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The problem with fate, it turns out, is that fate isn't exactly linear .

 

*

 

The second day out from Midgar, Barret almost gets his gun arm bitten off by an overeager monster wolf. He spends the rest of the morning tinkering with it, griping about how the materia slot's come loose and one of the barrels is slightly crooked, on account of the tooth lodged in it.

Eventually Biggs rolls his eyes and fixes it.

By evening the slot's loose and rattling again and Barret's just about managed to work the tooth out. He's surprised every time he looks down and sees the damage. He's not sure why.

 

*

 

On the third day one of Wedge's cats turns up in the truck's cabin, sleeping on the dashboard.

No one can agree how it got there. No one is even sure which cat it is, and Cloud and Barret absolutely do not bicker about this point of contention until Tifa rolls her eyes and parks herself between them.

Aerith feeds it tidbits of questionable monster jerky and pets it and tries to ignore the vague migraine-inducing feeling that she's seeing three overlapping cats at once.

 

*

 

Johnny spends an afternoon with them, trying to wheedle Cloud into letting him drive the motorcycle.

By collective unspoken agreement, no one ever mentions this.

 

*

 

In Kalm they get one room with three beds for Tifa and Aerith and Jessie.

"Something feels weird," Tifa says.

"Like you're trying to count and losing your place?" Jessie suggests, and there's a tug at the edge of her smile that suggests that yes, this is starting to creep her out, too.

They go downstairs and meet up with the others.

That night Aerith and Tifa exchange glances and give the extra bed to the cat.

 

*

 

Cloud wakes up in the early hours before dawn, restless and uneasy. Everyone else is asleep, and the only light is from Red's tail; Wedge is snoring.

He slings on his rifle before he ventures outside, just in case.

His night vision's not fantastic, but he still makes out a familiar shape tinkering with the motorcycle, and still hears a cheerful: "Couldn't sleep either, huh?"

Something hazes across his vision - green, and a stab of pain.

The street is empty. Kalm is quiet and still. It's easy enough to see with the moon as bright as it is, and he takes the time to check the truck and the motorcycle for signs of sabotage.

He goes back inside the inn and carefully leans his sword on the wall and tries, without much success, to will himself back to sleep.

At least no one's snoring.

 

*

 

"Do you really think we can change destiny?" Biggs asks.

Aerith scoops up the cat that is actually three cats before it can start clawing the truck's upholstery.

"We'll just have to believe we can," she says.

Biggs nods to himself and goes back to work on Barret's gun arm and wonders why the hell the materia slot is so loose.

He could have sworn he fixed it already.