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: Aaaaand... I think this is a wrap!
Chapter One: Fear the Fall
Chapter Two: The Other Option
Chapter Three: No More Miracles, Please
Chapter Four: Modern-Day Orpheus
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
—Edna St Vincent Millay, "Spring"
You that have snarled through the ages, take your answer and go.
—G. K. Chesterton, "The Pessimist"
Gummi Space: Olympus Coliseum
Yuffie had been wriggling in her seat for the past several hours. It had taken them about two days to travel to the Olympus Coliseum, and in that time, she still hadn't figured out exactly what she would say to Squall that would explain the obvious lack of a Gummi ship crash landed in the Coliseum.
They'd be landing in ten minutes, and she still had no idea what she was going to say. How she was going to explain it.
If Cid had been wrong, or if the man Sora mentioned had already left, Squall was going to kill her. Hell, it was very possible that he'd kill her before they even found out.
Squall looked up from the console. He peered over at her, his expression wary. "You're fidgety. Even for you."
She forced a smile. Didn't bother hiding that it was forced. "I'm not exactly looking forward to this, you know."
He looked back down, tapped a few keys. Olympus loomed before them, large in the viewscreen behind his head.
"You didn't take as much advantage of being in charge as I expected you to. Is this mission why?"
She forced a shrug. Fought not to run. "Just let it rest."
His gaze sharpened on her, but he said nothing.
For the first time in her life, she wished there was equipment—or something that could be added to equipment—to render the wearer immune to specific magic or elements. Like, say, Ice element. Normally, she dodged spells the same way she dodged physical attacks... But when Squall got it into his head to cast Blizzaga until his head exploded, there was no dodging. No ducking. For all his weapon was unwieldy, for all he relied too much on it, he was by no means a slouch at magic. She was going to end up a Yuffiecicle. And then he was going to cut her to ribbons.
Yuffie hunkered down in her seat and clapped her hands over her mouth. Partly to assuage—or at least contain—her nausea. Partly to keep Squall from seeing the expression on her face.
She really, really was not looking forward to this.
Olympus Coliseum: Underworld
In two decades of time in the Underworld, Vincent had learned quite a bit of its workings. For example, Hades had a habit of getting whatever he wanted. If Pain and Panic didn't trip over themselves to provide it, the dank caves would rearrange themselves.
So when he moved from the entrance and into Hades' chambers rather than the cavern where Auron had once fought Cerberus, he wasn't particularly surprised. It didn't even startle him as much as it once had.
"Sorry, Vince, needed ya for a sec," the Lord of the Dead informed him in a casual mutter that didn't sound apologetic at all.
Vincent didn't bother to correct him. He'd been feeling lethargic for over a year, and before that, he'd been so tired he'd felt it in his bones. If he didn't start eating regularly, he would enter a state of hibernation.
Instead, he merely lifted an eyebrow—a monumental effort—and asked, "Yes?"
Hades put his hands to his temples and turned his hair red, flame red, for a moment. Vincent fought not to think of Reno. The impression of the red-headed TURK vanished as Hades rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Look, I got a lot going on. We've got a Gummi ship about to land--a Gummi ship belonging to those pals you like to avoid so much--and Pain and Panic aren't speaking to each other and the Fates are yack yack yacking about your Thread again and, to top it off, Cerberus claims Auron's planning another escape attempt."
Vincent nodded. With Hades, as he once had with Yuffie and Cait Sith, he generally simply listened and waited. Whatever Hades needed him for would surface eventually, most likely in the form of direct address. If the Lord of the Dead wanted to rant, he'd most likley rant at Pain and Panic. Who evidently weren't speaking. That was interesting, though not as interesting as the fact that Hades had been warned about Auron's escape plan.
He refused to react to Hades' hint. He would not worry about it. He would not allow any emotion to leak into his expression.
Hades eyed him for a moment and sighed. "Look, tell Auron that whatever he's planning, it's a bad idea. And I get the feeling that the kids from Radiant Garden are here on hero business. The Fates are saying that your Threads are inching toward each other again."
Vincent blinked in surprise. His lips parted, but for a few moments, he couldn't find any words. His fate was rejoining AVALANCHE's.
"What does their 'hero business' have to do with me?"
It was a question Auron might have asked, he knew.
Hades merely gave him a dubious look. With a sigh, he motioned Vincent closer. "Are you feeling okay? You've been slowing down, slowing way down, for about a decade now."
Just to irritate his captor, because that was one of the few pleasures left to him, Vincent answered with a riddle. "What happens when the immortal body tries to die?"
Hades muttered something about 'one hand clapping' and then grunted something unintelligible. Probably, he was murmuring in Greek. At length, he looked up and said, "Fine, fine, you're dying and slow, I get it. Your Thread's crossing Radiant Garden's again, and now they're sending people here... seems pretty obvious they're connected. They'll probably want to see you."
Inwardly, he recoiled in horror at the very idea. At his best, he was a monster. A hideous, dangerous creature. And he hadn't been his best in more than twenty years.
He didn't want AVALANCHE to see him like this. Wasting away to nothing. Skin gone dry and cracked and shriveling to his bones, muscles atrophied until taking a few steps exhausted him, his eyes glazed and his hair thinning. And pale, even paler than he'd been before he'd come here.
No. They'd be terrified. They'd probably think he was in league with Hades.
Auron had really gotten the better end of the deal, he thought bitterly. Un-death had the advantage of stagnation. He was not subject to the foibles of mortality.
"I don't want to see them."
"They're probably gonna come pounding in here, demanding to see the guy in the red cloak. I'll have to at least admit you're here somewhere. And then they'll go looking for you."
Vincent bowed his head, thinking frantically. He didn't want them to see him. The last thing he needed was their disgust. After a few moments, he sighed and looked up. "Very well. If they ask for me, then tell them I will only consent to meet them if they cannot see me."
Hades rubbed his hands together. "Ooh, I get it. You wanna stay in the shadows? Pull a Fates?"
He didn't let the barb affect him. Made sure his voice stayed calm, unmoved. "Can it be arranged?"
The Lord of the Dead raised an eyebrow, then allowed, "For a price."
"I'll give Auron your message," he said, quietly. "And I will attempt to delay his plans."
"Good enough. Consider it done."
Vincent nodded and left the chamber. He took only one step and found himself where he'd intended to go: the very entrance of the Underworld's caverns.
Olympus Coliseum: Coliseum Entrance
The rebuilt Coliseum was magnificent. Tall, gleaming white marble that swept upwards in simple elegance. The building was utilitarian, but there was an undeniable grace in the pillars that held up a functionally lovely roof.
Yuffie didn't pause to gape. As soon as she felt the sand under her feet, she launched into a forward handspring that turned into a somersault. It was kind of a stalling method and kind of a celebration at being out of the Gummi ship.
The sunlight was hot on her back, the sand warm under her fingers. She never wanted this moment, with Hercules laughing and Squall watching her with something like amusement, to end. Especially since she knew what had to come next.
Oh, hell. In for a pebble, in for… Something else. Something shiny. (Materia? ) A gem! In for a pebble, in for a gem!
"Heya, Herc!" She waved her right arm over her head in a ridiculous span. "Has Sora been training in your Coliseum?"
She tried to ignore the fact that Squall was poking around at the sand and craning his neck to look up at the Coliseum roof. He was going to figure it out soon. He wasn’t always the brightest shining lightbulb, thanks to his general depressing demeanour, but he wasn’t dumb by any means. A cunning old fox, their Squally Wally. Even ignoring him, she watched him out of the corners of her eyes.
Hercules gave her a blank look. As if he'd never even considered that Sora might want to train with them, as if Squall didn’t matter. Then, slowly, he shook his head. "No. There aren't any tournaments, yet. Ares still hasn't given this place his blessing."
Gods. Who needed 'em? Yuffie didn't snort at the blatant silliness of blessing a coliseum. Instead, she turned to look at the cave that led to the Underworld, temporarily losing sight of Squall. She looked back at Hercules and raised an eyebrow.
The immortal hero nodded. "Sora spends most of his time down there."
There was a faint clink behind Hercules. The sound of Squall's belts jingling together as he shifted his position. She looked up and found that all the amusement was gone from his face. He'd crossed his arms over his chest and was leaning his weight slightly backwards. Yuffie's heart sank like a swiftly sinking thing.
"So if he'd met a man in a red cloak, then it'd have been in the Underworld."
Hercules looked behind himself. When he turned back, his expression closed down for a moment, but then turned sympathetic. "What's eating him?"
Might as well be honest with the guy. "He's figuring out I lied to him."
He gave her that kicked-puppy-disappointed-hero look and she wanted to scream. She didn't, though, she simply thanked him for his help and ignored the fact that Squall was moseying in the Pissed Lion Swagger Stride, moving toward her, past her, and going to stand by the Underworld Entrance.
Squall's immediate response, as soon as she was close enough, was to snarl, "What's this about a man in a red cloak? I thought we were here about a Gummi crash. Which, by the way, doesn’t seem to exist."
Yuffie spread her hands. "Cid told me not to tell you, but Sora may have found a lead on Cloud."
"And that's why you're in charge." There was an unspoken Because Cid didn't trust me in there somewhere. She could see it in the hurt in his eyes. His expression quickly turned stoic.
"And that's why I lied to you. He didn't want you to know, because you'd tell Aerith--don't give me that look, we both know you would--and Aerith would tell Tifa, and then if the lead didn't pan out..."
"So both of you knowingly lied to us."
Yuffie raised her chin. "Yeah."
Squall stared down at her. He wasn't a particularly tall person, but he was taller than she was, and there was something intense in his eyes as he watched her face.
At last, he said, "All right. I'll let it slide."
She chose not to respond to the unspoken This time.
Hercules shifted, clearly uncomfortable. "Are you going to go and meet him?"
She looked to Squall, who looked back at her. Neither said anything, though Yuffie stuck out her tongue and pulled at the skin beneath her right eye. Eventually, when it was clear that Squall was taking her leadership seriously (and of course he was; he took everything seriously), she said, "Yeah, let's go do that."
Olympus Coliseum: Underworld
An indignant teenaged squawk that bespoke of menace, sharp pointed objects, and ninja smoke for whatever obstacle she’d encountered echoed through the innumerable passages of the Underworld.
“What do you mean, we can’t see him immediately?!”
Hades spread his hands. “Sorry, kid, but he was real specific on that point. Doesn’t want visitors to see him.”
“You mean we can’t talk to him at all?”
The Lord of the Dead waved his spread hands. “No-no-no-no-no. That’s not what I meant. You can talk to him, but you can’t see him.”
The teen crossed her arms over her chest, trying not to shiver in the Underworld’s cold and her habitual lack of clothing. “That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, Lord Corpseface.”
Beside her, Squall shifted his grip on his gunblade, changing the position of hips just a fraction. His leather gloves creaked, the leather belts made leathery rustlings. He was slowly moving from Look Pretty Mode to Look Threatening Mode.
Hades ignored Squall thoroughly, giving her his most solemn, skull-faced glare and turning his hair red at her nickname for him. “Look, our pal Vince isn’t exactly what you call mentally stable.”
Our pal Vince. Vincent... His name was Vincent V-something, and how she knew that she wasn't sure she wanted to know.
Part of her wanted to ask, 'Does he have red eyes?' The rest of her wanted to enter in a tournament and let the adrenaline rush push her hatred of this place away.
Squall changed his footing, so he could get maximum thrust into his attack, when he decided to try to cut his way through Hades' bullshit. "So, when can we see him?"
Hades rolled his eyes upward, but then suddenly looked back at her. He steepled his hands. "Actually, now."
"Exactly what did you need to ask me?" The voice trod the line between 'low tenor' and 'high baritone.' There was something aristocratic to it, educated and cultured.
Yuffie and Squall both whirled around, trying to pinpoint the speaker's location. Squall had the gunblade down and ready in an instant, moving it even as he turned. Yuffie's weapon took a little more time to retrieve, but by halfway through her first sweep of the room, the Four-Point was in her right hand and ready.
"Don't bother," Hades said, leaning back on his stone throne and placing his feet on a convenient stalagmite.
Red eyes flashed in the darkness. Yuffie prepared a Thunder spell. Just in case he wasn't friendly. "You won't find me."
"Why don't you want to be seen?" Yuffie asked, at the same time Squall asked, "Who are you?"
"I am Vincent Valentine."
Squall inched toward those red eyes. A pale glitter along his gunblade told her that he was preparing his favourite spell: Blizzaga.
"How do you know Cloud?" Yuffie edged toward the man, her Thunder just barely beginning to show as static electricity in her hair.
"We worked together once." There was something endlessly sad in that voice. He sounded tired and despairing.
Squall asked, "As mercenaries?"
That was how Cloud had been surviving, before he'd come back to them the first time. It would make sense, maybe. Heh. Not dumb by any stretch, not their Squally Paully.
The red eyes moved, as if Vincent were shaking his head. "As heroes."
Squall's voice turned hard, colder than the Blizzaga he so obviously wanted to cast. "Cloud hasn't been a hero in a long time."
"This was longer ago than you think." The voice gave a long, deathrattle sigh. It turned even softer, even sadder. "That was another life. Another world. It's over now."
Yuffie squinted into the darkness, then allowed the gathered magic to dissipate. Whoever this guy was, he wasn't worth fucking with. Kicking people when they were down just wasn't her style, anyway.
But still, for Aerith, for Tifa, she gave it one last shot. "So you can't tell us where he is now?"
"Most likely where he is needed."
Squall took a deliberate step forward, let the Blizzaga witchlights on his gunblade fade away. "Where he's needed is Radiant Garden."
The red eyes disappeared for a moment. As if he'd closed them. But then they reappeared. "I cannot help you. I have not seen him since he returned my cape and gauntlet to me." A pause, a sigh. "Look for Sephiroth. He is most likely trying to destroy him."
"Nothing we didn't already know," Squall muttered.
The eyes flashed brighter, but Vincent said nothing. And then he--well, his eyes--faded away, into the darkness, and then the darkness faded with them.
"Well," Yuffie said. "You think he sat up all night working on how to be really cryptic for us?"
Rather than address the question, Squall turned his dry, wicked sense of humour on her. "I think he could have done without the special effects."