cheloya: (FF7 >> general joy)
[personal profile] cheloya
Title: Faith and Feather
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: Yuffie/Vincent
Words: 2840
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 Seven




Chapter Eight: Awakenings, Part III



[Day ?, ???? ??????????]

The doorknob caught his eye long before he realised what it was; a focused glimmer in an otherwise uniformly-lit corridor. The stairwell was dark and hungry by comparison, but Reeve's blood surged with pleasure and relief at the sight of the plain concrete steps.

"Fire regulations." He grinned back at Feather. "I knew there had to be stairs somewhere."

Feather's expression indicated that she was waiting for something to reach out from the darkness and eat them both, and now that he thought about it, he could hear a faint slithering sound...

He turned back toward the staircase, wedged the door with his hip, and held invisible binoculars to his eyes, trying to coax his burned retina to lose the afterimage of the hallway.

His shadow sprawled almost to the next landing, but there was no other movement in the darkness. The sound was persistent, though - a low hiss that verged on a rumble. Reeve inhaled deeply through his nose, suspecting a gas vent, but what caught his attention was more... saline.

He suppressed a grin.

"Hear that?"

Feather walked forward to stand beside him, the sound of her boots a crisp ricochet from one wall to another. She cocked her head to one side. "Shhhhh," she echoed obediently.

"Right." Reeve tested the doorknob, both sides, and beckoned her nearer. "Hold the door. I'm going to check something. I won't be long."

Feather's eyes were wide, but she did as he asked. It took her whole body braced in the doorway to keep the thing from closing.

Nine steps down, he nearly broke his ankle on the landing. Two flights down, and the door may as well have been closed. He could see his hand in front of his face, but barely, and the way the rail was gathering grime as he went, he was almost glad.

The further he went, the colder the rail became, until his fingers were numbed and frost had formed in his moustache. The sound of waves was soft; the thin layer of water on the next step was a nasty surprise, and the combination of freezing water to the knee and landing painfully on the stairs when he slipped was even nastier.

For a moment, he was dazed. Then he yelped and scrambled backward, already feeling the spires of cold writhing into the flesh of his leg. He lay there for a few moments, cursing under his breath and rubbing at the sopping fabric before he noticed Feather's voice, her footsteps.

"I'm all right!" he assured her, and winced as the sound circled around them. "I fell. Be careful. There's water down here." Only five steps down, too. "The staircase is flooded."

The staircase threw her footsteps so that his first sign of her was the tickle of the feather by his ear. "Hey! Careful. I'm here. The water's just below me."

"Hurt?" Feather asked. Reeve smiled despite himself.

"Don't think so. Just a little colder than I was five minutes ago."

Her hand was on his arm, so he felt it when the shudder ran through her; her nails were sharp, even through his shirt. The feather brushed his hand when it left her grip. He groped after it, but whichever way it went, he couldn't see.

"What is it?" he whispered, already preparing to move, but her grip lightened again almost immediately.

"They're all awake," she said, dazed. "All of them. Can you hear?"

"Hear what?"

Feather stood, her namesake forgotten. He heard her moving up the stairs.

"Feather?" He stood and groped after the handrail. "Hear what?"

She didn't answer. But as they climbed higher - three floors, four, seven - he started to hear it, too. It resonated in the handrail, and dimly through the concrete walls.

An airship.

***

[Day 7, 1410 Central Standard Time]

Vincent was the first to react, a blur that cast a brilliant scarlet silhouette when he stepped between Yuffie and the crystal. He wrapped his human arm about Aeris' waist and hauled her backward, but the magic was done.

"Retreat!" Cloud barked, one arm up to shield his eyes even with those dopey sunglasses, and he didn't have to tell Yuffie twice. She dashed a few dozen feet, two fingers to the Barrier materia on her armlet the whole way, and then spun, Conformer whirling between her fingers, ready to deflect an attack.

None came.

The crystal spires shone bright with the lifestream even as they toppled and shattered, one by one. Tifa made some small noise of horror as the center of the crystal dissolved into darkly shining grit that whirled away on the winds of the crater, leaving the crystal's occupant dusty and pale amid the remnants.

Aeris did not struggle against Vincent, which was probably the only reason he let her go to take aim at Sephiroth's body.

"Why?" His voice was flat, tightly controlled. There was an undertone to it that lifted the hair on Yuffie's neck into a Cloud impression.

Aeris looked at Cloud, then back to Vincent, her eyes empty with exhaustion. "The Planet isn't finished with us yet," she said finally. "I don't know how, or why, but I need to get him out of the crater."

Cloud gave her a long look.

Yuffie nearly groaned. Anyone could have told him two years of being the king of the grumps was no match for Aeris' eyes. Vincent couldn't do it, and how long had he been grumping around?

Finally, Cloud ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "... we have a camp blanket. We should be able to wrap him, and carry him in it." He glanced at Tifa, then at Vincent, waiting.

"I sense no immediate danger," said the gunman. "But I dislike this."

Yuffie threw her hand in the air. "Ditto."

Aeris turned her sorrowful green eyes on them, which in Yuffie's books was totally cheating. Vincent looked at his shoes.

"You don't understand. There's something left to do. The Planet..." Creases appeared at the corners of her eyes as she tried to find the words. "Everything filters through the Planet. The storm over Wutai," she nodded to Yuffie's sudden attention. "Everything. He's important. I just don't know why."

She started back toward the broken nest of crystal, picking her way carefully across the rocks until she could scuff through the materia dust. Vincent followed with the Death Penalty drawn, Yuffie with her fingers splayed across as much materia as she could touch.

"The Planet couldn't take him in, but she could be near him, here." Aeris murmured, kneeling by the body. "She wouldn't want me to keep him close, unless he could help us."

Tifa gnawed at her lip. She looked at Cloud. "If we don't get a blanket around him soon, we might not have to make a decision."

Cloud shook his head. "You're right. Do it."

Yuffie waited as Tifa spread the blanket out beside Sephiroth. Cloud moved to his feet, and Vincent to his shoulders, and they lifted his spare frame easily between them.

The rolling was slightly less dignified. And probably tighter than it needed to be, but that was Cloud for you. Ever paranoid.

When they had a Sephiroth caterpillar between them, and Yuffie had stopped holding her breath to keep in the laughter and made herself lightheaded for her trouble, she touched Aeris on the arm and tried not to flinch at the cold.

"Geez, you are an icicle, lady. What gives?"

Aeris was tired, but her smile was warmer than hot rice wine in the middle of winter. "There's no winter in the Promised Land."

"That just means no snowball fights," Yuffie shot back, just to see the smile again. After a few minutes of watching the Sephiroth scroll wobbling between Vincent and Cloud, she said, "When you say he can help us..."

"The storms," Aeris said. "They're strange, aren't they?"

"They are out of season like pineapple in Bone Village," Yuffie agreed. She paused. "Was that meant to be an answer?"

"Something is affecting the weather. Something... not human." She paused a moment to look back the way they'd come, breath clouding around her in a way Yuffie had not realised was reassuring until now. "I think he can tell us what it is."

"What makes you think he'll feel like talking?"

Aeris smiled, tweaked Yuffie's nose, hitched her skirt, and laboured onward after Cloud.

Yuffie stopped being reassured.

***

[Day 7, 1530 Central Standard Time]

Shera's fingers turned white on the hand rail when she saw just what she was meant to be winching on board the Sierra, but she'd always been a practical woman. Four members of AVALANCHE was more than enough, even if her husband was elsewhere.

Besides, at the moment, the General didn't look like he could so much as breathe heavily, let alone wield a longsword.

"I don't want him on board this ship any longer than you do," Cloud told her as she nudged Sierra out over the tundra. "Drop us east of Rocket Town - we'll ride from there."

"Why would I do that?" Shera asked, for once with all the bluntness of a true engineer. "The last thing you want is for someone to catch sight of him. Especially coming into Nibelheim."

Cloud raked a hand through his hair, frustration beginning to show through his weariness. "The last thing I want is to put you in danger. Cid's already going to kill me for getting you to take Sierra out without him."

"He'll get over it," Shera said, and gave Cloud a sideways smile. "You want to keep him contained - where better than miles above the ground? The wind's tricky around Mt Nibel, especially with these storms, but Sierra's clever enough to manage it." She patted the console, feeling the hum of the engines from her fingertips to the soles of her feet.

Cloud pinched the bridge of his nose and then rubbed at his eyes fitfully.

"The closer you can get us, the better," he said at last. "The last thing we need is for anyone to see him. Or Aeris. She's safe enough out here, but if word got back to Kalm... that church is a monument, now, or close enough."

"What about Elmyra?" Shera asked, softly.

Cloud shook his head. "I don't know."

***

[Day 7, 2000 Nibel Standard Time]

Reno dropped a binder on his foot when his PHS started off. He was still swearing under his breath when he picked it up and got a loud hiss of static in place of a greeting. "Strife? That you?"

"..eno. Ch... g in. We found it, b--" Several long seconds of static, in which Reno blocked his other ear and screwed up his face in concentration. "...like it."

"Can't hear a damn thing, Strife, let me get outta this cellar." He hit the lab door backward and slid out into the spooky as shit corridor that led to the staircase. Weirdly, the reception was slightly better out here.

"All... here, on...y back now." Cloud's voice became a few tones sharper. "Who's going... ate?"

"The gate?" Reno hazarded. "Laney's up on the second floor with the cat and a rifle."

"G... ough. Tell... et us thr--"

Three sharp beeps and the line disconnected abruptly. Reno glared at the sad little signal and battery displays in the darkness and shoved the thing back in his jacket pocket. "Fucking piece of Junon shit. Why the hell do we bother with that crap?"

He slammed through the lab door. Rude looked up and raised his eyebrows.

"Strife's on his way. Couldn't hardly hear a goddamn thing, but he sounded cool as ever."

Rude's eyebrows remained raised, but he turned back to his binder. Reno stalked back to his chair and threw himself into it. It squeaked in protest as he tilted it backward to rest his heels on the shelving.

"Can't stand waiting around to hear shit," he muttered, leafing through pages to find a diagram he'd been trying to decipher.

Rude said nothing. Reno threw his pencil at him for cheek.

***

[Day ?, ???? ???????]

By the time they reached the top of the stairs, Reeve could no longer hear the airship for the pounding of blood in his ears. His lungs burned, every breath stinging its way in and steaming its way out. He collapsed against a wall as soon as they left the staircase.

Feather crouched beside him, staring fixedly down the corridor to their right. "Which way?" Reeve asked. He slid down the wall, blowing on his fingers.

Feather's eyes fixed on his for a moment, but she didn't respond. She stared the corridor down as if it might grow teeth and bite. Reeve sighed. His breath drifted past her, not vanishing for four or five feet. The temperature was still dropping, and the slight breeze clawed at every patch of exposed skin.

He was cold enough that, for a few seconds, all he did about the breeze was hunch his shoulders and tuck his hands into his armpits.

Then he blinked.

Plucked her namesake from Feather's hand, held it in front of him, and dropped it. It drifted back toward her feet and skittered down the corridor away from them.

Reeve let out a laugh that was little more than a hoarse bark and staggered upright. Feather's owl-eyed expression only made him grin harder. "Grab that feather and follow me! That breeze is our way out."

They dropped the feather at every junction, following the source of the breeze until they reached what Reeve had come to think of as the building's core: a solid wall that made a rough square in the center of every floor they had visited. A quadrangle had been his initial thought, but if that were true then either the building was largely underground or the quad was drowned in salt water like the lower floors.

He didn't need the feather to follow the breeze now; he could feel the wind's teeth graze his throat. He followed the wall to the right, turned left to continue following it around the core, and--

--nearly swallowed his tongue. He reversed abruptly, put a finger to his lips for Feather's benefit and tried to think. He hadn't seen movement. What he had seen was... darkness. So. He peered back around the corner.

The corridor was not white.

Nor was it in shadow. What had looked like darkness was the white of the corridor changing to the cross-hatched patterns of plate metal.

Filthy, salt-encrusted plate metal.

"Might be our way out," he murmured to Feather. "Follow me. If you see anything, keep quiet - just squeeze my hand." She nodded, but the fear in her eyes was palpable, and her grip was so tight already that he wasn't sure he'd be able to tell the difference.

The plate metal belonged to a decrepit store room, empty but for a few scattered archive boxes. Reeve's shoes crunched over a congealed dark green substance and the remnants of the jar that had once contained it. Whoever this complex belonged to, they had cleared out in a hurry.

Feather tugged at his hand. Reeve looked left, and out into... nothingness.

The source of their breeze was a set of doors wedged open with crates that were more ice than anything else. Beyond them, a broad catwalk led to a platform of rusted grating, frost-coated scaffolding and the most worrying set of stairs Reeve had seen since Sector 7 had been obliterated. Warily, he approached the doors and peered out into the quadrangle.

A hundred feet below the platform, the ocean heaved, teased into choppiness by the wind trapped in the centre of the building. Perhaps ten or fifteen feet above that, about half the quad had a floor of grating and plate metal. There were more crates down there, some as old as the icy lumps holding the door, and some considerably newer, still covered in tarpaulins.

The scaffolding beside them was part of a service elevator. Reeve stared at the base of the shaft, only a few feet above the water, until he realised what they were looking at.

"It's a docking bay," he muttered to Feather. "For a sub. Or at least, it used to be." He frowned. "But I could have sworn... ah. There." He shaded his eyes and pointed up.

The quad was surrounded on all sides by twelve or thirteen storeys' worth of building, but as the building's roof came closer there were more metal platforms, and larger structures projecting from each wall - enough to secure and protect an airship of middling size.

"We must have missed it," Reeve muttered. "Nice to know we're not alone, though. Probably."

The wind picked up, cutting right through his thin shirt. Feather shrank closer to his side and he winced at the cold leather of her dress against his ribcage.

Reeve looked at the staircase, and then at the newer stacks of crates.

"Has to be something useful down there. Let's go."




Chapter Nine: The Summoning

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June 2013

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