cheloya: (FF7 >> i can't sleep)
[personal profile] cheloya
Title: Faith and Feather
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairing: Yuffie/Vincent
Words: 3040
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 Six

Chapter Seven: Awakenings, Part II

[Day 7, 0900 Central Standard Time]

Elena opened a report. Read the synopsis. Noted the names. Flipped to the appendices in case any of the diagrams were immediately recognisable, and then – as she’d been doing for the better part of an hour and a half – tossed it onto the pile that best described its relevance to their investigation. So far the ‘useless’ pile was large, and the ‘useful’ pile completely nonexistent.

This was discouraging. But it was a very large room, and Hojo had been intensely meticulous. They were bound to find something sooner or later.

Cait was plugged into the ancient computer behind her, limbs slack but ears and closed eyes twitching as he processed the information more slowly and thoroughly than he had in Midgar. She leaned back to see her laptop screen, wondering if he’d found anything yet, and sighed when she saw that the window was still blank.

Lana, who had started on the shelves on the far side of the room, glanced up at the movement. Elena shrugged at her, and Lana mimicked the movement more slowly, rolling her broad shoulders and shifting her position slightly on the cold stone floor. An old-fashioned double-barrelled shotgun lay across her lap – there had been a Yin Yang in the roughly-hewn hall outside when they had headed to the lab this morning – and she seemed to keep one hand on it at all times, curled lightly around the shaft. Elena was fond of her own gun, but she didn’t have to keep it out all the time. She wondered if the soldier was nervous.

Lana seemed to notice her attention, and cocked her head, sending her braids swaying. "Somethin’ wrong?" Elena flushed, looked back at her shelf.

"Uh, no," she said hastily. And after a few seconds, "Um, that gun..."

Lana’s eyes softened slightly, and she lifted it so that Elena had a clearer view. It was a magnificent piece of work, well-oiled, with a materia slot to the side of either barrel and a paired slot along the butt, just beneath the sight. "It was a gift," Lana said. "The guy who gave it to me... he died with the Shinra Building." Elena’s throat tightened in sympathy.

"At least he went down with the ship," she said, aware that she sounded cold and unable to prevent it, thinking of Tseng, one arm over his stomach while his life ran out onto ancient, thirsty stone. Lana chuckled, and it was a sound of understanding.

"I don’t know a single person who didn’t lose someone that year," she said, and settled the shotgun back across her lap. "At least I’ve got something to remember him by."

Elena thought of the two men in the next room, her partners, her brothers, the men who had mourned Tseng’s passing just as she had, and felt maudlin tears sting her eyes. She tucked herself closer to the shelves, tucked her knees up near her chest, and slid a new volume from the shelves. "It was a shitty year," she agreed with great sincerity. "But you’re right."


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

There was no way to tell time in the complex, except perhaps by how long it took him to tuck his fingers back into his armpits. The outer walls might be insulated, but the building was designed to account for the body heat of far more people, so the temperature regulation... wasn't. He was beginning to build up a map in his head, though. The building was shaped like the club in a suit of cards, and it must have taken a lot of poker winnings to get it build because it was in violation of nearly every building regulation in Midgar.

None of the doors he'd seen so far had been accessible without keycards, which meant no bathrooms. There were no doors or windows in the outer walls that he could discern, which also meant no external fire escapes.

Of course, they might have staircases intended for emergency use, or fireproof chambers elsewhere in the building, but since the girl with the feather refused to go more than a few dozen feet from the outer wall, Reeve hadn't spotted one.

He kept pressing deeper and deeper into the corridors, hoping for bathroom or at least a water fountain, but there was nothing, and every time he ventured deeper into the building, the clown fell further and further behind.

She was a dozen feet behind him now, holding the forlorn quill in front of her like a shield. He knew from experience that as soon as they reached the fourth corridor she would stop where she was and wait for his return, if not bolt back to the outer wall - so he nearly groaned aloud when he heard her steps halt when they were barely past the second corridor.

"It's all right," he said as he turned. "There's nothing he-- what's wrong?"

She was half turned away from him, body held taut as if she had heard a distant voice, and was straining for it.

He approached her carefully, raising his hand. "Feather girl? Everything okay?" She didn't even jump when he touched her elbow.

"She's awake," she murmured instead, and a distant smile spread over her face. "She's moving. Is that what you call me?"

There was no pause between statement and query. Reeve fumbled.


This time, she did look at him. "Feather girl. Is that your name for me now?"

Reeve blinked. He supposed the name was as good as anything else he was likely to come up with.

"Feather," he proposed, and watched her green eyes soften in a smile. "I think it is."


[Day 7, 1230 Central Standard Time]

The crater had cleaned up pretty well, Yuffie thought, mist or no mist. The Lifestream was good for something besides making Cloud crazy and getting Nanaki to talk, on and on: the ground had healed since the last time she’d been here. Pretty impressive, she thought, to do in a year what it hadn’t accomplished in eons. Pity it had taken so much to do it.

The wind howled like a monster with its arm cut off, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood to sharp attention. It was healed, she thought, but it wasn’t any less creepy. Especially since Vincent seemed determined to stay as far away from the middle of the crater as he could. Knowing that something in Vincent’s head didn’t like the place did nothing to endear it to her, especially since the things in Vincent’s head, while not awesome and totally deadly ninja warrior princesses, had more claws and teeth than the rest of AVALANCHE put together.

They left the chocobos at the lip of the crater. The birds milled anxiously behind them as they descended, Cloud in the lead, Tifa following, and Yuffie trying to balance on the tippy-tops of the tall rocks so she could concentrate on something other than a) how freezing fucking cold it was and b) how totally not creeped out she was by her birds refusing to move, for all their fancy palace guard-type training. She was doing really well until Vincent’s heavy metal footsteps stopped behind her and she tried to spin around on one leg like a music box ballerina. The point of the rock crumbled under her sneaker and made her skid down into the rubble like the rest of them, and the way Vincent was actually looking at her feet instead of her face was like rocks in her stomach.

"What’s wrong?" Tifa called, wine-red eyes half-closed against the ice and the moisture in the wind, and Vincent shook his head, and crouched, his eyes still on the ground rather than their faces.

"I will remain here," he said. "Any further, and I become a liability you cannot afford."

Cloud crunched back toward them, shoulders hunched, and nodded slowly at Vincent’s assessment. "It’s pretty clear in here today," he said. "You can cover us from there."

Vincent looked up, but only to watch the mists speculatively. He nodded in his slight, barely noticeable way. "The wind will make it difficult, but I will try."

"If you gotta hit us, make it something unimportant," Yuffie said, "like Spike’s head." For some reason he didn’t seem to appreciate her humour, just dropped his gaze back toward the stones like they were essential to maintaining inner peace. Yuffie squashed the urge to kick one at him and followed Cloud down through the mist.

The crater was clear enough that they could see the strange crystal formation in its centre a good half mile before they reached it, guided by its weird dark glow.

It did kind of look like materia, Yuffie thought as they got closer, but materia that had reached in too many directions at once. The spires that stabbed out from the shadowy core were taller than she was for the most part, but they were too many, too empty and clean, to condense into materia. There was nothing of the shifting smoke that indicated life and knowledge in the crystal’s depths, even tinted to a brackish green by the Lifestream running beneath it.

Cloud stalked around it anti-clockwise, eyes narrowed. Puzzled and wary, but not yet afraid. Yuffie followed, but a break in the spikes made her pause to peer more closely. In the middle of all the spikes, there was a foot or so that was as smooth and flat as glass. It didn’t look natural, but from here she couldn’t get close enough to find out, and if this crystal had really grown out of black materia, she didn’t want to.

But it didn’t look like materia.

On impulse, she lifted a hand toward one of the spires, then paused and glanced to her left. Tifa flexed her fingers, glove creaking with the cold, just as unwilling to make contact with the shadowy surface. But the furrow to her brow and the set of her jaw said what Yuffie was already thinking: if Sephiroth was involved, better them than Cloud.

She touched the spire lightly with one fingertip, then splayed her hand against it. There was no magic there – or if there was, it was... cold. Indifferent. It wasn’t interested in sharing, that was for sure.

"Well, no one say the m-word and mean it, but... it doesn't feel awake." She scrubbed the heel of her gloved palm roughly over the icy surface, cupped both hands around her eyes to block out whatever glare there was in the dim, clouded crater, but whatever Vincent thought he had seen, it was completely invisible from here.

Without conscious thought, she lifted a foot and set it against a slanted crystal, began reaching higher and further so she could get closer to the large smooth facet within the spikes. It was slippery - too slippery to climb all the way into the middle without losing organs to a spire or three - but (she strained taller, braced herself and jumped, high as she could and backward so she would not be a Yuffie-kebab or maybe a Yuffie-sicle given that she couldn't feel her ears) the spires didn't go in all the way. And in the middle of all that hard spiky death, there was a flat space about the size of a toilet cubicle.

She started jogging on the spot.

Cloud, having paced all the way around the formation, raised his eyebrow. She grinned, lifted her arms and started punching, lifting her knees high as she could to work the blood back into them. Then she started backpedalling, nice and slow, and Cloud moved back at her gesture, though he did not look expressly delighted about it.

"What are you doing?" he said. She stopped jogging and shook out her legs, flexed her ankles, rotated her wrists and windmilled her arms, grinning all the while.

"Getting a closer look," she said, and took off running. She only needed clear her own height, but the ice would make it tricky. Still, she could touch down there--

Hands, flip, feet, push, tuck, over--

She skidded a little just as she touched down, but she crouched fast enough, lowered her centre of gravity enough that it was a matter of inches and not the feet that would have skewered her like the bad kind of massage. Nothing to worry about.

"Yuffie?" Tifa's voice, cracked with cold or worry. Yuffie grinned and started scraping at the frost that covered the surface of the crystal.

"My legs!" she called to them both. "I'll never walk again! Oh, oh, my spleen--"

And then her heart stopped, dropped, rolled right into her stomach and stayed there radiating ice out into her spine.

Eight inches below the crystal’s surface, pale and unreal amidst the shadows, floated strands of silver hair. Beyond them, the tip of a long nose dropped away into darkness, but she could still make out the outline of a face in the crystal, and shoulders below them, and—


She launched herself out of the circle of crystal so fast that she damn near landed on Tifa’s head. She was five feet away and still back-pedalling when her brain caught up with her heart rate and she started digging materia out of her hip pouch by the handful.

Tifa and Cloud were already pulling back, already on high alert from the level of her alarm. Tifa didn’t look back; she accepted the materia Yuffie passed her without taking her eyes off the crystal mass.

"You saw him?" Cloud had raised his sword, hands tight on the hilt. Yuffie tapped her materia frantically against his shoulder.

"Equip, equip, equip," she sang in a frantic whisper. "He’s in there and he’s sleeping but it’s him. There’s still blood on his face. Vincent." She didn’t dare turn to wave for him, but that didn’t stop her from shrieking it over her shoulder. "Vincent!"

Tifa thumbed materia into her armlet, deft fingers tracing over the linked slots to place the orbs. "We’ve beaten him before, Yuffie," she murmured. "We can do it again." The leather over her knuckles creaked as if in reassurance.

The metallic weight of Vincent’s boots against rock preceded his voice by a few bare seconds. "There’s something in the east." There was a strain in his voice that was nearly breathlessness, but Vincent never lost his breath over running. "Probably human, but..."

But no one took chances this close to black materia. Yuffie held materia out in a flat palm and he scissored them off and into Death Penalty’s barrel with only the barest hesitation. He didn’t have to ask what they had seen. But the moments passed with no movement from the crystal, and when Vincent’s breath hissed in between his teeth it wasn’t from anything Yuffie could see.

"Vincent?" The question was level, but the fact that Cloud had to ask at all was cause for concern. Vincent shook his head.

"Fine. They are simply... alert."

"So something’s awake," Cloud surmised. "Even if it isn’t Sephiroth."

"Spread out?" Tifa asked. The puffs of her breath came more slowly as she readied herself for battle.

"Around the materia," Cloud said. "Yuffie with me."

They crouched amid the crystal spires and listened as the wind swallowed the crunch of Vincent and Tifa's boots. Yuffie pursed her lips, poised, squinting into the wind and wishing, as she always did, that she'd brought goggles. Not that they seemed to be helping Cloud any. He waved a hand in front of his eyes, grimacing fiercely.

"What do you see, Spike?"

"Nothing real," he said firmly, which confused her until she heard the faint grind of boots and the rhythmic chink of a staff into the rock. She'd heard that sound enough to drive her crazy, climbing into this gods-forsaken pit for the very first time with Cid right behind her, but this step wasn't as heavy or as business-like as the pilot's. It only took a flutter of pink through the snow to confirm the suspicion, and then she was on her feet trying to push past Cloud's out-thrown arm, teeth bared in fury.

"Show me your real face so I can gut you, you son of a--"

The illusion - because it had to be an illusion - stopped, staff hovering in preparation for the next step. Her hair blew forward over her bare shoulders, and while she was pale as death, there was enough warmth in her to puff out condensation with each breath.

"You're here," she said, relief palpable, leaning into the staff. Her voice was whisper-dry.

Yuffie heard Tifa shout something into the wind, and the illusion shook her head and laughed. It sounded like she'd smoked all Cid's cigarettes and then tried to drink the ocean.

"It's me. There are things I need to do." She stepped forward, and they backed off in unison, though Yuffie was less suspicious with every moment - an illusion wouldn't be so tired, so worn. An illusion didn't have eyes like Aeris did.

Tifa circled into place at Aeris' back, eyes narrowed, Vincent facing out into the crater with his gun still raised. "Cloud?" she asked, and her voice was wavering.

"The Turks thought the Reeve copy was real, too," Cloud gritted out. "Vincent, what do you--"

"There's nothing else," Vincent said. "Just her." His eyes burned bright with Chaos when he turned and, to Yuffie's astonishment, stowed his weapon.

"Aeris." It was greeting, barely, and brimful of suspicion and hope. "How? And... why?"

Aeris smiled back, her hand still resting on the materia formation. "I'll let you know as soon as I do. But for now..." Her gaze became determined as she turned back to the crystal. "I think maybe you should stand back."

A soft white glow stole over Aeris' shoulders, down her arms and hands and into the depths of the crystal, refracting silvery light so intense Yuffie's eyes began to sting and water.

She threw up her hands to protect her vision as the light turned from white to brilliant green, and nearly swallowed her tongue.

The crystal was cracking.

Chapter Eight: Awakenings, Part III
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June 2013


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