cheloya: (FF7 >> save the planet)
[personal profile] cheloya
Title: Faith and Feather
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: Yuffie/Vincent
Words: 3692
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 Five

Chapter Six: Awakenings, Part I

[Day 6, 0430 Midgar Standard Time]

Flashing. There was flashing... something. It was sideways. Elena tilted her head slowly, so that her chin rather than her cheek was resting on her forearms, and squinted again at the display. It was so early. Omni, it was early. Had she fallen asleep here? She felt like she’d tangled with a staircase and lost.

Upon closer inspection, the flashing proved to be a text box. Did she wish to proceed? Elena scrubbed at her eyes for a few seconds and sat up a little straighter, grimacing at the collection of pops as her spine realigned itself, and tried to focus on what, exactly, she’d been about to proceed with, before sleep had happened.

Thick black wires, sometimes striped with red or yellow, trailed from the ports on the side of the machine, snaking across the floor to Cait Sith and on to the huge, clunky-looking servers she’d been working with half a decade ago, when they’d been the best thing she could afford. Technology, and her pay check, had come on a bit since then, but these babies had been what got her into Shinra, and they’d survived Meteor even though they’d been left in her parents’ house on the plate, so they had sentimental value. And now, of course, real value, since in all likelihood they held the only data they had that was relevant to Reeve’s kidnapping.

That would be the flashing, then.

Cait was hooked straight into the servers themselves, searching with a logic engine far more discerning than any normal operating system possessed, and passing any related files on to her computer more slowly, so that she could examine them in more detail. Paranoid as Shinra had been about its intellectual rights, all the files were carefully encrypted, so that had taken a little longer than she’d hoped. Obviously she’d been about to decrypt another file when sleep had hit. Pity she hadn’t managed to keep her eyes open long enough to hit ‘Yes’.

She hit it now, and shifted slowly, working life back into her limbs. Coffee, she thought, wriggling her toes. Coffee was an excellent plan.

She didn’t have far to go. Elmyra’s house had not been built for entertainment: Elena had been sitting on the living room floor with her chin down on the coffee table. Reno was sprawled over the couch, both feet up on the arm-rest, and over by the stairs, Rude was still mostly upright in an armchair. Elena slipped carefully through the nest of cables with the half-empty mug she’d been using the night before, and set about locating Elmyra’s instant coffee without waking the entire house.

When she returned to her cushion on the floor, there was another textbox, asking her to confirm that she wished to open a potentially harmful file. She hit ‘yes’, sipped her coffee while the thing loaded up, and started scrolling absently with one hand. It was a report, dated some forty years ago – from the look of it, preliminary work on the Jenova Project. Halfway down, there was a large white space helpfully labelled Figure 1.4. She sipped again while she waited for the image to load, and had to swallow quickly when it did so that she wouldn’t spit her mouthful all over her keyboard.

Reno jerked awake at her choked, gleeful exclamation, and watched her dubiously as she set her coffee aside and writhed a careful, seated victory dance in the middle of her cords, both hands flung up into the air.

"I," she told him smugly after she was done, "am a genius."

Reno scrubbed at one mako-green eye. "You better hope so, baby, or you’re just plain fucking crazy."


[Day 6, 0530 Wutai Standard Time]

Cloud was already awake when the PHS erupted into sound, but then, he hadn’t slept. He jerked upright at the noise and swung out of bed to stifle it. The moment he answered, however, Cait’s voice piped through, easily as loud as the ringtone, and Cloud was abruptly glad he had not yet moved it to his ear: "I am a genius!"

Thumps and static and Elena in the background saying something like excuse me but who is the genius here, and Cloud sighed, and rubbed the back of his neck, standing and slipping out into the corridor so that he wouldn’t wake Tifa, if she’d managed to get some sleep. "You found something."

"We found everything," Cait exulted, and then his yowl, diminishing, signalled that someone else had come into possession of the PHS. Cloud stepped out onto the porch and was surprised to discover Vincent sitting against the wall, dressed again in his typical garb. He nodded. Cloud returned the gesture, and then concentrated on the PHS.

"We found a lot. I’ve been putting it together. Half the files are corrupted, but the important thing is the source, not the content." Elena sounded very pleased with herself. "I’ll give you two guesses about the origin of the reports. Here’s a hint: Science Department."

Cloud’s jaw firmed. "Hojo," he said, suddenly certain, and Vincent blinked. Subtly, his attention shifted from the slowly brightening sky to Cloud’s face, the intensity of his gaze as unnerving as ever. Cloud half-turned from the older man, trying to focus, though his head was buzzing emptily.

"That’s right. Well, half-right, anyway – there was a small team involved, but his name is definitely on here. He was probably just an intern at the time, but it’s all about how we access magic, how we use materia. They talk like there’s a lot of study behind it, but the older the data is, the more corrupt it gets, so we’re going to have to look for hard copies."

Even pre-coffee, that was a no-brainer. "Nibelheim," Cloud said. "All right. We’re heading north in an hour or so. You all get to Nibelheim as soon as you can and start going through the basement. There has to be something. Maybe even an old system you can tap into."

Vincent shifted, stood. "Offer them the use of the house," he said, and slipped away inside without another word, presumably to wake the others in pursuit of the mentioned plan to leave in an hour. Cloud raised his eyebrows and passed on the message, his own puzzlement plain. Elena’s tone was just as bewildered, coloured with a hint of indignation.

"The house? Uh... who exactly does he think the manor belonged to in the first place?"

Cloud grinned sheepishly. "I think Reeve gave him the deeds," he said. "No one else wanted the place."

"Did he?" Elena wondered aloud. Cloud had half a second to wonder about that himself before she moved on. "Anyway. That’s AVALANCHE and Turks-plus-one to Nibelheim." She paused to allow him to confirm. He thought about it.

"Plus one?"

"Lana Meltzer. Used to be in Scarlet’s personal guard. Closest thing we have to a witness. She’s handy and she wanted to come along, so she put it to Reno and they settled it like Turks."

She said it so brightly and officiously that Cloud was instantly suspicious. He waited. When Elena spoke again, she sounded like she’d rather have her teeth pulled without anaesthesia.

"Look, she won the drinking contest, okay? Don’t mention it to Reno. He’s still pissed."


[Day 6, 0630 Wutai Standard Time]

After hearing Yuffie’s reference to a council on the morning previous, which had, as she had promised, taken all afternoon, Vincent had been dreading pomp and ceremony when it came to departing for the crater. Either her council were more fond of sleep than she was, though, or the entire affair was less formal than he had suspected: aside from the stablehands, only two Wutaians waited to wish them luck on their journey, and these were Yuffie’s cousins, Shuichi and Katsura.

Both bowed to Yuffie, grave and respectful and doubtless a credit to their parents, and Katsura stepped forward to take both of Yuffie’s hands in hers, murmuring in a calm, good-natured way that rendered her words practically incomprehensible. Shuichi was more forthright in his concern.

"Call us at once if you have any need," he said, earnest despite the frown that creased his brow. "I wish that you did not have to leave us, particularly for a situation that you will not tell us all about..." Vincent did not raise his eyebrows, but his eyes did widen slightly. He wondered how on earth Yuffie had persuaded her council to let her leave without explaining the situation in full, and suppressed the urge to shake his head. No doubt her incorrigible will had played a part. Shuichi only confirmed this suspicion when he said, "In Lord Staniv’s place, I must say it... this had better not be about materia."

Yuffie laughed and socked him cheerfully in the arm. "Don’t be an idiot, Shu-chan," she said. "Would I give up the opportunity for days of endless boredom and head-shaking just to chase materia?"

Shuichi was still sputtering weakly in protest as they mounted up and kicked the chocobos into a trot. Vincent could hardly blame him.


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

He was... sliding. Centre of gravity at the base of his skull, dragging him down and to the left in a slow, nauseating spiral. There was a painful throbbing in his teeth and sinuses - heartbeat, he thought woozily. Must be sick. He was cold enough to be sick.

His fingers were far away. It took concentration to move them. They tingled slightly when he tapped them against the bed. Even the sharp click of his fingernails against the mattress sent painful tingles up to his knuckles.


He frowned, and opened his eyes.

And closed them again, emitting a choked gargling sound. White. Everywhere white, and bright enough to make his eyes water and his optic nerves sing with pain.

He managed to get a hand up to his eyes, and lay there for a few minutes, waiting for the red lines of light between his fingers to become bearable, or for enough strength to roll over - whichever came soonest.

Stubble pricked his wrist. He rolled carefully, feeling at his jaw, and grimaced. Wherever he was, he hoped there weren't cameras. Elena was the closest thing he had to a secretary, and she would not be happy. And when Elena wasn't happy, his toes got bruised.

Roused by the thought of Elena's wrath, he shaded his face with one arm and squinted at the room again through watering eyes.

'White' about covered it. He was curled at an angle in the middle of a corridor that refused to resolve - curved, he realised, squinting at the gentle arc of the strip lighting. He spent a few minutes blinking tears onto his nose, and the floor, before he struggled upright, still framing the hall with both hands as his eyes tried to close of their own accord. With tremendous effort, he stood, and sagged immediately into the nearest wall.

He waited until the bruised spots had chased themselves out of his vision, and took his hands cautiously away from the sides of his face. His eyes still hurt, but it was the same dull ache as the rest of his body. Ignorable, until he worked out where he was. Which would be some time, if this hallway was any indication. No doors that he could see, and no markings.

He was pretty sure he'd seen this movie.

He started walking, using the wall for support at first, and then venturing away from it, one hand raised as a precaution. He passed two doors with simple steel handles, both of which were locked, before he came to a T-junction. Identical in both directions.

"I have seen this movie," he muttered. He turned right, and when that passage split, left.

After a few changeless minutes in the new corridor without threat of vertigo, he started to run.


[Day 6, 1700 Central Standard Time]

Nibelheim was just as Reno remembered it: cold, damp, and smelling faintly of mildew. The climate had a tendency to eat houses pretty quickly, especially the little shitboxes that had been popping up on the fringes: fast and cheap and in no way equipped to deal with the weather that kept the town small and quiet and in the middle of fucking nowhere.

The older homes were a different story. A little frilly for Reno’s liking, particularly about the windows, but there was good solid timber involved, which was more than he could say about the shitboxes. Still, there was surviving and there was surviving, and the Shinra Manor had done a good deal more than survive. If the sun ever came out in this shitty little village, he thought, tucking his hands into his armpits and absently considering buttoning his shirt for once, the place may well have sparkled.

Cid’s low whistle seemed to echo the thought. "Sure wish my town all turned out to help with the whitewash," he said, slightly indistinct around a cigarette, and Barret p’shawed with gruff humour.

"Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, foo’?" he grinned. "You ‘the captain’, ain’tcha?" He thumped Highwind’s shoulder once or twice while the pilot glared at him, and gestured at the house ahead. "Least it won’t have shit droppin’ down at us from the ceiling no more."

"Either that or they’ll be a lot better dressed," Cait chimed, happily ensconced between Nanaki’s shoulder blades. "Candy stripes and waistcoats. Bryll-slicked hair. Th’ whole shebang."

"C’mon, folks, we’re not here to sight-see," Reno grumbled, and shoved the gate open with his shoulder. It squealed in protest, and he couldn’t help but feel relieved. At least the manor had kept one set of rusty hinges. The AVALANCHE crowd filed past him first, then Rude and Elena, the latter looking distinctly un-thrilled to be here. Lana brought up the rear and gave him a carefully blank, bright-eyed expression in place of the shit-eating grin she surely wanted to have on her face. "Laugh it up," he invited, not quite sourly, and she chuckled, obligingly.

"Don’t be sore," she advised, right before they walked in the front door, and then raised generous brows at the interior. "Nice. Your friend’s got good taste," she added to Cid and Barret, who immediately broke into guffaws.

"If this is his, I’ll eat my kettle," Cid wheezed around his mirth. Barret thumped his back in agreement, neatly rearranging Cid’s spine, and causing him to curse and straighten up abruptly, swiping at errant eye-moisture. "You ask me, he spent too long in Midgar while the ceremonies were going on and when he got back, the place was already half-done. I know we had a hell of a do out by the rocket, and they ain’t seen half the shit these people would’ve." He jerked a thumb back at the heavy wooden doors, at the town beyond, and shook his head, only half grinning. "I bet poor Vince never had so much attention in his life."

The ‘attention’ was a near-complete renovation of the manor, from the timber floors to the whitewashed ceilings. Glass that had been infused with mould (and nastier) had been replaced with richly coloured stained glass in addition to the traditional Nibelian curliques. Once-bare walls now sported artwork, though Reno was unconvinced that these were the villagers’ choices. Elegant and understated as the rest of the house seemed to be, the vaguely morbid gaussian blur above the staircase struck him as a Valentine touch, though he couldn’t quite picture the man decorating without persuasion.

The bookcase in the corner room had been sanded and painted over, but it was abundantly clear from the second they slid it aside that no such attentions had been paid to the manor’s sub-levels. Just opening the basement made Red sneeze violently, and sent Cid into wracking coughs that forced him to leave the room and sit for a minute in the hall. Reno’s eyes watered as he stuck his head inside the door to assess the state of the staircase, and he found himself wondering absently if Valentine kept any face masks handy, or at least some kind of ventilator. A scuba tank, he thought vaguely, sticking out one foot and testing the first step. The wood felt slightly swollen with the damp, but it held his weight without protest.

"One at a time," he suggested, and backed up a few feet to hack into his lapel like the rest of them. He hiked up his shirt, buttoned it over his nose and chin, and beckoned to Rude and Elena. The bald Turk stepped forward like he was totally unconcerned with paltry things like lungs and airways clogging with microscopic fungi, and disappeared into the darkness ahead of Reno. Elena clamped one hand over her mouth and gestured that Reno should just go right ahead. His lips twisted in a grimace she couldn’t see and he made a mental note to return the favour before he swung himself into the damp and mildew-clotted darkness, following the thin beam of his flashlight and the occasional disgusted "..." from Rude as his hands brushed things best left unidentified.

The passage to the lab was cold, but much dryer than the staircase and, indeed, the rest of Nibelheim. This would have been more reassuring to Reno if he couldn’t hear things shifting in the darkness outside the range of their flashlights, raising the hairs on his neck just enough to make him feel like a fucking pansy without letting him shoot anything. Not his favourite fucking kind of game. Still, the things in the shadows stayed in the shadows and they made the lab without any trouble. After a few minutes of fumbling and one broken beaker, the sound of which had them all holding their breaths, the lights were humming slowly to life, revealing a stately desk, a large collection of weird scientific junk, and a veritable lifetime of excessively boring reading.

"Well," Elena said, looking faintly pale and harrowed. "Let’s get started."


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

The running had not lasted long.

The Turks had insisted upon an exercise regime, but two decades of late nights with pizza and early meetings with pastries had worked their cruel magic on both stamina and metabolism. Reeve was a fast, efficient learner - it hadn't taken twenty years under President Shinra to stop hoping for miracles.

Likewise, it hadn't taken more than an hour to stop expecting anything from this place. It was huge and cold and empty. Sluggish metabolism or not, that was going to be a problem inside twenty-four hours, especially if he couldn't find a water source.

Whoever had brought him here had stripped him of everything useful; he had no GPS, no screwdrivers, no tie. Bewilderingly, they had taken his shoes, but left his jacket, which was scant comfort in these temperatures. Especially without the weight of his screwdriver set.

Not that they'd have been much use. The corridors were seamless except for the occasional sliding enamel door and accompanying white plastic access panel; and their stark, unending whiteness was beginning to blur his vision.

Perhaps that was why the clown looked so crisp.

She could have been an ink mural: the black web of stockings crosshatched over skinny leg-like protrusions in the floor, the faded dress nothing more than a misshapen slick down one wall.


There was the faintest suggestion of movement in the air in front of her, like the shimmer of heat in a desert, but the head did not turn toward him.

"Hello...? Are you..." Awake? Alive?

Before he could decide, the tangle of dark hair lolled toward him. He caught a flash of blue under the hair before he saw the face.

Reeve gaped at the jaggedly tattooed lips, the single teardrop inked down her left cheek. Her pupils were green, barely, like thin spatters of wax on the whites of her eyes.

She was staring right through him. Her hands made wandering, circling motions before her, chasing a long white feather through the air in slow motion.

Reeve remembered the hollow faces of wandering clones and crouched before he thought about it, holding out one hand as if to tempt a wary cat. "Hello," he said again. After a moment, lamely, "I didn't expect to find anyone here."

Her hands spun after the feather as if the air were thicker there. Her eyes tracked slowly down after him, focusing inch by inch. Finally, the pinprick pupils caught his own.

Reeve wriggled his fingers slightly. "Hey there."

A slow smile spread across her face while her hands stirred the air, but she didn't respond. Reeve wondered how long she'd been here.

He wondered if he'd been drugged as well.

"My name's Reeve. I'm going to take a walk." He mimicked walking with two of his fingers. "Do you want to come along?"

Her laughter made him jerk in surprise, and he sat with a thud on the cool metal floor, staring at her with wide eyes. Her focus seemed much better now, though her hands still waltzed the feather in slow circles through the air.

"I'll walk," she said, and pushed away from the wall and floor too languidly to possibly end up on her feet - and yet, she did.

"Who--" Reeve began. He shook his head and clambered to his feet. "... your name?"

She frowned at her hands, at the feather. "... a clown," she said eventually. "That's what he thought."

"Who thought?" Reeve asked, venturing after her as she began to take slow, measured steps along the corridor away from him. She shrugged, frowning again, as if the questions were disrupting her concentration.

He left it until the frown had evaporated, and then spoke more gently. "Do you know how you got here? How to get out?"

Her hands fluttered to a halt, and the feather floated into her waiting palms, but her step never faltered.

"I've always been here," she murmured, sad and serene. "There's no way out."

Chapter Seven: Awakenings, Part II
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June 2013


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