AN: First off, I want to give major thanks to all of my reviewers! I THRIVE off reviews! They're my bread and butter. Next, if you don't know already, I update my progress on my profile semi-regularly; you get a general idea of how soon I'll be updating from that.
EDIT (01/09/2011) I had a few mistakes in here, nothing major. I just wanted to edit them out and replace the chapter.
Anyways, read and enjoy!
He had been following them since they left Rocket Town. In fact, it was Risa who had contacted him to let him know that someone was looking for him. Knowing her, she had probably told them the same lie she told anyone who asked for him; she knew he didn't like to be bothered. But, she had also hinted that perhaps the pair should be followed. Whether it was out of concern for him or concern for them, he didn't know. He did know, however, that even experienced warriors had trouble making the journey through the Nibel Mountains, and he decided to sate his curiosity by trailing behind them.
Vincent had to admit that despite their relatively young age, the two were a force to be reckoned with even with their apparent unfamiliarity with materia. It was a perfect partnership; he could see that in the way they fought the various monsters and shadow beasts in the mountains, and the way they moved together, as if knowing exactly what the other would do in any situation. It was apparent they had fought countless battles together. But, even so, if the full force of the beasts in the mountains were to be brought down upon them, even they would have difficulty. So, he had done his part by quietly threatening the monsters susceptible to his red glare; he refrained from using his firearm, the Cerberus, as he did not want to attract the duo's attention as of yet.
Once they made camp for the night, Vincent realized that this may be his chance to get a good look at the pair. He stayed in the shadows as he waited for them to settle down for the night. It wasn't long before they had a small fire roaring in their cave, and the young woman came to cave entrance for watch duty.
Sure that he would not be heard or seen, Vincent silently edged closer to their shelter to get a better vantage. Here, he was able to see that the girl was, at the oldest, just barely out of her teens. It was with slight wonder that he contemplated the hardships she must've seen in her short life to have become such a seasoned warrior. But, they all had seen hardships in the last years. He studied her, taking in the dark, wide eyes and short black hair that seemed to tug at his memories. Once upon a time, he may have known someone who looked like her, but he could not recall who. Vincent shoved the memories back; this was not the time to dwell on the past. His eyes focused on the girl once more.
He lost track of time as watched her eyes dart around at the shadows and listened as she mumbled under her breath. But, then he noticed her eyes were on him. As quietly as possibly, he backed away from his spot, startling a rabbit as he did so. Luckily, her attention moved from him to the rabbit, then to waking her partner for the next watch.
The man, Vincent noted, appeared to be about his own age-well, his immortal age of twenty-seven. However, he was also more alert and aware of his surroundings than the girl, and his eyes kept darting towards Vincent's hidden spot. With caution, Vincent silently quit his observation for the night and found his a spot further away to keep vigil on the pair. There were many monsters in the area that would relish the idea of a free meal in the middle of the night.
In the morning, Vincent resumed trailing them from distance. As they had crossed the bridge, he learned the man's name was Leon when the young woman encouraged him to hurry across the bridge. The creaking and groaning from the bridge told him that it would soon need repairs again, and he watched as Leon cracked a board. Yes, it would definitely need to be repaired; he made a mental note to do this himself the next time he was through here. Right now though, he needed to continue following these two and see what they wanted.
Once they reached Nibelheim, the pair wasted no time in deliberating what to do next; they seemed to know exactly where they were going. Well, the young woman seemed to. Leon appeared to be following her lead as they entered the gate to the Shinra manor. Vincent thought it odd that strangers would know to search the mansion for him. Most people only knew that he came from Nibelheim; very few knew that he once 'lived' in the Shinra manor.
He waited a few moments after they had entered the mansion before proceeding through the gate and following them to the door. The mansion looked much the same as it had when he had been awakened from his nightmarish sleep thirteen years ago; it was still in disrepair and should have been condemned long ago. Of course, in a ghost town such as Nibelheim, who would worry about such things?
The interior of the mansion hadn't fared much better than the exterior; weeds were pushing up through the cracks and holes in the floorboards and a heavy layer of dirt and grime covered everything. It also appeared that the place had been looted since he had been here last. What little furniture remained in the house had been overturned and ripped into. Perhaps it had not been looters after all, but the shadow beasts searching for more prey. They were ravenous creatures and nothing like them had ever been seen on this planet before their sudden attack years ago. That attack was devastating, and countless people were lost. It took years to bring the shadow beast numbers down and drive them into the mountains. But, even still, at times, their numbers grew again, and the attacks would begin anew. At least now, however, the inhabitants of this planet began training as soon as they could hold a weapon and learned the best ways to defend themselves until something could be done to destroy the beasts again.
The slamming of the door behind him brought Vincent's attention back to the present, and he froze to wait and see if he would be discovered. Damn him for becoming so lost in his memories that he had forgotten to quietly close the door before the wind caught it. Hearing no one approaching him, he ascended what was once a grand set of stairs; the years had not been kind to them, he decided, as they creaked and groaned under his weight.
At the top of the stairs, he paused, listening for the telltale signs where the intruders had gone next. A faint breeze carried a dank scent from the right, and he knew they had found the secret door to the basement below. Whoever they were, they had done their research. Not only did they know he was found in the manor, but they also knew to look in the basement for him. This did not bode well.
Cautiously and silently, he approached the room with the hidden door, only remembering at the last second to avoid the creaky floorboard. As he suspected, the pair had descended the spiraling stairs to the basement. He could hear their voices echoing faintly. Vincent gave them a head start before quickly following after them. There would be shadows down there for him to hide until the opportune moment to reveal himself; the lights that had once illuminated the entire basement were now only half-working, providing ample shadowy places to hide.
"-at least we can get some rest here tonight before going out tomorrow and looking."
He heard the young woman's voice from inside the room with the coffins. The moment was now. Drawing Cerberus from his holster, he stopped the young woman with the barrels to her forehead. He had always found that a gun to the head was the best way to stop even those considered to be the most fearless.
Crimson eyes dropped to study his target; this situation felt vaguely familiar to him as more unseen strings tugged at his memories. Then, to his surprise, the young woman seemed to find humor in the situation. Before he could react to that, she spoke again.
"If it didn't work the first time, do you really think it would work this time, Vinnie?"
-"Are you a vampire?"-
In shock, he allowed Cerberus to be lowered slightly. There was only one person who had ever gotten away with calling him Vinnie, but she was just a child and sent away to safety. Surely this wasn't her; surely she couldn't be grown already. He would be the first to admit that he could let years pass by without noticing, but surely this many couldn't have gone by already. But, the proof was unmistakable. The way she knew the mansion, the fact that she knew to search the basement, and that she knew some bastardized version of his name.
"Yuffie," he said simply, not letting the shock show in his voice.
Leon had no idea what was going on, but he knew that he did not like seeing a gun pressed to Yuffie's forehead. Even when Yuffie apparently recognized whoever was in front of her, and the gun was lowered, Leon still had his misgivings. He only had the stories he had heard from the others, mostly Yuffie, about this Vincent character, and who could trust her word when she had obviously idolized the strange-dangerous-man. Without realizing it, his grip tightened on the butt of his gunblade as he carefully watched their odd interaction. He would be prepared for the worst even if Yuffie wasn't.
And he really didn't like the look on Yuffie's face; he knew that look. She used to give that look to him when she was younger, back when she still idolized him. Yes, he knew that she had a bit of hero worship back then, and he was the object of her worship. Aerith had reminded of this anytime he was thought to be too hard on the young ninja, back when they still lived in Traverse Town. Though he had grown accustomed to receiving that look from her, he was glad when it gradually faded away. He didn't need to worry about letting someone else down. But, now seeing that look on her face for someone else? It made emotions come out that he didn't know he even had anymore.
Though Yuffie may believe he didn't care, he did care for her. No one could have lived through what they had without some kind of bond forming. And, because of that bond, he would, as always, keep an eye on the situation and be prepared for anything.
That oh-so-familiar velvet voice coming out of the darkness sent shivers down Yuffie's spine; that was a reaction she had never had to his voice before. Of course, given that she had last seen him when she was seven years old, it was understandable. She wanted to hug him and nearly did so before she remembered his aversion to physical contact. So, she smiled cheekily at Vincent instead. "I was wondering if you would recognize me!"
Vincent returned his gun to its holster as he answered her. "Hn. It has been awhile." His gaze flickered to the man behind her and noticed the tightened grip on his odd-looking weapon, then shifted back to Yuffie. "But, why are you here?" he asked as his crimson eyes narrowed slightly.
"This is the thanks I get for coming here to save your ass?" Yuffie rolled her eyes and placed a hand on her hip in annoyance. So much for the big reunion she had been imagining. "And, to think, I thought I would be saving you from an eternal sleep." She indicated the open door behind her.
"Yuffie, it's not safe here. You shouldn't be here," Vincent insisted. How could he make her understand about the dangers this world now posed? He knew she was an excellent warrior; he saw that while following them. But, he also knew that the monsters were not as numerous as they could have been, partly because he intimidated some himself before they could reach the pair.
"In case you haven't noticed, Vinnie, Leon and I-" She broke off when she realized she had completely forgotten about her partner in the few moment since Vincent had arrived. "Oh! I forgot! Vinnie, Leon. Leon, Vinnie." She turned to look at the swordsman behind and felt like slapping a hand to her forehead when she saw his stance. "Gawd, Leon! Will you relax? This is Vinnie, for fuck's sake, not a monster!"
Vincent internally winced at that; though she might choose not to recognize it, he was a monster by all rights. That Leon saw this so straightforwardly only confirmed the fact. His gauntlet-his silent reminder of what he was-had been hidden in his cloak until this point, but he withdrew it now. A reminder does no good if it is not where you can see it.
Not having realized he discomfort was so easily read by Yuffie or that his knuckles were now white from their grip on his Gunblade, Leon forced himself to relax slightly. But, when he saw Vincent bring his gauntleted arm around, he tensed up again for a moment. Until now, he had never believed Yuffie when she talked about how "wicked cool" the man's hand was. He had chalked it up to a child's exaggeration.
"Gah! Are you two just gonna stand there and not say anything?" Yuffie let out a small growl as she glared at the two stubborn men in front of her. She knew Leon could be obtuse at times, and she remembered that Vincent could be a bit anti-social, to say the least, but this was ridiculous. Obviously, she would have to take matters into her own hands, literally. Grabbing Leon's right hand, she tugged him closer and likewise grabbed Vincent's hand. "Now shake hands and make nice!" she warned as she eyed them both carefully.
They didn't shake hands, but looked at each other warily for a few moments. An icebreaker was needed, Leon realized, and he would have to be the one to supply it since Yuffie was clearly expecting him to do the job. "So, you're the great Vincent Valentine that Yuffie always talked about all the time," he ventured; he couldn't keep the slight trace of sarcasm out of his voice, however.
Yuffie could feel the heat of the blush blooming on her face at Leon's words. "Oh, c'mon Leon, it wasn't all the time!"
He ignored Yuffie and continued. "It was always 'Vinnie could do this' and 'Vinnie could do that so much faster' and 'Vinnie is wicked cool.' For the first year or two, she talked about you constantly."
"Leon," Yuffie whined as her face burned even hotter than before as her blush expanded. By now, she figured it was a full body blush.
"...I'm flattered, I think," Vincent said, "though I believe she may have exaggerated. She always did have a way of... stretching the truth." His eyes darted to her, and he briefly wondered if it was possible for her to turn any redder.
Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, Yuffie tried to will her blush away. Slowly, she felt the flush leaving and her face cooling. She opened her eyes and narrowed them at Leon. "If we're done with the embarrassing stories, can we please change the subject to something else? Like where we're gonna stay tonight?"
Though he couldn't see the sky from the basement, Vincent could feel it was edging closer to night. It wouldn't be safe to travel in the darkness as the shadow beasts could blend into their surroundings and attack without warning. He realized there was only one safe option for the night. "We will stay here tonight."
That Vincent so matter-of-factly stated where they would stay for the night rankled Leon despite the fact that he had earlier silently agreed with Yuffie on staying in the mansion for the night. But now, he found himself not wanting to stay there for the night. "There are too many ways for the monsters to get in here. All the windows and doors are just begging for them to come in. We should go back to the cave we stayed in last night where we only have one entrance to guard," Leon countered and looked at Yuffie for her opinion.
"Don't look at me! I am so not getting into this." If they were going to argue-in their oh so quiet and calm ways-about this, she really wanted no part in it. They would have to settle it themselves.
Vincent understood now; by saying they would stay in the mansion, he had questioned Leon's leadership. So, he decided to acquiesce to the suggestion of the cave despite the dangerous journey ahead of them. "Then perhaps we should leave before it becomes full dark. The beasts attack in greater number under the cover of darkness." He turned then, his cloak swishing out behind him, and began to ascent up the spiral staircase.
"Hey, wait for me!" Yuffie shouted as she ran to catch up to his long stride. She didn't wait to see if Leon was following them or not; she knew he would, and he would just have to catch up to them. In fact, she could already hear his heavy footfalls on the steps behind her, but she ignored him for the time being. "So, how many Heartless are still here, Vinnie?"
"Heartless?" he questioned at the unfamiliar word. He turned to glance over his shoulder at her. "What do you mean?"
Yuffie looked at him blankly for a moment before she realized that he didn't know-wouldn't know-what she was talking about. She hadn't learned what they were either until after she had left this planet. "You know, the monsters that attacked us when-" She choked on her words; she was going to say 'when you saved me' but remembered that her parents had also died that night, too, and she didn't want to remember that.
Without asking, Vincent knew the event she was speaking of. "The shadow beasts," he supplied.
"Yes, I guess you could call them that."
"Their numbers vary," he said vaguely, thinking of all the attacks in the last few years. "The few you fought on your journey here was low even for them."
"Wow, and I thought that was a lot-Hey! How do you know how many we fought?"
Having been quietly listening to the conversation ahead of him, Leon answered before Vincent could. "He's been following us almost since we left Rocket Town." He remembered very clearly the moments when he was sure something was watching him, something predatory eyeing him from the shadows. To know that they were now traveling with him was both reassuring and slightly alarming, even if Yuffie had no fear of Vincent.
"Yes," Vincent answered, then paused for a moment as he collected his answer. "Risa," at their blank stares, he elaborated, "the young woman in Rocket Town-I believe you spoke to her-was worried and asked that I follow you." It wasn't the complete truth as she hadn't asked so much as hinted, but it would do.
"So, the red eyes I saw last night?" Yuffie asked as she remembered being watched the night before.
"It was me."
"So, you know how much of an awesome ninja I am now, right?"
"Is that a yes?"
"I think it's a yes."
As predicted by Vincent, there were many more Heartless, or shadow beasts as he called them, attacking them now that it was night than during the day. But, since there were now three of them instead of just the two, the monsters were more quickly dispatched. The trio traveled as quickly as they were able, stopping only for breathers when absolutely necessary.
Occasionally, however, Vincent would stop for a moment and stare off into the trees, his eyes giving off a predatory and challenging look, before continuing on with the others. Yuffie resolved to ask him about it once they made camp for the night.
It was also quickly discovered that Vincent made an invaluable teammate; his aim with Cerberus was impeccable, and if that failed to bring the creature down, his clawed gauntlet would do the job. At times, even his bronze-tipped boots were used to kick and kill a quickly approaching monster. After seeing him fight, Yuffie thought of Sora trying to spar with Vincent as he did occasionally with Cloud or Leon; it made her giggle, and both Leon and Vincent looked at her like she was crazy as she laughed while attacking Heartless.
"Care to share the joke?" Leon asked as he wiped his gunblade on the grass.
"Maybe later." Yuffie grinned and started walking again.
By the time they reached their destination, it was late, and the moon was high in the sky, giving them a bit of light to see by, but not enough. A well-placed fire spell gave them a torch to check the cave for any beasts that may have taken it for the night, though Vincent had already claimed that nothing was there. Neither Yuffie or Leon asked how he knew this; Yuffie chalked it up to his enhancements, and Leon just really didn't want to know.
Another fire was started in the remains of their fire from the night before. Luckily, Leon had gathered enough firewood then to provide them for tonight. And, since they had not eaten since that morning, Yuffie pulled some meals, ready to eat, from her bag for their dinner; she had confiscated them the day before from the Gummi's galley.
"Here's dinner!" she announced as she tossed the packets to the two men. She didn't wait for them as she dug into hers; though it was not exactly gourmet food, she couldn't complain when her stomach was grumbling so loudly. She noticed, however, that Vincent merely stared at the packet. "Aren't you gonna eat it, Vinnie?"
"I don't require food as often as you," he provided as he pushed the packet back towards her.
"Well, if you're sure," she drawled as she started to put the packet back into her bag, then stopped and looked at Leon. "What about you, Leon? Do you want it?"
He stared distastefully down at his own half-eaten meal. "I think I'll pass. Nine days is too long to only eat these."
"Suit yourself." Yuffie put the packet back into her bag and continued eating her meal in silence. Once finished, however, she began looking for ways to lighten the somber mood in the cave. Vincent, she remembered, was usually like this. But, Leon was being more silent than usual. "So," she began, "does anyone know any good ghost stories to tell? I mean, we have the campfire, we have the creepy forest, and we have a full moon."
Vincent ignored her and stared out the cave entrance, and Leon just looked at her from the corner of his eye as he continued with his meal. So, Plan A was a bust, but now onto Plan B. "That was an unusually large number of Heartless, wasn't it? It's been a long time since we've seen that many, hasn't it, Leon?" Wrong thing to say, she realized as she received a hard glare from Leon. She belatedly remembered Vincent warning them that there would be more monsters out after dark and that Leon ignored him.
Aggravated at both of them, Leon especially, Yuffie huffed. Lightening the mood in the cave, she decided, was like trying to get a chocobo to shit a cupcake; it wasn't happening. And the silence was becoming deafening. Luckily, though, before she could interrupt it in whatever way was most annoying to her present company, Vincent spoke.
"I will take the first watch," he volunteered from his position near the cave entrance. He never turned their way while he spoke, but continued watching the forest.
"Then I'm going to bed," Leon grunted as he pulled out his sleeping bag. In minutes, he had tossed his jacket to Yuffie and was zipped up inside, his back facing the fire.
Grateful for the jacket, Yuffie quickly pulled it on and approached Vincent and sat beside him. He looked at her from the corner of his eye, but otherwise did not move. She stayed quiet, just watching the shadows outside their cave.
It was Vincent who broke the silence first. "You need to sleep," he told her.
"Nah, I'm too keyed up to sleep right now," she admitted. There was another long moment of silence before she spoke again. "You know, I thought you would go back to the coffin."
"I assumed as much."
"Why didn't you?"
"There are other ways to atone, I discovered." When Yuffie didn't reply, he looked over to find her staring intently out into the shadows. "There's nothing there," he offered.
She nodded silently, then spoke, "Cid said you were dead, you know. They all did, really."
Vincent wanted to say that he was already dead, that he had died years before Yuffie found him in that coffin so long ago, but he didn't. Some things were best left unsaid. Instead, he asked, "They are all well, I assume?"
"As well as could be." She paused as she gathered her thoughts and best thought of how to summarize their life now. "Cid still drinks tea like it's going out of style; Aerith still wears pink and makes flowers grow, though she's a bit taller now; and Cloud, well, he was lost to us for so long-nine years-that when he came back, he was a little messed up in the head, you know? Tifa, too, though not like Cloud."
"He kinda got lost in the darkness and lost his identity. We thought he was dead, then Sora-the kid that's basically saving the entire universe-came back and told us about this guy he fought once. He was wearing a red cloak and gold claw, Sora said." Yuffie tugged gently on a corner of Vincent's cloak to emphasize her point. "So, naturally, we-me, Cid, and Aerith-thought it was you. Imagine our surprise when Cloud turned up in that get-up a few months later. Tifa came back not long after that."
Vincent said nothing as he mulled over what he had just been told. And, after a long moment of Yuffie saying nothing also, he believed she might have fallen asleep. However, when he looked at her, he realized that she was just staring into the darkness again. Maybe he should insist she get some sleep. But, that train of thought stopped with her next question.
"Vinnie, what is with those looks you give to the forest? I've seen you do it a lot today, and I remember you doing it before when we travelled through here."
"...I would rather not tell you."
"Oh c'mon," she chided. "It can't be that bad. I already know you turn into beasties from time to time." She noticed his slightly taken aback look. "Yeah, they told me as soon as they found out. They thought it would scare me into staying away from you. I think it had the opposite effect." Her parents, she knew, had only been trying to protect her from something they didn't understand, but to a curious six year old with no fear, it only made the curiosity even greater.
Vincent sighed. "Chaos... stays close to the surface when there are shadow beasts-Heartless-around."
"So, he's like drawn to them or something?"
"Or does he scare them away?"
No answer at all this time from Vincent, not even a noncommittal grunt.
"You don't know either, do you, Vinnie?"
There was a slight, barely visible wince this time. "Yuffie, must you call me that horrid name?"
Yuffie laughed quietly; so that's what finally gets to him. The unflappable Vincent Valentine can't stand to be called 'Vinnie.' "That's what I always called you," she insisted when she quit laughing.
He gave her a pointed stare. "You were six years old."
"Okay, okay," she said as she rolled her eyes. "I won't call you 'Vinnie' anymore. Okay, Vincent?"
She yawned and stood up. "You know, you and Leon have a lot more in common than either of you might think." She stretched lightly and leaned down to give him a brief hug despite his dislike of physical touch. "And, on that note, I'm going to bed."
Vincent turned and watched as she knelt down to the sleeping bag Leon slept in, nudged him aside, and climbed in with him back to back. It didn't seem proper to him for them to be sharing a sleeping bag; however, with the ease Yuffie had with nudging Leon aside and his instinctual moving, it appeared they had been doing this for years. For some reason, that thought did not sit well with Vincent.
AN: I didn't think I was ever going to get through this chapter. I kept trying and trying, but I couldn't ever get Leon and Vincent to cooperate with me until I changed some minor plot points. Also, I apologize if Vincent is a bit OOC. I've never written him before, but I've play FF7 and Dirge of Cerberus, seen Advent Children, and have read lots of fanfics. So, I hope I've kept him at least mostly in character, thought I'm afraid I made him a bit chatty.
Also, it may be a bit before I get to work on this again. I have a Christmas oneshot or twoshot AU FF7 fanfic I want to get down and posted by Christmas Eve. So, it'll be after that before I work on this again.
Anyways, please remember that reviews are never required, but always appreciated.