cheloya: (FF7 >> i can't sleep)
[personal profile] cheloya
Title: Faith and Feather
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: Yuffie/Vincent
Words: 2662
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 Eight




Chapter Nine: The Summoning



[Day 8, 0000 Nibel Standard Time]

Elena woke to a long eerie creak as her door opened, and rolled over when she heard Rude shuffling quietly into the room. "Already?" she asked, and then, squinting, "Not Reno?"

Rude shook his head. He sat down on the other bed and began to unlace his shoes. Elena huffed and tossed back the covers, reaching first for the handgun stashed under the nightstand, and then for the watch sitting on top of it. Five in the morning. She used to go to bed at this hour.

Cait Sith hadn't moved except for the eerie flickering of his eyelids. Cables coiled around him like the thin, battered tendrils of an ancient jellyfish. Text raced over the monitors she had hooked up to him; not as fancy as the traditional graphical progress bar, but a hell of a lot faster.

She stretched, yawned deeply, and ended with a squeak and a pop of her jaw. Yeesh, she was getting old. And these beds weren't helping her spine any.

She tugged her singlet back down her stomach and grabbed the blouse she'd dropped over the back of her chair. Her hair was still stuck in the collar of her shirt when grabbed her jacket, and she was halfway down the hall before she realised she'd missed a buttonhole somewhere along the line and the blouse's sides were misaligned.

She hung a right and headed down the stairs. Coffee first.

She saluted Barret with a steaming mug as she passed him, wedged in the window seat and thumping his good hand against the sill in a rhythm only he recognised. She went down the staircase wishing she'd put her jacket on, wishing there were travel mugs so she didn't have to worry about monster mould falling into her coffee on the way down to the lab, and above all wishing she'd remember to bring a comb down there already so she didn't spend the whole time certain there were webs and lice and spiders in her hair.

Reno was on his stomach on the floor, jacket balled up to support his chin as he leafed listlessly through an improbably large, mouldering reference book. He kicked his legs vaguely as she joined him onto the floor, next to the binder Rude had pulled down on its side to mark his place. She pulled it out, sat her coffee on the shelf in front of the space it had occupied, and ran a hand through her hair, wincing at the tangles.

"Nothing useful?"

"Not a lot. This might have something, though. Lots of notes in the margins."

Elena snorted. "Good luck. If it's Hojo's, you'll need to run it through the database to get a translation. You'd think he was a doctor, with that handwriting." She took a sip of her coffee, then a gulp when she discovered it was a good temperature.

Reno's eyes followed the mug when she put it back.

"No," she said. "I found it. Go make your own."

"Gimme a break, Laney, I've been down here all night."

"Not my fault," Elena grumbled, flipping past a page of chemical equations and making a face at a ziplock bag of faded photographs depicting the effects of the chemicals on a previously human subject. "Ugh. I don't know how you can stay down here longer than your shift, anyway."

"Couldn't sleep." Reno rolled onto his side and reached past her to grab her mug. She didn't move to stop him. "Strife didn't say much when he called, but the alternative to them finding something is that Valentine's cracked, and I don't like that any better."

"Thanks for sharing," Elena said after a moment. Now she wouldn't be able to sleep, either. She'd never met a Turk who'd gone off the deep end, but recruits - and trainers - told stories, and none of them were pretty.

Mind you, there weren't many stories that were pretty in the glory days of Shinra, Inc. Not if you really sat and looked at them.

"Fuck, I hate this place," Reno muttered, echoing her thoughts. She held out her fist for him to bump, and settled in to read the rest of her binder. Judging from the sludge left in the bottom of her mug, it was going to be a long day.

***

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

It was much colder near the water. Their breath emerged in frail white clouds, and every step made the grating crack alarmingly beneath them. Reeve sincerely hoped it was only the frost, and walked on top of the support girders just in case.

Their first port of call was an abandoned forklift. Only a retractable knife and a smallish wrench on the dashboard, but if its driver had been anything like Reeve... ah. He wriggled his arm back out from under the seat and grinned at a crowbar. Perfect. The crates would be loud, but they'd also be brittle. It wouldn't take long to crack one open. If he chose his crates carefully, they'd be back inside with supplies before anyone had time to investigate.

Of course, if the first two or three were useless, they couldn't count on having time to open any more. He eyed the rest of the space, scratching at his slowly-accruing beard. This couldn't be much of a stockpile for food. Probably the best they could hope for was impromptu weaponry, blankets and tarps.

"See anything?" he whispered to Feather. She shook her head. "Right. I'm going to walk around and see if I can find anything useful. I'm probably going to make some noise, so I need you to keep watch, okay?"

She nodded, glum and nervous. He dug in his pocket for the knife, and handed it and the wrench over to her.

"The knife isn't much good, but you should be able to at least club someone with this," he told her grimly. "Give me a yell if anything's wrong, and head for one of the doors. I'll find you."

"Okay," she said. Weary and lost as she was, she mustered a smile. "Reeve."

"That's the way," he said, reaching out to ruffle her hair. "See you in a minute."

He walked carefully across the grating, wary of the way his shoes slid on the frosted metal. Most of the crates had no distinguishing marks, other than the occasional stencil of a cracked glass and an arrow. Unlikely that he wanted any of those. He tried one with no visible markings first.

The sharp crack of wood made him glance around sharply. Feather's messy hair was only just visible over the top of her crates, but she didn't look more than usually afraid. He took a deep breath, and continued prising the crate open.

The first crate contained little more than hospital green felt, neatly folded and tightly packed. He took out four folded blankets, replaced the lid, and crunched back across the grating to leave three of them with Feather. The other, he unfolded and quickly refolded into a makeshift sack.

"Once more," he said to Feather quietly. "If you have to run, take just one of those with you. All right? Put it around you now. It'll keep you warm." And in the wan light of the docking bay, you'll blend in better, he thought privately.

The crates near the submarine bay had large black 'R's stencilled on their sides. He prised the first one open and frowned at the foil packets inside for a moment. Then he squinted at the dot-matrix letters on the sealed edges. 'P' and a string of numbers, 'E' and another string... package and expiry dates? He wrinkled his nose. They were older than he was.

He grabbed a dozen, just in case, and resettled the makeshift sack on his shoulder. Figuring 'R' stood for 'rations', he stepped back from the dock, heaving out a sigh that clouded the air around him for four or five seconds. He flexed his fingers warily, shoved his free hand into his pocket and glanced up at the square of sky he could see beyond the catwalks. It wasn't getting dark. But it was getting colder... one more crate, then, and then back to the first for more sheets. But which?

The crates in the centre of the floor all looked alike. He doubted anything in the fragile crates would be useful to him, and the food was probably a lost cause, even in this temperature. But there was a line of crates along the far wall, underneath a platform and loosely covered by a tarpaulin. Tech, requiring protection from the elements, or perishables? He decided to take the chance.

His breath seemed to cling to his face as he approached the wall. He glanced back toward Feather and stared for a moment at the cloud of vapour that had gathered around her. He cocked his head at her, but her eyes dropped closed, a frown on her face.

One crate, then back indoors before they both froze to death.

He wedged the crowbar, prised the top open, and had to wave his hand before his face to see through the vapour of his breath. He froze and stared as tiny ice crystals pattered down the back of his hand. What in the Planet's name--

CLANG.

He whipped around, took a step forward before he remembered to grab the crowbar. Feather had disappeared from her crate. He could hear her footsteps on the grating - hers, and someone else's.

"Come out, come out, Mr President..."

Reeve's jaw clenched. Ayuki.

Feather came pelting around the corner, knife blade extended and held close to her left leg. She caught onto him as she ran and together they slipped and skidded across the icy grating.

"How far do you think you'll get?"

Reeve's brow creased. Hard to tell where it was coming from. He grabbed at Feather's arm, slowing behind a stack of crates near the wall. Feather struggled, silently, but so fiercely that he could not hold her. He held a finger to his lips. Slowly, she stilled.

"I know her," he said. "I want some answers."

Feather looked no less drawn, no less afraid, but there was a spark of determination in her face nonetheless. She nodded, and crouched down to catch her breath.

"Do you think you're hiding, Mr President?" A laugh in the voice this time. Reeve wet his lips, and resettled his grip on the crowbar.

"Ayuki," he called, directing his voice at the wall so it would rebound, confuse her. "What do you want?"

She laughed. "Ah, Mr President. You like to think you know your staff. How little you knew of our intentions."

"If I'd known, I wouldn't be here, Ayuki." Reeve said, frankly. "What do you gain from this?"

"It's not what I gain, Mr President, but what I have already gained." Her voice was coming closer now. He crouched down carefully, barely touched the tips of his fingers to the grating. "It's what you owe," she crowed, and he felt the vibration in the metal. She was getting closer.

He glanced up at Feather, who had her eyes closed, as if she were listening. He peered around the corner, the way they had come. Footprints in the frost. Damn, damn, damn.

"I owe plenty, Ayuki," he called. "But not to you."

"Such arrogance," Ayuki snapped. Her voice seemed to come from everywhere. "There is nothing your kind does not owe!" There was a chill wind, a crash, and a sound like the world was breaking apart.

Frozen shards of crate cascaded around them, slicing at Feather's bare arms and rattling through the grating and shattering further on the frozen water below.

Reeve sucked in his breath. Ice magic.

"Stay down," he muttered to Feather. "I'm going to do something stupid."

He raised his voice so that Ayuki could hear. "I'm coming out." He raised his hands, including the crowbar, and edged slowly to his feet. "I'm as out of the way as I can get, and you don't want me dead just yet," he added as he turned. "I was only looking for blankets. Food. It's a little cold up the--"

He nearly lost his grip on the crowbar.

Ayuki had no weapon, but a materia amulet glimmered scarlet at her neck. Her hands were encrusted with ice, and she was surrounded by a cloud of ice crystals that echoed a form much larger than hers - long limbs, commanding posture.

"... Shiva."

The mist stretched and arched like a cat. Ayuki laughed, but the voice was not entirely hers. The ice around her hands cracked as she flexed her fingers. Frost gusted from her mouth as she spoke.

"And your friend, Mr President. No more than an experiment with undesired results, but an important specimen all the same."

Reeve heard Feather begin to rock and mutter, and rested a hand on her head. "If she's so important, why leave her to wander? Why aren't you taking better care of her?"

"She looks so frail, doesn't she? But she looks after herself better than you do, Mr President." Ayuki's snarl became a smirk. "She had enough sense to stay away."

Feather was curled forward around her knees. Reeve knelt down beside her, wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and finally heard what she was muttering.

"She's angry," Feather whispered. "So angry."

"It's going to be all right." The air seemed to tighten around them, pulling at skin and clothing with chill electricity.

"Stand up," Ayuki ordered. "Both of you."

"She thought she had escaped..."

"What? Who?" Reeve shook his head, called to Ayuki. "She's confused. Just give me a minute."

"Confused? How terrible." Ayuki's eyes flashed, her fingers flexed. "Let me help!"

Reeve dropped the crowbar, grabbed Feather and threw them both out of the way as ice engulfed the remnants of the crates they had been hiding behind. The crowbar was swallowed by the miniature glacier.

Feather still had both hands wrapped tight around the knife, muttering frantically. "Just go to sleep, just go back to sleep..."

"Shut her up," Ayuki snapped. She raised her hands again, but the ice on her fingers crumbled, fell through the grating to clatter against the frozen surface of the ocean.

"Go back to sleep," Feather sobbed. The mist around Ayuki roiled, lost form momentarily. Reeve glanced between the two women, one snarling, one shrinking away, and made a decision.

He grabbed Feather by the shoulder, hauled her to her feet. "I don't know what you're doing, but it's working," he hissed. "Keep it up!" He spun the girl to face Ayuki, who reached and clawed; the iceberg beneath her had risen to engulf her legs to the knee.

"Sleep," Feather insisted.

"I will never sleep again!" Ayuki snarled. The mist rippled around her, became almost solid. Shiva threw her arms forward, mouth open in a silent battle cry--

--Feather crossed her forearms in front of her face, flung the knife--

--and with a sound like the entire building was tearing itself apart, the ice around Ayuki splintered, shattered, dissolved. Feather and Ayuki dropped to the grating like their strings had been cut.

He couldn't shake Feather awake, so he wrapped her in a blanket and went to check Ayuki. She was breathing, albeit shallowly. He checked her belt and came up with the oldest PHS he had ever seen. No purse. No keycards. No materia, except in the torque around her neck.

The flat torque.

He unclipped it, flipped it over in his hands just to be certain. Dull red, like old blood, and sheared neatly in half to be set into the bronze. All the same, he'd bet Midgar it was Shiva.

He tossed a blanket over Ayuki, and slipped the torque into his pocket. With any luck, she wouldn't be able to summon without it.

With any luck, he and Yuffie could work out how she summoned with cracked materia.




Chapter Ten: Smoke

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June 2013

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