Chapter 1- "I do not fear you"

It's raining.

The cold drops splatter against the ground, the normally euphonious sound magnified and transformed by the barren landscape to a jumbled crash of noise, as though Mother Nature is conducting several orchestras at once and none of them are playing the same song.

The rain doesn't bother Vincent much as he is currently standing near the mouth of the cave the group has found to take shelter in for the night. The land around Wutai is filled with many monsters, and it is a long walk back to the Tiny Bronco. No one wanted to walk at night, when the worst of the monsters came out. The moment it began to rain, they began to look for shelter, huddling gratefully around a fire the creature, Red XIII, was kind enough to start for them. All except one. Well, two, if Vincent counts himself.

He looks towards the small figure huddled against an entirely different rock, knees drawn up to her chest and arms wrapped firmly around her legs. She is not under any sort of shelter, but she does not give any sign that the rain bothers her either. Besides the slight rise and fall of her shoulders, which he can see only because of his unnaturally superlative vision, she gives no sign that she is even still alive.

Perhaps it is guilt, Vincent thinks to himself. Perhaps she feels remorse for what she has done, though no harm has come of it. Perhaps she feels she is no longer accepted as part of the group.

Though those feelings resemble some of the dark thoughts he harbors in his own mind, thinking of the young girl feeling them sends an inexplicable prickle of anger down Vincent's spine. He takes a step forward. A few rain drops bounce off his shoe. He hesitates, unsure of what he is doing, or why. Then a voice behind him speaks,

"Vincent?" It is Tifa, sounding hesitant and unsure, as though she doubts he will answer her. He turns, strands of black hair drifting in a stray breeze. "Yes?"

"We've sorted out the rest of the materia." It takes the young martial artist a few tries to meet his eyes. He is sure, in the semi darkness, that they seem to glow. Her hands fiddle nervously with the shiny orbs in her lap. "These are the ones Yuffie was using before-- would you mind bringing them to her?"

It is an interesting request. Vincent can see Tifa's thoughts as clearly as if they were written in front of him. She wishes to check on the ninja, but she doesn't quite have the courage to do it herself. She doesn't want to go out in the rain, even to persuade the girl to come back with her to the fire. She doesn't want to leave her spot next to Cloud, even for a moment. Aeris sits on his other side.

Yet Tifa still wishes for someone to check on their absent companion, and so she asks Vincent. Why? Does she think he will somehow be able to talk to her better than the others? Or that the absent one will talk to him because he never talks? Perhaps it is as simple as the fact that Vincent is also standing all alone, and she doesn't want to bother anyone who actually seems like they want to be in the shelter, by the fire.

A short nod disappears into Vincent's cowl. He moves forward and scoops the materia out of Tifa's lap, tucks it into some obscure pocket in his cloak, then strides out from underneath the rock's shelter into the rain.

The young woman gives no sign that she notices his approach. It is possible that she does not; Vincent's footsteps, normally soft and silent, are definitely muffled by the rain. But he knows she has noticed, even if the turn of her head when he draws close was less of a giveaway.

"Yuffie," he says, voice quiet, though quiet in a way that carries clearly through the rain. He hesitates, wondering what to say next. He's tempted to give her the materia and make his retreat. One look down at her though, and he realizes her sad, huddled form will not allow that.

"Yuffie," he says again, and moves fluidly to a squat, a position that would have looked ungraceful had it been made by anyone else. His form is smooth, his balance good. "You shouldn't sit like this."

"Why not?" In contrast, her voice is muffled as her head rests on her knees. "Is my butt-crack showing or something?" One slim brown hand goes to the back of her sodden shorts, then returns to it's original position encircling her leg. She gives a barely perceptible shrug. "Oh well. Nothing you haven't seen before, I'm sure."

"You shouldn't sit in the rain, Yuffie," Vincent continues, decidedly not looking at her butt at all, and pretending her comment hadn't made him blush behind his buckled collar. He can tell she is trying to sound like her normal self, but there is a miserable sullenness to the tone he hasn't heard before.

"I should sit with the others then?" A half shrug, a sarcastic snort. It is not like her at all. Vincent does not think he likes this new, caustic side. "They don't want me there."

Again, he knows not what to say. A low murmuring of her name seems insignificant, but it gets her to speak again.

"They don't, Vincent, and you know it." She raises her head, fixes him with baleful eyes. "They're still mad at me."

"They are not mad." He does not know what compels him to say this-- he is not normally one for wasting words on pointless assurances-- but as soon as he does he knows it to be true.

"Yes, they are," Yuffie counters, a bit of her old self showing through as her gray eyes flash and her tone turns almost petulant. "I stole their materia. They don't understand why, and that makes them mad--"

"No, Yuffie, that makes them afraid."

She breaks off abruptly at the quiet firmness in his voice. Her eyes lose that hard look and turn soft, large and liquid. It is another side of her he rarely sees, but one he much prefers. She seems younger when she gets angry. This new mood, not only quiet, gives her features a more distinguished look. It shows the woman behind the noisy, outspoken tomboy.

"What do you mean?" Yuffie asks.

"People always fear what they do not understand." The words hurt a little as the come out, because they are also very true. Vincent is for once the person that breaks eye-contact, turning away from those storm-colored eyes to stare out at the storm that dashes about the rocks.

"But I promised I wouldn't steal from them again. And I won't! I only--"

"That is not what they fear." Vincent's cuts her off smoothly. Hearing her voice rise defensively, he is able to turn back then, focussing on her and quelling the demons, real or figurative, that had sprung up in his mind. "They do not fear further theft. They fear you."

"Me?" She retreats back into herself, hunching over once more. Vincent is not sure if he is relieved or saddened to lose the gaze of those eyes. Though deep down she knows the answer, she still asks the questions. "Why me?"

He sighs, but tries to suppress it so she will not think it is a sigh of annoyance. Rather it is a sigh of-- sympathy? He knows what it is like to make others afraid. "Because you have shown yourself to be more than they thought. You have shown yourself to posses power they did not consider before. And this frightens them."

She snorts and burrows herself deeper into the embrace of her own arms. However, when she speaks her voice has lost a little of it's dejectedness, and even contains a bit of hope, albeit hope buried beneath a thick layer of scorn. "They'll get over it."

"Yes, they will." Vincent shifted a little. "I don't doubt that you'd be welcome by the fire, now, if you so wished."

Another shrug. Her head stays down. "I'm already wet."

Vincent frowns; he does not like her logic. "Yes, but I told you-- you should not sit out here in the rain."

"You are."

This makes him pause again. It is accusatory, but not belligerently so. "My cloak does not absorb water," he says at last.

"So?" Yuffie looks up, finally. Her gray eyes hold something he is not familiar with seeing. "That's not the reason you're out here instead snuggled up next to the fire with everyone else."

He does not have a response for that. He lapses into habitual silence as he tries to come up with one. Suddenly, he remembers. "Tifa asked me to give you these." Reaching into his cloak, he withdraws the materia. The ninja is looking at him fully now, and has outstretched her legs while he was retrieving the shining orbs. He deposits them in her lap. "Your materia."

Yuffie runs her hands over the small globes, but makes no move to equip them. When she speaks again, she keeps her gaze down. "I didn't steal it out of spite, you know. I had a reason. It wasn't for money of anything like that. Wutai--" She breaks off. Her hands clench on two of the bright materia.

Vincent can see everything that is going through her head even easier than Tifa. He leans forward.

"You do not need to explain," he says softly. Her eyes go to his. They are so similar to the ocean during the rain, he wonders suddenly if he could drown in them. "Not to them, and certainly not to me." An inch closer, and even softer, "I do not fear you."

It is a step away from saying ëI understand you' which is a step away from a whole lot of other things that Vincent is completely unwilling to consider. He will concede only that the young woman sitting in front of him with the large gray eyes and naked doubt is not the same person as the young girl that normally dashes around him with the loud voice and brash comments. This young woman is not his direct opposite, but nearly his similar. A bond exists between them for the moment, however fragile and temporary, a bond of a common understanding.

"You know something, Vincent?" For the first time that night, a genuine smile begins to show on the ninja's face. It isn't as bright or big as her normal grin, but it's mutedness is not unpleasant. Again, she looks older and not at all like the rather annoying young girl Vincent paid scant attention too until she stole all his materia and got herself tied to a mountain by an insane pervert. "I don't fear you either."

Her smile grows at the look of confused surprise on his face that is apparent even with the cowl. In a move that only increases this look, she scoops all the materia up and scoots closer to the bewildered ex-Turk, tucking herself carefully against his side and snatching at his cloak until she gets it more-or-less securely wrapped around herself.

"Wow," she says. "It really doesn't absorb water."

Vincent doesn't say anything. He also makes no move to push her away, though he does not draw her any closer either. He merely lets her curl up to him like a very wet cat seeking comfort after a particularly nasty scare with the neighborhood dog. He spares a brief thought to the others-- wondering if any of them happen to be watching, and if so what they're thinking of this strange occurrence. Then he banishes the thought from his mind. They will not speak their thoughts to him, whatever they are. They are more afraid of him than they are of the small woman tucked under his arm, for much more obvious and legitimate reasons.

And so he sits, ancient demon of scarred past and desolate future, young ninja of tragic beginning and urgent present worming her way closer to him-- in more ways than one-- than anyone had been in a long, long time. They are as two perfectly harmonizing, silent notes that blend into the symphony of water music that plays around them.

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Review, please, if you're so inclined. It's be nice. This'll probably be three parts, maybe four. The next part will be a little different, first person from the POV of Yuffie first, then Vincent.