nagia: (ffvii; vincent; ravenous teeth that have)
YOUR CHILDREN DESERVE LEXCORP JETPACKS ([personal profile] nagia) wrote in [community profile] terzarima2009-09-27 08:15 pm

[Kindom Hearts] [Ensemble] [Rated T] Burnt Offerings: Chapter 9 (9/9)

Title: Burnt Offerings
Fandom/Pairing: Kindgom Hearts; Vincent/Yuffie
Rating: ESRB Rating of M for Mature < violence, plot complexity >
Summary: True heroes don't let petty things like death stop them... and a hero's memories more often return in nightmares than in sweet dreams. [Reincarnation fic.]
Notes: Welcome to the final chapter. It's been a fun ride.

Chapter Nine: Leaving Tartarus

Radiant Garden: Landing Point

Home was home was home was home; the sun was going down over both Ansem's castle and Maleficent's, the sky was that vivid pink-purple of dusk fading into night. Stars just barely visible glittered. It was like a great big Welcome home, Yuffie sign made with really shiny paint.

She had always liked stars.

Rikku laughed and danced in her teeny form, feet lighter in the air than a butterfly's. Her wings shed glitter.

Yuffie closed her fingers around the Summon Charm. She could feel its occupant. The rough scales, the slippery-smooth feeling of snakeskin under her hands, the river's furious thunder. The ocean's push-pull heartbeat.

No way was she giving this thing over to Sora. It had come to her for a reason. Leviathan was hers.

Behind her, Vincent stopped moving; she could hear the metal shoes come to a rest on the cobblestones. Like her, he seemed captivated by the view of Radiant Garden.

"Home sweet home," she said. Behind her, Vincent went stiff as a board. He did that a lot; she'd come to figure out he was doing it by the sound his cloak made.

"Not yet," he murmured. "Perhaps, though…"

Rikku did another loop-de-loop, tugged a strand of Yuffie's hair, and then backed away in the air.

"We're home, we're home! I'm gonna go tell Yunie and Paine!" A Crazy-Ivan midair flip, a twirl and a beautiful balletic swandive, and Rikku tossed back, amidst the fairy glitter, "And don't forget! You have to help us look for our treasure!"

Yuffie swung out a hand, gusting air toward Rikku. The fairy adjusted and laughed, but then began to hover. "What's wrong, Auron?"

The ninja turned to look toward the mountain in red, but his head had dipped beneath that high collar and he'd found a pair of sunglasses, which were riding low on his eyes. Whatever clue Rikku had used to determine that Auron was somehow upset, Yuffie wasn't picking it up.

"Yunie," Auron said, his voice faintly distant. "Yuna, daughter of Braska?"

"Something like that!" Rikku did a twirl again, treating the air as if it were a solid surface and somehow managing a cartwheel. "Her name's Yuna, but I call her Yunie."

"I should have known," Auron murmured, and Vincent made a soft noise.

Yuffie rolled her eyes. Men in large amounts of red were all the same, it seemed. Especially if they wore long coats and kept high collars. She skipped-hopped-somersaulted forwards, toward the figure in black and white that she recognized. She knew Leon's graceful, prideful, lordly, leonine stride when she saw it; she'd have known it with her eyes closed and her nose pinched shut.

Squall stopped short when he saw her. He watched her for a few moments, one hand at his side clenching into a fist, before he cocked a hip and settled his twitching hand on his pelvis, adjusting automatically for the weight of the gunblade at the small of his back. "You're back."

"Way to go, Squally Polly," Yuffie remarked archly. "Remind me to buy you some extra fancy conditioner for that one."

His voice, wry and just barely nasal, turned even more wry, almost caustic. "It's Leon."

"Yeah, but it uses like six kinds of shampoo."

He rolled his eyes at her, she rolled her eyes right back, and apparently the sun ate the moon and the universe exploded in a shower of cheese, because there, right there, in the middle of the square and in front of the entire town, Squall Leonhart showed affection. He reached out, playfully ruffling the hair on the top of her head the way an older brother might, gently, gently pushing at her with callused fingers encased in black leather.

Yuffie caught his arm at the wrist, kept it stationary, ducked away, still holding the arm. "You missed me!"

Squall didn't answer. Even teasing her, he'd been stiff like an angry alley cat, and now he was looking directly behind her. At Vincent and Auron. She squinted against the sunlight and noticed that his eyes were narrowed.

Any minute now, he'd be reaching for his gunblade and stretching out his other arm to cast Blizzaga.

"Aw, c'mon, Squall. Play nice," she said, reaching behind herself for the Four-Point.

It wasn't like she was going to attack Squall. But she'd at least defend Vincent if Squall decided to play brain-boom with Blizzaga. After all, there was nothing quite like a Thundaga spell for a showy mid-air magic counter. There'd be lightning bolts all over the block and ice shards exploding in the air. Glittering, catching the sun. There would be rainbows. Yuffie almost informed Squall of this, that their magic would make sparkles and rainbows, see now don't you want to just play nice, but thought better of it. Squall had no problem saying "no."

Squall shot Vincent and Auron a look of something that might have been disgust, might have been anger. He shrugged one shoulder in an elegantly angry rolling motion, then turned away with a mutter. "Let's just get them to Merlin's."

Radiant Garden: Merlin's House

Yuffie paced--though it probably didn't look like pacing--in Merlin's kitchen, anxiously watching the kettle Merlin had hung over his fire. If she could just watch the steam come out of the kettle, she might win that bet she and Squall had made years and years ago, when they were children. Only she never managed to see the kettle boil over. Something always happened to distract her.

"Would you stop that?" Squall snapped.

Yuffie turned, stuck her tongue out at Squall, and kept on pacing. Her gaze moved naturally to Vincent, who was leaning in one of the far corners of the room. He had positioned himself as far away from Squall as he could. As if he expected trouble. And the way he was rubbing at the underside of his gauntlet, as if he was getting ready to use it...

She stomped a foot and let a little Thunder spell flare out, static electricity crackling through the air and making her hair stand on end. "This is stupid! You're both being totally lame and retarded! Squall, Vincent hasn't acted like a threat yet. Vincent, Squall's not going to try to kill you!"

Squall looked up from his apparent Corner of Woe, Angst, and Lionliness. His eyes glimmered with something flat and strange and not the man she'd grown up with. "It's Leon," he insisted.

From his seat at Merlin's table, Auron snorted. "The girl is right. You're both being ridiculous."

Squall snorted right back, which Yuffie fought the urge to smack him in the back of the head for. Vincent, on the other hand, remained quiet. As if he was afraid to draw attention to himself.

It just didn't make any sense. Vincent had survived for years in the Underworld. What did an angsty twentysomething have on him? Admittedly, Squall clearly won the hair contest, and from the looks of Vincent's scary black skinsuit, probably the muscle bulk contest. But Vincent projected an aura of dangerousness, of deadliness. Something in the glint of his eyes, the dim red glow, made it clear that Vincent Valentine was not a man anybody wanted to tangle with. At least not lightly.

There came the sound of heavy footsteps and a spear swinging against the back of someone's legs from outside even as the kettle finally whistled. She whirled to face the fire, but the kettle was boiling out regular white steam. Frustrated that, once again, Merlin's kettle refused to do anything weird when she wanted to prove how magical it was, she snatched it off the fire and dumped water into the teapot. Since he and Cid were still practically living together, any teapot in the house was guaranteed to have tea leaves in it. Fresh tea leaves--and go figure how that worked.

The doorknob turned.

Yuffie looked around frantically for something with which to placate the spear-wielding Gummi expert who would walk through the door at any moment. Squall, leaning in a corner. Useless. Auron, sitting at the table. Not exactly a people person. Vincent, standing stock still in the corner farthest away from Squall. Guaranteed to piss Cid off. Unmade tea… no help at all.

Cid's rasping, gruff drawl preceded him into the room, along with the scent of cigarette smoke.

"Squall, what's this I hear about--" He stopped, stared at Yuffie. "Well, well, the brat's home!"

"I'm home," she agreed, wishing desperately that the tea was ready.

Cid grinned at her, thumbed his nose. "Good t'see you again, twerp."

She grinned back, rubbed the back of her head. "Good to see you too, old man."

Yuffie moved forward, half-instinctively, flinging herself into a hug. Cid caught her, his stocky arms closing around her. Ever since she was little, Cid had always given the best hugs. He still did.

He smelled of cigarette smoke, which he hadn't smelled of in years, since right after the Heartless ate Radiant Garden. And his shirt was damp with sweat.

"You've been smoking!" She accused, pushing him backward.

Cid arched an eyebrow at her, as if to ask her if she wanted to point out anything more obvious. He had a lit cigarette between his lips.

"Put that out right now! I'll tell Aerith!"

"The hell you will," he told her, but he stubbed it out on his boot anyway. He flicked the butt out the crack in Merlin's door, then closed the door and stepped in.

Over in his corner, Vincent shifted. He uncrossed his arms, swept that cloak back.

Yuffie winced. She'd hoped that Vincent would go at least two minutes without somehow calling Cid's attention to himself.

Cid squared himself in Vincent's direction, his hands resting on his hips. "You must be Vincent Valentine. Squall and Yuffie told me about you."

Vincent nodded exactly once. "I am."

Cid tilted his head first to one side, then to the other. He reached behind his ear, probably seeking a cigarette, and pulled out a pencil. Yuffie watched Cid's fingers smooth the wood over for a few seconds, as if he were thinking of snapping it.

Oh. No.

"They said you were less than helpful." Cid's tone was pointed.

Vincent spread his hands. His right hand looked helpless, but the left hand, the clawgauntlet, it just looked sharp, gleaming in the dim light. "I told them all I knew."

Cid nodded. "Cloud was never an easy kid," he said.

There were entire worlds of hurt in that sentence. It summed up everything they all hated and loved about Cloud. Just like everyone was a little in love with Aerith, because she was so very good that you couldn't do anything else, Cloud had been, briefly, that solid rock that they all needed. Squall had tried to take his place, had tried so hard, but he needed him too.

Vincent was quiet for a long time. Finally, he said, "I imagine so."

They stood there, staring at each other without saying anything, for several long moments.

When she'd had enough, Yuffie took a step forward, pointed to Auron. "So you've met Vincent Valentine. The big guy in red sitting at Merlin's tea table is Auron Mcgrumpmeister."

"Mcgrumpmeister, huh," Cid said. She could practically see his lips twitching into something like a crazy wry smile. He was clearly thinking, The twerp and her crazy made-up names.

Auron looked up, twitched his mouth in a wry, bitter smirk. "My preferred name," he said, voice completely dry.

Cid laughed, rocked back on his hips a little, head tossed back. He had a belly laugh, warm and dry and she'd missed it, she hadn't even known she'd missed it until she'd heard it. There had been a hole in her heart that was Cid-shaped, Squall-shaped, Aerith-shaped, home-shaped, and it meant more to her than stupid dreams and voices in her head and men she was strangely fascinated by.

Yes, there was still a ragged Cloud-shaped wound in her soul, because they all needed him, because they all missed him, because he was family, even if he didn't want to be, but there was no way she was leaving Radiant Garden to go looking for that idiot. Not without the rest of them. She found herself grinning at the thought of the entire Radiant Garden family stuffed into one airship looking for Cloud. It'd be worse than a sitcom!

And Squall just stood in his spot and looked pissed. She could see the bad mood gathering like dark stormclouds over his pretty hair. His scowl was thunderous, like an avalanche of anger right there between his eyebrows on the bridge of his nose. Entire universes of dissatisfaction and destructive energy crackled in the distinct downward curve of his gorgeous lips.

"Alright," Cid said after a while. "If these two don't mean any harm, they're welcome to stick around the Garden."

She hadn't thought it was possible, but Squall's aura of anger grew exponentially. Then it exploded outwards, all without him saying a word. The entire room seemed to go darker as he fixed them all with a stare that could have meant anything from Great, now we're all going to be killed in our beds, to Where is my other other ultimate gunblade, I think I need to fix this, to Why did you kill my puppy?

Because it was what annoying little sisters did, Yuffie let out a loud whoop of joy and did a few forward handsprings. She ended with a cartwheel and a sunny smile. "Thanks, Cid."

Squall's glower only intensified. He was now radiating enough broodiness for two Sephiroths and a Cloud on a bad day, and enough silently suffered, soul-wrenching anguish for Vincent when he was in full on You Cannot Understand My Suffering Doom Mode.

Cid thumbed his nose, flicked his eyes over to Squall, and said, "No problem."

He arched both his eyebrows in a very significant expression.

Translation: stop taunting him. Yuffie sighed but did her best to gain a measure of dignity and seriousness. Squall did his level best to lighten up, which mostly consisted of straightening out that tension wrinkle on the bridge of his nose and thinning his lips into a straight line.

Yuffie looked guiltily at him, then remembered.

"Aerith! Vincent, Auron, c'mon, if you're gonna live here you gotta know Aerith!"

Radiant Garden: Aerith's House

Aerith squealed happily when she opened the door. Yuffie flung herself into Aerith's arms while Rikku leapt off her shoulder and fluttered backward. Aerith enfolded her in a tight hug. It was the best moment ever, even better than Cid's cigarette hug, better than Squall showing some affection, better than puppies, kittens, fairies, or shiny things that didn't belong to her.

And it was over too soon, but that was okay because Tifa had showed up and now they were hugging, and that was almost as good.

"I'm glad you're back safe and sound," Tifa said, those fragilely strong doll-hands cupping Yuffie's cheek.

"How did it go?" Aerith asked.

Yuffie dug out the scale-shaped Summon Charm. Aerith's eyes widened. She reached out, touched it, closed her eyes.

"Leviathan," Aerith murmured. Her eyes fluttered open again and she smiled at someone who had somehow silently appeared behind Yuffie's left shoulder. Had Rikku fluttered back to them?

Yuffie turned to look. Nope. Not Rikku. It was Vincent. And for the first time since she'd met him, Vincent was wearing a tiny smile on his face. His expression was completely open, eyes full of something like relief or hope, some sort of light, and it was like a punch in the stomach. Hurt and jealousy ate at her insides, made it hard to smile.

She managed. "Vincent, this is Aerith Gainsborough and Tifa Lockhart. Tifa and Aerith, Vincent Valentine."

"Aeris, Tifa," he said, nodding his head exactly once.

Yuffie didn't know whether to shriek with laughter that he'd got her name wrong or to punch him in the stomach. "It's Aerith," she told him. "It's not like I was lisping."

"Aerith," he repeated, as if he were rolling the name around on his tongue. Like a queen tasting wine, she thought. It was a bitter thought that left a sick taste in her mouth.

Radiant Garden: Market Place

Vincent made his way to the strange, empty oucropping where the Wyrdhare had beamed them. It was as good an introduction to the Garden as any.

Auron was already there, waiting for him. Vincent allowed an eyebrow to arch and was only faintly surprise at Auron's nod in response.


"Hn," was Auron's response, followed by a quiet, "It'll do."

Vincent looked around at the gray cobblestone, at the spangle of stars in the sky, the broken towers on the horizon, the puffs of smoke from chimneys. This wasn't home, this would never be home, the Planet was gone and so was the AVALANCHE he had known.

But it was a start. And AVALANCHE was still alive, even if they were a tangle of familiar and unfamiliar. He had escaped the Underworld, had found them again, had found a place he could belong, maybe, if he wanted.

It was a start.

Been a long road to follow
Been there and gone tomorrow
Without saying goodbye to yesterday
Are the memories I hold still valid?

—Maaya Sakamoto, "Gravity"

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