Note: I'm sort of back, it's taken several months to write this chapter…sorry. I maintain that I own nothing, I make nothing off this, heck I don't even get very many reviews and I'm exceptionally grateful for the ones I do get. :D Thanks for reading and stickin' it out with me, I've been super stumped lately. Sorry, by the way, if this one seems a little disjointed. It was written way after the other chapters and I kinda lost some of my momentum.
Yuffie hadn't been able to shake the feeling of vague unease she'd woken with despite her rigorous morning workout. She watched Vincent go through his own routine and wondered if he felt the same, he glanced up, coolly acknowledged her, and continued on with what he was doing. She decided two things then. One, he was oblivious to her own internal turmoil. Two, he was an ass. A complete package, all jerk all the time. Good looks, sexy voice, no thoughts or considerations for his partner and her possible concerns.
She glared hard at the ground, running over the mission they'd finished only six hours earlier, hoping to Leviathan she hadn't screwed anything up for herself or Cloud. God's above be kind, if anything happened to him or Tifa she didn't know what she would do…
"We need to move out." His voice was disruptive, brittle even. She startled when she would have swooned, something was terribly wrong and she should have been able to place it. Slowly, she stood and collected her bag and weapons, strapping them into place quickly before heading to the buggy.
She felt it before she heard it, a subtle shift of air, she almost passed it off as a breeze. Soon after came whistle of bullets slicing through air and hitting their mark. She heard flesh tear, smelled the burn, and was surprised she couldn't feel anything. She expected that, though. She knew a thing or two about gun shots, and she knew that shock played an important role. She wouldn't feel it for another fifteen seconds or so…she had time to call out a warning to Vincent. It wouldn't do any good for both of them to be caught unawares.
The burn started and she had been able to scream a wordless cry of anguish before the pain took her to her knees. She grinned, tugging a potion from her pocket. Vincent was never caught entirely off guard. Three bullets fired at once and a cloud of red mist erupted from the trees just beyond the buggy. She gagged on half of the potion, the pain almost too much for her to manage consciousness.
"N-nice…sh-sh..shot." She ground out, rolling onto her side. The bullet hadn't hit anything vital and the potion was doing a fine job numbing the pain.
Vincent dropped beside her, examining the wound quickly. "Nothing vital, clean shot." He spoke mostly to himself peeled back the shirt from her left side. "Looks as though the bullet went straight through you." Yuffie rolled her eyes, annoyed either at herself for being shot or him for being so calculating even now, she was in too much pain to tell. "Can you stand?"
She glared daggers, willing him to catch fire where he was squatting over her. "Have you ever been shot?" He was already wrapping her side with nimble fingers. She was lucky it missed her vital organs, even a centimeter in any direction and she could have easily been dead on the spot, as it was she simply wished she was. 'Thank Leviathan…' She repeated over and over as he tied off the bandage and gave her that raised eyebrow that meant he may have been cross with her.
"I was a Turk, Yuffie." He replied in a dry tone. She made an 'o' with her mouth and simply shook her head. He helped her to her feet and quickly got her to the buggy. He examined the remains of their would be attacker and took his gun in the off chance it would ever be useful to have. "We must get you to Reeve's men, I believe there's a squad in Gongaga. We'll go there." Yuffie nodded, the movement causing her stomach to roil in protest. Vincent's face was grim when he spoke again, which made her even more uneasy. "I will try to get there as quickly as I can, however; I have no idea what lies between us and the jungle…" Yuffie knew what that meant…it was just a matter of who they ran into first. She honestly hoped it was the General. She could handle Sephiroth and Genesis, at least they would but her in a cell with a medic and a blanket. Empress or not, she'd really rather it be them than Deepground.
She settled into her seat, trying to relax as they sped across the plains. The buggy's engine roared tremendously, killing any chance of her talking to Vincent unless she could yell over the deafening sound, and after about an hour she gave up trying to get his attention and decided she'd just deal with feeling miserable, downing another potion to dull the pain. She felt tired, beyond that, she was exhausted…she sighed, feeling a heaviness settle in over her chest, as if she was trying to breathe underwater. She tried to take a deep breath only to be met with crippling pain when she did so. She gasped for air, which she suddenly found she needed desperately. She grasped at the wound to find it sopping. 'So much blood…' She thought idly, vaguely aware she should be worried. Vincent, for all intents and purposes, seemed utterly unaware of her desperate situation, which struck her deeper than the bullet had. She couldn't fathom why, she hardly knew the man, and yet that seemed to be the deeper pain. She couldn't muster the strength to scream or yell over the roar of the buggy, in fact she couldn't find her voice at all. Her hands were trembling and pale and all she wanted to do in that moment was either cry or kick the arrogance right out of him. She felt her stomach roil again and all at once she felt her center of balance shift as she vomited. She hadn't noticed the buggy swerving off the road, or the fact that Vincent was yelling her name as they slid to an abrupt stop. She was, for the moment, grateful he'd thought to either open the window or release her altogether from the stifling buggy. Her eyes felt heavy and her vision was blurry at best, however she knew there was something distinctly different about him and she certainly wanted to have her say on the matter of him ignoring a woman in severe distress, but the world shifted violently on its axis and suddenly all she could feel was a rush of wind as she was engulfed by absolute darkness.
Vincent hadn't liked the idea of utilizing Chaos so openly, however, the likelihood that she would have died before they made it to any sort of hopeful support was quickly becoming a reality.
'She's slipping away, Vincent…' The ever present voice reminded him. Vincent grit his teeth and willed himself to fly faster. Yuffie had been sucking down potions like they were water and had likely poisoned herself with the Mako, which would be another matter he'd have to explain to Cloud…and the Emperor of Wutai. He felt something akin to a laugh bubbling up from within, and with great effort, managed to stifle it.
"Not now." He willed the demon back into his subconscious, which to his surprise, it seemed to go without so much as a second thought.
Yuffie managed a harsh groan, her small hands grasping onto whatever material they could. "Not far now." Vincent's voice was somewhere between his usual deep baritone and a snarl. Yuffie either didn't notice, or didn't care, as she opened her mouth and let out an resonating cry of pain and went limp.
A faint flash of red went streaking across the night sky, giving the men below pause as they watched in slight awe.
"What in the nine hells was that?" Genesis cocked an eyebrow at the bizarre, displaced space the creature had left in it's wake.
Sephiroth stood stalk still, looking pale and shaken for the first time since basic training. It couldn't have been. He knew his eyes hadn't deceived him, though for such an obvious display...
"Seph…?" Genesis gently clasped his shoulder, successfully shaking him from his trance. Sephiroth quickly pulled himself back together, surprising Genesis yet again. He took a deep breath as he waited for whoever it was running toward his tent. "Sephiroth…you saw that, right?" Genesis shot the man a cold look. "Cloud and Zack are with Cid in the 'Shera' they should be able to reach Fort Condor by night fall tomorrow." Angeal stood looking ready for a fight. "The reactor in Rocket Town has been destroyed, no casualties. Also, Deepground sent this out…" He tossed a disc onto the table.
Sephiroth turned slowly, eying the disc cautiously. He knew it wasn't Deepground that had destroyed that reactor. "Is it possible AVALANCHE is trying to cripple Deepground? They've been hitting more reactors and with fewer casualties, if any at all, which seems to upset the DG's." He met Angeal's smirk.
The older man nodded toward the disc. "If you're thinking of doing what I think you are, then you had better watch that. We wont have much time…" Angeal turned, and stopped. "Do you know who any of the members of AVALANCHE are?" Sephiroth shook his head. "What would you do if they were people who were close to you? They are terrorists, aren't they? They have committed a tremendous number of crimes against ShinRa…Rufus would not be so easily swayed to simply 'pardon' any one of them because they assisted us." Angeal watched him carefully.
Genesis chuckled, shaking his head. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend…what we don't report never happened." Both men turned to the red head. "We need their help." He took the disc from Sephiroth. "If this is going to divulge the identity of someone he shouldn't see, perhaps I should watch it and report back with all the…important details. He has more important matters to worry over." He nodded toward the black phone settled beside Masamune and his coat.
Genesis spun on his heel and made his way to his own tent, Angeal close behind, leaving the Sephiroth to his thoughts. With a sigh he snatched the phone up and hit the call button…
Cloud held the picture between his fingers, tracing the lines of the faces within. He couldn't believe his eyes, though with the things he'd seen in the last few years there was little that should surprise him. He took a deep breath and tucked it back into his pocket at soft footsteps approached.
She settled beside him on the bench. Having been on many a ferry, she was used to the constant sway, except that this was no ferry and they weren't out on some ocean. It was the 'Shera' and they were several thousand feet in the air. It was a flying war machine, armed to the teeth and several times as dangerous. ShinRa's finest engineer, Cid Highwind, had developed them. The 'Highwind' was the first, and still in commission. This was his newest, and greatest remake.
"A feat of modern engineering, huh? Who would think you could get something like this into the air and have it do all that." She gestured to the schematic on the wall. Cid, being the arrogant pilot and engineer that he was, had posted a diagram of just what the 'Shera' was capable of. "I mean, I've seen the warships and what have you, but this thing is unbelievable…" Tifa stood staring a moment, awe struck. The airship was designed to look harmless enough, yet her payload was enough to make a Turk blush. She was capable of stealth flight, night raids, and her hull was lined with a material provided by the Turks and impenetrable. Most importantly, she was Mako powered, the first and only airship so far to be able to handle it. "I can't believe him, such a crass and angry man…and look at what he did." She motioned around her. Cloud offered a half smile and nodded. Tifa had lost much of her color in the last few days, and Zack and Aerith had literally glued themselves to her. She seemed to appreciate their concern less and less, however. He stood slowly and walked over to her as she continued to gush over her uncle and his bizarre engineering madness.
Tifa felt the air leave her in a sudden rush as two arms wrapped around her shoulders from behind and suddenly she found herself being spun around into a warm chest as she was quickly engulfed in what could easily be described as the greatest release of pressure in the last month. She opened her mouth to say something, anything, only to find herself crying openly into his shirt. Her knees gave way and he held her aloft as though she weighed nothing at all. In that moment she let out everything she'd been holding onto since the General had left. Her arms wrapped around him, grasping and clawing at him desperately as he whispered reassuringly against her hair, soothing her with only his words as his arms tightened around her almost possessively.
Aerith came down looking for her, and upon hearing the sounds of her crying, she'd come running around the corner to see them slipping to the ground. She practically flew to them, wrapping her arms around Tifa's waist as she fell to her knees beside her friend. As her eyes met Cloud's her stomach knotted immediately. In that moment he never looked more conflicted, his eyes were never more hollow, deeper, afraid, or full of some unsure emotion than they were right then. She'd never seen them so blue, they were practically glowing, they were so beautiful it was tragic. She felt her breath catch in her throat.
"Oh, Cloud…" She whispered, bringing a hand up to cup his cheek. He jerked away as if burned, causing her to withdraw her hand. Her cheeks colored slightly, whether in shame or surprise he didn't know, and he wasn't about to ask.
Cloud released Tifa carefully. "I trust you know more about…this…than I do." Tifa's head shot up, her eyes full of hurt and confusion. Cloud knelt before her, wiping her tears away with his thumb. "Don't worry, we'll get to Yuffie and Sephiroth before anything happens to either one…I promise." He let his knuckles graze her cheek, dancing away as she leaned into his touch, her shoulders still shaking and eyes rimmed red. She nodded as Aerith pulled her into her arms, holding her tight.
"I'll take care of her from here, Cloud…" There was something in the flower girl's tone that made him uneasy.
He nodded slowly as he stood and walked away, fighting the urge to punch something. He rounded the corner and quickly changed his mind, heading for the galley. Amos nearly tripped him as he barreled through the doors. He was more than a little upset that she had demanded they bring the dog. There were plenty of kennels there that would have taken excellent care of the damned animal…
There was a grumble behind him. "Yeah, yeah…you're her favorite damn dog, I get it." He immediately felt foolish for answering an animal, and yet he knew that dog could read him like a book. He was almost sure it hated Sephiroth, but it sure liked to follow him around. "I guess it's ok she brought you along…just in case." He gave Amos a gentle scratch between his ears as he leaned heavily on one of the several cooking surfaces. After a brief bit of rummaging, he'd managed to find a bit of whiskey stowed on board. Cloud poured himself a glass and took a seat.
"Pour me one, will ya?" A gruff voice called out from the behind him. He poured a second glass, sliding it down the counter effortlessly. "Thanks. How's the girl?" His voice was gruff, even when he spoke softly it sounded like he was sucking on sandpaper. Cloud chalked it up to years of smoking, and possibly the frequency at which he screams at his men.
"She will be fine, sir. Thank you for your concern." He at least remembered his formalities. Cid out ranked him, and on a bad he could probably break him three ways from Sunday…or at least that was true four years ago. Cloud hadn't really spoken to his old training Sgt since he had advanced to Second Class. He and Zack were among the youngest, aside from Sephiroth, Angeal, and Genesis, to be nominated for the First Class Officer positions.
Cid tipped the glass back, downing the amber liquid in two swallows. "Cut th'shit, Cloud, sh's my God's be damned niece…that girl's built tougher than th' fuckin' Shera. She ain't fine.." Cid gave his now empty tumbler a spin settling a hard glare on Cloud. He shifted slightly, unsure what exactly he should say. "Fuck…you're all with them aren't you?" Cloud nodded slowly, absolutely sure who them was. "How long?" He felt like a school boy in trouble, unable to find his tongue. "How fucking long?!"
Cloud jumped. "Two, three years I think…I don't really remember. I joined up when I met Reeve…after Jenova turned." His voice trailed off as he stared down at the glass in his hand. "It was around the same time I joined SOLDIER, and for the same reasons. Reeve's striving for the same peace Rufus is and he means as well, if the two were ever to meet the results could only be in our favor." Cloud looked up to see Cid staring in mild surprise.
The pilot poured himself another glass and tossed back the amber liquid with a sigh. "I dunno what I should do with ya. I mean, by all ShinRa rights I should shuck your traitorous ass off my fuckin' airship." His usual twang had all but vanished and dropped a few octaves. His eyes were blue steel and just as unforgiving, and for an instant Cloud was afraid. This man was his superior in more ways than rank. Hand to hand wasn't his specialty and Cid had arms like steel cables. If the man wanted to he could fold Cloud into a pretzel before he tossed him, effortlessly, off the airship. "I would kill ya…except…" He stood, taking Cloud's now empty cup with him rinsing them quickly before placing them in the drying rack, leaning heavily on the counter. "I've been fightin' the good fight fer goin' on seven years now." He chuckled at the utterly shocked look on Cloud's face. "Shera's been with 'em longer…" He smirked then. "T's how I met that woman. Sassy scientist, she plays coy, but she aint nothin' like that in the…well ya get my meanin'. I knew Tifa was, she has been fer years. Does she know that…?" Cloud nodded slowly.
"I'm going to be promoted this spring to Soldier First Class, along with Zack." Cloud frowned a moment. "How many members of Soldier are in AVALANCHE?" Cid laughed outright.
Shaking his head, he dug around for another pack of smokes, lighting up and taking a long drag. "More than you'd think, though not enough."
Cloud nodded and looked down at Amos, paw over his nose, he had one ear lifted as though he were intently listening to their conversation. "I only know Zack and I, it's been hell keeping it from my brother." Cloud rubbed his face tiredly.
Cid chuckled. "The General has an uncanny knack fer bein' blind when it most suits his ass…take Nibelhiem, or the Asura Reactor in Junon. Oh, let us not forget our dear Empress Yuffie." Cid rolled his eyes at the mention of Yuffie, Cloud felt his stomach churn. The last he heard she had been poisoned and Vincent was taking her to Reeve himself. Cloud absently patted the picture in his pocket. "Point is, yer brother wont see you as anythin' but…me? He'd kill me on the spot…if'n he knew." Cid said with a smug grin. "He's also quite dim." Cloud chuckled at that. Sephiroth could be very narrow minded when he was otherwise focused.
Cloud felt relieved, and like he needed to go apologize to Tifa. "Thanks, Cid." Cid gave him a noncommittal noise in response and chuckled. Cloud stood to leave, Amos in tow.
"Kid, just be careful. Brother's share plenty…not everything." Cid fixed him with another hard look. Cloud felt his gut twist at that and nodded. He walked out onto the deck and decided against his earlier plan to see Tifa, opting to return to his room instead with the strange feeling that everything he felt was written clearly on his forehead. He glanced down as Amos let out a low rumble, confirming his worries.
He could hear Tifa's soft laughter as he passed her door, and figured he must have finally been able to call. It was strange, the relationship the two of them had. Cloud wasn't envious, really. He was grateful. Sephiroth never wanted for himself, and neither did she. Tifa's voice sounded strained, worried. She was holding something back, perhaps the struggle to keep her secret now was getting to her. Cloud felt guilty, as though he was somehow responsible...Sephiroth would be furious if he knew she was one of them, he wouldn't be so concerned with him though...Cloud was willful even as a child. He'd always wanted out of his brothers shadow, but Tifa would be something else.
Amos sat like a statue in front of her door, watching the handle expectantly. He neither whined nor scratched, knowing full well she'd open it when she was good and ready. Cloud waited a moment and after a second thought, opened the door himself, letting the massive dog in. Tifa gasped, reassuring the person on the phone that it was simply Cloud letting Amos into her room.
"No, no...he just opened the door. I-no! I could not leave him there while we left. What if they destroyed the town? I highly doubt they would think twice about rescuing him. Besides, I feel much safer having him with me." She smiled affectionately at the dog as he gingerly hopped onto her bed and did his best to take up as little space as he could. Tifa eyed Cloud skeptically a moment. "He wants to speak to you..." She said with a slight frown.
Cloud eyed her sullenly a moment before taking the phone. "Sephiroth..." This had been a conversation he had not been expecting and with a person he hadn't been ready for.
"Not quite, kid." Genesis had to be grinning, with that tone. "You've got some explaining to do..." Cloud felt his gut hit the floor and from the way Tifa touched his arm his sudden fear must have been flashing on his forehead. He'd have to work on this whole 'open book' thing. He'd been spending too much time with this woman, it was rubbing off on him and in the worst way.
"What do you want to know?" He felt anger and resentment rising in him. He was putting everyone in danger. To his surprise, it must have come through in his voice.
"How willing do you think the other members of your little after school gang will be if we ask them to work with us?" There was a hint of a mocking tone in his voice, though not as much as Cloud was expecting...he was serious.
Cloud looked at Tifa, who was smiling sadly at Amos. Genesis must have taken his silence as contemplation, as he resumed the conversation without him.
"I'm sending you some data now. Our last mission was an utter failure...we never fail." There was that tell tale anger in Genesis' voice, he was only ever angry when he was honest...or about to kill something. "Think about it. You have twelve hours, after that the offer expires and we are out of options. We need to work together, Cloud. We need their help. You, we can easily ignore...the others are another story. This is the only way for them to survive...especially her." With that the line went dead. Cloud tossed the phone onto the bed.
Tifa lifted her mahogany gaze to his. "So, do we fight with or against the great machine? They are the lesser of two evils, in this case."
"They aren't evil, Tifa!" He hissed at her. She jumped as Amos growled at Cloud's tone. "If they were you wouldn't be fucking their General!" He spun on his heel, slamming her door as he left. He headed for the control room and to find Zack. What a day this had turned out to be, and only a twelve hours till they hit Fort Condor. He stopped suddenly..."Fuck, they're waiting for us!" He growled at no one in particular, breaking into a run.
A/N: So? I know it took me a million years to get this one up and I know I said I would get it up sooner…I'm lame, what can I say? But seriously, I would really like to know what everyone thinks of this chapter, especially since there's some new development goin' on ;) I'd like you to know, it was supposed to be Zack, but I couldn't for the life of me get his ass into a position to be all "Hey Tifa, bow chica bow wow" and Cloud was like "I'm on it!" So…there you have it. Who knows, maybe I'll just give in and have Aerith do it, since as everyone knows (thank you cheesy dramas) the best time to get into the hot chicks pants is when she's crying and emotionally disturbed. And Aerith has been doing all the leg work here with the comforting and such…hehe, I'm totally kidding :D Anyway, review please!!!