|Hero of the Day
Author: SilverKnight PM
They saved the world. That's all that matters...right?Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Adventure - Yuffie K. & Cid H. - Chapters: 12 - Words: 61,404 - Reviews: 68 - Favs: 35 - Follows: 15 - Updated: 02-04-07 - Published: 10-28-01 - id: 436181
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
So. Yeah. It's been...okay, a long ass while. Hee. I told you I was chipping away at this, but WoW steals souls, and so does work and real life stuff, and... Eh, well, needless to say, I don't write much anymore. I'm not entirely sure I even like what I've added here (since the first part of this has been sitting on my hard-drive for over a year now), but I had to write something. And given that Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus were both released since this last part came out, this has officially gone the route of AU-ville, which sucks, but what can ya do? C'est la vie.
Anywho, I know all of you have forgotten the story, so for the sake of clarity, here's a short recap list:
Cloud: Back's injured, is still whacked out in the head.
Tifa: Back's injured, is still a GI Jane busybody.
Cid: Side's torn up, got the crap kicked out of him in Kalm, suffering from nicotine withdrawl.
Yuffie: Shoulder's gone kaboomy, hip's a little messed up, suffering from severe exhaustion.
Red: Feet are broken. Still nerdy.
Reeve: Oh yeah, he's still in this one.
Barret: Technically fine. Very technically.
Vincent: Still possessed. Otherwise, normal by his standards.
Karter: Psycho-revenge guy that had his family wiped out in various AVALANCHE related attacks and wanted to kill Barret. Got shot in the arm by Vincent. I know everyone cheered when that happened.
Cas: Quiet, fairly girly follower who thought Karter was full of crap and decided to stand up for AVALANCHE.
Told you it was short. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII is property of Square-Enix. I write this solely for my own enjoyment, and intend no infrigement or profit from it.
Hero of the Day
"These are the fears that swing over heard
These are the weights that hold you down
This is the end that will never end
This is the voice of silence no more"
--Metallica, "Some Kind of Monster"
The sun slowly began its descent behind the Midgar mountains to the far west, casting a long, dark shadow upon the valley AVALANCHE trudged through. Yuffie peeked at the reddened sun as it was pulled beneath the ever-darkening horizon, and felt a strange kinship with its predicament. She felt as though she were about to sink into the ground at any moment also. Her adrenaline had long since dissipated from her system, leaving her body stiff, sore, and barely responsive. She didn't need to check anyone else to know they all were suffering from the same after-effects of battle fatigue and Crappy Day Syndrome. Everyone except Vincent, she corrected herself, but he was weird, anyway, so his physical state wasn't considered.
She held her right hand in an attempt to create a T, before remembering that her left arm was a stupid, good-for-nothing heap of a limb at her side, and instead decided to wave it by her head. "Hey, Cloud, can we take five or something?" she asked tiredly. "I feel more stiff than Vincent acts." She pretended not to notice his almost-but-not-quite annoyed look.
Cloud stopped and cast a quarter-glance over his shoulder, before his head swiveled around in a similar vein to a hawk searching for prey as the wind tugged at his wild locks of blond hair. "This isn't a very safe place to camp for the night..."
Ignoring him, she dropped on her rump, tugging her itchy jacket tighter around her. "Well, we either camp here or you drag my unconscious ass to the spot you want, Spike my boy, 'cause I'm not getting up until I get my beauty sleep."
Barret snorted. "If that's the case, we gonna be waitin' twenty years 'fore you ready to go."
"Better twenty years than the three thousand you'd need," she retorted blandly, squirming her lower body around to create an infinitesimal more comfortable groove in the grass. She hadn't even absorbed that its length now dwindled to only a few inches instead of the three foot monster stalks of the grasslands surrounding Kalm. They must have covered a lot of ground during the day.
Barret, his feathers sufficiently ruffled, prepared a litany of poorly dictated verbal abuse to hurl her way, when Marlene, still in that old lady's grasp, held out her hands and yelped, "Daddy, your temper!"
His coal black eyes darted her way, his mouth closing with reluctance. He settled for whirling on his heel, crossing his arms and stamping his foot on the ground angrily as he muttered under his breath.
Cloud fully turned to face his comrades, his azure eyes appraising everyone's condition in a matter of seconds. Resigned, he shrugged half-heartedly, latching a hand at the back of his neck wearily. "Well, I guess we camp here for the night, then." On cue, everyone in the troupe seemed to collapse to the ground where they stood, save for Vincent, who Yuffie could only guess slept hanging upside down on drainage pipes when in lieu of a coffin. "Who's going to take first watch?"
"Do you really have to ask that?" Yuffie quipped.
"Are you volunteering?" Cloud questioned in reply.
She shook her head once. "No."
"Then yes, I do," he answered in a clipped tone, running the hand on his neck up the back of his skull and down again in agitation and weariness. She also thought she saw him wince in pain, but she had been seeing stranger things today than that to truly take stock in it. She needed civilization. Even Wutai was beginning to look promising. She needed -
"Miss Elmyra," Marlene mewled, "I'm hungry."
The ninja's stomach eagerly gurgled its agreement. She needed food.
Cloud sighed and rose to his feet sluggishly with a small grunt of effort, flinching at his back. "If you're all willing to wait a bit, I'll go catch something to cook."
"With no weapon?" Barret asked. He then removed Red from across his shoulders and laid him on the grass with a small pat on his side, standing. "Shi't, I'll go hunt us some food. You jes sit yo scrawny ass on the ground and worry 'bout makin' a fire to cook that bi - " He glanced at Marlene, sheepishly clearing his throat and correcting, "Er, big hunk of meat on." He gaped at the wiry blond and snorted, "'Sides, man, you need to eat somethin', anyway. You a damn toothpick."
Cloud refused to dignify the statement with words, merely blowing a small puff of air from his lips and shaking his head as he began searching for kindling.
Rude pulled his glasses from his face - when and where he recovered them was beyond Yuffie's current capability - and idly began cleaning them with his dress shirt. "We need water," he added bluntly.
She swallowed, realizing how parched her throat felt. Damn him and his bald head. Her gaze caught the original AVALANCHE members tiredly. "Are there any lakes or anything nearby?"
Tifa shook her head, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "None that I know of. We stocked up in Kalm the last time we came through here."
She groaned, dropping her head to her knees momentarily. "You couldn't make it easy for me and say 'yes', could you?"
"Sorry, Yufe," Tifa apologized good-naturedly.
She raised her head from its resting spot, staring at the brunette through her messy, greasy hair. She needed a bath. "But there's gotta be water around here! It's gonna take days to reach Chocobo Billy's, and I know I don't have days in me. I'm almost ready to cork it right here."
"No corking under my watch," Cloud replied sternly as he inspected a twig and tossed it aside. "Besides, I'm pretty sure there's a rest-stop at the base of the cliffs. If we get up early tomorrow, we should be able to reach it by noon or so."
Her eyes suddenly lit up. "You mean, there's some kind of fancy hotel thing sitting in the middle of nowhere, with food, and water - and oh my God a shower! - and we're just sitting here? Why?"
He glanced at her, a wry expression brightening his features. "Because I recall someone suggesting we either make camp here, or - how did they put it? - 'drag their unconscious ass to the spot I want'." His face became slightly contemplative. "Now who said that...? I'm afraid I don't remember."
A devious smirk curled her lips. "Yeah, you wouldn't."
His gaze caught hers and held it there impassively as Cid began hacking in an attempt to cover up his laughter. There were times that she believed Cloud could give Vincent a serious run for his money in the 'Stony Glare of Death' department. Vincent would, of course, crush him every time, but Cloud could contend for a while; long enough to maybe swindle Cid and Barret out of some of their cash in a rigged bet of some kind. Her focus drew inward. Now that had possibilities...
She quickly shook her head and filed the thought away for a later date, rolling her head back along her shoulders to crack her neck. Distantly, she observed thick gray clouds passing over the mountains, stained a dark purple from the fading twilight. "Okay, then what's the battle plan, kemosabe?"
He sighed, standing straight and scratching his head. "This really isn't a good place to camp. There's not enough to provide adequate kindling, not to mention the lack of a water source - "
Cas, studiously silent for the duration of trip and easily blending into the background, raised a frail hand, timidly suggesting, "There are bound to be streams or ponds of some kind near the base of the mountains nearby; if need be, we could head there." His green eyes darted around and attempted to gauge AVALANCHE's reactions.
Cloud crooked his head to the newcomer. "Who are you?"
Cas, to his credit, didn't shy away from the mercenary's near-perennial disquieting gaze when it was leveled on him. He smiled thinly, brushing a few auburn hairs from his ashen face. "My name's Castille Luther; I'm a survivor from Midgar." He chortled softly. "I was sort of tossed in all of this AVALANCHE business when I disagreed with Karter's method of 'justice'."
The mercenary huffed and nodded. "I saw that much. What set all of that off?"
Cid, off to Yuffie's right and leaning idly on his elbows, chimed in, "Yeah, brat, what the hell'd you do?"
She snorted. "I didn't do anything! You wanna know what happened? Barret was in the same ten mile radius as Karter, that's what happened." She rubbed her index and middle finger in circles on her temple. She needed aspirin. "He turned around, saw Barret, and bam, everything went to hell - " She snapped her fingers. " - Just like that."
Cas turned his emerald gaze upon her. "Karter started the fight?"
She nodded, hiding the effort it took to haul her head back into an upright position. "Barret may be a loud-mouthed hot-head that always seems to pick fights with everybody just because he likes being a jerk, but...wait, where was I going with this?"
Cloud shook his head at her and regarded the meek brunette with guarded curiosity. "Why did you bother to help us?"
Cas sighed, his delicate fingers absently tugging at the fraying edges of his gray coat. "Because, if what Yuffie says is true, then it means that you've been framed for everything, and that you're being hunted unfairly."
She glanced away and muttered, "Actually, AVALANCHE wasn't framed for everything."
He looked at her oddly. "What?"
Tifa and Cloud simultaneously locked heated glares upon Yuffie, who was too exhausted to pay them any attention. Cas' inquiring stare rounded the three and asked, "What do you mean?"
She smiled acerbically. "Turns out that all the crap they pulled before Sector Seven was true."
"Not all of it," Tifa snapped defensively, her heart-shaped face hard. "Shinra has been trying to frame us ever since we first showed up."
She pressed her lips into a thin, annoyed line. "And who's fault is that for claiming responsibility in the first place?"
"Then the bombings would've had no meanings; they would have been seen as random acts of violence from sick people," Tifa explained.
She scoffed dismissively. "Oh yeah, slapping a name-tag and a line of unexplained rhetoric really cleared things up."
The brunette glowered, her gaze uncomprehending and slightly hurt. "Why are you having such a problem with this now? You've known about all of this."
She shrugged as best as she could manage. "Let's just say it didn't really sink in until we got to Kalm."
Tifa's chocolate brown eyes became flint. "And you saw just how many fans AVALANCHE had," she extrapolated, her feathery voice embittered.
Yuffie shook her head. "It wasn't like that." Tifa tossed back the same disgusted snort the shinibi had made seconds prior. She sighed, her patience and stubborn will beginning to buckle under the weight of the stress heaved upon her unprepared shoulders. "Look, I'd heard bits and pieces about AVALANCHE on the news while in Junon. When I'd met you guys in the forest, I didn't know who you were, I didn't care - I just wanted to stay on until I could steal your materia. By the time I really started to know you guys, we were already waist deep in this crap, and I just figured everything I heard was Shinra spin. I didn't know you'd actually blown stuff up before."
Tifa's expression softened moderately, the ice partially melting from her voice. "I didn't really like the idea of bombing the reactors, either, but it was the only way to stop the Mako production. Do you really think Shinra would have stopped if we'd stayed within legal boundaries? They made those boundaries to keep people from stopping them."
The teen drooped her head tiredly, her eyes scratchy and bloodshot as she rubbed at them with her remaining grimy hand. "I know, it's just..."
Unexpectedly, Vincent stepped forward and stared down, past his thick red cloak and golden claw, his blood red eyes befalling her. "What's the matter with your arm, Yuffie?"
She blinked and forced her neck muscles to obey, her brows knitting together as she tilted her head to the side. "Huh?"
His cool gaze flitted to her left arm and back to her face. "You've yet to move it."
Realization dawned sluggishly. "Oh." She gawked at her motionless arm, staunchly secure in its large, silk-lined pocket. "I hurt it when we crashed."
His expression didn't change in the slightest, and yet, Yuffie somehow knew that he was frowning in thought. She needed to see a shrink. "Remove your jacket, and I'll tend to the injury," he ordered, coming to her side in two long strides.
Blinking again, she complied as best and quickly as she was able; slipping her right arm easily from the oversized polyester coat and gripping her opposite wrist to remove it from its resting place before repeating the process with her left. Peeking over her shoulder, she tossed the heavy garment at an oblivious Rude and smirked as it flopped listlessly over his head. "Be a peach and hold that for me, will ya? You can use it to keep your big melon head warm in the mean time." He yanked it from his face and dropped it to the ground like it were a piece of grungy trash. She sneered at him and turned back.
Vincent inhaled a fraction faster than he normally would have. Curious at what was, for him, an amazing emotional outburst, her acute ebon eyes came to rest on her shoulder, and her lips immediately curled back over her pristine white teeth in revulsion. "Oh, grossness!" Her shoulder was visibly swollen with liquid and discolored in an odd mixture of greens, blues, and purples that sprawled from her collarbone down to her elbow.
Cid grimaced, uttering, "Jesus Christ, kid, what the hell did you do to your shoulder?"
She attempted a shrug. "I told you, I hurt it." She shot him an accusatory glower. "And it got this way because you lead us in the way you did."
His smoky blue eyes narrowed. "If I hadn't lead us in the way I did, you'd be dead right now, so unless yer ass wants to land the plane the next time it's about to crash, keep yer goddamn trap shut."
Even she had to admit she deserved that one. She sighed and bobbed her head from side to side, giving him the silent victory.
The others had also taken note of her shoulder's sorry state, their expressions ranging from a notch above indifferent (Rude), to genuinely shocked (Tifa). Vincent's face was a clean slate as always, and was thus exempt from her scrutiny. He squatted at her side, the metal of his boots digging against each other with a small squeak. "Your shoulder has been dislocated."
"Well, duh, I kinda figured that much. Is that why I can't feel my arm?" she asked. "Because this whole bum limb thing's really starting to piss me off. It's getting in the way of my crazy, ass-kicking ninja antics. Who ever heard of a one-armed ninja, anyway? I mean, seriously now."
He shook his head slightly, patiently bearing with her rambling. She needed sleep. "Endorphins will lessen the pain, and the swelling will limit movement to prevent further damage, but your arm shouldn't be numb." His unwavering, penetrating stare wandered over her shoulder and down her arm to her fingers, and then to her backside. Gingerly, he lifted his human hand - man, what was it with this group and people with one normal hand? - and pressed it at a point below her shoulder.
Suddenly, every cell from the tip of her fingers to her clavicle was consumed with flames. She wailed, "OwowowowowowowieowiegetoffvinnygetoffvinnyGETOFFVINCENT!"
In reality, his fingers had only made contact for a second, and left as soon as she began protesting, but she didn't care about that at the moment. All she knew was that two days' worth of pain just came screaming into her dead weight of a limb and she was extremely unhappy with that arrangement. "What did you do that for, you big jerk!? That hurt!"
The porcelain mask that passed for his face never cracked. "I believe your shoulder-blade is broken," he reported calmly. "That could be why your arm is numb."
"My whole arm?" she demanded.
He appeared skeptical, or about as skeptical as the pallid, emotionless gunslinger next to her could outwardly get. "Can you move your hand?"
She guffawed. "Move it? I can't even feel it."
"Concentrate," he advised smoothly. "Try to move your fingers."
She clenched her jaw and did so, staring adamantly at the short, thin appendages and trying to will them to move with no success. Just when she was about to tell him that she wasn't getting anything, she discerned a dull tingling from her palm. Closing her eyes briefly, she centered herself on the muffled sensation, amplifying it in her mind to the point where she thought she could feel every single nerve-ending pulse from her wrist on down. She opened her eyes and frowned.
Her index finger twitched, then mechanically wiggled in slow, jerky movements.
She smiled brightly. "Ha! Take that, stupid motor functions!" The toothy grin faltered. "Feels kinda weird, though; sorta like my hand's wrapped in cloth or something."
"It will recede soon enough," he said. His red eyes flickered to her backside again, and for a split second, she feared he would poke her again and cause all that fire to rekindle in her muscles and veins. Thankfully, his thick and calloused hand remained resting on his thigh.
Yuffie forced an impish grin. "So, Doc Valentine, what's the prognosis?"
He stared flatly at her, pausing only briefly before he replied, "From what little I can gather, it's a clean enough break, and will heal quickly enough, however, it will become necessary to re-break the bone in order for it to set and heal properly."
Her eyes went wide. "What!? Oooh no, you're not getting anywhere near my back with that nasty claw of yours! Or anything, for that matter."
Off to the side, Elmyra lifted Marlene and took the small child for a small stroll out of earshot. Reeve shortly followed.
Vincent pivoted to stare at Rude, his long hair slipping from the safety of his back and hanging in thick black waves. "You have a First Aid kit."
The Turk shook his head. "Not enough for what you're planning to do."
Vincent returned to his previous position, his ruby eyes flickering about for a moment in thought. "Cid, may I have your jacket?"
The blond tugged at the torn collar of the ratty green overcoat he currently wore. "Ya mean this? Hell yeah, you can burn it, for all I care!" He wrenched it from his body and haphazardly threw it in Vincent's direction with a flick of his wrist. "Good riddance to the damn thing. Itches like hell."
"Whoa, whoa, wait," Yuffie began, her soft voice wavering uneasily. "You just told me I broke my shoulder-blade - and you wanna break it again?" she hissed angrily, her hand curled into a tight ball at her side.
"Yuffie, calm down," Tifa eased.
"No, I will not calm down!" she yelped, shooting a mistrusting glare at the gaunt figure next to her. "This is stupid!"
Vincent grabbed the rough green cloth from the grass and laid it across his leg. "Cid, would you also be willing to assist me in setting Yuffie's shoulder?"
The pilot shrugged. "What the hell, why not?" He stood and strode towards her.
Her almond-shaped eyes widened further, panic-stricken. "Hey, come on, why are you all ganging up on me, here? I'm the injured one! Gang up on Tifa; she's healthy!"
Vincent sighed quietly . "Yuffie, the wound has been left alone for too long - "
"Not like that's my fault."
"If the bone's already began to mend, leaving it in that state could render your left arm completely useless," he continued, undeterred. The mask warmed a shade. "And like you said, who's ever heard of a one-armed ninja?"
"The corpse's got a point, kid," Cid said with a minute nod in Vincent's direction as he halted in front of her hunched form, gazing at her. "Like it or not, it's gotta be done."
Yuffie apprehensively stammered, "But...it just sounds really stupid to break a bone that's already broken in the first place."
If she didn't know better, she could have sworn she saw sympathy and compassion from the old crusted bugger, but she dismissed it on the grounds that her overworked and undernourished mind was playing tricks on her again. "Yeah, I know," he grunted, pointing to his swollen, bloody, and taped-up nose.
Instantly, she recalled a few hours earlier how Cid had tentatively placed his blood-caked hands on either side of his mangled nose and roughly snapped it back into place with a sickening crunch. After Vincent dully remarked that it was bleeding profusely and mentioned a First Aid kit, he'd snarled, "No more goddamn First Aid kits. Gimme a damn tissue; I'll be fine." Five minutes and a good motherly scolding from Tifa later, he quickly bandaged the tender area, swearing and grumbling the entire way. Vintage Cid.
And now there they were, going to do that same thing to her shoulder-blade. Miraculously, she resisted the urge to both lose consciousness and expel the contents of her stomach on the soft grass she sat on. Tifa - sweet, lovable Tifa - seemed to sense her misery and patted her on the knee once with a kind, calming smile.
Never in her life did the shinobi want to punch out someone more.
Cid now knelt by her left arm as Vincent brandished his claw, gleaming faintly in the dying light, and shredded the coat into long, thin strips. The dark-haired gunslinger motioned to her arm as he tore another free, declaring, "Hold her arm out and keep it steady." His crimson orbs flitted to her as he tied the strips together tightly at the edges. "Yuffie, try to remain still while I bind it."
She spared a confused glimpse at her bloated and multi-colored shoulder. "Wait, aren't you at least gonna pop my shoulder first?"
Cid gawked at her. "Ya really want us to pop your arm back in its socket when you've got a broken shoulder? One, that's gonna hurt like hell; two, that's stupid because it'll eventually pop back anyway; and three...well, it's gonna hurt like hell!"
"You already said that," she grumbled.
He grunted. "Did I also mention it's stupid?"
"I didn't say it twice."
"You did just now."
"Brat." His hands found her wrist and elbow, and carefully, he lifted it so her upper arm was nearly perpendicular to her side, her forearm bent as if it were laying on an arm-rest. Determined not to make a baby of herself, she refused to cry out in pain, even though hellfire erupted from her shoulder and flared at every tiny jolt or movement the gruff pilot made while he held it there. "You okay so far, kid?"
She could only nod stiffly, as she was too busy gnawing a hole through the inside of her mouth to verbally reply. His thin and chapped lips wilted into a concerned frown. "Don't worry," he mumbled to her, attempting an encouraging smirk, "once ol' Vince here gets you patched up, you can lay on Red's furry ass and sleep to your heart's content."
Red sniffed in mild protest. "I do wish that you'd consult me before coming to these kinds of decisions." His golden eye moved to his own paws, which Barret had been kind enough to set and bandage before setting out to Kalm the other day. "...Never the less, I understand Yuffie's plight, and would be happy to assist in any way possible."
Yuffie's eyes clouded over, the four-alarm fire burning in her shoulder slowly cooling. Sleep. How she missed it so. "Really? I could use you as my personal fluffy pillow?"
Red flashed her a few sharp fangs. "Given the discomfort you are about to endure, I couldn't refuse, even if I wanted to."
"Y'know, you people really suck at offering comfort," she groused. "All this doom and gloom talk about how painful fixing my shoulder's gonna be really isn't making me look forward to it."
Tifa grabbed her free hand and squeezed it in her strong, gloved grip. "If you need to tear anything to shreds, feel free to use my arm," she offered with a affectionate grin.
Yuffie's nose wrinkled at the thought. "I'm not Red, I don't need a scratching post."
"Nor do I," the furred creature clarified.
She snorted half-heartedly. "Sure you don't, cat-boy. I saw those claw-marks on the Highwind."
Cid echoed her scoff. "You couldn't even see straight when you're on the Highwind."
She scowled. "Just because my head's stuck in a barf bag doesn't mean I'm not aware of my surroundings."
"So how come you're never aware of the railing when you toss your goddamn cookies?" he demanded.
"Because I think your engine room could use a feminine touch," she retorted sourly.
Cid began to reply, but stopped short when his attention was drawn behind her. "The hell're ya doin', Vincent?"
Yuffie craned her neck, another bonfire starting up by her collarbone, to stare at the ex-Turk. His massive rifle was unholstered and laying upside down across his lap as he hunched over it, fiddling with the trigger mechanism. Her heart suddenly pounding, she hesitantly voiced, "Uh, Vinny...y-you're not planning to shoot me or anything, are you?"
"I mean, because I'm not some lame chocobo with a bum leg or - " She cut herself off with an annoyed snort. "Okay, so...what are you doing?"
"Dismantling the Death Penalty," came his answer from beneath the jungle of tangled black hair.
"And why are you doing that now, of all times?" she questioned slowly.
"You need a splint," he reported, tugging the lacquered wooden stock from the shaft and laying it by his foot. "There's nothing nearby that could hold your arm upright, ergo, I plan upon using the barrel of my rifle."
"You're what?" Cid squawked incredulously. He shook his head and then chuckled. "Well, I'll be damned. He must really like ya, brat, if he's givin' up his favorite shotgun."
"Rifle, and this is most assuredly temporary," Vincent stated matter-of-factly. "As soon as we come upon a proper medical facility, I will be taking it back."
She wrinkled her nose. "Good; I wouldn't want your stupid rifle, anyway. It smells like moss and dead people." The pale figure tilted his head up, one red eye peeking through a waterfall of obsidian. "But, uh," she backpedaled, "it's a really good scent, and it fits perfectly with you! Er, I mean..." She slumped her shoulder with resignation. "Oh, screw it. I'm injured and whacked out. You know what I mean."
Vincent's eye vanished beneath the disheveled black curtain without acknowledging her frenzied attempt at a thoroughly half-assed apology. He shifted his grip to either end of the delicately carved blue steel barrel as he held it out in front of him, and with nary a sound, he tightened his fingers around the metal tube and began bending it.
For the second time that day, Yuffie's jaw dropped, rendered mute.
Cid whistled appreciatively. "Damn, Vince," he uttered, "I knew you were strong, but I didn't know you were that strong."
"There are a lot of things you don't know about me," the pale gunslinger countered, concentrating on angling the metal properly.
A heavy weight tugged at her ribcage as she watched him continue to effectively mutilate his own prized weapon. She didn't feel herself important enough to warrant all this fuss, and especially over something so idiotic as a broken shoulder. She'd dealt with it perfectly fine to this point; it made no sense why they were all so concerned over it now. Still, the teen kept it to herself. They were hell bent on it, so there was no point in even bringing it up. Frowning, she asked, "Is there any way you can fix that back up? After I get a real splint, that is."
He nodded wordlessly, inspecting the angle carefully. Laying the barrel upon his lap, he picked up a lone green strip and hastily wove it around the smooth, glinting steel, blanketing it in a polyester cocoon. "Tifa, would you hold this against Yuffie's side while I set the bone and wrap it?"
"Sure thing," the brunette replied cheerfully, scampering next to Cid and sitting with her legs tucked beneath her.
The shinobi closed her eyes tightly against the incoming pain, her sense of feeling kicking into overdrive against her will. Tifa pressed the tube against her side, the bend of the metal jutting into her under-arm in the most aggravating way while the rough cloth scratched against her exposed skin. Dammit, that chain-smoking old-timer was right - it did itch like hell. Her shoulder burned as the pilot lowered her arm a bit to rest more dependently on the makeshift splint, his hands still securely clasped around her wrist and elbow.
She heard the soft rustling of fabric and grass as Vincent settled himself behind her, delicately bracing her arm with the palm of his claw, and despite how creepy it was knowing that those sharpened, yellowed talons were curled around her bare flesh, the icy metal felt good against her inflamed shoulder. A portion of her discerned how desperate she must have been in order to find solace in that, but the rest of her quickly told the voice of dissension to go piss off; she was terrified and was willing to take whatever meager snatches of comfort she could find.
God, she needed sleep.
"Prepare yourself, Yuffie," Vincent murmured. "I'm sorry to do this," he said softly, the words almost drowned out in the natural rumble of his baritone.
She nearly opened her eyes to gape at him. Vincent wasn't the comforting type. She gathered that he was exhausted also, in his own vampyric way. This whole ordeal had put a strain on everyone -
Yuffie heard the snap before she felt it, and, ironically enough, felt the scream before she heard it. In other circumstances, she might have found that funny. At that moment, though, her overtaxed, agony-hazed mind was doing its damnedest to keep from completely shutting down; only distantly realizing that she was bawling like a little kid that scraped their knee after falling from their bike. She didn't care. It hurt. Everything hurt. She was tired, and she just wanted the pain and stupid Life to go away so she could get some sleep. Was that so much to ask?
"Yuffie, you have to hold still," Vincent ordered, his arms underneath hers awkwardly as he tightly wound the bandage around her torso for the fifth time.
"This sucks," she moaned dismally. "I'm so tired, I just wanna curl up into a ball and sleep. Is that so bad? A lousy night's worth of sleep?"
"It's alright, Yuffie," Tifa said soothingly, "once Vincent's finished, you can go to sleep. Remember?"
"Yeah, the furball said you could use him as a pillow," Cid reminded her.
"No, you said that, Red was just nice enough to agree," the ninja whimpered.
"Eh, whatever," he grumbled. "But, don't worry, kid, we're almost finished - aren't we, Vince?"
"Goddammit, Vincent, I'm tryin' to cheer the kid up!" he snapped. "It ain't like her to get all...weepy and shit. It's creepin' me out."
She sniffled disdainfully, her right hand wiping at her eyes furiously. "Well, excuse me, Highwind, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. This friggin' hurts." She glowered at Vincent's hands as they weaved smoothly around her body, and mumbled, "You better not be copping any cheap feels."
"I wouldn't dream of it, Yuffie," Vincent answered calmly, quietly adding, "believe me."
"What's that supposed to mean?" He shook his head in what she was amazed to distinguish was the barest hint of levity. Maybe he wasn't such a stiff, after all. Either that or she had officially gone insane. "Do you think this is funny?"
He shook his head again, becoming little more than a shadow in the descending night. "No, I don't find this situation funny." He pursed his lips in thought, winding the cloth across her torso and around her upper arm. "Though, I have to admit, I do find your reactions somewhat amusing."
She balked, utterly blind-sided. "You...you're laughing at me?"
"Do I sound like I am?" he replied evenly.
"You think this is funny!" she screeched, attempting out of habit to slam her fists down angrily, but only succeeding in setting fire to her back and shoulder again. She settled for stomping on the ground. "I can't believe you!"
"Don't worry," he reassured her blandly, "you 'll look back upon this in ten years and laugh."
"That's not the point!" she barked, craning her neck to glare at the chalk-faced silhouette. "How could you possibly think this is funny? You, who wouldn't know a good joke if it bit you in the ass!"
"Just because I rarely show a sense of humor doesn't mean I don't have one," he expounded, the weak mirth in his angular features being crushed by the weight of his words. "I never wanted to laugh at your pain. I only found your reactions amusing in the context of the situation we're in. Nothing more."
"You have a really weird sense of humor, you know that?" Yuffie griped. He tugged sharply on the makeshift bandage, causing her to yip in pain. "And that was unnecessary."
"The bandages must be tight if they're to hold properly." He yanked again. She bit down on her thin lip again to keep from crying out. As it was, a strangled mewl came from her throat. "I'm almost finished."
"Thank God," she huffed, looking upward with squinted eyes. The thick silver clouds stood out against the deep blue-black of the sky as they steadily rolled overhead. In spite of everything, she smiled. "We really did it, didn't we?"
Cid tilted his head back in a quick glance above them. "Guess we did. Too bad nobody else knows that. I could be gettin' piss drunk right now with Barret and Vincent - " Vincent harrumphed in poorly-concealed sardonic incredulity. " - instead of bein' stuck out in the middle of Bumfuck, Nowhere scroungin' for food and water like dogs." He spat on the ground, sneering, "I hate stupid people."
"You can't dictate what other people think, Cid," Tifa drawled warmly, an understanding smile curving her mouth. "No matter how retarded their opinions may be."
"Shinra seemed to do a pretty damn good job of it," he grumped, dropping his face to his shoulder and hacking. "And now it's comin' back to bite us in the collective ass. Fuckin' Shinra."
Yuffie winced in pain when the gunslinger pulled a third time, her eyes wandering aimlessly over her upper arm as his organic and metallic fingers spidered over it. Sluggishly, it dawned on her that he was tying the remainder of the cloth into a knot; weaving the olive green strip under and over in a strangely hypnotic fashion. She began to hear the sweet siren call of sleep beckoning her, and she had almost given in when she came to a startling realization. "Hey. How the hell am I supposed to sleep with this thing, anyway?"
"Very carefully," Cid answered astutely.
She curled her lip in a half-hearted sneer. "Oh, ha ha, very funny." Vincent quietly finished up beside her and disappeared into the night without so much as a sound. She was too preoccupied with glowering to notice or care. "There's no way I'm gonna be able to sleep with my arm all strung up like this! Are you sure this couldn't have waited until later?'
The battered pilot rose to his full height with a prolonged wheeze, deftly hiding his small stumble as he got his bearings. "I hate to break it to ya, kid, but it is later, so it's best that me and Vince took a look at it before you screwed it up worse than it already was."
Her sharp ebony eyes zeroed in on what she could see of his bandaged side through his threadbare flight jacket, and frowned. "Maybe you should've taken a look at yourself, first."
Quizzically, he glanced down at himself, brushing aside his torn coat to see the gauze at his side splotched with crimson. He snarled, "You're shittin' me. Dammit, I can't catch a break."
The ebon-haired teen flashed him a cocky grin, exhilarated that the medical focus was now taken off of her. "I don't know, old man, it looks like your nose caught plenty."
He shot her a pointed glare. "Goddammit brat, this ain't a joke! I could fuckin' bleed to death!"
Rude silently held up a white plastic box, emblazoned with a bright red cross.
The beleaguered pilot's expression darkened. "Not a goddamn chance in hell, cue ball!" he exclaimed, pointing to Tifa accusingly. "And don't you even say anything! I'm sick of damn First Aid kits!"
The brunette, in turn, smiled knowingly. "I don't have to say anything, Cid. You already know that - "
"It's not happenin', Teef," he interrupted tersely.
Her slender eyebrows pulling inward, she stood with a huff and grabbed the white box from Rude's fingers with a quick swipe. "Don't be such a baby, Cid," she chided sharply. She popped the plastic locks and shoved the lid back, dipping her hand into the shallow box and pulling out a small blue packet. "See? A cold compress to numb the thing, so it won't even hurt when I go to stitch it up."
Cid gaped at the compress. "There's one of those things in there? Why the hell didn't that Turk chick use one on me then?"
Rude plucked Yuffie's stolen overcoat from the ground, wadded it up, and threw it against the back of her head, outwardly ignoring the way the teen yelped in protest. "Elena thinks you're a grotesque, chauvinistic pig."
"Fuckin' women!" the blond bellowed, scowling. He glanced at Tifa's dour expression and hastily added, "I didn't mean you."
Yuffie chuckled and sat closer to Red as Tifa waved the pilot over to her and ordered him to sit. Giving her makeshift wrap a loathing glare, she gingerly rested her good shoulder upon the lion-creature's warm, furry backside. "Uh, I appreciate this, Red," she said clumsily, shifting to provide a bit of support for her dangling left forearm. "And, uh, y'know, thanks."
If he was surprised at her expressing gratitude, he didn't show it. "You're quite welcome, Yuffie."
Satisfied that she was as comfortable as she was going to get, she laid her head on his torso, immediately lulling into a half-stupor at the slow, steady thump of his heartbeat and rhythmic rise and fall of his chest. "You're a good pillow..." she murmured dazedly.
"I'm heartened to hear that I'm sufficient," he replied, amusement in his rough voice.
Her eyes slipped closed. "Will you always be my pillow?"
He paused momentarily. "...I can't promise that I will always be available, but if there comes a time that you should seek me out, I won't turn you away."
She smiled broadly, so much so that her cheeks hurt, and for the life of her, she couldn't understand why. "Cool." She yawned, and involuntarily snuggled her cheek into the soft red fur. "Night."
"Good night," he responded softly. "Sleep well."
Yuffie took the words to heart, and was snoring softly in less than a minute.
Cid stared at his blackened piece of meat, sticking out of his grasp like so much charcoal, and sadly had to remind himself that this was the first 'home-cooked' meal he'd had in weeks. Gnawing through the tough jerky, and biting down his gag reflex when his taste-buds immediately rejected the flavor, he glanced around the campsite to note that he and Cloud were the only two still fully awake within the small oscillating circle of dim fire-light. Barret, off by Elmyra and Marlene, tried to maintain the appearance of awareness, but failed every time his head drooped to his chest.
God knows what this thing was when Barret dragged it in, but he wasn't about to complain. His stomach rumbled happily that it was finally getting a meager amount of sustenance, which by extension made him happy. Then his gash, or his nose, or the various wounds and aches that had settled in his aging joints would pulse in pain, and he would remember just where the hell he was.
This situation was, at best, a royal crap-fest. At worst, it was a goddamn nightmare of which there was no escape. Neither option sounded particularly appealing to him. The pilot sighed wearily, tilting his head to the side in the hopes that it would alleviate the knot that had started to form between his shoulders. "The kid was right," he grumbled.
Cloud's azure eyes, reflecting the weak flames with a surreal clarity, flickered up to him. "Yuffie? About what?"
Cid inhaled as deeply as his wounds would allow, letting the fatigue have its way with him for a moment before shoving it away again. Shifting in the cool grass, he answered, "It wasn't supposed to go down like this." The mercenary's rounded face tightened a fraction, and the elder blond held up a hand to silence his incoming protest. "I know, no use thinkin' about it and all, but...God, this is too fucked up to be really happenin'. If people really do think we called Meteor, then there ain't place on the goddamn planet that's gonna be safe for us. For any of us."
Cloud's expression flattened to imperceptibility, his gaze roaming the unseen horizon in the veil of night. "It won't be as difficult once we find a temporary place to stay," he stated quietly; careful not to wake the others. "A day or two at the rest-stop, and hopefully we'll all be in good enough shape to decide what each of us will do next."
Cid snapped out of his stupor with a jolt, his foggy mind grinding into action. "Wait, wait, what?"
The ex-SOLDIER frowned. "The fight's done, Cid. Sephiroth is dead, Meteor is gone, Shinra's destroyed. Game over." He shrugged dismissively and took a chunk off of his charred piece of meat, continuing through bites, "Besides, we can't travel in a group anymore. A group of ten or twelve is a lot easier to spot than a pair."
"We still got a hell of a lot of people lookin' for us," Cid countered; the dancing light darkening his chiseled and wearied features. "We still got that fuckin' psycho Karter out for our blood, and God help us if he has a working PHS and the number of anyone within five towns of here. What if we're goin' it alone when that happens?"
"We don't know he has one," Cloud stated.
"We don't know he doesn't," he rebuked sharply. The knot in his back coiled more tightly around his spine. He ignored it. "Listen Spike," he began, "I know what yer saying, and it makes sense - except if it goes wrong, we're screwed. I know ya don't wanna hear it, but with us - especially with us - the shit hits the fan a lot more than I'd like to admit; a hell of a lot more than I wanna think about. And if it hits the fan anytime, it's gonna be when we're alone and have jack for a way out."
"So what do you suggest we do?" Cloud asked simply, his cool blue eyes boring into his. "Hide in a cave for a few years until it all blows over? All twelve of us?" A small, sour smile tugged at his thin lips. "We'll hunt Midgar Zoloms for food and boil swamp water. We'll turn the monsters nearby into pelts for blankets and clothing. Sound like a good idea, Cid?"
There was a distinct, biting harshness to the younger man's ordinarily light tenor that both surprised him (more accurately, it knocked him flat on his ass), and on the same note, utterly pissed him off. Not one to play the punching bag willingly, he decided to hit back. "That sounds like the kinda comeback Sephiroth made to the newbies who asked stupid questions during training." He felt the slightest hint of dark satisfaction as Cloud's eyes widened; the shot rang true and hit square on the bullseye. "And I'm no goddamn green recruit, Spike, so watch it."
The younger man recovered quickly, as was usually the case with him, and a grizzly frown twisted his features. "It's too dangerous to stay together for long. I don't want to put us in a situation like Kalm again. I'm not killing innocent people."
"Hey, Cloud," Cid scoffed bitterly, "nobody's keepin' ya here. If you wanna go - " He shrugged and flicked his wrist dismissively. " - Then go. I won't stop ya."
"Damn it, Cid, that's not what I mean - !"
"Hey, you two mind shuttin' the hell up for five damn minutes?" Barret snapped irritably, wiping the sleep from his eyes groggily. "'S'far as I'm concerned, none'a this shi't means a damn thing right now. First thing we gotta do is get to a safe place. Then we worry 'bout who's doin' what and where." His glare travelled between them both wildly, waiting for some form of acceptance. "Well? What y'all say?"
The pilot groaned quietly and gingerly laid on his back, tossing his half-eaten hunk of blackened meat onto the matted down grass. "I say it's bullshit," he groused, "but the hell with it. I'm not worryin' about it."
"It's too dangerous," Cloud insisted urgently.
He rolled his eyes, mumbling under his breath, "Yeah, whatever." His ribs twitched painfully as he rolled onto his side, tucking his arms beneath his head. "I'm goin' to sleep." Closing his eyes, he heard the mercenary sigh and splutter in exasperation before he did the same.
His eyes cracked open and gazed at the dying embers of the campfire, searching for something - anything - that could offer him even the slightest measure of comfort or solace. Yes, they achieved the impossible, saved the world against all odds, but for what? This? Plagued by doubt and fear, wondering if he could ever even step foot in his home again without it or Shera being attacked -
A powerful surge of panic curled through his innards and slowly inched its way up. Cid knew Shera for years; she wouldn't believe any of that crap, would she? She met with AVALANCHE, invited them into their home, flew with them in the old '26. She wouldn't buy into Shinra's line of bull, she couldn't.
But would anyone else in Rocket Town? Would that lunatic Karter be able to track them down? Would anyone else try to use her to get to him?
He inhaled sharply, clenching his jaw when the wave of flame engulfed his entire mid-section. No, he told himself resolutely, there was no point going down that road. He couldn't afford to think on those terms, not in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of other people facing the same problems. Barret had the right idea. It was best to head to the rest-stop tomorrow and sort it out then; worrying in the waning fire-light was only a waste of energy. He closed his eyes again and felt his muscles relax as sleep moved to claim him, but one thought still persisted above it all.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Heroes weren't supposed to fear the people they saved.
Marlene squirmed apprehensively in the loose, but comforting grip of Elmyra Gainsborough. Ms. Elmyra was a nice older lady, and she liked being around her; especially now. Everything was changing, twisting and curling into things she couldn't recognize or understand. They stared at her, openly daring her to react and cry, but she wouldn't. She was too big to cry.
But she wasn't big enough to fight, either, and that scared her. Not so much when Ms. Elmyra was here, because she knew just what to say and do to keep her calm and happy, but even during those times, there were little things that wouldn't add up in her young mind. They were bits and pieces of the world that the elder woman, try as she might, couldn't hide from her. Daddy always told her she was 'perceptive'.
Well, sitting in the all-encompassing darkness with only the limp, fleshy arm of Ms. Elmyra tossed over her shoulders, she perceived that she wanted to move, but was scared to wake Daddy up.
Marlene slid out of Ms. Elmyra's thready grasp and woozily stood, hastily straightening the skirt on her pink dress. For a second, she wondered what was so great about the color pink, but that made her think of the flower lady, and she didn't to feel sad on top of scared. One was bad enough. Holding her arms tightly against her chest, she quietly stepped out of the camp and headed near-blindly into the darkness.
"What are you doing?"
She squeaked and whirled around, her worn sneakers slipping on the forming dew; falling into the wet grass. A silhouette lethargically rose from the surrounding blanket of darkness, looking like nothing more than a large blob of black. She said nothing, biting her lip.
The silhouette stepped closer and knelt upon the ground. At that distance, she barely made out the chalky complexion of Vincent. "I didn't mean to frighten you."
A lot had been scaring her, lately.
"Where were you going?" he rumbled softly, his face cool but inquisitive.
Marlene gulped a bit, stammering, "I-I needed to..." She shrugged impishly, her face burning from the blush as shyness crept up on her.
His gaze remained trained on her, silently prompting her to continue.
Looking away, she hunched together; hiding some of her face behind her hands. "...Go to the...the bathroom."
Vincent blinked, his expression going comically blank. "Oh." He pursed his lips in thought. "It's dangerous out here; you should ask your father to go with you."
Despite herself, she immediately recoiled from the idea. She didn't like being scared of Daddy. But he put that big gunarm next to her head, pointed at Elmyra, said he was going to blow them both to pieces, and...
Marlene shuddered. Too many things were changing. "I don't want to."
His ruby red eyes flickered with something she couldn't understand. Glancing away for a few seconds, he bowed his head in thought. "Someone has to go with you," he said, meeting her gaze again.
She straightened her posture and jutted her chin out. "I'm a big girl. I can go on my own."
He simply stared at her, unwavering.
Her chest deflated, feeling the blush warm her cheeks again. "Can you go with me?"
Vincent flinched minutely and sighed, leaning back onto his haunches with feline grace. She figured it was his version of fidgeting when being asked a question he knew he didn't want to answer. Marlene felt bad, but she didn't want to ask Daddy. She didn't want to be near his gunarm again. "Please?" she asked.
He didn't move for another few long seconds, before his broad shoulders slumped downward. Soundlessly, he rose to his feet, holding his hand outward. "Lead the way."
Relieved, she sprang to her feet and started off without preamble towards a suitable 'bathroom'. Then she paused, turned around, and wrapped her arms around the lean gunman's legs in a quick hug. "Thank you."
He went deathly still at the contact, and made no move to acknowledge her gesture other than gape down at her in bewilderment. "I...you're welcome?"
She let go quickly and scampered into the darkness. She hoped Daddy wouldn't be angry at asking Vincent to go with her instead of him, but Vincent was a nice man. She used to think he was scary, also, but after the bad people in Kalm, he didn't look so bad anymore.
And his fake arm didn't shoot people.
Marlene shook her head, continuing on. Maybe with Vincent and Ms. Elmyra, she wouldn't have to be so scared of things. Maybe him, and Cloud, and the others, they could keep her safe.
She was tired of being scared, and Daddy wasn't enough anymore.
To be continued…