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Battle Nerves

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It still felt strange without Cloud and Tifa.

She missed Spiky's inspirational leadership skills (not that the phrase 'mosey' was that inspirational, now that she thought about it) and being the only remaining girl in their group of grumpy old men, a robot and a lion-dog-thing was actually kinda depressing. She really hoped that he'd get better soon so they could come back to them.

But anyway, the absence of their glorious leader and his loyal companion explained why Yuffie was in Fort Condor as part of a team made up of herself, Cid and Vinnie. They'd just agreed to finance and fight in a battle against the Shinra to save some bird's egg, in exchange for the Huge Materia. Yuffie didn't actually know where her friends were right then, they had wandered off somewhere, helping the warriors in the Fort prepare for battle and leaving her to keep an eye on their approaching enemy.

As she stood on a box looking out of the narrow window of the observation room, Yuffie realised something. She was scared.

Not that Yuffie would ever in a million years admit that to the old man. She'd never hear the end of it. She would never admit it to Vince either, for other reasons she couldn't define but was very sure of, even though she knew he obviously wouldn't laugh at her.

She tried to distract herself by focusing on what would happen after the battle. They would get the Huge Materia! Huge Materia was bound to be even better than normal materia, sparklier and more powerful and probably worth an absolute fortune. She couldn't wait, even though Cid had graphically described where he would stick his spear if she so much as breathed on it, but that was totally unfair really as she just wanted to-

It was no good. Not even materia could distract her from her fear. She watched the line of soldiers as they slowly made their way up the mountain. She really was scared.

She wasn't afraid of fighting. After all, she was the Great Ninja Yuffie! But this wasn't one of their usual skirmishes. This was a proper, full-scale battle. It scared her because it reminded her so much of the night that Wutai fell to Shinra. The night that her mother had died. She could remember the fear, grief and anger so vividly that she could practically taste them and it made her faintly nauseous with nerves. It was the memory of that last battle, more than concern for the upcoming one, which made her shiver.

She tried to slow her breathing and calm down. It would do no-one any good if she started to freak out. This battle wasn't gonna end in the same way. She reached behind her to touch her Crystal Cross, and then ran her fingertips along her armour and materia, as if checking that they hadn't disappeared in the last five minutes. Then she took some more slow, deep breaths. She just needed to stay calm and everything would be okay, but that was much easier said than done.

She was brought out of her state of near-panic by the rhythmic scritching sound of metal against stone. She recognised that sound. She only knew one guy who thought that it was acceptable to be seen in public wearing pointy metal boots.

The noisy footsteps paused as Vincent entered the room. She didn't turn to greet him, her eyes remained fixed on the soldiers far below her. After a moment's hesitation, Vincent came to join her at the window. He was so freakishly tall that he didn't need to stand on the box to see out of the window properly, and in other circumstances it would have probably made Yuffie smile when she realised that they were more or less the same height for once, but she was far too full of nerves to find anything funny right then.

He didn't say anything to her, which wasn't unusual. He didn't touch her either, aside from where their shoulders brushed each other so lightly that it was probably accidental on his part. But just his presence soothed her nerves so much that her breathing went right back to normal. Her stomach unclenched itself and she stopped shaking. For some reason, Vincent being there made her feel as if everything was going to be alright. After a little while longer of his silent company, she found that she had regained most of her usual confidence. Let the Shinra come! She was totally ready for them. Well, as long as Vinnie was with her, anyway.

She faced him with a genuine smile, although she didn't thank him as thanking him would mean she would have to tell him that she had been scared in the first place. But now that she was feeling so much better, she was ready to make a joke about the battle. She was sure that Vincent would appreciate it, on some distant level.

For the first time ever, she was able to look him right in the eyes without craning her neck while she was talking to him, but the moment she met his gaze the bad joke died on her lips. There was a hint of empathy in Vincent's usually impassive red eyes, and she realised that he had known all along that she was afraid.

He had known the whole time! That was why he came over to stand with her. He hadn't said anything because he knew that she would never have accepted a vocal assurance of her fears, even if he had known what to say, which he probably didn't. He'd just kept her company until she felt better, offering her comfort in his own quiet way. She couldn't believe it. Since when had Vincent Valentine understood her so well?

As she considered it, still staring directly into his eyes, she was filled with shock, gratitude and a sudden rush of emotion that was strong but nameless. Strangely, it left her feeling nearly as nervous as she had been just moments before, but in a very different way. She opened her mouth, realising that she needed to say something rather than just stare at him like some sort of total moron, but she genuinely had no idea what would come out of her mouth.

Fortunately, she never had to find out. Cid burst into the room, waving his spear and yammering at them to get into battle positions. The part of her mind that wasn't wondering what the hell was going on noticed that Cid seemed to really be enjoying ordering people around. She made a mental note to make fun of him later.

Well, at least she wasn't scared anymore, so something good had come out of all that weirdness.

Vincent turned to the exit at the same moment she jumped down from the box, and part of his swirling cloak grazed her arm. Instantly, her cheeks turned the same colour. It had just hit her what that unknown emotion was, and she had absolutely no time to think about it. She really had to concentrate on fighting.

Seriously, could there be a worse time to realise that you had just fallen irrevocably in love with a morbidly-depressed vampire?

Yuffie didn't think so.