[Shattered] Ice 18

Chapter Eighteen – Reach for the Sky

“Cloud! You fucking asshole!” Cid’s brash declaration could be heard clear across the open courtyard of Rocket Town.

Sighing heavily, Cloud turned to face the fuming pilot, Vincent and Nanaki following. His eyebrow twitched; he was certain of it. It seemed ordering Cid not to come had had no effect, just as he thought it would.

Cid snarled, looking very much like a rampaging train as he stalked their way. “I told your little message boy that I was comin’! I’m not letting ShinRa get my rocket… whether you like it or not!” he demanded, storming up to the group, boots digging angry furrows into the ground. He gripped his Scimitar tightly in his hand as he puffed furiously on a cigarette. “Get lost, wolfie,” he ordered, jerking his head towards Nanaki.

The lion-wolf frowned and narrowed his eyes. He looked at Cloud, and the blond nodded. The fire-wolf simply shrugged, walking past Cid without a word. He would let the comment slide for now, understanding the pilot’s anger, but the human would get his just due later.

Cid’s eyebrow twitched mercilessly as the lion-wolf walked past and headed towards the airship.

The ex-SOLDIER sighed, unhappy about the irascible older man accompanying them. Cid simply could not be objective when it came to the ShinRa No. 26.

“Our first priority is the Huge Materia,” he warned, looking the other blond in the eye. “Anything else is too much trouble we don’t need.”

“Tch!” the pilot muttered, plucking the cigarette from his mouth and throwing it to the ground. He crushed the tiny flame beneath his heavy boots and hefted up the Scimitar, balancing it across the back of his shoulders. His eyes seemed to gleam with the need to kick some ass.

“Quit yer stallin’ then! ShinRa ain’t gonna wait on yer sorry ass!” the pilot demanded impatiently. He stormed past Vincent, not sparing him a glance. He pushed past Cloud, nearly knocking shoulders with the man as his boots stomped across the ground.

Vincent and Cloud exchanged glances before following after the determined Captain. The leader watched Cid grimly as they pushed through the stand of trees to the still leaning rocket. This was the entire reason that he had ignored the pilot’s desire to come. Cid could be volatile when he was angry, and like the Tiny Bronco, the ShinRa No. 26 was his baby.

The two cleared the trees, finally having caught up with the furious Cid, catching their first glimpse of the rocket. Other than a few lights blinking on and off, when they had not been previously lit before, the rocket seemed just fine. However, it was obvious that something had been activated. There was a subtle thrumming to the ground, and an air of excitement to the town itself.

“Those terrorists are here!!” a ShinRa soldier shouted, suddenly noticing their arrival. A handful of lesser grunts rushed the group, intent on stopping them.

Vincent drew his Winchester and shot one before he was even close to them. The former Turk quickly re-aimed to take out another, but Cid moved in his way, interrupting the shot. Scowling, Vincent dropped his arm to the side as Cid leapt in front of two more soldiers and growled angrily. He swung his Scimitar in a wide arc, catching both in the chest. The two dropped from the pilot’s powerful blow, stars dancing in front of their eyes.

Spitting in disgust, the pilot ran past and headed for the stairs. Cloud shook his head and hurried to catch up, while the gunman merely watched with interest as he made his way at a much more sedate pace. He even paused to make sure that the soldiers were indeed out of commission. It was clear that the other two could handle it without him for the time being.

“Don’t let them get any further! Everyone, ATTACK!!” screamed the commander of another troop. She stood at the first landing, guarding the second set of stairs.

Cid plowed into the group, casting Fire 2 on one as he brought his lance crashing down on the helmet of another. The smell of burnt cotton and flesh filled the other, ash rising into the sky from the powerful spell.

“Urrgh,” the commander in red growled, not at all worried by the quick take down of her first two men. “You’re not going anywhere! Uh, un… nowhere!” She drew her gun and aimed at the Captain, who seemed none too concerned.

Cloud appeared and tackled the commander, casting Stop at the same moment and effectively canceling the attack. A quick fist to the face had the woman out for good.

“Cid! Have you lost your damn mind?” Cloud demanded, turning widening eyes towards the pilot. But he was promptly ignored.

The sound of a Winchester broke through the battle, and the fourth and final enemy was down for the count. Vincent finished climbing the stairs and stood with his companions, the bodies of the unconscious ShinRa soldiers strewn about them. Crimson eyes stared impassively at their fallen forms, vaguely impressed that Cid could be so destructive. He made a mental note to never upset the pilot. Ever.

“Goddammit! What the hell do they think they’re gonna do to my @#$%& rocket!?” Cid practically howled in frustration, wiping sweat from his brow. He kicked furiously at one of the fallen soldiers, receiving a pained grunt in response. “I’m gonna kick their sorry ShinRa asses right out of it!” he cursed, already heading for the other ladder, despite Cloud’s attempts to hold him back.

“Dammit, Cid! This isn’t about you!!” Cloud shouted, hurrying to catch up. He grabbed onto the bottom rung, wondering if there would be anyone left alive in ShinRa by the time Cid was through. Not that it really mattered. He idly noticed Vincent following close behind him and idly speculated if the two really were lovers.

Ahead of them, Cid snarled, the distaste in his voice plainly audible. “What the @#$%& hell you doin’ here?” he demanded to someone they were unable to see. “I thought I told yer Turk ass to never come back here!!”

Curiosity abounded as Cloud reached the platform, popping his spiky head over the top. Cid was squared off against Rude and another contingent of minor soldiers. Sky blue eyes were narrowed, and the pilot’s grip on his spear seemed death-like.

Rude harrumphed, balling his hands up into fists. “I do not fear you, Cid Highwind. I go where I please,” he countered, speaking for what was the perhaps the first time that Cloud could remember.

The ex-SOLDIER’s eyes widened in surprise as he scrambled the rest of the way onto the platform. He half-noted that Vincent was right on his heels, though much calmer about the entire escapade.

“Fuckin’ bald-headed bastard! I’m going to kick your ass outta this town, and you better not come back again!” Cid continued, unabated as his face flushed with the fierce scarlet of anger. “And I don’t care what the *!@# she says about it!”

Rude snorted, idly adjusting his sunglasses. “I will eliminate everyone who gets in ShinRa’s way, including you, Mr. Highwind.” He didn’t seem the slightest bit perturbed as Cloud and Vincent finally caught up, flanking the volatile pilot on either side. On the other hand, the soldiers to either side of the Turk began to shake in their boots.

Cid smirked darkly. “You wouldn’t dare. If I die, you might as well kiss your chances with her goodbye!!” He snarled viciously, giving no warning as he leapt the taller man, spear glistening in the sun. Clearly, he held some grudge with the bald Turk, though both Cloud and Vincent were equally baffled.

Rude hurried to defend himself as the Captain slashed at him mercilessly, backpedaling to avoid the sharp point of the Scimitar. He barely registered the sound of a gun being fired as Vincent felled one of his men, and the crackle of electricity as Bolt 2 took care of the other. He was more concerned with his own life. If his men couldn’t handle it, they should never have joined the ShinRa army. It was their responsibility to defend themselves.

He blocked Cid’s spear with one hand, mentally berating himself a second later for not following through. What the pilot had said earlier was correct, but dammit… this was his job. He couldn’t kill the man, only knock him out. However, it seemed that the blond didn’t have the same qualms as he repeatedly tried to skewer the Turk.

Rude shook his head, blocking another of Cid’s attacks. He half-attempted to work in his own offensive move, but the pilot had a back-up plan already waiting for him.

“Too slow!” the Captain exclaimed, slamming the butt end of his lance into Rude’s belly, knocking the Turk to his back and stealing his breath. The platform rattled as he crashed backwards, narrowly missing slamming his head into the railing.

“Ugh…gh…” Rude groaned, desperately trying to draw breath back into his body as he struggled to regain a hold on the pain flooding his abdomen. That stick had hurt a lot more than he thought he would.

Of course, Cid couldn’t resist the change to taunt his defeated enemy. “Tch! Maybe next time you’ll know better than to come back, ne?” he questioned rhetorically as he glared at the Turk.

Without another glance, he passed by the fallen man and headed for the rocket entrance, his companions on his heels. He was no longer concerned with whatever it was Cloud had in mind. The rocket was his first priority.

Unsurprisingly, there were more ShinRa employees waiting for him inside. A commander dressed in scarlet seemed especially shocked to see the pilot emerged as opposed to Rude.

“You… you!” he exclaimed, backpedaling in terror. He was clearly frightened by the manic gleam in Cid’s eyes. “Why are you here? Mr. Rude should’ve been here!!”

“Too bad.” The Captain smirked, thumb gesturing towards outside. “He’s lying on the ground outside, gasping for breath.” He idly tapped the Scimitar on his shoulder, as if daring the commander to try his luck.

“Oh, man…” the ShinRa groaned, face paling instantly. He shook his head, feeling as if he could actually hear his knees knocking together. “The Turks being done in like that… I don’t have a chance.”

Sky blue eyes flashed. “Then get the hell out of here!” Cid yelled, “Before I change my mind!”

“S…sir!!” the commander exclaimed with a rapid salute, despite the fact that the enemy wasn’t supposed to get such respect. He scrambled to get past the three friends as he escaped from the rocket. He really wasn’t in the mood for a pounding today and had no qualms about running from such an adversary. Pride bedamned; he was more interested in staying alive.

The pilot frowned at the man’s cowardice before steadfastly continuing towards the cockpit. He was determined to find out what the ShinRa wanted with his rocket, in spite of his excitement at what might be the No. 26’s only flight. The spear slid from his shoulders as the fighting instinct slowly began to die, registering the subtle hum to the once silent rocket. His baby was running; it was really working.

Behind him, Cloud and Vincent exchanged glances, beginning to feel like excess baggage. While the gunman had managed to pop off two shots and Cloud had been demoted to back-up materia guy, they still felt pretty superfluous. Cid seemed to be just fine on his own.

But as Vincent moved to step forward, he felt an unwelcome hand on his arm, halting him place. He jerked free before whirling to face the perpetrator, scowling with his crimson eyes flashing at Cloud.

“What is the meaning of this?” he demanded, idly brushing pretend fuzz of his cloak as if truly offended that Cloud had touched him.

The younger man was unperturbed by Vincent’s anger. He jabbed a finger towards the gunman.

“Can’t you do something about him?” he questioned, obviously speaking about the rampaging pilot.

This time, Vincent’s brows went nearly to his hairline. “What are you blabbering about?” he snarled, truly surprised by the blond’s insinuation and internally wondering what it was that Cloud thought he knew. “It isn’t my job to do anything about him.”

Apparently, he and Cid weren’t quite as discreet as they thought. How did everyone keep finding out such a hidden secret? Not that it bothered him, but it was reasons like this that had him wanting to keep it quiet.

“You’re the leader; you figure it out,” he snapped before turning on his heels and following after the Captain, leaving Cloud to stew behind him.

Honestly, even if he admitted to something between he and Cid that meant nothing in terms of stopping the rampaging pilot. When it came down to it, the stubborn bastard was going to do what he wanted to, regardless of what Vincent asked, even if he actually attempted to do such a thing.

This was Cid’s battle, not his.

When Vincent caught up the enraged pilot, he was hollering at his crew in the cockpit. “Hey! What the hell’re you guys doin’?” Cid demanded, brow pinched with anger as his fingers twitched in the desperate need for a cigarette.

One of the men, a burly redhead turned to look at his Captain. The expression of glee on his face was unmistakable, and accustomed to Cid’s anger, he was unperturbed in the face of it.

“Hey! Just when I thought somethin’ was goin’ on, you come back!” His announcement attracted the attention of the others.

A female with blonde hair nodded enthusiastically, one fist pumping into the air. “Listen to me, Captain. We’re gonna launch this rocket!” she exclaimed in an excited voice before returning her attention to some digital read-out on the panel in front of her.

Sky blues eyes blinked in miscomprehension. “Huh? What the hell’re you talkin’ about? Have you forgotten what ShinRa did to us before, huh?” he demanded, hand balling into a fist at his side.

An orange-haired man, truly just a kid by all accounts, shook his head fiercely. “No! But… we’re going to load a Materia bomb in this and blow up Meteor!” he explained, eyes filling up with hope. “Our rocket’s gonna be famous! We’ll be famous!”

“Our rocket’s gonna save the planet!!” the redhead cut in animatedly as his eyes started to get a dreamy look to them, as if he were imagining himself as a knight in shining armor coming to the rescue of Princess Planet. He was oblivious to the steadily decreasing patience of their Captain.

At this announcement, however, Cloud could no longer remain silent. He planted his rather short form between the four Rocket Town residents.

“Wait just a damn minute,” he demanded, noticing the thoughtful, almost hopeful look on Cid’s face. The Captain was clearly considering it, which meant he had to take back control of the situation since Vincent was clearly being no help at all.

“Shut up!! Just shut the hell up!!” Cid growled, interrupting Cloud before the ex-SOLDIER could even continue. Brusquely brushing past him, Cid returned his attentions to the crew. “How’s the rocket?”

Cloud’s lips thinned in anger, eyes becoming little more than narrow slits. If the damned man wouldn’t listen to reason, then he would have to use force, perhaps knock some sense into the idiot’s head. There was no way ShinRa’s plan could work. It simply did not make sense nor could they afford to lose the knowledge available in the Huge Materia. However, before he could take even one step forward in an attempt to grab the unruly pilot, Vincent stopped him with just a word.

“There’s nothing you can say or do to change his mind right now,” the ex-Turk intoned, crimson eyes impassive and silent. “We will have to trust that he makes the right decision. We all have our own personal battles. Give him the courtesy of fighting his own.”

Cloud blinked at Vincent’s words, uncertain if he should listen to the gunman or not. In the mean time, words filtered into his confused brain, those of the continuing conversation between the pilot and his crew. Sighing, Cloud raked a hand through his blond spikes and decided to wait a few moments before strangling the irascible Captain, hoping that Cid might see reason on his own.

“…into Meteor on auto-pilot, but the most important device is broken,” the unknown crew member sighed, jerking her thumb towards an open hatch, which must have lead to some internal area of the rocket. “Shera is fixing it,” the brunette explained.

Predictably, Cid spluttered in disbelief. “Oh, great! What a buncha wizards you guys are! She’s gonna take 100 years!” he exclaimed as he tapped his hand on his chin in deep thought. Something was definitely brewing behind his eyes as he waved off the other residents of Rocket Town. “I’ll take over, so don’t worry about the auto-pilot! Hey, go ahead! Go tell everyone!”

A note of excitement was beginning to creep into the pilot’s tone, and at that, Cloud didn’t think he could hold back anymore. Cid was only getting more energized.

The younger blond took a step forward as three crewmembers skirted past, saluting on their way out. “Hey, Cid! What are you doing?” he demanded, gesturing with both hands. “There are generations of knowledge and wisdom inside that materia. We’re gonna borrow their powers and save the planet from Sephiroth. There’s no way that we can lose the Huge Materia. You understand that, right?”

There had to be some way to get through to the pilot. He looked to Vincent for help, but the gunman remained silent, eyes trained on the engineer in front of them. Cloud clenched his jaw, wondering if all he had heard that night in Icicle had been a fluke after all. There seemed to be nothing behind those crimson eyes that even suggested there was more between the pilot and him.

Cid barely cast the ex-SOLDIER a cursory glance as he dropped down into the pilot’s seat of the control panel, leaning his spear against the massive collection of switches and musing over them thoughtfully. He checked each monitor and stat in silence, deliberately ignoring Cloud. Then, he began to speak, quietly at first.

“Yeah, I understand,” he started, explaining himself as he fiddled with the control panel in front of him. “I understand that Materia is precious, and I also understood what you’re thinking. But listen. I don’t give a rat’s ass whether it’s science or magical power. No, I guess if I had to choose, I’d rather put my money on the power of science.” He paused, tilting his head upwards to look through the small window, which would give him his first glimpse of the stars when they rocket launched.

“Humans, who only used to roam around on the ground, are able to fly now! And finally, we’re about to go into outer space!” He continued, voice quickly gaining strength and energy, “Science is a ‘power’ created and developed by humans. And science just might be what saves this world. I was able to earn my living thanks to science. So to me, there’s nothing greater! Now, quit your worrying ‘bout what ShinRa’s gonna do!”

Cid smiled briefly before switching his gaze from the window and back to the panel of buttons in front of him, reaching out to calibrate some instrument. Mako eyes softened, suddenly feeling as if he were the school bully trying to keep a kid from reaching his dreams.

And the pilot’s final reply, added a bit quieter and calmer didn’t make it any easier. “I don’t want to regret not having done something later on.”

Nevertheless, there was more at stake then just one man’s dream.

“But, Cid…” Cloud protested, words trailing off in frustration.

‘Just trust him’ Vincent had said. With Gaia on the verge of being destroyed by Meteor, could he afford to do just that? Place the fate of the planet in Cid’s hands?

“Shut the hell up!! I don’t wanna hear it!!” the pilot growled, suddenly disturbing Cloud’s thoughts.

He waited a moment to see if Cloud wanted to try adding anything else and was satisfied when he received silence as an answer. Not even Vincent had bothered to try and convince him. At least someone had understood.

Cid turned away from the contrary younger male and stared back at the controls, unable to help the small flutter of excitement in his belly. He reached forward and flipped a switch, activating the intercom, not taking any chances this time.

”Alright, time to get to work! Anyone who ain’t involved, get the hell outta here!” the Captain ordered gruffly before giving it a firm flick off.

No sooner had the words exited his mouth than the rocket started to tremble violently, nearly throwing his still standing companions to the floor. Cid’s eyes widened as a mechanical yet feminine voice began a monotonous countdown without him having to touch a thing.

“What the $#@&?” the Captain demanded, eyes flicking from one monitor to the other. He hadn’t touched a damn thing. “What the hell happened?”

In front of him, the radio suddenly crackled to life with an annoying screech of feedback and static. Then, a recognizable voice filtered through, instantly causing all three men in the cockpit to grit their teeth.


Cloud and Vincent exchanged glances.

“I thought he was dead,” the swordsman muttered, furrowing his brow.

“Palmer!” Cid exclaimed, interrupting the quiet murmur. “What the hell did’ya do!?”

“They said they finished repairing the auto-pilot. So I laun—ched it!!”

A decidedly un-masculine and pig-like sounding giggle erupted through the speakers, and without their permission, the image of a dancing Palmer filtered through the minds of the three men, causing them to simultaneously fight down the urge to vomit.

Cid cursed for more reasons than one, balled up fist striking the control panel. “Goddamn, Shera!” he snarled, though he honestly didn’t think he could blame her this time. “Why’d she pick today to get fast! DAMN! Won’t even budge! It’s completely locked up!”

Palmer snickered, sounding not the least bit apologetic. “Hey-hey-hey! Almost lift off!” he chortled through the static on the speaker.

Cloud had the sudden urge to stab the thing with his sword but didn’t think that was a wise idea, especially considering they were about to go flying straight up into the sky. He quite liked living for the moment.

“What the? No Countdown? It just don’t seem the–“ Cid was cut off before he could even finish.

It was then that Cloud and Vincent finally saw reason, dashing to the nearest chairs. They hurriedly figured out the strange contraption of straps and buckles that would hopefully save their pitiful lives. If the rocket launched similar to the way that Cid drove, they were in for a rough takeoff.

Palmer chortled louder again, the clapping of his hands audible through the speakers. “Hey-Hey!!! Blast— off!!” he sang.

Cid cursed, Cloud winced, and Vincent was stoic as the rocket’s main thrusters ignited in a brilliant blaze of explosive orange-white flame, pushing the ShinRa No. 26 directly into the air with all the subtlety of dynamite. The three were pushed back into their seats from the initial thrust, clutching tightly to the arms of their seats and staring with wide eyes at the large front window.

The rocket shuddered and roared around them as open blue sky quickly became white clouds… then a sudden sea of endless black.

– – –

“Do you think they are going to be alright?” Yuffie asked, her nose pressed to the glass of the viewing window. She watched from the currently circling Highwind as the ShinRa No. 26 shot through the sky.

None of them had expected that the rocket would actually launch, and it only made sense that she was slightly concerned. Considering her abhorrence to riding in an airship, Yuffie was significantly glad that it wasn’t she on the rocket at that very moment.

Barret snorted, waving one meaty hand of dismissal before crossing it over his broad chest, staring out at the rapidly disappearing rocket. “Afta all that we’ve been through… and yer worried ‘bout a lil trip like that?” he questioned with a heavy laugh. Clearly, he thought the ninja was over concerned.

Nanaki frowned as best as one with a canine muzzle could and shook his head. He padded over to Yuffie’s side, nuzzling her hand with his nose.

“They will be fine,” he assured her as he gently licked her fingers.

She seemed to take comfort in his words and gave him a slight smile, running her fingers briefly over the soft fur on the top of his head. The little ninja turned her attentions back towards the window.

They might have been an eclectic and strange group that rarely if ever agreed on anything and more often than not they didn’t really get along or even like each other, but they were still somewhat like a family… if she squinted. Trying to save the world from total and complete annihilation was a bond that really couldn’t be duplicated, and though she would probably never say it aloud, she was rather fond of everyone in their group, even grumpy Cid and tactless Barret. On a good day, anyway.

And Yuffie, the perceptive ninja that she was, had a feeling that it was the same for everyone else, even if they didn’t voice it. Otherwise, no one would have cared when Cloud had disappeared.

Her thoughts abruptly derailed when one of the crewmen, whose name she hadn’t bothered to learn, suddenly jolted upright in his chair. His eyes flicked in their direction.

“Sir!” he yelled, loud voice disturbing the quiet moment.

In a flash, they were at his side, easily recognizing the panicked tremor to his voice. He had been the one monitoring the radar, and as they approached, he plunked back down in his seat and plopped the headphones back over his head, pointing to a strange looking blip on the screen.

“I don’t know what the hell that is,” he began to explain in a rushed voice, tracing the rather large outline, “but it’s heading this way and coming up fast!”

Barret cursed, face immediately darkened. “Can’t be nothin’ but ShinRa,” he declared, lips drawing into a furious frown. “They know we’re separated.”

“Without Cloud and the others, they believe us to be weak,” Nanaki mused aloud. “At a time like this, it is amazing that all they can think about is destroying us.”

Reeve huffed, and a burning anger suddenly appeared in normally calm and somewhat pacifistic amber eyes. “That’s what they think, is it?” he commented aloud, voice almost thoughtful. His eyes narrowed to little more than slits. “Well, we will show them, won’t we?” he asked rhetorically, and with a flick of his wrist, daggers appeared in his awaiting hands. Building up inside of him, there was a sudden desire to fight unlike any he had ever felt before.

Yuffie’s face glowed in agreement, eager to be doing anything that didn’t involve sitting around and waiting and worrying about Cloud and the others. She was about to pump her fist in the air in excitement when the ship gave a violent heave, rocking to the side. The emergency lights and alarms blared loudly, alerting everyone to the impending attack. Meanwhile, the Highwind tilted dangerously, forcing those standing to fight to keep their balance on the shifting floor.

One of the crewmen moved suddenly in an effort to find his seat and subsequently tripped over Nanaki, causing the both of them to go sprawling to the floor. The fire-lion grunted as he tumbled, his necklace and Crystal Comb skidding across the floor. The crewman mumbled apologies and scampered for his chair as the pilot’s voice quickly filled the cockpit.

“Initiating emergency avoidance and landing procedures!”

The Highwind jerked to the side, causing its occupants to gulp and hang on for dear life. Once it was righted, Yuffie moved swiftly across the floor, kneeling at Nanaki’s side. He was slowly climbing to his feet, wincing at the none-too-gentle grinding of his ribs together. He grimaced, favoring his side.

“Are you alright?” she asked, frowning at the clumsy crewman that had tripped over the lion-wolf.

Nanaki inclined his head. “I will be fine. Just a little knee to my ribs,” he assured, peering up into her stone brown eyes as Yuffie patted his abdomen softly over the bruised area.

Her fingers worked through his fur as she carefully cast Heal and subsequently Cure to ease his pain and speed the healing.

A sudden realization struck the fire-lion then, and golden eyes widened as he glanced around. “My comb! And grandfather’s necklace…” he blurted out, worried that they had fallen through some grate and were forever lost to obscurity.

“I see ‘em!” Yuffie announced before he could get too worked up, her keen ninja eyes easily spotting the items.

She quickly jumped to her feet, heading across the floor. However, the airship gave a sudden drop in altitude, and she stumbled.

“Yuffie, get your $#@% ass in a chair!!” Barret roared as he and Reeve both strapped themselves into their own seats, fumbling a bit with the mass of buckles and straps.

She rolled her eyes. “One more minute!” the little ninja demanded crossly as she hurried to pick up the Crystal Comb and the necklace.

Her fingers had just closed around the two items another missile suddenly attacked the Highwind. It was stronger than the others, causing the airship to rock violently as the missile exploded dangerously close to a propeller.

“Damn!” cursed their pilot, whose name they still did not know. “It’s going to be rough. Everyone hold on to your shorts, and don’t piss in ‘em!” he blurted, quoting Cid with an uncanny familiarity that was vaguely worrisome.

The Highwind heaved violently, tossing back and forth without warning, and Yuffie, usually agile and poised, teetered on her feet as a wave of nausea struck her. She tumbled to the floor, sliding easily across the smooth expanse, but luckily, she held the lost items safely in her grasp.

“Yuffie!” Nanaki exclaimed, suddenly bounding across the floor.

The ninja was scrambling to grab something as she slid towards the big metal cabinet that contained all the electrical tools needed on the bridge. It was a heavy compartment, which had the unfortunate habit of popping open on random occasions, often just because someone happened to walk by.

His heart stopped at the thought of what would happen if she crashed into it, and in a flash, the fire-wolf cast Haste on himself, snatching the back of Yuffie’s shirt between his fangs. The two of them went sliding into a rather harmless wall, the blow cushioned by a well cast Protect over the both of them.

The Highwind creaked and groaned, and with a violent shudder, it touched down with enough force to rattle teeth in the heads of all its passengers. Reeve hurriedly unbuckled himself from his seat, dashing to where Nanaki and Yuffie lay in a crumpled heap against the wall, the shield still glowing faintly around them.

“Yuffie! Nanaki! Are you alright?” Reeve knelt next to them, his hand going to the ninja’s forehead.

The ninja groaned and sat up, feeling Nanaki’s warm body behind her. He had taken most of the damage to himself.

“I’m fine,” she groaned, one hand going briefly to her forehead as Reeve pulled back.

“I am as well,” Nanaki answered, rising to his feet and stretching out aching muscles. He disentangled his tail from where it had inexplicably and of its own accord wrapped around Yuffie’s right leg.

The Wutaiian beamed in that moment, turning promptly towards her rescuer and opening her tightly clenched palm. “Here,” she announced. “I still have them.”

Reeve shook his head, raising one brow in slight confusion. “All that trouble for just those?”

Yuffie pouted. “What?” she protested. “I didn’t want him to lose the necklace. It’s important.” Her voice was indignant as a cute flush spread across her cheeks, Nanaki nuzzling her hand in thanks.

A sudden explosion from nearby shuddered the ground beneath them, causing the Highwind to tremble by proxy. It seemed that it hadn’t taken long for ShinRa, and whatever method they were using to attack them, to catch up. A brief glimpse out of the airship’s huge front windows only confirmed their suspicions. A monstrous something stood out there, firing continuous missiles at them.

Reeve chuckled at the two younger members of his party as he unequipped a materia ball from his armlet and tossed it Barret. The other man wobbled a little as he struggled to catch it one-handed.

“Here, put this in the materia amplifier,” the ex-executive suggested, brushing aside the question in his mind as to why he hadn’t done it earlier. It only went to show that there was a reason Cloud was the true leader.

Barret nodded, snatching the materia from the air before moving to the small panel on the side and opening up the flap. He inserted the tiny green ball into the nearly forgotten slot and pressed one hand on it, igniting the spell. The ball glowed, the panel thrummed, and within seconds, a Barrier had been put up around the airship, hopefully protecting it from further attacks.

Yuffie returned the Crystal Comb to Nanaki’s mane, and the necklace back around his neck, feeling a slight shock as she did so. Shaking her head, she gently treaded her fingers through his fur.

“Hey,” she said, frowning as she played with one of his ears. “You shocked me.”

“I am sorry,” Nanaki commented, his ear twitching. “However, you shocked me as well.”

“Okay, enough. I’ve gotta keep up this barrier. It’s up to you three to take care of that beast out there!” Barret yelled, gaze flickering to the huge window as explosions resounded around the Highwind.

The three nodded in agreement, quickly rising to their feet and preparing to disembark the airship. Before they could leave, however, Barret’s bellow stopped them in their tracks.

“Reeve!” The ex-executive paused, turning back to face the gun-armed man. “Take this!” Barret dug into his pockets and pulled out a bright red materia. He tossed it to the ex-ShinRa, who caught it nimbly.

Amber eyes glanced at the materia before suddenly widening in shock, looking at Barret in complete disbelief. It was the dark-skinned man’s favorite, and he was usually loath to part from it.

“Fenrir?” he asked.

That particular summon was the wolf-god of earth. Barret had received it from Dyne, which explained his usual reluctance to let it go.

Barret shrugged. “He might come in handy.”

Reeve grinned. To him, it seemed like much more than an exchange of materia between allies before battle.

“Thanks, Barret.”

In many ways it was like a new bond of trust was beginning to build, and with the hardships that were more likely to come, Reeve couldn’t be happier. As if, in some small way, the hard-headed and stubborn man was slowly getting closer to forgiving the him for his mistakes.

He slipped Fenrir into his armlet, filling the slot Barrier had been in, and turned back towards Yuffie and Nanaki. They were waiting patiently at the door of the cockpit.

“Ready?” the ninja asked, an unmistakable gleam in her eyes.

Reeve nodded. “Let’s kick some ShinRa ass.”


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