Fandom/Pairing: Kindgom Hearts; Vincent/Yuffie
Rating: ESRB Rating of M for Mature < violence, plot complexity >
Summary: True heroes don't let petty things like death stop them... and a hero's memories more often return in nightmares than in sweet dreams. [Reincarnation fic.]
Notes: And this chapter is finally complete! I think now I'm prepared to start posting this thing. Pity I don't have much of a clue what happens next.
Chapter One: Fear the Fall
Chapter Two: The Other Option
Chapter Four: Modern-Day Orpheus
Chapter Three: No More Miracles, Please
Heaven itself we seek in our folly.
But it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.
—Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
(The Present Day)
Olympus Coliseum: The Underworld
"I think I found our way out," Auron murmured, sharing a bit of bread he'd been able to procure from somewhere. The bread was sweet, flat, filled with honey on the inside. Vincent took an almost immediate disliking to the bread, but he ate it anyway.
It had been too long, far too long, since he had eaten anything at all. This was not a moment for preference.
"Excellent," he said, accepting the flask of wine Auron passed him. He sipped it carefully, the taste at once new and familiar, almost painful on his tongue and in his mouth. It was definitely painful for his throat. How had he never realized how parched he was?
"Aren't you going to ask?" Auron seemed almost amused, or as amused as he ever seemed. There was a trace of a smirk in his growl.
They might have been two halves of one whole, Vincent often found himself thinking.
"We'll need a plan. More than just a means of escape."
Cerberus moved toward them and they both went silent.
Radiant Garden: Squall and Aerith's House
For the third time that week, Yuffie woke alone and cold and somehow hating it. The sheets were too heavy on top of her, but she was freezing. With a few mumbled curses, she kicked off the covers and, shivering, got up to look for a pair of pyjama pants that actually fit.
The darkness of her room seemed somehow terrifying, when as little as two weeks ago, it wouldn't have bothered her. The Heartless weren't exactly gone and probably never would be, but the Claymores and constant habitation kept the house mostly clean. So why did the shadows scare her? Why did she have to fight the temptation to grab her shuriken and jump at every noise?
After a few minutes' searching, she found a fuzzy pair of pyjama pants. They were actually too long—they'd once been Squall's, she knew, and even at fourteen, he'd been taller than she would ever be—but right now, "too long" wasn't a problem.
She pulled them on and tied the red laces into a knot. Even in the dark, the red was vivid and suddenly she remembered a flash from her dream. She hadn't been alone. Thick, velvety, inky darkness had surrounded them. One of the people with her had been wearing something red. It had been so vivid that she'd known what colour it was, even without much light.
And then there had been someone staring at her. His eyes had been red. They'd glowed, too.
She shuddered, both from cold and from the memory of her dream. Rather than think any more about it, she decided to find a decent fuzzy T-shirt or maybe a pullover. But she had nothing in her dresser, which left her laundry basket or the floor. And Yuffie drew the line (albeit a soft and near invisible one, as Yuffie and Lines In The Sand did not get along well in any situation) at wearing TWO items of dirty laundry and then crawling onto her soft, clean sheets.
That left only the closet. And the closet wasn't much of an option at all.
If the shadows of the room terrified her, then the prospect of opening her closet made her want to run to Aerith's room. Everything and its pet chocobo plushie went into the closet. Things she didn't have places for, things she did have places for, weapons she'd grown out of or disliked. She was certain that her closet was an actual portal to hell and had been ever since they'd moved in.
There was no telling what would happen if she opened that door. There could be an avalanche. She could get impaled by the kunai she'd sharpened when she was seven. That red-eyed guy could show up in real life, hanging upside down from her coathangers.
At that image--surely his head would brush the floor if he did, and that red cape would go upside-down and silly looking--she laughed.
She rummaged around in her hellmouth closet, with her eyes firmly closed and only one arm, the other arm being busy trying to keep the door three-quarters closed. Eventually, she struck on something fuzzy and yanked it out, only to toss it at the full-length mirror somebody had found in the wreckage of the castle and given to her. Damned scarf.
It took her several more minutes of petrified searching, but she finally managed to withdraw a fuzzy yellow pullover. It even had a hood, she realized. Almost without thinking about it, she clicked on the light, just to remind herself of the horror that was this pullover.
Yep, it still had the googly eyes glued to the hood, and the tufts of fake feathers all over it. And the soft, plush beak where a collar should have gone.
Damned stupid chocobo pullover.
Stupid Squall, keeping the house this cold all the time. Just because it was summer didn't mean they needed to have the air conditioning running on negative fifty degrees.
Olympus Coliseum: The Underworld
Vincent stared at the boy. He had Cid's eyes, a fierce Ice3 blue, Tifa's hair, and Aerith's open, earnest expression. His tendency to fidget, his restlessness, reminded Vincent of Yuffie. And that hurt. It burned.
"I'm Sora," the boy said. He seemed almost hesitant, looking to Auron before introducing himself, and then looking at Auron again when he'd spoken.
Vincent said nothing, merely watched the boy, inspecting his mannerisms and missing AVALANCHE in a way that was too profound, too painful, for words. If this boy could take him to them, if this boy could help him regain what he'd lost, then he would do anything in his power to help him. He would do anything in his power to resume what he could of his former life, and if that meant holding a stone in his palm until he felt oddly invigorated, if that meant following this mere child around the slightly dangerous pathways of the Underworld, then he would do it.
The boy shifted, apparently uncomfortable with silence. "And you're Vincent, right? Auron told me a little about you."
Vincent crossed his arms over his chest. He peered down at the boy, establishing another thick, temporary silence before asking, "Is that so. What did he tell you?"
Sora shrugged. The sword he held on his shoulder shrugged with him and Vincent found his eyes tracing the black, shining form of that blade. Something about it screamed darkness and solace, something about it screamed that there was far more to this boy than there seemed. And that, too, reminded him of Yuffie, but also of Nanaki, and even of little Cait Sith. The "children" of their group had been so undervalued, so underestimated. And they had burned and chafed at it.
The entirety of AVALANCHE was a gaping hole in the heart he didn't believe he possessed.
"Just that you're somebody Hades trapped into working for him." The barest hint of pride at a connexion made. "Like Auron. Like Cloud, too."
At that name, something in him broke.
--I'll try it, then. I'll call you; let you know how it goes.
"What?" He gestured with the claw, a sharp, flat sweeping motion. "You have news of Cloud?"
The boy backed away. For an instant, fear, wariness, and determination flashed on his face, but then the boy trusted him again. Thought he understood. Was Auron's recommendation really such a powerful thing? "Well, he was in Radiant Garden, but then he and Sephiroth got in a fight again, and now he's, well, somewhere."
They were still alive. All of them. Somewhere. Cloud and Tifa, Barret, Cid, Nanaki, Reeve. Yuffie. Maybe even Aerith, though that, he thought, was a long shot.
"Anyway," the boy said, "I was going to enter the Pain and Panic Tournament again. Auron said you were pretty good with fighting and wouldn't mind joining me."
The truth was, Vincent never wanted to stand against a Heartless again. He'd fought too many of them. He had a scar on his sternum from where the Heartless that killed Cloud had impaled him.
But this boy was his ticket out of here. Moreover, he reminded Vincent of too many AVALANCHE members to turn him down.
The glee on his face was all Yuffie.
Vincent stared at the creatures that had ruined his unlife, stared at the strange, key-shaped sword in the boy's hands, and felt no regret.
Radiant Garden: Aerith's House
Okay, she would have expected some sort of reaction out of Squall. Maybe. If he was feeling ready to emote. And yeah, Aerith was pretty fashion-conscious. But Aerith knew her. They understood each other, she and Aerith. Aerith would know the correct response to Yuffie showing up for breakfast wearing the chocobo pullover.
So why was Tifa--crazy, vanished-for-like-ever, didn't-know-anybody-anymore Tifa--the one who wasn't drawing attention to the fact that Yuffie's shirt easily reached her knees and had googly eyes and a fake beak?
Squall, at least, had been reserved and appropriately taciturn in his reaction. "You're wearing my pants," even if delivered in a disapproving tone, said absolutely nothing about the chocobo pullover. Nothing directly, anyway, but there was an undertone of amusement there. He had something to add to, "You're wearing my pants," even if he wasn't going to say it.
Aerith, on the other hand...
If she never heard "What are you WEARING?!" in that tone or volume ever again, it would be too soon.
Yuffie poured herself a glass of orange juice--and very nearly added a heavy shot of vodka--before replying. "The chocobo pullover Cid gave me."
She moved onto fixing her plate. A chocolate-frosted donut with sprinkles, a piece of raisin bread toast smeared with butter and jam, a few sausages--Squall took three of them for himself immediately and then put four more back on the serving plate--and a few slices of bacon, which Squall didn't take, because everybody else already had some.
"I think it was a gag gift, sweetie." Aerith said, frowning, though Yuffie wasn't sure if Aerith was frowning at the shirt or at the fact that the ninja was sprinkling her toast with powdered sugar.
Squall raised one elegant eyebrow in a half-assed smirk. "You're going to give yourself diabetes."
Yuffie's toast was now white, while her sausages were more a 'salt and pepper' sort of colour. "Not with one meal."
"Every time you eat like that adds to the total." He took a pull from his extra-huge coffee mug and shook his head. Even though it was tangled and still rumpled from him having rolled off the couch and into the kitchen, his hair managed to do its typical swoosh-swirly thing, tossing like a lion's mane.
"Aaaaaand that wraps up our Statements So Obvious They Don't Mean A Damn Thing segment, brought to you by senior consultant Squall Leonhart! Mr. Leonhart prefers donations of pricy conditioner, so please don't go to the trouble of sending him money!"
Aerith and Tifa laughed. Well, Tifa let out a startled snort and then a snicker. Aerith just covered her mouth with the fingertips of one hand and giggled prettily.
Perhaps to show how super uberliciously mature and grown up he was, Squall didn't even try to melt her brains with a deathglare. "It's Leon," he muttered as he stood up, smoothly and gracefully, and put his coffee mug in the microwave.
Yuffie, knowing what would happen now, sat back in her chair and made funny faces at her food. To anyone who asked, she would have said that she was trying to eat it with her mind. The truth was, she could still see hints of red jam under the white powdered sugar. And red just was not her favourite colour today (not that it was her favourite colour anyway).
The traditional petty squabble of "Why do you have to re-heat it? It's right out of the pot!" versus "I'm reheating it because it's cold," washed right over her. She didn't even pay attention until somebody said her name.
"What?" She jumped in her chair, bumping her ankle against the table leg.
"You aren't eating," Tifa told her, softly. "You usually eat much faster than this."
Tifa would know, of course. She was the one who cooked. Before this, they'd had breakfasts of cereal and toast, and on special days, Squall had made pancakes. They hadn't been particularly delicious pancakes, but they had been light and fluffy and sometimes even had bits of strawberries in them. And then Tifa had come back and started cooking breakfast every morning. Real oatmeal--sometimes grits, which was an unidentifiable substance only Tifa and Cid seemed to like--and delicious pancakes and sausage and bacon and breakfast biscuits. Fattening, tasty breakfasts.
She and Squall had inhaled breakfast after that. Squall had even relented to starting Reconstruction work at nine rather than eight. (Because carbohydrates were important, especially if you were doing physical work or lots of magic. Yeah, right. He just wanted the good food.)
And every morning, Tifa had sat back and watched them all eat, a slightly nervous look on her face. Like she hadn't cooked for anybody she cared about in a while. Like she desperately wanted them to like her cooking. Like she was afraid of what Aerith might feel about being outdone in her own kitchen.
Tifa was looking concerned today, too.
Yuffie shrugged. "Had some weird dreams last night. They're kinda sticking with me, you know?"
The older woman watched her. There was sympathy in those dark eyes, a sorrowful understanding. She was obviously thinking about the invasion of the Heartless. "I see. Dreams that make you lose your appetite?" The I in I see was soft, almost slurred to an 'ah' sound.
Squall, who had returned to the table a few moments earlier, shook his head again and snickered. "It's probably all the sugar you poured on your plate."
"Shut up, Mister I Cool Coffee Cups With My Bare Hands!"
It was then that the phone rang. Aerith answered it, a polite, gentle-looking smile lingering on her lips while she glared at Squall and his practically smoking coffee cup, which he was holding in both palms. "Good morning! How are you--oh, I see. Yes, of course I'll put her on." She motioned toward Yuffie.
She skipped up to take the phone. "Aerith's Lovenest, Yuffielicious speaking."
Cid's gruff voice cut through any jokes. "Sora just radioed in. He thinks he found somebody who used to live in Radiant Garden. Said he knew Cloud."
Yuffie's brow furrowed. "And you're telling me, an' not Aerith, because... why?"
She didn't dare ask about why he wasn't telling Tifa. If she asked about Tifa, then everybody in the room would know that Cloud had been mentioned. Besides, it was obvious. Tifa had dedicated the better part of a year to finding him, before deciding to return to Radiant Garden on the logic that Cloud would probably return to it eventually.
Cid's voice turned awkward. He sounded tender, in a grumpy old fart sort of way. "Because you're the one that ain't invested in findin' him. Aerith and Tifa care too dang much." Back to the grumpy, gruff ex-smoker. "That's why. I think you and Leon oughta visit the Coliseum, see who this guy is an' what he knows."
Which, okay, made sense. But why was he telling her? Leon was the older one, the one who would obviously be in charge if they went anywhere. Why not just speak directly to Leon?
Before she could ask, Cid added, hastily, "But don't tell Leon who this guy is or what he might know. He'd just tell Aerith, and if Aerith didn't tell the whole dang town, she'd at least get her hopes up, and..."
And we didn't want that. The getting up of hopes, at least as far as Cloud was concerned, was a bad, bad thing. It hurt that they were back to low expectations and never, ever, trusting to hope. Even if it was in only one area. The days when they hadn't even hoped for a Heartless-free place to sleep, the days when they hadn't dreamed of finding Radiant Garden again, those days came back every time she heard, "Don't get your hopes up." Even if it was only about Cloud, those days came right back in all their hideous painful glory.
There were more pressing issues, however. She felt a giant, dinner-plate-sized grin devour her face and knew her eyes were probably brighter than Squall's gunblade when he got in a machismo 'must conceal anxiousness' cycle. "So I'm in charge?"
"Yeah, y'are. Don't let it get to yer head, y'hear? You just make sure ya'all come back in one piece--and that means no tauntin' Leon til he cuts you to ribbons."
"Roger that. At large and in charge, go to Olympus, come back in one piece, don't taunt Squall." Silently, she added, And don't tell Squall anything. This is going to be the best trip EVER, ignoring Squall's obligatory protest that his nm
After Cid hung up, she turned to Squall with the same predatory expression-devouring smile on her face. It looked pasted on, and in a way, it was. "Pack your bags, Squallie-Paullie! We're going to Olympus!"
Squall watched her warily. "Did Cid say why?"
She dropped the grin, forced a less thrilled expression and made shit up on the fly. "All he said was Sora said something about a derelict ship IN the Coliseum."
He set down his coffee cup, which had stopped steaming, and crossed his arms over his chest. His expression screamed scepticism. "And what about that could possibly have convinced him that you should take charge?"
"Because I'm the one that gets to go squeezing into tight, dark, possibly Heartless-infested places. Underground."
Yuffie did not do underground. Anything darker and more enclosed than the hold of a very small Gummiship was simply a Nope Not Going In There You Can't Make Me. This was common knowledge amongst the four of them. Cid could only have convinced her to do it if he'd offered her the leadership role, at least when she wasn't exploring, and probably some sort of reward once she got back.
A understanding and then sympathy flickered across Squall's face before his expression returned to the default, betray-nothing 'prideful.'
"I... see. All right, we'll--"
"--We'll head out as soon as we pack," Yuffie said, interrupting him with an extra-smooth voice just because she could. "You'll want to bring ethers and hi-potions. I'll get my smallest weapons and the wireless communication stuff from Cid's."
Tifa and Aerith looked at each other. Something apparently passed between them, despite the fact that neither said anything. Simultaneously, they both stood. Simultaneously, they began to bustle toward their own goals, their movements graceful and quick. They had both always been efficient. Especially when they thought something strange was going on. Yuffie remembered that much.
"I'll make you something to eat on the way. And maybe a few lunches for while you're there," Tifa said, hastily clearing the table and somehow not dropping or spilling anything.
Aerith gave her a sympathetic, concerned smile. "Yuffie, I'll pack you a change of clothes or two. You'll want leggings and sleeves, right? Bright colours?"
"Leggings and armsleeves, check, but no on the bright colours," she replied, thinking of the Coliseum's heat. At Aerith's look of surprise, she added, "Not bright. Not even neon. It's gonna hafta be Day-Glo! Screw glow-in-the-dark, I want it to blind people in full sunlight!"
Aerith chuckled. It didn't sound as amused as she'd wanted, though. It sounded sad. Like she was saying, I know all your tricks. You can't hide your fear from me. But you need me to laugh, so I'll laugh. And she was wrong.
Yuffie inwardly cringed at the fact that she was using her family's concern for her, using their genuine crazy makeshift family love, the love that she wouldn't trade for a life without Heartless, against them.
Whoever was in the Coliseum had better be worth it.