFFICE.

She hoped Reno was having more luck than they were.

***

"Apparently she assumed we had security footage," Meltzer explained. "Security was pretty light at the time. Our more experienced squads were working the festival, so they’ve had days in lieu." She looked disgruntled. "It was my fault. I left the rookies with Ayuki while I went to check security, and by the time I called back to say the cameras had been tampered with..." Lana shook her head and fell silent, jaw clenched. Reno took up the slack.

"The computer was hit. So were the bookshelves, his filing cabinet, and both the safes," he said, and Elena crossed immediately to the desk, hands rising to Reeve’s computer. "It won’t turn on."

Elena grunted a little as she forced her nails, and then her fingertips under the plastic cover, and the entire front came away with a snap. She knelt, dark eyes intent on the innards, and after a second she made a soft sound that might have been amusement or derision. "That would be because the hard drive’s missing," she said, pushing herself back to her feet. "So they were after information that only the president has."

"And if they got into that safe, there’s a high chance they or their source is inside the organisation," Reno continued. Rude shifted slightly, just enough to call Reno’s attention to him, and Reno shrugged. "The cat’s checking on system access. If they got anything off the server, we might have an idea of what they’re looking for and why they want the president."

Elena nodded absently. "Security is better than it used to be," she mused. "I don’t think there’s a way to break into that system without him. He developed most of it himself, and it’s not like it was. If you wanted to know..." She trailed off, eyes far away, flickering wildly for a few seconds, and then she slammed both her hands into the desk. "That’s it!"

"What’s it?" Reno demanded, bewildered, and as Elena opened her mouth, another voice spoke over the top of them both.

"Yes, dear," said Ayuki. "Do tell."




Chapter Five: The Imbued

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June 2013

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