TITLE: (ex)trinsecus

AUTHOR: dirge [[email protected]]

DISCLAIMER: Final Fantasy VII and its characters are property of Squaresoft, Inc.. Menji, the howlers and whatever you don't recognize are probably mine. All grammatical and formatting peccadillos (except for bad spelling) are deliberate - I'm just having fun with words here.

SUMMARY: Years after the fall of the meteor, Yuffie, Vincent and Cloud discover that being unable to let go of the past has its consequences.

t.hou shalt; not

she is benediction
she is addicted to thee
she is the root connection
she is connecting with he

- dancing barefoot
patti smith

The Highwind floated sound(less)ly

in the evening air above the wounded planet, its engines silent in the aftermath of its toil. Below the majestic calm of webwork machinery came the whoops of a not-quite-the-end-of-the-world party several sheets past the wind.

The proud captain of the pilfered pinnacle of aviation applications had stumbled upon a fortuitous discovery, while ransacking the former CO's galley for signs of a fuse - that the former operator of the Highwind had stocked a rather impressive well of secondary fuel in his cabin. The kind that beckoned to your pancreas like Messalina in the whispered promise of 150-proof paradise.

Noble designs to make the Highwind's engines fully functional again, or at least more mobile than the bloated floating behemoth it was at the moment had been instantly replaced by the even nobler-

(and quite necessary, as piously affirmed by the man the ship was christened after)

-actions required to relieve the holds of such an unnecessary burden just to keep the ship a-hover. Naturally, an arduous undertaking as this necessitated an army up to the task, so into the valley the Avalanche light brigade charged.

Yuffie Kisaragi held minimal interest in booze, possessing little more than the average teen's curiosity in such substances. However her expression of such inquisitiveness amidst the festivities were answered by an emphatic shout of unusual group consensus-


with liberal usage of "kid" sprinkled into the batter of humiliation.

It was that part she hated most.



She could almost hear the drooping pendulums of quotation marks around the three letter noun-cum-obscenity.

thank you. fuck you. very much.

The young ninja discovered that while she was evidently old enough to stick her hiney on the final fighting line with a more than remote possibly of having it exterminated-

(which, fortunately for such a fine young tush as hers, didn't happen. Still, it was the thought that counted)

-nevertheless, she was still considered too young to be actively participating in arguably adult activities. Ah, the joys of the double-standard.

So, upon finding herself on the strangely still (hence upchuck-free) upper deck of the Highwind for the evening, the teen leaned out over the slightly rickety side rail and tried her hand at imitating what Vincent Valentine did best.

She sulked.

"What are you doing out here?" The voice materialized directly behind her, startling the girl into nearly plummeting over the side. Right hand clutched over her chest, Yuffie whipped around at an obtuse angle and glared at the cloaked figure half-encased in the overhanging shadows of the bulkhead.

"Geez, Vinnie! What are you trying to do, gimme a heart attack?"

The accused's impassive features failed to register the slightest bit of apology, instead opting to repeat his initial query: "What are you doing out here?"

"Make a girl feel welcome, whydontcha."

"It's not that. I just thought you would be with them." Flickers of twin crimson angled slightly towards the raucous strains of par-tay from below.

Chocolate-hued mirrors flecked with green rolled in mute exasperation at the injustices of the world at large. "Yeah, well Cid gave me this whole lecture on responsibility and the dangers of underage drinking . . . right before he dropped a lampshade on his head and started doing the mamba across the quarterdeck. I think Cloud and Barrett are still trying to figure out how to pull him up from the hold without falling in themselves."

A pensive sigh escaped the girl who resumed slumping against the rail, right cheek and jutting lower lip cradled against a loosely collapsed fist. "You don't have my problem as you're about a million years older than me. So the question is, what are _you_ doing out here?"


The hand not occupied with propping up the apparently immense weight of Yuffie's head smacked its palm against her hairline. "Oh yeah, what was I thinking?" A gentle breeze played across youthful, but finely maturing features, ruffling chestnut locks as the teen tilted her face back, enjoying the fingers of crisp air against her skin.

"This is nice."

"The calm?"

"No, not moving. Hurling takes a lot of energy outta ya."

The two flinched slightly as the door leading to the deck slammed open belching out a couple of tipsy figures who stumbled outside giggling inanely with the humor of liberated inhibitions. Tifa Lockheart, whose fists of steel kept a commanding grip on Cloud Strife's hand as she led him up sternside with a single-minded purpose unleashed by the healthy application of Costa del Sol Rum. The latter's Mako-blue eyes flickered in the dusk with each owlish blink, his spiky-cropped head moving this way and that in a slightly unfocused manner, but nevertheless unprotesting of his present captivity.

As the couple reached the forecastle deck, the two unnoticed figures could only gather snippets from the low inflections of murmured conversation. More giggles. The brunette leaned in closer to the ex-SOLDIER and drew his head down close to hers, noses touching, then a tilt of his head, hers, and lips brushed in an experimental kiss.

A (fortunately for her, unclawed) hand clapped over Yuffie's mouth before she could whistle and holler encouragement at the top of her lungs, thus losing out on prime embarrassment opportunity, and the teen swiveled with an accusing glare towards the impertinent captor of her mouth.

"Let them be." came sotto from Vincent Valentine.

The ninja would have bitten the offensive hand that gagged her, but the ex-Turk's gloves were thick and smelled like old gunpowder and oil and getting a mouthful of stinky leather just wasn't on her list of gotta-do's. Rapidly cycling through several alternatives, most of which included accidentally (brutally) ramming a convenient elbow into strategic soft spots, she finally opted to just sidewind a dirty fudgesickle look at the gunslinger.

After a few more moments of enforced silence, Tifa and Cloud separated. More exchanged murmurs passed between them, followed by moment of breathless hesitation. A shy nod from the male half of the party answered the invitation placed before him in their whispered intercourse. Hand in hand, the two ex-Avalanche members retreated to the crew's quarters below.

As solitude once again claimed the upper deck, Yuffie gazed somewhat wistfully off at the door the couple had disappeared through. How did saving the world suddenly seem like an eternity ago instead of just yesterday?


"What is this?" A resentful fist slammed a sheaf of papers as proof of some unnameable offense on the desk of the Turks' Commander. The thirty-ish man glanced up at his protege through steepled fingers that drew a bisecting line down perfectly from the widow's peak of slick, back ebony hair to the finely trimmed point of his goatee.

"According to my experience, it's called your next assignment." The leader of Shinra's elite corps' voice was silky, reminiscent of soft spread on freshly baked bread.

"I don't get it, Menji. Why are you sending me out to guard a bunch of protonheads? It's not my type of job."

"These scientists aren't just any bunch of beaker-tumbling protonheads. What they're working on is very, very big. Which makes your job very, very important, Deadeye."

"Just call it what it is," the young Turk, Vincent Valentine snorted. "Babysitting, plain and simple."


"I don't need a babysitter! I just wanna go home!" the ninja hollered, hitting registers that made every dog within a three-block radius whimper in sympathy as most of the ship's occupants winced in agony under the unleashed tirade of hurricane Yuffie. The teen had discovered that hangovers provided wonderful fodder for revenge and actively set out on a mission to make a certain Captain Highwind's (who at the moment cowered facedown against the meeting table in the War Room, groaning under the shelf of arms covering his head) life as miserable as possible without actually talking to him.

Nanaki, who on that morning would have had his Shinra moniker changed to Verdigris XIII just to match the intriguing change in his pallor-

(An epiphany struck Yuffie at exactly that moment - HEY, wasn't the mutt just a teen too? And what was he doing drinking anyway? That was SOOOO unfair.)

-lifted his muzzle from the floor with great difficulty as he attempted to conjugate subjects with their corresponding objects.

"None of us are in any condition to (urp) . . . travel at the moment, and we're still a long ways from Wutai."

An affirmative whimper emerged from under Cid's arms.

"Then I'll just grab a chocobo instead. 'Cause I didn't feel like barfing anyway, you know, hurling, tossing my cookies, blowing chunks when the ship sways and weaves and bobs around, rolling, rolling, rolling--"

"You'll wanna shut yer mouth right there, girl." An unusually reedy bluster clawed its way out the normally bass Barrett, who in a particularly brilliant act of energy conservation, abandoned any attempts to reach the table and instead maintained a more comfortable slump in the rear corner of the room.

"There are still pockets of those Jenova-spawned beasts around." Cloud piped in with his usual impeccable timing of entering the conversation at precisely the wrong moment. Leaders don't have to be smart. They just have to be able to command those who know better.

Yuffie swiveled to the swordsman with a saccharine smile that sent the latter reflexively checking for his wallet. "Gee Cloud, you don't look like you've suffered ANY ill effects from all that boozing last night. Why both you and Tifa look positively *perky* this morning." The ex-SOLDIER blinked and glanced apprehensively to his right as the woman beside him accidentally sent a mouthful of scalding coffee raging down the wrong pipe.

"Cloud's right. It is unsafe to be traveling such a distance alone."

A muffled something that sounded ominously like 'let the fucken brat get eaten' grated out painfully from the pile of limbs at the other end of the table as the teen raised her eyebrows from the choking and spluttering Tifa to Vincent Valentine, mildly surprised at his interjection. Squeezing two voluntary words out of the permanently reticent gunslinger usually involved a long session of prodding and nagging, of which 9 out of 10 efforts just resulted in a blood-red glare.

"Fine then. You can take me home."

The ex-Turk stared at her.

"What, like you've got anything better to do?"

"She's got you there," Cloud murmured, gently patting the red-faced, coughing brunette on her back like a concerned little housewife.

And that was that.

"Come on Vinnie," the ninja spun around. "Let's get the chickens and mosey out into the sunshine. After all, it's such a BEE-YOO-TI-FUL DAY, ISN'T IT?" The hollow metal grating of the floor groaned in protest as she made sure to stomp extra heavily against it on the way out.


Two hours crept silently past nightfall on the southern cap of Wutai, broken only by the scrapes of a pair of golden chocobos kicking up dust as they trotted blithely over the first range of fractalized peaks. The girl on one chattered happily to her companion on the other, actively spending words like a Sunday shopper at a fire sale.

"--of course the only reason why I took off in the first place was because dad kept harping on about 'responsibility as heir to the empire.' I mean, Gawd, what kind of responsibilities does heir to the world's second largest tourist trap have anyway? I'm only sixteen! And it's not like Godo's gonna kick off soon, so why should any talented, cute adventurer such as me--"

(all in one breath)

"Such as I," corrected Vincent Valentine in his first foray into conversation that evening.

"What. Ever. As I was saying . . . why should any talented cute adventurer such as I--" she emphasized, so appreciative of the lesson in standard usage, she stretched that particular vowel into two syllables, "--be forced to wilt away in Nothingville watching her ass slowly expand when she could instead be making a name for herself in the w--"

A flash of midnight appeared from the depths of nowhere and latched itself onto the neck of Yuffie's chocobo. In the span of time for a sharp hiss of intake, razorblade fangs sank into the throat of the squealing avian and a brutal whisk from a large-muzzled head ripped out its trachea into a bloody fountain of severed arteries and veins. The ninja screamed as her shoulder struck the ground hard following the golden bird's buckling collapse, the sound abruptly cut off by a five hundred pound weight dropping onto her chest slamming the air out of her lungs like an empty paper sack.



in slow-motion

sending tiny meteors spinning in a revolutionary dance around the girl's head.

Yuffie found herself staring into two beady pairs of obsidian eyes set within a distorted canine face. Large clawed appendages that could have been called paws (if you were generous) pinned her shoulders to the dirt, wedging the flat of the giant shuriken tightly against her spine and all the ninja could do was beat ineffectually at the beast's sandpaper hide with flagging fists as she gasped and hyperventilated trying to draw in air through a tightly compressed chest.

Gorge piled up in Yuffie's throat and lodged itself there immediately followed by a great big ball of incandescent fear, the only thoughts babbling through her terrified mind hiccupped bits and pieces from a recycled fairy tale:

My, grandma, what big teeth you have

Steaming saliva and hot fresh blood dripped from the beast's maw, dribbling onto her cheek and she flailed and squirmed under its fetid breath, thrashing her head from side to side as three rows of canines descended towards her face. Unable to scream or move air past the lockdown on her torso, Yuffie bucked and jerked even harder under the crushing weight of the ugly, hairy thing that made Vincent's Gallian Beast look like a Basset Hound by comparison.

The crack of a bullet roared by her head, so close she could almost count the individual grains of powder burning into her right cheek, as hot lead lodged into one of the beast's eyes, snapping its head back in a shower of vitreous fluid.

It let out a wail of horrific proportions, a sound that congealed Yuffie's spinal fluid and forever imbedded itself into the ninja's future nightmares. She grimaced and gagged, trying oh-so hard not to hurl as the creature's own blood, slobber, and serum spewed from its shattered socket to mix with the chocobo ichor and gravy of her impromptu Halloween mask.

A second snap and another slug of five hundred grain hollow-point ammo found itself in the howler's mouth, shattering several rows of enamel-tipped needles, and spraying the hapless girl awash with more bodily fluid cocktails as it exited through the mandible. This time the beast pushed itself off Yuffie, turning its attention to the more adversarial of its prey, as the remaining eyes latched onto the figured perched on his ride, a thin trail of smoke emerging from the barrel of his outthrust rifle.

The ninja rolled onto her belly, emitting a croaked gasp as the pressure of snapped ribs shifting against her lungs nearly sent her cartwheeling into la-la land. Slick, twitching fingers of one hand frantically wiped the blood out of her eyes, as the other scrabbled for the Conformer on her back.

A brass casing struck dirt as the gunslinger chambered another .458 round into the Death Penalty before slamming the bolt back into place. With his claw steadying the reins of his shaking steed, he lowered the big-bore rifle, prepared to send another shell into one of the monster's remaining three eyes when it let out another unearthly ululation that had the desired effect of causing Vincent's chocobo to buck and attempt to flee.

The shot went wild, disappearing into the wall of night.

The howler leapt

filling the air with red daggered fists,


Tossing the Death Penalty aside, the ex-Turk's hand reached for the-

(the heavy clatter of barrel hitting the ground)

-revolver at his hip, drawing in one smooth motion as he-


-aimed into the gaping,

(a flash of steel cutting the air)

-bloody jaws.

The Conformer pierced deeply into the beast's back, sending the monster veering off its intended course and colliding into the ex-Turk, the impact tumbling him off the chocobo. As Vincent pulled himself into a roll, the terrified avian decided it had enough and promptly took the opportunity to peck madly at the canine several times before turning its feathered tail and scooting the hell out of Da Chao, so to speak.

At this point, any beast with most limited of survival instincts would have considered a strategic retreat, and this one was no exception. Deciding it had enough abuse from not-quite-so-easy prey, it scampered away into the night, Conformer in tow.

Holstering his revolver, the gunslinger picked himself up from the ground as well as the Death Penalty that lay nearby and hobbled over to the girl curled up on her left in the middle of the road, grey and gasping with rapid shallow breaths.

"Are you all right?"

Nothing but a strangled, high-pitched wheeze trickled from the ninja's throat.

He bent down on one knee beside her, unsure how much of the blood and ichor caking the girl actually came from her. "Yuffie?"

With some effort the ninja pushed herself into a sitting position, the sudden shift causing her to blanch even paler and clutch spasmodically at her right.

"G-g----h--gh---g" emerged from a padlocked voicebox rendered completely inarticulate. Yuffie forced herself to slow her spinning hyperventilation as she struggled to regain control of all the things malfunctioning below her chin amidst rapidly percolating nausea.

"Grossness?" the ex-Turk offered helpfully.

She nodded weakly and gargled some more, willing at the very least, for her teeth to stop clacking against each other.

Walking to the remains of the slaughtered chocobo, Vincent lifted the saddlebags from the fallen bird and dropped them in front of the girl. After a bit of rooting, he pulled out a bottle of bluish fluid, unstopped it and handled it to the ninja who took one sip and grimaced at the foul aftertaste.

When he picked up the PHS, Yuffie shook her head.

"I'm okay Vinnie," came the quavery voice. "Don'--don't call Cloud, 'kay?"

Taking a deep breath she rose up on legs that looked about as convincingly steady as the creaky scaffolding at Rocket Town. "See? One potion and I'm all spanking new."

"I really don't think you should be moving around right now."

"No biggie! Get a grip! I mean, Gawd! Even Godo hits harder than that." She frowned, her head lolling forward. "I'm sorry." Then picked up. "It's just--I really want a bath right now. Yeah. A nice hot, steamy bath." Her face fell. "I feel so icky and gross." She stomped her foot. "Not fair! Why'd that stupid thing have to attack us anyway?" Then a manic grin resembling a dreamy rictus danced across the ninja's features. "You know if we start off right now, maybe run a bit, I bet we could reach Wutai by-" She sighed. "But we're stuck here for a while, aren't we. You're right Vinnie, I am kinda tired. Maybe what I need is a nap."

Eyes flashed white as they rolled back into their sockets and consciousness thumbed a ride into the next county, stranding the girl at the pass.

She'd gone through all six stages of shock in under fifty-five seconds. Even Vincent was impressed.

Catching Yuffie as she toppled forward, he lowered her gently to the ground and proceeded to flip through the number storage on the PHS. A glance down at the unconscious girl paused the thumb hovering over the autodial button.

With a sigh, the ex-Turk tucked the phone back into the saddlebag. Hefting the pack over his shoulder, he crouched, pulled the ninja's arms up and around his neck, molding her front to his back. Yuffie whimpered slightly before settling her head closer between his shoulder blades.

After making sure she wouldn't slip from her position, he tucked his palms under her knees and stood. With the sleeping girl draped over his back, Vincent continued the trek down the mountain.