It takes place five years after the events of Advent Children (seven years after Meteor). Sephiroth, Cloud, and many of the former member of AVALANCHE have already been feral for several years.
Okay, I've had a chance to rewrite significant chunks of this ficlet and take care of some nasty verb-tense issues ::wince:: (via a flashback). Hopefully it will read much better than the first time around. ^_^;;;
Title: Of Feral and Man
Beta: none, very rough draft
Fandom: FF7 AU (Feral-verse)
Pairing/Characters: OT4 (Aeris/Cloud/Zack/Sephiroth); Cid/Vincent; etc.
Warnings: implied xeno-sex all over
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII and all related prequels and sequels belong to Square-Enix.
Summary: In an escalating war between humans and the feral Cetra, who are the real bloodthirsty beasts?
Cross-posted to ffvii_yaoi and acyaoi
A/N 1: If readers want to learn more about the setup of the Feral-verse, check out the discussion of this particular OT4-plotbunny.
[ present, 7 years after Meteor ]
Tifa elbowed her way past the other exhausted fighters and headed for the tiny cave nook that served as her temporary quarters. Although cramped, at least it was private and at the moment, that was more important than size. Sagging down on the thin pallet, she stared down at the battered metal tray in her hands. The meager rations it held held no interest for her, so she put it aside to grow cold. Even after a week, just thinking about the brutal massacre at Cosmo Canyon was enough to destroy her appetite.
And gods, she didn't even want to think about Nanaki....
Five years had passed since the reemergence of the Cetra virus and the resulting rise of the ferals. Five long, hard years of fighting to protect humanity from not just one deadly inhuman enemy, but two.
On one side, Sephiroth and the other Cetra ferals. On the other side, Jenova and her spawn. Humanity, caught smack in the middle. And all three groups were battling for dominance of the Planet.
Tifa laughed bitterly to herself. No, that wasn't entirely accurate. Jenova was rapidly becoming a non-factor, although humanity couldn't take any credit for that achievement. Her almost inevitable defeat was all Sephiroth's doing.
But Tifa had no illusions that Sephiroth was fighting Jenova for the sake of humanity. The former Shinra general was simply concentrating on what he perceived as the more immediate threat. That made it obvious how Sephiroth and most of the Cetra ferals viewed humans, as little more than mindless two-legged cattle.
With Sephiroth's forces mainly occupied with exterminating Jenova, ferals and humans had settled into a tense protracted standoff. She understood why Reeve had argued strenuously for maintaining that standoff, instead of plunging into an outright war. If the ferals were engaged with battling Jenova, humanity would get some desperately needed breathing room and preparation time. Because there was no question that once Jenova was gone, Sephiroth and the Cetra ferals would turn their full attention to humanity.
But thanks to that fanatic Chauvan's overweening arrogance and ambition, it looked like the human forces would lose that critical chance to rest and regroup.
Chauvan had been -proud- of his vile plot, had boasted to her face about his scheme to utterly destroy Cosmo Canyon. And when she had furiously demanded why he would massacre a townful of harmless scholars and academics, he had given her a sickening smirk and told her the Canyon folk deserved their punishment for defying him and daring to harbor one of 'them'.
Apparently in Chauvan's twisted mind, the mere possession of fur and claws had been enough to brand Nanaki as an enemy of humanity, completely ignoring the fact that Nanaki and his friends in Cosmo Canyon had been working for the HUMAN side, helping with vital research on the Cetra virus and providing useful historical information about the ancient Cetra and their relationship with the new ferals.
She had frantically tried to warn Nanaki of the impeding attack, but had been days too late. By the time she and Yuffie had arrived on the scene, all they had found was bloody carnage. Every living creature inhabiting the Canyon, regardless of age and sex or species, had been brutally executed by Chauvan's men. And even more disturbing, there had been no trace of Nanaki.
Yuffie had been distraught, bordering on hysterical. Over the years, the ninja and Nanaki had grown extremely close, drawn together not only by the painful loss of mutual old friends, but innumerable hours of working together toward some sort of cure or solution for dealing not only Jenova, but also the Cetra virus.
Unfortunately, their more moderate stand toward Sephiroth and the ferals had been an increasing point of tension between them and Tifa, who with Barret, believed in dealing much more aggressively with the problem. Now Tifa bitterly regretted the distance that had grown between her and the other girl... woman, actually, since Yuffie was now in her twenties.
[ Cosmo Canyon, one week ago ]
As the two women searched frantically through the ruined town for Nanaki, the presence of well organized gangs of looters made Tifa realize the true motive for Chauvan's attack upon Cosmo Canyon -- pure, simple greed. The bastard clearly coveted not only of the Canyon's great library of knowledge, but also the stashes of materia and ancient artifacts accumulated by generations of researchers.
But Tifa pushed the problem of Chauvan aside for the moment. The most important thing was finding out what had happened to Nanaki, because she knew that her old friend would never willingly abandon the Canyon and its inhabitants.
Eventually, after hours of searching, they found Nanaki. Or rather, they found what was left of him. Chauvan's interrogators and pet scientists had been... very busy.
It was at that point that all hell broke loose. When Yuffie saw what Chauvan's men had done to Nanaki, how he had been hung on crude butcher hooks and his fur flayed off in long bloody strips, the ninja not only went berserk, but also feral on the spot.
Even as Tifa herself reeled from the shocking sight of Nanaki's mutilated body, Yuffie transformed into a huge winged serpent and immediately started to wreak havoc.
It had never crossed Tifa's mind that Yuffie might be infected by the Cetra virus. On the other hand, after the first wave of infections, the virus had become extremely hard to detect, leaving little if any trace of its presence. Some scientists theorized that it was simply a process of natural selection, a result of some communities killing anyone who appeared remotely ill or sick. But whatever the reasons, Yuffie had contracted the virus and it has waited, dormant, for the right trigger to awaken....
.... and Chauvan's men had just provided that trigger.
As the monster that had once been Yuffie Kisaragi flexed and arched its long serpentine body, intent on demolishing the building around them, Cloud arrived on the scene.
Somehow, in the midst of Yuffie's mad thrashing, Cloud managed to not only take in every detail of the horrific scene, but also fully understand its grim implications. Unfortunately the only human in the immediate area was Tifa herself, leaning up against a wall in a desperate attempt to avoid being crushed by falling rubble.
She would never forget the expression of wild rage on Cloud's face and suspected that it would haunt her nightmares forever.
Without warning, Cloud lashed out at her, talons moving in a golden blur. But just before they reached her, a silver-furred Sephiroth appeared out of nowhere and literally pounced on the blond.
"Go!" Sephiroth snarled at her, fangs bared and tail lashing, even as he pulled the fiercely struggling Cloud out of striking range. The fact that it took visible effort from -Sephiroth- showed just how enraged Cloud was at the moment... not that Tifa needed any additional evidence.
She obeyed Sephiroth's order and ran, dodging the falling rain of debris as the berserk Yuffie continued her mindless rampage.
Only when she reached the dubious safety of the open air did Tifa realize that she owed Sephiroth her life. But even as that unpleasant thought crossed her mind, a shadow passed over the ground. Looking up into the air, she saw, of all people, Aeris, seated on the back of a great dark-winged wolf.
Aeris raised her hand and a forest of whip-like vines erupted from the ground, entwining and trapping every human in Cosmo Canyon, including herself.
The winged wolf deftly avoided one of Yuffie's flailing coils and landed on the dusty ground only a few yards away from Tifa. Aeris slid gracefully off the wolf's back and walked past her former teammate with barely a look.
Without hesitation, Aeris entered the crumbling building containing Nanaki's body -- the very same building that Yuffie, in her berserk rage, was intent on destroying. However, it soon became clear that rampaging giant serpents and falling stone presented no threat to her as yet more vines formed a living shield around Aeris's body, while other plants wove around the remaining structure, stabilizing it.
In the meantime, the wolf had risen to stand on two feet. Zack moved to follow Aeris, but instead of ignoring Tifa, he paused in front of her. And as the vines confining Tifa abruptly relaxed, Zack, still sporting a wolf's ears and furry pelt, spoke two simple words.
And once again, she obeyed.
It was only hours later that Tifa learned that she had been the only human to leave Cosmo Canyon alive that day.
[ present ]
Sprawled in the grass, Zack kept a watchful eye on his blond mate even as he teased the chocobo chicks with lazy flicks of his brushy tail. Nearby, the mother hens were enjoying the sunshine with soft, appreciative kwehs.
Cloud hadn't said much of anything since the massacre at Cosmo Canyon, but everyone around him could sense his fury. Marlene, smart cub she was, had wisely kept Denzel out of Cloud's sight. Zack very much doubted that Cloud, even in his enraged state, would hurt the boy, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
At the moment, Cloud was steadily working his way through the flock, meticulously preening each and every bird, down to the newest chicks. Zack ruefully thought that these birds were going to be the best groomed flock on the Western continent by the time his mate's temper cooled down, at least to the point where Cloud wouldn't be tempted to rip apart humans on sight.
Everyone was upset by what happened to Cosmo Canyon, but Cloud felt especially angry and guilty -- angry because Red had been and still was his friend; guilty because he hadn't anticipated that humans would turn on their -own- allies in such a despicable way.
If he thought that it would make Cloud feel better, Zack would've gladly taken his mate out on a nice long human hunt. But although killing humans didn't particularly bother Cloud, the blond didn't like killing in the throes of bloodlust -- hence the vacation with the decidedly non-human-looking chocobos.
He knew that Cloud really wanted to be with Red, but Aeris, who had her own reasons to be mad, cranky, and pissed off, had chased Cloud off with storms of flower petals, stating that she could concentrate better without Cloud breathing down her neck.
Besides, the healing chamber was crowded enough with Yuffie, who, between her inexperience and her rampaging emotions, still had problems controlling her size and shape. Thirty feet of highly upset serpent was the best Yuffie could manage at the moment. She also tended to constrict uncontrollably when her emotions got the better of her, and several pulverized stone pillars served as testament to Yuffie's newfound strength.
It had taken Cid, in full-blown dragon-of-the-sky form, to haul the hysterically shrieking and kicking... er, writhing Yuffie out of the way long enough for Aeris to retrieve and examine Red. Naturally Cid had bitched and moaned noisily about being chewed on and bitten by the brat. Well, Zack was sure that Vincent would lick his mate's booboos all better.
Except for a brief visit to Wutai to re-establish her authority, Yuffie had not left her wounded mate's side. Now the mating was a decidedly interesting development. He had heard rumors that the two had become extremely close friends, understandable given the circumstances. But to the point of being mated, at least emotionally? That was a bit of surprise to him, although apparently not to Aeris. And when he accused her of eavesdropping on her old AVALANCHE teammates using her plants, Aeris had only grinned smugly at him.
Still, the signs were unmistakable. And now that Yuffie had made the change, there were no longer any pesky inter-species issues or human hangups to stand in the way. Still, Zack had to wonder how Reeve would feel about the new situation. He, Red, and Yuffie had formed an extremely tight-knit group, and while the trio certainly were deeply suspicious about the whole feral and Cetra virus thing, at least they were prepared to listen to reason, and perhaps even negotiate, an attitude which made them decidedly unpopular with the more fanatical pro-human groups.
Now out of the three, only Reeve was left. Would the Cosmo Canyon debacle nudge him over to Cloud's side, or would Reeve ally himself with the last of his old teammates from AVALANCHE, Tifa and Barret, and their more extremist agenda?
Zack was sure that the human fanatics would do their best to blame the massacre on the so-called bloodthirsty ferals, and/or try to brand Yuffie as a traitorous bitch to help explain away Wutai's defection to the feral side.
It was quite funny to see how -easily- Wutai switched from a relatively neutral (but favoring humans) to an unabashed feral territory. And all apparently on Yuffie's word. Of course, her transformation into a near-perfect representation of Wutai's ancestral guardian god certainly helped reinforce her authority with the Wutai people, feral and humans alike. But Zack somehow doubted that Yuffie's resemblance to Leviathan was merely a convenient coincidence. He'd have to ask Aeris about that.
Yuffie had given the anti-feral sympathizers on Wutai exactly one hour to leave her territory or die an extremely painful death. By venomous spit, no less. It had taken only thirty or forty corpses to show that Yuffie was not bluffing. There were undoubtedly some of the anti-feral people still lurking on Wutai, but Zack was pretty certain that Yuffie's ninja were busy seeking them out at this very moment. Wutai's ninjas tended to take their duty to their Lady -very- seriously.
So with a pissed off Cid ruling the skies and an even more pissed off Yuffie now ruling the seas, the pro-human forces were going to be in serious trouble. Not that being on land or going underground was any guarantee of safety.
Foxes didn't mind digging for juicy prey.
Really, when one thought about it, humans were really incredibly self-destructive morons. A stellar example of their foolishness was the way they first ostracized, then relentlessly persecuted the surviving SOLDIERs, and all because of the humans' fear of Jenova. In the end, humanity had driven away the only fighters who stood any sort of realistic chance against either Jenova's spawn or the ferals. Most of the SOLDIERs ended up working for the ferals, the only group willing to treat them as people instead of monsters or mere puppets. The fact that Aeris could help the SOLDIERs deal with the Jenova cells in their bodies certainly provided additional incentive for the SOLDIERs to join the feral side.
But perhaps the best example of stupidity bordering outright atrocity -- prior to the Cosmo Canyon massacre -- was the indiscriminate slaughter of huge numbers of innocent animals. It would've been more tolerable and understandable if the animals had been killed out of necessity, for food. But instead, the humans had killed the animals mostly out of pure fear, anger, and/or spite. Thousands of chocobos had died and the slaughter had not stopped until Cloud had put the remaining flocks under his personal protection.
Zack noticed that Cloud had finished one round of preening and was about to start on another. He rolled his shoulders to gently dislodge the chocobo chicks perching on him. As they tumbled off him, squawking indignantly, Zack rose to his feet and ambled over to his mate, who was in full-on gold chocobo mode and didn't seem inclined to shift into anything remotely human for the time being.
That didn't bother Zack at all, although he had been stepped upon a few times and the feathers had an annoying tendency to get caught in his teeth.
He sidled up to Cloud, reaching under his lover's right wing to scratch one of Cloud's favorite spots.
"Hey, no fair! What about my turn? I'm starting to feel left out." Zack ran his free hand through his spiky dark hair to illustrate the point.
Cloud blinked glowing blue eyes, then cocked his head thoughtfully as he eyed Zack, who wondered if his mate was in the mood for sex or play.
When Cloud abruptly nipped at one of Zack's furry wolf ears, Zack knew. In a blur he shifted to all fours, jumped up, snatched a feather out of Cloud's tail, landed, and started to run like hell.
Cloud generously gave his mate a five second headstart before giving chase.