[Shattered] Ice 27

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Journey through the Deep

Being underwater was an entirely different experience than anything Nanaki had ever done before. It wasn’t unpleasant or frightening, just disorientating. He wasn’t sure how Reeve managed to navigate within the dark deep, especially since the demi-human couldn’t seem to tell up from down.

And the many fish swimming around weren’t helping either.

Yuffie, predictably, was stuck between having the time of her life and being consumed by motion sickness, and Nanaki had spent a great portion of his time rubbing her back soothingly. The girl had barely managed to gurgle a thanks before abruptly returning to her pathetic moaning.

Reeve was being both strangely quiet and slightly distracted as he eased them through the bottom of the ocean, and Nanaki couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to the former executive when they had been at Wutai.

A soft beep echoed through the submarine as something blipped on one of the screens.

Nanaki pointed at it. “Uh, is that a good sign or a bad one?” he questioned, somewhat concerned.

Amber eyes flickered to the screen. “Neither,” he replied. “Or more accurately, I can’t say it yet. Whatever it is… it isn’t moving.” He paused before pressing a button on the control panel, causing the submarine to move in the direction that Nanaki assumed to be downwards. “We might as well check it out though.”

The demi-human gulped. “Isn’t that a little… risky?” he ventured.

“Depends on what it is. We won’t know until we poke around.”

While Reeve had a valid point, Nanaki wasn’t all too keen on his plan. Nonetheless, he had no choice but to be dragged along as Reeve steered towards the unidentified blip on the screen. Golden eyes remained glued on the view window, half-curious and half-wary.

And when it came into sight, Nanaki gasped. “What? An airplane?”

Reeve frowned, punching a few more buttons as he eased towards the sunken wreckage. “Not just a plane but the Gelnika, ShinRa’s second favorite transport. Last I heard, it had flown the Huge Materia to Rocket Town. Seems like one of the Weapons got it.”

Behind them, in a shadowy alcove, Yuffie groaned.

Nanaki cast her a sympathetic look before returning to the screen. “What did it usually transport?”

“Weapons. Materia.” Reeve paused, making a very disgusted face. “Hojo’s research.” His words hung heavy in the stillness of the cabin.

The other male mused on this as they began to circle around the fallen plane, which looked faintly green beneath the press of the ocean.

“Weapons,” he murmured.

“Yes. And usually the higher-class, newly developed ones,” Reeve responded as he flicked a switch, illuminating much of the bottom of the ocean with a sudden light. “They could be useful.”

Suddenly, the idea of exploring it became very appealing. They had been cramped into the submarine for the better part of four hours, and Nanaki wanted to stretch his legs.

A smirk tugged at his lips. “Can we board it?”

Reeve turned his head, inspecting something on his control panel. “Luckily, we stole a loader. I’ll spare you the details, but in short, yes.” He shifted the wheel and headed towards the somewhat upwards facing door he had caught sight of earlier. “Let’s go inside.”

Nanaki nodded in agreement, while Yuffie merely moaned. It was translated as a concord.

Three minutes later, they were hovering several feet above the door. Reeve unbuckled himself from the driver’s seat. He stretched, hearing the bones in his back pop and crack. He needed the break just as much as Nanaki.

Reeve gestured vaguely towards the hall just through the door behind them. “Just follow me. I have to operate the loader manually,” he explained, already slipping past them and leaving his companions to trail along after him.

He led them into the lower regions of the submarine and directly to what appeared to be a door in the bottom. Reeve knelt, popping a panel out of place on the floor and revealing yet another set of gleaming buttons and switches.

It made Nanaki’s head spin. Still, he continued to watch as Reeve’s nimble fingers danced over the control board.

The submarine gave a shudder around them and heard the low whine of something mechanical shifting. There was a thunk, then a tremble, followed by a repeated clacking.

Nanaki winced at the myriad noises.

It didn’t sound safe that was for certain.

Slim hands grasped his free arm. He looked down to find Yuffie staring up at him, still vaguely pale.

“W-what’s he doing?” she whispered, her brow furrowing as her voice came out slightly in a stutter.

“Honestly? I have no idea.”

Reeve chuckled at his words. “You don’t want to get wet, do you?” he asked. “I’m creating a short connection to the door. I think the Gelnika is still airtight… to a certain extent.”

He rose to his feet, only to crouch over the circular handle on the door. He grasped it tightly and began turning it with very audible squeaks.

“A certain extent?” Yuffie ventured, sounding distinctly nervous.

Reeve rolled his eyes. “We’ll be fine,” he assured her. “I ran a preliminary scan. There’s oxygen present.”

She snorted, noticing how he hadn’t mention just how much. “That makes me feel so much better.”

The door came open with a loud screech, popping up so quickly that Reeve stumbled backwards. Nevertheless, the three crowded around the new opening and peered down.

There was a short ladder that led directly to a door on the other end. A circular section of what appeared to be collapsible metal formed a tunnel, ten feet in diameter all the way down, and a series of heavy-duty magnets connected them to the Gelnika. It looked relatively safe.

“No use just staring,” Reeve announced as he swung his legs down and began to climb. His feet echoed hollowly on the metal rail, his hands squeaking over the rungs.

Nanaki and Yuffie exchanged glances before quickly following, the girl’s motion sickness having faded now that they weren’t actually moving. As such, she went first, while Nanaki brought up the rear.

Reeve was already turning the other door handle, the same circular latch as before, by the time they finished climbing. It screeched and complained as he tugged before finally giving way with a loud, hair-raising shriek that made all three of them wince. The metal door plopped open, falling inwards and finally giving them access to the interior of the Gelnika. They could see the brief luminescence of some type of light glowing brightly within, which was encouraging.

“You first,” Yuffie suggested, exchanging looks with Reeve. Her voice echoed eerily hollow within the Gelnika, and she gulped loudly, not liking the odd feeling of trepidation that crept down her spine.

Reeve rolled his eyes before he swung around, fingers groping for the ladder. He began to climb down with swift movements, shivering a flush of cold, clammy air washed over his body. Seconds later, he dropped down to the floor, landing ankle deep in a small puddle of water and standing within a barely lit hallway.

Two doors were somewhat visible a little ways away. Near to the farthest one, there was a large, rotting box. It was oddly placed, having no apparent reason for being in the middle of a hallway where anyone could have tripped over it.

“Cold!” Yuffie complained, dropping down into the water with a big splash. She immediately spied the relatively drier floor just a few steps in front of them and clambered over.

She shivered as she rubbed her hands over her arms. “It’s certainly not the tropics!” the ninja added, shooting Reeve a look.

He frowned thoughtfully as he strode towards the wooden box, inspecting the cover for any sort of clue as to what was inside. Reeve spotted ShinRa’s symbol and something else, W.R.D., Weapons Research and Development.

Interesting.

Reeve dug into the box before he knew what he was doing as he heard Nanaki also dropping down into the hallway. Thankfully, the demi-human did not complain about the cold water, despite his very thin socks and sandals. Of course, Nanaki normally wouldn’t even have those on, but Reeve had insisted he wear them on the submarine.

“Whatcha lookin’ at?” Yuffie asked, striding up to Reeve.

The man tilted his head to the side as he shoved aside straw and pieces of wood. “A new weapon if we’re lucky,” he answered before he finally caught the gleam of silver.

Yuffie decided to help, and together, the two of them shoved aside the covering until they revealed their find.

“A sword,” Yuffie stated flatly before waving her hand and shaking her head. “As if Cloud doesn’t have enough of those already.”

“It’s pretty powerful,” Nanaki murmured, appearing at their side and nearly giving her a heart attack. His eyes raked over the blade. “It even has six slots and is stronger than the one he has now. We should pick it up on the way out.”

“I wonder what else is on this plane,” Yuffie muttered thoughtfully. She wandered away from their group, having lost interest rather quickly in the box once she learned she couldn’t use it. “There are two doors. How ’bout we look into them?”

Reeve nodded. “We’ll take the one on the right first.”

He sniffed, wrinkling his nose at the smell that assaulted his senses. Despite having been sunken for only a short time, the Gelnika was already picking up a damp, moldy smell.

“And let’s just hope that’s not where they kept Hojo’s specimens,” Yuffie put in. She made a face, but that didn’t stop her from being the first to cross the hallway to the door. “That man’s whacked,” she commented unnecessarily, peering through the gloom onto the symbol on the front of the door.

There was the typical ShinRa crest, and she scowled at it before reading the script beneath.

“Generator room,” she read aloud before shrugging. “Never know, might be something interesting in there.” The girl placed her hand on the door latch as the two males appeared at her side.

The door opened with a very audible creak and groan. The first thing they noticed was the chillier feel to the air, as well as the fact that it was significantly brighter inside. Here, the lights were more numerous and powerful, enabling them to see quite clearly. It may have been a generator room at some point, but now, it was being used for storage. Several boxes were scattered about, some looking broken and useless, others still intact with unknown treasures inside.

Yuffie’s brows rose to her hairline as she stepped inside, pushing past Reeve with only a slight jostle. “They weren’t very neat,” she observed, already moving to one of the battered, wooden boxes.

Its contents had spilled out onto the floor.

“Most of it is broken.” She stepped gingerly over shattered glass, most likely remainders of potions and ethers.

“We might still find something,” Nanaki commented, stepping off to the right as he spied a box that had yet to be touched. He shoved the broken paneling from another container off of it before yanking off the cover and blinking with approval. “Cloud will be pleased.”

Reeve looked up from running his fingers over another closed box. This one was closer to the large engine structure on the far side of the room yet.

“What is it?” he asked.

Slightly taloned hands dipped inside, pushing away the straw. “Escort Guard,” he answered, reading aloud from the small inscription engraved in the base of the armlet. “I have never heard of it, but I can practically feel the power coming off in waves.”

“Lemme have it, then,” Yuffie suggested from the opposite side of the room, poking around in the farthest corner of boxes.

Nanaki shook his head. “Sorry, Yufs. It’s for men only,” he replied, inspecting the armor carefully.

“Or very buff women,” Reeve added, noting its size. “Very, very buff women,” he corrected.

Nanaki glanced at the inscription again, reading a part he hadn’t before. “And probably very gender confused ones.” At their expressions, he explained, “Apparently, it really will only work for males. It’s another one of ShinRa’s experiments. Gender specific defense.”

Yuffie pouted. “That’s not fair,” she muttered under her breath, only to suddenly squeal in delight when she kicked at a box and something popped out, gleaming at her feet. “Conformer! I’ve only ever heard rumors of these! They don’t even make them anymore!” she exclaimed. “My mom said that my aunt once had one, but she lost it after she was ex-er… after she left Wutai.”

Reeve and Nanaki smiled at her exuberance, only half-listening and not catching her slip-up as they poked about in the boxes.

In turn, she heaved a sigh of relief, having almost mentioned her exiled and most likely dead relation. Her sigh turned into one of sadness then as she realized that her poor aunt’s only child was also dead now, courtesy of Sephiroth, and Yuffie had never even had the chance to meet him personally.

Neither of her companions noticed her frown and shake her head. Nanaki was still inspecting the Escort Guard, and Reeve was prying open the lid of a rather small box, bright yellow gleaming back at him.

A materia.

He absentmindedly shoved the orb into his pocket, already moving onto another equally promising box. He guessed that it contained some type of healing liquid, judging by the rattling sound it made.

“That’s nice, Yuffie,” Nanaki commented from the other side of the room, finally turning to look at her. “I think it is the strongest we’ve found yet.”

Her face instantly transitioned to elation, brown eyes sparkling with excitement. He couldn’t help but remark to himself just how very beautiful they were.

“8-linked slots, Nanaki. You can’t get much stronger than that!”

He nodded in agreement, but suddenly, his senses prickled, every hair on the back of his neck rising. Nanaki had the unwelcome sensation that they were not alone and immediately swept his gaze over the rather small room, his nostrils flaring as he sniffed the air. His senses were not as attuned as they would be in his other form but were still significantly stronger than most human’s, and he picked up the faint and nauseating odor of something strange. Moldy, almost.

“Nanaki, wha-”

He shushed her with a finger, his eyes momentarily darting to Reeve across the room as he focused his attention on his ears. Then, he heard it, a strange plopping sound like that of some sort of glop dripping to the floor. It was startling different from the subtle plip of leaking water, which had been an ever-present noise in the background.

“I think we should leave,” he commented, already backing towards the door. “Now.”

Reeve looked up from and frowned where he stood, already reaching into another box. “What? Wh-”

His words were cut off as something whipped down from the piping above him, wrapping around his stomach and jerking him upwards. His arm flailed out, smacking against the metal piping as he cried out in surprise.

“What… the… hell?” Reeve gasped as what he was positive was a tentacle tightened around him, cutting off his air.

Then, there was an orange blur, almost too quick to tell before something flashed in the dim light. Hands wrapped around him, jerking him free from the creature’s hold. Nanaki’s claw slashed through the tentacle, forcing it to let go, and the two males dropped back down the floor, where Yuffie quickly ran up to meet them.

Reeve sucked in huge gulping breaths of air, but they were given no reprieve as his attacker chose to show its ugly face, plopping down into the open space of the floor. Nausea gripped their bellies at the sight of the glistening pinkish flesh, and the gaping, saliva-slick mouth. Beady eyes glared at them as what appeared to be several tentacles dangled from its lower body.

“What is that?” Nanaki breathed, eyes wide with shock.

Reeve’s hand automatically dropped to his side as he flicked a dagger into his hand. “I don’t think I want to know,” he said as Yuffie bounced beside him, practically filled with glee at getting to try out her new weapon.

The beast stared at them, and a faint twitch was their only warning before an array of tentacles came bursting towards them. The three split in opposite directions, sending their first attack back. Nanaki cast Sense, always his first move in any battle as Reeve sent a wave of Ice at the creature. Yuffie darted forward, quick as a flash and swiped her Conformer, but the beast evaded her and emitted a strange gurgling sound.

“It doesn’t have any weaknesses!” Nanaki exclaimed as the glow of the Sense cast faded from his body. “I can’t find a single one!”

Amber eyes widened. “What?” Reeve shouted, only to dodge when a trio of tentacles came shooting his direction. He panted, already wiping sweat from his brow as he had to be in constant motion.

Nanaki’s claw flashed through the air, choosing to slice and dice rather than dodge, and he slashed one of the tentacles.

Green blood splashed out, falling to the metal floor beneath him with an acidic hiss; it immediately began to corrode the metal.

The demi-human recoiled, having nearly dripped the stuff on his foot. “Watch out for the blood!” he called out, grimacing with distaste as a foul odor wafted up from the melted metal.

The creature keened in pain as it retracted its tentacles, content on finding an easier target.

A dagger whipped through the air, lodging itself neatly in one of the monster’s two largest eyes, only to be rapidly followed by the steady ching of Yuffie’s throwing chakrams as they embedded themselves in the thing’s flesh. It snarled and hissed with its strange gurgles and instantly retaliated, the girl the last opponent who had caused it pain.

The beast slapped her across the room in the same moment she attempted to dodge another tentacle, and the young Wutaiian went flying, crashing against an opposite wall and landing limply on a stack of broken boxes. She groaned as she weakly tried to rise, but one end of the tentacle wrapped around her ankle, prepared to grip and toss her again.

Nanaki darted out of nowhere, slashing through the appendage so quickly it had no time to bleed on him before he rushed the monster.

“Yuffie!” Reeve cried, scrambling to his feet and trying to rush to the ninja’s side. Red blood was spattering to the metal floor, and he could tell from her ginger movements that something had been injured.

A flash and a squelch later, a huge gash was torn in the monster’s side, spilling even more ichor onto the floor as Nanaki attacked. The demi-human grunted when a tentacle slammed into him, nearly succeeding in knocking him off balance, and he sliced at it, causing acidic blood to drip on his thigh. But he gritted his teeth against the pain and gripped the tentacle with his unweaponed hand and squeezed.

The monster keened in pain as Reeve finally reached Yuffie’s side, kneeling to help the girl. Nanaki noticed this from the corner of his eye, only to have them widen in shock. Taking advantage of the situation, having one opponent entangled, the monster decided to concentrate on its other enemies.

“Reeve!” Nanaki called out, trying to alert the executive as he struggled with the tentacles wrapped around him.

The former executive’s head whipped around as he rose to his feet, only to stare in horror at the two largest tentacles, which were seconds from colliding with him. One was dripping acidic blood already, and both had huge gaping maws on them, foaming at the mouth. But it was too late.

No time to run or dodge, he could only crouch over Yuffie and throw up his hands. He closed his eyes and waited for the pain.

Only… it never came.

He heard the crackle of something fleshy against a barrier, a monster’s cry of pain, and the subtle surge of power in the air. Reeve opened his eyes, finding that a shield, which he hadn’t cast, was repelling the splash of acid. It sent the tentacle flying back at its monster.

Blinking in confusion, Reeve took advantage of the situation and tossed out Fire 2 on the retreating creature, noting with pleasure that it had some effect. Lightning crackled through the air as Nanaki jerked a Swift Bolt from his hair and tossed it at their attacker, the combination of the attacks creating a hefty distraction.

“What was that?” Nanaki called out, trying to make it over to their side as the flash of green magic, a Cure, filled the air.

Yuffie rose to her feet, coughing slightly.

“I don’t know!” Reeve shouted back, shaking his head.

“Look out!”

Yuffie and Reeve darted in opposite directions, reacting on instinct. Two tentacles crashed by them, slamming into the wall and cracking through several broken boxes.

Reeve twisted to the side, whipping out a second dagger and pinning it neatly in the monster’s other eye. With any luck, the smaller orbs would be for show and the thing would be blinded now.

The ninja rolled on her shoulder, nimbly dodging yet another attack, before leaping to her feet and darting forward, Conformer at the ready. She could literally feel the power in the weapon as Nanaki distracted it with a Fire Fang, sending another burst of flame across its pinkish hide. Yuffie slipped in under the creature’s defenses and slashed a huge gash across the flattened, puckered front of it. She quickly darted away before one of the smaller tentacles with the suckers could get a grip on her.

A short distance away, Reeve scrambled to his feet and hurriedly tossed out another Fire 2 at the monster. He was hesitant to use anything stronger, for fear of causing damage to the Gelnika and possibly drowning them all. It was a pity since an Ultima would probably take the entire thing out in a few seconds.

Nanaki was an orange and red blur as he moved around in a flash, slicing and nimbly avoiding acidic splashes, in spite of the injury on his leg. One whole tentacle slipped by him, however, and attacked Yuffie, slapping her across the shoulder. It caused her to spurt several very unladylike curses, which would have made Cid proud, as her body began to glow the very visible crimson of a limit break.

“Bloodfest!” she growled, clutching her Conformer tightly as she darted forward.

The demi-human recognized this attack and quickly moved out of the way, flashing to Reeve’s side, and the two males watched the small female pummel the monster to bits. She used a series of ten consecutive and deadly slashes, leaving the beast a shuddering, sliced up mess on the floor of the Gelnika.

Her eyes flashed with battle fury as her Conformer glinted in the dim emergency lighting, sending green ichor through the air, and the monster gurgled one last time before it collapsed. It rapidly turned into dusty, black ash that coated the metal floor.

Yuffie emitted a ragged cheer as the scarlet glow of her limit break faded, breathing somewhat haggardly.

“Great job,” Nanaki called out from the opposite side of the room where Reeve was already heading towards him with a megalixir he had confiscated from one of the boxes. Only two of the entire case had survived the fight.

The ninja beamed at the praise.

The subtle and soothing prickle of the elixir splashed onto the demi-human’s acid burnt leg, and he returned his attention to the ex-executive.

“None of us have Barrier. Where did that shield come from?”

Reeve shook his head, appearing just as perplexed. “I honestly don’t know, but I’m glad for it.” He shuddered visibly as he drank down half of the other megalixir before passing the rest to Yuffie. “I wouldn’t have survived otherwise.”

“What was that thing?” Yuffie asked, taking the small glass bottle and gulping down the rest of the sparkling, purple liquid.

It cooled as it went down, sending a comforting tingle through her body. Already, she could feel her bruises healing.

Nanaki frowned. “Unknown… that was all Sense could reveal.” He rose to his feet, stretching out his recently healed leg. “It was probably one of Hojo’s experiments,” he added as he made a disgusted face, looking above them. He tilted his head to the side before making a leap that neither human could accomplish and grasping onto the pipes above them.

The demi-human neatly swung his body up, his voice echoing behind him as golden eyes scanned the open space. “I think it was the last one though.”

Yuffie’s hand went to her heart. “Thank Dao’Chao,” she breathed. Despite having kicked its ass in the end, the creature was more trouble than it was worth.

Nanaki dropped neatly to the ground in front of her, shaking his head. “Don’t get too happy just yet. There’s no more in this room, but I don’t know about the rest of the plane.”

“Let’s move on then. This place gives me the creeps,” Yuffie responded, making a disgusted face.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Reeve commented, rising to his feet and stretching.

The remainder of the boxes had been destroyed during the battle, so there wasn’t much left in terms of salvaging. There was no reason for them to remain.

“We can check out the other door now,” the ex-executive continued as he moved to the exit, the other two on his heels.

They stepped into the hallway, just as eerily silent as before, but this time they were decidedly more wary. The encounter with the unknown beast had left them somewhat shaky.

“Let’s just hope there aren’t any more strange monsters on the other side,” Reeve muttered as he opened the other door and peeked within.

Several barrels full of questionable substances blocked the way, however. At least, he didn’t feel the presence of any enemies, so he nodded his head towards Nanaki and Yuffie before pushing the door the rest of the way and stepping inside.

Only to come to a complete halt as he stared at the other end of the room. His entire body froze, and his breath caught in his throat, every drop of blood draining from his face. That moment he had feared, what he hadn’t wanted to face, stood right in front of him.

On the other side of the room, facing another door, were Reno and Rude.

How ironic.

They turned at his stifled gasp of surprise, and even from across the room, Reno’s eyes immediately found Reeve’s, widening with his own shock. It felt as if the world narrowed to just the two of them, and at this point, Reeve still didn’t have an answer to his question.

He didn’t want to fight Reno, he really didn’t want to. He knew he couldn’t bring himself to harm the Turk. But that would put him on the run again because he knew that AVALANCHE wouldn’t abide his presence if he sided with the enemy. Reeve was left with very few options, and a small part of him started to shake.

Life was certainly cruel.

Suddenly, a small hand settled on his arm, squeezing comfortingly. “We don’t have to fight them,” Yuffie murmured, looking up at him with large, sympathetic eyes.

“What?” He blinked, taking in a short, hitched breath as he somehow managed to tear his gaze away to look at her.

Nanaki stepped up to his other side, having smoothly avoided colliding with him earlier. “We know already, Reeve,” he answered quietly. “We know.”

“You don’t have to prove anything by fighting them,” the little ninja added, shooting him one of her big smiles. Her fingers squeezed his arm again before she patted his shoulder.

The demi-human nodded. “Yes. If anyone has anything to say, we’ve already decided that we will cover for you.”

On the other side of the room, neither Turk had made any moves yet, merely observing the interaction between the three of them. Rude and Reno did, however, exchange glances, something nameless sparkling behind aquamarine eyes.

“H-how?” Reeve stuttered, still completely perplexed. “When?”

Yuffie smiled smugly. “Since we were in Junon,” she responded before waving her hand dismissively. “Besides, no one’s any good at being secretive in our group, except for Vinnie,” she added with a shrug.

Nanaki inserted with his own grin, “And I bet I know where you disappeared to in Wutai.”

The girl giggled then, pausing only long enough to wink. “And you should see the stuff Cloud puts in his hair, and well, you’re not alone. You know-”

“Yuffie! That’s not our secret to tell,” the demi-human said, shooting her a warning look.

She waved him off. “Point is, you don’t have to fight them,” Yuffie finished.

Reeve was dumbfounded, but that didn’t stop him from raising his gaze to meet his lover’s. Nanaki and Yuffie couldn’t know that Rude was aware of their relationship, but still, they were willing to express their support. He felt an embarrassing amount of gratefulness bubbling up inside of him and had to resist the urge to throw his arms around them.

Just then, the walkie-talkie dangling from Reno’s belt crackled to life, filling the not-tense silence with its annoying static. The Turk reached down and grabbed the device. He pressed a button and spoke into it with low tones that they couldn’t hear, and Rude turned towards him but remained silent.

Even so, the walkie’s response was plainly audible. “AVALANCHE and our stolen submarine have been spotted in the area. If possible, locate and destroy.”

Reno rolled his eyes. “Affirmative,” he muttered into the device before clicking it off and handing it over to his partner. “Good thing we haven’t found them yet, hmm?” he questioned with a note of amusement to his tone.

Rude clapped his partner on the shoulder and turned away, heading towards an opening that the other three hadn’t seen before, hidden behind another barrel.

“I’ll go on ahead, Reno,” he intoned, already crouching to grab a hold of the ladder that disappeared down into the darkened depths. “Don’t be too long.”

When Reno nodded, Nanaki and Yuffie took the hint.

“We’ll be waiting on the sub, okay?” Yuffie chirped before wiggling one of their recently acquired items in her hand. “These’re kind of heavy.”

Nanaki smiled, showing very pointy teeth. “I’ll grab the Heaven’s Cloud. We can come back later after we’ve stocked back on some stronger materia.” He turned on his heels and left the hallway, Yuffie on his heels.

The door slid shut with a quiet thunk, leaving the two lovers alone, and Reeve closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. He raked a hand through his hair, his posture still ramrod straight.

“I can’t fight you,” he admitted softly. “I realize that now. If we must stand on opposite sides of the battlefield, I cannot hurt you.”

Before he could open his eyes, he felt the arms sliding around him, and a forehead settled on his shoulder in complete opposition to the fact that Reno was taller than him by several inches.

Reeve bit his lip, lifting his arms and wrapping them around his lover as well. “It’s really not fair.” The former executive sighed. “But at least we had Wutai.”

Reno chuckled against his shoulder, “You think those brats will keep their word?” he asked.

The older man nodded, hands unconsciously tightening. “Where do we go from here?” he whispered. “Opposite directions? Back to our different paths? Do you honestly think ShinRa’s right?”

“No. But other than you, the Turks are all I have. And ShinRa wasonce all we had… other than each other.” He smiled briefly then. “If I don’t keep my job, how are we going to eat in the future?”

Reeve bit his lip. “If there is a future,” he murmured.

A hand was on his chin before he knew it, and his eyes snapped open, only to have his entire view replaced by vivid blue-green eyes. They were filled with the same intent stare that he had fallen in love years ago.

“Don’t say that,” Reno hissed, his voice filled with a determined trill that literally sent chills down Reeve’s spine. “I’m not doing this for nothing, yo. There will be a future.”

He leaned forward and kissed Reeve, and for a few blissful minutes, there was nothing more important than the two of them. Their lips pressed together, working one against the other in a slow, lazy rhythm.

Reeve broke away with much reluctance. “Be careful, ne? I’ve seen too many of my friends die already, and I can’t lose you,” he said gently, his breath puffing against his lover’s lips.

Fingers tickled at the hairs on the base of his neck. “Tseng’s not dead, yo.”

“What?”

Reno nodded. “He’s got a nasty wound through the gut and some other minor stuff, but he’s alive. So don’t worry about me. It takes a lot more than a crazy once-dead guy to kill us, yo.”

The former executive managed a smile, despite the pain cracking through his heart. “You make a valid point.” He slowly disentangled himself from Reno’s hold. “You’d better go… before ShinRa realizes that something is up.”

The Turk’s hand fell to his pocket even as he raked free fingers through his bright locks. “You better survive, Reeve. ‘Cause when it’s all said and done, I’ve got something to say to you.”

“What is it?”

“Not now.” Reno shook his head as he swallowed thickly, a bit of indecision peeking through his usually strong mask. “Just… I love you.”

He shifted another step backwards. Reno knew that if he didn’t, he would never leave. Only a few feet separated them, but already, it felt like miles.

Reeve turned away, hands clenching into fists at his sides. If he didn’t look, it would be that much easier. Easier, if he didn’t have to watch his lover walk away.

“I love you, too,” he responded, blinking away sudden and very unmanly tears.

There was silence for a moment until Reno suddenly pressed against his back. His hand snaked around to the front and pushed something into his clenched fist.

“Don’t go into that other room. All of Hojo’s freaks have escaped, and they’re deadly.”

And then, the warmth was gone.

Reno scurried down the ladder to wherever Rude was waiting, and Reeve was left staring at a red materia in his hand. His vision blurred, and he couldn’t seem to make out the identifier symbols of the summon. It felt as if a heavy weight had settled on his chest, and inwardly, he cursed Rufus ShinRa, loathing the man and his family with every piece of himself for the pain he currently suffered.

“Reeve?”

His head snapped up at the hesitant and worried tone, finding Yuffie in the doorway. Her face was drawn tight with concern, and he couldn’t help but wonder how much she had witnessed, if any at all.

“Are you alright?”

It took great effort, but he managed a nod. “Yes… I’m fine,” he rasped, slipping the still unidentified materia into his pocket. A smile, thin at best, worked its way onto his face.

Someone had to be strong, and he simply couldn’t be allowed to break.

Yuffie didn’t appear to believe him, eyeing him with a skeptical stare. Nevertheless, she showed great maturity and didn’t badger him.

“Nanaki says our fuel’s getting low.”

Reeve nodded, already moving to follow. “Let’s go then. We don’t want to be trapped here.”

He felt her eyes on him as they headed to the submarine, but he knew she couldn’t offer him any comfort. No one could.

Still, he was well-schooled in hiding his true feelings, so by the time he was seated back in the driver’s seat, Reeve was back to his normal cheery self.

At a glance, no one would have known that anything was wrong or that he had just said his hardest goodbye. Not unless they cared enough to look closely.

And right before he pulled the submarine away from the Gelnika, Reeve glanced at the red materia once more, studying the symbols.

Hades.

Reeve instantly decided he would give it to Vincent. It sounded like something the former Turk would appreciate.

“A cave behind a waterfall?” Vincent murmured quizzically as he stood at the opening, gazing into the gaping darkness.

“We’ve already got the key,” Cloud urged impatiently. “Do we really need to go inside?” He looked at the gunman, who appeared entranced.

Vincent didn’t respond to his question.

After searching what seemed to be the entire ocean floor once Reeve returned, the three men had finally stumbled upon two tunnels. And one had led to the key. In trying to find their way out, they had taken a wrong turn and had ended up in a deep lagoon surrounded by steep mountains on both sides and a waterfall.

“Vince?” Cid furrowed his brow in confusion. He looked to his lover and saw pain behind the gunman’s eyes, and the pilot couldn’t quite help the shiver of dread that raced up his spine.

Still, the ex-Turk did not respond. He ignored his two companions as he took a step forward and entered the cave, as if drawn by something beyond his will.

“Calling,” Vincent murmured, though his voice couldn’t be heard over the roaring falls.

Cid and Cloud exchanged glances and hurried to follow their teammate, who was acting even stranger than usual. They could hear the steady clomp of Vincent’s boots echoing hollowly on the stone floor, but they could no longer see him.

The two stumbled along in the darkness, only Cloud really able to see anything. Cid wondered what had gotten into Vincent and why he had seemed to so eager to explore the cave. He was far ahead of them as well, seemingly driven by something neither blond could see or feel.

As they walked, the pilot felt his feeling of dread deepen. Of course, it wasn’t helped by the shudders that he got every time he looked over and saw his leader’s eyes glowing in the dark, pupils nearly slitted. Cid was dearly glad that he had gotten out of the military before they had decided to try their little mako experiments.

Minutes later, Cid could see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, though its purplish-green glow wasn’t the least bit comforting. They neared a widening of the cave, one that didn’t encourage him at all. A feeling of uneasiness settled in his belly and refused to disperse.

The two blonds pushed forward, only to find themselves staring open-mouthed in shock.

The walls around them glowed as bright as day, some mineral in them lighting the entire cavern. The area itself was mostly empty, although both the walls and the floors seemed smooth and polished. Whether or not the cave was natural was up for discussion.

The ex-Turk was paused just a few steps past the doorway. Vincent was immobile as he stared at something in the room ahead of them.

Cid and Cloud peered around their companion, trying to figure of what.

It was a woman, and she was dressed in a lab coat with her long, brown hair trailing down her back. She was serenely beautiful, though the anguish and melancholy evident in her face seemed to steal some of it away.

Cid had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach as he looked at her. However, it wasn’t until he heard Vincent’s tortured whisper that he knew his fears were true.

“Lucrecia…”

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