cheloya: (FF7 >> girls girls what have we done)
[personal profile] cheloya
Title: Faith and Feather
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: Yuffie/Vincent
Words: 3529
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 Four

Chapter Five: The Imbued

[Day 5, 1630 Midgar Standard Time]

"Don’t know why we gotta—" A yowl.

"Ach! That was my tail."

"You the one who said we weren’t gonna need another torch," Barret responded, in a slightly softer rumble that was most likely apology. "If it ain’t lit up, I’m gonna step on it."

Nanaki huffed a sigh, and lifted his flame-tipped tail slightly higher. Undignified as the motion was, it was better than listening to the others gripe about the dimly lit warehouse. "Everything is covered in dust," he said with faint disapproval. "Have you any idea where it is?"

"Sure an’ I can find it," Cait Sith asserted cheerfully. "It just might take a wee while."

The warehouse was on the outskirts of the Neo-Shinra complex, and part of a grid of identical warehouses that contained, as far as Nanaki could tell, anything salvagable from the ruins of the Shinra building. That project had been abandoned as soon as Reeve had come properly to power, but Shinra employees had certainly done an admirable job in the confused weeks immediately following Meteor: everything from computer systems to old newspapers to scaled models of doomed future projects of the Shinra Company lay mouldering in the darkened warehouse, as the fluorescent lighting above them hummed and flickered slowly and reluctantly to life. They would probably have left the building before the lights kicked in, Nanaki thought derisively, with a thoughtless lash of his tail, and he ducked his head apologetically as both Barret and Cait Sith squawked and backpedalled sharply to avoid the flame.

"If ye can pick up a trace of it, now’s the time to follow yer nose," the robot suggested brightly, and Nanaki snorted, resisting the human habit to roll his eye.
"I smell nothing in this warehouse but dust," he pronounced, moving carefully past stacks of newspaper. "And chocobo," he added, frowning and inhaling again, short puffs of breath that, held and sifted through, could only confirm the ridiculous scent: chocobo.

"Follow that," Cid suggested, clearly about as happy with their surroundings as Nanaki was. "The only thing in here that’s seen so much as a chocobo feather is that moogle."

"Surely not this recently," Nanaki muttered, but led the way – the pilot’s reasoning was sound enough to give him hope that they need not spend the evening unearthing Cait Sith’s better (quieter) half, and as fond as Nanaki was of libraries and artifacts (and Yuffie and Reeve), Shinra was Shinra, and dust was dust. Neither was pleasant. Not for long periods of time, and perhaps especially not in the dark.

The scent was more widespread, and therefore less conclusive, than any of them had hoped it would be, but a lucky glance shortly after the scent petered out revealed a rotund pale shape in the darkness that could only be the mechanical moogle that had borne Cait Sith for the vast majority of their adventures. Cid dropped down in the dust beside it, running his fingers along the fur for the hatch that would open on the moogle’s innards, and ignoring Cait Sith’s lewd commentary on the subject. From the look on Cid’s face, the going was not going to be pretty.

"It’s running," he allowed. "But it sure as hell ain’t going anywhere. Cat, you’d better turn your eyes on and get in here so’s I can see what I’m doing before I jump-start the sucker."

"Dinna fry the poor wee thing," Cait whined plaintively, and after a moment, his bright yellow eyes became even brighter.

Nanaki lowered his tail with no small amount of relief; quite apart from being undignified, such a posture was unnatural for long periods of time, and quite uncomfortable. He sat on his haunches, ears flicked back to listen to Cid softly cursing Reeve and his intricate, tightly-packed systems. It was only when Barret shifted, first from one foot, then back to it, that he realised how uneasy the man was. When he asked, Barret shook his head briefly, jaw clenched. Nanaki waited.

"Don’t like it," Barret said eventually, by way of conversation. "Why’s the power takin’ so long to kick in? Thought Reeve had some kinda new system." Nanaki huffed a long breath, not quite in laughter, and curled his tail neatly about his forepaws.

"As I hear it, most of Neo-Shinra’s resources are deployed outside the company," he said. "Reeve probably did not feel these warehouses were worth bothering with, since the company’s past is not of any particular use."

There was a shift in the air, and soft laughter from over their heads.

"Only to some," said the darkness.


[Day 5, 1630 Midgar Standard Time]

The Turks had a secret and that secret was: Elena’s poker face was getting better. Reno would never say so, and Rude would never mention something so frivolous, anyway, but Elena knew it, and when Ayuki came in the door, she was glad she’d capitalised on her rookie reputation when she’d introduced herself to the good doctor – it made it that much easier to hide the distrust in her eyes, when Ayuki was expecting to encounter an open book.

"Oh, it reminded me of a case from a couple of months ago," she said, blithely as she could manage. "We had to put it down, but I think I have an idea, if we get back to it." Out of the corner of one eye, she could see Reno’s expression – it wasn’t changing, but there was a glimmer of understanding in his eyes: Elena had something, and she wasn’t giving it up to Ayuki. Not after a cleanup as meticulous as this.

The doctor frowned. "I would think you would be a little more focused on the job at hand," she said reprovingly, patting the clipboard she still carried against the side of her leg. "But no matter. Look who’s up and about." She stepped aside, pressing against the doorframe and holding open the door for her companion. Elena’s bright, bubble-brained façade shattered like a dropped mirror as Reeve stepped carefully through the doorway, pale and distant like he wasn’t quite awake, and a cry of numb horror emerged from her throat in protest.

"Wh-what do you think you’re doing," she managed. "Look at him, he can hardly stand—here, Mr President—" and she hurried around the desk, but Rude was already moving toward the doorway, extending an arm toward Reeve like a chauffer instead of a human walking frame. Pale and weary as Reeve appeared, he was completely unprepared for the president to take that arm, lift it to shoulder height, and drive his other hand into Rude’s solar plexus.

The bald Turk made a soft gagging sound and doubled over, tried to stagger back, but Reeve’s hand on his arm was vice-like in its grip. He landed two more solid hits before Lana lunged forward to grab Reeve and immobilise his arms, and Rude finally wrenched himself backward, glasses half-hanging off his face, mouth wide open as he struggled for breath. Elena was halfway to Rude’s side, staring open-mouthed as Reno struggled with the president, when she noticed Ayuki’s narrow smile.

Ayuki raised one hand, and the necklace at her throat flared to life, dull stones pulsing a sickly, shining red. Elena thought, materia, grabbed Rude by the arm, and leapt backward. Ice exploded out of the floor where they’d just been standing, a large, jagged formation that would have immobilised them both, had they been caught in it—and just as she thought that, it shattered explosively, sending sharp fragments in every direction, including theirs. Ice didn’t do that.

Something did; it was out at the edge of her consciousness – she’d think about it later.

"Meltzer, move!" Reno, pistol out in favour of the nightstick, trained on Ayuki for all that Lana still grappled with the president in his line of fire. Lana snarled, braced herself to wrench them both backward, and made a choking sound instead, eyes wide. Elena could only gape as ice spires errupted from Lana’s shoulders, flesh-coloured fluid in the cracks; Lana shoved herself backward with a hoarse cry of pain, blood already coursing down her bare stomach. Reeve steadied himself, face still and pale, and the icicles that had shot out of his back sank back into his shoulders, reverse-growth on some kind of arctic human porcupine. As Reno swore and moved to cover Lana, Reeve turned creakily toward the remaining Turks, and raised both hands in time with Ayuki.

Rude stood, too slowly, and the doctor’s triumphant bark of laughter was drowned out by the report of Reno’s pistol and the sharp, cracking growth of icy stalagmites in circle around the bald Turk, tight enough to arrest all movement. Elena jerked her foot back, scrambling for cover behind Reeve’s desk, eyes fixed on Rude as he struggled to free himself from the icy prison. She heard the sound of ice shattering, heard Reno swear explosively again, and her gun was in her hands; she sighted under the backboard of Reeve’s desk and put a bullet through the president’s ankle.

Reeve’s left ankle shattered as the bullet passed through it, and Ayuki let out a short scream as it hit her mid-calf instead. Reeve, off-balance, toppled neatly to the floor and shattered in a million glittering pieces of ice. Elena was too shocked at the sight of her president disintegrating to note until those few crucial seconds had passed that Ayuki had staggered backward, staggered away. She pushed herself to her feet, glock out in front of her, and Reno got to his feet, looking grim. There was a streak of blood down the side of his face that nearly matched the swooping scarlet tattoo on each cheek.

"Let her go," he said, even as Elena moved to the door, scuffing with slow, careful horror through the remnants of ‘Reeve’. She peered carefully around the doorframe and gaped at the empty hallway. Ayuki hadn’t even left any blood, past a few feet from the door.

"I’ll have to. She’s gone." She turned back to the office, stared at the ice on the floor, even as Rude managed to crack the top half off one of the icicles that made up his prison. "I am so fired," she whispered, and sank back against the doorframe, trying not to shake too much with adrenaline or laughter while she struggled to holster her gun.

Reno muttered under his breath, Nightstick out and glowing with a mid-level Restore, and Lana sat up, pale and furious beneath her skin tone.

"Never liked that bitch," she said. There was a blood between the cracks in her teeth; when she ran her tongue over them, she only thickened the colour. Reno left her there, breathing but not quite ready to stand yet, and then went over to give Rude a hand in smashing through the remaining icicles. From the sound of things, he hurt his hands more than the stalagmites, but after a few minutes of dedicated swearing, the bald Turk was free, and Reno grinned at the room, flexing his skinny, quick-fingered hands.

"Well, that narrows down our options," he said. "I’ll get onto the cat and make sure they’re prepped. I doubt Ayuki’ll go after them in her condition, but better safe than sorry."

He stepped over the debris to stand by the window, one finger already in his ear to block out any external conversation. Lana hauled herself to her feet and started prodding at Reeve’s remnants, pale eyes intent. Elena watched her retrieve a piece of ice and rub it carefully between her fingers until it melted enough to slip out from between them.

She did not quite jump when Rude appeared at her side, but it was a close thing. When she looked up, she could just see his eyes through the dark glasses, intent upon her face.

"Nice shot," he said at last.

"Lucky shot," she corrected, but she smiled, and that was that.


[Day 5, 1700 Midgar Standard Time]

"Only to some."

Barret whirled toward the voice, gun-arm already raised. Nanaki was on his feet again in an instant, tail lashing, pupil flared wide to make use of all available light. The scent of chocobo was back, stronger than ever, and he could smell-- open plains, the wind rolling in off the wasteland, cold and fresh like at the canyon. But that was absurd; this warehouse could have very little ventilation...

"Careful," he murmured to Barret. "There’s wind magic at work."

"Ooh, very good," the same voice cooed. Soft and sweet and feminine, and not where it had been ten seconds ago. "Give the kitten a treat." Nanaki didn’t turn as the voice moved. He’d heard it this time—the barest rustle of cloth in the air above them. The change in the air was as good as confirmation.

"She’s on the shelves," he growled, and whirled as the voice tittered from far closer at hand.

"Am I?" she asked. She was small and fair and dressed – though Nanaki’s opinion on such matters rarely varied – ridiculously. A white and gold leotard, heavily sequinned and trimmed with large, curling feathers – that explained the scent, Nanaki supposed. It did not explain what she was doing here, or how she had come to be perched with such cheerful precariousness on the edge of a shipping container, ten feet above Cid’s head.

Barret levelled his gun-arm at her while the pilot scooted carefully backward. "What the hell do you want?" he snarled, better than Nanaki could have, but the girl only smiled, vacuous and sweet, and laughed softly at their anger.

"Aww, don’t get your dander up," she soothed, one foot bouncing to some bright interior rhythm, every inch a showgirl. "All I want is for y’all to give me one hundred per cent of your attention." Nanaki’s upper lip curled back over his fangs as she smiled, bright and crystalline, and extended one hand, palm down. Several things happened at once.

Cait Sith yowled and leapt backward.

The girl slid from the edge of the shipping container and dropped, lightly, lightly—

—and there was a deafening clap of sound as she touched down on the crown of the moogle’s head, and the entire mog became, abruptly, moogle pancake.

Her smile took on a devious cast as they gaped.

"Now that I have your attention," she said, no longer coy. "AVALANCHE’s involvement is not necessary here. Stay out of our way. This will be your only warning." Before Barret’s teeth had time to grit, she tipped them a wink and a flourish. "This has been the Chocobo-Imbued. Y’all have a nice day."

And as swiftly as she had come, she vanished again, a rush of displaced air the only sign of her passage.

Cait was the first to recover, turning his crown over and over in his paws as he approached the flattened moogle. A few prods seemed to confirm that the thing was completely destroyed, and he settled the crown over the spot that would have housed his heart, had he been a creature of flesh and blood. Cait Sith had not been built for gravity, but there was a forlorn angle to his ears and even the fibreoptic whiskers as he said, as seriously as his voice would allow, "Th’ mog is dead."

Nanaki was sure there was no more succinct method of expression than Cid’s, "—the @#$% was that?"


[Day 5, 1130 Wutai Standard Time]

The shrill tone of the PHS was a welcome distraction, and Cloud lunged for it before the first tone had died. "Strife."

"Spike." Cid’s voice was terse. Cloud righted himself carefully, eyes already narrowing, anticipating the severity of the pilot’s tidings. "I got some good news, and some bad news."

"Bad news first," Cloud said automatically, and was peripherally aware of Tifa’s attention being drawn sharply in his direction. He raised a quelling hand to curtail questions as Cid chuckled darkly, and set the PHS to speakerphone. Cid’s voice crackled across the table, and Tifa leaned forward, wine-dark eyes intent.

"Don’t know why I ask. Okay, the bad news is, Reeve’s not just hurt, he’s kidnapped. There was some kind of dummy up there in the med bay – Turks seem to think it was made of ice or something."

"The dummy was?" Cloud frowned. "But how would that have fooled any—"

"Hold yer chocobos, Spike, I’m gettin’ there." A pause, just long enough to permit a drag on a cigarette. Tifa made a sound of mixed disgust and worry, and Cloud echoed her sentiments – at Shera’s behest, Cid had more or less quit the cancer sticks. If he was smoking again, he was stressed. "Apparently the doctor attacked them, with the ice puppet. Seems like she had control over the whole thing. Anyway, Elena reckons she’s got a lead – we’re here with her and the cat, hell knows where the other three got off to—"

Three? Tifa mouthed to Cloud, and he shrugged back. Turks?

"—anyway, we had a little encounter ourselves in the warehouses. Red says they’re in the same group, but the girl who came for us, uh, didn’t look like she belonged to Shinra so much as a circus." Another long drag. "Called herself the Chocobo-Imbued. She flattened the mog. I mean that."

Silence. Tifa shifted slightly closer, already gnawing at her lips. "So what was your good news?" she asked, hopeful as ever. Cid’s voice, when it came, sounded slightly embarrassed.

"Actually, that was the, uh, lead. The Turk reckons these people were after Reeve for information, and they took out the Shinra systems to stop anyone following their tracks. What they didn’t know was—"

Scuffling. Elena’s voice, getting closer. "—let me, would you? Strife? I’m working from my old system, we picked it up from my folks. They’re pretty beat up, they were on the plate when, you know, Meteor, but I think I can get them working again."

Cloud and Tifa looked at each other. Tifa gave him a helpless look. It seemed that, like Reeve, Elena often skipped a few essential steps in her explanations. "That’s... good, Elena," Cloud said. "Why?"

"That mark in the pagoda?" Elena asked, slowly and deliberately, like she was leading them painstakingly along a very simple train of thought. "It’s definitely from the Shinra servers. You’re just lucky I’d seen it before. They’ve basically cut off all Neo-Shinra access by taking out the president, but what they didn’t know was that I hacked the servers before I was signed up – and I still have temp files in these babies." There was a dull metallic thump in the background as Elena brought her palm down on one of the servers with great affection. "With Cait’s processor and logic engine, I oughta have some kind of answer for us within a day or two."

Cloud grinned, duly impressed now that he knew what on earth she was talking about. "Good job, Elena. Let us know what you turn up."

"You got it." There was the distinct impression of a satisfied hair-toss as she handed the PHS back to Cid. Clearly, the girl was in her element. Judging from Cid’s grumbling, he, too, was grudgingly impressed, but had been looking forward to breaking it down for his less technically-minded teammates.

"That’s about the shape of it, I guess," he said. "Anythin’ new turn up on your end?"

Tifa and Cloud traded another glance. "Well, Vincent, for a start," she said faintly, and before Cid could do much more than scoff about his tardiness, added, "He had some... interesting news from the crater."

"The crater?" Cid sounded bemused. "What in hell was he doing up there?"

Cloud leaned forward onto the tabletop, not quite wringing his hands, but not just settling them together, either. "He thinks he saw Sephiroth."

Nothing but static on the line. Then a high-pitched sound from Elena and muffled thumping; Cid’s cigarette had fallen from his mouth. Tifa’s teeth worried at her lower lip. "Cid?"

"Yeah," was the pilot’s response, slower and older than the last one. "I’m here." He sounded – and Tifa did, too – as if he were waiting for something, and Cloud felt, abruptly, that old sense of quickening, not quite nerves and not quite electricity, knowing they were waiting on his word. Fearless leader. Here we go.

"We’re looking into it," he said, keeping it clipped. Tifa beamed at him across the table. "Just keep doing what you’re doing. Even Vincent didn’t get a good look. But we’re heading north just in case. I’ll check in before we leave, but let me know the minute anything changes. And thanks for the heads-up on these... imbued people."

"No sweat, Strife," Cid said, and the wiry strength had returned to his voice, as though he, too, was buoyed by Cloud’s words. "But hell, you tell Vincent from me – he’d better think twice before he joins the party with news like that again, or I’m gonna take to shootin’ the messenger."

Chapter Six: Awakenings, Part I


cheloya: (Default)

June 2013


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