[Shattered] Ice 21

Chapter Twenty-One: One Last Chance

After ShinRa’s failed attempt to destroy Meteor, they were left at a momentary loss for what to do… until the planet’s scream led them to remember Bugenhagen’s wisdom. They retrieved the last Huge Materia from the bottom of the ocean and headed to Cosmo Canyon, where the elderly sage reminded them of what hope might yet remain.

Aeris.

Now, they were aboard the Highwind, Bugenhagen included, heading for the City of the Ancients. They hoped to discover why the flower-girl had gone there in the first place. At least, the others planned to enter the city. Cid, on the other hand, was taking a well-deserved break, and the moment the Highwind was successfully in the air, he walked out of the cockpit, beginning his search for a certain elusive gunman.

After they had been picked up from the crash site, the pilot hadn’t really had a chance to talk to Vincent. He had tried to talk to him while they were retrieving the Huge Materia and before they had arrived at Cosmo Canyon, but the gunman was hiding. He couldn’t be certain why. It wasn’t as if they had made any promises, but considering the progress they had made, it seemed a few steps back for Vincent to become aloof again.

Or maybe it was because of all the progress they had made. Cid couldn’t be sure.

Thus, the reason he decided to search the man out. Cloud didn’t need everyone for his jaunt into the city, and Cid knew for a fact that the blond was only taking Yuffie, Nanaki, and Barret.

Therefore, he had plenty of time to find Vincent. He had already decided he wasn’t going to press the gunman for definition any more. He supposed it didn’t really matter what label they had, especially since it seemed Vincent was more inclined to stick around this time. He was evasive and skittish whenever Cid asked anyway. In the big picture, it really wasn’t important to the pilot. Besides, now that they had some free time, it was the perfect chance to have a little fun.

Visions of pale skin and lips haunted him, making his pants a lot tighter than they should have been. He hurried faster through the corridors.

The Captain began to check all the usual places, starting first with Vincent’s room. It was dark underneath the door, and no one answered his continual knocking. Cid gave up and headed for the common room, thinking that perhaps his lover had gone to get a coffee or something similar. There was no luck there either, and he turned back into the hallway, shoving his hands in his pockets.

He had just decided to head for the deck when he accidentally bumped into Reeve. Apparently, the former executive had also been deep in thought, which prompted their unexpected collision.

“Sorry, Reeve,” Cid muttered, running a hand through his hair as he reached for a cigarette. He thought to move on before pausing and cocking his head to the side. “Say, you haven’t seen Vincent, have you?” he questioned, his tone as nonchalant as he could force it. Unfortunately, tact wasn’t something he was well acquainted with, and it came out slightly suspicious.

The other man distractedly shook his head. “Umm, no, sorry,” he responded, chewing on his bottom lip. “Why don’t you call his PHS?”

“Doesn’t have one,” Cid answered evenly, a bit taken aback by the strange gleam in his friend’s eyes. “He’s been a bit out of it.”

“Ah,” Reeve murmured in understanding, though it was more an involuntary response than an actual attempt to prove he had been listening.

Cid lit up a cigarette and eyed the ex-executive for a minute. Reeve seemed a bit more disheveled than usual, and his normally unshakable exterior seemed a bit… well, shaken, for lack of a better word. As a man who liked to think of himself as Reeve’s friend, he was concerned.

He blew out a grey ring of smoke. “So where ya headin’?” the pilot asked.

Reeve shrugged, managing to both look slightly lost and distracted. “I don’t know. The common room maybe.” He didn’t even sound sure.

The pilot was now certain that something was wrong.

Cid gestured towards the hall with his head as he took off towards the common room, happily sucking on a cigarette. “C’mon. I’ll get you a coffee or sumthin’.”

The other male appeared to consider this for a moment before nodding. “Okay.”

The two walked in silence, the low thrum of the engines a comforting backdrop. A cloud of cigarette smoke followed in their wake as the pilot hurriedly sucked away, knowing he would be hearing it from Vincent if the man even saw him.

Honestly, what was the gunman’s issue?

He liked to smoke; that’s all there was to it. He only had two… or three… or maybe even seven in a day. That was not that much… really.

Reeve’s voice cut through the Captain’s musings. “You know, Cid,” he began slowly, a hint of something echoing in his tone. “I haven’t seen you smoking in a long time.”

The pilot paused for a moment, remembering why it seemed to bother Vincent so much. He had been lectured on cancer, lung disease, and yellowed-teeth until his ears felt like they were going to bleed. Then, the other man had gone into bad breath, yellow fingers, and a shorter lifespan for so long that Cid was nearly ready to promise his firstborn if it would get Vincent to just stop. Not that he would have a firstborn or anything considering he was… well, gay.

Cid snorted. “Well, it’s a nasty habit,” he answered vaguely, shrugging.

The other man made a noncommittal sound. “Sometimes a necessary one though, thanks to the stress of living in this world,” he commented.

The pilot looked back at Reeve, who was a few steps behind him. They exchanged glances for all of a moment before Cid wordlessly reached for another cigarette. He handed it to his friend and offered him a light. The executive coughed at his first inhale but managed the rest with flair and dignity, and soon, he had his own curl of grey smoke rising up as well.

“I’ve never smoked before, you know,” Reeve commented absentmindedly, their steps echoing hollowly in the almost empty corridors.

Most of Cid’s crew must have been hard at work.

“Why start now?”

The other man shrugged. “Just felt like I needed one. Thanks.”

Blue eyes shot to him curiously, but he nodded in understanding as they approached the common room. The Captain pushed open the swinging door, and they stepped inside, pleased to find that it was as empty as it was twenty minutes ago when he had come in the first time. Gesturing Reeve towards a table, Cid dug into his pockets for some change to put it into the machine, wondering why he had never bothered to just get a regular coffee pot.

A few moments later, he returned to the table with a steaming styrofoam cup for the each of them. Cid would rather have tea, but it just wasn’t available.

“Wanna talk about it?” the pilot asked as he took his seat, turning the chair backwards so that he could lean against the back.

Reeve took a drag on his cigarette, delighting in the familiar flavor, even if he wasn’t used to it himself. “You going to tell me why you’re looking for Vincent?” he asked, wondering if it would be an exchange of secrets.

The other man shrugged. “I have to talk to him about something, no big deal. Now, what about you?”

The ex-executive sighed, appearing to contemplate before beginning quietly, “I’ve pretty much always worked for ShinRa, you know. Started in the military at a young age, recognized for my talents, and drafted into intelligence. I was one of the youngest investigators that they had and one of the best, which attracted the attention of the President.” He paused to take a sip of his drink, letting his cigarette burn away between his fingers.

It was more for the familiar scent than anything else.

“And not the least bit modest,” Cid joked, raising an eyebrow.

The other man shrugged. “Why bother with modesty when it is the truth? Besides, that isn’t even the point.” His eyes took on a strange look as he shifted his gaze away, staring at some unknown spot on the wall. “I became Head of Urban Development when the higher ups got excited by my early designs of robotic helpers, which were of course, Cait Sith. I had wanted to do some good. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The company that I idolized was corrupt, and then… things got complicated.”

“Complicated?” the Captain repeated.

“Yes. A terrorist group called AVALANCHE started to rise against ShinRa, and then, dead generals started coming back to life,” Reeve sniped sarcastically. He bit his lip when he realized he was snapping at Cid for no reason. “Little by little, a resistance was developing against ShinRa, and the President didn’t like it one bit. Rufus is even more ruthless than his father, only more cunning and cruel. The President was a bastard, but Rufus… he is cold and calculating, using whatever means necessary to get what he wants.”

Cid only nodded to show that he was listening as he attempted to digest what Reeve was telling him. He shifted a bit in his seat, sipping mutely at his coffee and contemplating a second cigarette.

The executive’s eyes were on the table, cigarette still burning untouched between his fingers. “You have to understand; I never wanted to spy on your group or betray you either. I actually liked you. It seemed your cause was just and true, not based on greed and power like ShinRa. But they used him against me and threatened to hurt him.” Reeve looked up and locked eyes with Cid, ensuring the pilot that he was speaking from his heart. “I am telling you because I believe that you know exactly what I mean. We all have secrets to protect.”

Cid nodded slowly. Yes, he knew very well. Although no one of their group was aware that he and Reeve had known each prior to the current events, Cid understood that Reeve was cognizant and understood the reason for secrets. Whether or not the ex-executive knew of Vincent was up for debate.

He sat forward in his seat, balancing one arm against the back of the chair. “I’m not going to ask that you tell me who ‘he’ is because I certainly ain’t going to divulge any names either, but he’s in ShinRa, ain’t he?”

Reeve sighed and rubbed his temples. “Yes, and now, we stand on opposite sides of the field. I am at a loss for what to do. I can’t fight him. I won’t fight him, and he still doesn’t know about the threats.”

“It’s probably better that he doesn’t,” the blond muttered knowingly. “Sometimes, they tend to get cranky if they find out you were trying to protect ’em.”

Reeve nodded as he drank solidly from his coffee; it had finally cooled down enough. “I agree. He’s actually the one that smokes,” he added as more of an afterthought. He flicked the large collection of ash from his cigarette, took one last drag before grinding it out into the ashtray. He really only wanted the familiarity of it, not really interested in the nicotine.

“At least, you don’t have to worry about chasing after him,” the pilot commented. “Sometimes, they can be as slippery as an eel.”

“Ah, but the fun is in the catching.” Amber eyes sparkled as if remembering a past time, and for a moment, the melancholy look that had afflicted Reeve managed to lift, making him look younger.

“Right you are,” Cid commented. He stood up and stretched, quickly draining the last of his cup. He crushed the styrofoam in his hand and tossed it near the wastebasket, easily missing the can by several feet. “Well, guess I’d better go see how off course we are with that moron flying.”

Reeve rose to his feet as well, walking over to put his cup in the trash and bending down to pick up Cid’s missed projectile. “You aren’t going to continue searching for Vincent?” he questioned, absentmindedly tossing the crumpled cup into the trashcan. After all, he was quite used to picking up after someone else.

“Of course,” the blond responded, heading for the door. “I can’t just let ’em get away from me, now can I?” he asked rhetorically, throwing the ex-executive a glance over his shoulder.

Reeve nodded his understanding, and Cid was immediately glad that the troubled expression on his face had all but vanished.

“No, you certainly can’t,” he agreed. “Good luck.”

“Not gonna need it. But if it’s there, I ain’t lettin’ it go, ya get me?” the pilot returned before flipping a hand at Reeve in a form of goodbye.

Reeve raised a hand to return the gesture, but Cid was already gone.

In the hallway, Cid resisted the urge to whistle as he shoved his hands in his pockets and continued his strolling search. He considered that his good deed for the day, and now, with the conversation with Reeve behind him, it was time to find Vincent. He checked the usual haunts once more, the darkened shadow of the bridge and Vincent’s room, but both were missing dark-haired gunman. So he headed to the deck on a whim. Sometimes, Vincent braved the bright sunlight.

As he approached the door, however, voices floated his direction, and he paused to listen. Not that he was eavesdropping or anything. Besides it was his damn airship, and he was curious as all hell. He craned his ear towards the door, picking up on most of the conversation.

Bugenhagen’s voice floated to him first. “You are going to have to tell me exactly when this happened, not that I disapprove of the changes.”

Cid’s brows rose. He leaned closer as he heard someone sigh in response.

“It happened in the battle against Scorpios.”

Ah, the pilot recognized Nanaki immediately.

“I was trying to save Yuffie, and I couldn’t. I was angry, and then… I don’t know. Something flashed, and I was in this body.”

Nanaki stopped speaking, and Cid craned his neck to hear what came next, barely able to distinguish the sounds of someone shifting around.

“I needed Phoenix, but Reeve had her. I don’t know how I knew it, but somehow, I called her by her true name. She came to me.”

The old grandfather hummed thoughtfully. “Did you know that the amulet was a result of a peace treaty between the Wutaiians and your clan years and years ago?” he questioned, abruptly changing the subject.

The change was so rapid that even Cid was reeling as he blinked in confusion, not that it stopped him from listening.

“How would I know that?” Nanaki countered with a hint of sarcasm to his voice. “What’s that to do with it?”

Cid swore that Bugenhagen sounded amused, probably because his grandson had just sounded like a teenager. “Apparently, it is the cause of your transformation, though I do not understand exactly how or why it works.”

“Old man!”

Cid leapt high into the air, whirling around to face Yuffie with his heart pounding in his chest. “The fuckin’ hell, Yuffie!” he snarled. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

She had interrupted him at the worst time, too. He was starting to get into the really juicy stuff!

Brown eyes sparkled as she gave him a knowing look. “You’re the one eavesdropping,” she pointed out, planting her hands on her hips.

He snorted as he pushed down a vaguely sheepish look. “Shouldn’t you be barfing somewhere?” he countered smugly.

“Hardy-har-har, very funny,” she snarked, rolling her eyes before pushing past him to peer through the window in the door. “Whatcha lookin’ at?”

He crossed his arms over his chest. “Nothin’ brat. Now scram. I gots work to do.”

Yuffie waved him off. “Yeah right. You’ve just been wandering around like a lost puppy.” She craned her neck, peeking through the view portal. “Ah! There he is!”

“I’m not a lost puppy!” Cid huffed. “I’ll have you know that I was looking fer somethin’.”

She shot him a look over her shoulder as she winked. “Or someone,” she chirped before pushing open the door to the deck hard enough to make it smack against the opposite wall and announce her presence. “Oy, Nanaki! I been looking for you,” she called out.

Behind her, Cid was spluttering indignantly. She rolled her eyes and grabbed his arm, dragging him outside, ignoring his spluttered comments. He really was amusing to tease.

Bugenhagen and Nanaki turned to greet their visitors, both of them standing near to the railing. Yuffie’s step was jaunty the first bit of the stroll across the deck, but the closer she got, the greener her face was. By the time, she reached Nanaki she looked as if she needed to find the nearest corner to puke in. It was a good effort.

She released Cid and cast her best friend a pitying look.

“Greetings, Captain Highwind,” Bugenhagen said with a tip to his head before he turned towards the unsteady ninja. “And Miss Kisaragi, you are not looking too well.”

She waved him off. “I’ll be fine once the ground stops trying to say ‘hello.'” She ulped and faltered, but Nanaki was immediately at her side, placing a concerned claw on her elbow and keeping her standing. She cast him a grateful smile.

The elderly man chuckled. “The fresh air is good for you. Come sit by the railing. It may aid you.” He turned towards the pilot. “This is a fine example of engineering, Captain. I do so love the smell of machinery.”

A broad grin broke out on the blond’s face. He gave the old man a hearty slap on the back.

“In’it though?” he questioned with a laugh. “There’s nothin’ like the smell of grease and engine.” He paused considering something. While Nanaki was busy with Yuffie, he leaned in towards the old man. “Say, you haven’t seen Vincent around have you?”

“Mr. Valentine?” Bugenhagen questioned. “No, can’t say that I have.”

Cid pursed his lips but nodded nonetheless. “Man’s like a damn shadow. Ain’t no one seen him.”

“Seen who?” Yuffie piped up near Cid’s ear, and he nearly had another heart attack.

He whirled around and jabbed a finger in her face. “Stop doin’ that, brat.”

She giggled but ignored his threat. “So tell me more about the amulet,” she suggested, turning towards Bugenhagen. “I heard it had something to do with Wutai and Nanaki’s kind. Why did we start fighting anyway?”

Vaguely interested, the pilot listened as Bugenhagen nodded and began to explain, but it was only with half an ear. Inwardly, he was trying to discern where Vincent could possibly be hiding. When he didn’t want to be found, it was rather impossible to locate him. Was the ex-Turk purposefully making himself scarce?

“Petty differences and racial arguments, nothing worth mentioning,” Bugenhagen said. “But the amulet was made by the highest ranking monk of Dao-Chao and the strongest spiritual chieftain of Nanaki’s clan. It was a collaborative effort made to ensure that peace would always exist between the two races.”

“Wow,” Yuffie exclaimed, her eyes shining. “That’s so cool. What else do you know about our history?”

Bugenhagen opened his mouth to explain, but Cid interrupted him, “All right, brat. Keep yourself outta trouble. I’m headin’ in,” he said with a flip of his wrist as he headed for the door. “History makes me wanna sleep.”

The three called out their goodbyes, and he could just make out the sounds of Bugenhagen starting out his tales as the door to the deck slid shut behind him. On the other side, he breathed a sigh of relief having escaped that sleep-inducing event and started back on his search. He wandered to the infirmary and the chocobo paddocks, as well as scouring every dark inch of the cargo bay.

No dark-haired gunman.

Getting a little frustrated, Cid checked the bridge and the common room once more, just in case he had passed Vincent somewhere along the way. But no one had seen him. Damn vampire was always hiding in the shadows.

He had just got it in his mind to check the last room on his list, one he had avoided because he didn’t think he would find Vincent there, when he felt the airship touch ground. The others would be heading into the City of the Ancients soon, if not at that very moment. Well, at least, the other pilot did a good job at landing for once.

On a whim, Cid rounded the corner and strode into the conference room, his eyes finding the crimson-cloaked form of his lover almost immediately. He rolled his eyes in exasperation.

“There ya are!” he exclaimed. “What the hell are ya doin’ in here?”

Vincent glanced over hi shoulder, only looking away for a few seconds from the world map he was studiously perusing. “Thinking,” the gunman answered succinctly, returning his gaze to the map.

Cid raised a brow, already making his way across the room to his lover’s side. “Don’t ya think ya do that enough?” he asked as he wondered why Vincent had chosen to hide in the conference room of all places.

“Or maybe you don’t do it enough?” Vincent countered with some amusement before he turned to face the approaching man. “Were you looking for me?”

The pilot grunted. “For two damn hours!” he expressed with a wave of his hand. “Yer never in here, so it’s the last place I checked. And that’s after goin’ to the bridge, the common room, and your room twice! I cheered up Reeve and listened to Bugenhagen blather.”

“All for me?”

Cid sniffed. “You’d like to think that wouldn’t you?”

Vincent shot him an amused glance before stepping closer, one hand reaching out to drag the other man towards him. “I don’t know what to think when it comes to you,” he murmured seductively, his hands settling on the blond’s hips as he turned the man to face him.

Cid blinked. “You sure are friendly today,” he said with a note of suspicion, which was understandable given Vincent’s usual mood and charm.

“Am I not allowed to be friendly?” the gunman countered with a raised brow. Before Cid could respond, he dipped his head and sealed their lips together, taking advantage of the pilot’s open mouth.

He could no more understand his feelings for the Captain anymore than he could explain the subtle lightening of his burdened heart. The strange liaison with Cid was inexplicable, and he had given up trying. He didn’t know what he wanted or expected, only that he didn’t ever want Cid to leave. It was a startlingly realization, and he wasn’t sure what to think about it.

Cid’s lips parted easily, and Vincent’s tongue dipped inside, tasting both coffee and cigarettes. The pilot had been smoking again.

An amused purr rumbled in Vincent’s chest as Cid pressed closer to him. His scruff scraped against Vincent’s jaw, which he actually found quite enjoyable.

“Been smoking again, Chief?” Vincent asked as he broke away from their kiss, leaving his lips only inches from Cid’s.

The pilot immediately scowled. “I’m a grown ass man,” he retorted defensively, feeling his hackles rise. “And I been smokin’ for years. Ain’t gonna stop me.” Never mind the fact that he had been cutting back for some time now.

A hand drifted down to his belt, rattling the metal. “Really? When did you start?”

He stared at the gunman suspiciously. “First year I joined ShinRa. When I was sixteen. I had an older…” His words trailed off when deft fingers began undoing his belt buckle. Heat instantly flashed through his body, straight to his groin as his eyes flickered to the closed door of the conference room.

“Uh… Vince? What’re you doin’?”

Vincent smirked at him, smirked at him, and those vivid eyes held a note of mischief never before seen. “I would think it obvious, Chief,” he replied, the sound of a zipper sliding downwards filling the silence.

Cid groaned, his eyes falling shut of their own accord. “Feelin’ frisky today, aren’t you?” he grunted, licking his lips with anticipation.

“Isn’t that why you were looking for me?” Vincent asked, somewhat amused.

“No,” Cid protested, barely able to speak coherently as one of his hands rose of its own accord to tangle in darkened strands. “Not the only reason.”

Vincent hummed thoughtfully. “Do tell,” he said before leaning forward and engulfing the Captain’s entire length in his mouth.

Any thought that Cid might have had immediately died in his mind as it was replaced by hot-white pleasure. The oddness of the situation, the feel of his lips, the off chance that they could get caught, it made the pilot’s blood stir and thrum heatedly through his veins.

A groan rumbled in the pilot’s throat as he cursed under his breath, trying to keep his voice down so that anyone passing by wouldn’t get curious. He could already feel himself swiftly approaching orgasm. His fingers tightened in dark strands, probably hard enough to pull out a few hairs.

Vincent grunted, and Cid loosened his grip, muttering an apology.

A moan escaped the pilot’s mouth, tingles racing along his spine as Vincent’s fingers stroked him teasingly.

“Damn tease,” the pilot murmured affectionately.

Deep red eyes glanced up at him then, glinting with desire before they slid shut just as quickly. Vincent took that opportunity to press his lips forward. Cid gasped, his hips jerking forward. He hadn’t expected that. The gunman swallowed. Just once, but that was all it took.

Cid grunted as he spilled himself, an unintelligible curse pouring from his lips. Vincent swallowed him down without hesitation, waiting out the last few tremors before slowly and carefully tucking the Captain back into his pants and sliding the zipper up.

He rose to his feet, aided somewhat by the other man’s needy tug as Cid dragged their lips together, shoving his tongue into Vincent’s mouth with an air of desperation. The former Turk was more than happy to oblige, a critical matter throbbing for release inside his own pants. He curled his left arm around Cid, pressing their bodies together and rubbing his hardened groin against the front of his lover.

Cid’s tongue swiped inside the gunman’s mouth, getting a subtle taste of his own cum as he nibbled on Vincent’s bottom lip. His hand traced the other man’s back as his stubble scraped along Vincent’s chin. Heat built between them, making the conference room seem far warmer than usual as the gunman’s hands tangled in Cid’s short hair, absentmindedly dislodging the ever-present goggles.

Vincent broke away from the kiss with a gasp, his teeth scraping along the pilot’s jaw as he shifted their groins together, eliciting a kiss from the other man. “Bed,” he murmured, not even caring to ask himself why Cid could affect him this way. He stopped trying to make rational sense out of everything the day he first ran into blue eyes within a leaning, rusted rocket.

The pilot nodded before slowly entangling himself from Vincent and heading over to the door. Vincent smirked to himself as he noticed the faintly swollen look to his lover’s lips and the haphazard set of his clothes. Cid peered out into the hallway, noted the coast was clear, and slipped outside, motioning for Vincent to follow him.

Luckily, they made it to the pilot’s room without encountering anyone. They tumbled inside, lips already finding one another as quickly as possible, and Cid kicked the door shut behind them. His hands busied themselves with unbuckling the many clasps that Vincent insisted on wearing, while the gunman was already working away on Cid’s belt, undoing what he had recently redone.

They nearly tripped over their own feet, lost to their desires, when the sudden crackling of static filled the air. It was the sound of the intercom spurting to life.

“Umm… this is on, right?” Cloud’s voice.

The two men exchanged glances, crimson meeting sky blue in a mutual expression of annoyance.

“Oh, it is? Okay… umm, everyone to the conference room. Yeah… that’s all.”

There was a clatter, a muffled curse, and a click before the intercom went silent.

Cid sighed, letting his head fall forward to Vincent’s shoulder with a quite thunk, his hands still tangled in the other man’s cloak. Reluctantly, a pale hand slipped away from the pilot’s belt.

“Duty calls,” Cid muttered. “Kid coulda picked a worse time.”

“You owe me,” Vincent inserted, slightly testy.

There were twin sighs as they disentangled themselves once more, and with evident reluctance, the two began to rearrange their clothes, Vincent wincing as he tucked his aching arousal back into his pants. Sky blue eyes noted this from the corner of his vision as he resituated his buckle.

Then, Cid paused and reconsidered the situation. Vincent noticed and gave him a curious glance, but the pilot was deep in thought.

“Ah, fuck it!” he exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air. “Cloud and them can wait for five damn minutes.”

Vincent furrowed his brow. “What are you-” His words were promptly cut off as he was tackled unceremoniously to the floor, hands already fumbling at his belt as lips found his.

“Takin’ care of business,” the pilot explained with a grin as he pulled back from the brief kiss.

Crimson eyes blinked, but sudden understanding struck him when Cid slid down his body. A warm mouth engulfed him, and Vincent’s flesh hand instantly found its place in blond locks.

“Cid!”


Five minutes later, they finally made it to the conference room, and luckily, they weren’t the last to arrive. No one seemed to notice their slightly ruffled appearance being as they were too preoccupied with whatever had occurred down in the City of the Ancients. Reeve was actually the last to stumble in, rubbing sleep from his eyes and yawning none too subtly.

Cloud shot him a look as the other man took a seat. “Well, now that everyone’s here, we can start,” he said, raking a hand through his blond spikes. “Holy is the only thing that can stop Meteor. But to use it we need the White Materia.”

Barret wrinkled up his nose. “Okay, so where’d we get that?”

“Aeris had it,” Vincent murmured from where he stood leaning up against the wall, opting not to sit down. “Which must mean there is nothing more that we can do.”

Bugenhagen shook his head as he floated to the front of the room, moving to directly beside the huge map. “Not quite,” he corrected. “We found writing there, something Ancient that was partially translated by someone else. It may hold the answers we are looking for.”

“Exactly.” Cloud inclined his head. “We could only make out a few words: ‘key’ and ‘in the music box.’ The music box was there, but we couldn’t find the other half. Our only clue was that we could ‘find the key’ where ‘light does not embrace.'” He paused as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Any suggestions?”

“A cave or something similar,” Nanaki suggested immediately. “Only, we’ve been everywhere on this planet, and I know of no unknown cave systems. Surely, someone else would have found it by now otherwise.”

Reeve tilted his head to the side as a sudden thought occurred to him. “What about underwater? It’s dark, especially in the deeper waters, and much of it is still unmapped.”

“What about Deep Man’s Cave?” the exuberant ninja piped up.

All eyes turned in her direction.

“What’s that?” the ex-SOLDIER questioned, looking down at the elated Yuffie with a frown. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“It’s on the southern tip of Wutai,” the ninja answered, nodding fiercely. There was a curious cast to her face. “I’m pretty sure there’s an underground tunnel that led beneath the ocean there.”

“It’s worth checking out,” Reeve responded with a faint shrug. “It certainly fits the requirements.”

“Wutai is the one place we have yet to search,” Nanaki pointed out.

“And I can take you there,” Yuffie exclaimed excitedly, clapping her hands together. “The ‘key’ or whatever it is will probably be there.”

“There you have it! Ho ho ho!” Bugenhagen put in jovially, clapping both the ninja and the swordsman on the back. “On to Wutai, it is then.”

“Wait a minute!” Cid declared, holding up his hand.

All eyes now turned towards him.

“What if instead of gallivanting off towards the brat’s pretend cave, some of us take the submarine as well. We can do all the searching in half the time.” He wasn’t too keen on following the suggestion of Yuffie, of all people.

“No!” the little ninja defied loudly. “I… I mean, Deep Man’s Cave is really dangerous, and we’ll need everyone’s mat- uh… help in order to traverse the peril.”

Cloud eyed her suspiciously. “I highly doubt that it’s necessary for the seven of us to take on a dark tunnel, one that twists beneath the ocean.”

Suddenly, the blond went a little white as he realized exactly what that journey would entail. It wasn’t that he minded going underwater or underground or even tight places, but when the three sketchy situations were combined, it left him feeling just a bit edgy. That was not to mention how entirely dark it would be and probably fraught with monsters. It was not his idea of an easy time.

“Fine,” he acquiesced. “We’ll all go.”

“Trust me, Cloud.” The brown-eyed girl nodded sagely. “You won’t regret it.”

Cid snorted in disbelief. “I highly doubt that.”

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