(A/N: A oneshot. Random humour. Vincent, Yuffie and Red XIII getting on each other's nerves. A highly-strung chocobo. And lots of snow. Enjoy.)
The gust of wind from the airship's takeoff covered them in a deluge of snow. Yuffie cursed as it trickled down her neck.
"Remind me why we're doing this again?"
Vincent had already started walking. He looked over his shoulder. "Cloud wants to breed a gold chocobo."
"Oh. Yeah. Man, I'm freezing!" She hurried after him. As soon as she'd stepped out of the airship's interior, the cold had hit her powerfully. It was easy to forget just how low the temperature was. Yuffie started to think seriously about investing in a scarf.
"Keep moving," Vincent advised her. "It'll help you stay warm."
"I am moving – and I still feel like a walking icicle!"
Their third companion, Red XIII, bounded ahead of them, sniffing at the snow. He turned around and growled at Yuffie. "Would you kindly keep your voice down? A herd of chocobos could hear your approach a mile off."
She glowered at him as she struggled through a particularly deep snowdrift. It wasn't fair how Red, with his four limbs, could so easily wander about this place. "Hey – just keep your nose to the ground and keep on smelling, buster. You're supposed to be tracking them for us!"
"The snow is freshly fallen. That makes it difficult to pick up any scent or prints."
"Well, the chocobos have got to be around here somewhere, right? Gawd, why would a chocobo wanna live here?"
The snow fields were so cold and dreary, she thought. Nothing but the white stuff for miles around… it was enough to make you go crazy.
"Perhaps we should find a vantage point from which to scan the area," Vincent suggested.
"Good idea," said Red. "You're the tallest – what about that hillock over there?"
The hillock was more like a giant snowdrift. It swept up towards the sky, the ridge meeting the horizon in a perfect curve, white against blue. Vincent strode towards it, his feet leaving deep imprints in the snow. His cloak was waterlogged and dripping water. Yuffie followed his trail, trying to match each of his footsteps perfectly. She hopped from one to the other and noticed how each print grew deeper the closer they got to the hill. She looked up.
"Hey, watch where you're walking, Vince – those pointy shoes you're wearing'll sink right into the deepest snow!"
"I am aware of that," Vincent said, without turning around. "Come, let us go to the top."
Yuffie was soon gasping for breath. "Wow – it's – really – steep. The land looked totally flat from the airship as well. All flat and white." She hadn't expected it to be so difficult to climb through snow.
"Of course it's white," said Vincent. "It's covered with snow."
"Oh, well, I would never have guessed!" She stuck her tongue out at him behind his back. Red saw, but he only shook his mane and continued to climb. Working with these two was going to be a pain, she could already tell. There was just no conversation.
"Quiet, Yuffie," said Vincent, proving her right. "Look over there."
They had finally reached the top. Yuffie struggled up to Vincent and shielded her eyes. "Where? Hey, point that big claw hand somewhere else – oh." A yellow blur stood out against the white. "Yes! A chocobo!"
"I said be quiet! We don't want to frighten it off. Red, come here. Do you see it?"
"Yes, I see it. And the monsters guarding it."
Yuffie squinted. Monsters? Then she noticed two moving patches... white creatures bouncing around the chocobo. "Oh, gawd, not those mutant bunnies again. I hate those things."
"There are only two of them," said Red. "We can split up and take them by surprise."
Vincent stared at the monsters, his face grim. "There's not much cover on the right hand side. Red, you go that way and take the first monster. I'll take cover behind that rock and shoot the other. Then you can go in and capture the chocobo, Yuffie."
Yuffie scowled. "Why do I have to do it? I don't even like chocobos anyway; they smell and they run too fast."
Vincent turned and stared at her with his weird red eyes. "You have the Chocobo Lure materia."
She blushed. "Oh, yeah."
"But I shall take it if you like."
"No, no, the materia's mine! I'll do it. It'd probably freak out and run away at the sight of you anyway."
And she was right too, she thought. The melted snow had flattened Vincent's hair to his head, so that he basically looked like a bedraggled vampire.
"Thanks for the compliment," said Vincent dryly.
"You're welcome. Hey, look, it's coming closer – it must be attracted to the materia." The chocobo trotted along on its long legs, apparently having no problem getting through the snow. On the left, the ridge flattened out and white-coated boulders scattered the area. On the other side, the fields dipped into a kind of valley, where the chocobo had been grazing. It was much closer now – a quick dash and they would be upon it. Yuffie was freezing and ready for some action. "Let's do it," she cried. "Go, go, go!"
Red was already creeping down the other side of the hill, keeping his body low to the ground.
Vincent shook his head at her. "Ssh, Yuffie! Stop screeching." Then he too made off, dodging silently towards the rocks.
Yuffie called after him. "Hey, I don't screech – hey, wait – oh, okay, fine, go without me – I'll get you, chocobo!" She ran after them, her eyes fixed on the chocobo, which had paused to graze in a patch of melted snow.
Vincent jumped behind one of the boulders scattered along the edge of the ridge and took aim. "Now, Yuffie!"
One of the mutant bunnies died with a squeal. Red pounced upon the second; the biting, snapping and growling threw up a flurry of snow, hiding them from view. The chocobo jumped, its feathers ruffled. Yuffie skidded towards it and waved her shuriken. "Wooooo! Try and take me on, huh, you big chicken!"
The chocobo looked up. Its beady eyes fixed on her.
It charged towards her. Yuffie screamed and flung her arms in front of her face. She did not like chocobos.
Yuffie fell down in the snow and clutched her head. That thing's beak was sharp. Now she had a wet backside, scratched hands and a throbbing bruise on her forehead. She scrambled to her feet, groaning, and looked around for her companions.
Vincent's cloak looked a little torn. He stared at her like an implacable spider. Next to him, Red XIII sat down and licked a forepaw.
"It's gone," he said. "It took a clump of my fur with it as well."
So she wasn't the only one who had suffered the wrath of the chocobo. She smothered a smirk as she noticed that Vincent was still glaring at her.
"You're supposed to feed the chocobo Gysahl Greens to calm it down!"
"What?" Yuffie glared straight back at him indignantly. "Oh, so now you tell me. Yeah, great plan, Vincent. Tell me after the chocobo decided to run away. Why didn't you do it, huh?"
"Yuffie, you're the one carrying the Gysahl Greens."
She swallowed. "Oh… yeah. Well, I forgot, okay! Is it such a big deal?"
Red stopped licking himself for long enough to chime in with a comment. "It does mean we'll be stuck out here for longer until we encounter another chocobo."
"Did I ask you to butt in, Red? No." They were both blaming her, she knew. She just had to screw up while she was with them, didn't she? And not only that, she thought her shorts might be going see-through what with the soaking they had received. Uh oh. Better not turn my back on Vincent. She held her chin up and tried not to let her teeth chatter. "Anyway, I'm sick of this. I'm gonna freeze to death if we stay another minute. Let's just go back."
"We're not supposed to return until we've caught a chocobo," Red reminded her. He had now moved on to licking a place she didn't even want to think about. Ugh! Why on earth had AVALANCHE recruited a talking beast anyway? Their recruitment policy couldn't be too hot; not if the only members they could find were talking animals, mechanical cats, guys who slept in coffins and a materia thief like herself.
"That's it!" she said. "Give me the PHS, Vincent! I'm phoning Cid right now."
Red looked up again. "Actually, I have the PHS."
"What? Where? There? Gawd, can you even use it?" Her eyes practically popped. This little excursion was turning out to be educational. In a gross kind of way.
"It doesn't matter," said Red. "Cid won't pick us up without a chocobo."
"Man. Cloud's really gotten to him, hasn't he?" Cloud had always been weird, everyone knew that, but she'd thought Cid would know better.
"Damn him and his foolish games," Vincent growled, showing a flicker of anger for the first time at their mission. "There are more important things at stake here – but here we are, in this wasteland, hunting chocobos."
"You got that right," Yuffie agreed. She wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. "You know, I think even Tifa has caught the racing bug." Then again, she wasn't like Cid. It was obvious why she wanted to race the chocobos too – to impress Cloud. She'd support him even if he decided to drop the whole saving the world business and become a florist. Yuffie sniggered at the thought.
Red XIII stood up and stretched, his tail waving in the air. Yuffie wasn't sure, but she thought the flame burning at the end might have shrunk a little. "The air is chill here," he said. "May I suggest that we move on?"
"Have you caught a scent yet?" Vincent asked.
"I can try to follow that chocobo's trail, though the wind isn't blowing in our favour."
Vincent nodded. "Let's get this over with quickly. The sooner Cloud gets that gold chocobo, the sooner we can be done with this folly."
Red sniffed at the chocobo's tracks. "I don't think it's far ahead of us."
They started walking again, Red leading them as he followed the trail. It led down into the small valley and then curved up again. In the distance, the shadow of a mountain range could be seen. Presently, Yuffie felt a light powdery something hit the end of her nose, where it promptly turned into a drip. "Oh, great. It's starting to snow again."
Vincent looked up at the sky, which still had patches of blue amongst the clouds. "The snow is light. We should hurry, before it becomes a blizzard."
"Light? You know, you may call this light, but those are big damn flakes and they're really cold! It's all right for you, with that huge cloak, and you – you've got fur."
Red bared his teeth at her. "The snow makes my fur wet. It is unpleasant for me. And my paws are almost numb." He stamped his paws in the snow as though to emphasise his point.
Vincent's pale face was still turned skywards. "I cannot feel the cold. I wish I could."
"Bullshit!" Yuffie sneered. "I can see you shivering. Pansy."
"I think you must be seeing things. Speaking of which – look, straight ahead."
She sighed. He wouldn't even take the bait. She had hoped a good argument might heat things up – people often said that when she talked, hot air came out of her mouth. Right now, Yuffie would be grateful for hot anything. She looked at Red, who had padded up to Vincent to gaze in his direction. If only that light on his tail was as warm as it appeared.
She huffed and went to see what they were looking at.
Red nodded. "Yes, that's the chocobo. I can smell it now."
Yuffie frowned. "What? Where? I can't see a thing. I must be going snow-blind!"
"You're not going snow-blind, Yuffie, you're looking the wrong way."
"Get it right this time, Yuffie," Red growled.
They were just as bad as each other! Always blaming her for everything – and she a ninja princess as well; better than some stupid ex-Turk or a nearly extinct animal. She brandished her shuriken and glared at them. "All right, I'll show you two stiffs! Gawd, even Cloud would be less boring than you two!"
"I object to being compared to a human."
Vincent shook his head. "This argument is fruitless. There's only one monster guarding it this time. Quickly!"
"Leave it to me," said Red.
He loped away across the snow. As Yuffie watched, she finally noticed the chocobo and its bunny guard pottering around beside a single dead tree. She blinked. Perhaps she had been going snow-blind; all this whiteness was so bright, it was difficult to pick out the similarly light colours of the chocobo and the monster.
Red was much easier to spot; a dark red shape crouched upon the ground, just behind a snowdrift. His body coiled; he sprang.
"Ooh, nice pounce!"
"Oh – yeah!" She had almost forgotten she had a role to play. While Red wrestled with the bunny, she fumbled in her pocket for the rather damp bunch of herbs. The chocobo had edged away from the battle and was looking around uncertainly, obviously unsure which way to run. Gritting her teeth, she took a few tentative steps towards it. "Here, chocobo! Here, chocobo, nice chocobo, look what I got! Yummy Gysahl Greens!"
She held out the greens. The chocobo noticed; it let out a squawk of glee and hurried up to her.
"That's it – ouch, don't peck my hand, you greedy bird!" It had snapped up the greens almost instantly, and in its eagerness had nipped her palm as well. She threw the rest on the ground and backed away, wrinkling her nose. The bird stood there placidly, its head bent down, munching at the remaining greens.
Red had disposed of the monster; there was blood on his fangs and a gash in his muzzle, but he seemed all right as far as she could tell. He watched the chocobo, a distinctly predatory look in his eye, which made her feel slightly sick.
Vincent had circled around behind the chocobo, which was just finishing the last of the greens. "Make sure it doesn't try to dodge around you, Yuffie," he called. "Just go up to it slowly."
She gulped. The chocobo was big and strong-looking, and she couldn't forget the pecking it had given her before. But she wouldn't fail this time – oh no! She'd prove to them she could do this.
She stepped forward nervously. "Here… nice birdie, nice birdie. Good chocobo."
"Now mount it, before it runs away."
Yuffie turned her head to stare at Vincent. "Mount it? Are you kidding?"
"Red can't mount it. And I would frighten it off, remember?" His lips quirked.
He would choose to have a sense of humour now, wouldn't he? She scowled at him.
"Ooh, I'll get you back for this, Vincent Valentine." She looked back at the chocobo. It seemed friendly, but… "Nice chocobo… nice chocobo… argh!"
She grabbed the chocobo's shoulder and propelled herself up; it bucked, but she sailed up into the air and then back down with a plop onto the chocobo's back. The bird shook its head, as though reprimanding her terrible mounting technique, but didn't attempt to throw her off.
"Well done," said Vincent.
Her companions came forward towards them. The chocobo shied away from Red; Yuffie cried out at the movement, almost slipping off, but she grabbed its neck just in time. It would be a lot easier riding a tamed chocobo, she thought grumpily, with a saddle and bridle.
She cried out again as the chocobo started walking of its own accord. "Oh – oh – how do I control it?"
Red circled around the chocobo and approached it from behind; the chocobo immediately veered away from him.
"I'll keep it under control for you."
He snapped at the bird's heels; it squawked and ran faster. Yuffie was getting distinctly uncomfortable. She didn't like the bouncy movement and her backside was already starting to ache. But she could only cling on as Red urged the bird ever faster, dodging from side to side whenever it showed signs of moving in the wrong direction.
She glanced back and saw Vincent jogging along behind them. "Hmm, we should get Red a job as a chocobo herder," he said.
Red paused for breath. "I think I prefer being a chocobo hunter," he replied, and lunged at the bird again. Bits of snow flew into the air as the bird skidded away from him down a slope. They were heading back the way they had come. Yuffie clung on to the bird for dear life. She didn't like this situation at all; she felt as though she was caught in the middle of some sacred dance which was not for her at all – in fact, she got the distinct feeling that Red regarded them as prey.
"Hey, don't get too close, Red – I think it's scared of you," she called. A thought struck her. "Wait… do you eat chocobos?"
The beast grinned. "Sometimes. They have a lot of meat on them."
"Gross! Argh! Don't say that in front of the chocobo!" She didn't think it could understand, but it was becoming skittish anyway. She patted it, hoping she could somehow calm it down – the idea of riding on a wild, mad chocobo did not appeal to her at all.
Red stopped and sat down, wrapping his tail around his limbs. He looked contrite. "My apologies. Vincent, I think it's time we called the Highwind."
Vincent stooped down next to him; somehow, he had kept up with the flight of the chocobo without effort, and he wasn't even breathing hard. They had arrived back at the place where the airship had dropped them off. "You're right."
"Here, take the PHS."
Vincent picked it up with his flesh-and-blood hand and held the PHS to his ear. Yuffie waited nervously, hoping the chocobo wouldn't decide to bolt. The cold wind had whipped her hair all over the place and she could barely feel its neck feathers with her hands.
Vincent's eyes lit up. Someone had answered. "Cid? Tell Cloud we're finished."
"Yeah – and tell him that next time he can do his own dirty work!" Yuffie added.
A brief smile flashed across Vincent's face. "He says you can tell him as soon as they get back from the chocobo races."
She shook her head in disbelief. "Racing again? Gawd, what is wrong with you people? I thought you were oh-so-keen to defeat Sephiroth."
Honestly, these were the worst bunch of heroes she had ever seen. Not that she had travelled with many heroes out to save the world before, but she knew what was supposed to happen from fairytales. Those stories never mentioned the heroes taking time off to raise their own pedigree racing chocobos.
It seemed that Red shared some of her sentiments, because he nodded at her and growled, "Clearly chocobos are higher on his list of priorities. Humans are strange creatures."
Then he went back to licking his unmentionables again. Yuffie rolled her eyes. Strange. Yeah.
Meanwhile, Vincent's phone conversation had almost finished. "Yes… goodbye." He hid the PHS somewhere in the folds of his cloak. "There, it's done. Cid is coming to collect us."
Yuffie punched the air in triumph. "Yes! We did it! And Red's tail still hasn't burnt out!"
She patted the chocobo again, feeling almost happy. "Now we just gotta save the Planet."
"As simple as that?" Red asked.
"It has to be easier than this chocobo hunting business."
Red shook his head. "Humans are very strange creatures."
Yep, she thought. She hoped the beast below her was a wonderful chocobo, or Cloud would be sending them straight back to catch another. But at least next time, she would remember to bring a scarf.