Chapter 3: The Secret
Yuffie yawned and tried to cover it up with her hand. She felt a nudge at her side and looked over to see Nanaki grinning at her, trying to prod her awake. He was still in his demi-human form and had been since the battle with Sephiroth over six months ago. However, Yuffie found she liked this new form of his. It was quite handsome and very, very appealing.
Bugenhagen cleared his throat impatiently and instructed his two students to return their attentions to him. Despite the fact that both had saved the world from evil incarnate, the older, wiser man was intent on continuing Nanaki’s education. And when Godo had heard of the wisdom in Cosmo Canyon, he sent his errant daughter to learn, as well. The Wutaian lord was adamant that she be educated, so that when it came time for her to take his place, she would be wise and well read.
The three were gathered in the relative comfort of his living room. Yuffie and Nanaki were sitting on the floor on a pile of pillows and blankets before the fire as a brief spring shower sprinkled the land outside. The old sage was content to stand and pace as he lectured.
“As I was saying,” the elderly man continued, his eyes twinkling with merriment. He was enjoying the friendship blossoming between his two students and the hint of something more. Nevertheless, he was determined to finish their lesson. “Back to Geometry. I was explaining the dynamics of the circle in regards to radius and speed…”
“Aw,” Yuffie interrupted. “Can’t we discuss something more interesting?”
“Are you implying that the science of mathematics is boring?” Bugenhagen questioned with a raised eyebrow.
“No,” the ninja answered. She grinned at Nanaki sneakily. “I am just saying that… well, Nanaki wants to know more about history. It is his favorite subject after all.” She poked at her friend with her finger, laughing when he yelped at her sharp jab.
“Excuse me,” the demi-human exclaimed indignantly. “But mathematics happens to be my favorite subject. History is boring.”
Bugenhagen laughed. “You two are amusing. Ah, it does an old soul good to witness the joys of youth.”
Nanaki shook his head at the older man’s antics. “Don’t joke, Grandfather. You are not that old, even for a human.”
Yuffie scoffed. “What planet you been living on? He’s an old geezer.”
“Circles, my children, circles,” Bugenhagen reminded primly. “You need them in order to grow up and become respectable men and women.”
The dark-haired ninja opened her mouth to respond when Nanaki’s PHS rang… and quite loudly for that matter. The familiar tune of Waltz of the Flowers filled the air. The demi-human ducked his head to avoid the piercing gaze of his Grandfather and reached his hand in his pocket to answer the loud phone.
“Nanaki, here,” he answered simply, listening to see who was on the other line. He hadn’t had that particular phone long, so the numbers weren’t programmed into it like his old one.
Yuffie and Bugenhagen were silent as they observed the demi-human make his call.
“We are fine. Learning about circles and such, very boring stuff, if you ask me…” the demi-human trailed off. He had immediately recognized the voice as that of Reeve Tuesti.
The executive chuckled. “Yes, I hated mathematics, as well. I called to ask if you still had that item that your grandfather found a few months ago?”
Nanaki frowned as he considered the older man’s question. “Yes, it is up in Grandfather’s loft.”
“I am glad to hear it. I think it is time that we told Cid and showed him it.”
“Are you sure? I mean, you told us…” The demi-human shook his head as if not believing that Reeve would suggest something he had so adamantly spoken against months before.
“He’s getting worse, Nanaki. Kyle tells me he isn’t sleeping and spends all his time either searching or doing his job. He doesn’t rest.”
“I can think of someone else, who is having the same problem,” muttered the red-haired man under his breath. He continued to listen as Reeve talked on, obviously not having heard his friends comment.
“I think seeing it will help him, perhaps even give him some hope. I can’t help but think some of this might be my fault.”
Nanaki sighed noisily and rolled his eyes. “It’s not your fault. I don’t even see how you can even begin to think that.” When Reeve didn’t respond, the demi-human exhaled aloud yet again. “Look. Your phone is ringing off the hook, answer it. And go home and spend time with your lover for goodness sake. I think the world will run on its own long enough for you to do that.”
Reeve gave him a small nervous laugh. “You are right. Just be cautious in how you handle Highwind, he’s very moody.”
“Don’t worry, I think we can handle him.”
“You don’t know, Nanaki; he has changed. It’s only been six months, and, yet, he has totally lost himself…” The executive trailed off.
“I think we’ve got it. Go home, Reeve. Talk to you later.” The demi-human pressed the end button on his PHS and sighed audibly. Sometimes just talking to the busy executive could be draining.
“Reeve?” the little ninja questioned, assuming that it was ShinRa’s newest president that had called.
The dark-haired man had taken over running the company after the fall of the conglomeration. He was seconded by Tseng and the rest of the Turks worked under them. They trialed to restore order to the world in the form of exterminating monsters, rebuilding and stopping unnecessary violence. The army and SOLDIER had been disbanded as one of the first orders of business and slowly Reeve was making ShinRa bankrupt.
Nanaki nodded simply. “He wants us to call Cid and show him the object we found a few months ago.”
“I had assumed that we decided it was in the Captain’s best interest that he not see it for quite some time,” Bugenhagen stated, furrowing his brow.
The demi-human shook his head. “Something’s wrong. Cid is truly spiraling down, and it’s only gotten worse. I believe Reeve hopes that by showing him, he might be convinced to try harder and survive.”
Yuffie sighed. “That bastard Sephiroth, ruining the old man’s life like that. And Vinny, he never knew how much we all cared. Sure he was cold and distant and a bit of a party pooper, but, hey, we liked him anyways. Except maybe Cloud; they always did have this sort of rivalry going on.”
“Are you going to call him then?” the sage asked, narrowing his gaze on his adopted grandson.
Nanaki nodded. “I agree with Reeve. Of course, I never thought we should have kept it a secret in the first place. Cid is a grown man capable of making his own decisions. Reeve means well, but he doesn’t know all the answers.”
“Ooh,” Yuffie exclaimed. “Let me call Cid.” An evil smile broke out on her face as she contemplated the many things she could tell the pilot. It had been a while since she had seen him face to face.
Bugenhagen laughed even as Nanaki scowled. “I think that would be good. Perhaps she can pull him from his apathy.”
The demi-human shook his head as the ninja pulled out her phone. “And if not, she’ll be able to piss him off enough that he will come here just to wring her neck.”
“It’s one of my many talents.” The ninja smirked, sticking her tongue out at her best friends as she hit speed dial for Cid’s PHS.
It rang several times before someone picked up. Yuffie waited patiently, occasionally checking her fingernails.
” ‘llo?” answered Cid in a very sleepy voice. He snorted as if clearing his throat. “Highwind.”
“Old man!” the ninja exclaimed cheerfully. She heard the pilot give a muffled curse then the rustling of blankets. “How’ve you been?”
“I was sleeping, brat. What do you want?” the blond demanded. He treated her roughly, but it was well known that he had some fatherly affection for the ninja.
“In the middle of the day!” the grey-eyed girl exclaimed. “You really are getting old.”
“Yuffie…” Nanaki warned, shooting the ninja a look before she got too carried away and pissed the pilot off past convincing.
“Lookee here, you little brat…” the Captain began, fully awake now.
“We want you to come to Cosmo Canyon,” interrupted the ninja quickly. “We found something that you might want to see.”
“I swear if this is another one of your jokes,” Cid threatened, leaving the opening so that Yuffie could decide for herself what he would do.
The grey-eyed teen rolled her eyes. “I promise. It’s real. Get here as soon as you can. Nanaki says so.”
“Let me talk to the overgrown lion,” Cid demanded, not in the mood to play one of Yuffie’s jokes.
The dark-haired younger girl handed her phone to Nanaki wordlessly. The demi-human took it with only the slightest bit of hesitance. Cid had a violent temper, especially after Yuffie managed to piss him off.
“What did you find?” the pilot demanded before Nanaki could even say anything.
“I don’t want to tell you over the phone.” The red-haired male sighed. “Just come, and you will see.”
“Fine,” snapped Cid. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes.” Without further adieu, the blond shut his phone, effectively ending the conversation.
The demi-human shook his head and powered off the phone, wordlessly returning it to the ninja.
“Is he coming?” the female asked.
He nodded. “Yes, but he sounded quite angry. Good going.”
She shrugged in response. “At least he’s feeling something.”
Nanaki sighed. “Sad to say, but you’re right. Cid has been bottled up far too long.”
“I will go retrieve the item from the loft,” Bugenhagen muttered, floating as he moved away.
“I guess now we just wait.” The dark-haired shrugged ninja.
“We could learn more about mathematics,” Nanaki suggested with a wicked grin.
“Oh, god! The horror!” Yuffie exclaimed in mock revulsion. She threw a hand dramatically to her forehead and pretended to swoon.
The Highwind touched down just outside of Cosmo Canyon, the propellers still spinning as its owner raced out through the cargo bay, his established protector on his heels.
Kyle had insisted that he was going to come with Cid and wouldn’t take no for an answer. The amethyst-eyed man had simply grabbed his weapon, a two-handed axe and put his foot down.
So the blond pilot was forced to allow his ex-lover to tag along.
They swiftly made their way through the many levels of Cosmo Canyon. The tiny learned town had grown in the six months since the destruction of Meteor, many more students flocking to the home of one of the wisest men on the planet in hopes to learn. Others were searching for alternate power sources and were using the vast resources afforded by the university-like city.
It had expanded outwards, more homes and shops being built along the ground even as the inhabitants also delved inwards, cutting more notches out of the rock and creating underground dwellings and businesses. It appeared Bugenhagen had benefited greatly from the collapse of ShinRa.
Archer and Cid headed straight for the sage’s home, which was located in the observatory at the very top of Cosmo Canyon. The pilot didn’t stop to talk to anyone who recognized him but did at least offer a head nod. It seemed that the hope that Reeve had expected to emerge was actually doing so.
Within a few minutes, the Captain was pounding on the small door to the elder and wiser man’s home. He tapped his feet impatiently as he heard the sound of scuffling inside before the door swung open, and Yuffie’s cheerful expression came into view.
“Old man!” she exclaimed, throwing herself forward and wrapped her arms around the blond’s neck. She embraced him tightly as he patted her back awkwardly. Archer snickered behind the two as Cid reddened slightly.
“Okay, brat, that’s enough,” the pilot growled softly as he sought to pry the ninja from around his body, but she was being difficult.
There was a chuckling from the doorway, and Cid looked up to see the red-haired demi-human leaning against the frame, regarding them with laughing golden eyes. He had his arms crossed over his chest as he watched Yuffie hug Cid much to the pilot’s distress.
“What’s so funny?” Cid snarled as he pulled at the slimmer girl’s arms. “Yuffie let go, dammit. I saw you two weeks ago.”
“Come on, Yufs; let poor Cid go. I don’t think he can breathe.” Nanaki snickered.
“I’m glad you came,” Yuffie said, disentangling herself from Cid before noticing the man standing behind him. Two seconds later and she was launching herself at Archer as well. “Archie!” Her habit for making a nickname for everybody was something that tended to ride on nerves until it was just accepted as not able to be changed. That was just Yuffie’s way, and her means of showing those she cared about how she felt.
Cid shook his head and pushed past the demi-human into the house and away from the clingy ninja. She had become more affectionate afterwards, one of the many ways of coping with the loss of one of her friends. Cid withdrew, Yuffie clung, Reeve turned hard-working, and … the others had their methods, as well.
“Captain Highwind, how nice it is to see you,” Bugenhagen commented as he floated in from the kitchen and noticed the slightly flustered blond.
“Still spry as ever, I see,” Cid noticed, running an errant hand through his loose scraggly blond hair in desperate need of a trim. Then again, he noticed as he scratched idly at his chin…. he also needed a shave too.
“Would you like some tea, Cid?” Nanaki questioned, coming further into the house as amusement still played across his features. “I think we have some of that chamomile stuff you like.”
“Yeah, sure.” The pilot waved distractedly. The demi-human shrugged and disappeared into the kitchen moments before Archer and Yuffie entered the house as well, the ninja moving to join him.
Bugenhagen gestured that the two visiting men should take a seat as he himself reclined in a soft but straight backed chair. The front room to his house was very comforting and homey with the small fire crackling in the hearth and many tapestries decorating the walls. There was also the feeling of centuries of knowledge pulsating to an ancient beat in the very air of the home, probably stemming from the many bookcases scattered here and there.
“How is Highwind Enterprises?” the old sage questioned, lowering his steady gaze onto the disheveled blond in front of him. The low lighting of the room had the undesired effect of making Cid look even more pale and sickly than before and highlighting the shadows beneath his eyes. The pilot seemed immeasurably tired and worn… as if he had just given up.
As the blond relaxed in the couch, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a battered pack of cigarette’s, immediately shaking one out and lighting it up.
It was Kyle who took it upon himself to answer the grandfather’s question. “Doing very well. Reeve sends us all transporting jobs that he can come across, and many clients know exactly who to call.”
Bugenhagen nodded, his sensitive ears picking up the sound of giggling from the kitchen. He hoped tea was at least getting made with all the playing around his two younger charges were delving in. The thought of their happiness warmed his heart, however. “With all the rebuilding being done, it wouldn’t surprise me if you were quite profitable for some time now.”
“Tea’s ready!” the ninja boasted, interrupting their talk as she marched into the room with a small silver tray balanced in her nimble hands. Five ceramic cups, a small pot and two small jars rattled noisily on the metal platter. The smell of steeped chamomile filled the room and settled in their noses, instantly filling them with a small measure of peace. Nanaki came in after Yuffie, shaking his head at the girl’s silliness.
“Bout damn time,” Cid cursed in a friendly tone that wasn’t the least bit angry. “I thought you were going to take all day.”
“Which reminds me,” Nanaki interjected as he crossed his legs and sat on the floor, content to sit next to his grandfather. “How are Shera and Rude?”
Cid waved his hand dismissively as he picked up a cup filled with the steaming liquid and sipped at it experimentally. It was strong… just the way he liked it. “They are fine. I gave them the house in Rocket Town, you know, because I no longer needed it…” His voice faltered for just a moment as a dark shadow passed over his features. “She’s pregnant with their first child,” he finished quietly. Nanaki and Archer exchanged glances, which the blond missed. He had disappeared within his mind again.
“Aw, I’ll bet she’ll have pretty babies,” Yuffie cooed as she dumped enormous spoonfuls of sugar into her tea.
“Would you like a little tea with your sugar?” the demi-human questioned teasingly as he raised an eyebrow.
“I can’t help it, if Cid likes to drink it strong,” the ninja replied indignantly. “Besides, you put milk in yours.” She said the last with a shudder, as if she couldn’t imagine the idea of someone putting milk into their tea.
The pilot cleared his throat noisily, interrupting their little argument. “Wasn’t there a reason that you called me here?”
The room went silent as everyone except Cid regarded each other in stony silence. Nanaki nodded silently as he set his cup down on the table and moved towards a small chest located next to the chair that Yuffie was sitting on. He talked as he opened it and removed an item wrapped in fabric.
“It washed up on the western shore. We searched the beaches extensively for the next week or so but couldn’t find anything else,” Nanaki said quietly as he laid the item down in front of Cid.
The pilot regarded him strangely as he reached forward to take the slightly heavy item in his hand. “What is it?” he asked while he worked to unwrap the mysterious object. No one answered.
Then his breath caught in his throat as the last covering fell away. It gleamed in the gentle orange light of the fire and artificial light, every inch polished as if it had been removed yesterday. It was a golden claw; an artificial limb for those without, designed to be the hand from fingertip to forearm. Cid knew it on sight. It was Vincent’s. He reached out with a shaking finger to touch the metal, calloused skin tracing over smooth gold.
“When we last saw him, he was still in Chaos form,” explained Nanaki slowly. “This means he had to have reverted back at some point.”
“He could still be alive,” Yuffie added in, displaying an unusual amount of calm and tact, as if her reactions from earlier had all been an act.
Cid took in the general unrusted appearance of the claw and how it seemed to be in almost perfect condition. It must have been cleaned because the pilot distinctly remembered it being covered in blood… the crimson liquid seeping into the joints and staining the golden metal. He shook his head to clear away the memory as he looked up into the expectant faces of his friends.
His eyes narrowed. “How long have you had it?”
Instantly, all four began to shift uncomfortably, even the normally unshakable Bugenhagen. They cast their eyes on the ground as if unable to meet his gaze. Cid could feel the beginnings of anger beginning to coil in his gut and his hand tightened slightly into a fist.
“We thought it best that we wait before you we told you,” Yuffie began in a small voice when she noticed no one else offering up a word.
The pilot gritted his teeth together. “How fucking long?” he repeated.
“Five and a half months,” answered Nanaki quietly, almost mumbling his words. Cid could scarcely hear him, a tightening in his chest beginning to take hold.
“What!” exclaimed the pilot, standing to his feet as the claw fell to the floor clattering loudly. “Five months! Five fucking months! I could have found him by now!” The words dully registered in his mind. That was only two weeks after the entire incident had occurred. If he had known then… Vincent could have been in his arms a lot sooner.
“Hey!” the ninja yelled getting to her feet. “Don’t yell at us. We’re just the messengers. Reeve suggested-”
“Reeve!” exclaimed Cid turning his angry glare onto the ninja. “He is not here right now. He’s not your damn god or your fuckin’ master. You could have told me.”
“We thought it wiser,” Bugenhagen interrupted softly, his voice cutting through the tension as easily as one would with something solid. “That you have time to grieve before you saw the proof.”
“Two damn weeks of being missing and his claw shows up!” argued Cid in return, unfazed by the elder man’s calm exterior. “Didn’t it strike you that he could still be alive?”
“We combed the beaches, up and down the coast stretching from the Nibelheim mountains to the Gongagan mountains for a week straight. We never found him!” insisted Nanaki.
“I can’t fucking believe this!” demanded Cid, slamming his fist down on the table. The crockery rattled with the force of his blow. “You have all given up on him!”
“Cid,” Archer murmured softly, laying a restraining arm on his friend’s shoulder. “You need to calm down.”
“I don’t need to do anything,” the pilot hissed, shrugging off his ex-lover’s touch. “I am tired of everybody deciding for me what I have to do. None of you know what I lost…. especially not Mr. President!” He reached down and snatched up the claw, a feeling of nostalgia running through his body.
“Reeve only did what he thought was right,” the elderly man said. “You haven’t been yourself lately, Captain Highwind.”
Cid laughed, but it was hollow. “I am no one’s Captain… I am not even Cid. Without him, I am nothing,” he spat before storming towards the door. “Mr. Tuesti and I are going to have a little face to face talk!” he snarled before throwing open the door and stalking out.
“Oh, my,” Bugenhagen commented, shaking his head slightly. “That did not go very well at all.”
“I am sorry, honored grandfather, about him. I must go and make sure he doesn’t try and pilot the Highwind on his own in this state,” Kyle said apologetically before disappearing after the rapidly disappearing Cid.
Nanaki and Yuffie exchanged glances.
“You two had better go, as well.” Bugenhagen sighed. “Something tells me that the pilot is in a particularly violent mood right now.”
“At least he’s reacting in some way,” Yuffie mumbled. “For awhile I thought he was gone forever. He wasn’t the Captain Highwind that we all knew and tolerated.”
Nanaki nodded in agreement as he disappeared into a side room and emerged seconds later with his claw and Yuffie’s conformer. He tossed the weapon to the ninja, who easily caught it.
“I will be back soon, Grandfather,” Nanaki promised.
“You had better,” Bugenhagen laughed, shaking his finger at the lion wolf. “I’ve had yet to teach you about Economics.”
“I’d better not miss it then,” the demi-human commented, while Yuffie stuck her tongue out in disgust.
“Bye, Bugey,” she chimed as she rushed out the door, flashing him one of her winning smiles.
“Goodbye, Grandfather,” said the red-head as he too followed the ninja out the door. Bugenhagen shook his head at the way that fate had wrought its hand and simply closed the door behind his newest charges.
“Cid! Dammit! Calm down!” Archer exclaimed exasperated as he struggled to catch up to the stalking pilot, who had nearly reached the cargo bay.
He was distinctly ignored.
“Highwind!” called out the amethyst-eyed man again as he stumbled over a rock but just managed to grasp a hold of the pilot’s t-shirt. Cid ground to a halt and swung around, pushing Archer violently backwards with the palm of his hand. The dark-headed man stumbled but did not fall, looking up with surprise at his friend.
“Leave me alone,” the blond hissed angrily. He was furious with his friends… all of them. He didn’t need their protection or their pity… nor did he need them deciding what he could and couldn’t handle. He was beginning to consider them a hindrance, and Kyle was at the top of the list… directly below Mr. ShinRa himself, Reeve.
“I don’t need or want your damn compassion,” Cid said in a cold voice.
He turned away from his ex-lover and stormed into the cargo bay. He flipped the switch to bring up the hatch for the bay, determined to leave Archer behind on the ground.
Lights flashed even as a small beeping began to sound, alerting those present that it was being upraised so that no one would be hurt. Archer hurled himself inside even as Nanaki and Yuffie landed beside him delicately, having run all the way from Bugenhagen’s house.
“He’s a bit mad, isn’t he?” Yuffie questioned, breathing heavily.
“You think?” Kyle declared with a roll of his eyes.
“He is not as mad at us as you think,” Nanaki mumbled, pushing himself up to a sitting position as he scanned the cargo bay. It was deserted. Cid had already made his way to the bridge.
They heard the sounds of the engines gearing to life and felt the familiar gut-clenching drop as the Highwind rose into the air.
“You’re right,” Kyle agreed grimly. He shook his head sadly. “Cid is far more pissed at Reeve. I told him that Cid would only be mad, but Reeve was certain it was the best. He should have known his temper…”
Yuffie rose to her feet and checked herself over for injuries, glad that she didn’t find any. “We just have to try and calm him down before he gets to Midgar otherwise he’ll say or do something he regrets.”
“Easier said than done,” the demi-human snorted.
“What other choice do we have?” Kyle shrugged. “If only Vincent hadn’t of died…”
“He’s not dead!” Yuffie denied loudly. “And I better not catch you saying that around Cid either.”
The older man held up his hands in defense. “Sorry. But you have to admit… it’s been six months.”
“Come on,” interrupted Nanaki before the ninja got too worked up, and they had two angry people rather than one. “We have to go see what Cid is doing.”
Yuffie glared at Archer before following the demi-human out of the cargo bay. The amethyst-eyed man sighed and shrugged his shoulders dramatically. It was time to try and calm down an irate, cursing pilot.