cheloya: (FF7 >> four point)
[personal profile] cheloya
Title: Faith and Feather
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: Yuffie/Vincent
Words: 2461
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.

Prologue




Chapter One: The Call



[Day 3, 2100 Kalm Standard Time]

Music filtered through Seventh Heaven, already subtle sound made muzzy by the smoke-filled air. Tifa hummed as she wiped the bar down, and mused about the lung capacity of Cid and Reno, that just the pair of them could manage to smoke up her bar like it was a regular night, and not just a friendly reunion.

For all that Seventh Heaven catered for five times AVALANCHE’s number on a regular basis, the bar seemed full enough. The music was soft, just loud enough that she could keep track of the songs and murmur along as she cleaned up her kitchen. Maybe an hour ago the Turks, plus Cid and Reeve, had pulled three tables together and set about exchanging gil via poker – which meant it all went straight to Rude, judging by the toothpicks at the bald man’s elbow. Reno and Cid sat opposite the same table, both chain-smoking, both with their cards at a dramatic tilt away from the other. Tifa was honestly a little surprised that they could still see their cards, given the smoke wreathing the table.

Barret and Red were far from the ash epicentre at a table near the fireplace, conversing in rumbles that Tifa couldn’t distinguish from across the room. Marlene was cradled in one of her father’s arms, exhausted but not ready to admit it yet. If Yuffie were here, she’d be in bed already – the ninja had a knack with kids that came, Barret claimed, from bein’ one of them, and no amount of village-ruling was gonna change that, not in a million years – but Yuffie wasn’t here, and since Cait was taking care of business as Reeve’s alter-ego in Midgar Central tonight, there was no one but Red for Marlene to play with, and no one but Reno to argue/bully her into bed. Barret had reservations about this. Given that Reno’s grasp of appropriate language was about as strong as Cid’s, this was not altogether surprising.

Cloud was behind the bar with her, rinsing their dishes before he stacked them in the dishwasher (industrial, and the sort of thing Tifa would have sold both her legs for, before Meteor). His motions were slow and rhythmic, his attention clearly elsewhere as he passed a sponge over the plates. Tifa flipped her tea towel over one shoulder and bumped her hip into his to get his attention. He blinked. The plates clattered briefly against the sink, against each other. Then he stilled his hands and met her eyes, the slightest furrow in his forehead belying the innocently raised brows.

"What are you thinking about?" Tifa dipped a hand into the water to collect their cutlery. Cloud shrugged, started washing plates again as she sorted the knives and forks into the dishwasher.

"Just thinking," he said. "It’s pretty quiet here without Yuffie or Cait Sith."

"And not quiet enough without Vincent," Tifa agreed, eyes warm and sympathetic. "I’m surprised it’s not louder, actually. It’s been a whole year."

Cloud shrugged again. "It’s called Kalm for a reason, I guess. Besides, according to channel eight, half the world has moved to Midgar for the week."

Tifa snorted. "No wonder Reeve came out here in person." She glanced toward the poker table, smiling at the sight of Reeve and Elena sweating out another hand together without resorting to smoking or sunglasses. Slowly but surely the smile faded from her face. "...it is really quiet without them, huh." She rested her elbows on the bar, stretching out her back. "But we did our best with Vincent. And there's no getting Yuffie out of Wutai lately."

"Not until she has another war with Godo," Cloud grumbled. Tifa laughed. "But I know what you mean. At least Reeve only has a city to worry about."

Tifa shook her head, smiling despite herself. Reeve didn’t see it that way. But then, before Meteor, the largest group of people he’d needed to handle at a time had been an executive committee. Now, he was expected to address hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. Little surprise that he’d relegated the task of celebrating the destruction of Meteor to a robotic doppelganger. "And at least he has a passing acquaintance with rules. Yuffie’s probably going out of her mind."

Cid swore explosively and slammed his hand down on the table. The only word Tifa would have repeated in Marlene’s presence was ‘fold’. Reno chuckled, prompting another (slightly quieter, thanks to Barret’s disapproving laser-glare from the far side of the room) torrent of profanity, and nodded to Rude, who cracked his neck, which seemed to make Elena nervous. In the silence that followed Cid’s retirement from the game, it was very easy to make out the sound of someone pounding up the front stairs. Tifa frowned at Cloud.

"I thought we told everyone we were closed tonight..."

The pounding feet slowed as they reached the top of the stairs, but rather than stopping, whoever it was ploughed straight into the door, rattling the windows along the front of the bar, and letting out an _oof_ that was instantly recognisable. Tifa was over the bar by the time the visitor had started pounding on the door. "Hey, guys! Let me in! HEY!"

Tifa flung the door wide, grinning widely, and her expression froze as she took in the girl on her doorstep, who was by now less girl and more bedraggled mud monster. "What did you do, swim here?" Tifa asked, too surprised for anything else, and the teenager on the doorstep swelled with indignant rage.

"Nice to see you, too, Boobs!" she shrilled, hands on hips. "I knew you couldn’t have a decent party without me; you must’ve been really desperate if you had to invite the Turks."

As Reno and Elena made indignant reply in the background, Tifa tugged her inside and put her arms around the girl’s shoulders, squeezing tightly enough that she squawked and demanded to be let go of, gawd, my lungs’ll collapse. Tifa pulled back enough to grin and put her hands on the girl’s cheeks, icy and damp. She frowned. "Yuffie, you’re freezing. Why didn’t you call?"

Yuffie flapped her hands, tossing her head and sending sleet-dampened hair flicking across her face. "Kinda hard to call from Wutai at the moment. H-have you seen the weather reports? Biggest storm in—" She took a deep breath and clenched her teeth, and it was only then that Tifa realised she was almost crying.

"Yuffie, what’s wrong?"

The reluctant stir of activity stilled in the wake of Tifa’s question. Red’s head rose from the floor, twisted awkwardly to see the door. Cloud had emerged from behind the bar, carrying a small towel and a steaming drink. Yuffie stayed silent for a few seconds, jaw clenched, glaring sullenly at the floor. Then she looked up and her eyes were cold and angry, grey like the sleet outside.

"Godo’s disappeared. Staniv, too. Chekhov, Shake and Gorky are dead." The words were flat as she dug into her pocket, and a fine tremor of rage filtered in when she held her find out for the room to see. "I need your help."

***

[Day 4, 1200 Central Standard Time]

The ocean did not so much toss waves around him as pelt them into his sides, dump them over his head. It was the kind of weather amenable only to madmen and fiends, and as the lightning made blinding, crackling webs through the heavy cloud, Vincent wondered idly which party he could count himself among.

His cloak was half frost and half seawater, and the already heavy fabric hung from him like shredded skin on a waterlogged corpse. His hair was plastered to his forehead, his neck, his shoulders, blending with the ancient double-breasted suit. Obsydia looked no better, despite her oily, water-resistant plumage, but she made no complaint as he pressed her on northward, eyes peeled for some sign of the shoreline. He found it, and moments later was forced to cling more tightly to Obsydia as she jerked suddenly to the right with a sound of alarm; a chunk of ice the size of a motor vehicle rose on the crest of a wave and plunged beneath the surface of the water they had just travelled over. Vincent eyed the ocean ahead of them, the approaching line of the cliffs, and moved his fingers slightly in Obsydia’s feathers.

"Good girl."

The chocobo warked in smug acknowledgement, putting on speed as she wove through the irregular waves thrown up by the shoreline, spreading her short wings whenever she was forced to ascend to the crest of a wave. It took no more than an hour to reach the shore, though it took him that again to climb it, sometimes leading the bird, and sometimes letting her lead. They could have come around from the east, but Vincent hadn’t expected to come so far north. He couldn’t double back now just for the sake of avoiding a difficult climb.

He was too close. He could feel it.

"Come," he murmured to Obsydia, and set off through the snow, her harness looped and dangling around his claw. At his hip, the PHS beeped softly, once. He had received calls while he was out of range, in the storm. Vincent didn’t bother to look at the display. It would be Tifa. It had been for the better part of a month. And while he had, in all honesty, missed the first call, he was beginning to feel slightly guilty about avoiding all subsequent calls, though he knew it was for the best. Reunions were all very well, but not when he was feeling so... out of sorts. Far safer for everyone involved if he did not go to Kalm.

Vincent lost feeling in his toes only a mile or so inland, and began looking for a place to settle for the night. By the time he found shelter – and it was barely adequate; a stand of pines with boughs weighed down by snow – he had begun to lose some fine motor coordination. He set upon the smallest of the trees, hacking at its branches, and when he had removed the vast majority of its needles and delivered these to Obsydia so that she could see to her own nesting arrangements, he cleared the snow around the base of the largest tree and set a fire a few feet from the trunk.

He was beginning to remember what being dry felt like when his PHS rang again, startling Obsydia to her feet. Vincent unclipped it from his belt and stared at the blinking display. It was a level one call; emergency priority from Cloud. Would they resort to such things just to force him to answer? He could not risk it. Reluctantly, he thumbed open the display.

"Vincent."

"Took your time." Cloud’s voice was wry. Vincent wondered if he had underestimated the man’s unwillingness to cry wolf. "We have a problem. What are you doing now?"

Vincent considered. "I’m busy. What kind of problem?"

"The political kind, maybe." Vincent heard other voices in the background, then silence as Cloud put his hand over the receiver, and finally the tail end of his frustrated comment to whoever was with him. "—ndle this. Vincent, how soon can you be in Wutai?"

Vincent blinked. Frowned. "It would take three days were I to leave immediately, but I cannot. What kind of problem?" His tone let Cloud know how he felt about repeating himself, even to the leader of AVALANCHE.

"Three dead, two missing in the Pagoda of Five Mighty Gods," Cloud said flatly. "Yuffie’s father is one of the missing. No leads so far."

Vincent closed his eyes. From the little he had heard, Wutai had been pulling itself back together after the fall of Shinra. Yuffie must have been devastated. "...how is she?"

"She’s..." Cloud’s voice faltered. Vincent’s jaw tightened. "She’s right here, hang on."

He waited. A few seconds later, Yuffie’s voice filtered across the line, entirely out of place in the snow and the wind. "She’d be about twenty times better if everyone would lay off the materia jokes, har har har, I don’t think," she said, and there was a tension there that had nothing to do with whatever gentle ribbing she had recently endured. But her voice gentled somewhat as she, presumably, stopped making a face at the room around her and started concentrating on the phone call. "Nice to know you pick up an emergency signal, Vinnie, I’ll remember that for April Fool’s."

"I’ve been busy," Vincent said. (Busy sleeping, Yuffie scoffed determinedly.) "Give me details."

"I don’t have many. Two days ago, a maid came screaming out of the pagoda. Gorky, Shake and Chekhov looked like they had a run in with Hellmasker, and Staniv and Godo are AWOL." Her voice did not quite shake. "My Leviathan’s in two pieces, and I don’t know about you, Vince, but I do not know anything that can break materia so clean; it’s like a laser cutter, except materia defract lasers, so--" A quick huff of breath. "Also, there is this storm system hanging around, and it’s not doing anything, and it’s not going away, and the entire village is pretty much sure that we’re cursed, so you should come over and be pessimistic with the elders, you’d fit right in."

"You are returning there?"

"All of us are, yeah." A pause. "Reeve’s letting me borrow the Turks and all, so you totally have to come out of creepy misplaced company loyalty or something. All the cool kids are doing it."

Despite himself, Vincent almost smiled. "I am otherwise engaged, but I will be there as soon as possible."

"You’re what?" Skepticism was plain. "Vincent, c’mon. There’s no way you’re doing anything more important than me. Are you trying to blow me off? If you don’t want to come drink awesome cheap terrible maitais in Turtle’s Paradise with me, it’s cool, y’know, you can say it. I totally understand if you are too scared to go up against me. Me and Reno," she added, to an appreciative hoot in the background. Even Vincent could tell the humour was becoming strained; drinking started young in Yuffie’s culture, but he was certain that for the Lady of Wutai, cheap cocktails were frowned upon. If she was trying this hard to keep up her front...

"I will be there as soon as possible," he repeated. "I am following up on a concern. If all is well, I will see you in several days."

"And if it isn’t?" Yuffie asked. Vincent pursed his lips.

"Perhaps the next call will be mine."




Chapter Two: Blood and Shadows
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