Title: Mastered Materia
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Disclaimer: No ownership implied, no profit gained. This is a fanwork.
Summary: Two souls lost in different ways converge during an ice storm only to begin an odd and wonderful relationship.
Ever since the Meteor Crisis, as it soon became dubbed, the weather on the east continent was prone to taking sudden, violent shifts. It was an understood rule that any travelers should be in groups and should attempt to travel in a vehicle with both heating and cooling capabilities.
Still, Vincent Valentine traveled alone. He knew quite well that he could have easily gotten a ride from Cid or Shera, but he never asked. Instead he traveled on chocobo, the slowest possible method he could think of, besides walking. And he had walked the distance before, to Midgar, much to the dismay of those awaiting his arrival.
He never understood why he enjoyed his time alone. Common sense seemed to beg that he'd had more than enough time in his life to ponder in solitude. Perhaps, he thought, he was just so used to it that nothing could change his desire to be alone.
The weather took a sudden turn for the worse when he was still more than six hours from Midgar. At first, the sudden cold was tolerable. The bird beneath him was far from thrilled about it, but it kept moving anyway, perhaps just as anxious to arrive somewhere warm as its rider.
They'd made it perhaps another hour when the sky turned almost black and a variety of freezing rain, sleet and hail started pelting the pair. The chocobo started squawking and tossing its head, not wanting to keep going forward.
Vincent quickly dismounted and gave the bird a quick smack with his gun before trying to lead it onward. But before another fifteen minutes had passed, both seemed to realize that they weren't just going to walk out of the storm and back into the warm plains sun.
And if they stopped, they would most likely freeze to death. A layer of ice clung to both of them, which Vincent occasionally tried to knock off, as they wandered onward.
Over the last couple years, he'd passed bodies of travelers who'd gotten caught in similar storms. Each time, Vincent had stopped and buried them as properly as he could. He always made sure to take their identification cards into Midgar on his next visit, just in case any of the ShinRa employees who were still working on tallying the dead from the Meteor Crisis could find living relations.
For a quick moment, he wondered if anyone would bury him and carry his ID into the city to verify what his friends would have already feared.
Onward they went. Another hour passed and by then, Vincent was almost dragging the chocobo through the darkness. Sure, he was built resilient, but there was a limit to even that. This felt almost as cold and miserable as the north continent had. And both he and the other Mako-powered member of the party had succumbed to the elements after a few hours, despite being engineered otherwise.
Finally, Vincent sank to his knees, letting go of the reins he'd been clutching tightly with the metal of his left hand. The bird just looked at its master, confused as to why they'd stopped. Before anything else happened though, there was a lull in the storm. And in the two minutes without sleet pounding on the travelers, Vincent caught a slight trace of smoke in the wind.
He had always known there were woods near the usual route he took to Midgar, but he rarely ventured into them. There were still a few creatures roaming through them that he'd rather not run into while traveling alone. Still, the faint hint of smoke was coming from that direction. Obviously someone lived within the woods, and if for some strange reason luck was on his side, perhaps whomever chose to live so far away from humanity would be willing to take in a lone traveler and his chocobo until the storm passed.
It took another ten minutes to make it to the edge of the woods, during which the storm began raging again. For a moment Vincent pondered why he hadn't headed for the woods to begin with, but after a large ice-covered limb came crashing down from a nearby tree, he realized the woods might not have been any safer. There definitely was little shelter available.
He walked slowly onward towards where he hoped he'd find a house of some sort. At one point he contemplated leaving the chocobo behind, but the bird had made it so far that it would have been pointless to abandon it now. They were close. And they seemed to be on an actual path, which further cemented his resolve.
Not a minute later he came into a small clearing that contained a run down shack and little else. Still, light fell through the single window in the front of the place and a thin wisp of smoke trailed from a stone chimney. There was definitely someone home.
Forgetting his normal composure, Vincent whooped in elation and ran the distance to knock on the shack's door. The chocobo seemed to realize what had happened and was close behind its master, chirping quietly to itself.
But the last thing Vincent was expecting when the door swung open was exactly what he found. A rare pair of glowing Mako eyes were wide with surprise as they looked him over. And Vincent just stared, not so much looking at the shack's owner as what lay past him. A fire crackled in the fireplace and despite the exterior, the shack seemed rather homey.
"Come in," the man said slowly, not waiting for Vincent to get around to asking. "Have you been out in that hell for very long?"
Vincent just nodded before looking back to his bird.
"My chocobo...," he began, only to have the other man walk past him and take the reins.
"There's a stable behind the house. It should be enough to warm him up," the man replied as he led the bird off.
Without a second thought, Vincent stepped inside and shook himself off, ice and water falling at his feet. His hair had frozen into thick sections that crackled as he pulled his red cloak free from his body and hung it on a hook beside the door.
His host had walked out into the storm as though it were nothing. But then again, Vincent himself had been okay for a few minutes. And before another thought could pass through his head, Vincent was surprised that the other man had returned already and was bolting the door shut tightly.
"My two are both sitting with him. They'll take care of him," the man announced, shaking moisture from his own hair. It was dark, most likely black though the dim light from only one lantern and the fire made it difficult to tell.
"Thank you," Vincent replied before working on freeing his boots from his body. His claws weren't quite as nimble with the icy metal as he had hoped. Or perhaps the mechanics of his hand had started to seize from the chill. Either way, it took a few minutes longer than normal for him to remove his footwear.
The other man was just staring at him, watching him closely as he set his weapon aside and walked to sit as close to the fire as he could tolerate. The heat from the flames felt like it was biting straight through his body. And in a slightly sick way, it felt rather good. He felt like he was melting at the same time, and the water dripping from his hair and down over the rest of his soaked clothing only cemented the feeling.
Vincent had ignored his host for a few minutes, but wasn't worried about his safety. He'd had a decent amount of training as to how to read people, and the looks he'd gotten from the other man were all friendly and concerned. Besides, he'd gotten the same initial glance response from anyone else he'd met who had similar glowing eyes. There was an odd kinship there, they were both remnants of a time that had quickly become extinct.
"Here." Vincent turned to see the other man holding out a set of dry clothing and a wooly blanket. After taking them, the other man turned and walked away to rummage on the far end of the shack. It was really only one room, Vincent noticed. But if he had his choice, he'd probably live in similar fashion.
Without more than a moment's hesitation, Vincent stood and started pulling off his clothing. Once completely naked, he crouched back down near the flames, enjoying the warmth for a few minutes before finally putting on the outfit he'd been given. His host was definitely larger than him, though about the same height. Still, the clothing almost hung off his thin frame. He had the blanket wrapped around him as well by the time his host returned with a small plate of dried meat and some bread.
"Where are you headed?" he asked, crouching down beside Vincent.
"Midgar," Vincent replied, breaking off a small piece of bread.
Vincent held up a finger until he'd swallowed.
"But why? Even if you were SOLDIER, there are things out here besides the weather that would kill you in a heartbeat," the man said, sitting down on the floor, legs crossed in front of him.
"It is not of your concern," Vincent said, looking over at the other man. "And besides, you live here."
"Me? There's nothing for me in this world anymore."
"Then you shall let me stay until the storm passes?" It wasn't really a question. Vincent knew this man would never send him out into the storm that was howling louder than before.
"Sure. I haven't had a visitor in years." In the firelight, the man definitely had black hair. And he had blue eyes too, glowing blue like Cloud had.
"If you don't mind, I think I'd like to sleep." Vincent said, handing the now empty plate back to the other man.
"Go ahead. Take my bed if you'd like," he replied, pointing to a mattress on the floor in a corner. "I'm fine on the floor."
Vincent considered refusing, but from the look the other man was giving him, resistance wouldn't have been an effective tactic. At least the man stayed to the far side of the room while he settled in. After years of staying at inns and with friends, he could sleep almost anywhere. And the slightly lumpy mattress beneath him currently felt like heaven.
The first thing Vincent heard when he awoke was the sound of the storm still howling away outside. If it was any louder, he would have sworn it was inside. He could hear the fire still crackling too, and the soft breathing of... wait a second...
Sure enough, the other man had curled under the covers with him and, he realized as his host had an arm thrown over him as well. Vincent tapped his metal fingers on the mattress quickly before trying to remove himself from the bed.
"Sorry," a voice mumbled. "You were shivering."
"I was just trying to warm you up. Go on back to sleep, I'll tend to the fire," the man said before untangling himself from the blankets and stumbling over to the fire.
The lantern had been extinguished for the night, so the only thing lighting the shack was the fire. The ever-changing shadows danced around the man as he threw another couple logs into the flames.
"That should hold us until morning," he said as he looked back at Vincent. But Vincent, who had really meant to ask the man's name, was already in the haze that falls before sleep.
The next time Vincent opened his eyes, light was filtering though the front window and gently illuminating the dwelling. Without waking his host, who had thankfully curled into the blankets on the other side of the bed, he slipped across the room and pulled his clothes from where they'd dried near the fire. He didn't even bother with modesty as he quickly changed. Surely his host was still asleep anyway.
A final look out the window showed a much different world. Ice hung on every surface, though it seemed to be quickly melting. Most of it would likely be gone with the heat of the day. Hopefully, Vincent thought, his chocobo would be ready to move on as well.
The front door made little noise as Vincent left, only a slight click to know that it had latched again. Behind the house sat a small stable which housed three chocobos huddled so tightly together they might have been thought to be one. Vincent's saddlebags lay nearby, still a bit damp, but nothing inside could be ruined.
Pulling his disappointed bird free from the other two, Vincent led it out into the daylight and, as an afterthought, pulled a couple pieces of shimmering materia free from one of the packs. He rarely used the wide selection he had and surely if his host had no interest, it could be sold for a price much higher than what could be owed for the night.
Glancing at the sky, Vincent managed a faint smile. He'd be less than a day late reaching Midgar, if he hurried.
And surely, surely Cloud wouldn't mind waiting just a little bit.
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