Hero of the Day

–Ah, what the hell? Since it’s a fresh start and all, I’ll just repost the story from the beginning. >ignores the groans< I’ll repost one installment every couple of days or so, as to not rush everything. (And to give me plenty of time to get cracking with the next part. >grins<) I hope I’m not boring anybody, but I might as well put the rest of it up. My ego can’t take being out of the spotlight for long. :smiley: >winks<–

Disclaimer: Yeah, yeah, yeah… I don’t own Final Fantasy 7, or else I would’ve put a better ending with it. >smiles< So, um, don’t sue. Oh, and I don’t own Metallica either, but I thought it’d be a better title than “Pradeciatio Vomica”. >shrugs< Ah well…

[i]Hero of the Day

“They’re off to find the hero of the day…
…but what if they should fall by someone’s wicked way?”

–Metallica, “Hero of the Day”[/i]

Part I

They clashed, Lifestream and Holy battling against Meteor’s dark intent. A sea of green flooded the area, growing in brightness and intensity until it was blinding. It was breath-taking; unreal in its beauty. The light died down as quickly as it arrived, leaving a darkness none had seen since the appearance of Meteor. To the warriors, clinging to various protruding objects inside the battered remains of the soaring Highwind, the darkness brought mixed feelings.

The ninja never really enjoyed flight in the first place, and this last installment, while she realized it was the only way to live, made her stomach do a series of backflips. Grasping blindly at a wall for support, she stared out of the main window. She grinned when she saw the black skyline. “We did it!” she exclaimed happily.

The ship veered in a sharp U-turn, heading quickly back towards Midgar, which they had flown away from minutes before. Everyone remained eerily silent, all gazing out of the pane. The ebon haired Wutanian knitted her brows, frowning at everybody’s speechlessness. Staggering forward, she was forced to use a slightly dazed Cid Highwind as her anchor, to keep from falling flat on her face. Much to her surprise, although little surprised her now, the brusque pilot said nothing. He merely held out his arm slightly to steady her before turning his attention back to the oddly blank scene.

She joined them; half wondering what they were looking at, half wondering what they were thinking. She wasn’t so full of herself to think she knew everything…at least, not anymore. But, she questioned, what they were seeing that she wasn’t. They won. What else was there? Yuffie sighed. “I don’t get it,” she muttered, gaining the attention of the man next to her.

“Get what?” he answered quietly, barely more than a hoarse rumble.

She motioned her head around the cockpit. Although she wanted to, she didn’t raise her voice above a whisper. Yuffie figured she didn’t want to see what would happen if she disturbed their thoughts. “What’s the deal with everybody?”

He shrugged slightly, frowning. “Guess they’re in a retrospective mood.”

She quirked an eyebrow in sardonic amusement. “Big word for you.”

“I’m foul-mouthed, not stupid,” he replied, annoyed.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

He smirked weakly. “Big word for you.”

She sneered, staring out into the window for another moment before piping up again. “Still haven’t answered my question.” The figure remained silent, gazing out into the oblivion oddly; he looked almost pained by seeing the meteor was gone from the sky. He seemed sad that the sky wasn’t tinted a sickly red, that bane of life spiraling in the air without a care in the world. “And what’s with the long face? We won!”

Yuffie, when she witnessed his muscles tightening, realized that what she said must have tweaked his temper. Cid whirled his head around, glaring down to the teenager. “Grow the hell up, brat! Life ain’t like that!”

She took a step away, her eyes wide. If he had uttered that at any other moment in time, she would have either argued or become verbally abusive. In fact, she probably would’ve done both. But at that point, she was too tired to care. “What the hell are you talking about, old man?”

He continued to glower at her angrily, opening his mouth to prepare a flurry of expletives to flow. However, nothing came out. Chuckling bitterly, he shook his head, looking out the window. “Y’know, I almost envy you.”

She blinked. This was strange territory she was entering into, and she wasn’t entirely sure if she wanted to cross the threshold or not. “Why?”

Sighing, he patted his dust-covered jacket for a pack of cigarettes, dropping the remains of the one he had smoked beneath his heel. “Yer youth, kid.” Finally finding one half-smoked in one of his inner pockets, he fished it out, placing it between his lips. “Hmph. ‘Youth; wasted on the young.’” He searched again for a lighter, to no avail. “Aw, dammit.” Growling, he ripped the tube from his mouth, placing it back where he had found it.

Her eyes instinctively narrowed. “My youth? What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

He nodded, chewing on his lower lip, for the lack of anything else to chew upon. “Yeah. ‘Cause you’re young. Ya don’t know how the world works yet.” She crossed her arms over her chest, his words pricking at her ire in much the same way a child would flick someone’s ear. Before she could protest his statement, though, he continued. “Look, kid, as much as ya might like to think ya do, ya don’t, trust me. I was in yer place once, and I thought the same damn thing. But when I got older…” He snorted to himself. “Never thought I’d live to see the day when I heard myself say that. God, I’m gettin’ old.”

She bit back a sigh of annoyance. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

The pilot stared at her for a moment blankly, before returning his cerulean eyes to the velvety darkness outside the remains of his beloved Highwind. Yuffie took the area in, mentally kicking herself. She may not have exactly liked the guy, foul-mouthed blow-hard that we was, but this was his pride and joy that had been almost completely demolished by Holy’s awesome power. It was his sweat and blood that went into this ship; the only remaining piece being the main body of it, wings unfurled along the latter edges, propelled by a jet engine in the back. It was his ship that had been reduced to a small escape craft. And here she was, barraging him with questions as to why he was feeling a little down.

The blond sighed, leaning his weight into his hands, which were perched on the top of the controls. “Ya wanna know what I’m talkin’ about?” She nodded, remaining silent. His eyes flickered out to the blackness before resting on her youthfully curious face. “Not everybody won, kid.”

She furrowed her brows. “What do you mean? I don’t get it.”

He smirked sadly, his eyes languidly traveling back outside to the fast approaching city. “Think about it for a sec. Midgar’s the biggest city on the face of the goddamn planet. And that’s exactly where Meteor, Holy and the Lifestream all went. Now, what’re the odds that the city’s still intact after all that?”

Slowly, as Cid explained, the ninja’s eyes widened, the true horror of what he was saying sinking in. That city had millions upon millions of people. It was strong and powerful enough to fight and win against her people. All of that, wiped out…? “But…Reeve just said a few minutes ago that he had everybody take refuge in the slums. There has to be someone alive.”

“I hope, kid, I hope,” he answered tiredly, sighing. “But, chances are, the entire city’s now a wasteland,” he finished, edged with a certain finality that she found very disconcerting. Out of the corner of her enlarged eyes, she saw some of the others tense, and some outright shudder.

Their movements were not lost upon the older pilot, who quickly fell silent, content with staring out into oblivion. For a moment, she was angry. So what if it was a wasteland?! They all would’ve died anyway if it weren’t for them! They made the world safe! Yuffie instantly took that thought back. That was purely naïve. She of all people knew the world was never a safe place. Maybe that’s what was picking at their brains; the thought that even though they saved the world, it would still be prey to such horrors and terrors as it was before, and that would never change. She frowned deeply, a dejected sense of hopelessness beginning to swirl in her now settled stomach.

Moments passed in electrifying silence, before the pilot’s tall frame straightened, inhaling deeply. Her eyes dropped to the metallic floors, feeling sick and guilty for not being able to do more. She was never one for chivalry. In fact, most of the time she could have cared less how others were suffering. Still, she felt hurt that somehow, despite all their work, everything still came out the same. The world was saved, but only to live in the way it had always been before; blind to its bruises and deaf to its cries for help. It was only when she felt his heavy hand fall upon her thin shoulder that she finally looked up to see his chiseled lips tugged up into a ghost of a grim smile. “Welcome to the real world.”

She harrumphed as he looked away, back to the helm. Gazing up, she watched him take manual control of the craft, lowering the module as cleanly as possible. “Shit,” Highwind muttered heatedly.

Finally, their leader, Cloud turned. “What?”

Yuffie felt the steel begin to vibrate through the soles of her shoes. Cid, no doubt, had noticed the shaking long before she ever had. “Systems ain’t responding,” he hissed, his hands whisking quickly about the helm as the shaking of the hull only became more pronounced. “And the landing gears’ve been shot to hell.” Cracked pipes hissed steam in defiance, a background thrum to the screaming of the metal beneath her feet. The sounds, utterly gruesome, did not dissipate as she barely made out a wall of charred dirt approaching ever closer. “Shit!” Cid roared, jerking the wheel violently to the right, sending the airship veering off sharply.

Yuffie was sent flying, and it was a testament to her years of training in martial arts that she was able to land on the unforgiving steel paneling without breaking anything. Still, she hit the floor hard, yelping in pain at the stabbing sensation in her hip. The largest man of their troupe, Barret, landed in a heap next to her, the heavy metal gun grafted onto his right arm slamming scant inches in front of her face with a thundering clang.

Warning sirens were now blaring as the two of them struggled to their feet, Yuffie clutching the first thing bolted to the hull. “Hold on everybody!” Cid shouted, desperately battling with the helm.

“Thanks for the warning!” Yuffie barked harshly over the sirens, clinging to a small hand-hold for dear life as she was flailed about like a rag doll. However, the ninja doubted he even heard her, either due to the inhuman noises or his concentration set solely upon trying to survive. Frankly, she didn’t care. If she walked out of this at all, she’d be content.

She kept the handle in a deathgrip as her entire body flew off the floor, lurching upwards. Gritting her teeth in pain, she felt spears of fire engulf her entire shoulder, a sickening pop reaching her ears at the same moment. Through slit eyes, she witnessed various members of the Highwind crew haplessly soaring upwards towards the back of the bridge at break-neck speeds. Their shrieks of fear were only adding to the barrage of sounds that pelted her ears.

Time seemed to visibly slow as the doomed ship plummeted ever closer to the ground. Her eyes locked upon the dark-skinned man that landed next to her moments before. His one good arm was clawing madly at anything he could grab, his fingernails scraping helplessly against the smooth steel. Slowly, inexorably, he continued to slide backwards, his own raven eyes widening in ever-growing shock. Not fear; no, Yuffie had learned early on that Barret feared nothing for himself. He feared only for his young daughter, Marlene, who was sitting at a strange home with a nice old woman, but was still not her father. Yuffie herself never truly understood how it felt to fear for someone else’s life, considering she had always been more concerned with looking out only for her own interests.

She abruptly decided to change that.

Taking out her weapon of choice, the Conformer, she hefted it in her hand. It was a truly fearsome looking weapon, one that was made especially for her hands alone. The large five-pointed, crimson tipped shuriken was held together by a band of gold below the sharp points, making it more aerodynamic and accurate. She was counting on that accuracy as she hurled it as hard as she could towards Barret’s skidding form. The razor sharp points dug into the steel with little effort, tearing down until only one small section of the weapon was sticking up from the metal. Gratefully, the rebel reached for it, his fingers gripping the object tightly, despite the fact it was slicing through his leather glove and calloused skin.

Time reasserted itself when a coarse, tobacco-thick voice boomed, “SHIT! Brace for impact!” Before her mind could even fully register what he’d screamed, the skin-crawling sound of steel grinding and buckling against stone and dirt filled her ears. The red emergency lights that provided the illumination went out in a shower of sparks, shimmering about her in a chaotic ballet of flame and metal whisking in the otherwise dark compartment. Her already mangled shoulder cracked loudly as her backside slammed against a bulkhead. She growled in pain, the tendrils of white-hot flame saturating her left arm only redoubling her efforts to hold on.

Several shouts and screams exploded all around her as she felt the quake of the landing through her entire body. Her legs swung forward against her will, her torso following suit. Yuffie still felt her grip on the iron rung as she continued into the air, careening farther into the darkness. For a moment, a light flashed, illuminating a steel vent that was directly in her path of the mass of crushed steel below hurtling towards her. The light disappeared as quickly as it came, and she was enveloped in darkness.

–There ya go!–

Oh YEAH! Bring it back, Silver!!

As you know, I think your story was the BEST of the non-group stories ever posted here. So yeah, post it ALL again, so everyone can see for themselves!

Plus, doing so might give you NEW ideas to add!

Still your #1 Fan,

Yeah bring it back, it was cool. Also keeping going I really liked this story.

For it truly does follow the character’s personalities/attitudes from the game closely, which is something very few fanfics manage:D :smiley:

YES! A GOOD FIC OF FF7 THAT I HAVEN"T READ IN A WHILE! I love it! must read more…:slight_smile:

You should just repost all of it at once. Well it’s great and stuff, good thing you had a backup.

–Aww, Wil, that’s so sweet! >ruffles his hair< Er…I’m not sure if that came out as a compliment, but I intended it to be! :smiley: And, as far as the backing up goes, oh, God, yes, I back this story up. I have it backed in about three different places. On my hard drive, on FF.net (pfft, yeah) and on another forum I go to. So, okay, it’s not exactly “backed up” per ce, but at least if something goes down, I can have it somewhere else. If not, I’d die. >twitch< :smiley: Anywho…–

Everything hurt like hell.

No, she amended that thought. Hell would have been vastly less painful than the sensory information that was bombarding her brain at that moment. Her limbs screamed and sobbed their protest to the beating they took. She attempted to open her eyes, but found it to be too much work. Yuffie honestly didn’t want to do anything but just sit and rest in wherever she was for a little while.

Her resting spot, however, begged to differ. Her position was uncomfortable to say the least, her body twisted beneath two large pieces of bulkhead. As much as she wanted to, she realized that her fatigue was most likely due to blood loss or shock. Which meant she would die if she did nothing, and after all the ninja had gone through, she’d be damned if she was going to die like that. She smirked ruefully to herself. She’d probably be damned either way, but that was beside the point. It seemed so very anti-climactic, especially to a sixteen year old who was all for the adventure and the thrill of potential death.

She hazarded to take a deep breath. When she didn’t cough up blood or any other vital fluid, she was slightly pleased. The next step was to see if she could move. The ebon haired shinobi shifted her body, shoving a piece of steel off her chest, only swearing a few times in the process. Her left arm was throbbing, but her shoulder was oddly numb. She wasn’t sure, but she had a feeling that wasn’t a good thing, for obvious reasons. However, a dose of full cure materia would have patched that right up.

Yuffie brought her other hand over her face, wiping away grime and soot, before running her fingers through her short locks of matted down hair. After blinking, she opened her dark eyes, scanning the area for anything. She was still inside the main section of the Highwind, or what was left of it. From what she could gather, the ship had veered off to the right, most of the front and port section of the ship being crushed like a can under the intense speed at which they hit the ground. She craned her neck above, staring out into what bits of night sky she could make out. The starboard side of the hall, while more intact, had been blown out in several areas; most likely from the explosions.

Maneuvering around, Yuffie brought herself to her knees, gazing around the mangled remains of Cid Highwind’s beloved ship. The parts of the windows on the bow that weren’t crushed from impact were gone, the glass shattered into a million shards. It provided a simple enough way to get out, but she wasn’t about to leave her friends. Especially since they had all the curative materia.

Several moans reached her ears, along with scraping of metal on metal. Glaring into the darkness, almost a complete entity in itself, Barret emerged, rubbing his bloodied hand on his head to shake it clear. Yuffie stood shakily, her hip aflame. She limped her way over to him, careful not to fall, and not to step on anyone that may be under the shrapnel. Holding out her hand, Barret grasped it, pulling himself fully out of the wreckage, quickly getting to his feet.

He towered over the petite teenager ninja, a muscular man of 6’4”, with all the tattoos and scars to prove he earned his robust figure. But, lately, she learned he was also a loving father who would have gladly died if it meant helping his daughter live a better life. Such people were hard to find in the world nowadays. But the group he surrounded himself with proved they still existed, even if in small numbers. “You okay?” she whispered, looking around.

He nodded curtly. “I’ll live. How ‘bout you?”

She motioned to her useless shoulder. “I guess I’ll live too.” Her eyes darted around for a moment. “You have any restore materia?”

He shook his head, carefully stepping down a slope to reach a dying workman. “Nah, Tifa had all that.”

“Great,” she muttered, gingerly walking around the jagged pieces of metal and glass that made up the port bow of the Highwind. Soon, more moans caught her attention, and she rushed into the night to find the source of it. It was Tifa, barely conscious, with several deep lacerations on her face and exposed skin, but otherwise unharmed. Kneeling down, Yuffie began to pry the large piece of scrap metal off of her, tossing it away.

She gasped.

Laying over her stomach, unmoving, with several small spikes of steel protruding from his back, was Cloud. “Oh my God, Barret, you better get over here!” she called, a tinge of desperation to her voice she wasn’t used to hearing. Tentatively reaching down, she felt for a pulse. A wave of relief flooded her as she felt his neck veins beating strongly against her fingertips. The wounds, while painful to look at, didn’t seem to be very serious. The shards only dug in perhaps three-quarters of an inch into his skin, and she saw him fit for movement. Clutching his shoulders, she almost dragged him off the woman’s smaller frame, to a nearby wall that he could lean against without injuring his back further.

The large man bounded over, helping her with the load. Cloud was large by no means—5’7”, and rather scrawny at that. The only thing, in fact, large about the ex-SOLDIER was his spiky blond hair that seemed to defy the laws of physics. But he had power far stronger than he appeared to have been possible. Both Yuffie and Barret knew that personally.

They rested him upon the wall, positioning him so he would remain sitting yet not touch the small steel spines resting in his back. Yuffie, being the more experienced of the two, searched the incapacitated leader of the group, searching for any curative materia. She didn’t find any, which is what she was expecting. The fact that she didn’t find any materia on him is what startled her.

Chalking it up to the bumpy ride, her tiny frame made her way back to Tifa, who now was coherent enough to speak. “…Cloud…is—“

“He’s fine,” Yuffie replied quietly, resting her hands upon the shoulders of the battered woman. “A little roughed up, but fine.” Tifa, like Yuffie, was small in frame, her bust being the obvious exception. But, like Cloud, her lithe form held a deadly power. Taught by the famous martial artist instructor Zangan from a young age, Tifa knew how to use her fists in more ways than she knew how to use a shuriken. Yuffie sighed wearily, wincing in pain at her left arm. “Where’s your restore materia?”

The buxom woman blinked her chestnut eyes, sitting up from the destruction. Wiping a stray strand of brown hair away from her face, she searched her gloves and gauntlets for any trace of the Full Cure or the Restore materia. Not only was her curative materia gone, but all the other materia on her person was missing as well. “Weird,” Tifa murmured softly, looking up to the ninja, who was her junior by four years. “I can’t find any of it.”

The shinobi nodded, mentally regretting the movement. “Yeah, same thing happened with me, Barret and Cloud. Not one damn piece of materia is in sight.” She harrumphed, again getting rewarded with protests by her weary body. “And I have a feeling I don’t want to know why.”

“Yeah,” the martial artist master answered lamely, struggling to her feet. For over a half an hour, they surveyed the wreckage, searching for either curative materia or survivors. The synthetic machine, Cait Sith, was found demolished underneath a piece of the bulkhead. Red XIII, the cat-like creature was found with his paws broken, unable to walk. Various members of Cid’s crew were found in the debris, some alive, some dead or dying.

Vincent, the former Turk turned shape-shifting monster, was nowhere to be seen. Only the tattered remains of his cloak were found hanging on a jagged edge of metal, near a large hole in the hull. Yuffie surmised that the monster within him had finally taken complete control of him.

They searched, but could find no sign of the last of their troupe, the pilot of the ship who most likely saved their very lives, Cid Highwind. The ebon haired ninja again felt that tumultuous cauldron of failure and guilt in her stomach, and she came to the conclusion that she utterly despised it. Most of the bow had been buried, and she hadn’t seen him move from his spot once. A Captain true to form, even down to the cliché “a captain goes down with his ship”.

She sat upon a flat section of steel, she imagined right around where the controls for the ship would have been, staring down to her feet. Yuffie wasn’t sure what to do. Nothing made sense anymore. Cid had been right when he told her she didn’t understand how life worked, and again when he said “not everybody won”. She had personally witnessed two men die a painful, gruesome death. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been exposed to violence before, but in her eyes, these men did nothing but help her and her friends. For some reason the ninja couldn’t quite fathom, their deaths shook her to the very core. “This is the real world?” she grumbled sullenly. “Then the real world sucks ass.”

“…wat…cher mouth…brat…”

Her head shot up, eyes widened to saucers. She grinned, never once enjoying hearing that scratchy voice calling her a brat more in her life. “Cid?” she nearly shrieked, her head whipping about for signs of him anywhere. Her voice gained the attention of the others, who all shouted various things as they came racing to her aid. “Cid? Where the hell are you?”

“…under…underneath ya…” came the rasped reply.

She bolted up, frozen, her acute eyes searching the area. Almost as some sort of cosmic joke, she found the tip of his fingers jutting from hellish wreckage right beside her feet. The others capable of walking, which consisted only of Tifa, Barret, and a few engineers, dashed through the darkened mass of steel and cable to aid their friend. Yuffie at that moment became eternally grateful for meeting such honorable, good-hearted people.

Cursing her now useless left arm, the hot-headed ninja wrenched some of the slabs off while kicking others away with her feet in pent up frustration. The small crowd joined in, tearing and clawing at the debris until they saw fit to carry him out. With help from Barret’s ample musculature, the teenager tore the last piece of metal off of him, searching him for any wounds. The pilot blinked, wincing as he moved. She leaned forward, holding her good arm out for the Captain to grasp onto. He gazed at her for a moment, as if she had grown horns on her head, before readily accepting her outstretched hand.

She steadied herself as the blond tugged her arm forward, putting all his weight on her slim fingers. She managed to hold her ground, though, until he finally made his way to his feet, stumbling about for a moment. Brushing himself off, he growled in pain, his gloved hand going to his side underneath the folds of his tattered jacket. Seconds later he pulled his hand out, and her eyes locked onto the dark liquid that was smeared upon the worn brown leather.

Flinching, Cid’s eyes darted about. “Who’s got the restore materia?”

The buxom brunette merely shrugged as his eyes landed upon her. “We can’t find any.”

He frowned, glancing at his blood-smeared hand. “Shit,” he muttered. “What about potions?”

Everyone’s eyes fell upon her. Yuffie blinked. Why did they always think she was stealing their items? She would have been offended if she hadn’t known that more often than not they were right. Sighing, she searched all her pockets, even the hidden ones she used for when she did actually steal their items, coming up empty. She shook her head mutely, shrugging.

He rubbed his eyes wearily with his clean hand, sucking in a deep breath. “Great. Just fucking dandy.” Turning on his heel, Cid started up the hill of shrapnel, asking, “where’s Spike and the others?”

“Injured,” Tifa replied quickly, following suit. Yuffie shrugged, as much as she was able to, and hiked up the hill as well. They continued for fifteen minutes, weaving their way through the destruction, looking at their friends, in their various conditions. The worst seemed to be Red, who was incapable of walking. All others were either capable of walking or dead, which to her was a good thing. That way she would not have to watch another innocent person die. For a moment, she bitterly cursed ever meeting the rebel group. She never asked to have a soul.

Yuffie knelt down to the cat-like creature, resting her right hand on his side. “Don’t worry, Red. You’ll be patched up and back to your normal egghead self in no time.”

His furred lip twitched upward, showing a couple pristine, razor sharp teeth off. “I’m assuming that was a compliment.”

“Alright, people, listen up,” Cid commanded, his gravelly voice lined with steel. “We’re gonna hafta make our way to Kalm to get supplies. Some of us here ain’t in good shape.” He paused for a moment, before adding, “Like me.” Clearing his throat, the ninja watched as he paced about them. “Barret, ya think you’re able to carry Red to Kalm?”

Barret nodded curtly. The ninja was somewhat surprised by his readily accepting Cid as the momentary leader. Normally—always, actually, he would have thrown a big fit about “that spiky-haired nutjob” taking the lead, when it all actuality, AVALANCHE was his outfit. Maybe, though, she surmised, he didn’t really feel like putting up a fuss. After all, there were more important things at stake.

Cid returned the nod grimly. “Good. We’ll start off tomorrow morning. We all need the rest.”

Tifa stepped forward haltingly, her back to Yuffie. “What about Cloud?”

Cid stared at her for a moment, seemingly oblivious to her concern for him. A frown formed at the corners of his busted lip. “He’ll be fine, we just need to get to Kalm.”

The small brunette shook her head, her voice lowering. “No, I mean, how will he get there? He’s not in any condition to walk.”

“If ya wanna look at it that way, neither am I,” the lean blond answered tersely.

The lithe figure put her hands on her hips. “You don’t have spikes sticking out of your back.”

It was quite obvious to the ebon haired teenager that the usually crass pilot was beginning to lose his patience. “No, I don’t, but I got a nice sized gash in my side, that could get infected if it don’t get treated within the next 24 hours or so.” He sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. “Look, we’re all in bad shape. I’ll tell ya what…if he ain’t able to walk by tomorrow mornin’, I’ll carry him. ‘Kay?”

Her head shot up, her entire body going rigid with his request. “Y-you will?”

He nodded. “Ain’t no big deal, Teef. Relax, okay?”

She nodded slowly, pacing off to be with her long time friend. The ninja spied her wiping stray tears away as she walked. She turned to speak to Red, to find his one golden eye closed. A pang of panic surged through her as she gazed at his unmoving form, only to realize that he had fallen asleep, or had passed out. He was in no immediate danger, she reminded herself quickly. Broken feet did not lead to death.

Patting Red softly once more, she rose to her feet, stretching. The tumbling act she went through did a number on her muscles. She hated having to stretch. It seemed such a waste of time that she could’ve spent acquiring materia. However, she also recognized that without it, she’d never be able to get away with half of her acrobatics, and so, she ground her teeth and did it.

Bringing her fingers to her toes, a soft rasping sound wafted to her sensitive ears. She froze in place, listening intently to the foreign noise. It sounded like a cross between sobbing and panting. Curious, she made her way over to the source of the quiet noise, stepping cautiously and silently on the shards of metal and glass. The huffing never became louder as she neared the reverberation; in fact, it seemed to get softer as she stepped closer, like the source of the sound was afraid to alert her to their presence.

Stepping down from a ridge of debris, her deep eyes met the source. It was one of the Highwind’s workers; laid upon a chunk of metal, unmoving and barely breathing. His arms and legs were bent at impossible angles, no doubt crushed beyond repair. The most volatile wound, though, had to have been the large iron rod jutting from his abdomen, which most likely prevented him from moving even an inch any way without causing excruciating pain and possible spinal cord injuries.

Yuffie, possibly for the first time in her life, was speechless. It was amazing he had lived so long as he did such a severe wound like that. Either way, for the raven-locked shinobi, one thing was for sure. He wasn’t going to live much longer without some sort of curative materia. “He-elp…m-me…” he gasped.

She grimaced. The sight of blood revolted her. It made her skin crawl. But what was earnestly piercing her like a knife wasn’t the crimson gushing from his chest, it was his eyes. They were silently pleading, begging, for her to give him some sort of respite from his very obvious pain. The small part of her that actually gave a damn about people pitied him. There was nothing she could do, and the ninja was tempted to just walk away from him, to rid herself of that very annoying need to comfort him. She didn’t, though, because it was rude. Plus, he probably deserved more than to just die alone in the middle of the night.

The ninja moved forward, kneeling down next to the mortally wounded full-fledged pilot. She sneered to herself angrily. She had never even bothered to learn his name, and a nagging part of her asked why she even cared at all. Six months ago, she would’ve just walked away from his prone form, turning up her nose in disgust at his wounds. But now…no. She wouldn’t bother cursing her friends for making her a better person. At least, not now.

Impulsively, she reached up, wrenching her green bandanna off of her head. Wadding it up as much as she could, she wiped the blood and sweat off his face. He smiled weakly, his panic stricken face calming instantly by her touch. Maybe… she mused, maybe her presence alone was just enough to comfort him in his final hours.

Mercifully, he never lasted that long.

Within two minutes, his deep mahogany eyes had fluttered shut, his breathing slowing to nothing. She frowned, clutching the bloody cloth in her hand, which still hovered over his cooling forehead. Sullenly pulling her small hand back, she stood, mourning a man she never knew. Yuffie didn’t know him, or any of the other members of the Highwind crew, however, it still struck a damaging blow to her psyche to see someone wither and die before her very eyes. Her father hadn’t exactly sheltered her from death and destruction. In fact, he encouraged her when she a was a child to go to the hospital and burn wards that were around, and soak in the violence. “That is your heritage,” he had told her. “Death, honor, pain, tradition. Watch, and understand.”

She never again stepped foot inside a hospital, ramshackle or otherwise.

Shaking the imposing memories away, her acute eyes caught a lone shadow standing on the crest of a debris hill. She figured she already knew who it was, but was nonetheless curious as to what they were looking at, if anything.

The fire in her hip had burned out long ago, at least to her sense of time. With a somber spring in her step, Yuffie climbed the steep slope in less than a minute, taking a standing position to the immediate left of the stiff form. He seemed utterly oblivious to her presence, his eyes gazing out to some unknown point.

Silent for once, her midnight eyes traveled over him, surveying just how bad he looked. His broad shoulders were slumped in exhaustion, his chiseled features more jagged and dangerous looking in the minimal light, casting shadows over his half-closed eyes. His face, like hers, was smeared with grime and sweat, the portions of skin not tarnished sallow and worn. Stray locks of sandy blond hair, that would have normally been held into place by his antique flight goggles, fell listlessly into his face, making his appearance that much more haggard. His clothes were torn and dirty; his flight jacket, once the finest looking piece in his attire, was now only a notch or two above a thick blue rag. It was then she noticed his left hand was clasped against his side. “How are you holding up?” she asked on impulse.

He paused. She presumed he was about to say ‘I’m fine’, before thinking otherwise. Plus, she figured, it would just take too much damn effort. “Not too good, you?”

Instinctively, her hand squeezed the bandanna tighter in her hand. “Could be worse.”

His frown deepened, what little light there was forming it into a frightening scowl. “Yeah, it could be,” he replied, quietly. “Y’know how many crew members there were on the Highwind?”

“No,” she answered, honestly.

He snorted. “Of course ya don’t, you were too damn busy blowin’ chunks in my engine room.”

She shrugged in the way only a teenager could do. “Hey, sue me for being airsick.”

“And trust one a those blood-suckin’ lawyers? Hell no,” he shot back, half joking.

Her thin lips rose in a small grin. “You never could trust anybody.”

He glanced her way, all mirth vanishing from his voice. “And what the hell makes you think that?”

She started. Their playful banter was a welcome change from their usual shouting matches, and his sudden shift back to the old routine was quite unexpected. Gathering her words for a moment, she replied, “You don’t trust me.”

“You’re damn right I don’t trust ya! Ya stole all my goddamn materia!” he hissed, glaring at her.

Her muscles stiffened. She hated it when people accused her of things, and Cid Highwind was no exception. “I gave it all back, you know.”

“After we tracked yer sorry ass down and made ya give it back, yeah!” he retorted.

She scowled, clenching her hand into a fist. “What, so you can’t trust me because of one little theft?”

He snarled, glaring down at her petite form. “First off, it was more than one time, but that ain’t why I don’t trust ya,” he answered, slowly. “I don’t trust ya because you’re a rude, self-centered, air-headed, spoiled little brat that don’t even comprehend the word ‘responsibility’, much less ever show it.”

She blinked, taken aback. It wasn’t like she had never heard comments like those before spoken about her, or at her. She had heard them several times from various people, mainly her father. And she couldn’t count the times she’d heard that speech from Cid himself before. However, the words weren’t exactly what struck her so hard. It was the meaning behind them that left a stinging sensation on her self-esteem. Anger wasn’t at fault for his harsh words as it usually was. Anger was understandable. She knew she could piss him off. That’s what she did best; push people’s buttons. But this time, it was something else that fueled his words. Fatigue. Pain. Desperation.

“I just watched seven of my crewmen die in less than twenty minutes, ‘cause my stupid goddamn miscalculations. It was my responsibility to keep ‘em alive, and I didn’t do that. They trusted me with their lives, and they sure as hell paid for it. So don’t gimme any lip on what trust means, got it, bitch?”

She dropped her gaze to her feet. Moments later, she heard a soft sigh. “Look, kid,” he began gruffly, “I’m sorry.”

The ninja shook her head. “No, you’re right. I am irresponsible, and spoiled, and all that other nice crap you said. You have every right not to trust me.”

“Yeah, well, I ain’t got no choice right now,” the pilot muttered with a sigh. She furrowed her brows, curious, and looked up at the lean blond, waiting for him to continue speaking. “Kid, I ain’t doin’ so good. If I’m gonna hafta be carryin’ Cloud’s skinny ass all the way to Kalm, then chances are, I ain’t gonna make it there. Barret may, but it won’t make a shit’s difference if everyone’s laggin’ behind for me.”

She had a sinking feeling that she knew where this was going. “What’s your point?”

He scowled at her, stamping his foot on the ground. “Dammit, girl, do ya even have a brain in yer head? Think about it for a sec!”

Little did he realize that the shinobi already knew what he was talking about. She didn’t survive as a ninja by her good looks. “You plan to stay behind?”

He simply nodded.

Her reply was immediate. “Why?”

He sighed wearily. “Kid, I already explained—“

She squared her shoulders. “Well it sounds like a bullshit explanation to me.”

He blinked his smoky eyes, surprised. “What?”

The ninja met his stunned gaze evenly. “Your reason. It’s bullshit.”

He scoffed incredulously. “How do ya figure that?”

“You’re not the only one that can carry Cloud, you know,” she replied. “One of your crew can do it.”

“There are only three left, and they’re all injured. Barret can’t do it, and I don’t think Tifa could either,” he clarified calmly. “Who else is gonna do it? You?”

She conceded to that point with a slight nod of her head. “Okay, but you may not even have to carry him. Cloud could be capable of walking on his own.”

“Maybe,” he said, “but maybe not. Life’s got a funny way of throwin’ the unexpected at ya. I personally wanna be prepared when she wants to be a bitch and do just that.”

She frowned. “Wait a minute, why does Life have to be a ‘she’?”

“’Cause a man ain’t smart enough to be this twisted,” he replied, deadpan.

She chuckled heartily, shaking her head. “Cute, very cute.”

He gaped at her, his grimy eyebrow arched in amusement. “I’ve heard a lot descriptions ‘bout me…‘cute’ was never one of ‘em.”

“Yeah, well, there’s always a first time,” she commented impassively.

He nodded in affirmation. “Exactly. Which is why I’m stayin’ behind.”

She rolled her dark eyes, her lips pressed into a thin line. “Oh please, stop trying to play the damn hero. You can’t stay behind,” she spoke.

“Oh?” he answered. “And why the hell not?”

“You know it takes almost a full day to get from Midgar to Kalm on foot,” she hissed, glaring at him angrily.

“But we’re not in Midgar, are we?” he retorted, his lip curled up in the slightest of dark smirks.

“No, but we’re all injured. That alone is going to make it a longer trip,” she amended with a sneer. She hated it when he got the upper-hand in arguments.

He shrugged lightly. “I can manage on my own.”

“No, you can’t,” she stated defiantly, ignoring his heated, questioning glare. “There’s nothing here to eat, or to drink, not to mention the fact that there are still monsters everywhere. It’ll be a death sentence, and you know it.”

To her surprise, he shifted his weight to one foot, shoving his hands in his pockets non-chalantly. “What’s your point?”

She scowled at him, her eyes narrowing in determination. “I’m not leaving you behind, Cid.”

He returned her facial expression to a T. “Since when did ya grow a conscience, brat?”

She set her jaw, biting back a scream of frustration. “Since now. And if you don’t like that, you can kiss my ass. You can’t stay here, and I’m sure as hell not leaving you here, not with that cut in your side.” She remained silent for several seconds to think of an alternative solution. Cid was a hard-ass, and never accepted anything less than perfection.

Taking a deep breath, she voiced the first viable plan that came to mind. “Look, maybe, um…maybe you, me and a few others can travel to Kalm at our own pace while the rest of them go on ahead and bring it back to wherever we are. Does that sound like a good plan?”

He glowered down at her, the muscles in his jaw rolling as he ground his teeth together. Her face remained stoic as she grinned inwardly. She loved it when she one-upped him. “And if I say no?”

She smirked triumphantly. “You won’t.”

“How do ya know that?”

“Because I know you,” she answered. Before he could interrupt, she added, “At least, well enough to know that you’re only doing this because you know your limitations. But if there’s a shot in hell that you can manage to get out of this alive, I know you’ll take the odds.” She watched him for a moment, gauging his reaction carefully. “Am I right?”

He attempted to look profound and stern, but came off only as extremely annoyed. She fought the urge to grin. He hated it when she made sense. Sighing, he relented. “Okay, brat, ya got a point. But, you ain’t goin with me.”

Her face fell, confused. “Why not?”

He pointed his gloved finger at her, a serious expression on his face. “Because you’re gonna be on point with the other group.”

She blinked. “On point?”

He frowned deeply. He had to remind himself she wasn’t military. That and she wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. “On point. In the lead.”

She paled, her eyes widening. “You’re kidding, right?” He shook his head gravely. “But you don’t trust me!”

He shrugged. “Like I told ya, kid, I ain’t got no choice. Tifa’s not gonna leave Cloud, and I doubt Barret’ll be able to fend off monsters with Red sprawled over his shoulders.” He sighed, absent-mindedly patting his torn jacket for a cigarette. “So, you up to it?”

She grinned. “Like you said, ‘I ain’t got a choice’.”

He snorted, shaking his head. “Kid, yer impression of me sucks.”

Stepping off the ledge, she hopped down a few levels with ease. “You’re welcome.”

“Go to bed, brat.”

Her grin only widened. “Sweet dreams to you too, old man.”

–There ya go!–

Wohoo! Keep at it Silver :smiley:

That’s it keep it coming Silver! This is great!

Can’t wait to find out what happens after the girls got caught, later in the fic.

ooh… very good :smiley: :smiley: You’ve got another fan here, Silver! :slight_smile:

–Yippie! The part I’m working on is coming along really well. I’m psyched. (That’s a good thing. :D) Anywho.–

[i]Hero of the Day

“’Scuse me while I tend to how I feel…
…these things return to me that still seem real.”

–Metallica, “Hero of the Day”[/i]

Part II

Cid couldn’t help but smile back as he watched her all but leap down the rubble to the ground below. That quaint grin vanished as he held up the bloodied palm of his coarse leather glove, crimson oozing slowly down the sides of his gauntlet. He sneered at the sight; he hated blood. It always made his stomach turn. Unfortunately, he had seen more than his share in the past hour, as he witnessed various members of his crew dying from the numerous wounds inflicted upon them.

When the ship crashed to the ground, he held fast where he was. He knew from physics class that Newton’s first—or was it second?—law of physics basically stated that an object in motion stayed in motion until something else stopped it. Had he jumped for cover, as his instincts were telling him to, he would have remained going at the speed the ship was plummeting, regardless of the fact that the rest of the ship had stopped. Which, needless to say, would have been remarkably painful and ultimately fatal had he given in to those guttural urges.

He frowned. Some of his subordinates were not quite as resolute as he. They should have stayed at their posts. He thought he had taught them better than to freak when it counted. But, he couldn’t have blamed them, they didn’t know. It was a high price to pay for that lesson, though. On everyone, and everything, including his twisting stomach. Identifying the mangled remains of his crew was never part of the job description when he signed up for the military.

Part of the reason why he became a pilot, other than his absolute love for flying, was the fact that there was no close combat. Oh, he had learned hand to hand survival combat, like all the soldiers in Shinra did, but he could never really get past the blood. The stench of it after sitting on any person or thing was overwhelming. The sight of it splattered upon walls, floors, weapons, and faces, made him want to vomit. Worst yet, was the look the other person gave when they knew that they weren’t going to be able to duck that punch or dodge that bullet in time.

That was the most haunting of all. Blood could always be washed away, the smell covered up, but their eyes…they never disappeared. They lingered in the darkness, staring wide-eyed at him, begging him to not pull the trigger. They didn’t respect his privacy, they didn’t leave when he asked. They remained, hovering beneath his eyelids, waiting for the moment when they could pounce. Unrelenting, they were always there, pleading in their ethereal form for rest; for peace.

Frankly, it pissed him off.

After all, what right did they have to beg him for peace? He was the one that was ordered to eliminate them. He was the one that had to live with his actions, seeing that they obviously couldn’t. Why the hell did they have to keep tormenting him? He was under orders, what could he have done? Nothing, that’s what. If he hadn’t done what he was told, he would’ve ended up just like them, and floating translucent eyeballs was not what he envisioned the afterlife to be.

Cid blinked. He was losing more blood than he thought.

The blood loss wasn’t what was bothering him about the gash in his side. It was the substantial chance that without treatment, the wound would become infected. To the blond, the simple equation of life was weakness + time = death. And, for all of the kid’s ranting and raving, she had a point. He was on his way home, dammit. They won; why the hell did Life have to pull this kind of bullshit?

He harrumphed his displeasure. So much for “happily ever after”.

The pilot grimaced as he began descending the steep hill. However, he, while lean and muscular, was neither as nimble nor as young as his ninja ally. His worn combat boot landed awkwardly on a smooth outcrop of steel, sliding the instant the old leather and the misshaped metal met. Unable to catch his balance, the pilot spun about, wildly grasping for anything within reach. His hand found only air.

As he plummeted from the crest into the almost palpable darkness below, he could have sworn he saw a pair of wide, terrified, bloodshot eyes gazing at him.

–There ya go!–

ooh, almost literal cliffhanger :wink: keep it coming! :smiley:

This is my first time reading an FF7 fic; it makes me yearn for more.

–Hm, ya know, this really isn’t buying me all that much time. >curses influenza< Bastard creations. Anywho, off to the next part!–

The first thought that ran through his mind was that he was drowning.

Then, as his awareness of the comings and goings around him became more acute, he realized it wasn’t water that was pouring into his lungs. It was air. His mind reeled, trying feebly to figure out what the hell was going on.

“C’mon, Cid, wake yer ass up!” a deep voice growled. He recognized the voice. It belonged to Barret. “The fall wasn’t that far!”

He felt a large object nudge him in the side, causing him to groan in pain. Scowling, he opened his dark blue eyes, focusing on the towering silhouette as much as he could with stars floating in front of him. For all he knew, the shadow could’ve been the Easter Bunny doing a tap dance, and he wouldn’t have known any better. Lethargically, he rolled onto his knees, trying to remember what had happened between stepping down the debris hill to getting turned into a soccer ball by Barret. Which, when he thought about it rationally, wasn’t true. Barret only tapped him lightly. But, every other part of him was completely and utterly pissed off.

He glared up at Barret’s frowning face. “Ow, man,” Cid croaked, clearing his throat. “The hell was that for? Ya didn’t hafta kick me, ya know.”

The shadow scoffed. “Gimme a break, ol’ man, I was just wakin’ yer sorry ass up.”

“’Old man’? You’re older than me, dipshit,” he hissed.

“Yeah, but I don’t look it,” he replied non-chalantly.

“Yeah, right,” he replied in a clipped tone.

The massive outline shook his head, clambering up clumsily to a higher level. “Jes…try not ta kill yaself next time, aight?”

He harrumphed. “I’ll keep that in mind.” Yanking his arms backward, he got to his feet shakily. Wiping his brow, he winced. Damn, he’d cut his head. Oh well. It wasn’t any worse than what he’d already had. Blotting at the wound, he again started down the pile, content to move as slowly as possible. Stepping down to a lower level, he spied that he had fallen quite a way from the top of the hill. He was near the bottom now. “Damn well better be…” he huffed quietly to himself, hopping to the ground, the soft earth giving weigh under his brown leather, steel-toed combat boots.

The impact still managed to send a jolt through him, most of the pain heading directly for his side and his forehead. Lucky him. He scanned the area. Yuffie was sitting next to a smoldering fire down at the base of the debris hill, poking at it with a small stick, the other three remaining members of his crew curled around it. He winced, not from the now mild pain in his right side, but from the dull aching in his chest. He may not have been in the best shape, but he was far better than what could have happened.

Glancing back, he noticed Barret hauling Red down from the wreckage that once was his ship. The pilot hadn’t been with the happy psychos from the beginning, and he never exactly learned how he got his gun-arm (and never really asked; pissing off a guy who could blow his head off at long range wasn’t exactly on the top of his to-do list), but he learned quickly when he joined up that Barret wasn’t the type of man to leave a friend hanging. Cid figured he’d sooner die than allow his friends to come to harm.

Tifa and Cloud were probably still up in the ship. He shook his head. That girl could be stubborn when she chose to be, and he knew that she wouldn’t want to move away from him. She too would’ve laid down her life to save him or any of the others. The blond snorted, pondering exactly how in the hell he wound up hooking up with these head-cases.

He languidly strolled away from the crash site, lost in thought. What a stroke of blind luck, he thought. That a group of crazies like them all get together at the same time. His lip twitched upward. He joined them, though, so he couldn’t really talk about how insane they were. Then again, thinking back to the final battle with Sephiroth, he realized that he too would’ve gladly (“gladly” being used loosely) died if it meant the others, and the rest of the planet, could live out their days in relative peace.

He scoffed to himself. “Relative peace”. Yeah, right. He frowned, a bitter taste coating his tongue. The pilot doubted anyone would really get the message of this close shave. He hoped they would, but…somehow, he suspected they wouldn’t. Perhaps, for a short period of time, the normal Joe’s and Mary’s would be willing to look on the brighter side of things, but sooner or later, they’d slip back into the old routine.

Turning on his heel suddenly, he brought his smoky blue eyes up to lay upon the smoldering ruins of his beloved ship, now the stern jutting into the air like so much scrap metal. The heavy clouds slowly pulled away, a slit of the white moon giving the gutted and battered ship an eerie blue glow at his vantage point, yards away. The bow was no more than folds of steel, smoking and crackling with fires unseen. The stench of death and ash was all too thick in the blustering April winds. He frowned. His pride and joy, reduced to a measly hunk of junk.

He flinched. His pride and joy, reduced to an unmarked, shimmering steel graveyard.

Cid gingerly touched the oozing wound in his side. They died serving him. They risked life and limb to help him when he asked. In some ways, he owed them his life. The whole planet owed them their lives. He would not forget that.

Solemnly, his eyes fixed ahead, he snapped to attention, his fingertip pressed against his forehead in a salute. He would never forget their sacrifice. For what seemed like hours to him, he stood stiff, his eyes focused at a point far beyond the wreckage, his arm raised in a somber ‘thank you’ to his fallen comrades. It wasn’t until a silhouette that seemed to materialize in front of him woke him from his semi-dreaming state. The shadow cocked its head to the side, asking, “what are you doing, Cid?”

Worming his way back to reality, he dropped his hand to his side, smiling grimly. “Just sayin’ ‘thanks’,” the lean blond replied enigmatically, starting off toward the campfire.

The shadow, now identifiable as the ninja girl Yuffie, knitted her brows. “’Saying thanks’? What’s that mean?”

Cid remained silent, ignoring her question. “How’re the others doin’?”

He could hear the frown in her voice. “As good as can be expected. And don’t change the subject,” she added sternly. “What’s that mean?”

He bit back a growl of annoyance. The curiosity of children…damn, he was old. “None ya goddamn business,” he snapped. “Ya ever heard of privacy?” She snorted. He rolled his eyes, nearing the warmth of the flickering light. “No, of course ya haven’t,” he muttered, more to himself than to her. “You’re a ninja.”

The waif of a girl passed him, plopping down upon the ground gracelessly. “Seriously, though,” she started, “what were you doing?”

He didn’t bother holding back the sigh as he rested upon a nearby piece of metal. “You ain’t gonna let this go, are ya?” She shook her head, a smile lighting her face. Her grin only worsened his mood, and fueled his swiftly heating temper. “Look kid, I really don’t feel like talkin’ ‘bout it.”

Yuffie shrugged. “Why not?”

He glared at her, his dark blue eyes flaring in anger. “’Cause I don’t.”

She nudged him with her good hand conspiratorially. “C’mon…confession’s good for the soul.”

His eyes narrowed. “And what would you know about a soul?” he growled dangerously, his rough voice reminding him of sandpaper. The ninja blinked, her expression stunned, as if he had physically struck her. Mentally, he winced at his statement. The pilot knew her weak points, and when he was pissed, he wasn’t afraid to exploit them. He knew it was wrong, and he berated himself every time he wound up using them to his advantage, but he also knew that she did the same damn thing. Only rarely had the others attempted to intervene, and they as well quickly learned how cut-throat the two could be when pushed to their limits.

The blond held his breath, waiting for the retort that was bound to come.

He did not have long to wait.

Yuffie quickly recovered from her stupor, her jaw setting in defiance. “And I guess you’re the expert on souls, huh? After all,” she spoke, “you’re probably haunted by so many of them that you have to actually thank them when they go away.”

The remaining crew of the Highwind all woke from their slumbers, glancing at eachother for a moment before scattering like roaches in a basement. Cid’s muscles stiffened, a flurry of obscenities on the tip of his tongue like viper’s fangs, waiting to strike. “First off,” he began slowly, “you ain’t got a goddamn clue what you’re sayin’. I wasn’t thankin’ the souls for goin’ away, or whatever the hell you’re claimin’. I was thankin’ the crew that died for savin’ our asses.” He paused, allowing her a moment as ask what he was talking about. When she didn’t, he continued. “Those men didn’t hafta help us, but they did anyway. I couldn’t have been able to run that ship on my own, and the Highwind was the only way we coulda gotten into the Northern Crater. If it wasn’t for them, we all woulda been dead ‘n gone by now,” he explained, his voice filled with venom. “Never thought a that, did ya?”

The thief blinked, her eyes staring off to a far off point. “No, you didn’t,” he answered for her. “So before ya start spoutin’ shit, get yer fucking facts straight first.” He harrumphed, turning his head away. “Not like you ever thanked anybody in yer life for anything, anyway,” he muttered indignantly.

“What do I have to be thankful for?” she squawked. “My homeland was humiliated by that stupid damn city you all wanted to save. My old man doesn’t give a damn about me; says I’m a disgrace to the name Kisaragi. Says I should’ve never been born. I should be thankful for that?”

His chiseled lips thinned into a frown, his eyes still averted to the firelight. “Yeah, ya should be. Could be a helluva lot worse, y’know.”

“Is that a fact?” she quipped mockingly.

“Yeah, it is,” he snapped. “You ever been disowned?”

“No, but—“

“How ‘bout abandoned?”

“Well, no—“

“Beaten and ridiculed?”

“Of course not—“

“Left for dead?”

His silence answered his question for her.

He sighed. “Thought so. Well, remember, kid, there are always people worse off than you.”

Silence. “Like you?”

His eyes darted over to hers, holding them there. That was not the type of question he was expecting to come from her. In fact, the pilot was assuming she’d give another retort on how crappy her life had been. The last thing that ever came to mind when pondering the thief in front of him was her thinking of others. Blinking, he slowly turned his head back towards the warm waves of the fire, losing himself in the various reds and yellows. “Not now, kid,” he found himself murmuring. “Let’s worry ‘bout surviving tomorrow first, okay?”

Again shocking him, he heard her whisper, “Alright.” Glimpsing her way, he spied the lithe ninja laying her head down, curling up in a ball near the fire, her back turned to him. His mind reeled from the conversation that had just passed. Was he dreaming, or had she actually respected his wishes for once? He shook the forming cobwebs out of his head. He needed rest.

Taking off his jacket, he wadded it up and placed it under his head to use as a pillow. Yawning quietly, he noticed the tiny ninja shivering, her small body curling up even tighter. “Kid, you’re gonna freeze to death,” he muttered, ironically, considering he was clad only in pants and a black sleeveless undershirt. Standing up painfully, Cid picked his heavy jacket up off the ground, crossing over to the lightly snoring Yuffie. He carefully placed the heavy jacket over her shoulders, watching her clutch it to her absent-mindedly, her legs folding underneath the material. Feeling suddenly awkward, he returned to his spot, laying on his good side, tentative to keep any dust or ash out of his wound. Unwrapping his scarf, he placed it firmly over the blood-covered gash, holding it there with his left arm.

Against his will, her words reverberated in his head. ‘You’re the expert on souls, huh?’ What a cold-hearted thing to say to another person. Then again, he’d alluded that she had no soul, so he was just as guilty as her. “Hmph, we must be a quack’s dream,” he huffed to himself. Shaking his head, he ignored the piercing eyes glowering at the back of his head, and fell into an uneasy sleep.

–There ya go!–

Ooh, if the poor peeps only knew what they have in front of them… ^^;;

–Woo. Another update. Don’t get used to this, now. :D–

[i]Hero of the Day

“The window burns to light the way back home…
“A light that warms no matter where they’ve gone.”

–Metallica, “Hero of the Day”[/i]

Part III

Yuffie blinked blearily. For a moment, she darted her eyes around the dark skyline, expecting to see the monolithic crimson rock spiraling towards the ground, to find nothing there. Her memory returned, and she smiled contently. The ninja yawned, resting her eyes upon the blue fabric of the coat.

She blinked. Blue fabric of the coat?

Gripping the heavy jacket in her hand, she studied it intensely. The coarse cloth on one arm held a red and black “Highwind” patch. Instantly realizing who it belonged to, the teenager struggled to think of a time when Cid had given her his jacket, coming up empty.

Taking in her surroundings, the first thing she immediately noticed was that it was still before dawn. The sun still loomed beneath the horizon, making its lazy way up to the sky above, golden tendrils spearing into the darkness. The fire had gone out long ago, the burnt out pieces of scrap wood releasing thin silver streams of smoke unseen into the lightening sky. The three members of the Highwind crew had returned sometime after their spat, all three huddling near eachother and the fire for warmth.

A few yards away, her eyes fell upon the unmoving form of Cid. She rolled to her feet unsteadily, her hip protesting the moment, perhaps moreso than the last time she had awakened. She snorted to herself. “Hmph, and they say time heals all wounds,” she muttered quietly.

“Do all ninjas talk to themselves?”

Her eyes darted over to the source of the rough voice. Cid laid on his side, a tiny smirk upon his chiseled lips. Quickly, it morphed into a fearsome snarl, his gloved hand swiftly moving to his injured side. It took all of Yuffie’s training to not turn away in abject disgust as he methodically peeled the soaked through cotton scarf away from his wound; the wet sucking sound of peeling flesh audible in the quiet morning. With an unreadable expression, he refolded the thick material so a clean section was showing, and reapplied it. Growling quietly, she noticed his muscles tense for the first few seconds the scarf touched his gash. Soon, though, the impassive mask reappeared, and he sat up with only a slight grunt of exertion.

The ninja found watching him treating his abrasions oddly intriguing, in an almost sadistic way. He wasn’t impatient or rough as he most often was around the others. Normally, the pilot would take the route of beating the offending person or object into submission. To observe him being careful about anything was rare.

She ignored the dull pain in her left arm, useless waste of skin it now was, as she limped her way over to him. She held out the heavy coat for him to take, the fabric hanging inches from his face. He, however, remained oblivious to it, gingerly wrapping the scarf around his waist. Several moments later, he momentarily raised his head, his nose inadvertently nudging the cloth. Startled, he jerked backwards, landing on his backside. “Geez, kid,” he huffed, snatching the coat from her slender fingers, “do ya mind not sneakin’ up on me like that?” He blinked, quickly muttering, “Waitaminute, nevermind, you’re a damn ninja.”

The ebon-locked thief wasn’t sure if his statement was meant sarcastically or genuinely, but she smiled at it anyway. Clearing her throat, she took a deep breath. “Um…Cid…” she managed out.

He glanced up to her, locking his cool eyes with hers. “Yeah?”

Again, she tried to force the seditious words through her vocal cords, but to no avail.

He knitted his brows. “What? What’s yer problem?”

She chuckled nervously. “Um…yeah…I, uh…” she stammered.

His chiseled lips tugged downward into a frown. “What?

The ninja clenched her teeth together in frustration. “Thanks.”

He blinked, surprised. “Huh?”

Before he could say any more, she turned on her heel, stalking back towards the remains of the leaning remains of the ship, mentally kicking herself the entire way. It shouldn’t have been so hard to say. It was one little word, ‘thanks’. That was no reason for a mind to suddenly shut down, especially not hers. And it wasn’t even anything of great importance. She was thanking him for a measly jacket.

Then again, she didn’t have much experience in that field.

She froze in mid step, pondering the epiphany. Cid had been right. She hadn’t thanked anyone before. She had never apologized either, the one time on the Highwind being the obvious exception. The prodigal shinobi had never really believed that she had anything to be thankful about, but after their conversation the night before, she understood that her life could have indeed been much worse than it had been.

Possibly like his.

Shaking her head slowly, the ninja climbed up the jagged slope of the Highwind hull. Having one arm numb made it a great deal harder than had she been in perfect health. However, in a little over fifteen minutes, she sat on the crest, regaining her strength. While breathing in and out slowly, she was careful to keep her mind clear of any stray thoughts. She was not ready to reach into the section of her mind that remained concealed by years of cobwebs and ambition.

“Kid, you okay?”

Snapping her head around, she laid eyes upon the mammoth leather boots that could only belong to Barret. Biting back a sigh, she nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just catching my breath, that’s all.”

Barret scoffed roughly. “Yeah, it’s a bitch to climb, ain’t it?” Massaging the back of his neck with his hand, he sat down next to her. “Wat’chu doin’ up here, anyway?”

She paused. What was she up here for? Blinking, she spouted the first thing that came to mind. “I, uh, wanted to know how Spike—er, Cloud, was doing.”

Barret’s full lip twitched up in amusement. “’Spike’? Kid, you been spendin’ too much time wit Cid.”

The corner of her mouth curled up for an instant, disappearing as quickly as it came. Flashing a quick mischievous glance in his general direction, she cocked her head to the side. “You call him that too, you know.”

He raised a thin eyebrow at her. “Jes what’chu tryin’ ta say, brat?”

Her rose lips parted in an evil grin. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” Straining her neck upwards to look him in the face, she asked, “So, how is Cloud doing?”

What mirth was in his eyes vaporized like so many mirages, being replaced with the icy crystals of reality. “Still out.” Harrumphing to himself, he shook his head, staring out blankly into the early morning sky. “What’s da game plan?”

Yuffie furrowed her brows, gaping at him. “What makes you think he’d tell me? He doesn’t trust me, and you know it.”

He nodded slowly, his scarred face hardened with years of witnessing Life’s cruel whims. For a moment, as he pondered his answer, the teenager wondered how he had managed to get through it all. He had been burned far more times than she had. He—like her—had lost his home, his honor, and pride, when the Shinra came in and took what wasn’t rightfully theirs. But he had lost more. Barret had lost his wife, his friends…his best friend, Dyne, whom had become a raving, blood-lusting maniac. He was forced to watch him die, able and yet unable to save him, and he probably blamed himself for it. It was just that much more blood slathered on his one remaining hand. To him, there was already so much there, a bit more wouldn’t make a difference…

“He don’t trust ya,” he huffed, bringing her back to the present, “but you da only one left who can be on point. Ev’rybody else is gonna be doin’ somethin.”

She nodded in appreciation for his tactical intellect. He was the original leader for a reason, obviously. Honestly, she began to wonder if she would be able to cut it as the leader, even as a temporary one. If and when a situation would arise that needed strategy, the ninja was apprehensive of what she could possibly do. Shoving the thought away, she replied, “Do you trust me?”

He glanced over to her, shrugging ambiguously.

She rolled her eyes, getting to her feet. “Geez, thanks for the pick-me-up.”

He smirked. “Ain’t no problem, kid.” He too stood, towering over her while still half bent over. “So,” he started, “what’s da word?”

She gathered her thoughts, attempting to form a plan. Trying three times and failing, she scrapped the whole idea and just decided to ‘let the chips fall where they may’. “We’re splitting into two teams,” she stated, dead-pan. “Cid and a few others are going to go at their own pace. Everyone else is coming with me. My team is going to get to Kalm as fast as possible, and bring back supplies to Cid’s group.”

His dark lips tugged downward. “That’s it? That’s all ya got?” Sighing, he shook his head. “Kid, lemme ask ya somethin’. Cid’s ‘team’…how they gonna be able ta defend themselves if da shit hits da fan?”

Yuffie set her jaw, glaring at the larger man. “Cid says he doesn’t want us to be lagging behind because of him. Also, he figures this way is quicker. I don’t really like it either, but it’s the only chance I think we have. If you have any better plans, by all means, tell me. You’re more of a tactician than I am.”

His gaze shifted to a far off place, his expression contemplative. “Hm…the ol’ man’s gotta point. Aight, we doin’ it yer way. When we leavin’?”

She shrugged non-chalantly, giving Barret no outward clue of her amazement at herself. “Whenever everyone’s ready to.”

Barret blinked again. “Damn, kid…ya really got a lot ta learn ‘bout bein’ a leader.”

The ninja shrugged again, hopping down to a lower level. “Fine. Then teach me.” Before the larger man could reply, she had skipped her way down half the jagged slope with little trouble. As she made her way down to the charred earth below, she thought of the friends she had made, and the conditions they were now in. Cloud was unconscious, Tifa was injured, Barret was as coarse as ever, Red was unable to walk, Cait was destroyed, Vincent had mysteriously vanished, and Cid…

Her eyes made their way over to Cid’s crouching form, gazing at the smoldering pile of burnt wood. His unruly blond hair was in various stages of disarray, clumps of it frozen in different positions. His dusty blue jacket was thrown over his shoulders, providing minimal protection from the wind in its tattered condition. The pilot didn’t seem to notice, though, lost in thought.

He was injured, and yet he volunteered to help his comrade in arms for no other reason than to do it. If the other members of the Highwind crew were to come with her, that would leave only Tifa to defend them against anything that might come their way. The ninja believed that the shapely bartender could take care of herself and those around her, but guarding herself and two other injured people alone…?

“Yuffie!” Startled, she turned around, her ebony eyes falling upon Tifa. The buxom woman was waving her hand in the air, standing on a small cliff of steel rods, smiling brightly. Narrowing her eyes slightly, the raven-locked thief twisted her body around, forcing a miniscule jovial grin.

Standing at the base, Yuffie stared above, shouting, “What’s up?”

Stepping down a few levels, Tifa eyed her happily. “Good morning!” she declared.

The ninja blinked. “Um…good morning.” Pausing for a moment to read the expression on her pale face, she frowned slightly. “So…um…” she began haltingly, “is there…anything I can do for you?”

Tifa hopped to the ground, shaking her head merrily.

Her face fell, the brunette’s cheerful face sucking out whatever joy was left in her system, her radiant grin soaking it up like a sponge. “That’s all you wanted to say? ‘Good morning’?”

She nodded briskly, running a hand through the small tangles in her long, thick hair. “Well, someone here has to be in a good mood. Everyone else seems to be the walking dead.”

Forcing down the comment that threatened to emerge, she instead sighed. “Yeah, well, it’s going to be a long day. Everyone’s just resting up, I guess.”

The slightly taller woman nodded contently, walking towards the remains of the campfire. The ninja watched her for a moment, shaking her head. Tifa was by no means stupid; in fact, she had a practical knowledge of the human body that she’d never heard of before. However, if there was a weakness in the fighting master, it was her blind trust in others. In short, the woman was gullible in the extreme. When they had first met, the ninja used that flaw at every possible chance. However, now, she disliked using it to her advantage, especially after all the kindness that had been shown to her. But, sometimes lying to her was for her own good. At least, that was her justification.

“Heads up, kid.”

Instinctively, she dove to the ground, rolling on her numb shoulder into a defensive crouch. Staring at her previous standing place, her eyes again fell upon the massive worn boots that covered the rebel’s large feet. Blinking in confusion, she stood, her deep eyes following up his large muscled body, stopping at the figure lying limp over his shoulder. “Decided to bring Cloud down?”

He nodded curtly, an odd expression upon his face. “Yeah. What da hell was that?”

She rose one eyebrow curiously. “What was what?”

He nodded slightly in her direction. “Da duck ‘n roll thing.”

“Oh.” The ninja paused, half-heartedly trying to make up an excuse for her ‘duck ‘n roll thing’. “Well…”

“Habit?” he supplied for her. She nodded mutely. “Hmph. Aight then. You cool?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she replied.

She studied their leader for a moment, slumped listlessly over Barret’s shoulder. Her sharp eyes noted the absence small spines of steel in his back that were imbedded there the last time she laid eyes upon it. In its stead, each of the dozen wounds had been treated with a painstakingly careful touch. Tifa, probably. Thinking back upon her behavior a few minutes ago, the ninja gained a new respect for the woman’s inner strength. Anyone who could treat their loved ones wounds and still wake up happy had to have integrity. “So, we’re all ready,” Yuffie stated flatly.

He nodded in military-like fashion. “Spike here’s da last one up there, so yeah.”

“See? You do say it.” He merely stared at her as if she were insane. Shaking her head, she sighed. “Alright. Get Red, and I’ll talk to the Highwind crew.”

“Wait,” he said, taking a step forward. “They comin’ wit us or not?”

The ninja shrugged. “Not sure. I was going to ask them, actually.”

The rebel harrumphed, frowning deeply. “They should.”

She paused, taking a glimpse of the huddled members of the Highwind crew, redressing their gashes. “They don’t have to come, you know.”

“Kid,” he sighed wearily, “yer their leader. Ya give orders. They do hafta come.”

Her eyebrows shot upwards, almost amused. “Oh, they do?”

He nodded. “Animals smell blood, and Cid’s group is bleedin’ pretty bad. Da more blood in one small area, meanin’ Cid’s group, da quicker da animals find ‘em. They better off wit us.” He glared at her, his eyes hard. “Don’t cha think?”

She fell silent, nodding imperceptibly.

Barret snorted to himself. “I thought so. Well, ya better tell da crew. It’s gonna to be a long walk, and da more light, da better.” She was too lost in thought to notice him walking off. She felt as if she were three inches tall. She tried to be the leader—failing miserably, at that—and he snapped her back like some rank amateur. Of course, she couldn’t blame him; he knew more in the tactics field than she did, and she even admitted it. And, regardless of his demeanor, he was right on every point. He not only knew what to do, but he knew how and why, as well. Part of her was glad the middle-aged rebel was in her troupe. If something happened where she needed to make quick decisions, she could rely upon him.

The rest of her, however, was embarrassed, and even a little angry. She was not a child that needed to have her hand held through everything.

She shook her head, starting off towards the smoldering campfire. Now wasn’t the time to throw a temper tantrum, she chastised herself harshly. She was a ninja; she had dealt with mistakes before. She’d lived with defeat, and rejection. She had taken her land’s humiliating defeat in stride, and she could take a little brow-beating from some second-rate rebel.

From some second-rate rebel that saved the world, she amended grudgingly.

Her raven eyes wandered to Cid, whom hand just slung their unconscious leader over his shoulder, taking a slow drag off a cigarette he had lit from the tiny cinders. She had learned to think on her feet, compensating for mistakes she could afford to make. Now, though, those same mistakes carried a high a price tag. Far too high for her tastes.

Then again, she was a thief, a lot of prices were too high for her tastes. A wisp of a smirk passed her face. She’d managed to cheat her way out of many price tags in her career, and this time would be no different.

–Heh, go figure. I drop off the face of the earth for a few days, and nobody wishes me fond farewell. :smiley: j/k Anywho, off to the next part.–

The darkness was complete. What moon had been shining the evening before was gone, as if the night had always reigned supreme.

She loved it.

The night was her element. She was a ninja; she needed that absolute darkness to carry out her duties or missions, whatever they may have been. Despite her small stature and scrawny features, the raven-locked girl was quite the thief, as her friends quickly learned. She had even been trained in the ways of assassination, though she never dared use it. She had some morals, after all.

“Hey, kid, where da hell are ya?” Barret questioned loudly, his booming voice echoing in the flat expanse.

“She is fifteen feet in front of you, Barret,” Red replied, his slightly accented voice tinged with annoyance. “You can’t see in the dark?”

“No, that’s why they call it da dark, ya snooty bastard!” he snapped harshly, stumbling over a rock.

“’Snooty’?” the feline guffawed. “I was merely inquiring over whether your eyes have adjusted to the darkness yet.”

“Well, they haven’t. Happy now?” he sneered, jogging up next to the ninja. Yuffie cast a sidelong glance to him, smiling weakly. Unlike Barret, her eyes had long ago adjusted to the inky blackness that surrounded them, scanning the area intently for anything that might pose a threat. No doubt, the fire-tailed creature laying over the rebel’s shoulders had been able to see through the black velvet long before she ever had, luckily for the one holding him. “We been walkin’ for ‘bout fifteen hours now, we oughta be close.”

“That’d make it about 9:30 or so,” she stated. “Would any of the stores still be open?”

“After all da shit that went down? Couldn’t tell ya,” he answered bluntly.

“Let us hope so,” Red said, sighing.

“Hmph. Amen ta that.”

“Same here,” she huffed, shaking her head. She brought her hand up to her face, rubbing her weary eyes for a second, wondering how far along Cid and the others were. Almost against her will, she turned her gaze to the path she had trodden, willing their silhouettes to come into view, only to see the three from the Highwind trudging behind her tiredly. Sighing, the Wutanian swiveled her neck around just in time to see another shadow creeping along in front of them. Stopping in mid step, she motioned brutally with her right arm to hold their position.

Barret’s hulking form lurched to a halt, looking her way. “Ya see somethin’?”

“Shh!” she hissed quietly, pressing her finger to her lips. Squinting her deep eyes in concentration, she desperately tried to make out the forms. They were human, or at least, humanoid, and from their slow and jerky movements, they didn’t appear to be concerned with her group. Beyond that, however, it was impossible to tell, even for a ninja so acquainted with the night. Leaning her slender body over an inch, the pale shinobi whispered, “Red, you see better than I do in the dark, what do they look like?”

The scarlet quadruped pivoted his furred head, his amber eye focused upon the many straggling shadows. Several seconds passed in silence, Yuffie holding her breath in anticipation. The feline sniffed the air, his thin lips curling downward unnaturally. “Refugees,” he muttered dully.

Her dark eyes widened. “From Midgar?”

A bark of laughter exploded from Barret’s lips. “Hot damn! There were survivors!”

Red sniffed the air once more, turning his gaze from the darkness to Barret. “I wouldn’t celebrate just yet, Barret. If people survived, they’d naturally head to the nearest towns.”

The rebel frowned, sighing impatiently. “Yeah, I got that. Jes what’s yer point?”

The feline stared into the night momentarily, his face contemplative. “Why?”

The ninja knitted her brows, wondering where her four-legged companion was going with this. “What do you mean, ‘why’? Where else can they go? They can’t stay in a ruined city.”

His golden eye shifted to her. “And why do you suppose that is?”

Her lips formed a thin frown, her deep eyes narrowing. If she could have crossed her arms, she would have. “Don’t talk to me like I’m three. I have a brain, thank you.”

“You haven’t answered my question, yet,” he retorted, unperturbed.

The small teenager grated her teeth together. She felt as if he were staring down at her—which he was, since he was hoisted up on Barret’s broad shoulders. Nothing flared her temper up more than someone underestimating her. With as much attitude as she could muster, she hissed, “Alright, then. You want an answer? I’ll tell you one. The survivors obviously can’t stay in a ruined city because it’s too hazardous. They’d need food, shelter, su—“ Her eyes widened, Red’s insinuation dawning on her. “…They’d need supplies.”

He nodded slightly. “They’re not the first batch, and I doubt they’ll be the last. Kalm is probably already overflowing with them. If there are any supplies left, they’ll be extremely expensive.”

“If it’s money, we ain’t gotta problem wit it,” the dark man assured confidently. “I still got ‘bout fifty-thousand stashed on me, and knowin’ you,” he remarked, his eyes flitting over to Yuffie, “ya probably got ev’rything else, anyway.”

She scoffed in disgust. “I do not. …At least…not all of it…”

Barret merely snorted.

“He-hello? I-is anybody out there?” a disembodied voice simpered weakly.

The ninja cast a quick glimpse to the others, nodding to herself. “I’ll go,” she whispered.

“Damn right ya better go, yer the leader,” the large rebel chastised.

Her frown only became more pronounced. “Barret,” she huffed, “shut up.” She wasn’t sure if the muscular soldier was either stunned into silence or just ignored her, and to be honest, she didn’t care. He kept quiet, and that was more than enough for her. Taking a few soft steps forward, her eyes darted about the dark horizon, spotting at least three of the ragged shadows to her left, closing in on her position.

“He-hello?” the same voice squeaked quietly, its voice quivering with either fear or fatigue. Probably both, she told herself. “Wh-who’s there?”

Holding her arm out wide in a gesture of peace, Yuffie continued to walk forward slowly. “Don’t be afraid,” she spoke calmly, her eyes moving from one shape to another, noticing that as she stepped closer, more and more of them appeared. Part of her wondered exactly how many refugees Red saw when she asked him to look.

“Who are you?” another voice piped up. It was deeper, more resonant than the original, but it was strained with weariness.

Satisfied that she was as close as she needed to be, she halted in the trampled grass, keeping her one palm up. “My name is Yuffie,” she answered slowly. “I and my comrades are headed towards Kalm.”

“Why?” the second snapped, sounding annoyed. “Where are they, and—“

“Karter,” the first hushed. A shadow disengaged itself from the whole, becoming a small form all its own. “Excuse my friend, miss Yuffie, he’s very protective of us. There aren’t many of us left,” the voice became tinged with sadness and regret.

She could identify with that. “I can understand your…uh, zeal, Mr. Karter—“

“Karter,” he replied curtly.

“Uh, right, Karter,” she sputtered, clearing her throat. Turning her gaze to the lead shadow, the ninja took a deep breath. “I want to assure you,” she began, “I mean you no harm. My friends and I, we were in a plane crash. Some of the others were injured. We need to get to Kalm and bring them supplies before they die.”

“Is that the quiet explosion we heard last night?” the first voice, almost feminine in comparison to Karter’s, questioned softly.

She chuckled to herself for a moment. “Quiet,” she echoed. “That’s not the word I would’ve used for it. But, yeah, I guess so.”

For several seconds, the only sound that she could make out was the weak night winds that brought with it the stench of ash and death. Whether the smell was from the Highwind or Midgar, though, the raven-locked teenager couldn’t know for sure. “…Come with us,” the first voice stated. “My name is Castille, although everyone calls me Cas.”

She grinned. “Alright…Cas.”

“How many are with you?” Karter growled.

She cast a glare over her shoulder, minutely nodding her head to the ones behind her. “Including me, six.”

“Come on, then,” he commanded, “we don’t wait for those who lag behind.”

“Gotcha,” she answered, turning to her comrades as they jogged up to her position. Barret was the first to arrive, and as he passed her to join the crowd of stragglers, she could’ve sworn she saw a tiny smirk upon his leathery face. Seconds later, the other three of the Highwind crew caught up with him, and she brought up the rear, content to meld into the crowd and not to lead it.

For many minutes she was lost in thought. How many of these people had survived the meteor’s wrath? How many had lost family members? How many had lost everything they had owned? How many had lost limbs? The numbers, if anyone ever bothered to even count, would be staggering. Momentarily, she wondered if Reeve managed to survive in the slums. She also speculated if some areas were more protected than others, or if it was just blind luck that judged who lived and who died. Either way, the loss of the largest city in the planet would have amazing effects on the world she knew. Maybe it was for the better, but maybe—

“Hey, kid! Where da hell are ya?”

Her thin lip twitched upward. Barret. “I’m right here, Barret,” she answered blandly, pondering if he’d let such an unacceptable answer slide.

“That don’t help, brat!”

Like clockwork, she mused. The ninja started working her way through the crowd towards Barret, figuring where he was from the sound of his voice and angle at which she was facing. Of course, the fact that Barret was at least a head taller than everyone else helped, too. Coming next to him, she matched his pace, pivoting to face the mammoth man. “So, what’s up?”

He merely jutted his jaw out in a ‘look over there’ fashion. “Lights,” he stated, as if that were the answer to everything.

Scowling, she broke away from the group, trying to get a clear view of these “lights” that Barret mentioned. As she moved further away from them, her acute dark eyes quickly picked up several small dots of light on the horizon. Candles, perhaps? “Ya see ‘em now?” the rebel barked, annoyed.

“Yeah,” she replied. “Yeah, I see them.”


–There ya go!–

–Erm…now that’s weird. I updated, but…the forum thingy didn’t show it. How rude. Well, a “double” update, because both parts were totally small and really it’s not fair to show such a small little tidbit all by its lonesome. At least, not a second time around. :D–

[i]Hero of the Day

“Still the window burns, time so slowly turns, someone there is sighing…
…keepers of the flame, can you hear your name, can’t you hear your baby’s crying?”

–Metallica, “Hero of the Day”[/i]

Part IV

Marlene gazed aimlessly out of the window, her small chin resting in the palm of her hand. She sighed, adjusting herself in her less-than comfortable chair, resting her thin legs under her sore and somewhat numb rump. Her lips curled downward into a frown. She watched another band of dirty and hurt people enter the small town, practically begging to be allowed into the Inn, only to be turned away.

It didn’t seem fair. She was sitting here in this nice home, with Ms. Elmyra, when there were all of those people having to scrap up some place to sleep.

It wasn’t fair.

They were probably just as nice as Ms. Elmyra. So what if they came from Midgar? They didn’t want to hurt anybody. They only wanted to find some place to sleep. Their homes were probably burned away when the Meteor nearly hit. They lost everything. Some may have lost their little doll they had since they were kids. Some lost limbs. Some even lost friends, and family. The young girl sniffled, wiping her tiny hand across her pug nose in a way a child could only do.

It just wasn’t fair.

The small child clutched her small teddy bear tighter. She was a big girl. She could handle it. She wasn’t going to cry. She was three; she was big. She saw in the distance another crowd nearing, and her frown only became bigger. This bunch looked like the worst one of all of them. The poor people…they all looked so sad and lost. They couldn’t go anywhere; all the shops were empty, and all the beds were full. Her eyes stung with tears, but she set her jaw, and blinked them away. She was a big girl. Big girls don’t cry.

Taking a deep breath, she scanned the crowd, looking closely for her father. She knew he left because he was trying to save the Planet, but she still missed him. Her lip twitched down, and she sniffled again. She was a big girl, she told herself. She had to be a big girl for Daddy. And big girls do not cry.

Her eyes locked upon a single fire-lit figure in the whole mass of people below. Her entire figure jerked forward, leaning her head against the thin pane.

She off-handedly wiped a tear away.

“Daddy,” she squeaked.

Reeve sighed, leaning heavily against the unforgiving wooden back of the hard chair. He ran his cut and swollen fingers through his ratty black locks, his piercing blue eyes standing out in stark contrast to the dark and dreary conditions of the tiny room; which would have been small enough if it wasn’t overflowing with refugees.

Wearily, he slowly pulled his aching hands down over his face, massaging his bloodshot eyes for the seventeenth time. Against his will, he gazed at some twenty people that were piled around him, curled up into various positions to keep warm in the barely-heated back room of the materia store. Each of them appeared haggard; far more so than he. His suit was marred with soot and blood, but it was still in relatively good condition.

He got away scot-free.

“Dammit,” he ex-spy whispered into the darkness. He was in good condition, and he had to watch hundreds of people be literally torn apart by the Meteor’s tornadoes. Not only did he live through that, he had to survive unscathed while he helped others dig out dismembered, scorched, or otherwise mutilated remains of loved ones. He couldn’t mourn for them as they wept; he couldn’t tell them that he felt their pain. He lost a robot, and a plush office in a corrupt building. He lost nothing of value.

He snarled, clenching his hand into his fist. No, that may not have been entirely true. The last images he saw of his friends were of them hurtling down into the lifeless dirt that surrounded Midgar. Perhaps they were alive, headed his way right at the moment. Or, as he suspected—and summarily feared—they all died in a fiery inferno, crushed to death under the folds of steel, just like those in Midgar.

And he got away scot-free.

Dammit,” the swore heatedly, the fog of his breath catching a tiny bit of light, illuminating it for a moment before it vaporized into nothing. They didn’t deserve to die that way. They put their lives on the line to “fight the good fight”, as the saying went. And what happens to them? They die in the immediate aftermath, before anyone had a chance to know of their heroics. To him, at that moment, death at the hands of Sephiroth was a more pleasant fate than the ones his comrades were possibly sharing now. Death in obscurity. The irony of it all.

And he still got away scot-free.

“Dammit all to hell,” he huffed, his aqua eyes gleaming in the darkness. He lost nothing, while his friends and his fellow citizens lost everything. They bled, and he watched. They died, and he stood by. They looked to him for help, and he could only look back.

Rubbing his hand twice over his trimmed goatee, he stood as best as he could manage, and clumsily made his way over to the door, trying his best not to step on anyone. Balancing himself in an awkward position, he shoved the door open, hopping over the snoring child at his feet, softly pressing the door closed. He glimpsed at the store owner, dusting his strangely empty stock shelves, hurriedly heading out the front door.

His face darkened as he laid eyes upon the newest batch of refugees, half-heartedly wondering if Cloud or the others were in there. Haltingly, he took in his surroundings, his sapphire pools falling upon the tiny girl that sat in the windowsill, her posture slumped forward in fatigue. Poor Marlene. When he arrived, he didn’t have the heart to tell the small child what he had seen. After all, he didn’t really know what happened, and he didn’t want to cause the girl any undue worry.

He harrumphed. As if undue worry was the most of his problems at the moment.

Reeve noticed something different about this group than the last ones that entered. A small dot of light caught his eye, casting a red ambience about the various people around it. It wasn’t a torch, for it was moving too quickly and erratically to be connected to any solid object. It was almost as if the fire had a life of its own—

He blinked, his angular face falling in shock. “Red?” It couldn’t have been. He watched as the Highwind plummeted the ground, and as everyone was thrown back into the abyss. The flame flickered about, illuminating a large, hulking figure, who was literally head and shoulders taller than everyone else in the group. It had to be Barret. No one else would be that large, and be carrying Red—

Wait. “Why is Barret carrying Red?” he murmured to no one in particular.

A portly—not to mention drunken—refugee passing by him stopped, whirling around to face him. “Did ye say Barret, lad?” the old man hissed, his milky eyes focused intently on him. “As in, th’ terrorist bastard that called Meteor?”

His face fell. “Excuse me?”

The old man looked at him as if he had suddenly grown another head. “I thought ya said somethin’ ‘bout th’ bleedin’ scum, Barret! Did ye or not?”

“No,” he replied immediately.

The plump man nodded to himself. “Aye, thought so. Well, I can only say one thing ‘bout them bastards. God bless Shinra for stoppin’ ‘em”

God bless Shinra. Right. “I heard those were only rumors.” He had tried desperately to dissuade people from believing that it was, in fact, AVALANCHE who had called Meteor, and not Sephiroth. However, it was quite hard to argue with the President of Shinra Inc., sniveling little mama’s boy that he was; especially when Reeve had to lay low while the various lynch mobs searched for him. Added to the fact that AVALANCHE wasn’t exactly squeaky clean—they did blow up the Sector One reactor, killing dozens of innocent people in the process. And, who could forget the Sector Five reactor, either? Those who had lost loved ones in the two attacks, and the supposed ‘terrorist attack’ on Sector Seven, never questioned what Rufus—and later that fat bastard Palmer—fed them.

The rest were just too complacent to think for themselves.

God bless Shinra, that greedy son of a bitch.

“Rumors my eye!” the old man shouted, stamping his foot on the ground, reminding Reeve of a horse somewhat. “Th’ bastard blew th’ Sector One and Sector Five reactors sky high, an’ dropped th’ Sector Seven plate fer no other reason than t’ kill as many people as possible! Why should their callin’ the Meteor be a rumor, eh, laddie boy? With their track record? Ha! I doubt it!”

He wished that he could animate all his memories of his friends for everyone to see. He wished that he could tell everyone that his friends risked their lives to save the planet, for no reason than to help others.

He wished that he could take some of blame for himself.

“What’cha gotta say, laddie? Not so tough now, are ya?” the pudgy man prodded.

He wished he could bash this guy’s face in.

“You believe what you want,” the ex-Shinra employee spoke at length, “but sometimes jumping to conclusions can wind up coming back to haunt you.”

“Terrorist lover,” the fat man sneered.

Oh, how he wished he could bash this guy’s face in.

“Simply because I want to keep an open mind, I’m now a sympathizer to terrorists?” He winced. That didn’t come out the way he had planned it. “All I’m doing is trying to get to the truth, and trying not to lynch someone who may have done nothing wrong.”

“Why?” the drunkard snorted. “They ain’t human.”

The chattering of the crowd became louder as the haggard throng of broken people staggered into the town square. “If you say so,” he huffed, turning on his heel, “you drunken fool.”

“Terrorist lover!” the old man bellowed, pointing to his direction. Everyone within hearing range stopped, glaring hateful looks at him. Hiding his own disgust, he stalked back into the materia store.

Maybe he didn’t get off scot-free, after all.

–There ya go!–

Can’t read now… I have to log off because my bro wants the computer. Sorry:(
I’ll read it later though.:kissy:

Still going strong, I always found that Part, moving! Keep it up!