~ Hi-hi everyone! Throughout the week I may be making little changes here and there to the beginning chapters. No major plot changes, mostly just reformatting to how I originally intended it to look, with the italics instead of the {...} for thoughts, and so on. Also fixing my annoying old habit of 'otaku speak', since I don't use it very much anymore, and I feel it detracts from the overall story. I'm leaving the ^%#* in for major expletives, though, in light of the game doing it. Sorry for the major MAJOR time lapse. I will try and update more quickly from now on. In fact, number 23 is already started. ~



The sun shone brightly upon the large and verdant jungles of Mideel, casting a soft and nearly greenish light upon the town below, the lush and rather exotic scents of the plant life flowing along the breeze. It mixed in with the scent of the nearby sea and the hot springs of which the town was so famous for and created a glorious atmosphere of relaxation for the inhabitants. However, none of this impressed Yuffie in the slightest. All she could focus on was the fact that it was hot, and it was humid, and bugs were everywhere. She smacked another mosquito that she swore was the size of a baseball, swearing loudly.

"GAWD the bugs here are killing me!" She fumed, stomping angrily at the ground and crossing her arms. Or rather, she would have, were she not still cuffed to her companion, instead only succeeding in flinging his arm to her chest.

Vincent seemed to ignore where his arm had landed, although Yuffie swore she saw his hand twitch slightly. "I fail to see what you want me to do about that."

"I dunno, scare 'em off or somethin'! Maybe shoot 'em if they get too close, you gotta be good fer somethin' other than just hangin' off my arm." She shot him a sideways glance, her voice teasing.

"Hm," He seemed to ponder her words, a slight smirk creeping upon his too pale face. "I suppose. However, I was under the impression that a ninja of your caliber did not require such protection."

"Wha... Dang it, Vinnie, bugs are different! They're..."

"Easily dealt with by local repellants made by the shops here, one of which offered us free provisions?" He sounded entirely too amused at her suffering for her tastes, however he'd used her favorite word in the entire world and therefore was forgiven his transgression.

"Oh yeah! That's right, isn't it? Free stuff here I come!" She cheered as she tugged him along the road to Jake's Item Shop, fully intending to make good on his promise. After all, she had saved his life. Though I guess Vinnie helped a little...

Jake's Item Shop, as the sign labeled it, was quite the interesting store, to say the very least of it. Jars of unidentifiable substance and origin littered the shelved walls, jumbled along with bowls of thick pastes and powders of every conceivable color. She had expected a place like this to smell quite strange, with the assortment of concoctions, however, he noted it smelled vaguely like a tea shop instead. She looked around, no Jake or his little clone in sight.

"Hello!? Hey it's me, Yuffie, girl that saved yer life!" At Vincent's somewhat bemused look, she added: "Oh, yeah, and my sidekick Vinnie."

"...I told you I do not-"

"YUFFIE!" Vincent's mild protest at being labeled her 'sidekick' was cut off abruptly by a blur of brown and blue as a young boy threw himself at the young ninja, nearly knocking her back. In fact she would indeed have hit the floor, had Vincent not seen this sudden attack of gratitude and braced her by sliding his hand to support her back, his unnatural strength keeping her upright, even though it bent her arm just a bit uncomfortably.

"WHOA there, kid! Gah!" She leaned back against the hand that supported her, quite grateful for it, as having had not only this bundle of energy but also Vincent as well having toppled onto her was not how she wanted her morning to go. "Uh, it's Jake, right?"

"Yes ma'am!" The unfortunately plain Jake replied, a large grin plastering his slightly dirty face. "I was just waiting for you to come back! You're my biggest hero, you see!"

"Ow," She pushed him back off of her a bit so she could straighten her arm out again, the metal of the cuff beginning to bite into her skin there. "Yeah, that's me! The great hero of the Planet, Yuffie Kisaragi!" She grinned at him, her ego swelling at having such an enthusiastic fan, plain and grubby though he was. She pointedly ignored Vincent's gaze on her.

"Oh yes! I bet you're a super-cool ninja hero, too, you know! You've got all those neat ninja-y things, you know? Oh wow, I gotta tell my dad you're here!" The boy rushed off to find his rather absentminded father, at least from Yuffie's impression of him. Really, to have been in his profession for as probably long as he has been and still fall into damn quicksand...

"He's a smart boy," She told Vincent, grinning widely. "Definitely knows his super-cool ninja heroes."

He looked almost ready to roll his eyes at her, though instead simply sighed. "Do not forget why we are here in Mideel, Yuffie."

"What, you mean it's not fer a romantic get-away of just the two of us and our kinky bondage games?" She shook her arm, the chain clinking together as she gave him a sly glance. She was rewarded by his face coloring very slightly.

His flustered response to her was cut off, however, as the shopkeeper walked into the room, absolutely beaming at them. "Why hello there, heroes!" He smiled. "I am quite glad you stopped by, you know! Goodness but you look like the bugs have simply eaten you alive, Miss! If I could offer you some salve..."

Yuffie looked around at the strange jars and the even stranger pastes and wondered if the bugs were really all that bad. Then she saw one of the massive mosquitos hovering about outside the grungy window, casting its ominous and, dare she say, even insidious shadow against the glass and nodded quickly. "I would love it, definitely."

"Oh how wonderful! I made a fresh jar of it this morning, you know!" He grabbed up a jar from the shelf and handed it to her, thankfully one of the less frightening concoctions. In fact, it looked quite a bit like harmless lotion. Yuffie breathed a sigh of relief as she took it.

"Thanks," She slid it all over her exposed body, which was quite a bit of skin indeed, feeling Vincent's gaze on her the entire time. In fact, he'd been looking at her a lot since the night before, and she wasn't sure his interest was completely platonic, either. She ignored it for the moment in the interest of mixed company, but she was so calling him on it later.

"Whew! That stuff smells pretty good, you want some, Vinnie?" She proffered him the jar, grinning.

"I have no need of it. The bugs do not seem interested in me." He flipped his long ebon hair cooly, in a way that rather annoyed her.

"Not like yer showin' any skin for 'em to get to..." Indeed, the gunman was wearing the same outfit he always wore, despite the fact that it must have been two-hundred degrees, at least according to Yuffie's internal thermometer.

"Mm, I suppose not." He agreed, saying no more on the subject. Yuffie sighed.

"Anyways, about those free supplies..."

They spent several minutes indeed with Yuffie zipping around the store and having Jake explain what, exactly, everything was and if it was useful. She learned that quite a bit of the more disgusting jars were catalysts for creating more powerful versions of other potions, and wasn't sure she liked the idea of having gulped that kind of goop down when knocking back an X-potion, but results were hard to argue with. Vincent kept her from simply cleaning him out of all the expensive items by citing that they really didn't have the room to carry everything, and not to be ungrateful, this shop would always be available to her in the future. So she settled on all the usual and useful supplies while only taking a few little extras.

"What's this?" She picked up a very ornate little bottle, that rather looked out of place amongst everything else. The bottle alone looked like it would fetch some nice money.

"That? Oh, it's a perfume I was working on, you know. Back when I was hoping to get into the tourist market." He rubbed his head at bit, mussing up his already messy brown hair. "They sold very well, but, that was before the Weapon disaster, and I seem to have forgotten how I made them. That's one of the very few that I managed to recover in decent condition after my shop was destroyed, you know."

"Why not just break it down and figure it out? Can't you potions people do that? The ones in Wutai can, anyways." She spun it around in her hands, opening the top and spraying a little on her wrist to smell it. Even despite the bug repellant, which smelled quite pleasant, actually, she could clearly smell the perfume's delicate fragrance, but couldn't quite make it out. Kinda flowery...

"Well, I suppose I could, but I'm not interested in it anymore." He seemed to be leaving something out, and Yuffie wasn't so interested as to bother prying. She placed the perfume back on the shelf.

"Excuse me, but, you would not happen to know of any suspicious structures in the area, perchance?" Vincent didn't seem unduly interested in the perfume either, however that certainly hadn't come as any surprise to Yuffie. "Perhaps an abandoned laboratory of some sort?"

"Oh, I'm afraid not." He carefully polished the fingerprints from the little bottle. "Not much in the way of civilization out this way, aside from Mideel itself, you know."

"Oh! Oh! I know!" Little Josh jumped up and down excitedly, waving his hand in a definite 'pick me!' motion. "I stumbled across this really weird wall on the island just across the inlet there, you see! It's kinda creepy, really, so I didn't land and check it out, but, it's like a castle wall or something and totally suspicious!"

"Oh, that's right, I remember you coming home and telling me about that now! Haha, how could I forget? You were so worked up, you know!" He turned to them, beaming. "He wouldn't stop talking about pirate strongholds all week after that. He's such an imaginative boy, you know."

She exchanged a glance with Vincent. "Hrm... what do you think, Vinnie? Sounds fishy to me."

"Totally fishy!" Josh agreed, nodding vigorously. Yuffie noted he was actually quite similar to how she had been at that age. Maybe all hope was not lost for the poor boy.

"At the very least it is more of a lead than we had before." He moved to run his hand through his hair, but stopped upon noticing her hand moving with him. "In addition, would you happen to know a locksmith?"

The shopkeeper blinked as he regarded their situation, as though just now noticing it. "Oh! Oh dear, a game gone awry, I see? Goodness but that must be awkward, you know!"

"Gawd yes, I know," she grimaced, though in truth she'd there were times she found she didn't really mind it at all, and at least it kept him from vanishing on her.

"Oh! Did you get stuck while playing Cop and Robber?? Or the Great Hero and the Evil Overlord?? Obviously Miss Yuffie was the good guy, because you're dressed just like the villain, Mister!" His eyes lit up, obviously wondering why he'd never though to incorporate handcuffs into "Great Hero and Evil Overlord" himself. Yuffie found herself snickering at his assessment of their situation, as well as Vincent's arched eyebrow at the thought of Yuffie being anything other than the thief.

"Why there's one on the shop below mine, in fact," Jake smiled lightly, shushing Josh, who was continuing to speculate on what game they must have been playing. "I'm afraid his prices are a bit steep, but he is the only one in town."

She considered this, her eyes darting along her arm and to Vincent's, gazing upon the shackles she had tried thus far unsuccessfully to pick, since she lacked both her picks and full ability, being that she herself was cuffed. "You know..."

"Price aside, we are getting these removed." He told her firmly, as he dragged her out the door.

"But it's not that bad, really! C'mon, you know you love being close to sexy little me all the time!" She grinned mischievously as she took his arm in both of hers, clinging to it and batting her large stormy-gray eyes up at him. He paused in mid-step, then pressed onward, seeming to ignore where this put his arm in relation to her body.

"You are perfectly capable of doing that after we have taken care of our problem," he scowled as he drug her into the shop, Yuffie pouting as she let go of his arm.

"Finnnee, I guess, but I don't like that 'steep prices' talk."

"You will live."

After having finally been released from the shackles, Yuffie rubbed her wrist and marveled at the incredible feeling of freedom she hadn't even noticed was missing until this moment. Sure their pockets were severely lightened, but, Yuffie'd had to admit that the locks had been very tricky, to a degree that the locksmith had practically had to destroy the internal mechanism to release them, especially the one around Vincent the Yuffie herself had been unable to pick. She turned to Vincent, who she could tell was similarly relieved to be released.

"Hey, Vinnie, let's go get lunch!" She grinned as she turned to face him, having been marching in front of him, her spirits high at the combination of freedom and protection from nature's most vile creations of the jungle.

"...I suppose we might as well. But then we are going immediately to investigate our lead, with no other side-tracks, is that understood?" He crossed his arms, something she could tell he missed being able to do, because he was certainly doing it a lot. She rolled her eyes.

"Finnneee," She agreed, then lead them to a likely looking café, where they were soon seated and waited on. She ate her food quite eagerly, enjoying her ability to do so without incurring Vincent's ire at her habit of waving both of her arms about while doing so in various directions to reach everything she wanted. "So, going to miss yer excuse to be in the same room as me during baths? Also, you got no excuse to not let us go to the hot springs now."

He regarded her quietly for a moment, while he thoughtfully chewed on his food and then swallowed, the ghost of a smirk forming on his handsome face. "Is that a hint of disappointment I hear in your voice in regards to the first question?"

"W-what?? Don't be silly!" She turned a bright red, though privately had to admit she was just a little disappointed. Just a teeny bit! Gawd! Stupid Vincent, catchin' that! "Like I'd be interested in hearin' you splash around in a tub."

"Oh? Mm, I suppose not." He left it at that, but seemed quite smug at her reaction in any case. She scowled and finished off her drink.

"ANYways, don't we have somethin' to check out?" She hopped up from the table and headed off, not entirely certain where she was going, but if it got her away from Vincent, she was fine with it. She heard his boots clinking just slightly behind her as he followed, and could practically feel the amusement dripping off him like an aura.

"And you realize, of course, the boat we need to procure is in the opposite direction."

"..." *She stopped suddenly, nearly causing Vincent to walk into her, though he stopped so close behind her that she could feel him barely brushing against her, making her shiver lightly. "Yeah, of course! I was... just takin' the scenic route! Yeah, see?? We follow this path here around and end up at the dock! Gawd, Vinnie, quit doubtin' me." She ran off down the path as he chuckled and followed her, eventually ending back up at the dock, though it had taken rather longer than Yuffie had hoped.

"Look, see?" She gestured to the cerulean waters of the ocean now in view, the island in question not very far from shore, probably no more than ten minutes away by a small skiff. "I told you so. And we go to sight-see. So nyeh!"

"If you insist." He wasted no more time in procuring a small rowboat and hopping gracefully into it. He turned his eyes to Yuffie, as she jumped in as well. "If you are going to become ill at any time, turn around. I do not wish to have to wash my clothes half-way there."

"I ain't gonna! Little boats like this are fine. It's the big ships that make me hurl." She plopped herself down and grabs the oars, indeed quite fine in something small like this, where she was controlling it herself. "Onward and away!" She cheered, always enjoying a good adventure. Vincent merely sighed and began rowing, not seeming convinced of her seaworthiness.

Fortunately for the both of them, Yuffie was quite true to her word and didn't become ill at all. In fact, it was quite a pleasant trip, the gentle blue waters of the ocean gently rocking the small boat as they rowed it towards the other, smaller island where this mysterious wall supposedly was. She watched Vincent rowing away in front of her, the warm tropical breeze rustling his long strands of ebony hair, and noted jealously that he didn't seem to be sweating much at all. She felt like she was going to bake. How he managed it with his thick, dark clothing, she didn't even want to ponder. He seemed to notice her watching him.

"Is everything alright?" He paused to slide a strand of hair away from his eyes, where she could barely see the very faint beginnings of sweat at his brow. She scowled a bit.

"Not a bit. I'm only dying of heat over here, nothin' major."

"Very good. Let me know if something important develops." He returned to rowing, scouting the perimeter of the island, since the wall was apparently visible from the water.

Yuffie bristled at this. "What! I'll have you know that's a very important development!"

"You told me it was not."

"I... You..... shut up!" She scowled, glaring at the much-too amused gunman. She really wasn't certain if he liked him better when he joked with her or not. He'd certainly become much more open with her. Not entirely a bad thing...

He did so, though mostly to concentrate on his scouting. They rowed slowly in the shadow of the large, tropical trees until finally something different appeared, a glimpse of vine-covered gray stone barely visible at first, then once noticed, sticking out quite drastically. It was quite an imposing wall, especially to a child, and Yuffie could understand why it had riled little Josh up so much. She stared at it hard, her head tilted slightly.

"Huh. You think that's the right place?"

He examined it critically, rowing the boat up to the shore and hopping out, securing it to a tree by the rope as she joined him on land. "It certainly looks as though it's made of the same type of material. Let us go and see."

They trekked their way to the structure, circling around it as they searched for the entrance. They found it eventually, a relatively small door for such an imposing building, made of metal. Yuffie tried opening it, to find it quite securely, and predictably, locked. She stomped her foot and pouted.

"Damn it! Why can't they ever just open up?"

"Is this a serious question?" He examined the smooth metal door, then the surrounding wall quite thoroughly.

"No, not really. Wishing, mostly. I hate locked doors." She noted that the door looked much too well-maintained for this to be an abandoned facility, despite what all the vegetation overrunning it seemed to let on. She couldn't see any sign of hinges or a doorknob, either, indicating the truly annoying mark of a ShinRa styled door. There was even a little slot for a keycard."Ugh. I especially hate locked ShinRa doors."

"Hm," He rummaged about in his pack for a moment after giving the keycard slot a glance, pulling out a small materia. "They are not that bad, really. It is merely a matter of the proper electrical pulse." He slipped it into the slot on his bangle, the smooth stone glimmering in the gentle light that streamed through the leaves above. He stuck the tip of his metallic claw into the keycard slot and channeled the energies through it, until there was a dull tone emitting from the door before it slid up into the wall, exposing the dark hallway beyond as they were hit with a blast of cold air in stark contrast to the hot and humidity of the jungle. Yuffie sighed in relief.

"Man that's creepy. But oh Leviathan do I love that air," She started inside, followed very closely by Vincent, who had his Death Penalty out and ready for surprises. Yuffie followed suit, and pulled her Conformer from its resting place.

And together, they began their exploration of what was most certainly Cyrus's facility.

~*~ End Chapter ~*~

~I think I'll make a forum for this- if I have a medium to interact with readers, I think I'll be more motivated to keep this up. I feel terrible for going this long, but, life hands out funny events. Thank anyone who still reads, or stumbled upon this recently!~