cheloya: (FF7 >> save the planet)
[personal profile] cheloya
Title: Faith and Feather
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: Yuffie/Vincent
Words: 4061
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 Ten




Chapter Eleven: Fetch



[Day 9, 0233 Nibel Standard Time]

Reno was still staring at the ceiling when Cait's generator spun up, and the sudden yellow witchlight made him jump. No chittering or sudden movement, and the eyes were dim -- just a small number of subsystems online, Reno surmised, and frowned.

He waited for a few minutes to see if any other movement would be forthcoming, but Cait seemed content to flicker at the edge of Reno's vision and make sleep even more difficult. Reno huffed, rolled over, and mashed the other side of his face into his pillow.

One more day of this and he'd start taking Kisaragi up on her suggestion of herbal tea. He felt like there was double-sided tape between his eyeballs and his eyelids.

He had so many covers over his head that he almost didn't notice the low grind of his GPS. It lasted a second, maybe two, and then lay still. He squinted at it, waiting for the ring to kick in, but nothing happened.

He wondered if he had managed to fall asleep, and was just dreaming about being woken up by this shit. The GPS display was no help, spitting up a low signal error -- no shit, Reno thought; welcome to Nibelheim -- and no clue of a call, missed or otherwise. He put it down, closed his eyes, and forced himself to relax, to ignore the rhythmic flare of Cait's eyes, Wallace's fuckin' snoring, the wind howling through the town on its way down off the mountains, the creaks and groans of a house destined to be haunted--

Cait whirred suddenly to full alert with a burst of carnival music and a spatter of whirling lights that nearly gave him heart failure. He rolled, nearly fell off the tiny little bed in his fury, and hissed, "What the fuck--" before he noticed the other sound: Cait's printer. The Moogle's had been in his mouth; the new Sith units contrived to pull messages from their sleeves, so a thin strip of paper was spooling from Cait's right paw, lit to neon yellow by his glowing eyes.

"He's at the servers," Cait muttered. "Hurry now, lad. Wake Cloud."

Reno craned forward to see, and his mouth went dry.

"Elena," he snapped, and the girl was instantly upright, though not entirely alert. Meltzer had jerked awake behind her. "Strife and Highwind, right now." His tone was enough; neither asked questions or paused to don an over-shirt.

***

Reno had a paper streamer as long as he was tall by the time Strife and Highwind got to the kitchen, Elena following behind with her bare arms wrapped around her middle. Sephiroth, Rude and Valentine had been at the far end of the table, reading, playing Solitaire, and maintaining weaponry respectively, but now the attention of all three was focused on the head of the table and the animatronic cat perched there.

"Signal's too weak, he couldna get sound through, but he's managed bytecode," Cait reported as soon as Cloud was in earshot. "He's nowt harmed, but nowt safe either. Says there's some kinda ice magic at play, powerful ice magic."

"More importantly, as long as the connection's up, we have coordinates," Reno interrupted. "I'll need a lift from Highwind to Junon--"

"He's in Junon?" Elena asked, sounding bewildered. "We have people all over Junon, there's no way--"

"--because we need a sub to get into this place, let me finish a fuckin' sentence, Elena."

Strife glanced to Highwind. "How long do you need?"

The pilot blinked a few times. "'f I get tea and the wind's right for Sierra, twenty minutes."

"Practically solid with two sugars, right?" Elena was already moving, leaving Lana in the doorjamb.

"Junon's subs are the old Gammas," she said. "Any of you trained?"

"You just volunteered yourself, Meltzer." Reno jerked a thumb upward. "Go find a shirt and start thinking about who in Junon'll have cold weather gear on short notice." She nodded, and vanished.

Cloud glanced at Rude. "Guess I'll take your shift. I'd send a few more along, but..."

"Reckon the cat's about all we can stand," Reno agreed. With the hell he was going to give Reeve's kidnappers, babysitting the General was gonna be a fuckin' cakewalk.

***

[Day 9, 0700 Nibel Standard Time]

"I find it difficult to believe that President Shinra has been taken hostage and I am to have no part in his recovery," Sephiroth sniped over his hand.

"Not President Shinra, the President of Shinra," Yuffie responded, exasperation plain. Her hand threatened to escape her fingers, bloated with a recent acquisition of the discard pile.

Vincent laid four Queens neatly to his right, and discarded a four of clubs. "Deathblow. When your memory returns, you will understand." Yuffie gaped.

"How are you out of cards already?"

He shrugged. "Turk."

"Some limited information about the world's current state would not completely shatter my delicate mind, I hope," Sephiroth continued pointedly. When neither AVALANCHE member appeared to have any intention of enlightening him, he leaned back in his chair and scowled at the ceiling as though it had done him a personal wrong. "If I cannot have a moment's peace and I cannot have information, then--"

"Any lunch goin'?" Barret's expression froze as he caught sight of Sephiroth. Yuffie jumped up from her seat, shedding cards left and right. Behind her, Sephiroth narrowed his eyes at the mess and began to sweep them into order.

"I think Aeris went to find the bakery, but there's still cereal and a bit of last night's chicken..."

"You takin' over inventory, brat, or you been takin' advantage of proximity?" Barret tousled her hair and glanced back at the table. Stiffly, he added, "Anyone else? Cawfee?"

Vincent shook his head minutely. Sephiroth squared the cards on the tabletop and made an almost identical motion.

"Uncanny, isn't it," Yuffie stage-whispered. Barret didn't respond, so she trailed him into the kitchen. "Is it still creepy and gross down there?"

"I'll say it is," Barret muttered, "and havin' that kid up here with his snake eyes ain't helpin' none."

"He's actually been pretty cool." Yuffie swung herself lightly up onto the bench, legs dangling. "I think he's letting me win at cards, though."

"Y'ain't bothered?"

"By hanging around with two men who're prettier than me? Naw. I have the best boobs," she confided. Barret, groping for remnants of Tifa's fried chicken, snorted. "Hey, hey, people have to eat that, and Vincent's not civilised enough for cello-wrap. Are there wings left? I love wings."

"We all know you love wings," Barret grunted around most of a chicken quarter. "'s why there ain't none."

"I am a wing ninja," she admitted, slipping down off the bench. "Give my regards to the dust monsters, and tell the Yin Yang I will soon be back in his arms. ...maybe just tell Yin. Yang is happy anyway."

"Don't know how you stay so damn chipper in this place, even when it's all gussied up like this," Barret muttered on his way out. Yuffie struck a pose.

Then she went back to the table and resumed her struggle against the suicidal urge to ask Sephiroth what he remembered of the Wutai War.

***

[Day 9, 1145 Midgar Standard Time]

The graveyard shift hadn't been happy to stir from their posts, but by the time they touched down there was a relay team of buggies to get them from the air strip to the submarine bay in a hurry. Just as well, Reno thought, because whatever storms Wutai might be having, the Junon night was hot and still, full of the sound of everyone else's air conditioning.

There was no luggage on the carts apart from their own; the warm weather gear was already packed and the sub prepped thanks to the quick, orderly thinking of a scout Meltzer called Joffer. Reno cocked an eyebrow at Rude.

Rude's mouth quirked downward, his eyebrows raising minutely, and Reno shrugged in reply. Scouts never wanted promotion. Not until they lost enough extremities to warrant a desk job, anyway.

The Gammas were hunks of junk to Reno's eye, but then he'd never had a particular affinity for machines, and Junon sure as hell wasn't kind to them. Meltzer seemed happy enough, whistling softly and nudging Joffer with her elbow. "Nice job. They're looking great."

"Just try to bring this one back in one piece," the scout responded. He tugged at a sandy forelock. "It's the Commander's. He don't use it much, but I'd hate to have a cadet up there to tell him the Turks had ruined his favourite sub."

Meltzer laughed and surged up the side, bare arms gleaming in the spotlights. "I'll do my best." She flicked her fingers at him, and vanished. Elena followed, and Rude trailed her, cautious with a new collection of cables to fit the sub's ports.

Reno nodded to the scout. "Good work tonight."

"Thankyou, sir." Joffer saluted. "Good luck."

***

[Day 9, 1100 Nibel Standard Time]

"I'm not saying you should let him run wild in the streets of Nibelheim," Aeris said, hands on hips. "Just give him something to do."

"You really want him down here?" Cloud slapped the report he'd been reading onto the desk. "Reading records of just how full of mako they shot his mother before she started to hallucinate? How he showed advanced strength before he outweighed an apple? You think that'll go any better the second time around?"

"I didn't say that," Aeris' fists balled at her sides, and Tifa interrupted before she could continue.

"You don't want him bored, either," she said. "Not here. Make him part of our guard rotation. You can keep two people with him, and bring whoever's on the door down here to help out."

Cloud was unmoved. "That leaves Red and Yuffie either resting or on Sephiroth duty." They had determined early on that for all her determination to find her father, Yuffie was more harm than help in the research department.

Tifa moved around the bookcase and set her folders down with finality. "Yuffie," she said, "can handle herself in situations that would leave Midgan teenagers weeping. I think she can handle a little time with an amnesiac and a bookshelf."

Cloud opened his mouth to say, An amnesiac responsible for murdering her mother, and remembered who he was talking to. Took a deep breath through his nose. Tifa watched him, lips pursed, as he worked his shoulders.

"If you think you can convince Barret, be my guest."

***

[Day 9, 1430 Cosmo Candle Time]

Paranoia kept Reeve moving, albeit slowly, with eyes half-closed against the light. They drifted between unused staff bathrooms, staying as close to the building's perimeter as they could, and waited to hear from the Turks. Logically, Reeve knew it would be another hour at best, but the PHS seemed to have rewakened hope, and with it, impatience.

Feather now seemed to move at a brisk trot compared to Reeve's gradual stagger. Thin as she was, after five days with nothing but water in his stomach, Reeve was coming to realise that she was almost supernaturally healthy. She moved with the economy of a dancer, not sluggish or reluctant as he had first thought, but careful -- aware of how few resources she had left to expend. Had he realised that days ago, he might have stuffed his pockets with ration packs they'd discovered instead of leaving them with the girl.

He was trying not to be bitter, but the hunger made it difficult. The hunger made it difficult to do anything.

He only realised that Feather had stopped when his questing hand encountered the back of her arm. She didn't flinch, but spoke in a whisper: "I feel her."

Reeve forced his eyes open. "Where?"

Feather raised an arm, gestured behind them and to the right. Reeve thought it through, hairs rising slowly on the back of his neck.

"She'll box us in." There was no way out of it, either -- if she was closer to the center of the building, Ayuki would always be able to move more quickly. Their only hope was to keep her travelling the longest possible path.

He tugged Feather's elbow. "The stairs. We need to get up as high as possible, then come back down a different way." He needed height. He needed signal.

And then, he needed Turks.

***

[Day 9, 2200 Nibel Standard Time]

Elena watched the monitors past Lana's elbow, fingers assembling and dismantling the Glock without her supervision. Nothing to see on the cam but faint dark shapes, but according to the instruments, the sea floor was angling up again. Ancient columns dotted the radar. Sometimes a spire showed in the spotlight and she had to suppress a smile that something so delicate could not only withstand the currents for decades, but pose a serious threat to their hull integrity.

Rude sat cross-legged on the floor to her left, eyes presumably closed. His broad brown hands draped gracefully over each knee, revealing nothing of the tension Elena spotted in his jaw, his lower back. Across from him, Reno jigged his foot, absent and restless as his hands performed a similar mindless dance along the mag rod. Fire and Lightning materia glittered green along its length, the flicker in their depths matching the sparks kindling in his eyes as he prepped them, one by one, over and over.

Cait was jacked almost obscenely into the interfaces to Lana's left, eschewing the control panel for direct access through the plate underneath. His ears twitched back and forth, frenetically searching for any anomalous activity around them, anything that might point the way to his master.

His ears pricked suddenly forward. Something whirred, blipped. Elena sat forward, the Glock forgotten. Beside her, the silent shift in mood that meant Rude was paying attention.

Muffled, gasping breathing filled the cabin, and Cait said, "You're on, boss."

"How-- how far?" Reeve sounded destroyed, exhausted. Elena glanced at the screens again, but Lana answered first.

"Fifteen minutes and closing."

"Who-- Meltzer?" A startled huff of laughter that became a wheezing cough. "We'll head for the south-east corner, but she's on our heels, and I can't-- I don't know how much longer I can run. There's no doors--"

"Save your breath." Rude's assurance didn't need to be spoken. Reeve huffed a laugh that crackled over the speakers, and then he was gone again.

Elena flinched at a sharp pain in her ankle. She glanced down to dab at the bright, bloody crescents she had left there. When she looked up again, Reno -- still elbow-deep in the armoury compartment -- shoved a case toward her with a foot.

She read the numbers on it. Blinked. Then grinned, resisting the urge to rub her hands together.

By the time the ocean floor became visible on the cam, the Glock was back in its holster, all but forgotten.

***

Reeve needed his whole weight to hold the door open, and the door handle to remain upright. After so many stairs, his legs felt like plastic sacks filled with gelatine. If the sharp burn of each muscle in his thighs and buttocks hadn't been so clearly defined, he might have believed someone had hit him with a rogue Transform.

Feather had his sleeve again, attempting to tug him onward. She had gained a flush that in her pale skin looked like the bright rose of fever, but she didn't seem to tire the same way he did, despite her waifish build.

He stumbled as she pulled him away from the door and settled into a run again, limbs pumping smoothly. Reeve could barely keep up a shambling jog. He understood, now, what they said about running being comparable to falling forward -- it was just a matter of getting his legs under himself again in time, and pushing off to fall again.

He felt his breath freeze, a thousand tiny pinpricks down his neck, ricocheting off the front of his shirt. The hair on his arms stood. The ache behind his temples, at the corner of his jaw, grew to a sharp throb.

It looked like Ayuki didn't need the materia torque.

Feather stared, half-hidden behind a corner, mouthing words he couldn't hear or understand. The corner. The south-east corner. He staggered around it, looked back to see hoarfrost chasing their footprints. Beyond, Ayuki strode, limbs encrusted with ice crystals tinged a pale blue.

Reeve fumbled the PHS out of his pocket, and thumbed it, invisibly, behind the corner. "M-m-mark. Ma-ark."

Answering static; he couldn't tell what. The PHS slipped from his numb fingers, bounced off the frozen leather of his shoe and skidded out into the corridor. Plain sight. No point now. He let Feather tug him back a few steps, a few more before his knees gave out again. Not far enough. He skittered backward on white hands, blue fingernails, counting the yards and praying to whatever was listening.

Ayuki turned the corner. She sneered at the PHS, and made a sharp motion with one hand; the cheap plastic casing shattered the moment her ice struck. Then her eyes fixed on Reeve.

She raised her arms and the world exploded.

***

Elena kept the rocket launcher trained on the structure even as she began readying her rifle, armed with an elemental orb and a truly bitchin' Fire materia, if she did say so herself. Reno and Rude landed on the rocky beach at the same moment so that only one impact made its way back to her ears.

"Hold for visual." Elena squinted through binoculars and flicked into and out of thermal vision. The rubble was still too hot to make it useful.

The wind carved dust and smoke from the crumpled wall in long swathes, revealing concrete rubble and twisted support beams protruding from the cladding. The dying flickers of electrical wires made it look like a small thundercloud had wedged itself into the structure to huddle against the cold. In its midst... movement.

"Two unsubs, possibly more. Begin approach."

Reno and Rude started up the beach, typical bravado giving way to a cautious game of cover leapfrog. Elena kept her eyes and her rifle trained on the smoking ruin of a wall until the people in it were clearly visible.

"Looks like the President brought a friend. Approach with caution." They'd learned not to trust to appearances the hard way, after all.

But if this Reeve were an ice sculpture, it was a much more lifelike specimen; he sagged visibly when he spotted them, and even from here she could see the breadth of his grin, and the weight and muscle he'd lost in captivity. He didn't jog toward them -- from the sound of their infrequent radio transmissions, he'd done enough of that -- but there was a definite spring in his step as he extended a hand to his companion and stumbled with her over the rocks toward Reno and Rude.

"Looks like we have a girlfriend," Reno drawled. "Keep an eye on that building, 'Lena. It's getting damn cold down here and the Boss doesn't like it."

The wind had picked up, too, spreading pale smoke out from the destruction. Fire in the rubble, she reasoned, but she didn't like the way her fingers and lips were numbing under gloves and mask, or the way the smoke seemed to be dogging their steps across the uneven ground.

She settled behind the rifle, fingertips spread to touch the Fire materia, the Barrier, and the Haste. "I don't like that smoke."

"Ain't smoke," Reno's voice came back flatly. "Mist."

"Mist?" Elena wondered aloud, staring at the water vapour that seemed to creep and pool amid the rocks. If she squinted right, she could almost make out--

***

"Unsub, unsub, on your six." Elena's voice rapped out, sharp enough that Reeve didn't need a headset. Rude's broad back blocked his view when he turned toward the complex. He peeked around his bodyguard and found that he'd stepped in front of Feather the same way half a breath later.

Icy mist swirled around a figure nearly twice as tall as a human, clinging to -- no, coalescing into arms and hands. Liquid nitrogen hair twisted in the air behind her, coiling in a non-existent breeze.

Reno said something Reeve had specifically programmed out of the Sith units and raised the nightstick at Shiva. "Get going, boss." The creak of Rude's gloves and the shimmer of Reflect followed the words.

Reeve reached out for Feather's hand and tugged her toward the sub.

Shiva's mist chased them across rocks and waterborne debris encrusted with ice crystals. Warmth and chill passed over his skin and he felt his heartrate leap, his chest tighten; Haste let him glance toward Elena without breaking an ankle for his gratitude, but she had already moved on to aiming something ridiculous at the ice goddess, something with a gaping maw for a barrel that steamed faintly in the frigid air.

He pulled Feather down to her knees as Elena launched four massive fireballs, hissed under his breath at the pain of rocks and ice on knees and palms. Hissed again in surprise as the ice coating the rocks began to creep over his fingertips.

He wrenched his hands away from the hungry ice, leaving behind shreds of skin and most of a nail and breathing in harsh grunts through the pain of it. Feather's knees were bleeding through her stockings when he pushed her up the side of the sub ahead of him. He hooked his wrists around the stiles to avoid getting blood on them.

Feather reached for him as soon as he crested the ladder. Her hands clutched at his shirt, but her pale eyes were focused on the battle, pupils dilated and twitching with Haste. Elena swore and the miniature cannon fired again, four distinct blasts -- Reeve twisted to watch them stream toward Shiva, gaped as the ice goddess crouched and spun, arms out wide, and the fireballs careened off into the building behind her. Feather's hands patting at his chest, his pockets; the streak of red hair that was Reno scrambling on frozen rock; the realization that Haste had taken too much from him as the blackness at the edges of his vision closed in.

He caught a flash of crimson light, felt Feather push away, heard her hit the rocky beach at a dead run even as Elena screamed for them all to get back to the sub. He felt the sub freezing on his palms, his chest. His eyes rolled to focus on Feather as she slammed her hands together, fingertips trailing crimson light that flashed bright between her palms.

Mist streamed from Shiva to surround Feather, twining around her feet and calves, her hips and away from the goddess, whose form drained to vapour. The outline of her face twisted with rage and betrayal and then vanished, destroyed by the wind. The mist that remained seeped into Feather, who swayed once and then crumpled on the rocks.

He saw Rude and Reno hesitate, managed a garbled order, and then the sound of Elena relaying it followed him into the dark.

***

[Day 10, 0045 Nibel Standard Time]

"--ng around."

"You've said that nineteen times so far. I've counted."

A theatrical gasp. "Reno, congratulations! You never told me you'd mastered counting past ten!"

Reeve snorted, and just like that everything hurt. His palms burned against the rough blanket, and beneath that sharper pain everything else felt strained, grazed, or bruised. His lungs ached, and his stomach--

"Easy, boss." Reno peered at him, the faint mako gleam of his eyes reassuring pinpoints in a blur. "We've got you on fluid and we're not more than a few hours out of Junon now."

Reeve felt his shoulder being squeezed and wished his hands weren't too raw to squeeze back. "Feather?" His voice sounded like he'd been eating chalk.

"Your lady friend? She's doing fine. Better shape than you, actually, which means you oughta be sleeping. Anything you need?"

Reeve thought about it.

"Pizza," he said. "With the cheese crust. And a milkshake."

Reno laughed, and Reeve felt a light prick in the back of his hand. "Maybe the milkshake."

"Two milkshakes," Reeve attempted, but blackness claimed him before he could voice the retort.




Chapter Twelve: Revenant

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