Author's Note: Jeez, my updates are getting further and further between, aren't they? Don't worry, though. I have NOT lost interest in this story. I stay up at night wondering what else I can put Vin and Yuffie through—that's a lot of interest, especially for me. Special thanks to anyone who sent me doujinshi links when I requested them in Chapter 25 of Bound, those also really helped with this.

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Chapter Three: A Bird in a Cage

Akaru smiled as he placed once hand against the glass tank, surveying the slender blue-eyed man within. "Familiar, ne?" he inquired. "I read Professor Hojo's notes back when I joined with Shinra—that's how I found out about you and Sephiroth. I thought it would be nice to make this place as much like your old research center as possible."

Those sapphire eyes smoldered with rage, but the man said nothing in reply. Perfect white teeth clenched, hands curled into tight fists, rage emanating from his every inch, he remained silent.

"Oh, come now, Cloud," the red-haired Wutaian cajoled, "why don't you say something? Surely you're curious about why I've brought you here. You probably don't even know me, right? You don't understand why I would kidnap you, of all people."

Cloud's right hand flitted to touch his left, the place where he number should have been, and the glow in his eyes intensified. "I know why you need me," he said darkly, evenly, voice muffled through the glass. "It's because I'm a Clone. The last Clone."

Akaru let out a short laugh. "I knew you were smarter than that lunatic let on," he said, pressing both pale hands against the cold glass. "After all, you're still here and he's long dead…"

Cloud fell silent again, but kept his eyes locked with his captor's. It had been at least a month since he was abducted, and he still couldn't forgive himself for letting it happen. He had been sleeping one moment, under attack the next, and drugged an instant after. Whatever they used on him worked, and worked well—when he awoke he found himself in this glass tank. They had taken samples of his blood, fingernails, skin, hair…everything. However, he had to admit that this was better than his time with Hojo. At least Akaru let him keep his clothes.

Hell, the Wutaian—for he was most certainly of that descent—had even let him keep his PHS, though the young man never answered it. He did, however, listen to the messages left on his voicemail over and over again in the dark hours of the night, after all the scientists had gone home.

One from Tifa, two from Cid, one from Nanaki…most recently there was one from Vincent, and this was the one he listened to the most. Vincent was the closest thing to a best friend he had had since Zack, and the sound of his voice helped the blond keep calm even in such a situation.

As if on cue, the PHS vibrated once from its place tucked into his belt. He started and looked down, pulling it out and surveying it carefully. Vincent again. He had called a moment before, according to the missed calls list, but hadn't left a message. This time when the numberless Clone's voicemail picked up a velvety voice sounded. Cloud smiled, knowing that Vincent spoke too quietly for Akaru to hear through the glass, and listened carefully.

"Cloud," the gunner said, his voice so apologetic it almost hurt, "I don't know if you can hear me, or even if you have your PHS, but I think I've figured out what is going on. I'm going to your house, and from there I will find you."

A long moment passed, during which Cloud's eyes began to sting.

"Tell Akaru that his Watchers are dead." Another silence, this one considerably shorter. "I'll see you soon."

Cloud smiled at the click that denoted the gunner had hung up, turning his sapphire eyes on his captor. "Akaru-san," he said quietly, drawing on his slight knowledge of the redhead's native language, leaning both hands against the glass opposite the Wutaian's, "you are going to die."

- - -

Yuffie stopped in the middle of the street for the third time in as many hours, looking up at the house that served as one of her best friends' home. She knew she was tempting Fate, she knew it was dangerous on all sides for her to be here, but no matter how much she walked she always found herself back here. The windows were dark tonight, as they had been for the last three nights she looked for some sign of life, but there was no telling if he was home or not.

Cloud, as much as she hated to admit it, was a Sephiroth Clone. Who knew if he needed lights to see in the first place? And she knew he hated going outside since they killed Sephiroth; not that she could blame him. Where she had reveled in the attention she got from reporters the world over, Cloud most likely locked his doors and boarded up his windows until they left. He didn't want attention—he wanted to be what he used to be. Like Vincent, Cloud had been twisted and changed, and now there was very little left of him that was the little boy from Nibelheim.

He had told her this on their way back from the Crater, explained to her, Nanaki and Vincent why he wouldn't be going with them all the way to Midgar. Without Cid's knowledge, the Clone had taken a parachute and ditched in the middle of a field; they hadn't seen him again until about a month later, at Cid's wedding. Tifa had followed him back to his home in Costa del Sol, and things had gone bad from there.

Yuffie missed them all, but she felt that she missed Cloud the most. There had never been any romantic interest in him, but he was most certainly her best friend. She wondered if he was hurt by the fact that she never called.

To ensure that she wouldn't break down and call one of her friends, put them in danger such as she never wanted them to be in again, Yuffie had destroyed her own PHS. A simple Bolt did the job, but from there she had thrown a grenade and let the pieces fly all around the Gongaga jungle. It had been so long since then that she doubted she could key in Cloud's number anymore even if she had a communication machine.

But that didn't mean she didn't miss him like hell.

Turning to leave her place in front of Cloud's house, the ninja bit back a yelp and dove into the shadows between buildings. A man stood on the sidewalk—he had just come up the stairs from the beach, actually—that was too familiar to ignore. He was one of the Elite Watchers, the ones garbed in black chou-ran in place of sleeveless chiao-fu of a regular, and Yuffie had fought him before. He was the one Akaru sent when he wanted her brought back in a hurry.

Shichirou, she thought, recalling his name. But Akaru couldn't know that she was in Costa del Sol—there was just no way he could possibly have found out! And yet, neither could it be a coincidence that Shichirou was here, in front of Cloud's house. The ninja quirked an eyebrow as the man sauntered down the street toward the numberless Clone's home, looking once in either direction before heading down the street. As he walked, footsteps light but not quite silent, he looked up and down the street as though he were waiting for someone. He wasn't looking for her, she realized. If he had been, then Yuffie wouldn't have been able to tell that he was looking around at all.

Shichirou settled against the front porch, reached into the pocket of his slacks to pull out a cigarette, and placed it in his mouth before he began fumbling for a lighter. After a long moment with nothing, the man sighed exasperatedly and held up one hand in front of the cigarette. Yuffie watched in fascination as his hand began to glow faintly, the palm littered with scarlet light, and a tiny flame appeared in the air just over his hand. It hovered there, silently burning, for a long moment as the Wutaian lit his cigarette and took a long drag. He closed his hand around the flame and it went out instantly.

What the hell kind of spell was that? Yuffie wondered. There was no way it had been a Fire spell—those were far too powerful to be used for such petty things as lighting cancer sticks—but she hadn't seen him use any charmed objects—Items, people in the military called them—to call it either. Shichirou was not an Element Master, she knew that much. If he had been he would have used his skills on her a long time ago.

So then how did he call fire without the aid of either Materia or an Item?

The man exhaled slowly, smoke billowing from his parted lips, and Yuffie decided she really didn't care that much. She turned around slowly, silently, and started off down the alley between Cloud's house and his neighbor's. What mattered now wasn't how Shichirou had lit his cigarette, it wasn't why he was waiting in plain sight, it was the fact that he was there in the first place. There were Watchers in Costa del Sol.

The young ninja had to get to Ayana, and quickly. She had no clue where she would go from here, but it was better to run and be caught, she supposed, than hang around in the city's cage and beg to be taken back.

But he wasn't looking for me, she assured herself. He was waiting for someone, and that someone isn't me. He doesn't even know I'm here… As if on cue—a cue decided by some vengeful spirit who had a thing against Wutaian princesses—at that exact moment Yuffie slipped. There had been a storm the day Yuffie arrived, and she supposed this puddle was miraculously saved from evaporation by its place in the shadows of two houses. Miraculous. Right.

Anyway, the puddle was there and Yuffie slipped on it, stumbling back not into a trashcan or some other noise-making object, but a tabby cat. The feline did not screech, as it would have if Yuffie were in a movie, but rather leapt up and landed rather unceremoniously on the aforementioned trashcans. To make matters worse, whoever was in charge of stacking the metal receptacles hadn't done a very good job.

In other words, Yuffie slipped and ran into a cat, which jumped onto the trashcans and caused them to tumble down around the ninja's ears, loud and cacophonic as Barret's singing. Maybe even worse. Well he knows I'm here now! she thought frantically, breaking into a run before the last can had hit the ground. The cat bolted in the opposite direction, thankfully, so Yuffie wasn't concerned with stepping on it as she fled.

Not that she would have cared, of course. If the cat hadn't been there then all that noise never would have been generated in the first place. "And to think," she muttered, "that I actually love those hairy things."

- - -

Vincent froze in place, just shy of turning a corner, when a loud clang rang out in the otherwise silent night, followed by a discordant series of metallic crashes. Leaning slightly to look around the corner, he watched the dark silhouette of what was most certainly a cat rush out of the alley between Cloud's house and his neighbor's. Just a cat, causing so much noise? It made no sense.

His scarlet eyes slid back from the racing cat to the man standing just to one side of the alley. Even as the gunner watched, the man shook his head in annoyance and leaned back against the wall of Cloud's house. A faint scarlet light rose from his hand to his mouth, intensifying for a moment before lowering once more, and a puff of smoke marred the night sky. Vincent narrowed his eyes, the glow brightening considerably as his pupils tightened into slits, and focused on the stranger.

Black hair, dark eyes, black clothing—a chou-ran, not a chiao-fu. A Watcher, probably high-ranking, judging by the uniform and the fact that the last one he had encountered garbed in such an outfit was obviously the leader of the little strike force.

The gunner felt his heart, slow as it was, skip a beat. If Akaru had sent a Watcher to Cloud's house, that meant he, at the very least, had Cloud's PHS. And if he had it that meant he had Cloud—the failed Clone never set his PHS down. He was known for not answering it on occasion, or at least so Tifa claimed, but he carried it on his person at all times. Vincent Valentine felt one step closer to finding out what was really going on here, to verifying his horrible hypothesis. He wasn't sure whether to feel elated or uneasy.

Well, if there was a Watcher here he was most likely here to intercept Vincent. The fact that there was only one made the gunner worry—before there had been an entire group sent out after him and they had failed. Could this single man be more powerful than an entire group?

Only one way to find out, he thought with an internal sigh, standing straight once more. He brushed his long hair back over his shoulder and stepped around the corner. The Watcher immediately snapped to attention, facing the ex-Turk as he walked silently up the road, and the moonlight played off the man's teeth as he smiled broadly.

"You would be Sir Valentine," he said softly, voice holding only the slightest trace of a Wutaian accent. Intelligent, to speak in the common tongue instead of his native—Vincent could decipher that dialect and figure out what class he belonged to with only three or so words to work off if he spoke Wutaian. Common had no such differentiation.

The gunner was now only a couple yards from the Watcher. "I am," he answered quietly. "If I may be so bold as to request your name?"

The young man's grin broadened. "Shichirou," he replied easily.

Given name only, Vincent thought. Either he's an outcast or has a clan-specific family name. Looking the young man dressed all in black up and down, Vincent would be able to believe that this was a member of some noble house. But which one? Could he be another Inochigawa, one of Akaru's siblings? Or was he just a troublemaker cast out of his clan and stripped of his name?

Now was not the time to ponder on such things, the garnet-eyed man decided, flexing the claws of his metal hand beneath his cloak. "Shichirou," he echoed. "And I suppose you've been sent to kill me?"

Shichirou only smiled, dropping his cigarette to the floor and stomping it out. He placed both hands in his pockets and swiveled around, turning his entire body toward the gunner. He was completely unprotected, Vincent could strike him right now and everything would be over. Their fight would never have begun. The gunner, however, focussed not on the man's arrogant stance, but the smirk on his face and the glint in his eyes. There was more happening there, behind the dark gaze of the Watcher Shichirou, than even Vincent's Mako-enhanced vision could detect.

"I've heard stories about you, Sir Valentine," Shichirou said amiably. "People say you turn into a monster when you fight—not just symbolically, but that you actually change. Your bone structure rearranges and your entire body remolds itself in the blink of an eye, with nothing but a scream to herald it…" He let out a sigh, shaking his head, smirk still affixed firmly on his features. "I wonder how much of that it true?"

Now it was Vincent's turn to remain silent.

The Watcher chuckled. "Would you mind showing me?" he breathed, cocking his head slightly to one side. "Would you let me see the monster hiding under your skin?"

- - -

"Come on, you dumb bird!" Yuffie hissed, tugging on Ayana's reigns with all her might. "What is your freaking problem? We have to get out of here!"

The white chocobo warked quietly and turned her head, jerking Yuffie to one side as she faced a chocobo several stalls down. Yuffie turned, curious, and felt her heart stop as her mouth fell open. Grey-green eyes wide, her shaking hands fell from Ayana's reigns and she stared. That couldn't possibly be…it just couldn't! But it was, she was positive it was. But why in Leviathan's name would he be here?

Three stalls down, pacing back and forth and scratching at the ground as though nervous or anxious for some reason, stood a black chocobo. That alone would not have shocked the young ninja so, but the bird's trappings on top of its coloration were enough to send her into a fit. No saddle, brassy plates on bracers around its feet, reigns made only of soft leather with distinctly gold tint. The black bird was most certainly Azrael.

Azrael belonged to Vincent Valentine.

"Vincent…oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…!" She turned frantically from the gunner's bird to her own. Ayana bore no identifying ornamentation or trappings—this was on purpose, to confuse her trackers—but there was no telling how long Vincent had been here, how long he could have spent examining the white bird, seeing how it responded to his voice… Vincent had always been good with the chocobos—almost better than Cloud, sometimes. When he was faced with a stranger's bird, however, he never bothered to attempt a connection. If he realized that the bird responded to his commands, he would know that it was Ayana.

And he would know that Yuffie was in Costa del Sol.

There was nothing for it—if Vincent was here, than the Watchers would recognize him from the reports and pictures plastered all over every newspaper after Holy and Meteor. They would link him with her, easily, and do anything in their power to take him out. They would fail, of course—this was Vincent, after all—but then the gunner would know something was wrong. It wouldn't take much for his Hojo-tweaked brain to put two and two together.

"Wutaians, and noble ones at that, crawling all over a city they've never had any interest in immigrating to before? Yep," she said aloud, trying in vain to mimic the inhuman ex-Turk, "definitely something of Yuffie's doing."

Vincent would be attacked, though, and if he was attacked he might transform, and if he transformed… There were so many people here. Too many people. Someone was sure to be hurt, whether the demon that Vincent became meant to or not. Chaos had very little in the ways of conscience, and Yuffie just knew he wouldn't care if he accidentally caught a few bystanders in his demigod-powerful attacks.

The girl lowered her head, eyes narrowing, and ground her teeth. "Shit," she spat, tilting her head to look back up at Azrael. She let out a sigh and stepped toward him taking hold of his reigns and leading him carefully out of his stall. "Come on, you bipolar birdbrain," she said quietly as she tied his reigns to Ayana's saddle, "let's go find your multi-personalitied master."

- - -

Shichirou removed his hands from his pockets and withdrew them into the heavy sleeves of his shirt, smile still affixed firmly into place. Vincent set his feet carefully, falling into proper position, and waited. The Watcher would strike first, he could feel it.

It would be easy enough, he supposed, to draw one of his numerous guns and kill them man with a single shot, but he knew he would regret it. Vincent needed information, and this one-man army clearly had it. The gunner just needed to be patient.

"You know, I read through Hojo's notes too. Akaru-dono was nice enough to let the Elite Watchers read the old records, to study the way you and that boy still exist. It's amazing what you lived through, did you know that? Hojo mentioned over and over in his notes that you should have died. At least a dozen times." He let out a happy sigh. "When he temporarily removed your lungs, when he changed your metabolism, when he slowed your heartbeat…so many times you should have died and didn't." He cocked his head to one side. "Needless to say, I've been looking forward to meeting you for quite some time. I have killed many men, but even I have never defeated an immortal."

A long silence reigned, during which a glint of some unnamable curiosity lit in Shichirou's black eyes. "I wonder what it will take to make you scream."

Vincent remained silent, but his too-slow heart quickened at the impatience in his enemy's voice. The Watcher put both hands behind his back and lowered his head slightly, brow furrowing as though in thought. Vincent tensed, and in a movement so quick the gunner could barely follow it Shichirou surged suddenly forward. The ruby-eyed warrior dodged expertly, strafing to one side to completely avoid the Watcher's blow and dropping instantly to a crouch as Shichirou swung his sleeve-concealed arm toward him again. As the ex-Turk somersaulted backward to avoid a kick he felt the barest hint of contact between the man's foot and his knees. That was too close for comfort, and this man was very skilled. He had obviously earned his current position in the Inochigawa brat's army.

Vincent surged to his feet and spun around just in time to strike Shichirou in the chest, knocking the air from his lungs. The Watcher took a stumbling step backward, eyes narrowing even as his grin broadened. "That was nice," he smirked. "I didn't expect you to take the offensive so early in the fight."

"You assume this fight is going last much longer," the gunner replied darkly. Shichirou took a deep breath and came forward again, but this time Vincent didn't even bother to dodge. Instead, he caught the man's hidden fist with his human hand and wrapped his claw around the Watcher's neck, holding him out at arm's length. "I don't intend to let this battle last any longer than it has to."

Shichirou smiled. "Neither do I, Sir Valentine." He let out a sigh and shrugged. "You aren't as perceptive as I had hoped, though," he complained. "I was so sure you would notice that I was only attacking with my left hand…" He twisted his right so the sleeve pulled back and revealed the barrel of a handgun. Vincent cast his eyes downward just swiftly enough to register what the Watcher was holding when the shot rang out, loud and sharp and almost musical.

It was not the firing of a bullet.

Vincent jerked backward, but the dart hit him anyway—even he couldn't get away quickly enough to avoid it. He felt the searing cold of some foreign liquid emptying into his veins and bit back a cry. Curling the claws of his metal hand around the dart Vincent crushed it, throwing it away and turning back to that Watcher with eyes that glowed with inhuman brightness. He recognized this sensation, the feeling of that liquid rushing through his veins, triggering something no god had ever intended a human to be capable of. "Y-You…"

Shichirou was examining his fingernails, nonchalant. "I told you I read Hojo's notes—that's the same serum he used to trigger your transformations when he wanted to study your monsters. It causes your body to generate the adrenaline required to carry out a normal human's Limit Break attack, but of course for you it turns out considerably different than just a single blow." He grinned at the gunner. "It should hit your limit in about three, two, one…"

Vincent cried out, eyes going wide as the familiar flare of agony that heralded a transformation rushed through his bones. The gunner's skin took on a faint glow, the color of moonlight; his eyes burned, pupils slits so narrow they were almost indiscernible amidst the scarlet. His skull felt as though it was going to burst, he ground his teeth in an attempt to stifle the inhuman growl torn from his throat by the demon living under his skin. It was all familiar, but there was something wrong—the pain never reached a crescendo, it never peaked. At this rate it wouldn't be a complete transformation.

The Watcher's smile faded as long horns tore from Vincent's forehead, twining their way slowly upward and back, bent so they arced over his head. The gunner's tightly-clenched teeth were now entirely sharp, his human hand bore claws several inches long and his metallic claw had turned the color of pewter, but remained otherwise unchanged. This wasn't right—the transformation was too slow, and it was slowing down even as he watched. Could it be that his formula had been wrong and the catalyst was incomplete? But Hojo's notes had never mentioned a transformation ever reaching only a halfway point, Shichirou hadn't thought it was possible.

The sound of tearing fabric echoed down the empty street as Vincent's cloak was reduced to ribbons, wings bursting free of the inhibiting crimson fabric. The gunner screamed at the top of his lungs, his voice layered over with a deeper, rougher tone that could only belong to his demon. Shichirou took a shaky step back as the ex-Turk fell to his knees, bracing his hands against the ground and gasped for breath. The light that had concentrated around his pale skin faded slowly away, leaving his flesh the color of alabaster.

"D-Do you…realize…" Vincent growled, lifting his horned head and turning his narrowed eyes on the Watcher. "…what you've done?" His voice, a blend of molten velvet and breaking bones, made the Watcher recoil. Vincent began to push himself back up, pausing when he reached a kneeling position to catch his breath. "Idiot human," the gunner hissed, the bone-cracking voice taking the forefront. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"

He rose to his full height, ever so slightly taller than he had been before, and glared down at the Wutaian. "You wanted to fight my demon, didn't you?" inquired the velvet timbre of Vincent. "I'll bet you weren't expecting to deal with us both." He lifted his claw-tipped hand and prepared to bring it down on the hesitant Watcher, but his entire body went stiff when a bright voice cut through the darkness.


He turned to look over his shoulder and past one alabaster wing, scarlet eyes wide. "Yuffie?"

- - -

Yuffie spurred Ayana into a gallop with her feet, pulling Azrael along behind her. That Watcher must have come to Costa del Sol for Vincent, which would explain why he was so offhanded about his secrecy as he walked down the street. Vincent was the type to walk right into enemy territory unarmed and still win, so Shichirou has likely been taking advantage of the gunner's confidence. No, it wasn't even confidence; Vincent didn't seem to care if he lived or died.

In the fights back when they were tracking Sephiroth, she had never seen the gunner cast a healing spell on himself even once—Cloud would do it if he saw that the ex-Turk was excessively wounded, and Vincent would do the same thing for any of his comrades, but for some reason he seemed entirely uninterested in keeping himself alive. The only time she had seen him even mildly concerned with his own health was in the last battle, when he, Cloud and Nanaki had gone up against Sephiroth alone while the others fought off a monster horde. At that time he had appeared more drawn and upset than she had ever seen him—even when they found Lucrecia's grave he hadn't been that out of sorts.

He had danced around Sephiroth's blows, dodging whenever he could and firing at random intervals; with each shot he winced, expression identical to when he had been force to fire upon Cloud after the Temple of the Ancient compacted and the sapphire-eyed hero attacked Aerith. Yuffie had never seen him so upset before, much less over an enemy. To this day she wondered what had been going through his mind with each of those shots, but had never had the chance—or the overconfidence—to ask.

She came around a corner and her eyes widened as she recognized the two figures standing a distance down the street. One was most certainly Shichirou, she would recognize that stance anywhere, but the other one caused only confusion. Part of her screamed that it was Chaos, that she was too late to stop Vincent from transforming, but another portion of her mind declared that it was Vincent. The color was wrong for the demon, but those were most certainly wings rising from the tall figure's back; which one was it?

The figure lifted one hand, and in shifting his weight Yuffie caught the sheen of metal in place of his left arm. Chaos' arm was living flesh, meaning that she was looking at the gunner. But he had wings, and she was close enough now to discern horns twining their way up from his skull. What was going on here? She took a deep breath, urging Ayana to speed up by kicking her lightly in the sides.

"Vincent!" she hollered.

The figure stiffened and turned, and a familiar velvety tone spoke her name in an awed hiss. "Yuffie?"

She clicked back to Azrael, and as they rushed past the two figures to black bird lowered his head and tossed Vincent easily onto his back—to be fair, the gunner did take hold of the bridle mid-swing and secure himself carefully on the bird's bare back, but Yuffie though the chocobo did most of the work. She glanced back at the gunner and was barely able to keep herself from crying out at the conglomeration of human and demon that greeted her vision.

"Holy and Jenova!" she burst out. "What the hell happened to you?" she shrieked as they raced down the street. The half-demon pulled his wings down as they went under the bridge marking the edge of town.

"What are you doing here!" he growled, glowing eyes narrowed.

Yuffie jerked at his voice, realizing that it was in fact two separate voices speaking in time—one of them was Vincent's velvet, the other the horrible grating of Chaos' spoken tongue. "I-I-I—" She broke off and her eyebrows jutted downward, lips pursed in indignance. "I'm sorry, Vinnie, but your current situation looks a little more noteworthy." She paused. "And I asked you first."

The man dug his fingers into the thick feathers of his bird's neck and leaned his face down against it, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes as the wind tore at his long black hair. He remained silent, and Yuffie knew the conversation was closed. She sighed and turned to face forward again. They had made it out of the town but their chocobos rushed dutifully onward; Yuffie wondered if they should stop any time soon.

"Hey, Vinnie?" she called back to the half-demon behind her. He didn't say anything, as usual, but she took his silence to mean that he was listening. "Where should we go? The closest town is hours away and the birds are already pretty tired. How hard were you riding Azzy, anyway?"

Vincent quirked an eyebrow. "Azzy?" he quoted. Yuffie shrugged, not bothering to look back at him. The gunner sighed and thought about the girl's inquiry. Where could they go? He was exhausted—an incomplete transformation was much more trying than a proper one, and those usually knocked him out for hours or even days after the battle—but he was certainly in no state to go to any city. He had no desire to be attacked simply because he had horns and sharp teeth.

The gunner sunk down against his bird again and took several deep breaths before speaking again. When he did, the sandpaper tones of Chaos had receded drastically. Good—the monster was tired too, so he would probably go to sleep again long before the injection wore off. "Turn around," he murmured.

Yuffie pulled back on her chocobo's reigns and turned around entirely in the saddle, staring at the gunner with disbelief. "Do what?"

"Turn around," he repeated, not bothering to open his eyes. He was too tired to bother with much of anything right now. "Cloud's house is vacant—the Inochigawa brat has him. We can hide out there until I'm back to normal, then we'll search the place for evidence and head wherever it leads us."

Yuffie's heart seized upon the mention of the last Clone. Akaru had Cloud? What for? Hadn't the poor guy been through enough already? He had lost his identity, the girl he loved, his life, and now a lunatic that couldn't even bleed right had kidnapped him? Or is that Clonenapped? Her more sarcastic half chimed.

The ninja took a deep breath to steady herself. "Akaru has Cloud," she repeated. Vincent nodded weakly. Yuffie blinked—he was practically asleep. Even with horns and teeth so sharp he couldn't properly close his mouth, she had to admit he looked peaceful like this. She had never seen him so calm before.

His glowing eyes slid open and turned on her with confusion, urging her silently to continue. She jerked, realizing she had been staring, and stammered out her next sentence. "W-W-What does he want him for?"

"Sephiroth," the gunner answered simply, closing his eyes again. "The greatest powers our planet has ever seen include Sephiroth, Jenova and Gaea. Cloud has as piece of all three. He's about as close to a god as you can get without actually harnessing one." He let out a sigh, voice dropping to a whisper. "In that case…he would have had to capture…me…" A long breath wafted out from his pale lips and Yuffie blinked again in confusion.

Had Vincent just said he was a god? Her grey-green eyes went wide as the initial portion of his explanation at last sunk in. He had also said Cloud was almost a god, and that Akaru wanted him for something to do with Sephiroth.

Come to think of it, Akaru didn't bleed; how many Jenova monsters had they come across that were still capable of such a thing? Her breath caught in her throat as she realized what this connection entailed. "Oh my god," she rasped, holding both hands to her mouth. "Akaru injected himself with Jenova cells."

Vincent's ruby eyes snapped open so quickly it was almost audible, he pushed himself up so swiftly it caused Azrael to let out a loud wark of protest. "He did what?"

- - -

- - -

Another Author's Note: That was chapter three. Hope it was interesting enough to keep you reading—I'm trying to have chapter four done by next week, but it might be longer. This one took forever just because life got in the way, so I can't make any guarantees. In any case, thank you very much for reading this story so far I hope you are enjoying the painful misadventures of my favorite ex-Turk and his underaged ninja charge. (To be fair, she's nineteen now so she's technically an adult…but this is Yuffie we're talking about here.)

- - -

Next Time on Glimmer: A Single Point of Light

But why was he searching for her in the first place? Vinnie hated her, didn't he? She was loud, he was quiet; she was immature, he was a lot older than he looked; she was impetuous, he thought everything through. For Leviathan's sake, she called him "Vinnie" and his name was Vincent. There was nothing for him to like about her.

"Hey, Vincent?" she called. A grunt reached her hearing as she came to kitchen doorway, looking out into the living room and she cocked her head to one side. "Why'd you come looking for me? No one else did."

A long moment passed. "I was worried," he said at last. His voice was entirely velvet now, Chaos' bone-snapping gone at last.

"About me? Why?"

His wings rose slightly on the other side of the room, so Yuffie supposed he had shrugged. "Why not? You deserve the concern as much as anyone else, don't you?" He pushed himself up and looked at her across the room. The inhuman glow in his eyes had faded slightly, but the presence of horns curling up from his brow still unsettled the ninja. They simply stared at each other for a long moment, then the gunner sunk back into the couch, face-down.

Yuffie's heart was beating fast. Vincent had been worried. About her. "Uh…thanks, Vinnie," she said, turning away. She didn't expect him to answer.

"You're welcome."

She thought that was the single sweetest thing he had ever said to her.

- - -

Please look forward to it!