To Ease a Troubled Mind
Rain beat down on the streets of Midgar. Thunder growled after lightning streaked across the blackened sky. Midgar pulsed with life despite the cold, wetness, and oppressive darkness from above that forced itself down on the city. There was one building that was more alive and vibrant than any other, especially during the black hours of the night, past midnight. Vincent stepped out of the Shinra helicopter and waved to the pilot as he took off again. Ignoring the rain and not quickening his pace, he strode toward the door at the edge of the roof, pausing for only a moment to gaze eastward, towards Nibelheim. By some mysterious deeper awareness he could almost feel the loneliness that ached from the part of his heart he’d left behind. From experience he knew Lyria was curled up on the window seat of the bedroom they shared, cup of coffee on the windowsill, blanket spread across her knees and a book, open, yet unread, in her lap. He knew her gaze was fixed westward toward Midgar and she was wearing a white men’s dress shirt, far too large for her, and toying with the fabric idly. With a reluctant sigh he pulled open the door into the hustle of Shinra Headquarters.
“Mr. Valentine!” a secretary with his arms full of papers called across the room. “So glad you’re here, sir! Reeve’s been waiting for you, you’re rather late…”
“The storm held up the chopper.”
“I see. There have been a bunch of messages since midnight…”
“How many?” Vincent asked suspiciously, aware of exactly how many memos could arrive in the mere ten minutes that had passed since midnight.
“12:00: From President Reeve, asking you to report upstairs.” The secretary handed Vincent a slip of paper, which he immediately crumpled and tossed over his shoulder.
“Ah…12:03: From President Reeve: asking why you haven’t reported upstairs yet.”
Vincent sighed and crumpled the second memo.
“12:05, 12:07, 12:08: From President Reeve: I’ll quote directly here, ‘Why the hell isn’t Valentine here yet?’”
“What’s the rush?”
“I’m not sure sir; there have been rumors of a new recruit…”
“Really? I hadn’t heard anything…”
“No one had sir. Reeve was keeping it quiet because this new fellow is supposedly ‘too good to be true”.”
“Hmm…” Vincent’s cell phone rang and he answered it. “Valentine…I’m on the seventieth floor sir…I’ve been working on it, I had to sort through all the memos you sent first. What’s this I’m hearing about a new recruit?…that’s a big deal, sir, I’m surprised we weren’t informed sooner…Reeve…Reeve!…sir, with all due respect, shut up and let me get to your office.” Vincent clicked the phone off. “He seems excited.”
“I know, sir. He’s driving Reno and Rude up the wall.”
“I can understand that. I’ll be heading up then. If my wife calls, tell her I’ll get in touch with her as soon as possible.”
“Very good, sir. Have a good evening, sir.”
“Thank you.” Vincent headed for the elevator and pressed the down button, glancing at the screen and seeing a number only in the mid thirties he decided the stairs would be easier. He headed for the stairwell and jogged quickly down several flights of stairs. Just as he reached the door of Reeve’s office his phone rang again. With a sigh he opened the door and entered Reeve’s office. The Shinra president was sitting at his desk, cradling the phone with his shoulder and shuffling through some papers with his hands. Reno was lounging comfortably with his chair tilted back and feet propped on Reeve’s desk, playing with a paperweight he’d found. Rude, as usual, stood stoically at attention in front of Reeve’s desk. Standing beside him, looking rather apprehensive, was a young man with untidy blond hair and big blue eyes. He was no more than twenty and smiled when Vincent entered, in sort of a hello gesture, which Vincent did not return.
“Dammit! Why isn’t he answering?” Reeve complained, having not yet noticed Vincent.
“I’m right here, Reeve.” Vincent held up his still ringing cell phone.
“Oh.” Reeve sheepishly hung up the phone. “Well, then…have a seat, guys.”
“Already done,” Reno said with a wave of his hand.
“I’ll stand, thank you sir,” Vincent answered.
Rude said nothing and simply remained standing. The new recruit looked a little confused, torn between going with the silent majority and obeying his first order. The phone rang again and Reeve sighed and answered it.
“Sit your ass down, kid,” Reno offered congenially.
“Yes, sir!” the young man responded, sitting down stiffly in the chair next to Reno.
The red haired Turk chuckled. “First time I’ve ever seen anybody sit at attention…”
“You wouldn’t know, would you Reno?” Rude commented.
Reno laughed. “Nope. You can relax a bit, kid, this isn’t SOLDIER and I’m the last person on earth you should take orders from.”
“God forbid,” Vincent added quietly.
“Yeah. How’s Lyria doing?” Rude asked.
“She’s fine. How’s Elena?”
“Good, I guess. A bit moody…”
“Typical,” Reno snorted, still playing with his paperweight.
“What about you Reno? How’s ‘the-blonde-in-accounting’?” Vincent asked with an arched eyebrow.
“How’d you know about that?” Reno demanded.
“There’s lipstick on your collar.”
“Oh. She’s great.” Reno grinned.
“Sorry to keep you all waiting.” Reeve hung up the phone and smiled at the young man in a fatherly manner. “By now you all know why you’re here.”
“Reeve, get to the goddamn point,” Reno said.
“I’m working on it, Reno.”
“All right then, continue.”
“Anyway. Shinra Corporation is proud to welcome Mr. Daniel Fletcher to the Turks. I should introduce you to the three you’ll be working with. This is Reno.” Reeve pointed to Reno who was still playing with his paperweight and not paying any attention to Reeve.
Rude idly reached out and tipped his chair over all the way. Reno yelled a few choice swearwords and kept his balance at the last second. “Christ! All right, already, I’m listening!”
“The big guy who just tipped over Reno’s chair is Rude.” Rude looked at the young man and gave him a rare, but still very slight, grin.
“And the tall fellow is Vincent. He’ll be your squad leader.” Daniel turned to Vincent and smiled again. Again, Vincent didn’t return the gesture.
“Stand up,” he ordered curtly. The young man complied nervously. Reno exchanged a worried glance with Rude. This was a new side of Vincent.
“Daniel Joseph Fletcher.” Daniel stood at attention stiffly as Vincent circled him, brown eyes calculating.
“Last name, then first.”
“Fletcher, Daniel Joseph,” the young man hastily corrected.
“Weapon of choice.”
“Whatever you want to give me, sir. I’m very versatile.” Daniel smiled again.
“I didn’t ask for your opinion.”
“Hey, Vincent, lighten up,” Reno chastised. “He’s a kid and he just came up. Remember your first time? It’s hard being new.”
“ Reno, I’ll run this squad how I want. I don’t need your input.”
Reno blinked and glanced at Rude again. His partner had lowered his sunglasses and was staring at Vincent with a look close to disbelief.
Vincent backed off and leaned against the wall, not taking his eyes of Daniel. The young man started to sit down again. “I didn’t tell you to sit.”
Daniel froze and stood up again. Reno grabbed his arm and jerked him into a sitting position in the chair next to him. He glared defiantly at Vincent and was met with an icy stare.
“Ahem…ah…well…tonight I think we’ll send Daniel for a bit of a run with you three, it’s a simple mission, you won’t even have to leave Midgar for it.”
“Why are you sending us, if it’s only a simple mission?” Vincent asked, finally removing his gaze from Daniel. “What about the threat of revolution in Costa Del Sol? That’s supposed to be some pretty heavy duty activity…”
“Elena’s squad is handling that.”
A dreamy look came into Reno’s eyes. “Once again sir, I ask for a swap with Elena. She can have Rude and Vincent and I’ll take the little brunette vixen and the big red head she’s got in her squad. Hell, we’ll throw in Danny boy here for free.”
“ Reno, I happen to know that the ‘little brunette vixen’ could kill you six times before you even made a pass at her.” Rude snorted. “I’d hate to think what the redhead could do.”
“Elena has that squad for a reason,” Reeve said dismissively. “Back to this mission. You’ll be heading to the Ruins of Sector Seven and taking out a small group of activists.”
“How small?” Vincent asked.
“Four, maybe five members…”
“That isn’t worth sending your three best Turks.”
“My four best actually.” Reeve smiled at Daniel. “And it’s just so Daniel can get used to a new system.”
Vincent didn’t answer.
“Let’s go.” Rude opened the door. “Have you got a gun yet, Vincent?”
“Ok, you can show Daniel the armory.”
Vincent cast a cold glance at the recruit again. “Come on.” He headed through the door and down the hallway, not waiting for Daniel to catch up. The young recruit froze for a moment and then scrambled after Vincent. Reno caught his arm.
“Listen, kid, don’t take an instant dislike to Vincent; I think there’s something bugging him. He’s not usually like this. What’re we gonna call you anyway? Danny is sorta stupid sounding, if you don’t mind my saying so…”
“My old squad used to call me Fletch, back when I was in SOLDIER…”
“Ok, then, Fletch it is.” Reno grinned.
“Umm…where did our squad leader go?” Daniel glanced up and down the empty hallway.
“We’ll show you.” Reno led the way down the corridor to a thick metal door. He swiped his keycard in front of the scanner by the door and there was a beep.
“Welcome, Charles Reno. Stand by for retinal scan,” a computerized female voice commanded.
“Aww…come on…I think we can let it go, just this once…” Reno protested. “Come on, doll, for me?”
“Step up to the screen, Charles Reno.”
“Hell. There’s a rumor these things make you go blind.” Reno glared into the small computer screen. There was a blinding flash and Reno flinched.
“Retinal scan complete. Have a nice day, Charles Reno.”
“Goddamn computer bitch,” Reno grumbled, rubbing his eyes. “I can never see for five minutes after that stupid scan.”
Rude grabbed his arm and stopped him from walking into the not yet open door.
“What the hell? Lemme go!”
“Fine.” Rude released Reno’s arm and he strode forward, straight into the metal door.
“Ow! The hell you let me do that for?” Reno whined, rubbing his nose.
“You said to let you go.”
Daniel grinned and walked through the door to the armory. There were a large assortment of swords, whips, gloves, throwing stars, and an entire wall of guns. Vincent was standing near that wall, sighting down the barrel of a shotgun. He didn’t look up as Daniel entered.
“Hey, isn’t that rather heavy artillery for tonight?” Reno asked as his vision started to return.
“I don’t think so.”
“Is there…do you have any recommendation of what sort of weapon I should use, sir?” Daniel asked Vincent nervously.
“You need to ask me? Make your own decision.”
“Umm…” Daniel made as though to take one of the guns from the rack Vincent stood by, but stopped when he saw the cold glare he was receiving.
“Do you really think a party needs more than one long range fighter?”
“W-well…I just thought…”
“What was your specialty in SOLDIER?”
“I tried to be widely specialized…sir…I can use a gun, sword, and I’m fairly proficient in martial arts…”
“Take a sword, let Rude handle martial arts. A squad doesn’t need doubles.”
“Y-yes sir…” Fletch hastily picked up a blade from the table and slung it across his back.
“Let’s go. This shouldn’t take long.” Vincent left the room and Reno caught up to him.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Reno hissed. “He’s a kid and you’re treating him like trash. Is there something bugging you?”
“Hey, come on. We’ve known each other…what, like thirty years now, I think you can tell me…”
“First of all, the majority of the thirty years we were both locked up somewhere, not even aging and half the time we were out and about we were technically enemies. Secondly, there’s nothing wrong.”
“Nothing?” Reno asked skeptically.
“No. Nothing. Now, go hold Junior’s hand and make sure he doesn’t fall in the mud on our way to Sector Seven. I also suggest you head back and check that his shoelaces are tied.”
Reno stopped dead in his tracks, watching Vincent head for the elevator. He waited for Rude and Fletch to catch up. “Well, there goes my ego, shot to hell.”
“What’d he say?” Rude asked.
“He blew me off. Wouldn’t tell me if anything was wrong and made some rather caustic remarks about Fletch.”
“He did?” The young recruit looked slightly injured.
“Don’t take it seriously. He’s probably just in a bad mood…Rude, you go talk to him,” Reno suggested.
“I’ll try. I’m not good at talking.”
“You can say that again.”
Rude didn’t answer and headed for the elevator Vincent stood in front of. When the doors slid open he followed his leader in and pressed the button to close the doors.
“Not waiting for Junior? Or does Reno want to have a chat with him?”
Rude rather firmly placed a hand on Vincent’s shoulder. There were only a few inches of difference in their heights; Rude was slightly taller, but by far bulkier and better built. “What’s eating you?”
“Come on.” Rude tightened his grip. “Tell me.”
“There’s nothing bothering me,” Vincent answered, gritting his teeth. Rude couldn’t tell whether it was in irritation or in pain.
“There has to be something.” Rude strengthened his hold until Vincent flinched and angrily pushed his hand away.
“Fine. Don’t tell Reno and especially don’t tell the new kid.”
“I don’t…I don’t trust him. There’s something off about the way he acts.”
“Yeah, but it’s not that.”
“Are you sure you aren’t just paranoid?”
“I know what I’m feeling.”
“Whatever. I think you’re wrong.”
“Just keep an eye on him.” Vincent stepped out of the elevator as it stopped at the bottom floor and waited by the door.
“Well?” Reno asked, coming up behind Rude.
“I didn’t get anywhere, but I may have broken his shoulder.”
Reno sighed. “Rude, violence is not always the answer.”
Rude looked at him with a perplexed expression. “Are we even allowed to say that?”
“Don’t tell anybody,” Reno joked, pulling out his nightstick and waving it in response to the curt gesture Vincent made.
“May I see your ID please?” a uniformed guard politely asked Vincent as the squad approached the only train that still ran to Sector Six. The slums were now basically deserted and very few people ever found need to go down. Unfortunately, the treacherous alleys, lack of light, and abandoned shops full of weaponry and old machine parts made it ideal for illicit activity. Most of the time petty criminals and drug dealers haunted the lower sectors and gang wars ravaged the underside of the city. Reeve had wisely decided to leave the situation to boil down to nothing on its own, rather than risk the lives of soldiers exterminating the people causing the problem. Once in a while though, some groups would grow restless and start trying to stir up trouble on the upper plate. Reeve had drawn the line at the bombing raids and killing sprees that the terrorists would incite. At that point, the Turks were sent in to take out the leaders of whichever groups were causing the problem.
Vincent glared at the man and the other guard nudged his partner sharply in the ribs.
“Blue suit, shotgun, and about two seconds away from killing you dead. By now you oughta be able to recognize a Turk! Go right ahead sir, sorry about him, he’s new…”
“New blood is always trouble,” Vincent remarked absently, entering the lavish car reserved only for Shinra members. Unlike the other cars on the train it was plush and well maintained. There were comfortable benches running alongside the car and a bar at one end.
“Hey!” Reno exclaimed, coming into the compartment and noticing the bar. “That’s new! Anyone want a drink?”
“You drink on the job?” Fletch asked incredulously.
“Yup. Helps to be a little plastered when you’re going after terrorists with semi-automatic machine guns with only a stick.” Reno waved his nightstick. “Scotch and water Rude?”
Rude just nodded and stood near the door of the compartment examining a map of Midgar.
“You want anything Vincent?” Reno asked, handing Rude a glass.
“How ‘bout you Fletch?”
“Don’t give Junior anything.”
“Hey, come on, it’s his first mission…”
“And if you give him anything he’ll be too smashed to even remember his first mission because he’s too young to handle the hard stuff you two keep in here.”
“It’s all right, Reno. I don’t need anything,” Fletch interrupted helpfully.
“What, you think you can handle this on your own?” Vincent asked, staring out the window.
“You’ve been out in the field when you were in SOLDIER. It’s different in the Turks. In SOLDIER, you were fighting ‘monsters’, the enemy, the creatures outside Midgar who are giving the workers out there problems. Now we’re in Midgar and the game is different. These ‘monsters’ have machine guns, machetes, grenades, and an inane sense of superiority. They think they’ve got the artillery to stand up to Shinra.”
“We’ll show them,” Fletch said confidently.
Vincent turned from the window and looked at Fletch with cold eyes. “This sense of superiority gives them an overabundance of confidence. They don’t care that they’re facing Shinra’s elite. There’s so much adrenaline flowing they’ll be doubly as hard to bring down.”
“In SOLDIER, you watch each other’s backs, right? There’s like a buddy system, you watch his back, he’ll watch yours. We don’t have that. I can’t be looking out for Reno and Rude all the time. I need to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they can take care of themselves. If one of us has a spare moment and can risk a glance at the others and see there’s trouble we can maybe shout a warning, but other than that, you’re on your own.”
Fletch glanced at Reno and Rude to see if Vincent was serious or if he was just hassling him because he was new. The grim expression on Rude’s face and the way Reno sighed and polished off the last of the glass he’d poured for himself told him otherwise.
“Don’t worry about it, kid. There’ll only be like fifteen of them,” Reno said in a comforting tone.
“Fifteen?! But…Reeve said…”
“President Reeve,” Vincent corrected sternly.
“P-President Reeve said there would only be five…” Fletch looked nervous now that he knew they would be outnumbered about three to one.
“Five who are officially members of whatever this group calls themselves,” Reno snorted. “Cheap bastards always round up others.”
“You…you said this was an easy job?” Fletch turned to Vincent.
“On a hard job you can expect about fifty.”
Rude shifted uncomfortably.
“Hey, Rude, don’t worry about it,” Reno said, glancing at his partner. “Elena can take care of herself better than the both of us. Tseng’s little pet, taught her everything he knew.”
“Tseng was a character.”
Reno laughed. “He sure was. You know what, Vincent? There were only two Turks that weren’t shot by their squad leaders when they were first selected. You and Tseng.”
“Really?” Vincent’s tone was disinterested.
“Yeah. Tseng didn’t like his squad leader halfway through the mission and shot him in the back. We’d heard that you beat the shit out of yours when he punched you in the ribs.”
“I wouldn’t go that far.” Vincent smiled slightly. “I’d almost forgotten about that…”
“The Elite never heard about it, but a lot of you were like legends. You were popular, so was this other guy named Butch.”
“Scared the hell out of me when I found out my first field mission would be with you.”
“So you responded by promptly making an idiot out of yourself,” Rude commented.
“I did not!”
“Yeah, you did.”
“Nuh uh!” Reno folded his arms and stuck his tongue out at Rude.
“Grow up Reno.”
“Go to hell.”
The train jolted to a stop and Vincent headed out one of the doors. Abruptly there was rapid gunfire and shouting from outside.
Fletch jumped and ran out the door after Vincent. “What…” He stopped and stared about at the three men who were sprawled on the ground. Vincent’s gun was still smoking from the barrel. “Haven’t…didn’t all that shooting alert the terrorists?”
“Would you rather attack a startled terrorist who’s liable to do anything or one that’s ready and has a ‘strategy’ planned? Keeping in mind their ‘strategies’ usually fail miserably.”
“Secondly, no, all that shooting did not alert anybody. There’s enough gunfire down here to cover the entire SOLDIER firing squad.”
Fletch gulped and waited for Reno and Rude to catch up.
“Don’t worry about it. Reeve wouldn’t have put you with us if he didn’t think you could handle it,” Rude said.
“Yeah. And there’s something getting under Vincent’s skin, he’s not usually like this, I swear,” Reno added.
“We better catch up.”
The three hurried to where Vincent was crouched on some of the twisted wreckage near the entrance to Sector Seven. “Rude, give me a hand.”
Rude obediently went forward, nimbly negotiating the broken slabs of concrete and twisted sheet metal to where Vincent was waiting. He helped his leader pry up a manhole cover, barely visible beneath the debris.
“We’re going down there?” Fletch asked, shifting his sword nervously. “Into the Mako tunnels? What about the radiation and the mutants?”
“Has your mother been telling you bedtime stories?” Vincent asked scornfully. “Of course we’re going down.”
Fletch blushed as Rude pulled the cover all the way of the manhole and looked down. “Who’s going first?”
“It’s black as night!” Fletch exclaimed. “Shouldn’t we bring a torch or something?”
Vincent sighed. “Stand back.” He pulled a book of matches from his pocket and struck one. The flame glowed brightly in the semi darkness of Sector Seven. Before it burnt out he tossed it into the hole. There was a faint rushing noise, and then a roar as a column of fire shot up from the pipes. “No, I don’t think a torch would be a good idea.”
Fletch gulped and nodded. “What are you going to do for a weapon then?”
“Not much I can do. We won’t be in the sewers long.” Vincent dropped down through the manhole and landed lightly in the darkness below.
Rude followed, then Fletch. The young recruit looked around. It wasn’t quite as dark down here as it had seemed, but the only light came from green liquid dripping from the pipes that ran across the top.
“Heads up!” Reno yelled as he dropped, landing awkwardly and stumbling a bit. “Damn! Vincent, it stinks down here. Burnt Mako. Sick. I haven’t smelled burnt Mako since the reactor in Sector Seven blew.”
“Blame Junior, for being less then knowledgeable about sewer gases. Let’s go.”
Reno shrugged and followed Vincent as he wove his way through the tunnels. There was an oppressive silence broken only by the plunking of water falling from above. The Turks came to a ladder leading to another manhole, above which they could hear voices yelling and talking angrily.
“Is this it?” Rude asked. “I hear about twenty people up there. If this is our objective, it would be best if we could wipe them out in one fell swoop.”
“How though?” Reno asked.
Vincent was silent, considering the options. “We don’t have much of a chance going up there from here…”
Fletch looked hesitant for a moment, and then spoke up. “I might have a way…”
“What’s your idea?” Reno asked, before Vincent could make any stinging remarks.
“I have a couple hand grenades…if I tossed one up there…” He pulled out a small explosive and held it up.
“Boom. Bye-bye terrorist threat. Good idea, kid…”
Vincent didn’t answer and looked at Fletch expectantly.
“Well, go already. I want to get back.”
“Yes, sir.” Fletch climbed carefully up the ladder and slowly lifted the cover. The arguing voices grew louder and Fletch quickly tossed the grenade into the middle of the argument. There was sudden silence. Fletch dropped from the ladder.
“Let’s get the hell outta here!” Reno yelled, taking off down the tunnel. The others followed quickly, just as an explosion rocked the corridor. Screaming and splashes echoed and there was suddenly gunfire.
“Shit. They fell through…” Rude grumbled. “Get down, flat on the ground, and don’t get up for anything.”
Fletch didn’t answer and pressed himself down against the hard cement of the tunnel floor. He suddenly felt a rush as fire flew over him and fizzled out as abruptly as it had erupted.
“Come on.” Fletch didn’t know who said it, but all of a sudden they were up and running again, Vincent hesitating and firing into the fray of pursuing terrorists before following the others. Bullets whizzed past Fletch, but he kept running, reaching the ladder before the other three. There was a muffled yell and he heard Rude swear. He turned to see Rude bending over to help Reno up and watched Vincent loose more ammo behind them.
“Ok, I got him,” Rude helped Reno stand and ran past Vincent to the ladder. He boosted Reno up and Fletch helped him up the steps. He climbed to the top and hauled Reno out, followed closely by Rude. After a few seconds that seemed to last forever Vincent pulled himself out and backed away from the edge of the entrance.
“Fletch, if you have another grenade get it out, fast. Rude, get Reno out of the way and help me get something over this cover,” Vincent ordered, scanning the area for something heavy to pull over the manhole top.
Rude lifted Reno up and helped his friend stumble several feet away and collapse to the ground again.
“Ready!” Fletch shouted, standing above the opening, poised to drop another grenade.
“Ok, drop it,” Vincent instructed, helping Rude drag a heavy looking piece of metal over to the breach.
Fletch obeyed and leapt back as Rude and Vincent dropped their load with a crash.
For a few seconds there was silence then an explosion rocked the ground. Dust fell from above and clouded the air for a second. There was muffled coughing and a groan from Reno.
“Hey, Reno, you all right?” Fletch called nervously, waiting for the dust to clear.
“ Reno?” Rude echoed.
“Goddamn those rat-ass bastards straight to *&$%#@ hell…” was the weak response.
The dust settled and Fletch could see Vincent kneeling by Reno who was still sprawled to the side. At first glance there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with him, until Fletch got a look his white shirt and saw the blood blossoming from his left side.
“What happened?” Fletch asked anxiously, reaching out to help Reno sit up.
“Got &*^$^& shot…” Reno mumbled.
“Take it easy, ok Reno?” Rude scolded.
“Let’s get out of here. Fletch, give Rude a hand with Reno, I’ll go ahead.” Vincent reloaded his gun and hurried ahead to scout for enemies while Fletch helped Rude pull Reno to his feet.
“Hang on, Reno, you’ll be ok…” Fletch promised, supporting the red head as he stood up.
Vincent quickly entered a code on the keypad beside the sliding door of the train and it slid open. He beckoned to Rude and stepped out of the way as he helped Reno into the compartment. Fletch followed and aided Rude in laying his partner on one of the benches.
Vincent banged on the door at the forward end of the car. “Get this thing moving!”
“Right away sir!” a voice called. “Is there an emergency, sir?”
“Yes, get back up to Midgar as fast as you can.” Vincent turned around. “Is he all right?”
“I dunno. I’ll ask. Hey, Reno, you all right?” Rude questioned.
“Are you sure?” Vincent asked.
“Yeah. Can I have a drink?”
Rude grinned in relief and Vincent smiled slightly. “Hell no.”
“What? Why not?”
“If there’s one thing Lyria’s taught me…”
“I don’t care what Lyria’s taught you, I wanna drink! Something stiff.”
“*&$^! Come ON! I just got shot!” Reno whined.
“Nope.” Rude firmly laid a hand on Reno’s shoulder and pushed him back down as he tried to sit up.
“Aww…hey, Vincent, you’re bleeding too…”
“Hmm? Oh. I didn’t notice…” There was a small gash running across Vincent shoulder, but it didn’t look deep and it wasn’t bleeding too badly. He idly pressed a hand against it to try and stop some of the blood flow, but only succeeded in getting his gloves stained. “Oh well. I’ll take care of it later.”
Vincent wearily entered the lobby of a large hotel near the Shinra headquarters and walked up to the front desk. “Turks. I have a reservation.”
“Uh huh…” the man at the desk rapidly keyed in a few numbers. “Vincent Valentine?”
“Could you sign here sir?” the clerk asked, handing Vincent a sheet of paper and a pen.
Vincent readjusted his hold on the shotgun slung over his shoulder and quickly wrote his signature where the clerk indicated, ignoring the blood on his hands that made the pen slip. He handed the sheet of paper back to the man who took it gingerly, avoiding the spots where it had been stained red and dropped a key card into Vincent’s outstretched hand. Vincent turned to head upstairs, but stopped and made to hand the clerk his pen.
“You keep it, sir. Compliments of the hotel,” the man said, cringing at the sight of the blood that covered writing instrument.
“Oh. Thanks.” Vincent headed for the elevators.
“Sir! I’m sorry, but the elevators are out of order…”
“Where’s the closest flight of stairs?”
“Just down the hall, sir. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”
Vincent sighed and didn’t answer, walking down the hallway to the doorway at the end. He glanced at the number on the card in his hand. “Oh damn…just my luck I’d get a room on the twentieth floor…” Sighing again he jogged up the first set of stairs. After what seemed like fifty flights he reached the top and opened another door. The hallway was silent and seemed dim after the bright fluorescent lights of the stairwell. Vincent swiped his card in front of the scanner of room 2013 and pushed the door open. The lights were on and glowed warmly and the bedding was already turned down. He threw his gun in a corner, followed by his jacket, ammo belt, dress shirt, and shoes. He walked over to the far side of the room where a wall-to-wall window dominated and pulled the blinds shut. Idly he sat down on the bed and picked up the phone. It was about four in the morning and he wasn’t entirely sure what time it was in Nibelheim, but decided to take a chance and call home. He dialed the number, ignoring the blood that got on the keypad and waited for Lyria to pick up the phone.
It rang once, then twice, and by the fifth ring Vincent was considering hanging up, when a familiar voice answered.
“Vincent! Oh darling, how are you? I miss you so much!”
“I miss you too…”
“What’s wrong? You sound tired…” Lyria’s voice was concerned.
“That stands to reason.”
“How was your night? Are you ok?”
“I’m fine. Bit of a cut on my shoulder, but it’s nothing. Easy mission tonight.”
“Are you sure? It’s not deep, is it? Did you put a bandage on it? It’ll get infected if you don’t…”
“It’s fine, Lyr. Some nurse looked at it when we dropped Reno off at the hospital…”
“What? What happened?”
“He had a bullet graze his side, but…”
“Oh! Is he all right?”
“Yeah, he’s fine. How’d your shift go?”
“Wish I could say the same. Hang on a minute, Lyr, I’m gonna lie down.” Vincent moved the phone so he could stretch out comfortably on the bed.
“Better?” Lyria asked.
“I wish I was with you…no, actually, I wish you were here…”
“The feeling is more than mutual.”
“I’m sorry you’re tired…”
“Not your fault. It’d be worse if we’d had a real mission tonight.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“New recruit. I don’t like him.”
“It’s just…something about him rubs me the wrong way…”
“Well…maybe you just have to get used to him. I know it took everyone at the hospital years to get used to me…”
“Well, I don’t know. Oh! I just remembered, Tifa came over today and she brought Aeris and it was so cute, she…Vincent?” There was no answer, but she could hear her husband’s heavy breathing. Lyria smiled to herself. “Good night, I love you…” There was a soft click as she hung up, barely audible in the dark room.
Vincent woke to a pounding on the door of his hotel room. With an irritated groan he rolled over and looked at the clock by his bed. It was just past six in the morning. The banging on his door persisted and he became dimly aware of a high-pitched whining noise. “What…” He noticed the phone lying on the ground off the hook and replaced it on the cradle.
“Vincent! Open this door! You aren’t dead are you?” Rude yelled, pounding on his door.
With an exasperated sigh Vincent got up and opened the door. “Rude, what the hell do you want?”
“Reeve wants to know why you didn’t report last night.”
“I didn’t report last night because it was goddamn four in the morning.”
“Shall I tell him that?”
“Yeah. And while you’re at it, tell him I’m not running a daycare center and I don’t want a five year old in my squad.”
“Someone’s in a bad mood.”
“Someone only got two hours of sleep.”
“Reeve wants you down at HQ.”
“Two hours ago.”
“I don’t want to go…”
“Reeve doesn’t care what you want.”
“This isn’t fair,” Vincent grumbled, pulling on his shoes and grabbing his jacket and rifle.
“Reeve doesn’t care if it’s fair.” Rude held open the door.
“Does Reeve care about his new lapdog, Rude?”
“My, my, my, we are harsh this morning, aren’t we?”
“Why are you in such an infuriatingly good mood?” Vincent asked, heading down the stairs.
“Elena came back last night.”
“Oh. Joy and rapture, Elena’s back. Does she need a puppy in her squad? Of course, she can’t have you; you seem to be Reeve’s pet all of a sudden. Maybe we’ll give her Junior. Of course, that’s only if she promises to feed him and take him for walks.”
“What do you have against the kid anyway?”
“I told you, I don’t like him.”
“Sheesh.” Rude fell silent the rest of the way down the stairs.
“How’s Reno doing?” Vincent asked, as they approached the counter.
“Good morning, sir,” the hotel clerk greeted Vincent pleasantly.
“Like hell it is.”
“Ah…will you be checking out?”
“May I have your key card and how will you be paying?”
“Bill it to Shinra.”
“Yes.” Vincent held up his shotgun and suit jacket, neither of which he’d bothered to do anything with. “Turks. Bill it to Shinra.”
“Yes, sir. Have a good day, sir.”
“Not the way it’s shaping up so far.” Vincent headed out the door with Rude following. “Where’s your car?”
“Didn’t take it. I walked.”
“Walked? It’s like eight blocks!”
“I thought you liked walking.”
“Who in god’s name likes walking?”
“I assumed you did because you took the stairs instead of the elevator.”
“You mean it’s working?”
“It was when I got here.”
“Damn it. I’m having a bad day.”
“Good morning Vincent,” Reeve greeted the dark haired Turk as he entered the office.
“Not really.” Vincent sat down in one of the chairs in front of the President’s desk.
“Why didn’t you report last night?”
“I was tired…”
“Oh. That’s understandable, but I was rather worried. I thought the four of you had been killed until Elena reported and said she was looking forward to spending the night with Rude.”
“What’s eating you?”
“I’m sick of telling everybody, there is nothing bothering me!”
“Rude says you’re not taking well to having Daniel in your squad…”
“Rude should get back to keeping his mouth shut.”
“So should you.” Reeve leaned forward in his desk chair. “Come now. I understand you’ve been through a lot of changes recently, but there’s no reason to be so abusive.”
“I’m having a bad week.”
“Lots of people are. I know Daniel is, and it’s mostly your fault.”
“God, Reeve. Just leave me alone.”
“No. I think we’ll try an experimental procedure with you and Daniel. It’s new, developed quite recently by the inter-company relations board.”
“Bunch of sappy morons.”
Reeve sighed. “Vincent, you’re being childish. Precisely what are you rebelling against?”
“I’m not rebelling against anything.” Vincent looked away. “You want to know what it is?”
“What sort of a history does this Daniel kid have? I mean, I get the impression he was fairly high ranking in SOLDIER. First Class, right?”
“Well, yes. He made it his second week being a member…”
“When did he join?”
“At about age twenty.”
“Highly specialized in weaponry, and only in SOLDIER for a year?”
“It seems like it…maybe he’s gifted.”
“What was he doing before that gives him so much experience?”
“According to his file he was in med-school.”
“Reeve, do you seriously believe all this? I heard last night that people were calling him ‘too good to be true’. If there’s ever going to be a cliché that hits the mark it’s that one.”
“Well, what do you think could possibly be wrong? His credentials are spotless.”
“I’m following a deeper instinct here. There’s something telling me I can’t trust him.”
“How accurate would you say this instinct is?” Reeve asked dubiously.
“I was right about Hojo, I was right about Lewis…”
“Anyone could tell Hojo and Lewis were insane. You’re taking a dislike to a clean-cut, boy-next-door type of character who seems like he’ll be one of the best this company’s ever had.”
“I don’t know…it was my initial impression and I have to stick with that.”
“Well, I think I’ll send you on this training exercise. It’s simple. I’ll explain it when we get to the training floor and maybe it’ll soften your attitude towards Daniel.”
“The training floor?” Vincent asked skeptically. “With all the weightlifting equipment and stuff?”
“It’s been modified a bit.” Reeve pressed a button on his phone and instructed his secretary to send Daniel to the training floor. “Come along.”
“What exactly do you want me to do?”
“Not just you, it’ll be a team effort.” Reeve led the way down a flight of stairs to the training floor. “Now, here’s the change.” Reeve opened the door and let Vincent have a look at the lush jungle that had been created in the former gym.
“This must have cost you.”
Reeve shrugged. “It’s a part of the Human Resources Budget and that just gathers dust year after year.”
“Oh. So what am I supposed to do here?”
“Wow.” Vincent turned to see Daniel standing in the door, sword slung over one shoulder.
“Now, you two will be working together to exterminate all the monsters on this floor. There are a total of five and they each have a computer chip implanted in them that emits a signal when they die, so when you’re done you’ll be released.”
“Released? What the hell are you…” Vincent looked down as he heard a click from Reeve snapping a pair of handcuffs to his left wrist and firmly securing Daniel hand as well. “Oh no…Reeve, don’t you dare…”
The president smiled and exited the room. Vincent quickly turned to try the knob only to find it locked.
“Simulation begins now. Welcome Mr. Valentine, Mr. Fletcher.” A computerized female voiced echoed throughout the room from a small loudspeaker high on the wall in the corner.
“Damn…” Vincent stood in silence for a moment, considering his situation.
“Sir? Should we get started?” Fletch asked tentatively.
In response Vincent pulled out a handgun and stretched his left hand out in front of him, forcing Daniel to do the same.
“What are you…?” Daniel was cut off as Vincent fired and snapped the chain on the handcuffs.
“Now we can get started.” Without another word, Vincent strode into the heart of the artificial jungle and fired into the air. There was silence for a moment and then more gunfire. Animal screams of pain followed and moments later Vincent exited the small patch of jungle he’d entered. As he was leaving a wounded creature lurched out of the forest and made to pounce. Before Daniel could shout a warning, Vincent had whirled around and fired, striking the beast point blank between the eyes.
“Simulation complete, well done Mr. Valentine, Mr. Fletcher. It is the hope of this company…” The voice was cut off as Vincent fired another shot and blew the loudspeaker to pieces. Without waiting for Daniel, Vincent opened the door and headed upstairs to Reeve’s office.
He didn’t knock and just walked right in. The President was sitting at his desk going over some contracts. Vincent laid his hands on the desk in front of Reeve.
“Vincent! You finished already?” Reeve asked, startled.
“Yeah, I finished. Don’t do that again. I’m going now. I haven’t slept properly in forty-eight hours and it’s starting to show. Unless there’s another mission, I’ll be at the hotel on Shinra Avenue.”
“Vincent, what am I going to do with you?” Reeve sighed.
“Hopefully, you’ll let me sleep.”
“Hey, kid. You wanna come visit Reno with me?” Rude asked, entering the employee lounge where Fletch was sitting in a chair, reading a manual on proper maintenance of rifles.
“Sure…” Fletch hesitated for a moment. “Is…Vincent coming?”
“Nope. He’s at the hotel on Shinra, getting some sleep.”
“Oh. Ok, I’ll come.” Fletch got up and stretched then followed Rude to the elevator. “Why does he hate me so much?”
“He doesn’t hate you,” Rude answered. “He just trusts you about as far as he could throw you.”
“But it seems like it. Am I doing something wrong?”
“No…” Rude leaned against the wall of the elevator. “It’s just Vincent has sort of a sixth sense about people that he seems to have gotten from his years as a half human science experiment. Of course, in the past year he’s had those abilities removed and I don’t know if he can still tell whether or not someone’s liable to put a bullet between his shoulders. He had a fairly good grasp of that back in Mideel, but that was just before…it’s a good thing I’m not thinking this out loud or I could be in major trouble…”
“Well? What is it then?”
“I don’t know,” Rude answered honestly.
Fletch headed down the hallway to the hospital room where they had been told Reno was. For some reason the clerk at the front had nearly gone into convulsions upon seeing Rude and ducked behind the counter. Rude had politely asked for the room number and the man had told him in a quavering voice. Fletch had pressed for an explanation as to why the clerk was so terrified of him, but Rude had simply shaken his head and said it was complicated. Fletch dismissed his thoughts and pushed open the door to Reno’s room, only to find him very occupied…with a nurse. Fletch blushed and shut the door quickly, hoping neither had noticed him. He didn’t think it was terribly likely; they’d been quite busy.
“What’s wrong?” Rude asked coming up behind the young Turk.
“I…umm… Reno was…is…ah…maybe we should come back later…” Fletch scuffed his shoes on the floor and avoided meeting Rude’s eyes, painfully aware of the fact he was blushing a deep red.
“Oh. He does that from time to time, you’ll get used to it.” Rude entered the hospital room and cleared his throat. “Ok, Reno, playtime’s over.”
There was a shriek from inside the room and the nurse ran out, past Fletch.
“You can come in now, kid.”
Fletch entered the room slowly, still blushing, to see Reno sitting on the bed, pouting and Rude standing near the window examining a black bra he’d found with detached interest. “Hi, Reno…”
“You got some sense of timing kid,” Reno growled, folding his arms.
“Nah, s’ok.” Reno shrugged. “I get the impression you’re sorta sick of apologizing.”
“Yeah…” Fletch sighed. “I’m sorry I interrupted…”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“You losing your touch Reno? You’ve been here for like six hours and you were only to second base?” Rude asked.
“Yeah, right. That was kid’s stuff, you shoulda been here at around five when this little blonde came in to do a blood test.”
“Whatever, let’s change the subject. Are you gonna be outta here soon?”
“I can leave whenever I want.”
“Your doctor said that?”
“Nope. But I’m not staying if I’m capable of getting up and moving around.”
“I see. So you think you’re all right?”
“Yeah. It’s just a scratch.”
“Then you wanna go?”
“Sure…hey, is that guy from when Vincent was here still around?” Reno grinned wickedly and sat up in bed, wincing slightly.
“Yeah. Don’t expect much fun with him though, he’s scared to death of me.”
“Why was Vincent in the hospital?” Fletch asked.
“It’s a long story…and I doubt you’ll believe half of it,” Reno said.
“I wanna know. Maybe I can figure out why he hates me so much and try and do better.”
“Well…I’ll tell you, but don’t tell him I did,” Reno cautioned.
“Ok.” Fletch seemed eager to hear and listened attentively as Reno related what he knew of Vincent’s history, with Rude adding things in from time to time.
“Whoa. No wonder he’s in a bad mood.” Fletch had listened openmouthed to the story Reno told, not interrupting the entire time from when they left the hospital, got in Reno’s car, headed to a bar downtown and ordered drinks.
“That’s the thing. He shouldn’t be. Most of the time he gets along well with others and is fairly easy going. As a person, mind you, not as a Turk. He’s very serious as a Turk,” Reno answered.
“He’s showed me that…”
“He’ll lighten up.”
“Yeah, and if not, you’ll probably just get transferred.”
“It would’ve been nice to work with you guys…you’re supposed to be the best, but if I’m throwing that off, maybe I should just leave…” Fletch sighed and looked miserable.
“Hey, you’re good too, it’s just a compatibility issue. Rude and me aren’t compatible with anybody except Vincent. Probably because of the whole age thing. Maybe that’s why you don’t fit. We’re all about three times as old as you are.”
“Yeah…it sure doesn’t seem like it though. Vincent looks only…what, about seven years older than me?”
“Probably closer to nine.”
“I’ll give one more mission a shot, and then I think I’ll get a transfer. It’s probably for the best…”
“Are you all good and rested up?” Reeve asked the four Turks gathered in his office once again. He glanced meaningfully at Vincent who shrugged and looked away.
“Yeah we’re good, Reeve. Where’re we going?” Reno asked.
“Wutai. I’m sorta lending you out as a favor to Lord Godo. He’s having some problems with renegade shinobi who have moved into the mountains and are making raids on the village. Godo thinks they’re stealing materia too.”
“Probably just Yuffie,” Rude snorted.
“Who’s Yuffie?” Fletch asked. “Is he an enemy?”
“Yuffie’s a girl. Godo’s daughter. Cute body, but she’s got a thing for stealing materia,” Reno commented.
“Oh. Will she be helping us?”
“She might if she wants to. She’s a stuck up little brat. Probably about your age now.”
“More than likely she’ll just tag along and be annoying,” Rude added.
“I see. Are we leaving now then?”
“Yeah. Let’s go. Are you all outfitted?” Vincent asked in a distant tone. Since the previous evening Vincent had grown less hostile towards Fletch and Rude had surmised some of his suspicions had started to die. After all, Fletch seemed a very good Turk and his record was pristine.
“Uh huh.” Reno waved his nightstick and then grinned, giving Rude a quick jolt. He was rewarded with a solid smack in the back of the head. “Ow.”
“Why’d you shock me? You knew I was just gonna hit you…”
“Cut it out. You’re ready to go, Fletch?”
“Yes, sir,” Fletch answered, a bit wary of Vincent’s new attitude.
“Let’s hit the skies then.”
Fletch followed the others to the helipad in silence. It was odd not to be on the defensive, but he didn’t drop his feeling of uneasiness. “Can’t lower my guard, he’s still a bit edgy, doesn’t quite trust me yet.”
“Hi!” Yuffie screamed, running towards the clearing and tackling the first Turk who jumped out of the helicopter, which, unfortunately, was Fletch. The young ninja knocked him to the ground and threw her arms around his neck.
“Yuffie, that’s our new recruit, Fletch. I’m glad you two seem to be getting along so well,” Reno said, grinning as he followed Rude out of the helicopter.
“Oh! Umm…oops…hi…” Yuffie stood up and brushed herself off, then tackled Reno.
“Can I speak with your father?” Vincent asked, stepping out of the sliding door on the side of the chopper.
“No hello, Vinny?” Yuffie greeted Vincent with a hug, but, due to her slight figure, her arms only reached around the middle of his chest.
“That wasn’t very sincere.”
“Sorry. Let me see your father.”
“Oh fine. Come on, you guys’ll be staying at my place, unless you wanna go to the inn or something…”
“We don’t want to impose…” Vincent began, but Reno interrupted.
“Sure we’ll come. We stayed at the inn the last time we were in Wutai…you remember that Yuffie? You and Elena got nailed by Corneo and he was gonna…”
Yuffie turned around and kicked Reno hard in the chest, sending him flying backward into Rude. Rude grunted as his partner slammed into him, but held his ground.
“Damn! What was that for?”
“I don’t need to be reminded of what Corneo was gonna do to me,” Yuffie answered hotly.
“Jeez…sorry…” Reno grumbled.
“So…you’re Fletch? I’m Yuffie, pleased to meet you.” Yuffie caught up to Fletch who was walking a little ways ahead. She held out her hand and he took it politely and smiled.
“Same to you. How old are you?”
“I’m twenty. You like materia?”
Rude rolled his eyes and Reno grinned as Yuffie began chattering about her passion for materia. Surprisingly it seemed Fletch had interests along the same line and fairly soon the two were talking animatedly as Yuffie led the way to her father’s pagoda.
Upon entering the lavish mansion of Lord Godo, the Turks were greeted by a number of servants who relieved them of their weapons and led them into the interior of the house. Lord Godo waited in a large room, ornately decorated, with pillows spread out on the floor for his guests to sit on. Yuffie sprawled out on her stomach on the floor next to her father. Fletch and Reno sat down clumsily and tried to get comfortable. Vincent somehow managed to sit down with a moderate amount of dignity and Rude remained standing.
“Rude, sit down,” Vincent ordered quietly.
“I’d really rather stand.”
“Fine.” Rude sat down next to Reno rather stiffly.
“I should like to begin by thanking you all for coming. The situation is rather tense and a bit out of the hands of the local militia. These traitors to the order of monks who work in Wutai are causing us many problems. There have been raids on the weapon shops and there are random beatings of citizens in the streets at night. I cannot sense their motivation, unless it is to invoke trouble in our peaceful town.” Lord Godo’s voice was strong and he got right to the point.
“Reeve stressed that the situation was to be handled delicately,” Vincent remarked. “Is there a reason why?”
“Yes. The political state of affairs in Wutai is tense right now. There is a petty young nobleman who wishes to take the leadership of Wutai and we believe he may be behind the attacks on the city, trying to create insurrection…”
“But we aren’t gonna let him! This town has thrived under my father’s rule!” Yuffie leapt up and stomped her foot. “There’s no way in hell I’m letting this Lord what-the-hell’s-his-face try and overthrow my father! I’ll go stuff my shuriken up his…”
“Calm down Yuffie,” Lord Godo said sternly. “You aren’t to be involved.”
“But, father!” Yuffie wailed. “I can help!”
“It’s probably best just to let us handle it. For your own safety,” Vincent added.
“My safety?! What about the four of you? You don’t know the mountains of Wutai like I do and that’s where these bastards are hiding!”
“We’ll hire a guide in town.”
“How the hell are you gonna know which side he’s on? What if he’s a spy for Lord what’s-his-face?”
“We’ll take our chances,” Vincent said firmly.
“Fine! Don’t take me! I’ll help out on my own!” Yuffie stormed out of the room and down the hall to her chambers.
“She’s still as zealous as always, isn’t she, my Lord?” Reno asked. “Although…if I remember correctly, she used to be rather rebellious.”
“Yes…sometimes I wonder if it’s a blessing or a curse.” Lord Godo sighed. “I’ll finish briefing you tomorrow. It’s nearly five in the morning and there’s no need to start until at least noon tomorrow. I’m sure you’re all tired. The servants will show you your rooms. Vincent, if you could stay for a moment…”
“Of course, sir.”
“G’night, Lord Godo. See you in the morning,” Reno called.
“Good night, sirs…” Fletch added, heading out the door.
“Now, Vincent, I’d like to talk to you about the particulars of this mission…”
“Yes, sir. I gather there’s more of a reason to why Reeve sent us then as a favor?”
“Quite right, my boy. Now, there’s a lot of tension in the village right now and people are starting to take sides. The debate comes down to whether or not to remain tied to Shinra like we are. After the signing of the treaties at the end of the war most people were ready to forgive and forget, but some still harbored hatred to Shinra. Now, we know the company has changed greatly for the better since Reeve’s initiation as president, but some people are set in their ways.”
“You need our help taking out this threat before it can get out of hand?”
“Correct. Now, the main problem seems to be a man by the name of Lord Yukio, who wants to, as my daughter said, overthrow my rule.”
“I’ll be blunt. Do you want him shot?”
“If it comes to it, but I’d rather he was taken prisoner.”
“All right, so a standard kidnapping?”
“Hardly standard. He’ll be guarded by some of the best shinobi in the world…”
“Can any of them stop bullets?”
“We’ll call it standard then.”
“Very well. I bid you good night, Vincent Valentine, may your dreams be less troubled then your thoughts of late.”
“Thank you…” Vincent left the room and headed down the hallway, rather perturbed about how easily Lord Godo had sensed his discomfort. There was laughter coming from Yuffie’s room and he heard Fletch making jokes about the huge materia and Yuffie giggling insanely. He moved on down the corridor and heard Reno’s preliminary to his usual nighttime activities.
“You’re a pretty thing aren’t you? You know, Turks get in to a lot of pretty big scrapes, why, just two days ago I got shot in the stomach.”
“Oh! Did it hurt, Lord Reno?”
“Nah, I’m tough…”
“Let me see, perhaps I can make it better. Would you mind taking off your shirt?”
“Only if you take off yours.”
There was a breathless giggle. “You seem tense, my Lord…”
“You know what’d help loosen me up? A bottle of wine, d’you think you could manage that, doll face?”
“I suppose I could try, Lord Reno…” a giggly voice answered.
“Lay off with the ‘Lord’ title, angel…well, actually, keep it up, makes me feel special…”
Vincent shook his head and headed past Rude’s silent chamber to his own room. Thankfully, Lord Godo had respect for the fact that not everyone in the world shared the Wutain custom of sleeping on the floor. There was a comfortable looking bed in the corner of the room and a small lamp on the table beside it. Vincent sat down on the bed, but after a few moments stood up again and decided to go for a walk. He made sure the small handgun he’d decided to bring was still tucked in his holster and left the mansion, opting for a walk near the mountains. He didn’t plan to go too far, he just wanted to clear his head. It had distressed him profoundly that his first instinct about Fletch was apparently incorrect. With a heavy sigh he wandered towards the mountains, intent on exploring a little and confident he could handle anyone who had the guts to attack a Turk. He turned sharply as there was a crunching noise behind him and crouched behind a rock, well hidden in the darkness. It was still early in the morning and the sun would not rise for yet another hour. Tensed and ready for a fight he watched as Fletch came up the path he’d been standing on moments earlier. His eyes widened then narrowed as Fletch strayed from the trail and ducked into a cave. Vincent followed silently, getting as close as he dared to the entrance of the cave and crouching down to listen.
“Ah, Daniel. Good to see you were able to report,” an oily voice greeted the young Turk as he entered the cave.
“No problem, my Lord Yukio. It’s a simple matter to throw off the employees of Shinra, Reeve’s hunting dogs; they’ve no sense at all. Save for one, who seems to be too suspicious for his own good. I think I’ve fooled him though.”
“Good, good, have you managed to get close to Lord Godo’s daughter?”
“Yes. Foolish creature, easily preoccupied by shiny objects. She calls herself a materia hunter. I feign some interest in that direction and all of a sudden she’s fawning all over me.”
“I know, she’s a naïve, spoiled brat. Will you be able to have her in captivity by tomorrow evening?”
Vincent resisted the temptation to enter the cave and blow the brains out of one of the two men, but only because he wouldn’t have been able to decide who to shoot first. He crept quietly away from the entrance, planning to head back to Godo’s pagoda and warn Reno and Rude.
“Halt!” a shinobi suddenly stepped from the shadows, katana raised and ready to jump Vincent. The Turk rolled to the side and dodged the blade as it wedged itself into the ground. He fired a single shot, striking the man in the chest, but alerting the others inside the cave, Daniel ran out, sword at ready.
“You!” the young man was clearly angry and prepared to do away with Vincent. “I thought…”
“You were wrong.” Vincent didn’t hesitate to raise his weapon, but some strange force knocked it from his hand.
“Valentine, correct?” Lord Yukio asked, striding out of the cave. He was fat and reminded Vincent strongly of Don Corneo. There were two more ninjas standing beside him, one of them holding a pair of throwing stars. “Daniel said you gave him problems.”
“Oh really? What else has Junior told you?”
“Don’t call me that!” Daniel bristled and tightened his grip on his sword.
“You call the Turks Reeve’s hunting dogs…look who’s standing here taking orders from a tub of lard who probably can’t even remember what his feet look like.”
“You shut up!”
“I tire of this. Daniel, you may kill him,” Yukio said dismissively. “I’ll be inside, come back when you’re finished.”
“With pleasure, sir. There’s been nothing I wanted to do more since I got accepted into this bastard’s squad,” Daniel growled, lowering his sword.
Vincent scooped his gun from the ground, not taking his eyes from Fletch who was still circling him like a shark. “Are you going to go first or shall I?”
“I’ll go first.” Daniel leapt forward and swung his sword in an arc that would easily have sheared a man in half. Vincent avoided it and fired twice at the two shinobi who stood poised to attack.
“What’d you do that for?”
“Upset that your back up is gone? Lowlife coward, you should’ve expected that.”
“I’m going to kill you!” Daniel leapt forward again, but Vincent moved out of the way.
“I have to go, sorry to cut this short.” Vincent turned and took off like a shot, heading up the path instead of back down, hoping to lose Daniel and find another way back to Wutai. The young man swore and hurried after him. Once in a while Vincent would turn and fire at Daniel, but otherwise he kept running, darting down pathways and around corners. Daniel cursed again and pulled out a grenade. When he next got within throwing range of Vincent he hurled the explosive, not at his quarry but at the cliff above him. There was an earth-shattering explosion and Vincent froze, turning to see the cliff collapse above him. A cloud of dust obscured Daniel’s view for a moment and when it cleared there was no sign of his target. With a grin he hurried to the edge of the cliff and slid down, there had been a gentle slope created when the landslide had occurred and he made his way to the bottom easily.
“Are you around here somewhere, sir?” Daniel called. There was no answer, but his eyes caught a slight movement to his left. “Oh, there you are…” Daniel strode over to where Vincent was lying, on his back, left leg pinned under a large boulder. He blinked a couple times and lifted a hand to his forehead, staring at the blood that stained his fingers with a slightly dazed expression. “Did you fall down, sir?”
“Go to hell.”
“You shouldn’t be using such language around a ‘kid’ like me, sir.” Daniel’s tone was mocking and he kicked Vincent viciously in the ribs. “Now, I have to get going; don’t want to disappoint my real boss.”
“ Reno and Rude will…”
“Your lackeys will believe what I say when I tell them you were out for a walk and there was a landslide. I tried to help, but it was too late…”
“Bastard…” With an obviously painful effort he tried to pull his leg from beneath the rock that held it, but it stayed firmly stuck.
“Don’t do that, sir,” Daniel scolded, looking up from rubbing dirt on his suit. He pulled out a small pocketknife and made several small cuts in the material and one or two in his flesh, a shallow gash on his forehead and a slightly deeper cut on his arm. “Your leg’s most likely broken and you’ll just make it worse. Now, I’m going to be leaving and telling everybody you were killed in a landslide. You think these little injuries will generate enough sympathy? Godo’s daughter ought to be fooled by them…”
Vincent didn’t answer and closed his eyes. “Ok, I’m in a rather significant amount of trouble…and I don’t know how much longer I can stay awake…”
“Hey, are you dead? I’m sorry I can’t speed up the process, but a stab in the heart is sorta hard to conceal. You’ll die eventually anyway. Bye now, sir.”
Vincent opened his eyes as Daniel started up the cliff and met the young man’s gaze. “I will kill you…” For a second it almost seemed like doubt flickered in Daniel’s eyes, but it was quickly replaced by self-confidence and malice.
“Morning Rude!” Reno said cheerfully as his partner entered the dining room.
“Yeah. Which one, Reno?” Rude asked, glancing around at the various young women who stood around the room serving breakfast. A young woman in a pink kimono blushed furiously as Rude’s eyes fell upon her.
“You guessed it. Seen Vincent yet?”
“No. Do you know where Fletch is?”
“Nah…maybe…no, stupid idea…”
“Well…maybe…” A wicked grin lit up Reno’s features. “Maybe Yuffie knows.”
“Maybe I know what?” Yuffie asked, coming into the room and flopping down on one of the pillows on the floor.
“We thought you maybe knew where Fletch is, because neither of us had seen him all night.” Reno grinned again and Yuffie kicked him in the stomach.
“Get your filthy mind out of the gutter. Fletch was the perfect gentleman last night…more that I can say for you, we heard your activities all the way down the hall. Honestly, Sen, you can do better than trash like Reno,” Yuffie said, addressing the girl in the pink kimono who blushed again and scurried out of the room. Suddenly there was a scream from the hallway and Yuffie dashed after the young woman.
“What was that?” Reno asked worriedly.
“It sounded like a scream, Reno…of course it’s different then the noises you’re used to hearing from women…”
There was another scream, this time from Yuffie. “ Reno! Rude!”
“We better go…”
Reno wolfed down a piece of toast and nodded, following Rude into the hallway and towards the main entrance of Godo’s mansion. In the front hall, sitting on the floor with Yuffie beside him and covered in dust and blood, was Fletch. The servant girl stood wide-eyed and unmoving, hands pressed against her mouth.
“Fletch, what happened?” Yuffie asked, wiping some of the blood off his forehead with her sleeve. Reno couldn’t help but notice she was holding him very tightly.
“Th-there was a landslide…” he stammered.
“Where?” Rude asked.
“Sen, go get a cloth and some water,” Reno instructed the servant girl.
“Yes, Lord Reno…” the girl bustled out of the room.
“On the side of the mountain, I don’t know exactly where. I followed the lights back to town…”
“What about Vincent? Have you seen him anywhere?” Reno demanded, slightly concerned.
Fletch lowered his head and didn’t answer.
“What’s the matter?” Yuffie hugged Fletch tighter.
“Fletch, what happened to Vincent?” Reno asked again, more firmly. “Is he all right?”
Without saying anything Fletch shook his head.
“What are you saying? He isn’t…dead?” Yuffie gasped, looking Fletch in the eyes. The stare she was met with was remorseful and there were tears threatening to fall from his eyes.
“I tried Yuffie…I did my best, but…I was too late…”
“Are you sure?” Rude firmly took hold of the young man’s shoulder. “Are you absolutely positive?”
“I couldn’t get to close to him…the landslide made it difficult…but…he was pinned under a rock and he didn’t answer when I yelled at him.”
“But…he might still be alive?” Reno pressed, pleading note of hope in his voice.
“I don’t know…do you think…maybe he is?” Fletch asked, echoing Reno’s tone.
“We have to go look for him,” Rude said with a touch of finality.
“Look for who?” Godo asked, entering the hallway. “What has happened here?”
“There was a landslide and Fletch says Vincent…” Yuffie began.
“Oh no…you wish to look for him?”
“Of course we ‘wish to look for him’! He could be hurt or dying…” Yuffie exclaimed. “What if…”
“I’m afraid it is impossible for you to go now. A storm has come up rather quickly and you know how the storms are dangerous here…”
“What? You’re saying we just leave him out there? If he isn’t already dead this’ll kill him!” Reno yelled.
“You wouldn’t last ten minutes on the mountain in this rain. It comes down in torrents, and thunder, lightning, and wind tear at climbers and hurl them off cliffs.”
“But…” Reno started to protest.
“It is not worth it to risk the lives of four for the sake of one who may yet be dead.”
“How can you say that?!” Yuffie shouted. “You’re just going to let him die?”
“I didn’t say that. But all that will be gained by you searching for him is four more potential deaths.”
“He’s right Yuffie,” Fletch sighed. “It’s my fault…if I hadn’t just dismissed him as dead, maybe I could have…”
“No! Fletch, don’t say that! This wasn’t your fault. Vincent…there was no way you could have known about the landslide.”
“But…god, Yuffie, I feel like…”
Yuffie didn’t let him finish and hugged him tightly. “It’ll be ok…”
“When will this storm stop?” Reno asked.
“It shouldn’t last any longer than noon.”
“We’re leaving at noon, storm or no storm,” Reno answered firmly.
“You don’t know where he is. I’ve got a general idea and if Yuffie acted as my guide I’m sure I could find him again…” Fletch said.
“Yeah! Please, Father. You and Rude don’t have to come, Reno. The mountains are treacherous and it’s hard for more than two people to travel safely.”
“Yuffie the mountains are dangerous. Yukio’s people are distributed all throughout the caves and…”
“And we’re leaving Vincent alone up there to die?”
“I swear Godo; I’ll take care of your daughter. I’ve let one person down; I won’t let it happen again. Give me the chance to fix my mistake,” Fletch pleaded.
A drop of rain fell from above and splashed on Vincent’s forehead. Not opening his eyes he reached up and touched his fingers to his temple. Another drop hit his forehead and he opened his eyes. The first image that came into focus was that of his own trembling and bloody fingers, and past that a dark canopy that rain seemed to be thudding against.
“Am I still…outside?” The ground beneath him was hard and cold, but whatever the dark object above him was seemed to keep out the rain fairly well. He turned his head to the side, to try and get some sort of an idea where he was. To his left there was an opening and he could still see rocks and gravel scattered about and rain came down in sheets, lightning forking across the sky from time to time. “Rain…lots of it…but…I’m not wet, just cold.” Another drop fell and splashed his face. “That’s getting annoying. Wherever I am, they’ve got a hole in their roof.” He looked up, searching the ceiling above him for signs of a leak. What he saw shocked him. Chaos. Vincent had never seen the demon with his own eyes, but by some deeper impulse he knew what he was facing. Naturally, his first instinct was terror and he rolled to the side to get away from the demon, forgetting his broken leg was still caught and wrenching it sharply. The weak groan he tried to hold back alerted the creature and it firmly placed a large hand on his chest, forcing him back down.
Vincent struggled again, despite Chaos’s order. He was shivering and his mind was racing in panic and disbelief. “It’s back…how…god, Aeris, I thought it was over…”
“Calm down.” Chaos easily held Vincent pinned to the ground. “I have no intention to hurt you, if that’s what you are thinking.”
“W-what are you doing here? You’re gone; Aeris said you wouldn’t come back…leave me alone…” Vincent could see the wings above him now, sheltering him from the rain. He didn’t consider the rationale behind the fact that the demon didn’t seem to want to injure him in any way and was actually making an attempt to help him.
“I won’t harm you. Stop moving or you’ll hurt yourself.”
“What do you want? I thought you were gone forever and never coming back…”
“Who says I ever left?”
“What do you mean?”
“We are separate in body. I am still bound to your soul. Your spirit cried for help and I responded. That is my fate.”
“Consider me a guardian. The Cetran girl told me to watch you, so I shall.”
“You take orders from a flower girl?”
“I have great respect for the Cetra.” Chaos answered stiffly.
“This is just great. I’ve got Satan for a guardian angel. Just my luck…god, I’m having a very bad week. This whole damn time I’m right about Daniel or Fletch or whoever the hell he is and no one listens to me. And now I’m in Wutai, stuck under a rock, in the middle of a rainstorm, and talking to a demon…Maybe…am I delirious? That would explain a lot…”
“You talk too much.”
“I shouldn’t go to sleep again; I might not wake up…so…keep talking.”
“You’re the one who’s supposed to talk.”
“I need someone to talk to. I can’t talk to myself.”
“If you are delirious and hallucinating, then in essence you are talking to yourself, are you not?”
“I don’t know…stop making me think so hard, it makes my head hurt.”
“It isn’t my fault.”
“It is so.”
“How is it my fault?”
“Argh…I don’t know…you’re making me think again…”
“It isn’t my fault.”
“Didn’t you say that just a few minutes ago?”
“Oh. I didn’t remember.”
“It was only a few seconds ago.”
“See the big cut on my head? That’s sort of affecting my mental capabilities at the present.”
“You seem awfully touchy.”
“I’m stuck under a rock.”
“I could move it.”
“You heard me. I could move it.”
“You repeat yourself a lot.”
“Could you focus for just one moment?”
“On the issue at hand.”
“Your being stuck under a rock.”
“Oh. What about it?”
“Would you like to get out from under the rock?” Chaos growled quietly, trying to keep his temper. He knew it wasn’t Vincent’s fault that he couldn’t pull together enough of his consciousness to hold his concentration in one place but he was still feeling slightly exasperated.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I didn’t mean anything.”
“Oh. I thought you did. You sounded sort of sarcastic.”
“I’m not familiar with the term.”
“It’s when you say something, but you don’t really mean it.”
“A lie? I don’t lie…”
“No, not like that…people aren’t supposed to think you mean it.”
“What is the purpose of telling someone something untrue if they aren’t to believe it is the truth?”
“Umm…it’s like satire.”
“Which is what?”
“Making fun of something serious.”
“Humor I suppose. Of course, humor is my main concern right now…”
“Why is that?”
“That was sarcasm.”
“When I said humor was my main concern.”
“Why did you say that?”
“Where were we?”
“I believe I was going to get you out from under that rock.”
“Oh yeah…are you still going to?”
“What? Why not?”
“I will. I was being sarcastic.”
“You aren’t very good at it.”
“It’s a new concept to me.”
“Keep it that way. There’s sort of a tone of voice you have to have to be sarcastic and I don’t know if you can manage it or not.”
“Do you want me to move this rock, or not?”
“You’ll get a bit wet and it will probably hurt.”
Chaos folded his wings and grasped the edge of the boulder that pinned Vincent’s leg to the ground. With a small effort he lifted the stone and rolled it to the side. Vincent gasped in pain and flinched visibly.
“Are you all right?”
“Not really…that hurt…”
“I told you it would.”
“I didn’t…think…” Vincent trailed off and closed his eyes.
“Are you still awake?” Chaos spread his wings again and sheltered the now inert form beneath them. There was no answer. “Oh. At least you aren’t talking as much anymore…”
“Are you sure you’re all right to go?” Yuffie asked Fletch for the hundredth time.
“Yuffie, I’m fine, we have to hurry,” Fletch insisted.
“Yeah, calm down, the storm just let up. If you aren’t up to it, I could take Rude…”
“I don’t know where we’re going,” Rude commented quietly.
“See? I have to be up to going. Reno can’t do it…”
“What’s wrong with Reno?” Yuffie asked, loading materia into her weapon.
“He’s plastered. Didn’t take long.” Rude shook his head. “It’s probably not the best way to relieve stress, but he does it anyway…”
“Oh. Well, we’ll be back, hopefully with Vincent…”
“We’re bringing him back,” Fletch said firmly.
“Yeah. Let’s go, Fletch…” Yuffie led the way out the door and headed for the mountain. The storm had lasted several hours longer than expected and it was getting late. The setting sun cast strange shadows on the features of the faces carved in the mountain. “Which way did you go from here?”
“Basically he headed up and I followed. Didn’t want him being on his own if he got in trouble…”
“Good thinking, but from what you’ve told me, he would’ve just resented it.” Yuffie shook her head. “I don’t get it. He’s usually not so hostile. It takes a lot to get him really riled. Except…once, when this guy wouldn’t let him leave the hospital, Vincent got slightly irritated and broke the guy’s jaw.”
“Yeah…” Yuffie silently followed Fletch as he wove his way down pathways and trails. “You don’t think he is dead, do you?”
“I don’t know, Yuffie…to be honest; I can’t hold very high hopes. I took a couple years of med school and the odds of a person surviving a night of cold wind and exposure to the elements after a fall off a cliff are pretty slim…” Fletch sighed, but inside he was nearly giddy. “That’s what I’ve been counting on…”
“Vincent could do it.”
“Are you sure? I just don’t want you to get your hopes all high that he’ll be alive and then be crushed if he isn’t…I doubt even Rude could have endured a night like last night with an injury like what Vincent must have had…”
“I really don’t want him to be dead…”
“Neither do I, Yuffie,” Fletch said sadly. “Not! I’d like nothing better than him to be dead.”
“I didn’t know you went to med school…”
“I don’t think I told you. I quit because I didn’t think I’d be good enough as a doctor.” “Yeah, right. I quit because I got offered double the payment as a mercenary.”
“I don’t know what I want to do with my life…d’you think a materia hunter gets paid a lot?”
“I never looked into materia hunting as a serious career, I always thought it would be great though…getting paid to go on adventures and find materia.” “What a little moron…”
“Yeah…hey, Fletch! Me and you should go into the materia business! We could have soooo much fun!”
Fletch let Yuffie ramble for a while until they drew near to the spot he knew he had left Vincent. “We’re getting close…maybe I should go first.”
“No, you don’t know how to get down a mountain safely, I’ll be ok. You actually should maybe hold back for a bit. It’ll be easier for me to get down the place where the landslide was, and we don’t want to risk starting another avalanche.”
“If you’re sure…” “Good. No sense in me risking my neck just to see if the bastard’s dead or not, which he is, so I don’t have to worry about it.”
“Around here?” Yuffie asked, looking around at the obvious evidence of a landslide.
“Yeah…can you see him?” Fletch questioned as Yuffie looked over the edge.
“Nope…I guess I’ll have to go down.” Fletch watched as the young ninja carefully lowered herself down, finding footholds and jumping from rock to rock. She reached the bottom, skidding a bit and looking around. “Oh god…maybe Fletch is right…this was a pretty bad slide…” She caught a hint of dark blue out of the corner of her eye and sighed. She started walking slowly towards Vincent, then walked a bit faster, broke into a jog, and finally a run. She stopped about two feet from where the Turk lay, unmoving. Yuffie bit her lip. When she’d first met Vincent he had honestly terrified her. Of course, it was nothing to how she’d felt when she’d first seen him transform. They’d been fighting a large dragon up north and Vincent was in rather rough shape, Yuffie had considered casting Clear Tranquil on him to maybe give him a hand, but when she turned to cast the spell, she found herself face to face with a Galian beast. As expected, Yuffie had screamed and taken off, leaving Cloud and…whatever that thing was…to take care of the dragon. They’d found her in a tree, clinging to the uppermost branches and refusing to come down until Cloud came up and threatened to hack the limb she clung to off and send her plummeting to the ground. Again she felt fear, but more for Vincent’s safety. She really, really didn’t want him to be dead. The thought that he’d had such a rough life and just when he was starting to enjoy living it, it had been taken away from him was too much for her to handle. With a mixture of hope and dread, she knelt by the body on the ground and carefully pulled him into her arms. He was pale and cold and there was a deep gash on his forehead, but he was breathing. Yuffie grinned, silently thanking the gods for sparing her friend. “Fletch! Hey, Fletch! He’s ok!...Well, maybe not ok exactly, but he’s not dead!”
“What?” Yuffie caught the note of disbelief in Fletch’s voice. “He’s alive?”
“Yeah! Vincent! Hey, wake up…” Yuffie shook him gently, but got no response. “Hey, come on…” She reached into her pack with her free hand and pulled out her canteen. With a small pause she opened the cap and poured some of the water on to the sleeve of her denim jacket. She’d dressed a little more warmly to go up on the mountain and wore jeans, a sweater and a jacket. Yuffie brushed her soaking wet sleeve against her friend’s forehead, washing away some of the blood. He stirred slightly and groaned.
“Hey Fletch! Get over here quick, he’s coming around!” Yuffie yelled to the younger Turk who was still navigating his way through the debris of the avalanche. “Vincent?”
His eyes half opened and tried to focus on whoever was holding him. “Yuffie?…wait…there’s something about Yuffie…something bad…why can’t I remember?”
“You all right, Vince? You scared everybody pretty bad…”
“Hang on, it’s ok. What happened? Fletch said you were stuck under a rock.”
“Hmm? You aren’t making any sense, Vince. Chaos is gone; he’s not coming back. Hey, Fletch! I think there’s something wrong, hurry up, will ya?”
“Fletch?…Daniel…Yuffie, Fletch is…”
“Right here, sir.” Fletch came up behind Yuffie and smiled at Vincent. It wasn’t a friendly smile. It was more like a “don’t-worry-I’ll-kill-you-when-I-get-the chance” smile.
“Oh god. This is very, very, very bad…”
“What are we going to do, Fletch?” Yuffie asked.
“I’m not sure; I don’t think we’ll be able to head back tonight. It’s getting pretty late and we can’t be going down in the dark with Vincent in the condition he’s in.”
“Yeah. What exactly is wrong with him? He’s not making any sense.”
“Exhaustion, hypothermia, and he probably hit his head pretty hard at some point.”
“What? Oh yeah…maybe I did. God my head hurts…”
“Where should we stay for the night?” Yuffie questioned. “I know some caves we could probably stay in that have enough ventilation for a fire. I think we should probably keep Vincent pretty warm.”
“Warm? That would be nice…I’m very cold. It’s a good thing Chaos didn’t let me get wet or it’d be worse.”
“Good idea. Do you think you can stand, Vincent?”
“Can I what? I don’t understand.” “W-what?”
“What’s wrong with him?” Yuffie asked again.
“Delirium I think, probably from the hypothermia. He’s not going to be saying anything coherent, so it’s best not to listen to him.”
“What’s he saying? I know what I’m talking about…he’s…Yuffie! That was it, he’s after Yuffie!”
“Ok, give me a hand. Is there a good cave nearby?” Fletch carefully lifted Vincent to his feet and forced him to put almost all his weight on his broken left leg. “Hah! That’ll show the bastard who’s running this show!”
Vincent groaned as his leg gave out and he dropped to the ground. “Hey! Careful!” Yuffie exclaimed kneeling at Vincent’s side.
“Damn. We’ll have to splint that before we can get him anywhere. I need two sturdy pieces of wood.”
“Ok, you go look for them, I’ll stay here.”
“Are you sure? It might not be safe for you to be alone…”
“You sayin’ you don’t think I can take care of myself?” Yuffie bristled and stood up.
“No, but I don’t know where I’m going as well as you would…where should I look?”
“Go back up and to your left, there should be a small clump of trees that you could find some wood in, get enough for a fire too.”
“Ok…” Fletch headed back up the trail. “This little brat is giving me orders? Oh well, she’ll be easier to get to Yukio if she’s docile about it.”
“What’s going on?”
Yuffie sat down again. It was very out of character for Vincent to be asking her questions or not to know what was happening. “It’s ok, don’t worry. Fletch is just going to get some stuff.”
“‘Cause you’ve got a broken leg and we can’t move you until it’s splinted,” Yuffie explained, more than a little concerned.
“Oh. Yuffie, could you do me a favor?”
“My gun’s around here somewhere. When Fletch gets back, could you shoot him?”
“Could you shoot Fletch?” Vincent repeated.
“Why in god’s name would you want me to do that?”
Despite his present state of mind and body Vincent looked exasperated. “Because he got me thrown off a cliff, Yuffie. I told you that.”
“What? No you didn’t…”
“Oh. He got me thrown off a cliff.”
“Vince, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Yuffie shrugged off what he was saying as merely delusional raving.
“Yes I do. Ask Chaos, he knows.”
“No, you don’t. Chaos is gone, Vincent. Remember? Aeris got rid of him.”
“She did? He came back.”
Yuffie sighed. “No, he didn’t. Stop talking, Vince. You’ll give yourself a headache.”
“I already have a headache.”
“See what you did? So shut up. It’ll make it go away. You should probably try and go to sleep too.”
“No…you aren’t supposed to if you have a head injury…or maybe you are…I can’t remember. I’m tired…so I should go to sleep, but what if that’s why they tell you not to go to sleep? Because you feel tired and you want to but you’re not supposed to…”
“I think it’s maybe a good idea.” Yuffie was fairly sure Vincent had no idea what he was talking about, after all, he’d accused Fletch of trying to kill him and Yuffie knew that couldn’t be true. “Go to sleep.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here.”
“You won’t leave?”
“No, I won’t leave. Go to sleep.” Yuffie could tell he was uneasy, something also way out of character, and she carefully moved to let him lie with his head in her lap to offer some comfort. “See? I’m right here, I won’t go anywhere.”
“Ok. Are you sure you wouldn’t reconsider shooting Fletch?”
“All right. I guess I’ll have to do it myself. Wake me when he gets back…” Vincent closed his eyes and Yuffie could feel him starting to relax.
“Hey, I’m back…he fell asleep?” Fletch came down the cliff, carrying a pile of wood in his arms.
“Only like two seconds ago. He’s really out of it.”
“Yeah? What’s he saying?” Fletch knelt down and selected two of the straighter looking sticks from the pile.
“Not a lot…mostly about Chaos…” Yuffie answered guardedly, not wanting to upset Fletch by telling him what Vincent said.
“Oh. Nothing that made any sense?” Fletch carefully splinted Vincent’s leg.
“Oh. Well, we’ll keep an eye on him. Get him back tomorrow and have a real doctor look at him.” “Yeah, right. Tomorrow Yukio’s men are coming for Yuffie and I can finally get rid of our dear Mr. Valentine.”
“I don’t care. You’ll die if you don’t wake up.”
“I am awake.”
“Open your eyes.”
Vincent obeyed and blinked a couple times as his eyes focused on Chaos. “You’re back. Where am I?”
“Oh. Great. Of all places, why a cave?”
“I don’t know. Caves are usually dry and safe, perhaps that’s why.”
“It was a rhetorical question.”
“Another new word. What does it mean?”
“It’s a question that’s not meant to be answered.”
“What is the purpose of a…”
“Hey, Vincent!” The new voice was louder and higher in pitch and made Vincent’s head hurt as it echoed.
“Ow. Stop that. What do you want?”
“What’s wrong with him?” another voice asked.
“Nothing’s wrong with me…”
“I dunno. Vincent, wake up! Come on, snap out of it…”
“Snap out of what?” Vincent started slightly as cold washed over him.
“Fletch!” Yuffie yelled as Vincent stirred. “Christ, all our water! Scared the hell out of him too…”
“Don’t…yell…” Vincent mumbled, opening his eyes.
“Sorry. Are you all right? I think you were having a nightmare…”
Yuffie sighed. “Not that again. He’s gone, Vince.”
“He was here a minute ago.”
“No, he wasn’t. Stop talking nonsense.”
“Yes, you are. Just calm down, ok?”
“I am calm. Why don’t you believe me? Chaos was here. I know he was because I saw him. Maybe…it was a dream? No, he was here before…not here, but outside when it was raining. That’s the only reason I didn’t die of hypothermia or pneumonia or whatever it was, because of Chaos. So…he must have been here. I wish Lyria were here, she’d believe me…wait…what am I thinking? I don’t want Lyria here, there’s a sword-wielding maniac just on the other side of this cave. I wish… Reno and Rude were here…but they don’t believe me either. Maybe…I don’t know. Someone who isn’t Yuffie.”
“Hey, Fletch…earlier you said he had hypothermia, right?” Yuffie asked.
“Oh. So it was hypothermia. No wonder I’m so cold.”
“Yeah, it would’ve been serious if we hadn’t showed up.”
“Oh. Well…I think we should try and help him warm up a bit more. I mean, the fire’s doing a lot, but I think I have a blanket in my pack we could give him…”
“Good god. Why are you just mentioning this now? I’m cold!”
“Sure, Yuffie, if you think you’ll be ok without it…” Fletch said hesitantly.
“Of course, Yuffie will be ok without it. She’s got like three layers on. And she doesn’t have hypothermia and she doesn’t seem to be in the corner furthest from the fire…Christ…does he want me to die or…oh yeah…”
“Vince?” Yuffie gently shook his shoulder.
“C’mere, we’re gonna move you a bit closer to the fire and you can sit with me, ok?”
“Because you’re cold and we want to get you warmed up, ok?”
“All right…” With an effort, Vincent sat up and let Yuffie help him over to the fire.
“Good. Ok, lie down, I have a blanket right here.” Yuffie let Vincent lie back and gently spread her blanket over his body. “There. Is that better?”
“Yes…thank you…” “Well…if there’s one thing good about Yuffie…she’s warm…”
“Are you gonna go get some more wood for the fire, Fletch?”
“Do you think we need it?”
“Yeah, it’s just if you go now, then you won’t have to go later when it’s darker out…”
“Ok. Good idea.” Fletch got up and exited the cave, leaving Vincent and Yuffie alone.
“Yuffie?” “Ok…I have to try and tell Yuffie again…maybe she’ll believe me this time…”
“Yes, Vincent?” Yuffie prepared herself for another of the semi delusional tangents Vincent had started to go off on, telling herself that it was just because he had moderately severe hypothermia and wasn’t quite thinking straight.
“Is Fletch gone?”
“For the moment.”
“Oh…so he’ll come back?”
“What exactly do you have against him, anyway?”
“He’s trying to kidnap you.”
“Vincent, go to sleep.”
“You’re tired. You’ll feel better when you wake up.”
“No, I can’t…in the morning, he’ll come with others and…”
“That won’t happen.”
“Yuffie, why the hell won’t you listen to me?”
“Just go to sleep, ok?”
“No! Yuffie, this is important!” “Ow…I really shouldn’t be yelling, but why doesn’t she understand?”
“Don’t yell, just close your eyes, ok?”
“Yes. Go to sleep.”
“Vincent, I can make you go to sleep. It’s a shinobi trick and I’ll do it if I have to…”
“I can’t…” “She wouldn’t really…I need to tell her…”
Yuffie sighed and laid a hand on his forehead, channeling her energy and forcing it to overwhelm Vincent’s.
“Yuffie, stop…please…” Vincent pleaded, trying to fight off the waves of darkness that were ebbing at his consciousness.
“It’s for your own good.”
“Please…” “Why? Why is she doing this? I need her help…”
“Just sleep Vince, stop fighting it,” Yuffie scolded, frowning.
“ Reno?” Rude called, knocking on the door of his partner’s room and pushing the door open a crack.
“Mmph.” Reno was sprawled face down on the bed of his darkened room.
“Wake up, jackass.”
“Huh? They back?” Reno pushed himself up, and promptly groaned and lowered his head back onto the pillow. “Oh god…”
“No, they aren’t back, but I’ve been thinking…”
“That’s a first.”
Rude frowned at his partner and flicked the light on.
“Augh! Rude…that…wasn’t nice…” Reno pulled a pillow over his head. “I’m sorry, turn the light off, for god’s sake…”
“Are you gonna listen to me?”
“Yeah…is there any coffee in this hellhole?”
“Shut up and listen.”
“I’m worried about Vincent.”
“Oh really? Gosh, why on earth would you be worried about Vincent? He’s just stuck on a mountain after being buried in a landslide and a massive rainstorm and in all probability he’s dead…”
“ Reno, shut up. I’m beginning to wonder if maybe he was right about Fletch.”
“Have you ever seen him that edgy? I know him well enough to trust his instincts as well as my own. Maybe even more.”
“And? What should we do about it?”
“I think we should go after Fletch and Yuffie. Even if Vincent was wrong, they’ll need our help.”
“It’s almost ten at night and it’s pitch black out there.”
“So? We’ve worked in the dark before…oh…hang on, I get it. You’re too hung over to go anywhere…”
“I am not!” Reno stood up and staggered a bit. “I’ll be fine after I have some coffee…”
“So let’s go.”
“Yeah. How the hell are we going to find them?”
“It’s Yuffie. Do you really think it’ll be that difficult?”
“Whatever, let’s just go…”
“I’m back,” Fletch announced, coming into the cave and dropping a pile of wood on the ground.
“Oh, good…umm…can I step out for a moment? I…umm…have to…umm…”
“Go ahead Yuffie,” Fletch said and grinned.
“Thanks Fletch, I won’t be long…” Yuffie scampered out the door and down the pathway to a secluded clump of trees. After finishing her…business…Yuffie headed back for the cave. As she was walking towards the entrance a strong arm grabbed her around the waist and clamped a hand over her mouth. She struggled fiercely with the beast, biting and kicking as hard as she could.
Yuffie didn’t listen and kicked harder. “Lemme go!”
“I won’t hurt you. Stop fighting.”
Again Yuffie ignored the command and felt herself lifted off the ground and heard the beating of a pair of wings. “You let me go you big ugly flying bastard!”
“If I let you speak, will you promise not to scream?”
“The hell I will…” Yuffie thought.
“I won’t let you go unless you promise.”
“Oh…fine. I won’t scream, I promise.”
“Who are you?” Yuffie demanded of the unseen force holding her above the air. Yuffie looked down at the ground, some fifty feet below her, thankful she wasn’t afraid of heights.
“You know me.”
“I don’t know anybody who flies around, abducting beautiful ninjas.”
“Think Yuffie. You do know me.”
“Just tell me for god’s sake.”
“Tch. Yeah right.” Yuffie felt the pair of arms turn her around and hold her out at arms length as though she were a child. “Oh my god…”
“You are faithless, believing only that which you see.”
“So…Vince wasn’t lying…”
“No, he was not. Have you ever known him to lie before?”
“Well…I don’t believe what he was saying about Fletch…”
“You believe he’s seen me, but not what he says about this Fletch character?”
“I can see you for myself.”
“You believe only what you see?”
“It sure helps convince me of stuff.”
“Very well. I will show you something that will make you believe.” Chaos swooped down, wings stretched out and gliding soundlessly. Yuffie gulped and closed her eyes. This was too much like a ride on the Highwind. She was thankful when Chaos touched down outside the mouth of the cave. She tried to break the demon’s grip so he would let her go back in and see Fletch and Vincent, but he held her tightly. “The others must not know what you have seen. Do not speak; think what you wish to tell me.”
“You can hear my thoughts?”
“Sheesh. What do you wanna show me?”
Chaos wrapped his wings around Yuffie, the color of his skin blending with the rocks and hiding her from view as he moved closer to the entrance of the cave. “Be silent and watch.”
Yuffie did as she was bid and peered into the cave. Fletch was kneeling by Vincent who still lay asleep by the fire. “What’s the big deal here? Fletch is just making sure Vince is warm enough…”
“Do not judge what you have seen until it is complete.”
Yuffie watched in silence as Fletch glanced over his shoulder and then roughly grabbed Vincent’s collar, shaking him awake.
“Shut up. I’m asking the questions now,” Fletch growled.
“The little ninja brat isn’t here right now. So she won’t be looking out for you.” Yuffie bridled at Fletch’s words and gritted her teeth.
“What do you want?”
“Answers. How the hell did you survive a night in the cold and rain of this mountain?”
Fletch glared and delivered a hard blow to Vincent’s chest. Yuffie gasped as her friend flinched and groaned. “Don’t give me that. You might fool the shinobi with your little act, but you don’t fool me.”
Fletch hit him again and Yuffie tried to break out of Chaos’s grasp again. “Just watch.”
“What the hell do you mean, ‘just watch’?! He’s hurting Vincent!”
“That is nothing compared to what he’ll do if he knows you’ve seen.”
Yuffie fell sullenly silent, furious for not having seen what Vincent had been trying to show her.
“Now, we’ll try this again. What happened last night?”
“Listen, you’ll tell me the truth one way or the other. Tomorrow morning, when Yukio’s men show up for the shinobi brat, I’ll have more effective ways of getting the truth out of you.”
“Yuffie won’t do anything. She’s a stupid, selfish, little monster and she’s not going to figure out what’s going on in time to save either of you.”
If Vincent answered, Yuffie didn’t hear him as Chaos launched himself into the air. “What do I do?”
“Is there any way you can get in touch with the other two?”
“Yeah…if Vincent has his cell phone and if Fletch didn’t smash it…”
“Try that. Neither of them must know what you have seen, Yuffie. It’s obvious Fletch can’t know, but it’s best to keep it from Vincent as well.”
“To convince Fletch there is nothing going on. Vincent isn’t quite rational at the moment and he might let something slip. You may have the rest of the night to last, any measure of protection you can achieve is worth the effort.”
“So I pretend I still don’t believe him?”
“That’s gonna be hard…I feel so bad already…”
“You must do it. For both your sakes.”
“You need to do better than to just try, you need to succeed.”
“Fine. I’ll succeed. Lemme down.”
“Very well. Good luck, shinobi.”
Yuffie rubbed her arms as Chaos lowered her to the ground and winged off into the night. “Poor Vincent…I can’t believe what I’ve been doing to him…” She shrugged off the feeling and hurried back to the cave. “Fletch!”
She saw him hastily stand up and turn from Vincent to face her. “Yes, Yuffie? What’s wrong?”
“There was a monster! He followed me! Go kill him Fletch, I’m scared of monsters!”
“All right, where’d you see him?”
“Back there…” Yuffie jerked a thumb over her shoulder.
“Ok…I’ll be back soon.”
“Don’t let him bite you…” Yuffie cautioned, going and sitting down beside Vincent.
“Don’t worry, Yuffie. I’ll be fine…”
Yuffie waited until she was sure he’d gotten far enough away before carefully lifting Vincent off the ground and holding him in her arms. “Hey, Vince…” Yuffie noticed a bruise on his cheek that had definitely not been there before. “God…if I didn’t know…I’d have just blown that off as something that happened in the landslide.” “Wake up, Vincent…”
“Yeah, I’m right here…how are you doing?” Yuffie asked, trying to keep her tone cheerful.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be ok…”
“No…no, it won’t.” Yuffie flinched as she met his eyes. “Yuffie, please…Fletch is…he’s trying to…please believe me…”
“Vincent…” Yuffie began, trying to break away from his gaze.
“I’m not lying, Yuffie. I promise…you don’t have to believe me about Chaos, or about the landslide or about anything else, just believe what I tell you about Fletch.”
Yuffie didn’t answer, still trying to sever the invisible connection she’d unintentionally made when she looked in his eyes. “He wants nothing more than for me to believe him…but…I can’t let him know…I’m sorry Vincent.” “You’re delirious. We’ll get back to Wutai tomorrow and…”
“We aren’t getting back to Wutai tomorrow. I’m going to get killed and you’re going to get used as a bargaining chip in this big political thing.”
“I know, I know, go to sleep.”
“I’m sorry, Vincent, I can’t believe you…you don’t know what you’re saying.”
“Yes, I do. You’re the one who doesn’t.”
“Fine. I give up.”
Yuffie sighed as Vincent closed his eyes. She felt so bad. Telling herself that it was for his own good hadn’t kept her from feeling sick when she watched the hope that had flickered in his eyes fade and die. “I’m sorry, Vincent…but…me knowing is better than me not knowing, right?” Remembering the words of Chaos she carefully reached into Vincent’s breast pocket and pulled out his PHS. She glanced over her shoulder, mimicking Fletch’s earlier gesture and selected Reno’s number. She held her breath as the phone rang, negligently laying a comforting hand on Vincent’s shoulder.
“This is Reno and I have a goddamn hangover so I’m very mad at whoever the hell this is because having my PHS ring makes my head hurt.”
Despite his acid tone, Yuffie had never been happier to hear Reno’s voice. “Hi, Reno? It’s Yuffie…”
“Yuffie? Hey, are you ok? Did you find Vincent?…well, obviously you did, because only his phone, Reeve’s and Rude’s have my cell number, but Rude’s standing right next to me so it can’t be him and I don’t think your anywhere near Reeve so…anyway is Vincent all right?”
“ Reno, you’re babbling. Vincent is…well, he isn’t dead, but he’s got a moderately severe case of hypothermia and he’s delirious…actually, no he isn’t. Which brings me to my next point, Fletch is trying to kill him and kidnap me.”
“Now who’s babbling? Are you sure about Fletch?”
“Yes, I am. Very sure. I saw him beating the crap out of Vincent and…listen, Reno, I can’t talk long, he’ll be back any minute. We’re in a cave…”
“Never mind that,” Reno interrupted. “Just put Vincent’s cell phone back and make sure it stays on. It’ll emit a signal that me and Rude can pick up so we can track you. Don’t worry, we’ll be there soon.”
“Thanks Reno. Bye.” Yuffie hung up the phone, but didn’t turn it off. Gently she tucked it back into Vincent’s front pocket and pulled the blanket around him a little more securely. With an ashamed sigh she pulled off her jacket and bunched into a small pillow shape, placing it carefully under Vincent’s head. It was the very least she could do. If someone had believed him in the first place, no one would have gotten into this mess.
“I didn’t see any monster. You look upset,” Fletch commented, reentering the cave. “Does a run in with a monster really scare you that much?”
“Yeah, that and I’m worried about Vincent…”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t know…” Yuffie lied miserably. “Because he’s stuck in a cave with a guy who wants him dead and with me, who takes the word of someone I barely know over an ally I’ve known for years.”
“C’mere,” Fletch suggested, patting the ground beside him. Yuffie obliged and Fletch slipped an arm around her shoulders. “Talk to me, Yuffie.”
“‘Bout what?” Yuffie asked warily.
“Whatever you want. I just…I like listening to you talk.”
“Oh…” Yuffie grinned, but her stomach was getting twisted in knots. “The nerve of this guy! All these plans about kidnapping and he’s hitting on me!” “I like listening to you too…”
“Well, one of us has got to talk…” Fletch moved a little closer.
“Oh. My. God.” “Fletch are you doing what I think you’re doing?”
“I dunno. How about I try doing something and you tell me if that’s what you had in mind?”
“SICK! Oh GAWD! He’s…ugh…I don’t need this right now. I wish Reno were here…wow. Did I just think that? I guess I do. I really wish Reno were here. I wish it was Reno who could be hugging me and…staring at my chest! Ok, this guy is crossing a line!” “Umm…Fletch?”
“Seriously now, what are you doing?” Yuffie squirmed a bit.
“What’s wrong, Yuffie?”
“Don’t you like me?”
“Well…yeah, but…” “But what? I’m not ready for this sorta commitment?…nah, too forced…I just wanna be friends?…well then he’s gonna think I’ve been leading him on and he might get mad…umm…I already have a boyfriend?…yeah! That’s it! Me and Reno! That’ll get him…”
“What is it Yuffie?”
“I…umm…me and…me and Reno are sorta…”
“You are? You and Reno?”
“I didn’t know, Yuffie, I…”
“It’s ok.” “Score! No one tries to screw with Yuffie Kisaragi and gets away with it!”
“If you don’t mind me asking…how does it work out between you two?”
“I mean, Reno looks, like, at least six years older than you and he really is about three times your age, not to mention all the…other…activity he gets himself into.”
“I know all about Reno’s age,” Yuffie answered, a bit coldly. “And I don’t care what else he’s doing with himself. I just treasure the time he spends with me.”
“That’s an interesting attitude.”
“What do you care?”
“Why can’t I cherish the time you spend with me?”
“Huh?” “Ok, this isn’t working…”
“Come on, Yuffie. Just one night.”
“I don’t know about this…” “Maybe…maybe I should…just ‘til Reno and Rude…oh god, that would be embarrassing. I can just imagine what Reno would say… ‘Ok scumbag! Get your hands outta Yuffie’s shirt and up in the air!’ Heh, Reno’s cute. Maybe if I cried about it after he’d feel bad for me…or…hey! If I let Fletch…I could tell Reno he raped me or something and maybe he’d feel bad for me and…EEYOW!” “Fletch! Stop biting my neck!”
“You have a very tasty neck.”
“Oh…” “Christ. This isn’t going well.”
“Are you enjoying this as much as I am?”
“Oh yeah…you know…Reno’s never told me I have a tasty neck.” “Sheesh. That’s the first time I’ve told the truth all night…”
“See Yuffie? This could work…”
“Maybe it could…” “I hope my father doesn’t find out about this…”
“Come on, Rude! Hurry up!” Reno climbed up the slope of the mountain a good ways ahead of his partner.
“I’m coming! What’s with you?”
“Well if Vincent is hurt and stuck in a cave with a homicidal maniac, we’d better hurry, right? Not to mention Yuffie.”
“Since when have you made a point of not mentioning Yuffie?”
“Rude, shut up.”
“It’s true, isn’t it?”
“I knew it! Yuffie’s the only one you could never get your immorally inclined hands on.” Rude seemed quite pleased to know that there was at least one woman free from Reno’s clutches.
“Not true. I couldn’t get Tifa or Aeris or Shera or Elena or Lyria…”
“Going after Tifa, Aeris, Shera, Elena, or Lyria would get you pummeled, sliced in half by Cloud, dropped out of an airship, pummeled even worse, or shot. Yuffie’s blown you off every single time you made a pass at her and it drives you up the wall, doesn’t it?”
“So what if it does?” Reno asked, irritated.
“Hah! I finally have something I can bug you about.”
“Rude, shut up and let’s just get this over with,” Reno grumbled.
“Ok. I think I should tell Elena about this.”
“For god’s sake…”
Rude stopped and looked at the screen of his cell phone. “Reno, I’ve lost the signal. We’re only like half a mile away, but I have no idea which direction to take from here…”
“You heard me.”
“How the hell should I know?”
“Great. Just great.”
“So what do we do?”
“Wait, I think I have an idea…”
“You fell asleep again.”
“You’ll die if you don’t try and stay awake.”
“The way things are shaping up, I’m going to get out of this whole mess dead anyway.”
“I can’t believe this. Satan just told me I’m a pessimist.”
“I’m not Satan. Why do you say that?”
“Probably because you made my life a living hell.”
“I did? Or did your attitude?”
“Tough question…hmm…let me think…I’d have to say it was you. No…no, wait…maybe it was me…nah, it was you.”
“Was that sarcasm?”
“In its purest form.”
“Oh. Do you truly wish to just give up? This is a very small obstacle compared to what you’ve faced before.”
“I had help before. I hate to admit it, but I’ve never truly been on my own.”
“You aren’t on your own now. You have the shinobi…”
“Oh joy. I have Yuffie. Yuffie, who can’t comprehend the difference between black and white. Yuffie, who lusts after sparkly things and shiny objects. Yuffie who seems determined to let some blonde moron she hasn’t even known for twenty four hours kill me.”
“That was sarcasm again, correct?”
“The shinobi may surprise you.”
“What would surprise me is if ‘the shinobi’ could manage to scrape together enough brain matter to add two and two.”
“You truly wish to give up? After all you’ve fought for? I know there’s someone in Nibelheim who would be thoroughly upset if you were to simply quit.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Start by putting some trust in Yuffie. She knows more than you think about what is happening and she’s taking some risks for you…”
“As of now, she’s…ahem…distracting this Fletch person. I don’t think she’s exactly thrilled to be doing it either.”
“Yes. Don’t you think you’d better wake up before things get out of hand? I don’t think it’s worth even Yuffie’s dignity, just because you’re throwing a little temper tantrum and sulking.”
“I am not throwing a temper tantrum!”
“Then go do something.”
“Ok, if ever in my life I’ve had second thoughts about something, it’s now.” Yuffie thought to herself. “Is it worth my pride? Yeah…I guess it is. I mean, if I don’t Fletch might find out about me knowing and…” Yuffie’s train of thought was broken as she felt Fletch slip his arms around her neck and start undoing the zipper on the back of her sweater.
There was a weak groan from near the dying embers of the fire and Yuffie sighed with relief. “Fletch? Hang on a minute, I should check on…”
“Forget it. He’s fine.”
“Damn, Yuffie. Just hit him over the head or something so he shuts up.”
“How can you say that?” Yuffie exclaimed, pulling out of his arms and going over to Vincent. “Hey, are you ok?”
“Yuffie? What’s going on?”
“My head hurts.”
“Do you want some water or something?” Yuffie asked, stalling for time.
“All right, hang on.” Yuffie went to the mouth of the cave and opened her pack, pulling out a canteen. She sat down again beside Vincent and helped him sit up, handing him the small bottle. She may have been mistaken, but she thought the glint in Vincent’s eyes was a little more rational then what it had been. “Are you feeling better?”
“A bit.” There was definitely a more tangible look of reason in Vincent’s gaze. Yuffie wondered for a minute if maybe he knew what was going on and looked at him closely. It might have been her imagination, but she thought she saw him smile and nod almost indiscernibly.
“Does he…? Maybe he does…oh god, I hope so. Keep talking Vincent…don’t make me go back with Fletch…”
“Did you see Chaos?” The tiny wink he gave her confirmed her suspicions.
“No,” Yuffie answered and half smiled in relief. “You’re hallucinating again.”
“I am not! He was here!”
“All right fine. ‘Chaos’ was here. What did he want?”
“He said he would kill Fletch…”
“Vincent! That was a terrible thing to say! After all Fletch has done for you! Why, if it weren’t for him, you’d be dead!” Yuffie turned to Fletch, who was sitting against the wall, shirt unbuttoned and glaring daggers at Vincent.
“He said he would. But he’s gone now, so I guess he was being sarcastic.”
“Sarcastic? I didn’t know Chaos could be sarcastic.”
“He isn’t very good at it.”
“Yuffie, what are you doing?” Fletch hissed. “Come on, we were gonna…”
“Just give me a couple minutes. I think it makes him feel better if I play along,” Yuffie whispered back and turned to face Vincent again. “Ok, Vince. I saw Chaos too, you know…”
“You did?” Yuffie noticed the trace of genuine surprise in his voice.
“Yup. He came and picked me up and told that everything you were saying was true.”
“Good. So you believe me?”
“Uh huh.” Yuffie nodded and smiled. “But Fletch is a good guy now. We talked about it and he said he was sorry.”
Vincent seemed to be considering what Yuffie told him. “Umm…I guess that’s good…”
“Of course it’s good! And Reno and Rude will show up soon and…”
“Ok, Yuffie, that’s enough,” Fletch interrupted. “You can quit pretending.” Yuffie caught sight of the cell phone in his hand. “It’s lucky I took this out to check the time…”
There was a sinking feeling in the pit of Yuffie’s stomach. “What are you talking about?”
“Cut it out. You know what I mean.” Fletch held up the PHS. “The tracking device? Please. Do you think I’m stupid?”
“As a matter of fact, yes,” Vincent answered. Yuffie could tell he knew exactly what he was saying and that he’d realized how Reno and Rude were tracking him.
“How much of that was acting?” Fletch asked with a sneer.
“None of it, except these last few minutes. The entire time everything was either too blurred for me to coherently get my point across or I couldn’t risk having you hear me.”
“Bravo. I applaud you, Mr. Valentine.” Fletch clapped his hands in mocking ovation. “Brilliant talent. You should’ve been an actor because being an overly meddlesome Turk is going to get you killed.”
Yuffie couldn’t understand the point of Vincent’s bravado. “Fletch! Don’t hurt him!”
“What’s stopping me?” Fletch grinned and strode forward. Yuffie felt Vincent tense and sit up a little straighter.
“Back off, Fletch…” Yuffie said nervously.
“Make me,” Fletch snarled, kicking Vincent hard in the chest and laughing when he winced. “How’s that? Hear that crunching noise? Was that your ribs or your cell phone?”
“Both…” Vincent answered, gritting his teeth. “God, you’re a real bastard.”
Fletch laughed. “That I am. Well, now that the jig is up, I guess I’m gonna have to…” Fletch was interrupted as his cell phone rang. “Hello?…Reno? Umm…hi…yeah, Yuffie’s here…no…I’m sorry, I didn’t believe it either…he’s really gone…I’m sure he was…I didn’t know he was married…I guess his wife…or, shall I say, widow? Will be heartbroken…” Fletch smiled at Vincent who glared in response. “I could try and offer her some comfort I suppose…”
“Ok, that is it,” Vincent muttered. “I’m going to try something…”
“What are you…?” Yuffie trailed off as Vincent closed his eyes in concentration. She stiffened as she heard a thunderous roar and felt Vincent go limp. “Oh my god…”
Chaos bellowed his anger to the heavens and Fletch dropped the cell phone he’d been holding in shock. Yuffie closed her eyes tightly and hugged Vincent, trying to block out the agonizing screams and wails. Even after the screaming had died down she kept her face buried in Vincent’s chest and her eyes clamped shut.
“Hoo boy. Messy,” Reno remarked from the entrance of the cave.
“Yup,” Rude agreed. “Very messy. Did you do this Yuffie?”
“N-no…” Yuffie stammered, keeping her eyes closed.
“I hoped not.”
“It was me. You can look, Yuffie,”
“Nuh uh.” Yuffie shook her head.
“I promise you, there is nothing that will upset you.”
“Yeah, Yuffie, you can look,” Reno added. “He’s telling the truth.”
Yuffie hesitantly opened her eyes and glanced around the cave. It was empty except for Reno and Rude and the near extinguished fire. “Where’d Chaos go?”
“I don’t know, he was here a minute ago…is Vincent ok?” Reno came forward and Yuffie carefully shifted to let Reno get a look at Vincent.
“I think he’ll live, but he’s pretty tired. Is there any way we can get him outta here and to a hospital or something?”
“Yeah, I’ll call some people…”
“Yuffie? Could you let go? You’re really hurting me…” Vincent mumbled.
“Oh! Sorry Vince! Hey, you all right?”
“Uh huh. Very messily.” Yuffie made a face. “That was just a bit…much, don’t you think?”
“What else would you have had me do?”
“I dunno…some warning might have been nice.”
“I’m sorry. Next time we’re both stuck in a cave with a bloodthirsty killer and I’ve got no options but to summon Chaos I’ll try to give you a bit of a heads up.”
“Jeez…” Yuffie trailed off and was silent for a moment. “Vincent?” she asked in a small voice. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you…”
“Me too,” Reno agreed. “Maybe if we’d paid a bit of attention to what you were saying we could’ve…”
“No. I wasn’t basing my suspicions on anything besides instinct. None of you could have sensed what I did and I guess I must have come off as a real jerk…”
“Well…” Reno began.
“Yeah,” Rude said.
“S’ok. You should probably go to sleep. I bet you’re tired,” Rude commented.
“You aren’t quite as stupid as you look. Almost. But not quite.”
“Go to sleep, Vincent…” Yuffie instructed with a grin. “I’ve had enough of listening to you talk.”
“Good god. Five cracked ribs, a moderately severe case of hypothermia, a serious concussion and left leg fractured in three places? Not to mention innumerable cuts, scrapes, and bruises. This is what Reno calls a mild injury?”
“Huh? Who’s talking, and what are they talking about?”
“Wake up, Vincent; I know you can hear me.”
“Are you talking about me?”
“Come on, wake up.”
“I hope this isn’t Yuffie talking. I’m sick of Yuffie.”
“Vincent, wake up!” Whoever was speaking took the opportunity to jab a finger in his ribs.
“Ow! All right, already…someone sure knows which ribs are broken…” “Who…?” Vincent opened his eyes and blinked several times.
“Finally,” Lyria said with a tender smile, the young woman was sitting on the floor of a brightly lit hospital room, resting her head on the edge of the bed and watching her husband sleep. “Hello, Vincent.”
“No, it’s Elena. Of course it’s me!”
“God, I’ve missed you…”
“Me too…” Lyria smiled again and hugged her husband tightly. “Very much.”
“Where am I?”
“It’s just the hospital in Wutai.”
“How long have I been here?”
“About three days.”
“How long have you been here?”
“I just got here. I was worried when Reno called me, but he said you would want me to be here when you woke up so…”
“He was right.”
“I know. Move over, I wanna be in bed too.” Lyria sat down on the edge of the bed as Vincent sat up and pulled her close. She carefully laid her head on his shoulder, making sure not to jar his chest too much. “Mmm, this is nice…”
“What’s wrong?” Lyria cuddled closer, still being careful.
“Ok.” Lyria fell silent and closed her eyes. “So what happened?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Yes, I would.”
“Why? No one else believed me about Fletch, why should you?”
“Because…” Lyria paused and looked at her husband. “You seem to know things about people. It’s just a feeling I get. Like when I first met you…I don’t know…I felt like you were looking right down into my heart, deep down, in places that hurt and in places I was afraid of and in places where I’d never thought I’d let people know about.”
“You were special.”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think I can ‘look into people’s hearts’ as you put it. In your case, you more or less rammed your heart down my throat.”
Lyria rolled her eyes. “Very poetic.”
“I liked it.”
“What did you think of me?”
“When I first met you, what did you think? You didn’t like this Fletch person straight off and you were right so what did you think about me?”
“Well, firstly that you were very pretty…you are, you know that?”
Lyria giggled. “You’re so sweet…”
“If you say so. Don’t tell Reeve, or I’ll get fired.”
“I won’t. What else did you think?”
“I thought you would hate me.”
“You seemed like one of those people who take mortal offense at anyone who kills people…a Turk kills a lot of people.”
“I didn’t know you were a Turk when I first met you…mind you, Tifa told me you were a murderer…but then she said it wasn’t your fault and I guess it wasn’t but…anyways, continue.”
“What would you have thought if you knew I had been a Turk?”
Lyria sighed. “I probably would have hated you. I hated Turks. I can’t believe I used to be so biased.”
“I can. I used to be the same way.”
“I hated the Turks too. I hated Shinra. I hated the idea that these people would hunt me down, kill my family and try and make me do the same to others.”
“That was what I hated…the way the Turks used to draft people… you didn’t ever do that…did you?” Lyria asked in a slightly uncertain voice.
“No. Never. Not after what I went through.”
Lily carefully scooped a last handful of caramel popcorn into the bowl onto the counter. She was only eleven, but incredibly smart. Other children watched cartoon shows about sharing and learning the names of shapes and how to count to ten, Lily watched the evening news with her parents. It was a habit her brother had gotten her started into, years ago when he was still in high school and was watching the news for a world issues class he’d been taking. She’d been five at the time and had wandered into the room, dragging a ragged looking bear by an arm.
“Vinny, I watch?” Lily asked in a piping voice, liquid brown eyes gleaming.
“I don’t think you’d like it.”
“Wanna watch,” Lily protested, tugging on her brother’s arm.
“It’s for big kids.”
“I’m big kid.”
“No you aren’t.”
“Yes, I is,” Lily responded.
“Yes, you are,” her brother corrected.
“See? So why can’t I watch?”
“Lily, you’re too smart for your own good.” Vincent picked the little girl up and let her sit on his lap while the newscaster droned on about the prices of coal in Corel.
“What’s he talking about?”
“I have money. Is he talking about me?”
“No, Lily, he’s talking about people with more money than you have.”
“Oh.” Lily returned to staring at the screen. Her eyes widened and she clung to her brother as a man with long dark hair and moustache and a glint in his eyes Lily decided was pure evil. “Vinny, who’s that?”
“I don’t like him.”
“You either love Hojo or you hate him. Thankfully, most people hate him.”
“He’s scary looking…” Lily shuddered and risked a quick glance at the TV to see if Hojo was gone, before turning back to her brother.
Her brother shook his head. “Lily, that’s the least of the reasons. It’s not what he looks like; it’s what he’s doing.”
“What’s he doing?”
“Lots of things. I shouldn’t tell you, it’s not something a person discusses with a five year old.”
“I’m almost six!” Lily protested, as though it made all the difference.
“I still can’t tell you.”
“Sorry. I’ll tell you when you’re older, ok?”
“Lily! Hurry up with the popcorn, we have a guest!” her mother called from the living room.
“Ok, mom!” Lily carefully lifted the bowl from the counter and headed for the living room, excited to see whoever the guest was. Entering the living room she was shocked and delighted. “Vinny!” Taking only a moment to set the popcorn bowl on the ground, she ran to the door and hurled herself at her brother. “I missed you!”
“Yeah, I missed you too, Lily…” Lily could hear the trace of weary sadness in her brother’s voice. It was just barely there, but she caught it.
“You came for Christmas?”
“Of course…” Vincent handed the little girl to her father and rubbed his eyes.
“Come sit down, Vincent. You must be tired…” Lily watched her mother put a comforting arm around her son’s shoulders and lead him to a chair in the living room. “She heard it too…”
“You probably shouldn’t have come…” her father said.
“Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Come on. You think I’d let Christmas pass without seeing my family?”
“We’re glad to see you but…”
“I was on my way to Junon anyway; I’d have had to stop here.”
“Vincent, did you get to see the presidential debate?” Lily blurted out. She’d gotten sick of keeping quiet while her parents talked.
“Nah, didn’t catch it. Was it good?”
“Uh huh. President Shinra was really giving Senator Courant problems,” Lily giggled.
“Shinra gives a lot of people problems…” Lily noticed how her father sighed and her mother reached out to squeeze her son’s hand when he said that. Lily knew there was something wrong with her brother, but she didn’t know what. Several months ago, after her brother had left for university to study about being a ballistics analyst, they had stopped receiving phone calls from him. His letters were sent under different names and came from strange places, Wutai, Costa Del Sol, and Icicle Inn. Lily worried about her brother. He looked tired and a little on edge, even among family he didn’t drop his guard.
“What do you mean, Vinny?”
“I don’t mean anything, Lily.”
“Yes you do.” The little girl jumped off the spot where she had perched on the arm of the couch and climbed into her brother’s lap. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re lying to me.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Because you wouldn’t understand.”
“Vincent?” Lily looked up at her father’s tone; he was standing by the window, looking intently into the swirl of wind and snow. There was something hard and cold about his eyes. “You better come see this…”
Lily watched as Vincent joined her father at the window. “Oh god…”
“What is it?” her mother asked fearfully.
“I have to go. I’m sorry, Mom…I didn’t think they’d follow me…”
“No, dear one, it’s for the best…maybe…maybe we’ll see you again later.” Her mother hugged Vincent tightly; tears in her eyes and Lily cocked her head to the side.
“Are you leaving, Vinny?”
“But you just got here!”
“I know…I’m sorry…”
“Take the back door.” Mr. Valentine’s voice dropped to a low murmur and Lily could only catch words like “Peacemaker”, “end this”, and “hurry”.
“Bye Vincent…I love you…” Lily called tearfully as her brother headed down the hallway for the back door.
“I’ll be back. Don’t worry about me…”
Lily looked up as her mother sat down on the couch and began to sob. “Mommy! Mommy, it’s ok! He said he would come back…” For some reason it only made her mother cry harder and Lily climbed onto the couch beside her, desperate to make her stop.
“It’s all right, Carol. He knows what he’s doing…”
“David, what if he…”
“There isn’t a better shot this side of Midgar. If he gets a chance, he’ll make this stop.”
“Oh…if…what will they do to him if he tries and they catch him?”
“That won’t happen.”
Lily started as she heard gunfire and shouting outside. Her mother moaned and started to cry again. Lily had gotten used to the sharp bangs she heard when a gun fired. Both her father and brother were heavily immersed in anything having to do with firearms. There was an oppressive silence in the living room, almost a sense of waiting, but waiting for what?
There was a loud pounding on the door. Her mother gasped and her father stood up to answer the door. The expression on his face was grim and sad. The man who stood outside was wearing a dark suit and an evil smile on his face. “I presume this is the Valentine residence?”
Her father nodded silently. Her mother had already risen and was standing behind him, eyes still filled with tears.
“I thought you might like a last look at your son…” the man stepped aside and gestured to another, who in turn shoved forward the figure he’d been supporting. Vincent crumpled to the snowy cobblestones and Lily’s eyes widened. Her mother gave a low cry and knelt down by her son, carefully taking him in her arms. Lily ran forward and crouched beside her brother.
“Vincent! Mommy, what’s wrong?” Lily shook her brother’s shoulder. “Hey, wake up!”
“He’ll be out for a good while, kid,” a man said.
“What did you do to my brother?” Lily asked, suddenly angry at whoever the man was.
“We’ve been after your brother for a long time.”
“Leave him alone!” Lily turned back to her mother, who was crying softly and hugging Vincent, “You…you’re a bad person!”
To Lily’s chagrin the man laughed. “Yes. That I am. And you know what, kiddo? Your big brother’s gonna be just like me. I’ll make sure of it.”
“No! He’ll never be like you! Not my brother!” Lily was nearly crying, tears of anger and fear for her brother.
“I’ve had enough, Hanson, put him in the truck. We can’t be bothered with this.”
Another one of the men in dark suits came forward and roughly shoved Lily’s mother, forcing her to break her hold on her son. To Lily’s horror neither of her parents did anything as “Hanson” hauled her brother off the ground and dragged him away.
“No! You can’t!” Lily screamed, trying to get away as her mother grabbed her arm and prevented her from running after the man. “Mommy, let go! Daddy? Daddy, help!”
“We can’t do anything, Lily…” Lily’s father was holding his wife tenderly as she cried and had a steely, somber expression on his face.
“NO! You can’t let them do this!” Lily wailed. “Please…” Lily froze as the first man pulled out a gun.
“I’m sorry I have to do this, but if our friend here has any connections to family he’s liable to try and run away.”
Lily clung to her mother and closed her eyes as she heard the man flick the safety off his weapon.
“Hey, am I interrupting something?” Reno asked, knocking lightly on the half-open door. Lyria was curled up next to Vincent, head resting on his shoulder and one hand lightly pressed against his chest.
“No, nothing of terribly great importance.”
Lyria smiled at Reno. “Seen Yuffie yet?”
“Shut up, Lyria,” Reno said sourly.
“Don’t talk to my wife like that or I’ll shoot you. Why would you be looking for Yuffie?”
Lyria giggled. “ Reno has a thing for Yuffie. The problem is, he can’t get his hands on her because Rude told her beforehand and now she’s playing hard to get,” Lyria whispered.
“Oh. Yuffie? Good lord, Reno, you’re too old for her.”
“You’re too old for Lyria.”
“He is not!”
“Well…I am…sort of…”
“No, you aren’t. Is there a reason you’re here, Reno?” Lyria asked.
“Yeah. If you’re up to it, there’s a chopper leaving in an hour…”
“Are you nuts Reno?” Lyria exclaimed. “He was just recently able to regain consciousness, let alone…”
“Can I leave now?” Vincent asked. Without Lyria noticing, he’d managed to grab the pair of crutches leaning against the wall by his bed and stand up.
“Vincent! Back in bed! You aren’t supposed to be able to walk yet!” Lyria scolded.
“Fine? You’re a far ways from ‘fine’…”
“Don’t you want to go home?”
“Well…yes, of course, but…”
“I can manage.”
“Oh…on one condition.”
“As soon as we get home, you’re going to bed, you’ll be taking a wheelchair out of the hospital, and we can’t leave until I’ve said bye to Yuffie and Rude.”
“That’s three conditions, but I’ll agree to everything but the wheelchair.”
Lyria folded her arms. “In that case, you stay here.”
“Why do I need to take a wheelchair? I can walk…”
Lyria put out a hand and stopped him from taking any experimental steps. “No. It’s a hospital policy.”
“You weren’t sticking to it after I got out of Midgar General…”
“There was nothing wrong with you then. There’s a lot wrong with you now.”
“I was ok for almost a day in a cave on the side of a mountain, I think I can manage getting to a helicopter…”
“You were semi-comatose for half the time you were on the mountain, I don’t think you can.” Lyria placed her hands on his shoulders and forced him to sit back down on the bed.
“ Reno, what do you think? I can do it.”
“You aren’t dragging me into this,” Reno said, shaking his head. “I’m not going to argue with Lyria.”
“I dunno, because you’ll shoot me?”
“ Reno, it was one tiny little death threat.”
“Hah! Reno’s on my side!” Lyria exclaimed triumphantly.
“I never said that,” Reno protested. “Maybe I think Vincent’s perfectly capable of getting out of here.”
“I win.” Vincent smiled and stood up again.
“Then again, you were in pretty rough shape last night…”
“Now I win,” Lyria said gleefully.
“But you’re a Turk too and I think you can handle it. On the other hand, we don’t want to risk you hurting yourself any worse, just because…”
“ Reno, shut up. I don’t want your opinion any more.” Lyria sighed. “I’m going to go find another doctor. It’s obvious you aren’t going to agree with me,” Lyria glared at Vincent who shrugged. “And you don’t seem to have enough of a mind to make up,” she added, turning to Reno.
“Hey!” Reno stuck his tongue out at Lyria as she left the room. “Did she just call me stupid?”
“I think so.”
“Sheesh. Ok, you wanna go?”
“You’re on my side now?”
“Yup. The opposition just called me stupid. Let’s get outta here…heh, there’s a stuck up desk clerk, are you gonna be able to deck him or should I?”
“You do it.” Vincent stood up and headed down the hallway.
“Hey, you’re doing pretty good,” Reno commented. “I would’ve expected you to have a bit more trouble…”
“I want to go home.”
“Don’t we all?”
“Will the chopper leave early?”
“I think so.”
“Vincent Valentine! You get back in your room right now!”
“Damn. Almost made it.” Vincent sighed and turned to face Lyria. “Hi, Lyr…”
“Darling, I’m serious. I want to go home as much as you do, but I don’t want you to hurt yourself…”
“I’m doing fine so far. Reno says the chopper might even leave early so we can get back home sooner and I’ll go straight to bed after that, ok?”
Lyria sighed. “Oh, all right…let’s go home.”
“I guess you have to go back to Midgar soon…” Lyria sighed, laying her head against Vincent’s chest. The couple was sitting together in the living room in front of a roaring fire while early spring rain drummed on the windows outside. Lyria had thoroughly enjoyed having Vincent home for six weeks, although she didn’t think he’d been quite thrilled, spending his days bored and lonely.
“Yeah. Probably at around midnight.”
“I don’t want you to go…” Lyria said sadly. “I’ll miss you…”
“I know, but I have to. I won’t be gone long, I promise.”
“Yeah…when are you going to be back? I’m going to be pretty busy this weekend, I’m taking the night shift on this evening and on Saturday I’m helping Tifa and Cloud paint Aeris’s room. They’re totally redoing their house, can you believe that? They’ll have contractors in for most of the week and I was thinking they could maybe come stay here…just Cloud and Tifa though, because Aeris is staying with Cid and Shera.”
“Yeah…I think we’ll be finished Monday morning.”
“Where’re you going?”
“Wutai I think. Just checking back in on the situation. I think Godo’s men took care of it, but they want us to make sure.”
“Oh…do you really have to go?”
“I want you to stay…” Lyria sniffed slightly as a tear fell from one of her eyes.
“Lyr, what’s wrong? I’ve never seen you this upset about my leaving.”
“N-nothing’s wrong…I…I’m just really gonna miss you…”
“Come on; don’t cry…we won’t be long.”
“Always. Cheer up, ok?” Vincent gently kissed Lyria’s forehead and her tears started to slow.
“Look at me, crying over something so stupid…” Lyria wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
“It’s all right, we’ll go somewhere when I get back, ok?”
“Like where?” Lyria asked.
“I don’t know…wherever you want.”
“Lemme think…umm…how about the Gold Saucer?”
Vincent shuddered. “Except there.”
“I’ll crawl through the slums of Midgar and I’ll climb every goddamn mountain in Wutai, but there is no way in hell I’m going to the Gold Saucer. If there’s one place on this planet I hate…”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s loud and garish and just disgusting, I guess the hotel isn’t bad, but it doesn’t make up for the rest of it…although…I guess if you really wanted to go…” Vincent looked averse at the mere thought and Lyria laughed.
“I don’t want to go either. Where else is there?”
“ Costa Del Sol?”
“Aren’t you getting sick of Wutai?”
“I like the term particular. And would you really want to go to a fishing port for a holiday? I don’t even like fish…”
“Point taken. What about…Mideel…no, never mind, it’s a dump… Rocket Town?”
“Boring. There’s nothing there besides a rocket, which actually isn’t there because Cid launched it at Meteor.”
“It wasn’t Cid, it was Shinra. And it didn’t work. I was on that rocket, things didn’t go well.”
“Lyria, where do you want to go? I’m out of ideas.”
“Dunno,” Lyria answered, shrugging her shoulders.
“I don’t either. Unless…what about Cosmo Canyon?”
“Maybe…is it nice?”
“I like it. Red lives there and you know how he is…”
“Sounds good so far…where would we stay?”
“They have an inn, quite peaceful really…”
“It would be good to see Red again. I haven’t talked to him in ages.”
“So Cosmo Canyon? The day after I get back, how about?”
“Sure…but now I’m upset about you leaving again…” Lyria sighed.
“I’ll be back before you know it. If you’re going to be busy it won’t seem like I’m gone that long.”
“Good evenin’, Lyria!” a middle aged female doctor with her long hair tied in a bun called. Angie was the newest addition to the Nibelheim medical staff and Lyria adored her. All the prayers she’d whispered, cowering in the nurses lounge, crying at the older doctor’s insults, and just wishing she had a friend were answered with the arrival of Dr. Angie Carlson, MD.
“Hi, Angie…” Lyria answered a bit wearily, taking her lab coat down from the hook on the back of her office door and pulling it on. It was one in the morning and Lyria had headed to the hospital after bidding Vincent a tearful goodbye and making him promise to call her as soon as he got the chance.
“You’re soundin’ rather down, dearie. Something you’d care to talk about?” Angie asked, warmly embracing the younger doctor.
“I’m just missing my husband…I hate it when he has to leave…” Lyria sighed.
“Ah, yes, I know how that is…”
“How would you know? You’ve never been married, have you?”
“Nope. I just thought I’d try and make you feel better. Come along honey, we’ll keep you busy and the time’ll just fly! Now we’ve got a case on the second floor, just came in this evening, poor lad with a nasty broken arm and I think you should get a look at the boy.”
“Ok, Angie…” Lyria followed her friend up to the second floor and smiled as she entered the room of a small boy, face tearstained and only about four years old. “Hello there, my name’s Dr. Valentine. How are you feeling?”
The little boy didn’t answer and hiccoughed, rubbing his nose with the back of his good arm.
“Shy,” Angie said, by way of explanation. “Poor little bloke’s parents both work nights and couldn’t get off. Thought you’d like to try your hand at warmin’ our little dearie’s heart.”
“I’ll give it a shot…” Lyria sat down on the bed beside the child, looking at the chart with his name written on the top. “Timothy?”
The little boy nodded. “My mommy calls me Timo…” he whispered.
“I like that. Do you want to call me Lyria?”
“Ok…are you gonna make my arm better, Lyra?”
“Of course. That’s my job.” Lyria smiled again. “Now, let me have a look at your arm.”
“My mommy and daddy have to work…” Timo said sadly, watching as Lyria turned his arm left and right, looking at it closely. “I miss them, I’m scared…”
Lyria looked up from examining the little boy’s arm and met his big blue eyes. “I know it’s hard. Someone I love very, very much is far away from me right now and I miss him too…”
“Who?” Timo asked curiously.
“Oh. You aren’t scared though…I’m very scared.”
“Trust me, I’m scared too,” Lyria sighed, hugging Timo gently.
The little boy looked perplexed. “Of what? You’re a grown up.”
Lyria shook her head. “I’m probably even more frightened because I’m a grown up. I’m very scared that he won’t come back…”
“Why? Why wouldn’t he come back?”
“He could get hurt or killed and I’d never see him again…that’s almost happened too many times…”
“Don’t worry, he’ll come back,” Timo said comfortingly, gently patting Lyria’s arm. “He loves you, right? So he has to come back. I know my Mommy and Daddy will come because they love me…”
Lyria smiled. “You’re right. Thank you Timo, I was feeling very sad…”
“No problem, Lyra. But if I’m not gonna be scared tonight, you gotta promise you won’t be scared either, ok?”
“Sure,” Lyria promised, hugging the little boy again. “You should go to bed, ok Timo?”
“Okey dokey, good night, Lyra.” The little boy snuggled under the blankets and closed his eyes.
“Good night…” Lyria said softly, getting up and slipping out of the room.
“It don’t take much, do it?” Angie asked, following Lyria down the hallway to another room.
“No, it certainly doesn’t,” Lyria agreed. “What next?”
“Maternity ward, the young woman who had the C-section.”
“Lead on, Angie.”
“Can we get some help here!?” A paramedic called urgently, helping a blood covered man into the hospital lobby. Lyria, Angie, and several of the other doctors and nurses rushed over.
“What in the name of President Shinra’s big toe happened? Angie exclaimed.
“Car accident, just outside, there’re two more out there…” the paramedic answered, letting a nurse take the man’s arm and lead him to a chair where a doctor began a quick examination.
“Over here!” another paramedic entered, carrying a young girl of about seven in her arms. Lyria rushed over and gently took the girl. She rapidly examined the little girl for any serious injury, but it appeared she was only bruised and shaken.
“Angie! C’mere, I think we might have a bit of a case of shock on our hands!” Lyria called, setting the little girl down and smiling gently. “Are you all right angel? Can you tell me where it hurts?”
The child burst into tears and pointed at her ribs. “W-where are m-my M-mommy and D-daddy?”
“Shh…don’t worry, darling, everything’s all right. They’re fine, just a little bruised up, that’s all. We’ll fix them up and it’ll be all better, ok?” Lyria gently hugged the little girl and picked her up again. “We’ll take you to the x-ray room, ok? You can meet Mike, our x-ray techie.”
The girl buried her face in Lyria’s shoulder and sobbed as she carried her down the hall to the x-ray lab. “Hey, Mike? Could we get a quick shot of her chest?”
“Sure,” the technician said, smiling at the little girl. “Hey, kiddo, how’re you doing? We’re gonna take a picture of your bones, ok?”
Lyria slipped out of the room and flagged down a nurse. “Could you go take care of the little girl in x-ray? Make sure she gets settled in a room and maybe give her a sedative so she can sleep. Do you know how bad her parents are?”
“Not as bad as they looked. Broken ribs for the father and a bit of a concussion for the mother, but other than that, nothing serious.”
“Thank god. I’m going to go see what I can do.” Lyria headed down the hallway, back to the lobby. There was a slight ringing in her ears and she felt a bit dizzy, but she brushed the sensation off as merely the upshot of the adrenaline in her body.
“Lyria?” Angie looked up as the younger doctor entered the lobby. “Honey, you really don’t look too well, are you all right?”
“I…” Lyria stopped, as the room seemed to spin around her and then grow dark. She collapsed to the floor and would have struck her head on the hard linoleum tile if one of the paramedics had not leapt forward to catch her.
“Lyria!” Angie exclaimed, kneeling down by her friend. “Dear me…someone get a cold cloth…”
One of the nurses who had been in the lobby scurried off and returned momentarily with a damp cloth. “Here…”
“Thank you dearie…” Angie lightly brushed the moist fabric against Lyria’s forehead until she moaned and her eyes flickered open.
“A-Angie? W-what happened?” Lyria started to sit up, but fell back again weakly.
“Easy there, honey, you just had a little fainting spell, is all…”
“I had what? I’ve never done that before…”
“Don’t worry, sugar, probably just a little stress. I think we’ll take you home and you can go to bed, ok?”
“I don’t think I need to…”
“Don’t argue with me, Lyria,” Angie scolded in a tone that reminded Lyria of her mother’s. “Come on, I’ll give you a lift.”
“Oh…all right…” Lyria tried to sit up again, but Angie put a hand on her shoulder and motioned to the paramedic who still supported Lyria. He lifted her easily and followed Angie out of the hospital to her truck.
“Now, buckle up tight and we’ll be home in a jiffy.” Angie sat down in the driver’s seat of her pickup.
“I’m feeling a lot better, Angie…” Lyria protested as her friend backed out of the hospital parking lot and drove up the street towards the Shinra mansion.
“I don’t care if you can run a marathon, you’re going to bed.”
Lyria sighed. “All right, fine.” The truck pulled into the long driveway of the Shinra mansion and stopped right outside the door. Lyria got out and started to head up the stairs to the door, but stumbled slightly and felt everything spin again.
“Lyria! Take it easy!” Angie exclaimed again, taking her arm and helping her up the stairs into the house. Lyria opened the door and flicked on the light in the front hall. “My lord dear, you’ve a big house!”
“I know…it’s very lonely when Vincent isn’t here…” Lyria pulled off her lab coat and started to head upstairs to her bedroom with Angie following.
“Slow down, Lyria, we don’t want you falling down the stairs.”
“I think I’m a lot better…”
“You’re going to bed.” Angie held open the door of Lyria’s room. “Get changed.”
“All right…” Lyria shut the door and started to undress. She pulled on a t-shirt, one of Vincent’s dress shirts, and a pair of shorts and reopened the door. “You really didn’t have to stay Angie…”
“Oh, yes I did. Come now, child, you’re going to bed.” Angie bustled into the room and turned down the blankets. “Why are you wearing a man’s white shirt?”
“It’s my husband’s. I always wear them when he’s gone…” Lyria crawled under the covers and let Angie tuck her in. “Thank you, Angie…”
“No problem, you go to sleep, ok honey?”
“Uh huh…” Lyria closed her eyes and started to fall asleep as Angie shut the door and headed back to the hospital.
“Cloud! Get the door!” Tifa yelled over her shoulder, trying to get Aeris to put on a sweater.
“Mommy, no!” the three year old protested, squirming. “I want the pink sweater!”
“Darling that one’s in the wash,” Tifa explained.
“Oh…ok, I’ll wear the blue one. When are Auntie Shera and Uncle Cid coming?”
“Pretty soon and when you get home your room will be all new and pretty! How’s that sound?”
“Yay!” Aeris giggled and clapped her hands and Cloud and Lyria entered the kitchen.
“Hiya, Aeris!” Lyria bent down and held out her arms for a hug and kiss from the little girl.
“Hi, Auntie Lyria! Mommy and Daddy are painting my room!”
“I know, I’m helping. You better get going, sweetheart. Don’t want to be late…”
“Ok, c’mon Daddy!” Aeris grabbed her father’s hand and pulled him towards the door.
“I’ll be back in a minute…” Cloud said, stopping for a moment to kiss Tifa goodbye.
“You want some coffee, Lyr?” Tifa asked, pouring herself a mug.
Tifa sighed. “My little baby’s growing up…”
“She’ll be fine, Tifa. Shera and Cid will take very good care of her and then you can all get back to a totally new look for your house…”
Lyria and Tifa sat chatting for a few minutes until Cloud returned and proposed they get to work. The trio headed upstairs to Aeris’s room and started laying out drop cloths and then began painting, a soft pastel pink that Aeris loved.
“Hey, Lyr?” Tifa called to her friend, who had stopped painting and was looking a little dazed. “Are you all right?”
“Y-yeah, these fumes are just a little overpowering is all…”
“You wanna step outside for a minute to clear your head?” Cloud suggested.
“Good idea…” Lyria started to get down off the ladder she was using, but suddenly saw everything go black again and slumped to the ground.
“Lyr!” Tifa knelt down by her friend. “Cloud, what’s wrong?”
“Don’t worry; these vapors are probably just a little much for her. We’ll move her downstairs and she should be fine.” Cloud carefully lifted Lyria from the ground and carried her down the stairs to the living room. He gently laid her on the couch and Tifa hurried to get a cold cloth from the kitchen.
“Cloud?” Lyria mumbled. “What happened?”
“It’s ok, Lyr, you just blacked out for a minute…are you feeling better?”
“I think so…I’ve been a bit under the weather the past little while…”
“Lyria! You’re awake!” Tifa knelt down beside her friend. “Are you all right?”
“I’m ok…” Lyria sat up and rubbed her eyes.
“Does Vincent know you’re feeling ill like this?” Tifa asked sharply.
“No, and I’m not telling him.”
“Because I’m fine. There’s no sense in me making him worry, just because I get a little dizzy from time to time…”
“From time to time? When has this happened before?”
“Just once yesterday, but I’m ok…”
Tifa still looked concerned. “Lyr, this isn’t like you…”
“Who are you? My doctor?”
“I’m just worried about you.”
“Don’t be, it’s probably just emotional stress. Promise you won’t tell Vincent.”
“All right…are you up to finishing with us or do you want to go home?”
“I can finish, I don’t want to disappoint Aeris…”
“Hi!” Yuffie shrieked, running at the helicopter as it landed.
“Hello, Yuffie,” Vincent politely greeted the shinobi.
“Hey, how are you? All better?” Yuffie asked, warmly hugging Vincent.
“Yes. May I speak with your father?”
“Sure, c’mon!” Yuffie led the way down the path to her father’s mansion. “Hurry up, Reno! Hurry up Rude!”
“Hey, Reno?” Rude asked. “Do you still have a thing for Yuffie?”
“Shut up!” Reno growled.
“I think that means yes,” Vincent commented.
“You shut up too!”
“What’s the matter Reno?” Yuffie called playfully. “Are Vince and Rude bein’ mean to you?”
“Whatever.” Yuffie continued on ahead.
“We’ll be staying at the inn this time,” Vincent said, changing the subject.
“Why?” Reno asked.
“So you and Yuffie can’t mess around,” Rude answered, shoving Reno.
“Good lord, Reno. What’s with all the yelling?” Yuffie asked, turning around.
“Yuffie, will your father take offense if we propose to stay at the inn, rather than his palace?” Vincent asked.
“No, I don’t think so. You aren’t gonna be here too long though…”
“I know, but we don’t want to impose.”
“Whatever. You can come talk to him and then we’ll head out and scout the mountain a bit. I don’t there’s anyone left though. Or if there is, they’re too scared to face Yuffie the Great!” Yuffie struck a dramatic pose and twirled around.
“Yuffie the Great who spent most of her time making passes from her kidnapper.”
“Shut up! I did not! How would you know anyway? You were like half dead for most of the time.”
“I think you may be exaggerating, just a bit.”
“Not really.” Yuffie ran into her father’s pagoda and down the hallway, returning a few minutes later, leading Godo by the hand. “They’re here, Daddy.”
“I can see that, Yuffie. How are you all doing?”
“Fine,” Vincent answered. “How are you, my Lord?”
“Fortune has been kind lately. The raids on our village have stopped and there are merely rumors of traitorous shinobi in the mountains.”
“Very good. Shall we begin our investigation immediately?”
“The sooner the better. There’ll be a great feast tonight, to celebrate our triumph and, of course, you’re all invited.”
“A party? Kick ass, let’s get going!” Reno swung his nightstick a couple times. “Lead on, Yuffie the Great.”
“Shut up Reno.” Yuffie grabbed her shuriken and headed out the door and up towards the mountain.
“Hey wait up!” Reno ran after Yuffie, ignoring the look Rude gave him.
“What’s wrong with Reno?” Vincent asked. “You’d almost think he was serious about Yuffie…”
“I’m starting to think he might be…I highly doubt he’ll have any luck though. She saw him coming and she’ll blow him off every chance she gets.”
“Is that a good thing, or a bad thing though? On the one hand it’s good that he’ll start to understand that not every woman he chases is going to go down easy, but if he really is serious and Yuffie just blows him off he’ll get depressed.”
“Yeah…we’ll have to wait and see, I suppose…”
Reno sighed and headed away from the party in front of the Pagoda of the Five Gods, sticking to the shadows as he slunk back to the inn. Yuffie was not an easy target. Every single attempt he’d made had failed. She’d laughed in his face when he told her she looked pretty in the moonlight, slapped him when he mentioned the firelight made her eyes sparkle, and decided to spend her evening hanging on the arm of a big shinobi swordsman who looked stuck up and vain and showed off to his friends that he’d snagged Lord Godo’s wildfire daughter. She’d even been caustic enough to remark that he didn’t seem to be having much luck with women that evening, glossing over the fact that the majority of Wutai’s female population followed his every move, praying that handsome, courageous Lord Reno might grant them some attention instead of trailing after Yuffie all night. Neither of the other Turks seemed to have any problems, probably because neither felt Reno’s desire for companionship. Well, they might have, but their companions were nowhere to be found in Wutai. Rude stoically ignored the flock of women, who crowded around him, giggling about how tall and strong he was and prodding his biceps while Vincent chatted with Godo about the rise of the standard of living in Midgar since Reeve’s initiation as President.
Taking a moment to swipe a bottle from the bar Reno continued towards his hotel. Glancing at the label of the half full bottle he was rather disappointed to find it was only sherry. It would take a good deal more than a half bottle of sherry to get him nice and loaded. But it would have to do. “For now at least…” Reno thought. “Maybe the hotel has room service and I can get something good and stiff…”
Reno headed up to his room and sat in the armchair in front of the TV, settling in for a hard night of drinking.
“Hey, Vincent, have you seen Reno?” Yuffie asked.
“No, not recently. Isn’t he here?” Vincent looked around for Reno, he wouldn’t have been hard to spot, his flaming red hair stood out vibrantly against the sea of glossy black.
“I can’t find him…”
“I thought you were talking with Warrior Kai,” Yuffie’s father commented.
Yuffie made a face. “More like talking at Warrior Kai. I’ve had more stimulating conversations with rocks. He doesn’t even know what summon materia are.” Yuffie looked mortified at the very thought.
“If you want to go back to the hotel and look for Reno I’ll go with you…I was going to call Lyria anyway. What’s the time?”
“Almost one in the morning,” Godo answered, looking up at the moon.
“That makes it…around eight in Nibelheim, right? She should be up and I should call her. Good night, Lord Godo. I think I’ll turn in.”
“Yeah me too. Night Daddy,” Yuffie agreed, hugging her father. “C’mon, Vince.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Why not?” Yuffie asked, walking towards the hotel and shivering a bit in the darkness.
“It’s not my name.”
“I was calling you that all the time when we were stuck in that cave and you didn’t care.”
“I was half dead, remember? Why this sudden urge to find Reno?”
“You’ve noticed he’s not exactly batting a thousand tonight. Mind you, he hasn’t really been throwing his heart and soul into it.”
“I haven’t been paying attention to Reno,” Yuffie lied haughtily.
“Yeah. Sure. He’s been making up for your lack of interest by paying you an undeserved amount of attention.”
“How’s Lyria doing?” Yuffie asked, bluntly changing the subject as they entered the hotel, irritated that Vincent could see through her so easily.
“Good I guess. She seems a bit under the weather…”
Vincent looked slightly injured. “You don’t have to be sarcastic.”
“Good night, Vincent, see you in the morning.” Yuffie headed down the hallway, deciding to go back to the party. After all, who cared about Reno? She knew perfectly well he was a fast-talking, womanizer, with a drinking problem but…he was so cute. She paused in front of his hotel room door, pushing it open a crack. “Reno?”
“Hmm?” The room was dark and Reno was sprawled on a chair, shirt rumpled and suit jacket open as usual and a bottle of liquor in one hand. “Oh. It’s you. Go away.”
“I just was wondering why you left the party…” Yuffie said awkwardly, scuffing her shoes on the floor.
“What the hell d’you care? Didn’t get to rub your new boyfriend in my face enough?”
“Reno, you’re drunk…”
Reno laughed. “Why, I do believe you’re right. I am drunk, aren’t I?”
“Why’re you here Yuffie?”
“Oh. Well, lemme see if I can pick out one of your usual reasons. Is it laugh at Reno ‘cuz he’s smashed again? Hmm…no, I don’t think so, you don’t seem to be laughing.”
“I’m not here to laugh at you.” Yuffie came into the room and sat on the bed.
“Oh. Did you come to make fun of the fact that Reno struck out every time he made a pass tonight?”
“No, Reno…” Yuffie answered, shaking her head. She was starting to feel a little guilty for baiting Reno like she had been.
“Where’s your new toy? Or did you get bored with him already?”
“Kai isn’t very interesting.”
“Am I interesting? Or is it only when I’m drunk?”
“Reno, cut it out. I didn’t come here to mock you, or laugh at you, or whatever…” Yuffie gently pulled the bottle out of his hands. “I think maybe you’ve had a bit too much to drink.”
“All righty. Lessee, no alchohol…Yuffie says no. No drugs…Shinra made me quit that when I joined up…small price to pay I guess, woulda killed me anyway…not that being a Turk won’t kill me someday.” Reno laughed bitterly. “That leaves sex. Aw shit, sex is out too. So I got nothing. Happy now, Yuffie?”
“Why is sex out?” Yuffie asked, trying to keep her voice neutral.
“Because it doesn’t mean anything. It never means anything. I’m damn shallow Yuffie, nothing means anything anymore.”
“Me and you could fool around if you wanted…” Yuffie suggested, toying with the sheets on the bed.
“I thought you weren’t here to mock me.” Reno stood up and stumbled a little, grabbing the bottle from where Yuffie had put it on the sideboard. “You wanna drink, Yuffie? I sure could use one.”
“I wasn’t kidding, Reno…”
“Tch. Yeah, right. You shouldn’t lie to me Yuffie, I’m drunk, remember? Do you want scotch and water or are you gonna drink it straight, like me?”
“So am I. I think you’re lying to me.” Reno blinked a couple times. “I can’t remember, did you want your scotch straight?”
Yuffie sighed. Talk obviously wasn’t getting her anywhere. She got up from the bed and walked past Reno to the door, grabbing the “Do not Disturb” sign from the table and looping it over the handle. She shut the door and turned around. “C’mon Reno.”
“ ‘C’mon Reno’ what?” Reno asked sullenly. “Are you planning to stay much longer? Or just ‘til I drink myself out?”
Yuffie sighed again and sat down on the bed. Idly she smoothed the covers for a minute, and then methodically began removing her clothes.
“Whatcha’ doin’ Yuffie?” Reno asked, sitting down again and watching as Yuffie pulled off her shoes and socks, tossing them in a corner.
“Nothing…” Yuffie started removing shuriken from various places of concealment within her clothing and flicking them idly at the door where they lodged themselves in the mahogany and stuck firm. She pulled her shirt over her head and tossed it at Reno.
“Hey, Yuffie, you wanna put your shirt back on?” Reno asked, still not quite catching on.
“Nah, I’m fine without it.” Yuffie stretched out on the bed and put her hands behind her head. “C’mere Reno.”
“Don’t wanna. You’re making fun of me.”
“C’mon, we’ll play a game.”
“What kinda game?” Reno asked suspiciously.
“I haven’t decided yet. C’mere and we’ll figure it out, ‘k? Just play along for a bit.”
“Fine.” Reno sulkily sat down beside Yuffie. “Now what?”
“We’ll play our game. It’s called, ‘Guess-what-color-underwear-the-beautiful-shinobi-is-wearing’.” Yuffie sat up and wrapped her arms around Reno’s neck from behind. “Ok, go ahead.”
“You hafta bring in the beautiful shinobi first.”
“It’s me, jackass!” Yuffie giggled.
“What the hell’s so funny?”
“I dunno…c’mon, you aren’t guessing…”
“Nuh huh. Too dark.”
“Only whores wear red.” Yuffie started to pull of Reno’s jacket.
“That explains a lot. Umm…pink?”
“Nope. Are you enjoying this game?” Next Yuffie undid the bottom few buttons on Reno’s dress shirt.
“I personally think it’s a stupid game. White?”
“Nah. Boring.” Yuffie threw Reno’s shirt in the corner.
Reno tried to remember what colors of underwear he’d seen other women wearing. “Umm…blue?”
“No, but that’s a thought, I think I’d look good in blue. Hold still Reno, I can’t get your belt off.”
“Nope. Guess again.” Yuffie abandoned Reno’s belt and started toying with his ponytail. “You’ve got nice hair. Very red.”
“Thank you…are you wearing red?”
“Nope, you guessed that already. Remember? Only whores wear red.”
“Would you like a hint?” Yuffie asked playfully.
“Are you really serious?”
“Yup. Do you wanna hint or not?”
Lyria rolled over as the phone rang. What was the time? She felt like she had only been lying down for five minutes and already the sky was streaked with red and gold of the sunset. She rubbed her eyes and picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
“Vincent! Oh darling, how are you?” Lyria tried to shake off some of her sleepiness.
“I’m fine, are you all right? You sound tired.”
“It’s nothing, I just woke up…”
“Just woke up? What’s the time over there?”
“Umm…” Lyria looked around the library where she’d fallen asleep for a clock. “It’s about eight thirty.”
“Asleep at eight thirty? Are you sure you’re ok?” Lyria could hear concern in Vincent’s voice.
“I’m fine…I’m working the night shift tonight,” Lyria lied.
“You are? I thought you were off until Wednesday.”
“Umm…I’m taking a shift for Angie; she’s feeling a bit unwell…”
“Tell me the truth, Lyr. Is there something wrong?”
“No. I’m all right.”
“Ok…are we still going to Cosmo Canyon on Monday?”
“I mean, if you aren’t up to it…”
“No, it’ll be the first time we’re both off work at the same time and for long enough for us to go away somewhere. I’m fine.”
“Damn, Lyr. If you aren’t well then tell me…god, I’m starting to understand how you feel when I get hurt. Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?”
“Vincent, I promise you, everything’s fine.”
“Ok…” Lyria could still tell he was uncertain.
“How was your day?”
“Good. Very quiet. There’s no problem here, the only thing that’s happened is a banquet that Godo threw.”
“Sounds nice. How are Reno and Rude?”
“They’re ok…Yuffie’s driving Reno nuts though.”
“Yeah? How so?”
“Leading him on mostly. Quite a crushing blow to his ego.”
“Oh dear…” Lyria stifled a yawn and sank back into the pillows of the couch. “What else?”
“Nothing really. I think I might go to bed soon. Good night, Lyr, I love you.”
“Love you too…” Lyria answered, rubbing her eyes and falling back asleep almost as soon as she hung up the phone.
Reno awoke to a pounding in his head. “Oh god…what was I drinking last night? Antifreeze? My head feels like…ow…” Sunlight was streaming into the room and Reno grabbed a pillow and tried to tug it over his head. The pillow didn’t move and stayed stuck where it was. “What the hell?” Reno mumbled sleepily, pulling harder. To his irritation the pillow was pulled in the other direction out of his reach. “Hey!” Deciding this was not a battle to be won; Reno pulled the blanket over his head and found himself face to face with a pair of legs. He couldn’t help noticing they were very nice legs. “What the hell?” The pounding noise was getting louder and Reno could hear something else, but couldn’t quite place what it was. Curious, he reached for the ankle of the closest leg and then tickled the toes. There was a muffled giggly shriek from somewhere near the head of the bed (Reno was rather confused as to why his head would be at the foot of the bed) and the owner of the leg kicked him hard in the side of the head. “*&%$! Ow!”
“Oops…” the leg’s owner giggled again, and Reno felt someone shifting around near the top of the bed. There was a sudden, blinding light as the blanket was pulled off his face with a flourish. “Mornin’ Reno.”
“Who the hell…?” Reno couldn’t see anything as his eyes were still adjusting from the sudden exposure to light, but the voice was familiar.
“I’ll give you a hint, I’m wearing orange.”
“What the *&%$ are you talking about?” Reno blinked again and felt someone sliding her arms around his neck. “Hmm…this isn’t too bad…wouldn’t be the first time I’ve gone to bed with someone I don’t know.”
“Don’t ya remember Reno? We had a hell of a time last night…”
“You guessed it!” Yuffie giggled and started kissing Reno.
“Damn…” Reno tried to focus, but the pounding in his head was still distracting. “What the hell is that noise?”
As if in answer the door swung open, revealing Rude and Vincent. “Oh. Good morning, Reno. Good morning, Yuffie,” Rude said pleasantly.
“You know, the ‘Do not Disturb’ sign is customarily put on doorknob that faces into the hallway,” Vincent commented, taking the tag and demonstrating. “I take it that was Yuffie’s mistake?”
Yuffie shrieked and dove under the covers. “Get the hell out!”
“Sorry. We were just coming to see if Reno was going to be joining us for breakfast. I sorta figured he’d be too hung over, but I guess not…” Rude said, grinning at his partner who had flipped his sunglasses off his forehead and was trying to block the light streaming in from the window.
“Shut up.” Reno felt dizzy and still a little confused.
“Reno, are they gone?” Yuffie asked, voice muffled under the blankets.
Yuffie made an irritated little noise and stuck her arm out from under the blankets, feeling along the floor for something. She apparently found what she was looking for and her hand snaked back under the blankets. There was more squirming as she burrowed under the covers, until her head was at the foot of the bed. She pulled the blanket off her head and revealed her short, tousled hair. Yuffie stuck her hand out in front of her, clutching a chunk of red materia. “Shiva!” The grin disappeared from Rude’s face as the ice goddess appeared and launched a volley of crystalline spears at the door. He shut it just in time and the spikes buried themselves in the wood of the door. “And stay out!”
Shiva turned to face the Turk and the ninja and smiled at Yuffie. “Did you have fun last night, shinobi?” she asked in her icy voice.
“Yup. Reno was absolutely plastered. I wasn’t though, because Reno was drunk enough for the both of us,” Yuffie answered, winking at Reno impishly.
“What the hell is going on?” So far all Reno could understand was that for some reason, him, Yuffie, and Shiva were in a bedroom somewhere and Yuffie was wearing orange. Thinking a bit harder, outside the walls of the bedroom, he figured Vincent and Rude were around too and found it highly amusing that him and Yuffie were in the same bed. “What’s going on, Yuffie?”
“Don’t you remember?” Yuffie asked as Shiva vanished back into her materia. “I guess you might not, you were pretty damn drunk last night.”
“You mean we…”
“Can we do it again? I don’t remember the last time,” Reno asked.
Yuffie giggled playfully. “Not right now.”
“Aww…shit, Yuffie, that isn’t fair…”
“You don’t wanna keep Rude and Vincent waiting.”
“They can wait until they rot.”
Yuffie giggled. “You finally got me, Reno.”
“I guess I did.”
“Why don’t you sound happy? Isn’t this what you wanted?”
“I’m not happy ‘cuz I can’t *&%#$@ remember anything! How do I know you aren’t just making it up to make me feel better?”
“How do I know you’re not just faking ‘amnesia’ because you wanna score again?”
“I dunno, I guess you’ll just have to trust me.”
“I gotta get home, Reno, my dad’s gonna wonder where I’ve been…” Yuffie slipped back under the blankets and started throwing out various articles of clothing, several chunks of materia, and an empty bottle of brandy. With a moderate struggle she managed to put on her underclothes while under the blankets and get out of bed. “See Reno? Orange!”
“Yeah, I can see that…Yuffie would you be a real angel and have room service send up some coffee? I have a very bad hangover.”
“I sorta figured you might. Don’t worry Reno, Yuffiekins will make you better.” “Yuffiekins” hopped around the room, pulling on her jeans and tripped on a piece of materia, landing hard. “Ouch.”
“Aww…did Yuffiekins fall down?”
“Shut up.” Yuffie stood up and pulled on her jeans. “I’ll be back in a bit, ok?”
“Wait for me; I think I’ll get up too…”
“In that case, I’ll have a shower.” Yuffie pulled off her jeans again and made her way into the bathroom. “You wanna join me?”
“Good morning again, Reno,” Rude greeted his partner as he and Yuffie entered the hotel restaurant. “And how are the happy couple?”
“Shut the @&%$ up!” Reno and Yuffie said in unison.
“You two are attracting an awful lot of attention,” Vincent commented quietly, sipping his tea. “Pity we have to leave today.”
“What? That’s not fair!” Yuffie exclaimed.
“Hey, it’s ok, I’ll visit on weekends, or maybe you could come up to Midgar,” Reno suggested. “We’ll work it out somehow…”
“Sure. Are you two ready to go?”
“Yeah. The chopper’s outside.” It might have been his imagination, but Reno thought Vincent’s tone was a little anxious.
“Something wrong, Vincent?” he asked.
“Yeah…” Vincent stood up and the three Turks and Yuffie headed out of the hotel.
“Hey! What the *&#$ is going on!?” someone yelled.
Reno looked up at the big shinobi with his sword drawn bearing down on him. “Uh oh…”
“Kai!” Yuffie exclaimed.
“What the *&#$ are you doin’ with that scumbag, Yuffie? I thought you was my girl!” There was a vein throbbing in the swordsman’s forehead as he glared at Reno.
“Yuffie is no one’s property, Colossus,” Reno answered coldly, wrapping a protective arm around Yuffie’s shoulders. “Don’t talk like you own her.”
Yuffie looked up at Reno, eyes glowing with pride. “Oh, Reno…”
Rude made a mock gagging noise and pointed his finger down his throat. Vincent smiled and shook his head.
“I gonna beat the shit outta you, Turk!” The shinobi advanced, sword aloft.
“Tell him off, Reno!” Vincent called. “Better use small words and simple sentences though.”
Reno grinned and pulled out his nightstick. A small crowd had already gathered, watching the unfolding battle with interest. Cries of, “You kill ‘im Kai!” and “Death to Shinra!” echoed above the crowd.
“Uh oh. And I thought we had stamped out all the rebellion in Wutai…” Rude commented, watching Kai circle Reno.
“C’mon, ya great lumbering brute, make the first move!” Reno taunted.
“Oh, Reno, be careful!” Yuffie cried, starting to have second thoughts about the romance of a fight to the death for her favor.
“He’s fine, Yuffie,” Vincent said, eyes intent on Reno.
“Can’t you do something?” she pleaded, watching nervously.
“I wouldn’t. It’s his fight, he’ll be offended if I blow his opponent to pieces. Don’t worry about Reno, he cheats when he fights.”
There was a collective gasp from the crowd as Kai lunged at Reno with a roar, swinging his sword. Reno dodged easily and gave Kai a mild jolt with his nightstick. The audience booed as Kai howled, lashing about and trying to hit Reno.
“My, my, we are a clumsy one,” Reno commented, as Kai tripped over his own feet and landed on the ground. “Did someone cast Quake or was that you landing, Tiny?”
“Reno, just finish him off!” Yuffie pleaded, watching Kai grow more and more enraged.
“Aww, c’mon, Yuffie. We’re having fun, aren’t we Chuckles?” Reno playfully jabbed Kai again with his nightstick. The hulking shinobi, bellowed again, standing up and towering about a foot above Reno. The red head stared up at him coolly with an arched eyebrow. “Your face is turning purple. You should get that checked. Do you have high blood pressure? I mean, someone as big and fat as you with such an obvious anger-management problem is sure to…”
Kai didn’t let him finish and unleashed a bolt of lightning from the materia concealed in his large palm. Reno was hurled backwards with the force of the bolt, striking the wall of the hotel behind him and slumping to the ground.
“Reno!” Yuffie screamed as Kai lumbered forward, ready to cleave Reno in half as he dizzily pushed himself up on one elbow and watched the shinobi with a dazed expression.
There was another roar but not from Kai. Chaos dove from the sky and hovered before Vincent, the air his wings stirred up blowing the Turk’s dark hair around. Most of the crowd screamed and scattered, seeking refuge in the nearby buildings. With a deathly serious expression, Vincent pointed to Kai. Chaos bellowed, whirling around to face the warrior, who stood rooted to the spot at the mere sight of the demon. Before Chaos even had a chance to get closer, Kai had fainted dead away. Yuffie ran over to check on Reno while Chaos turned to Vincent with a puzzled expression.
“I didn’t even touch him.” The demon sounded thoroughly confused.
“It’s all right; sometimes just your presence has the desired effect. Thank you,” Vincent answered politely.
“I see…do I get to eat him?”
“What?” Vincent asked, slightly startled.
“Can I eat him? He’s a big one and I’d really like to get just a taste…”
“I don’t think so,” Vincent shook his head. “We’ve already made a bit of a poor impression here…”
“Was that sarcasm?” Chaos asked hopefully.
“No, I’m afraid not. Sorry. Can you find something else to eat?”
“I would only take a very small bite.” Chaos spread his hands about a foot apart. “Only this big.”
“By our standards, that’s a very large bite.”
“But he’s so big! Surely no one would notice if I took only a little bite…now, were I to take a bite of you, people would notice because you aren’t as big, but in one of his size, my taking a small, very discreet mouthful would not be noticed…”
“Why don’t you go hunt something else? There are many monsters that are bigger than he is…”
“But humans are much more tender and so very rare to catch…” Chaos protested. “A very small bite…”
“No. I’m sorry, that’s final.”
Chaos muttered something under his breath and folded his wings.
“What was that?”
“Oh lighten up, stop sulking and go hunt in the mountains.”
“There’s nothing good in the mountains!”
“Ok…umm…try on the plains north of Midgar. There are semi-human mutants on motorcycles there…”
“Truly? I have not hunted there before…”
“Best of luck, then, I hope you catch what you want.”
“It is some distance. I am unaccustomed to going so far away from you. If there is trouble, I will have little time to return…”
“I appreciate your concern, but I think we’ll be fine from here on in.”
“Thank you. Shall I bring back some meat for you?”
“No thanks. I’m fine. Good hunting.” Vincent waved as Chaos took off, waiting until the demon was out of range of sight before shuddering. He headed over to where the other three waited, Yuffie cradling Reno and Rude standing awkwardly by. “Well, that was probably the most unnerving conversation I’ve had in a long while…Are you all right, Reno?”
“Ugh…yeah…sort of,” Reno answered weakly. “I’ve got an absolutely massive headache.”
“Poor Reno,” Yuffie said sympathetically, kissing Reno’s forehead.
“Yes, exactly. Poor, brave, injured, Reno…” Reno agreed, closing his eyes. “Poor Reno is in desperate need of pity right now.”
“Hey, Vincent?” Rude asked. “What’s the company motto?”
“Umm…‘Fortitudo, Animo, Pietas’, I believe. Why?”
“I think I might have figured out what it means. ‘Fortitudo’ is strength correct? Similar to the word ‘fortitude’.”
“Uh huh…it’s Latin.”
“ Thought so. ‘Pietas’ is ‘piety’, right?”
“Devotion, actually, but it means the same thing. Where are you going with this?”
“Well, if my characteristic is ‘strength’, yours is ‘devotion’, and Reno’s is ‘damn-overconfident-idiocy’ or whatever ‘Animo’ means, then that’s what you need to make a squad, right?”
“I never thought of that…it’s a very good theory though…are you all right to leave, damn-overconfident-idiot?” Vincent asked, addressing Reno.
“He isn’t going anywhere,” Yuffie said firmly. “He’s staying here with me.”
“It’s fine by me, but what will Reeve say?” Vincent answered.
“There goes the devotion again,” Rude commented. “Reeve won’t care.”
“All right…we should get going…take care of Reno, Yuffie,” Vincent instructed, heading towards the centre of town, where the helicopter had landed.
Vincent entered the Shinra mansion to find it dark and silent, not full of light as it usually was. “Lyria?” He was also a little worried when Lyria didn’t come to greet him as she usually did. “Maybe she is working the night shift…”
The house seemed empty and his footsteps sounded heavy and hollow as he headed upstairs to the master bedroom to put away his work clothes and get into jeans and a sweater. It was early spring and the snow was just beginning to thaw, but it was still icy cold near the Nibel Mountains. Idly he noticed that Lyria’s lab coat was thrown in a corner. He shook his head and decided to go downstairs to the library, maybe finding something to read until Lyria got home. Entering the library he was rather startled to find his wife curled up on the couch, fast asleep. Slightly concerned he laid a hand on her shoulder and gently shook her awake. “Night shift, huh?”
“Hi, Vincent…” Lyria mumbled sleepily, sitting up and holding out her arms for a hug.
“Have you been asleep since last night?”
“Umm…” Lyria looked around for a clock. “Yes.”
“Are you sick?”
“No, I’m fine. You’re home early.”
“There wasn’t anything to do in Wutai. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes! For god’s sake, do I smother you like this?” Lyria asked, irritated.
Vincent looked hurt. “I’m sorry; I’m just worried about you…”
Lyria sighed. “Don’t be. I was up late last night and I’m catching up on my sleep. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“I guess…do you think we could maybe leave early for Cosmo Canyon? The chopper’s fuelling up so it hasn’t left yet and we could probably get a ride…”
“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea…when would he leave? I’m not packed yet, I’d only need five or ten minutes…”
“Aren’t packed?” Vincent stopped himself from asking whether there was anything wrong again.
“No, I didn’t expect us to leave so soon…are you ready? I can just throw some clothes in my backpack and I’ll be good to go…” Lyria stood up and rubbed her eyes then stretched and headed upstairs to quickly pack.
Vincent pulled out his cell phone and quickly called the helicopter pilot to ask if the change in plans was ok, agreeing to meet the pilot in half an hour. Still unable to shake off his anxiety for Lyria, he hurried upstairs to see if she needed help with her bags. “You need a hand, Lyria?” he asked, taking her backpack from her as she exited the bedroom.
“Sure…when are we leaving?”
“You know…I was just thinking. Aeris is spending the week with Cid and Shera so Cloud and Tifa are on their own…do you think maybe they’d like to come with us?”
“I’m not sure…it’s rather sudden…” Vincent answered, concern fading a little as Lyria seemed a bit more alert.
“I think we should ask them, it would be nice to get out, just the four of us…”
“Sure. Here, give Tifa a call…” Vincent handed Lyria his PHS and she quickly dialled Tifa’s number.
“Hello, Tifa?…Hi…I know this is rather short notice, but would you and Cloud like to come with me and Vincent down to Cosmo Canyon?…well, we’re leaving in fifteen minutes…I know it’s sudden…of course…no, you aren’t imposing…I invited you, Tifa…ok, then…Great. See you soon, buh-bye.” Lyria hung up the phone and handed it back to Vincent. “They’re both coming and they’re both packed and ready too, because they needed stuff to stay at the hotel.”
“Oh good. They know where the helicopter is, right?”
“Yup, just outside Nibelheim.” Lyria laced her fingers through Vincent’s and the couple made their way towards the entrance of town. “I like this sweater, you should wear it more often…” Lyria idly stroked the fabric of the turtleneck her husband wore. “I remember you wore this when we went skiing with everybody for Christmas.”
“You’ve got a good memory, I’d forgotten about that.”
“What’s the pilot’s name?” Lyria asked, out of the blue.
“Dale Deciel. He’s an excellent pilot, probably one of the best. He’s almost my age…my real age…”
“Vincent, I thought you’d let that whole age thing go,” Lyria scolded. “You are not sixty years old. Actually…your thirtieth birthday is coming up…”
“Not until October.”
“Still…anyway, whatever…are you getting tired of carrying my bag? You don’t have to, I can do it. You already have your stuff…” Lyria grabbed the handle of the backpack her husband was carrying in one hand. His own pack was slung over one shoulder still packed from his trip to Wutai.
“It’s all right, I don’t mind.” Vincent looked up at the whirr of helicopter blades and waved to the pilot.
“Just in time, there’s Cloud and Tifa.” Lyria smiled.
“Hi Lyria! Hi Vincent!” Tifa called. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine…” Lyria said, almost seeming to give the other couple a warning glance. “Much better now that Vincent is back…” Lyria looked up at her husband fondly and he smiled.
Cloud unceremoniously dropped the two large duffel bags he’d been carrying. “You think you might have over packed, Tifa? Just a little? I think I threw my back out.”
“I don’t think so…I was actually thinking I might be missing something…let me see…I brought two pairs of jeans plus the ones I have on, pyjamas, three t-shirts, a sweater, sneakers, a cocktail dress, a pair of nylons, socks and stuff, ooh! And those new black heels I told you I got, Lyr. I’ll show them to you when we get to the hotel…oh, and my swimsuit.”
“A swimsuit? Good god, what for?” Cloud asked incredulously.
“For swimming, stupid,” Lyria said. “I brought mine…”
“Me too,” Vincent added.
Cloud smacked himself in the forehead. “Great….”
“Don’t worry; I brought yours too, Cloud. That’s why my bag is so much heavier, because half of it is stuff you forgot to pack.”
“Hello there, Vincent!” a rather rough voice called, as the helicopter set down. “You got a couple extra passengers for me!”
“I hope that’s all right, Dale.”
“Of course, of course! Hop on in!” The pilot was tall with iron-grey hair and a muscular physique. He wore a leather flight jacket and goggles on the top of his head and almost reminded Lyria of an older, more dependable seeming Cid. “And who are these two gorgeous ladies?”
“This is my wife, Lyria, that’s Cloud, and Tifa,” Vincent said, pointing at Lyria, Cloud, and Tifa in turn.
“Charmed, I’m sure…you know, I don’t let ladies in my chopper without a little kiss first…” Dale winked roguishly and Vincent rolled his eyes.
“Oh really?” Lyria asked slyly, sidling up to the pilot and returning his mischievous look. “Well…I don’t see the harm in that…” Lyria reached up and snapped the pilot’s goggles on his face. “But it still isn’t going to happen.”
“Ouch! You got yourself a live one here, Vincent!”
Cloud grinned. “That’s what Lyria, a medical doctor did to you…I wouldn’t even risk asking Tifa, martial artist, former bartender, she’s liable to…”
“I get the picture. Well, hop in ladies and gentlemen; we’re off to Cosmo Canyon!”
“Go away,” Lyria mumbled drowsily, shoving away the hand Vincent placed on her shoulder.
“Wake up, we’re here…” Vincent tried very hard to keep the concern out of his voice and glanced at Tifa with a rather worried expression.
“We’re where?” Lyria sat up, rubbing her eyes.
“Cosmo Canyon…Are you really sure you’re all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Let’s get our bags to the hotel and go see Red…”
“Me and Vincent will take them, you two can go up to Red’s place,” Cloud offered.
“Ok, I’m looking forward to seeing Red again…you don’t mind?” Tifa asked, looping her arm through Lyria’s as her friend hopped out of the helicopter.
“Not at all, we’ll see you soon…would you mind giving us a hand Dale?”
“Sure…” the pilot climbed out of the cockpit and hauled Tifa’s bag from the back. “Good god! I take it this is one of the ladies’ bags?”
Tifa guiltily held up a hand and smiled. “It’s not that heavy.” She took the bag and swung it hard at Dale’s legs, knocking him off balance.
“Jesus Christ! I thought you boys were sensible, but you both go out and marry a pair of live wires!”
Tifa laughed and Lyria smiled then waved as Tifa led her up the pathway towards Red’s house.
“One’s a little livelier than the other though…” Vincent murmured, watching Lyria follow Tifa up the slope.
Cloud scuffed his feet uncomfortably. “Let’s hurry up, don’t wanna keep Red waiting…”
“He doesn’t even know we’re coming. Is there something you’re not telling me?”
Cloud avoided meeting Vincent’s eyes. Logic made him nervous. “No…”
Vincent didn’t answer and instead grabbed Lyria’s bag and shouldered his own, heading towards the inn.
“What’s with him?” Dale asked, taking Tifa’s bag and dragging it after Vincent.
“I think he might be mad at me, because he thinks I know something about what’s wrong with Lyria, but I can’t tell him…”
“So there is something wrong?”
“I dunno…she doesn’t think there is…I promised her I wouldn’t tell Vincent.”
“Well how about you tell me and I’ll tell him because you didn’t promise not to tell me and I never promised anything.”
Cloud grinned. This was logic he could handle. “Good idea.”
“So what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with her exactly, but she’s been a little off lately. She’s been weak and tired and as far as I know she’s had two fainting spells, maybe more.”
“That isn’t good…” Dale pushed open the door of the hotel and set his bag down for a bellboy to bring up. Vincent was waiting at the counter for the desk clerk to give him the keys to his room. As Cloud joined him, Vincent handed him a key and turned to head upstairs to the room he’d gotten for himself and Lyria.
“The key to your room.”
“You paid for it?”
“Is that a problem?”
“Well…I’m fine with it, but Tifa’ll think we’re being a burden…”
“So don’t tell her about it.” Cloud winced at Vincent’s tone. It was fairly obvious he knew Cloud was keeping something from him and he was far from happy about it.
“Hey, lighten up…” Cloud muttered.
“Yeah, Vincent,” Dale agreed. “Would you like to know what’s wrong with Lyria?”
“Oh, so you’ll tell someone you’ve just met, but not me?” Vincent asked, glaring at Cloud.
“Hey, back off.” Cloud spread his hands defensively. “Lyr made me promise not to tell you.”
“She doesn’t want you worrying about her…”
“Well, if she doesn’t tell me something’s wrong, but I know there is something wrong then I worry that it’s something really bad and she’s not telling me for some warped reason I couldn’t even guess at and…”
“If it’s any consolation, I don’t it’s anything really bad,” Cloud interrupted helpfully.
“I think she would know better than you would whether it’s bad or not.”
“Well, I think she’d tell you if it were serious. Maybe the fact that she’s not telling you is proof that it’s something that isn’t worth worrying about.”
“Now I’m starting to think that you’re just trying to stall so you don’t have to tell me.”
Cloud squirmed under the calculating gaze Vincent gave him. “Damn it. How the hell can you see through people so easily?”
“Experience I guess. And you’re avoiding the question.”
“You shoulda been a lawyer or something…”
“Cloud…” There was a very distinct note of threat in Vincent’s voice.
“Dale, you tell him,” Cloud said. “I can’t just break a promise like that.”
“You’re the one who should have been a lawyer. Know the law, but find a loophole,” Dale remarked.
Cloud grinned. “Nah, I couldn’t be a lawyer.”
“You’re stalling again.”
“He’s not stalling, I just haven’t told you yet,” Dale said, trying to shift some blame off Cloud. “Here’s the story…” Dale quickly explained what Cloud had told him about Lyria. “I’d like to stay around, but I really have to jet. I’ll catch you later in Midgar, and I agree with what Cloud says. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Lyria, she’s just trying to spare you some heartache.”
“But…I don’t understand why she wouldn’t tell me…”
“Well, I’m sure she has her reasons. Umm…for my sake, would you not let on that you know? I mean, I did promise…”
“Hiya Red!” Tifa called, entering the observatory at the very peak of Cosmo Canyon where Red resided. “Did we come at a bad time?” The house was a frightful mess, books and papers strewn everywhere and from another room somewhere in the house there was a loud banging noise.
“Tifa? What are you doing here?” Red’s familiar voice called. The banging noise stopped and a trapdoor in the middle of the room opened. “Lyria too! It’s good to see you!”
“Likewise, Red,” Lyria agreed, smiling faintly.
Tifa knelt down and gave Red a hug as he leapt out of the hole in the floor. “Me and Cloud and Vincent and Lyria came down for a vacation and we thought we’d surprise you. The guys are just checking into the hotel…”
“I see…is there something wrong, Lyria?” Red asked, noticing Lyria looking around the observatory curiously.
“No, I was just looking around at your house…it’s very…interesting.”
“You don’t know the half of it. I’ll show you around later, but first of all I should give you a tour of Cosmo Canyon…when are Cloud and Vincent going to show up?”
“Probably about right now,” Cloud answered, entering Red’s house with Vincent close behind. “Hey, Red. How’s it going?”
“Quite well, thank you.”
“You were saying something about a tour?” Vincent asked, casually slipping an arm around Lyria’s shoulders.
“Yes, would you like to come see the wonders of Cosmo Canyon? Much has changed.”
“Sure, I’ve never been here before, so it’s a new experience for me…” Lyria said. “Lead the way, Red!”
Lyria seemed a little more alert now that she was doing something that interested her and paid attention as Red described the various attractions in Cosmo Canyon.
“Hey, Red?” Vincent asked as their old ally led the way towards the cave with the doorway to the pathway of the ghosts who had attacked Cosmo Canyon long ago. “Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but isn’t following this pathway going to lead to our predictable demise? I remember the ghosts here and they scared even me.”
“Ghosts? There are ghosts here?” Lyria asked, hugging Vincent tightly.
Red smiled. “One would think so, but things have changed. This has been my pet project.” Instead of the metal vault door that had held back the lost souls and spirits of the canyon, there was a carved stone archway with the words “Anima caducus advigilo aeternus”
“The souls of the fallen shall guard us eternally…roughly translated, that’s it, right?” Vincent asked, studying the script.
“Very good…and I was looking forward to a large narrative explaining the root words and such,” Red said. “I didn’t know you spoke Latin, Vincent.”
“First of all, I don’t speak Latin. I can translate a few phrases, very generally, but that’s about it. I took a course in University, more for something to do than out of any real relation to my other studies.”
“What were your other studies?” Red asked, curious.
“Law, physics, and a bunch of other stuff relating to crime, but that’s another story.”
“Oh. Anyway, on with my tour…I’m sure it’s nothing compared to hearing about Vincent’s antics in university, but I’ll try to make it live up…” Red commented.
“Sorry, Red. You did ask.”
“All right, I forgive you.” Red smiled. “Shall we go on?”
“Of course,” Cloud answered.
Red led the way through the archway and into a transformed Gi Cave. The once decrepit cavern was now full of light from brightly glowing torches along the way and the grim and dirt had been scraped from the walls, revealing the multicolored crystals that sparkled and shone in the firelight. Deeper into the cave there were statues of warriors and plaques with short narratives about them.
“This is incredible Red…” Lyria commented, studying a statue of one of the Gi warriors, tall, fierce and proud.
“You didn’t see it before this…” Tifa said. “It was just awful; I couldn’t stand being in here…”
“Hey, Red…what’s this?” Cloud asked, looking down a corridor where steam floated.
“Those are the hot springs, they were discovered when the workers were clearing out the cave. Would you all like to go for a bit of a swim?”
“Yeah!” Tifa said excitedly.
“I think it sounds like a great idea…how deep is the water?” Lyria questioned.
“Fairly deep. It’s a very large cavern…well…you’ll see for yourself. Are you all going to go?”
“I’m definitely in…are you going to come, Vincent?” Lyria asked imploringly.
“Sure. Sounds like a good idea.”
“What about you and Red, Cloud?”
“I’d like to,” Cloud agreed. “I haven’t been swimming in a long while…”
“I’ll come as well.”
“All right!” Tifa smiled. “Let’s go get changed!”
“Ooh…this water’s so nice,” Tifa sighed, sliding into the steaming water. The former waitress wore a dark blue and surprisingly modest tankini with a white stripe running diagonally across the top half. Strange lights that glowed under the water and refracted eerily on the reddish walls of the cave lighted the cavern. It was a large grotto, twice the size of an average swimming pool and a waterfall fell at the far end, churning the misty water and sending more clouds of steam up.
“Ok, I’m coming in…” Lyria hesitantly waded into the shallow water of the hot spring. She giggled as the water changed the light pink of her one-piece swimsuit a dark red. “You’re right, it’s very warm…I wonder what’s over there by the waterfall?”
“Only one way to find out!” Tifa dove underwater and swam towards the waterfall.
“Hey! Wait up! C’mon guys!” Lyria sliced through the water after Tifa, easily catching up with her, despite her friend’s head start.
“I’ll take my time, thank you,” Vincent said, sitting down at the edge of the pool where the water was deeper and testing the water with his hand.
“Fine, we’ll have fun without you!” Lyria called, disappearing into the mist.
“Good luck!” Cloud answered, getting into the water. “Hey, this is pretty nice…” The mercenary wore a dark blue pair of swim trunks with white trim around the bottom, matching Tifa’s.
“As though they need you to have fun…” Red remarked and Vincent smiled, deciding not to go all the way into the water and just letting his legs dangle. “What’s wrong with you? Go in the water already!” Red exclaimed.
“I didn’t bring you all the way out here for you to not even get your swimsuit wet!” Red protested then, on sudden impulse, hit Vincent in the back with a head butt, knocking him into the water. He surfaced a moment later and shook the water from his black hair.
“Hey! For god’s sake, you hit me with one of your combs!”
“Oh toughen up…” Red scoffed.
“I don’t see you in the water.”
“I don’t want to get my tail wet. It takes forever to relight when it goes out…” Red proudly swished his flaming tail.
In a slight fit of childishness, Vincent splashed a large wave of water on Red, extinguishing his tail. Cloud laughed and Red looked at his tail, startled.
“Hey!” Red leapt into the water and knocked Vincent off his feet, forcing him underwater. Cloud watched the roiling water for a minute, unsure of whom to side with. Still undecided, he reached into the fray and grabbed Vincent’s arm, hauling him out of the water, coughing.
“You ok?” Cloud asked, pounding Vincent on the back with a fist.
“Y-yeah…next time you attempt to kill me, Red, warn me so it’s a fair fight…”
“You got my tail wet!” Red explained, spouting water as he surfaced.
“Hey! Hey guys!” Tifa yelled from the opening at the top of the waterfall. “There was a path behind the falls! Watch me dive!”
“I’m watching sweetheart!” Cloud yelled back, waving to Tifa as she cannon balled of the edge and into the water with a splash.
“Where’s Lyria?” Vincent called.
“Right here!” Lyria waved and dove from the top of the waterfall, somersaulting and slicing into the water near perfectly.
“Bravo!” Red exclaimed. “If I had hands, I’d applaud!”
Lyria surfaced and smiled, swimming over and climbing onto the rock where Vincent was perched. “Did you see me dive?”
“Yes, it was a beautiful dive. I suppose you took lessons for that too?”
“Nope, it’s a natural talent. C’mon behind the waterfall, it’s pretty.”
“All right.” Vincent followed Lyria as she plunged into the water again, diving deep and swimming along the bottom. She swam like it was second nature to her and resurfaced just inside the falls. Vincent broke the surface a minute later, breathing heavily.
“Are you ok?” Lyria asked, climbing out of the water into the cave behind the cascade.
“Yeah, I’m just not as aquatic as you seem to be…tell me, are you good at everything?”
“Pretty much,” Lyria answered, giggling and offering Vincent a hand out of the water. “It’s so nice back here…”
Lyria started to wander down the corridor that led to the top of the falls. She paused and held a hand out behind her for him to take. “C’mon, walk with me…”
“Ok, where’re we going?”
“Nowhere in particular, it’s just there are a lot of paths back here that I didn’t get to explore…”
“Why didn’t you go with Tifa?”
“I don’t feel safe unless I’m with you….”
“Don’t I feel special?” The couple had come out in an open roofed cavern and the stars shone down, glittering like perfect diamonds.
“You should.” Lyria closed her eyes and laid her head against his shoulder. “What would you do if anyone ever hurt me?”
“I would never, ever let anyone hurt you.” Vincent hugged Lyria tightly. “You know that.”
“Yes, but what if someone did? It’s a hypothetical situation.”
“I don’t know…something very violent…actually, Chaos would probably show up.” Vincent sat down on one of the flat-topped red boulders and glanced up at the sky.
“What? Chaos? I thought Chaos was gone…” Lyria joined her husband, sitting on his lap and wrapping her arms around his neck. The night wind was cold and she shivered a little, letting him hold her tightly.
“I thought so too, but apparently he’s just not a part of me any more. He’s actually not so bad.”
“Not so bad? He’s a great bloody demon! I’m scared of him…”
“You haven’t lived with him all your life, or most of it, at least. Once you get used to him…”
“I wish you hadn’t needed to get used to him…it’s just not fair.”
“I know…I think about that a lot. For most of my life, I’ve had it really bad. But…if none of that had happened, I’d never have met you and we wouldn’t be together…”
“Does the end justify the means?” Lyria asked in a soft voice, looking at Vincent with her emerald eyes.
“Yes, a thousand times over. I know I don’t tell you so often enough, probably because I don’t think I’m very good at it, but I love you, very, very much.”
Lyria smiled and let him embrace her, “I love you too.”
“Do you want to go back?”
“In a minute, I’m enjoying this. I’m so glad we decided to come…”
“Me too.” Vincent held Lyria close for a few more moments, then kissed the top of her head and broke out of the embrace. “Come on, they’ll be getting worried.”
“Let them worry.”
“No, we better go back.”
“Oh…all right.” Lyria let Vincent take her hand and lead her back to the mouth of the cave. It got progressively warmer as they neared the hot springs.
“Hey! What were you two up to?” Cloud called teasingly.
“Nothing!” Lyria called back, diving into the water again. “Come on Vincent!”
“Why is it everyone seems to want me in water?” Vincent sighed, following Lyria.
Lyria broke the surface of the water and shook her long brown hair. “I love it here…I’m so glad we decided to come.”
“Agreed,” Vincent responded, boosting Lyria out of the water so she could sit next to Tifa on one of the rocks.
“We were actually just thinking about heading back to the hotel…” Tifa remarked. “You think that’s a good idea?”
“Sure, I am sorta sleepy…” Lyria answered. “We can swim again tomorrow.”
Vincent woke to a shrill beeping from beside the bed and rolled over, grabbing the alarm clock and yanking its cord from the wall. Abruptly the beeping stopped and Vincent turned back over, reaching for and not finding Lyria. “Lyr?”
“Yes? Did I wake you?” Lyria poked her head out from the bathroom, russet hair dripping and a white towel wrapped around her torso, leaving her slender legs and shoulders bare. Beads of water trickled down her skin and clung to her eyelashes. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not.” Vincent sat up and smiled, as Lyria blushed. “What’s the time?”
“About quarter after nine, I think…” Lyria came and sat down on the bed stretching her legs out. “I didn’t want to wake you, you’re always so cute when you’re asleep…”
“Thank you. You’re getting the blankets wet.”
“Wanna get you wet…” Lyria giggled, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“Get dressed, you’ll catch a cold.”
“What’s wrong with me being undressed?” Lyria asked coyly.
“I didn’t think so…” Lyria pushed Vincent back down and kissed him.
“Ok, we have to go…”
“Cloud and Tifa are expecting us for breakfast.”
“No, they aren’t…what’s the matter?”
“Is that all? Tch. Poor excuse.”
“If you’ll recall, I haven’t eaten for…close to twelve hours. Partially because someone wasn’t packed when it was time for us to leave.”
“Yeah, sure, blame this all on me.” Lyria sighed and rolled her eyes playfully. “Fine. I’ll go get dressed and we can go for breakfast.”
“You are most certainly less than welcome.”
Vincent shook his head and smiled as Lyria ducked back into the washroom and started blow-drying her hair. He dressed, pulling on a sweater and jeans and leafing through a brochure while Lyria finished drying her hair and putting on a bit of makeup. “Aren’t you done yet? I’m starving.”
In response the door opened and Lyria hurled a soaking wet towel at her husband. “If someone wasn’t so picky about my hair being wet and my having to be dressed, we could have left a long time ago.”
“So now it’s all my fault?” Vincent asked, entering the bathroom and tossing the dripping towel in the bathtub. Lyria stood in front of the mirror, brushing her long hair.
“If it makes you feel better I’ll take the blame.”
“Sure. But it’s all right, I forgive you.”
“How noble.” Lyria tied her hair back in a ponytail and slipped her hand into Vincent’s pulling him out of the room and down the hallway. “Ok, we can go now.”
“Joy.” Vincent reached his free hand up and pulled the elastic holding Lyria’s auburn hair back. It came loose easily and her hair tumbled onto her shoulders.
“Hey! Give that back!”
“Why? I like your hair down.”
“You do? I was thinking about getting it cut…not too, too short, but just to my chin.”
“I wouldn’t like that.”
“It’s pretty like this, keep it the way it is.”
“Whatever you say,” Lyria agreed. “Hey Tifa!” She waved to her friend across the lobby of the inn.
“Morning Lyria! Morning Vincent!” Tifa called back. “You two going to join us for breakfast?”
“Sure. Where’s Cloud?” Lyria asked.
“Bit of a hair spray mix up. Well, not so much a mix up as he forgot to bring any.” Tifa shook her head. “It’s his own fault. He’ll be with us in a moment, he’s seeing if he can’t get the desired effect with mousse.”
“How’s it working out?”
“Not well,” Vincent commented, smiling as Cloud came down the stairs, hair more stiffly spiked than usual. “Good morning, Cloud.”
“Shut up, Vincent,” Cloud muttered.
“Watch your head, Cloud. Wouldn’t want to snap one of your spikes on the way out the door…” Lyria cautioned, giggling.
“Where’re we going for breakfast?” Cloud asked, attempting to change the subject.
“I dunno. Better be careful though or some cook’ll mistake you for a chocobo and try to get some eggs.”
“Be nice, Lyr,” Vincent scolded. “It’s hardly Cloud’s fault he looks like a runaway chocobo.”
“All of you are just awful,” Cloud grumbled, folding his arms.
“Oh, stop it Cloud,” Tifa said teasingly. “We’re just kidding. Where do you want to go for breakfast?”
“I don’t know, I don’t spend enough time in Cosmo Canyon. Shall we go ask Red?”
“Sure…” The four headed out of the hotel and started up towards Red’s house, meeting the guardian along the way.
“Good morning, all. Are you heading for breakfast?” Red greeted them politely.
“Actually we were just coming to ask you where we should go for breakfast,” Tifa explained. “Any thoughts?”
“The Moon and Raven. Best restaurant in Cosmo Canyon,” Red answered without hesitation. “I can escort you there but I’m afraid I won’t be able to join you, I hope you’re hungry.”
“Starved,” Vincent replied with a glance at Lyria who giggled and lightly punched his shoulder.
“Let’s go then,” Tifa looped an arm through Lyria’s and strode ahead after Red, talking and laughing.
“You still worried about her?” Cloud asked tentatively, hoping Vincent wasn’t mad with him anymore.
“I hadn’t even thought about it. She seems better. I suppose getting away from work helped her relax a bit…”
“That’s good,” Cloud agreed.
“I’m absolutely stuffed,” Tifa groaned, pushing away her plate. “I couldn’t eat any more if my life depended on it.”
“Don’t worry about it, Tifa, I think Cloud could wolf down enough to save us all,” Lyria said critically, watching the mercenary polish off a blueberry bagel. “Honestly, Cloud, you’re gorging yourself.”
“You barely ate anything,” Cloud pointed out. “I have to make up for that.”
“I wasn’t hungry,” Lyria said defensively. “I figured we could go for a little stroll, or will you be too weighted down with food?”
“Don’t worry about me, Lyria. I’ll be fine,” Cloud answered, waving away her insult.
“Shall we go then? Make sure you tip well, Vincent. The food was excellent and the waitress was very nice.”
Vincent smiled and slipped an arm around Lyria’s waist, dropping fifty Gil on the table. “Where do you want to go for a walk?”
“I’d like to explore the caves again. I like exploring.”
“Are you two up to it?” Vincent asked, addressing Cloud and Tifa.
“Sure,” Tifa agreed.
“Hurry up guys!” Lyria called over her shoulder, walking ahead with Tifa. “Honestly, you’re always so slow…”
“Lyria, I have just put on about five pounds of bacon, eggs, and hash browns. I can’t move much faster than this,” Cloud complained.
“Vincent has a higher metabolism,” Red remarked, joining the mercenary and the Turk as they entered the cave.
“Good morning again, Red,” Vincent said politely. “How are you?”
“I’m fine. Lyria seems quite fond of caves, no?”
“I noticed that myself, I can’t understand why…” Vincent agreed, watching his wife stop to examine the crystals embedded in the walls of the cavern. “Are there any dangers left in these caves, Red? I find it difficult to believe they were all cleared out so easily…”
“Well…the thing that bound the spirits of the Gi to this world was my father.” Red hesitated. “In a way, it was my fault. Seto’s spirit lingered, because he longed to prove himself to me. As long as he was a coward in my eyes, he could not sleep. He fought the battle of Cosmo Canyon again and again, waiting for the day when I could release the illusion that brought forth my shame. My father is now free of his burden and many broken souls are lain to rest.”
“So none remain?”
“There are a few renegades, but that is to be expected. They seldom haunt the larger caverns though and hardly bother the general flow of tourists.”
“That’s good. Are you going to be coming with us, Red?””
“I wish I could, but I’ve work to do,” Red answered regretfully. “I’ll see you all for dinner. How’s that?”
“Ok, Red. We’ll see you later.” Lyria offered a little wave as the guardian of Cosmo Canyon loped off to see to his duties. “Can we go for our walk now?”
“Of course,” Cloud said solicitously.
“Yay! Come on, Tifa, I want to take a look at some of those other caverns.” Lyria hurried ahead with Tifa close behind.
“Yeah, she’s definitely seeming better,” Cloud noted. “This is really doing her a lot of good.”
“I still wonder why she wouldn’t have told me…”
“She just didn’t want to worry you,” Cloud answered reassuringly as they entered a deeper part of the cave. “She spends half her time worrying about you, she knows what it’s like and she doesn’t like making other people anxious.
“Speaking of worry, how did things go in Wutai? Lyria was frantic when Reno called, but Tifa calmed her down. They’re good friends.”
Cloud fell silent for a moment, but the spoke up when he caught a glimmer out of the corner of his eye. “Hey, what’s that?”
Vincent looked up at the ledge where he was pointing and tried to make out what the glinting object was. “Materia?”
“Really? What kind?” Cloud asked excitedly.
“Umm…it’s green I think…maybe yellow…it’s hard to tell in this light.”
“Green or yellow materia…I wonder which one…” Cloud strode over to the rock wall and looked up at the ledge, fifteen feet above his head. “How the hell am I supposed to get up there?”
“I would suggest climbing,” Vincent answered.
“Shut up…hmm…well, I’ll give it a shot…” Cloud started up the cliff, struggling to find footholds in the rust coloured rock.
“Don’t fall, Tifa would be upset.”
“Shut…up…” Cloud grunted, pulling himself up farther. “How much more do I have to go?”
“I would guess about ten feet.”
“Damnit…this is hard…”
“Yuffie would have gotten it by now.”
“Do I look like Yuffie?”
“Now, you know I’m not going to insult Yuffie by saying you do.”
“You’re so lucky I’m stuck up here and not down there where I could rip your lungs out.”
“Mmm hmm. I’m sure.”
“Ok, shut up now, I’m almost at the top…” Cloud grasped a rock on the edge of the outcropping and hauled himself to the top. “Whew. Now where’s that…?”
A gunshot cut him off and he leapt back, swearing, as Vincent’s bullet grazed the chunk of materia and it dropped, bouncing a couple times before falling off the edge of the cliff. “That’s not materia…materia doesn’t bounce…”
“Jesus Christ! You could’ve killed me!”
“I could have, but I decided not to,” Vincent answered dryly, stooping to pick up the pseudo-materia. “What on earth is this?”
“Don’t ask me…shit, how the hell am I supposed to get down from here?” Cloud started to climb back down the face of the cliff, but lost his hold and fell halfway from the bottom.
“Bravo. What do you think this is?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t get a good look at the thing before you shot it.” Cloud pulled himself off the ground and brushed the dirt off his pants.
“Hmm…” The object was small and round with a greenish yellow colour that made it look like materia. It even looked shiny, but it was made of a hard rubber material. “Hey, Cloud? Take a look at this, what do you think it is?” Vincent tossed Cloud the ball but it was snatched out of the air by a big dog.
“Hey! What the hell?” Cloud exclaimed, looking startled at the big golden retriever who had sat down, clutching the ball in his mouth.
“Oh, that’s what it is.” Vincent held out his hand to the dog. “C’mere boy, give it here.”
“I didn’t know you liked dogs…” Cloud remarked, looking critically at the canine. It’s fur was matted and covered with mud, but his brown eyes shone with intelligence.
“I don’t really, but he might be lost and if so we should return him…” Vincent felt around the dog’s neck, looking for a collar, but finding none.
“What’s with the overwhelming wave of humanity?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” The dog had sat down at Vincent’s feet and was licking his hand.
“I dunno, it’s just you don’t seem like the sort of person who would form a bond with a mangy, slobbering…”
The dog’s ears had perked up, but he wasn’t paying any attention to what Cloud said. He growled low in his throat and took off with a loud bark.
“Where’s he going?” Cloud asked, puzzled.
“I’m no expert on dogs.”
There was more barking and a scream reverberated from somewhere else in the cave. Cloud glanced at Vincent worriedly. “Was that Tifa or Lyria?”
“I don’t know, let’s go find out.” Vincent hurried ahead, weapon loaded and ready. The dog barked louder as he got closer, stepping into one of the caverns. The blood froze in his veins at the sight of Lyria crumpled on the floor and a ghostly spectrum floating before her. Between them stood the dog from before, growling and holding the spirit at bay. The ghost gave a wailing noise and started to glow green, but Vincent rained a hail of bullets on him. Enraged, the spectre shrieked and flew off, leaving the chamber to darken slightly with the absence of it’s glow. The dog whimpered and licked Lyria’s fingers as Vincent carefully scooped her off the ground.
“Hey, what happened?” Cloud asked, entering the cavern. “Oh my god, is she all right?”
“I don’t know…” Vincent was past worrying about what was wrong with Lyria, he only wished she would wake up. She looked too pale…too lifeless…too dead. He suppressed a shudder and held her tightly.
“Let’s go back to the hotel and have Red take a look at her,” Cloud suggested. “C’mon, I’m sure she’s fine.
“Yeah…” Vincent agreed, very unsure of what to do and glad Cloud seemed to have taken the lead. All the fear he had managed to dispel about Lyria’s health was back, stronger than before.
Lyria made a small whimpering noise as Red gently nudged her forehead with his nose. Vincent jumped and glared at Red coldly. “What did you do? Red, I swear to god, if you hurt her….”
“Vincent?” Tifa gently laid a hand on his shoulder. “Calm down. I know you’re worried, but standing here with a rifle, making death threats every time Red so much as blinks accomplishes nothing. Why don’t you go wait outside with Cloud?”
“I don’t want to leave.”
“Tifa’s right. To be honest, you aren’t helping,” Red agreed.
The golden retriever had followed them back to the hotel and stood guard over Lyria, curled up protectively beside her with his muzzle resting on her stomach.
“Go on, Vincent,” Tifa instructed, pushing him towards the door.
“But…the dog gets to stay…”
“The dog isn’t slinging a gun. Don’t worry; we’ll let you in when she’s awake.” Tifa shut the door and Vincent heard a click as she locked it. For a moment, he considered blowing the handle off and retaining his right to stay inside, but decided against it. Knowing he wasn’t wanted in close proximity to the hotel he wandered outside aimlessly. It was only mid-morning, but because of Cosmo Canyon’s position on the globe and pollution-free atmosphere the sky glowed a ruddy crimson, which changed to a deep indigo, then a violet black where stars glittered above. Vincent sat down on a rock near the edge of the precipice outside the inn and buried his face in his hands.
“You look distressed.”
“What’s the matter?”
“What the hell would you care?”
“It’s my job to watch over your well-being. Physical as well as emotional.” The demon sounded a trifle offended.
“Yeah, well you wouldn’t understand.”
“I could try…”
“If there’s something wrong, you should tell me…”
Vincent winced and sighed. “Well…”
“Is it your mate?”
“How could you tell?”
“Many of my kind act the same way when their she-demons are injured.”
“Female demons,” Chaos explained patiently.
“I know what they are. I just wasn’t aware they existed.”
“I gathered. What was your point?”
“I would be tremendously worried if my she-demon were injured.”
“Your she-demon? You have one of your own?”
“She would be offended if I spoke of her like a possession. I should say, ‘the she-demon who has seen fit to reduce herself to my company’.”
“That’s rather self-deprecating.”
“I haven’t been…popular among my race…for many years. Ever since Hojo captured me for experimentation.”
“Because I was an abnormality. A demon with a human counterpart.”
“I’ve been the opposite. I guess I understand.”
“It has been very difficult for me to find a mate who could accept what I am.”
“We’ve been spending entirely too much time together. You seem to be telling me my life’s story.”
“We’re really very similar. I don’t think we’ve ever sat down and sorted out the parallels in our existences.”
“Not to my recollection, no.”
“Anyways, I should be terribly upset if anything ever happened to Zelia…”
“I am terribly upset that something’s happened to Lyria…maybe…if I’d stayed with her instead of going off with Cloud I could have…”
“Blaming yourself accomplishes nothing.”
“Yeah…but I have to blame somebody…”
“Then blame her.”
“Blame Lyria. It was her fault, was it not?”
“No! Of course not!”
“I can’t see how it wasn’t. She wandered away from the beaten path and was attacked by a ghost. In fact, had you not shown up, she could have died.”
“Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that.”
“You brought it up.”
“I did not!”
“You were the one who was dwelling on blame. It is all right to blame yourself, but not all right to blame her? What does it matter who is at fault? It’s in the past now.”
“I believe I know what is wrong with your mate, anyways.”
“You aren’t the only one I check on. I’ve been watching her too.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“What the hell do you mean, you can’t tell me?”
“I mean, I can’t…”
“I hate you.”
“Now there’s no need for…”
“Shut up. Go away. I hate you.”
“All right. I’ll leave, but I’ll expect an apology when I get back…”
“I’m afraid you will be sorely disappointed. Now, leave or I’ll shoot you.” Vincent picked up his gun and levelled it at the demon, hoping to demonstrate he meant business.
“I’ll see you later then. Actually, I think you should stop being so testy…”
Vincent fired. He didn’t aim exactly for the demon, just to the left a bit, grazing his wing.
“You aren’t very sociable right now.” Chaos launched himself into the air and left Vincent alone to brood.
“Hey, you busy?” Cloud called from the staircase hewn in the rock. “Your wife wants to see you.”
“Is she all right?”
“How the hell am I supposed to know? All I got was Tifa sticking her head out the door and saying, ‘Go get Vincent.’ And don’t you go blowing up at me. I heard gunfire, who have you been shooting? Innocent locals?”
“That’s all she said? Nothing else? Were those her exact words?”
“She mighta said ‘Go and get Vincent.’ Does that make a tremendously big difference?”
Vincent didn’t appear to hear him and made to push his way past the mercenary and down the staircase. “Let me past.”
“I think I should maybe take your gun first, might upset Lyr if I were to…” Cloud didn’t get to finish as Vincent pushed him backwards down the stairs. He took it as a good sign that the Turk didn’t stop to step on his fingers on the way past.
Reaching the doorway, he paused. His hand was inches from the handle and it was trembling. He tried to take a deep breath and steady himself, but it wasn’t working. Not at all. The sheer dread that rose inside him was barely restrained by the years of training he’d had as a Turk. “Should I knock? Do I go right in? Were they expecting me so soon? What if it’s bad? Would Chaos have told me? Would Lyr have told me? Why wouldn’t she? What do I do if it is bad? Does Chaos really have such a sickly twisted sense of humour that he’d…but she can’t be. She isn’t…Cloud said she wanted to see me…but how would he know? Damn Cloud. Damn Chaos for not telling me…if it’s something bad, I’ll shoot him. Yeah, like I’d survive…like I’d want to…why the hell can’t I just go in and get it over with?” Still shaking and no longer caring whether he maintained a calm demeanour or not he pushed open the door. The room was empty, except for Lyria and the dog from before. Vincent had almost forgotten about the dog, but he wasn’t exactly paying the retriever much attention. His eyes instead went immediately to Lyria, who was sitting up in bed, propped up against a couple pillows and working the knots out of the retriever’s coat with her fingers.
“Hello, Vincent,” she said calmly. “Come sit down.”
In the face of her suggestion, his first instinct was naturally to stay rooted to the spot, wary of what her tone forebode. A million questions raced through his mind, each begging priority, but none being asked.
“Darling, I’m not going to bite you, come sit,” Lyria instructed, patting the bed beside her.
Still feeling extremely confused, Vincent sat down and felt Lyria squeeze his hand reassuringly. Except it wasn’t reassuring. It was just one more little detail for him to try and decipher. He came up with a thousand different reasons for her gesture, all of them different and none of them good. Helplessly he met her eyes and hoped to glean some tiny hint from her expression. Instead, she wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly, doing nothing but adding another layer to his uncertainty. “Lyr, for god’s sake, please tell me what’s going on. If I try to figure it out for myself my brain will overload and I’ll keel over dead.”
Lyria laughed, pulling back and smiling at him. “Now isn’t the time for your black humour.”
“What is that supposed to mean? I don’t understand…what’s wrong? Why didn’t you tell me? Are you going to be all right? What happened in the cave? Why…”
“Vincent?” Lyria interrupted. “Stop it, ok? Will you let me talk?”
“I’m sorry, I just…”
“Shhh…you’re letting me talk, remember?” Lyria reminded him. “Now where should I start?”
With a sigh, Lyria touched her first two fingers to his lips and met his eyes. She was rather surprised to see uncertainty and worry and confusion melded together in the deep brown. “Oh Vincent…I really scared you didn’t I?”
“You’re still scaring me.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll tell you right now, there is nothing wrong with me.”
“Of course I promise. I swear it on my caduceus.” Lyria solemnly placed a hand over her heart and smiled gently. “You were really that worried…it’s a strange power I have, that I can make a Turk as scared as a little boy…”
“Worse than that. I’ve never been as worried as I have been for the past…” Vincent glanced at a clock on the wall. “For an hour. Longest goddamn hour in my life.”
“Don’t swear in front of the baby,” Lyria scolded, laying a hand on her stomach.
“I didn’t swear in front of…” Vincent took a moment to backtrack and rethink what Lyria had said. He paused and looked around the room. “You don’t mean the dog, do you?”
Lyria laughed delightedly and hugged him again. “No, I don’t mean the dog.”
“Something like that.”
Lyria rolled her eyes. “No, I’ve been faking it. Of course, ‘really’!”
“Oh. Ok…so you’re all right?”
“Better than that. I understand why I’ve been so lethargic lately. I’m trying to do too much with insufficient energy. My body’s telling me to start eating more and getting more sleep, but I’m not listening. Or I haven’t been. I’ll start to now. I also understand why I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster the past while. And why all this other stuff is happening…or not happening in some cases…do you have any questions?”
“Umm…are you happy?”
“Yes. And nervous and excited and anxious and overwhelmed and a whole ton of other emotions brought on by an imbalance of hormones. Oh, and I’m also sort of hungry.”
“I see…I owe Chaos an apology…”
“For what?” Lyria asked curiously, snuggling close to Vincent.
“What do you do when you’re worried about me?”
“Umm…depends. Sometimes I cry or sulk or just curl up in bed and wish you were home.”
“Well, I shoot things. And this time I maybe accidentally took a shot at Chaos.”
“Well…maybe not accidentally.”
“You can’t solve every problem in the world with a bullet,” Lyria sighed.
“I wasn’t aiming for him exactly…I just sort of clipped his wing,” Vincent answered defensively.
“Well, you can apologize later.” The dog on the bed made a little sneezing noise and Lyria laughed delightedly. “Oh, you’re so cute!”
“You like dogs?”
“I like this dog. His name is Lefty.”
“You’ve named him?”
“Yup. We’re keeping him.”
“I just said that. Of course we’re keeping him, he saved my life.” Lyria fondly scratched Lefty behind the ears.
“You know, I sort of helped …”
“Well, we’ll keep you too.”
“My gratitude knows no bounds.”
Lyria laughed again. “Well, we have to go get Lefty a collar and a leash and a bath and some dog food…”
“That reminds me, I should also apologize to Cloud…”
“I hope you didn’t shoot him too.”
“No, but I did sort of push him down the stairs.”
“Well, it wasn’t entirely…well, it was…but if I hurt him, I didn’t mean to.”
“Cloud’s tough. I think he’ll be fine. Would you like me to come take a look at him?”
“I think he could come here, there’s no sense in you getting out of bed for Cloud’s sake.”
“Darling, I’m not made of glass. I’m perfectly fine.” Lyria got out of bed and smiled. “See? There’s nothing wrong. There never was.”
“I don’t want you to…”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine, ok? Now, we’ll go see Cloud and get back to enjoying our vacation…where should we go for lunch? I’m absolutely starved.”
“Ok, I’ve called Cid and Shera, Barret, Elena, Rude, and Reeve, who else do I have to tell?” Lyria asked. She was curled up on the couch of the library of Shinra Mansion, across from her husband who was reading. Rain drummed on the windows and Lefty was curled up at Lyria’s feet.
“Yuffie and Reno.”
“Oh yeah…I’ll call Yuffie first…” Lyria quickly dialled the shinobi’s number, waiting while it rang. “Oh shoot…Vincent, what’s the time in Wutai right now?”
Vincent looked at his watch. “About midnight.”
“Oh dear, I hope I didn’t wake her up…Hello?...Reno? What in god’s name are you doing at…what?...oh that’s so sweet!...you two are so cute…well are you feeling better?...that’s good…can I talk to Yuffie?...Hi, Yuffie? I didn’t know you and Reno were…I’m very happy for you…yeah, I know he’s cute…guess what!...no…guess again…Yuffie! Don’t be vulgar…tell Reno to shut up…I’m pregnant you little moron!...thank you...what?...Are you crazy? No!...Yuffie…Yuffie! I am not naming my baby after…No! End of discussion…thank you. Tell Reno…buh-bye.”
“What was that all about?”
“Yuffie thinks we should name the baby after one of the summon materia.”
“There is no way in hell we’re naming our baby after one of the summons.”
Lyria protectively placed her hands over her midsection. “Stop it! I told you, no swearing in front of the baby!”
“I have my doubts that the baby can hear me.”
“I would know. I’m a doctor and I say no swearing.”
Lyria idly ran her fingers over her stomach and sighed. “Good-bye nice flat tummy…” Lyria shifted over and sat on Vincent’s lap. “Will you still love me when I’m fat and cranky?”
“Of course I will.”
“And when I’m a raging insomniac?”
“And if I have an insane craving for strawberries in the middle of a rainstorm, will you go get them for me?”
“I think you might be taking advantage of my loyalty.”
“Don’t you love me?” Lyria asked, sounding slightly crestfallen.
“I love you enough that I won’t go out in the rain to catch my death of cold then come back and get you sick.”
“That’s not very much,” Lyria pouted.
“I’m sorry,” Vincent answered, hugging Lyria and trying to sound contrite.
“No, you’re not,” Lyria sniffled. “You don’t love me…”
“Lyria, please don’t do this…”
“Oh fine.” As abruptly as they’d started, her tears stopped and she laid her head on Vincent’s shoulder. “Do you want a boy, or a girl?”
“I have no idea.”
“Really? Why not?”
“I’ve never really considered being a father. It was never an option for me…”
“It is now. It’s more than an option, it’s a requirement.”
“I know that. I’m not taking off.”
“Do you want a son or a daughter?”
“Umm…I’d like…I don’t know. I don’t think it matters. I’ve spent my entire career seeing other women with their children, I just want it to be my turn…”
“Mr. President? Call for you on line one,” Reeve’s secretary said, poking her head into his office.
“Thank you, Colette,” Reeve said politely, picking up the phone. “Hello? She’s what?…in labour?…Well, it’s about time…umm…he’s actually in Corel right now…there’s a bit of a rebellion that’s started to get out of hand and…I can try and get in touch with him…he’s awfully hard to talk to on these missions, I could be interrupting something…you’re right, this is more important…Ok, Tifa, I’ll give it a shot…yup, tell her…umm…I don’t know, good luck or something. Bye.” Reeve hung up the phone and took a deep breath, picking up the phone and hitting the speed dial next to Vincent’s name.
Vincent ducked under one of the blows an angry miner with a pickaxe delivered. Corel was not a happy city right now. A small community of miners had gotten fed up with the rule of Shinra and kidnapped Barret’s daughter to ensure he would meet their demands. Barret, now mayor of Corel, was hard pressed to solve the issue on his own. Unbeknownst to the rebels, he had called in the Turks to help rescue Marlene. So now Reno, Rude, and Vincent found themselves in the depths of an abandoned mineshaft, fighting for their lives against a small group of rebels guarding Marlene. Barret had asked that none of the revolutionaries be seriously harmed, so Reno’s nightstick was set on ‘stun’, rather than ‘electrocute’, Rude was wearing gloves with padded knuckles, and Vincent’s gun was loaded with tranquilizer darts instead of his usual magnum ammo. Needless to say, he was less than pleased when his cell phone rang amidst the battle. Firing with one hand and opening the device with the other he answered the call. “Reeve, this is not a good time!”
Reno took a moment after shocking a particularly violent miner to glance at Vincent curiously. “What the hell does Reeve want?”
“Watch it Reno!” Rude yelled, slugging a rebel who had crept up behind the red head and was preparing to split his head open with a shovel.
“Oh my god…when?…shit…we’re sort of in the middle of…” Vincent flinched at the familiar feeling of hot lead grazing his arm. The rebels hadn’t had the courtesy to tone down their weaponry. “Dammit…Reeve, I’ll call you right back…” All of a sudden there seemed to be a lot more enemies than the three Turks could deal with. Vincent tried to shift his concentration off his wife and ensure each of his shots found their marks. He didn’t like that the tranquilizer gun made no gunshots, only faint hissings as the darts were ejected from the barrel. As the last dissenter toppled to the ground, victim of one of Reno’s shocks, Vincent pulled out his PHS and dialled Reeve’s number. “Hello? Reeve, what the hell…she did? When?…how soon can I get a chopper?…Reeve, do not tell me there isn’t one available…I don’t care!…dammit, Reeve, if I…fine. You go. Tell her I’ll be there as soon as I can…” Vincent hung up the phone and angrily handed it to Rude. “Call Barret. Tell him to send some of his people and get us the hell out of here. Reno, go get Marlene.”
“Can do, boss. And congratulations,” Reno said, grinning and offering a salute with his nightstick.
“Go to hell,” Vincent answered absently.
“Tch. You’re nice.”
“Shut up and get Marlene.”
Rude flicked off Vincent’s cell phone and handed it to him. “They should be here in half an hour.”
“Half an hour? Is that the best they can do? God damn it, I’m never going to get back home in time…”
Reno emerged from a room at the end of the tunnel, carrying Marlene piggyback style. “So what’s the verdict?”
“We’ve got about half an hour to wait,” Rude replied, smiling at Marlene. “Hello, Marlene.” For some reason, the two had always gotten along well.
“Hiya, Mr. Rude,” Marlene smiled.
“Are you all right? You seem awfully cheerful for an eight-year-old who’s just been kidnapped…”
“I’m fine. I wasn’t scared. I knew Daddy would send people to save me. Hello, Mr. Valentine.”
“What? Oh. Hi.” Vincent had started pacing the length of the corridor, while Reno sat down on a pile of crates and attempted to make himself comfortable.
“Hey, calm down, Vincent, we’ll be outta here soon,” Reno said reassuringly.
“Not soon enough.”
There was silence in the cavern for a while, until Marlene spoke up. “Mr. Rude, would you like to come see the room I stayed in?”
“Sure, kid,” Rude answered, helping the little girl down from the boxes and taking her hand. “We’ll be back in a little bit.”
“Whatever,” Reno called, sitting up and watching Vincent for a bit as Rude and Marlene headed down the corridor. “Hey, lemme get a look at your gun…”
Vincent didn’t answer, but tossed Reno the firearm. Idly Reno started toying with it, attempting to ignore Vincent, but not having much success. “Hey, would you quit it? It’s annoying.”
“You’re getting yourself all worked up about nothing. Lyria’s perfectly fine and you’ll get back well in time…”
“ Reno, I told you to shut up.”
“All right, all right, I was just trying to get you to relax a bit…” Reno looked at the gun in his hands, deliberating the idea that had come into his mind. Slowly, still unsure whether his notion was a good one, he raised the gun and aimed carefully at Vincent’s back. His shot took his friend in the shoulder and he whirled around, startled.
“ Reno, what…the…” Vincent trailed off and slumped to the ground, small, feathered dart protruding just above his shoulder blade.
“Sorry, but it’s for your own good…” Reno apologized, hopping off the boxes and gently plucking the dart from his back.
“ Reno, what the hell did you do?” Rude groaned, coming into the corridor.
Marlene looked wide-eyed at Vincent’s still form. “Oh! Is he ok?”
“Yeah, he’s fine,” Reno assured her. “Sorry, Rude, but he’s so tightly wound it’s getting on my nerves…I figured there was no sense in having him worry himself to death until we got to Nibelheim...”
“He will shoot you when he wakes up, you know that, right?” Rude said scornfully, kneeling down and gently turning Vincent onto his back. “Any idea how long he’ll be out?”
“I dunno. However long these guys will be…” Reno answered, gesturing around at the fallen rebels. “And hopefully we’ll get a chopper before he wakes up. That might make him feel a little better.”
“For your sake, I hope so.”
“Oh god, my head…what the hell happened? Lyria…dammit…where the hell am I?” With an effort Vincent opened his eyes and looked around at his surroundings. He was in a fairly nice looking room with the curtains drawn and the lights off. It was dim, but not so dark he couldn’t see. “I am going to kill Reno.” Still feeling a bit light-headed, he stood up and went to the door. He stepped into the hallway, wincing at the bright light and heading down the hall towards a staircase. He thought he heard voices below and could identify Reno’s, Barret’s, and Marlene’s. Vincent reached for his holster, grasping the handle of his gun and flicking the safety off. He was feeling slightly less that tolerant towards Reno and was not intent on giving him a chance to plead his case. He descended the staircase slowly, carefully levelling his weapon at Reno’s chest, and squeezing the trigger. There was an audible click and Vincent nearly threw the gun in frustration.
“Nice try, Vincent, but I’m not quite that stupid. I took the darts out.” Reno held up a small box and grinned. “Peace, there’s a chopper on the way.”
“I’d like t’ thank ye fer savin’ Marlene. Had me worried sick…” Barret laid a comforting hand on Vincent’s shoulder as he came down the stairs. I guess you sorta understand, huh? Don’ worry ‘bout it. I was a wreck when…” Barret trailed off and sighed.
“When what?” Rude asked, bouncing Marlene on his lap.
“When…it was years ago, my wife…our baby died, miscarriage,” Barret said shortly and cleared his throat. “Nearly lost her too…I couldn’ have standed that…”
“Barret? No offence, but I really didn’t need to hear that,” Vincent groaned sitting down and burying his face in his hands. “God…what if…something happens and I’m not there…”
Marlene slid down from Rude’s lap and gently patted Vincent’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, it’ll be ok. Auntie Lyri’s a doctor, she’ll be fine…can I hold the baby, when he’s born?”
“S-sure…” Vincent was a little startled at how much better the eight-year-old’s reassurance made him feel. “How do you know it’s going to be a boy?”
“Well, it would be about time. I’m a girl and Aeris is a girl and we need a boy. What’re you going to name him?”
“I’m not entirely certain. Lyr’s looked at a lot of names, but she says she won’t know which until the baby’s born…we did agree that if it’s a boy his middle name will be David and if it’s a girl it will be Laura.”
“ Reno, what time is the chopper going to get here?”
“Probably in about fifteen minutes.”
“Stop worrying so much,” Marlene scolded.
Reno , Rude, and Vincent entered the hospital in Nibelheim covered in blood, dirt, and sweat. The desk clerk offered some very disparaging looks, and returned to his paperwork.
“Excuse me?” Reno said politely, approaching the counter. “I’m sorry to bother you, but we’re looking for a young woman, Lyria Valentine, she’s a doctor here and she went into labour about…ummm…lemme think…”
“Four hours ago,” Vincent finished quietly.
“Yeah about four hours ago, anyway…”
“Where is she?” Vincent interrupted, irritated with Reno for taking so much time.
“Maternity ward,” the man sniffed, as though it was the most obvious answer in the world.
“Which floor is that?”
“You can’t get in to see her.”
For a second the worry in Vincent’s eyes hardened and he glared at the man. “I don’t take orders from you. I take orders from Reeve and he isn’t here right now. If you don’t tell me where she is, I’ll shoot you and find her myself.”
“Let’s rough him up a bit first, Vincent,” Reno suggested, grinning wickedly. “We’ll beat the tar out of him.”
Vincent glanced at the clerk. “Yeah, you do that. I have to admit, I feel almost bad for you…people would be surprised the sort of trouble we can cause when Reeve’s not here…”
“Unfortunately, Reeve is here. Down, boys,” the President of Shinra commanded firmly, entering the lobby.
“Aww…Reeve, we weren’t gonna hurt him bad…” Reno whined. He turned to glare at the clerk. “You got lucky.”
“Where’s Lyria?” Vincent asked.
“She’s in the Maternity ward. She’s doing very well. Don’t worry. Good god, you’re a mess,” Reeve finished critically. “Are you three all right?”
“Yeah. Can I see her?”
“I’m afraid not, it’s hospital policy…”
“Damn hospital policy.”
Reeve gave Vincent a stern look. “Now, you stop it. You three break rules around the clock. Breaking and entering, kidnapping, forgery, theft, trespassing, all sorts of stuff that is overruled because of the situations you get into and because you’re Turks. I don’t mind the lawbreaking, I know it’s often necessary for you to get your jobs done and keep the peace. But there has to be a limit. I draw the line at breaking rules in hospitals.”
“Don’t bother,” Reeve said, waving a hand. “There’s a waiting room down the hall, the three of you will be fine there.”
“What about you?” Reno asked.
“I’m going to be talking with doctors. I stand a better chance of getting information than you do, because I don’t seem like I’m going to beat my informants to a bloody pulp if I don’t like what I hear.”
Vincent nodded, dazedly submissive. His head was still pounding; he was near sick with worry, and sincerely wished he could be with Lyria. Time didn’t seem to be moving; it felt like an hour had passed each time the clock high on the wall of the waiting room ticked another second. Dimly he was aware of Reno saying he wanted to go look around a bit and of Rude leaving to find something to eat. Even though it didn’t feel like it, more time passed and the sunset that had been glowing in Nibelheim when they arrived had faded to a dusky black.
“Well, hello there son,” a pleasant voice called. “My word you look down, what’s the matter?”
Vincent looked up at a tall, slightly plump woman with her hair in a bun. “Nothing.”
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s rude to lie to a complete stranger?” the woman scolded, sitting down beside him. “What’s the trouble?”
“Why should I tell you?”
The woman shrugged. “No reason I guess. Well, if you’re going to be so caustic I won’t bother stopping to chat. Cheer up a bit, boy.”
Vincent didn’t answer as the woman got up, hoping she would leave him alone with his anxiety.
“Oh…by the way…I’m looking for a man named Vincent Valentine. He’s a father now and his wife is very excited to see him.”
“What? Lyria? Is she all right?”
“Absolutely fine. Textbook birth. Does everything that woman does turn out perfectly?”
“Can I see her?”
“Why do you think I came to get you?” The woman led the way down a hall and to a room just beside the nursing station. “Well, go in. Don’t keep the poor dear waiting…” She gave Vincent a gentle nudge on the shoulder, and he opened the door, fighting down the familiar feelings of panic he remembered from when they’d been in Cosmo Canyon.
“Hi, Vincent,” Lyria smiled and held out her arms for a hug. The young woman was sitting up in bed, a hospital ID bracelet on one slender wrist and her hair tied back in a bit of a messy ponytail. “C’mere.”
Vincent obliged and hugged her tightly. “Are you all right?”
“Better than that…Vincent, what…?” Lyria pulled back and examined the bloodstain on her palm from where she’d touched his upper arm. “Oh dear…” Gently, she examined the graze. “You’re going to let this get infected.”
“It’s not your fault. Angie, hand me that bottle of alcohol and a couple bandages…”
Vincent winced a little as Lyria carefully cleaned the cut. “I know this might seem like a stupid question, but didn’t you come here to have a baby?”
“Uh huh,” Lyria answered, taping down the bandage.
“I don’t see any baby.”
Lyria giggled. “Our son will be here in a minute, they just took him to get cleaned up and into a blanket and such.”
“It’s a boy?”
“Yup. I’m so happy…” Lyria hugged Vincent again and smiled.
“Me too…what are we going to call him?”
“I’m not sure yet. I haven’t gotten a very good look at him. I got to see him for a minute, just after he was born and then he had to go, but he’ll be back momentarily.”
As if on cue the door opened, revealing a nurse with a small bundle in her arms.
Lyria gave a small cry of delight and gently took the baby from the nurse. “Oh, he’s perfect…” she sighed, looking at the little boy lovingly.
For a second, barely even long enough to be considered, Vincent felt like he was intruding upon a very special moment between mother and child. Awkwardly, he shifted over a bit, letting Lyria have a little more room.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Lyria demanded playfully. “Look at him, he’s your son as much as he is mine…”
“All right…” The little baby was fast asleep, fine strands of black hair peeking out from the tiny cap he wore. “Wow, he’s little…”
“You hold him.”
Lyria rolled her eyes. “Oh yes you could. It’s not hard.”
“I’ve never held a baby in my life,” Vincent protested, very fearful that he might do something to hurt the tiny creature.
“Not even Aeris?”
“You’ll have to learn sooner or later. Come on…” Carefully Lyria shifted to let him hold the tiny child. “His name is Jeremy.”
“It’s a good name.” The little boy opened a pair of deep brown eyes and looked up at his parents.
“He looks just like you,” Lyria declared. “His eyes are exactly the same.” She smiled gently at the child. “Hello, Jeremy.”
“I guess…I’m just glad they aren’t blood red.”
“Stop it,” Lyria scolded, taking Jeremy back and cuddling him close. “Good lord, he looks serious. He’s not even an hour old and he’s as solemn as you are…”
“I don’t think he’s quite that bad.”
“Well, whatever. You go home and come back tomorrow.”
“You aren’t coming home?”
“Not yet. Don’t sound so forlorn; I’ll only be away for a little while. I’m coming home tomorrow. And you have Lefty to keep you company.”
“You get a baby and I get a dog? Why can’t I stay too?”
“It’s against hospital policy. I’m sorry. You’re tired and there’s nowhere for you to sleep if you stay here.”
“I don’t need sleep. I need to stay here with you and Jeremy.”
“Darling, go look in a mirror and tell me you don’t need a hot shower, something to eat, and a bed. You can come back tomorrow, bright and early. I promise we’ll both be awake.”
“Ok…can Reno and Rude and Reeve come see Jeremy?”
“Sure. That’s a good idea, you go hunt them down.”
“I’ll be right back.” Vincent slipped out of the room and headed for the cafeteria to find Rude. He looked around the room and spotted the Turk chatting quietly with Reeve over a cup of coffee.
“Hey, Vincent. Are you a father yet?” Rude called.
“Yes.” Vincent smiled and sat down across from the President.
“Boy or girl?” Reeve asked.
“A boy. His name is Jeremy. Do you wanna come see him?”
“Of course…I don’t suppose you’ve seen Reno?” Rude stood up and stretched.
“No…I thought he’d be with you…”
Reeve sighed. “Well, I guess we better start looking in broom closets for Reno and some nurse. I hate interrupting him when he’s in the middle of…you know…”
“I don’t care what he’s doing. He has to come see my son,” Vincent said stubbornly.
There was a gentle knocking on the door of Lyria’s hospital room. “Come in!” she called quietly. She had been rocking Jeremy to sleep, cradling him closely and humming softly.
Reno half stepped into the room. “Hiya.”
“Hello, Reno. Did you come to see my baby?” Lyria smiled as Reno sat down next to the bed.
“Yeah…I sorta expected Vincent would be in here.”
“No, he went off to look for you. Enough about him. Let’s talk about my little boy…isn’t he sweet?” Lyria smiled at the baby who had closed his eyes.
“Yeah…what’s his name?”
“Jeremy David Valentine.”
Reno nodded, looking at the diminutive baby. “He’s little.”
“Vincent thought so too. So how are you, Reno?”
“To be honest, I thought you would be too busy with a nurse to come see me and my baby…” Lyria looked at Reno with slight criticism.
The red head grinned. “You know, I would be, except…I dunno. I didn’t even think of it. It’s hardly even on my mind anymore.”
“Because of Yuffie, I guess.”
Lyria cocked her head to the side and looked at Reno curiously. “You really do like her, don’t you? It wasn’t just a silly little fling?”
“I’ve never had as much fun with anybody else. She’s great…you’ll never believe what she did…” Reno grinned again.
“What did she do?” Lyria asked, gently kissing Jeremy’s forehead.
“I’ll tell you the whole story, it was just after she moved to Midgar to start going to school…”
Yuffie slid her books off her desk and jogged down the stairs of the lecture hall where her last class on “Materia and Technology” had been held. With a grin she waved to her friends and headed through U of M’s “Concentrated Mako Energy Research Centre” onto the busy street outside the sprawling university complex. She strode quickly through the streets, weaving her way in between the crowded street and towards her apartment building. It was a modest apartment, but she hadn’t wanted anything big. Yuffie had moved to Midgar a week ago, without telling Reno. She very sincerely wanted to surprise him. So after establishing herself at university and getting settled into her apartment, she’d started to get ready for a little breaking and entering. She slipped into her apartment and threw her books on the couch, flopping down in a chair to watch a little TV. At around seven she grabbed several slices of leftover pizza from the fridge and wolfed them down. She grinned, looking out over the darkened streets of Midgar. This was going to be a very amusing evening. Yuffie grabbed her backpack from a hook by the door and locked it behind her, knowing she wouldn’t be coming back for a long while.
Yuffie giggled as the light glowed green when she swiped the key card in front of the decoder on the door of Reno’s and Rude’s penthouse apartment. Reeve had been the first person she’d gone to see on her arrival in Midgar and he’d been generous enough to hand her a copy of Reno’s key card, telling her to “run along and have fun.” She fully intended to have fun. Opening the door, she was pleased to find the apartment empty and scampered to the bathroom to get changed. A skimpy black negligee, some lipstick, and the faintest hint of perfume and she was ready. She padded through the apartment in stocking feet, heading for the kitchen. “Sweet! Wine rack!” Yuffie looked at some of the labels. A lot of them were too old and faded for her to read so she selected one at random. It looked like it would be satisfactory. She looked around for some wine glasses and found two, one with a stem of green tinted glass, the other with purple. Yuffie pulled a small folded paper packet from where she had tucked it in the strap of her bra and dumped the contents into the green glass. The fine white powder sent up a small cloud, doused immediately as Yuffie followed it with the wine. Yuffie took a small sip from the purple glass and wrinkled her nose. She didn’t much care for wine, but she knew Reno did and put up with the sour taste. She jumped slightly as she heard the door slam. A wave of fear suddenly washed over her. What if Reno had another girlfriend? What if she was just another of the endless string of women who had fallen prey to charming, suave, wink-and-a-promise, Reno? How dare he cheat on her? Yuffie Kisaragi! No one cheated on Yuffie Kisaragi and got away with it. Her blood boiled as she marched up to his bedroom door, prepared to let him have it for cheating on her. She pushed open the door, unsure of what she would do if Reno were tangled up in bed with some slut. Yuffie clenched her hands into fists and looked in. “Aww…” Yuffie smiled to herself, heart melting at the sight of Reno, sprawled face first on the bed, still clutching his nightstick and fast asleep. She skipped back to the kitchen; picking up the two, half-full wine glasses and walking slowly back to the bedroom. She set them down on the table beside the bed, reminding herself that the green was for Reno. “ Reno?” Yuffie sat down on the bed and prodded him in the small of his back.
Yuffie sighed. “ Reno, you’re no fun.” She pried his nightstick from his fingers and examined it closely. It was basically an extendable metal rod with a dial on the end. There were four labelled settings, “shock”, “stun”, “electrocute”, and the last one marked with skull and crossbones. She turned the dial to “shock”, giving Reno a quick jolt.
“*&%$! Ouch! What the hell?” Reno rolled over and looked at Yuffie disbelievingly.
“Hiya, Reno.” Yuffie grinned and tossed his nightstick over her shoulder.
“Yuffie? What the hell are you doing here?”
“Aren’t you happy to see me?” Yuffie questioned, making her lower lip tremble and filling her eyes with tears.
“Yeah, of course I am, gorgeous. But I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I wasn’t expecting me either, but here I am. Screw the talking, let’s have some fun!” Yuffie handed Reno the green-stemmed wine glass.
“Oh, I get it. I’m either drunk or dreaming. I think it’s dreaming though, because I haven’t had anything to drink and I’m dead tired. Ok, I’ve had this dream before.”
“Yeah? When?” Yuffie asked, taking a small sip of her wine and smiling into her glass as Reno did the same.
“Lots of times.”
“That’s sweet. You dream about me. So what happens in this dream?” Yuffie asked innocently, running a hand up and down Reno’s chest.
“The usual. Except as soon as things start getting good I wake up.”
“Oh. Well, we’ll see how far we get this time, how’s that?”
“Good I guess…” Reno swallowed a little more wine. “I’ve missed you, Yuffie.”
“I missed you too Reno. It’s lonely in Wutai.”
“It’s lonely in Midgar too.” Reno rubbed his eyes. “Hey, Yuffie? Is it normal to feel sleepy in a dream?”
“I dunno. Take your jacket off, Reno,” Yuffie ordered, pulling Reno up and helping him tug off his suit jacket.
“This is weird…I’ve never…felt this tired…” Reno mumbled, trailing off and closing his eyes.
“That is weird,” Yuffie agreed, slipping her arms around his neck. She felt his fingers automatically slide up her back and start unhooking her bra, undoing the top clasp before losing their grip and falling. Gently she shoved him back down and tucked the blanket around his shoulders. “Nighty-night!” Yuffie giggled and climbed out of bed, kissing Reno’s forehead and grabbing his jacket. “Hmm…lemme see…wallet…Shinra key card…cell phone…score! Car keys!” Yuffie grinned and transferred the handful of objects to her backpack. She pulled on Reno’s jacket over top her nightgown and slipped into a pair of backless heels with feathered toes. Yuffie quickly did a few things around the apartment, grabbing a CD from the rack by Reno’s stereo and a piece of fruit from the fridge. She slipped out the apartment door and down to the parkade, looking for Reno’s car.
Reno groaned as sunlight peeked through the opening in his curtains. He had a pounding headache, almost worse than a hangover, except he could remember everything that had happened the previous evening. “Yuffie?”
There was no answer from the rest of the apartment and he decided Yuffie must have left early or not been there at all. The latter was more likely, but Reno couldn’t help feeling like she had been in his apartment last night. Sitting up and massaging his temple with one hand, he reached for the bottle of aspirin he usually kept beside the bed. Finding it, he dumped a couple pills into his palm and looked around for some water or something. There was a green-stemmed wine glass beside the bed and he decided it was as good as anything else. He swallowed the pills and immediately started feeling better. He got up and debated whether he was more in need of a shower or of food. Settling on food, he headed for the kitchen. Rather disinterestedly he noticed someone had scrawled something on his refrigerator door, but he didn’t seem to be paying it as much attention as he should. His headache was coming back in full force and it was accompanied by the same feelings of extreme drowsiness he’d felt the night before. Dizzily, he shut the fridge door, sitting down on the floor and leaning against the bottom cupboards. There was a handle digging into his back, but he didn’t notice. Groggily he looked up at the message on the door of the fridge again. The only word he could make out was “Yuffie” and he fell asleep wondering what Yuffie’s name was doing on his refrigerator.
“He’s not answering,” Rude said, sounding puzzled. “It rang like ten times and then I gave up.”
“Maybe he’s out?” Elena suggested, pulling her small sports car into the parking lot in front of Reno and Rude’s apartment building. Elena liked her relationship with Rude. She liked being the only person on the planet who really knew what he was like. She knew he was quiet, intelligent, and sensitive, and loved classical music. She stepped out of the car and looped her arm through his. She wore a light sundress and a lacy cardigan, a bit of a more formal contrast to Rude’s faded t-shirt, knee length khaki shorts, and ever-present sunglasses.
“I don’t think so…if he was out, his answering machine would be on. He always leaves it on, in case Yuffie calls.”
“Hmm…maybe…he’s sleeping?” Elena guessed again as Rude pressed the button for the top floor of the twenty-two-story apartment.
“It’s ten in the morning.” Rude was slightly concerned, but not to the point of letting it ruin his date with Elena. It promised to be an entertaining afternoon; they’d just stopped by his apartment to pick up the tickets he’d gotten to an outdoor concert in Midgar Memorial Gardens. The elevator doors opened and Rude swiped his key card in front of the scanner and pushed open the door. “ Reno? Hey, we’re just picking up some tickets, we’ll be outta here in a minute…”
There was no answer. “I guess he’s out…” Elena said.
“Ok, the tickets are in my room, I’ll go get them.”
“All righty. I’m gonna grab a drink of water,” Elena answered and smiled playfully. “I’ll miss you…”
“I’ll miss you too.”
Elena giggled and headed to the kitchen. “Oh! Rude!” she exclaimed upon entering the room and seeing Reno, crumpled on the floor.
“What’s the matter?” Rude asked, sounding concerned. “Uh oh…what happened?”
“I dunno, he was like this when I got here.” Elena shook Reno’s shoulder. “ Reno! Hey, Reno, wake up!”
“Come and find me, Reno! Hugs and kisses, Yuffie,” Rude read of the door of the fridge. The message had been scrawled in lipstick, but there was no mistaking Yuffie’s messy handwriting.
“Huh?” Elena asked, perplexed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Maybe Reno knows,” Rude suggested. “And he’s out cold.”
“Yeah…check his medicine cabinet for smelling salts or something.”
“Good idea.” Rude turned to leave the kitchen.
“Rude? Miss you…” Elena giggled.
“I’ll miss you too.”
Elena gently checked Reno over for injuries, but found nothing to explain the situation.
“Is this something?” Rude asked, handing Elena a small vial.
“Umm…yup,” Elena pronounced, examining the label. “What else’ve you got?”
“Two wine glasses…one noticeably less full than the other…” Rude held up the wine glass and took a whiff of the contents. Curiously he sniffed the other. “There’s something wrong here…”
Elena rolled her eyes. “Tell me about it…here, sit him up.” Rude complied and Elena unscrewed the cap on the vial forced Reno to inhale the fumes. Reno coughed and moaned, pushing her hand away. “ Reno?”
“Hey, are you ok?” Elena asked as he opened his eyes.
“What happened?” Rude asked.
“I have no idea.” Still dizzy, Reno stood up and leaned against the counter. “What are you doing here?”
“Just picking up some concert tickets. What about you? And what’s with the writing on the fridge?”
“Huh?” Reno examined the message on the white door of the appliance. “I dunno…”
“Come and find me…like hide-and-seek,” Elena observed.
“I get it,” Rude said. “That’s exactly what it is. Except, instead of having you close your eyes and count to fifty, she’s drugged you.”
“Oh boy. Fun,” Reno said sarcastically. “How do you know that she drugged me?”
Rude held out the purple-stemmed glass. “Smell that.”
Reno complied. “1908, Merlot. From a vineyard north of Kalm.”
“Now this one.”
“Same vintage but…something else…she was rather specific in ensuring I get the green glass…”
“What a little bitch,” Elena commented.
“Hey!” Reno exclaimed. “Who asked you?”
“I thought you liked little bitches. Or do you like big bitches and little sluts? I can never keep it straight.”
“Wow, Elena. Burn,” Rude said approvingly.
“I like Yuffie,” Reno answered decisively. “And I have to go look for her.”
“Aww…likkle Reno has a girlfriend! Why was I not informed?” Elena asked teasingly.
“Elena, you talk too much. Get the hell out of my apartment.”
“It’s half my apartment and I say she can stay,” Rude responded, kissing the top of Elena’s head protectively.
“You two make me sick.” Reno headed to his bedroom to get his keys, wallet, and cell phone. All of which should have been in the pocket of his jacket. And his jacket should have been…on him. But it wasn’t. “Shit…” Feeling slightly frantic, he quickly searched the room with no luck. “Goddamnit! Yuffie!”
“What’s with all the yelling?” Elena exclaimed, poking her head into Reno’s room.
Reno sat down on the still unmade bed and held his head in his hands. “It is approximately eleven o’ clock in the morning,” he said in a strangely neutral tone. “That means, that since about two o’ clock last night, Yuffie has been wandering around Midgar with my wallet, car keys, and cell phone.”
Whatever Reno had wanted the effect of his statement to be, Elena bursting into bouts of hysterical laughter was not it.
“What’s so funny?” Rude asked, entering the bedroom.
“Yuffie…swiped…Re… Reno’s wallet…his cell phone…and his…car keys…” Elena managed to gasp between fits of giggling.
“It’s not that damn funny,” Reno grumbled. “Hell, it isn’t funny at all! Shit! This is really, really bad! How the hell am I supposed to find her?”
“Well, if she took your cell phone, then we can just track her, right?” Rude reminded him, ever the voice of reason.
“Yeah! Umm…would you guys help me?” Reno asked, feeling stupid.
“Nuh uh. We’ve got a date,” Elena refused.
“C’mon Elena…” Reno pleaded.
“Say please,” Elena commanded.
“Please, Elena, will you help me?” Reno asked, gritting his teeth.
“Say, ‘please, Elena, most beautiful queen of the universe, will you help me, Reno, a lowly worm who doesn’t deserve the aid of kind, benevolent, lovely Elena,” Elena taunted.
“Please, Elena, most beautiful queen of the universe, will you help me, Reno, a lowly worm who doesn’t deserve the aid of kind, benevolent, lovely Elena?” Reno echoed.
“Get down on your knees and say it,” she instructed, pointing to the floor.
“Elena…” Reno sighed.
“Floor,” Elena commanded resolutely, pointing to the ground again.
Reno knelt down on one knee and resignedly recited Elena’ s little speech. “Please, Elena, most beautiful queen of the universe, will you help me, Reno, a lowly worm who doesn’t deserve the aid of kind, benevolent, lovely Elena?”
“Umm…maybe. Kiss my shoes and I’ll see how I feel.” Elena extended a girlish ankle and planted a strappy four-inch, high-heeled shoe on Reno’s knee.
“Ok, Elena, that’s enough. We’ll help you out Reno, but only until six. If she isn’t back by then, you’re on your own.”
“Thanks…” Reno sighed, getting off the ground. “Well, let’s go…”
Yuffie liked Reno’s car. She always had. It was a gorgeous red hotrod with an engine custom designed for racing. He knew it’s every detail, inside and out and could take it apart and put it back together blindfolded. She often kidded him that he liked his car better than he liked her. To which he responded that he liked her better, but he could make the engine purr with less effort. Yuffie smiled to herself. Reno was so cute. And clever. And charming. And so much fun. Yuffie had long since decided that Reno was just great. Idly she hit the play button on the CD player and music blasted out. Loud, rhythmic, and with a lot of bass. Just how Yuffie liked it. She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel in time to the music. Since it was Reno’s car, she took extra care driving it, making sure not to hit potholes or do anything that might damage the vehicle. She turned into the university campus, making for the automobile mechanics building. Yuffie was thankful she had Reno’s car. She felt warm and safe, mostly because without the car she would have been cold and in danger, wandering the streets of Midgar in only a negligee and suit jacket. She pulled up in front of one of the garages and blinked the headlights twice. The door slid upward and she drove into the garage.
“Hey, Pete,” Yuffie greeted the young man, hopping out of the car.
“Hi, Yuffie. So this is the Ultima you were talking about? Wow, it’s a piece of work…” Pete whistled, running a hand over the hood. “Beautiful.”
“I know,” Yuffie said proudly. She’d met Pete her second day at U of M and the two had been fast friends. Pete was an art student who worked in whatever mediums he could get his hands on, oil paints, sculpture, water colour, photography, and even abstract piles of stones his professor had fallen in love with.
“So what do you want done?” Pete asked, still admiring the car. “I did a phoenix for this guy yesterday…oh! And a wolf! A big grey wolf with golden eyes.”
“I was thinking of something more…feminine.” Yuffie drummed her fingers on the roof of the car.
“Feminine? Like flowers and junk? Ok, I could do that…”
“No, no, no…I mean like…a feminine subject. Namely me. This actually isn’t my car. It’s my boyfriend’s and I wanna surprise him.”
“I see…are you going to be posing nude?”
“I don’t think so.” Yuffie shook her head. “I’m not entirely comfortable with the thought of my naked body blazoned on the side of Reno’s car for all to see. Besides,” Yuffie grinned playfully. “ Reno’s sees me in the buff all the time.”
“Uh…huh. So just what you’re wearing now?”
“Minus the suit jacket.” Yuffie shrugged off the blue coat and tossed it in the car. “Well let’s get started!”
Reno sat staring out the window of Elena’ s car in sullen silence. Early in the journey he’d complained about how his car handled better and could go from zero to sixty in ten seconds, but now he just sulked. They’d called Yuffie once, but she’d hung up Reno’s phone before they’d gotten a chance to lock onto the signal. Rude and Elena had apologized and said they’d have liked to help more, but didn’t want to miss their concert.
“Cheer up, Reno,” Elena said consolingly. “She’ll come back.”
Reno didn’t answer and kept staring moodily out the window.
“You could come with us to the concert if you’d like,” Rude offered. “We’ve got an extra ticket…”
“Don’t wanna,” Reno answered petulantly.
“C’mon. It’ll be fun. And when it’s over you can go home and Yuffie’ll probably be waiting for you.”
Reno returned to his pretence of keeping silent, but followed Elena and Rude when they got out of the car. He looked up at the setting sun and sighed. He didn’t like being mad at Yuffie, but he couldn’t help it. After all, she’d run off with his car, all his money, and identification. “Heh. None of the other women I’ve messed around with have ever done something like this…which is…good…” Reno hardly noticed when Elena spread out a blanket on the ground and tugged on his arm to make him sit down. She’d then curled up beside Rude, listening to the orchestra as it began playing. An hour into the concert, the sun had set and Reno got the distinct impression Rude and Elena wanted to be alone.
“I’m going for a walk.”
“Oh, Reno, I’m sorry. We haven’t been paying much attention to you,” Elena apologized sympathetically.
“S’ok.” Reno shrugged and stood up.
“Hey, you want my cell phone? You could try calling Yuffie again…” Rude suggested, also trying to sound penitent.
“Sure. Might as well…” Reno took Rude’s cell phone and wandered off, not heading in any real direction. With a sigh, he dialled his own PHS number and waited as it rang.
“Hello, Reno…” Yuffie answered the call playfully.
“Yuffie where are you? Please, I’ve looked everywhere I thought you would go and I still can’t find you. That was a really rotten thing to do, stealing my car and all that. I give up. Could you please just tell me where you are?”
There was silence on the other end. “You’re upset with me?”
“Yes…no…no, I’m not. I just…I don’t even care anymore if you’ve spent all my money or…or crashed my car, all I want is to find you…” Reno answered miserably.
“Aww… Reno, I’m sorry,” Yuffie apologized. “I wish I was there too, so I could give you a hug and a kiss and make it all better.”
“S’ok, I guess…where are you?”
“I’m in Midgar Memorial Gardens.”
“Really? Me too. Where exactly?” Reno asked excitedly.
“Umm…in the eastern part. There’s a high cliff above the river and I’ve got your car parked up here.”
“You didn’t…” Reno paused. “You didn’t really crash my car, did you?”
Yuffie giggled. “Nope. Love you, Reno, buh-bye…”
“Bye.” Reno turned the phone off and sighed in relief. Getting his bearings from a conveniently placed map, he headed east, towards the river. There was a winding road heading up the steep cliff and Reno morosely figured he’d have to climb it himself. With a sigh he began his trek to the top. About ten minutes later, he reached the summit and looked around for his car. He spotted a dark shadow, silhouetted against the moon rising behind Midgar’s skyline. It was really a rather breathtaking sight, but Reno was more concerned with his car. The windows were misted with condensation and he couldn’t see inside, but in the still night air he caught a faint chemical smell. He couldn’t place it at first, but the horrifying realisation dawned on him that it was paint. Recalling that Yuffie’s favourite colour was orange he closed his eyes and tried to keep in mind that hurling himself off the cliff would in no way solve his problem. Gritting his teeth he fished in his pocket for a small penlight and played the beam of the side door of his car. His eyes widened at the sight of a very femininely curved leg. He switched the intensity of the beam to high and took a couple steps back. Across the entire length of his car was a picture of Yuffie in a black satin negligee, stretched out on her stomach coyly resting her chin on her palm and propping herself up on one elbow. From her other hand dangled a pair of keys. The portrait was done by airbrush, lending a sensual aspect and beside Yuffie’s hand was the caption: “Wanna go for a ride?”
“Do I ever!” Reno breathed to himself, studying the picture. The contours and colouring were all perfect, made even better by the fact that Yuffie wore her favourite negligee, ending a tantalizing few inches above her mid thigh. Reno frowned. That was the only aspect he didn’t approve of. In his opinion Yuffie was wearing far too many clothes. Remembering Yuffie, he opened the side door and looked in.
“You found me!” Yuffie cried delightedly, jumping out of the car and tackling Reno. “Do you like it?”
“I love it. Where’d you get it done?”
“A friend of mine. Speaking of which, I’ve started school.”
“Really? Yuffie, that’s excellent! Where d’you live? Wanna come stay with me?”
Yuffie giggled, and shivered a bit. “Reno let’s go back in the car where it’s nice and warm…and see if we can’t make it nice and hot!”
Reno pulled a small picture out of his wallet and showed it to Lyria. “See? That’s my car.”
Lyria took the picture with her free hand, the one that wasn’t cradling Jeremy, and examined it. “That’s a really cute night gown. Any idea where she got it?”
“Nope. I just know it’s my favourite.” Reno took back the photo and tucked it in his wallet. “Hey, your baby’s asleep.”
“I know,” Lyria smiled and kissed Jeremy’s forehead. She glanced up as there was a soft knock on the door. “ Reno, answer that.”
Reno complied and opened the door. “Hiya.”
“What’re you doing here, Reno?” Vincent asked, surprised.
“Visiting,” Reno answered vaguely.
“We thought you’d be messing around in a closet somewhere,” Rude commented.
“Yeah, we looked all over,” Reeve added.
“Listen, if you four wake my baby, I’ll make you wish you’d never been born,” Lyria threatened.
“Yeah. Get out of here and stop bugging my family,” Vincent ordered.
“Sheesh. Touchy…” Reno muttered. “We’ll see you later, Vincent. Congratulations.”
“Bye. I suppose you’ll want a week off?” Reeve said teasingly.
“Two weeks,” Lyria countered.
“One and a half.”
“Done. Bye guys. Come back tomorrow and you can see him when he’s awake,” Lyria offered.
“Wouldn’t miss it. Night Lyr,” Reno waved and exited the room with Reeve and Rude.
“Would you put Jeremy in his bassinet?” Lyria asked, indicating a cradle by the bed. “I love holding him, but I’m sorta tired, and I’d like to get some sleep.”
“Sure.” Very carefully, still unaccustomed to holding the little boy, Vincent placed him in his crib. “God, he’s little.”
“He’s supposed to be little,” Lyria explained patiently. “C’mere and give me a goodnight kiss.”
Vincent obliged and hugged Lyria tightly. “When are you coming home?”
“Day after tomorrow.”
“That long? I thought you said tomorrow…”
“You shouldn’t lie in front of the baby.”
“He was sleeping,” Lyria shrugged.
“Why can’t I stay? I don’t want to be away that long…”
“It’ll go by fast. We’ll have lots of people stopping in to see the baby and it’s going to seem like you don’t get to spend anytime with him. But then things will settle down and we can spend time together as a family.”
“It’s been almost half a century since I was part of a family.”
“Vincent, don’t do that. Let it go already.”
“Fine.” Vincent hugged Lyria tighter. “I’ll…see you tomorrow I guess…”
“Yeah. Don’t worry. Love you.”
“Love you too…” Vincent left the hospital, feeling a little detached from the world around him. Entering the house, he heard a voice behind him.
“So how’d it go?”
Startled, he whirled around, drawing his gun and pointing it at…the dog. “Who’s there?”
Lefty lolled his tongue out in a canine grin. “You’re jumpy. It’s just me.”
“What the hell…”
“Oh come on, don’t tell me you don’t recognize your old friend Chaos!”
Vincent looked at the dog blankly. “No, I don’t.”
To his credit, Lefty was the first dog in the world ever to roll his eyes. “By Shadow and Darkness, you’re thick.”
“I am not!”
“Alright, fine, you aren’t thick.”
“Precisely why aren’t you a massive winged demon?” Vincent pulled off his jacket and sat down in an armchair.
Lefty blinked. “I’m a shapeshifter, I thought you knew that.”
“No, I didn’t. You never exactly told me.”
“Really? I could’ve sworn I…”
“I think my ignorance in the matter confirms that you haven’t.”
“I thought you were just a single part…like the Galian…”
Lefty shook his head. “No, that was all me.”
“So I’ve never had more than one counterpart?”
Lefty nodded, and then started nibbling furiously at a spot on his coat.
“Is Chaos your true form?”
“Yes. I don’t mind being a dog though.”
“Why didn’t you use your other forms with me?”
Lefty looked at him curiously. “Would you have wanted to be a dog?”
“I guess not…but…”
“You aren’t the only one Hojo caused problems for. But enough about that how’s your son?”
“Who told you about that?”
Lefty gave him a flat stare.
“All right, all right…he’s fine…he’s very little.”
“It’s the nature of babies to be little.”
“I know, but…”
“What is his name?”
“That’s a good name.”
“I rather liked it…”
“You should go to bed.”
“Yeah…” Vincent stood up and stretched, rubbing his eyes. “So…are you like a watchdog or something?”
Lefty growled low in his throat. “I am not a guard dog.”
“Well then what are you?” Vincent asked, starting up the stairs, with Lefty at his heels.”
“Just a guardian. And I’ll be so until your family dies.”
“Ok. It’s your lifetime.”
“Hardly,” Lefty snorted. “You don’t really live very long.”
“Nothing like an immortal demon to make one feel that life is short.” Vincent opened the door to the darkened master bedroom. “Wow, this room is big.”
“Your wife thinks the same thing. She says it’s very lonely when you’re gone.”
“She talks to you?” Vincent asked, unbuttoning his shirt and tossing it in a corner. “Do you talk back?”
“Precisely how stupid do you think I am?” Lefty growled.
“You’re a dog right now. I have to be able to look down on a dog with at least some semblance of superiority.”
WAAAAAAHHHHH IT’S OVER!!!!! I can’t believe it. The third and worst ending of all and it’s the last one I’ll ever write!!!! I HATE writing endings! It’s just not fair!!!!! Who wants more? I could do it; you know…already the seeds of a new beginning are sprouting…I see a plot line…it’s hazy, but it’s starting to get clearer…oooh…all the things I’ve had to take out…they could be reincorporated! Do you want me to continue? There’s only one way for me to find out! Email! Glorious email! *gasp* I’ve got a title! That’s the first big step! A title! Gimme a shout, tell me to keep going! I know I said this would be my last, but, hey, rules are made for writers to break them! ^_~ It’s email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you wanna talk to me on MSN messenger send me an email first and I’ll consider it. I don’t just add people for no reason. Well, in celebration of this ending, I think I’ll get started on my next epic…Ciao, loyal readers! Congrats on getting this far! ^_~
Disclaimer: Yeah, yeah, yeah, characters and junk are property of Squaresoft, not me. The real reason I put a little disclaimer thingy was to again extend my thanks to Leok, GrandLordMagus, my sister Jebbie, and my best friend Rachel for reading my stories and offering inspiration, praise, constructive criticism, and encouragement. Also, I’d like to point out that I derived a lot of concepts from songs by my favourite band, Stratovarius! The song “Will my Soul Ever Rest in Peace?” reminds me of Vincent so much I think Timo Tolkki must be a Vinny fan too. Here’s hoping I won’t become just another name against the icy blue background of dear Icybrian’s page (Hiya, sir! Thanks for the little corner of heaven!) and that I can keep writing. I think I’ll take a break for a while, let the creative juices get flowing and finish FFIX. So Ciao for now!