Standard issue for fighters included a wide variety of items, everything from ethers to tents, grenades to toy soldiers.  But no where in the magically enhanced
item bag was anything to cook a Jumping with.  Sephiroth still had the item bag he’d carried with him on that Soldier mission so long ago, but he knew there
was nothing in there to help with his current dilemma.  It was beginning to look like his sword was the only option...

He’d picked the spot for camp based entirely on his random whim – the fact that he set camp after Vincent stumbled had nothing to do with it.  He didn’t care if
the man had trouble walking, he just felt like stopping for the day.

The fire materia worked as well on the snow as he’d thought it would, melting straight down to the rock beneath and drying that as well.  They had nothing to
burn aside from the extra tents in his item bag, but the materia was self-contained – it burned off magic points, not wood.  He placed it in the center of the
cleared area and weakened it to a small enough flame to cook over.

Skinning the Jumping was an utter fiasco since his long sword was definitely not made for such a precise task.  It made him wonder why he’d never thought to
put non-commissioned items in his bag for missions that involved camping out.  They had the tent, but none of the necessities.

Once he’d resigned himself to using his precious Masamune as a cooking skewer, Sephiroth sat down and glanced over at his captive.  

He’d released his control after starting the fire, confident that Vincent wouldn’t be running anywhere when he’d had so much trouble just walking straight.  Sure
enough, the man was seated against the cliff across from him and the tent.  

Vincent was sitting with one knee raised, an arm thrown across it, and his forehead resting on the arm.  From all appearances, he could have been sleeping.  
Only he was too far from the fire to be warm.  If he were sleeping, he’d have been shivering.  Which meant he was simply being stubborn again.

“You know,” Sephiroth called pleasantly, “if you get frostbite I’m just going to amputate the parts necessary and send you trotting on without them.”

“I know.”

The muttered response made him raise an eyebrow, curious that Vincent had replied to him, but also wondering if the man took his threat seriously.  “So why
are you moping over there instead of unthawing yourself?”

Vincent sighed and opened his eyes, his face still hidden in the crook of his arm.  He was tired, too tired to listen to Sephiroth taunt him.  And he really didn’t
know which would be worse – being cold and numb and sleepy, or being humiliated by admitting he couldn’t feel his feet well enough to walk.  

He sniffed and ducked his head deeper into the crook of his arm.  His clothing was cold and damp, and his arm felt the same.  But his face and breath were
warm and almost soothing.  It would be a gentle way out to simply fall asleep.

“Are you really that suicidal?” asked Sephiroth, disgust marring his face.  “It’s pathetic.”

“I told you I wouldn’t help you,” Vincent said quietly, without lifting his head.

“So freezing to death is better than joining me on a little trip?  It’s not like I’m making you carry me like some pack animal.  You’re more of...an honor guard to
keep me company.  You should be flattered that I invited you to come along.”

Vincent lifted his face, dull eyes seeking Sephiroth out.  “You must be joking.”

A quick grin flashed over his face, but Sephiroth shrugged.  “In part.  You don’t have to be flattered.  You don’t even have to cooperate.  But if you think that
sort of listless passive aggressive behavior is going to get you out of this, you’re mistaken.”

The man moved as if to duck his head again, and Sephiroth’s eyes narrowed.  “Do you really want me to manipulate you the entire time we’re together?”

“I don’t care.”

Sephiroth glared and shifted out of his easy seat.  He’d removed his armor earlier, so it was a simple thing to use it to prop his long sword over the fire.  That
settled, he went to the tent and began rummaging through his item bag.  A moment later he came up with two small stoppered flasks, a wad of greens, and a
shiny blue Skeeskee feather.

Vincent should have heard his approach, but the man gave no response to it.  Sephiroth crouched down in front of him, waiting for a single minute to give him
a chance to act on his own.  When it was apparent the man’s stubbornness was not going to fade, he reached out and caught a hand in that thick black hair.

He’d dozed off a bit during that short silence.  Vincent let out a startled sound when his head was jerked back, but it was muffled by something soft and moist.  
He choked, nearly gagging, and clawed at the hand Sephiroth placed over his mouth.

“Chew it,” Sephiroth ordered icily, “or you can damned well choke on it.”

The flavor was bitter and sweet at the same time, but oddly familiar.  Vincent wondered which type of greens it was, but didn’t have the opportunity to ask.  He
managed a feeble glare as he swallowed the stuff, gasping once Sephiroth uncovered his mouth.  He had enough time for a quick breath before the man
jerked his head back and emptied a bottle down his throat.

There was something perversely amusing about the way Vincent choked and stared at him with wildly confused and shocked eyes.  Sephiroth felt some of his
anger fade away, not enough to stop him, but enough to make him slow down so he didn’t suffocate his captive before dumping the second bottle down his
throat.

“You’d better swallow it,” he warned, “or I’ll give it to you mouth to mouth.”

If possible, those red eyes got even wider.  Sephiroth grinned in response.  Once the small bottle was empty, he released his hold in that hair and went for the
red ribbon wrapped over Vincent’s forehead.  He lifted it enough to slip the Skeeskee feather in between the band and the man’s flushed skin.  Then he sat
back with a satisfied smile.  He’d give him four minutes to react to that.

Vincent shivered, almost cringing back against the wall as he wiped a shaking hand over his mouth.  He could see the reason for giving him a reagan green –
if that was what it had been, but the liquid?  His eyes flicked down to the empty bottles and he caught his breath in disbelief.

Following the man’s gaze, Sephiroth smirked.  “I’ve never tried them myself, but I hear Hero’s Drinks are very useful for those who feel like wimps.  And since
you’re being very wimpy, it seemed appropriate.  I only had two bottles, though, so I had to add a little more emphasis to get your blood boiling.  You should be
in a nice berserker rage in a few more minutes.”

“Are you insane?” Vincent whispered hoarsely.

“Not anymore,” Sephiroth shrugged.  “Are you?”

Those red eyes flashed at him, a stark flush hitting Vincent’s pale face.  Sephiroth reacted by catching a hand in the man’s hair and jerking him to his feet.  A
growl sounded seconds before Vincent pulled free.

The man swung at him, an unbalanced attack at best, but with more spirit than Vincent had shown since he first found the man.  Sephiroth danced back with a
wide, taunting smile.  He jerked his head to the side, a fury-enhanced fist ghosting over his shoulder.  Then he ducked forward, catching Vincent around the
waist and lifting the man over his shoulder.

“I’ll kill you!”

Strong hands jerked on his hair, and Sephiroth grimaced in pain even as he grinned and carried his captive over to the tent.  “Yes, yes, that’s more like it.”

“Put me down!”

Sephiroth obeyed by dropping the struggling man on the blankets inside the tent.  But he didn’t give Vincent time to attack again.  He pushed the man down
and held him there while he cast a quick esuna to undo the status effect.  The reaction was instant.  Vincent went from snarling at him, to staring in panicked
shock.

“How did you...?”

“This,” Sephiroth admitted, holding the feather so Vincent could see it.  “Much easier than casting a spell that might not work with your resistance to magic.  
Items are harder to counter, especially when you’re drained already.”

And he had to have been severely drained, Vincent realized, if his ribbon hadn’t countered the fury effect.  Only why had Sephiroth bothered with it when he
could have simply manipulated him?

“It’s your feet,” Sephiroth commented, his hands moving to the clasps on Vincent’s boots.  “And you weren’t going to say anything.  I really will have to do
something to reprimand you for that.”

He glanced down to where Vincent was watching him warily.  The man didn’t offer any resistance when he removed those boots.

“How did you know?” Vincent asked, his face flushing with bitter embarrassment.

“When you attacked me I could see you weren’t standing properly,” Sephiroth smirked.  “Like you couldn’t feel where your feet were.  Let’s just hope they aren’
t too far gone or you’ll be walking on your ankles the rest of the way to Nibelheim.”

Vincent gulped, his eyes shifting to glance back to where Sephiroth had left his sword.  He didn’t even want to imagine.

“There isn’t much I can do about frostbite,” Sephiroth was saying, as he prodded those bluish-white feet.  “Warm them up and hope you feel like needles are
being stabbed into them.  You don’t feel this at all, do you?”

Sephiroth was prodding one of his toes back far enough to make Vincent pale and shake his head.  “No, but don’t break it!”

“Why not?” asked Sephiroth.  “You don’t care, right?”

Fear flashed in Vincent’s eyes, and Sephiroth gave him a hard look.  Then he got some more greens from his item bag and brought them over to the fire.  It
only took a few minutes to warm them – without burning them so much that they hardened.  When he returned, he pressed them around those icy feet and sat
beside them.  His expression was dead serious.

“Don’t inconvenience me,” he warned.  “It won’t make me let you go, but it will make me hurt you.  If you have a problem that is going to slow us down, tell me
before it becomes an issue.  Otherwise I’ll find creative ways to make you wish you had.”

And Vincent knew that he would.  Sephiroth wouldn’t kill him, but he was more than twisted enough to make him wish he were dead.  He wasn’t going to
cooperate, refused to even consider arriving at Nibelheim.  But he didn’t want to be tortured by Hojo’s son.

“Do you understand?” asked Sephiroth.

Vincent gave a slow nod, his eyes lowered to hide the sickness rising in his throat.  He felt like he was going to throw up, or cry, or something equally
disturbing.  “Yes.”

“Good,” Sephiroth said brightly.  “Now get out of those wet clothes and I’ll let you test our dinner.”

He turned to where he’d left the Jumping, so he missed seeing the blood rush from Vincent’s face, leaving him as white as his frozen feet.  The rabbit monster
looked to be cooked well enough, though his poor abused sword was now dirty with smoke and animal juices.  Sephiroth grimaced.

“This better not stain the blade,” he muttered.

There was no sound from the tent behind him, and Sephiroth turned with a frustrated frown.  Sure enough, Vincent was still sitting where he’d left him.  He
hadn’t even taken off his cloak.

“Are you going to make me manipulate you into doing it?” asked Sephiroth.  “If you are, then I’m going to have a regular show of you stripping, so I can make
sure you get it all.  If that’s how you want it, just say the word.”

He set his sword down again, so the meat would cool some before they ate it. Then he crossed back to stand at the mouth of the tent, leering down at
Vincent.  

“You should know,” he smirked, “that if I have to make you strip, I’ll probably make you do a lot more when you’re done.  You do have a pretty little mouth.”

Vincent gagged, bile threatening to choke him.

The reaction wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind.  Sephiroth’s eyebrow twitched.  Either Vincent couldn’t tell the difference between a threat and teasing, or
the man was better at annoying him than he’d thought.  He sniffed down at him and folded his arms over his chest.

“Be that way,” said Sephiroth.  “I’ll let you eat first, but you are going to dry your clothes out before I sleep.  There’s no way I’m curling up with a wet man
tonight, not in this climate.”

Curling up?  There was no way Vincent was going to-

The thought didn’t finish itself.  Hot stabbing pain cut it off halfway, drawing all of his attention down to his feet.  Vincent gasped and curved forward, bending
his legs and wrapping his hands around his waking flesh.  It felt as if his feet were on fire, or being skewered with so many needles he couldn’t distinguish one
from another.  He didn’t even hear Sephiroth’s sharp, almost happy laugh.

“And there are the needles,” Sephiroth said quietly, smirking as he turned back to the fire.

That painful awakening seemed to last forever.  Once it started to fade out and he was aware of his surrounding again, Vincent felt shaky and almost too weak
to sit up.  Just keeping quiet through that had worn the rest of the Hero’s Drink from his system.  But he wasn’t surprised.  Cloud had taken the stuff often
when the boy had fought in the Golden Saucer arena.  The effect only lasted long enough for a few attacks – minimum exertion at best.

Something tantalizing caught his nose, and Vincent lifted his head to find Sephiroth sitting at the mouth of the tent, a foot from him.

“You try it first,” said Sephiroth.  “Just in case.”

That didn’t sound encouraging, but Vincent accepted what looked like a very muscular chicken leg.  Overgrown rabid rabbit, his mind reminded him.  He stared
at the meat for a moment, waiting for the wary disgust to clench his stomach.  But it never came.  The meat smelled delicious and he was starving.

Sephiroth leaned back in surprise as Vincent tore into the leg with an enthusiasm that almost appalled him.  His mouth opened and closed twice before he
turned away to try some of the food himself.  It smelled good, and he was too hungry to wait and see if Vincent got sick after a few hours.  Besides which, he’d
never been one to watch someone else eat while he sat hungry.

They ate in an almost companionable silence, momentarily forgetting their animosity in favor of satisfying their stomachs.  What was left would be best taken
with them, as far as Sephiroth was concerned, but managing that proved to be a challenge.  He didn’t even have salt to dry it out with, and while it was cold
enough to keep it fresh for a day or so, he’d still need something to carry it in.  

He improvised with a strip from the tent, and a few more of the greens from his item bag – Sylkis this time.  The item bag was enhanced to keep the greens
fresh forever, so it would undoubtedly work the same for other food.  He’d never had to throw out old greens, after all.

Once the food was stored away, and his sword was cleaned well enough so it didn’t smell like rabbit meat, Sephiroth settled himself to his final task.  Stripping
his stubborn and skittish captive without making him puke in disgust.  He had an idea more innuendoes would bring the rabbit right back up and he really didn’t
want to see that.

Vincent knew what the man planned the moment Sephiroth took off his coat.  The only question in his mind was whether he’d be safer trying to fight him off, or
cooperating.  He came to a quick decision and stumbled out of the tent before Sephiroth could enter it and corner him.

“I’ll dry my clothes,” Vincent said sharply.  “I don’t need assistance.”

Sephiroth gave him a suspicious look, still crouched at the mouth of the tent.  “And you won’t do anything stupid like keeping your soaked pants on out of
modesty?  There are two blankets – wrapping in one of them won’t do any good if you’re still wearing wet clothes underneath.”

He grabbed one of the blankets and tossed it to Vincent, nodding when the man looked down at it.  “Take off everything that’s damp.  It should be dry by
morning.”

With that, Sephiroth climbed into the tent and kicked his boots so they rolled over to the fire materia – just close enough so they’d be warm when he got back
in them.  And he made it a point to lie down so Vincent wouldn’t freak out and waste half the night by gagging at him.  

He’d never get over that.  No one had ever gagged at him before.

To his credit, Vincent did just what he’d said he would.  He took off everything that was damp.  But he did it within the shelter of the blanket.  He wasn’t about to
do anything that would encourage Sephiroth in taking advantage of his manipulation materia.  The very idea made him nauseated.  

Once his clothing was spread out to dry, he found himself a nice spot close enough to stay warm himself, but far enough from the tent to feel safe.  It turned
out to be a wasted effort.

“You’re not sleeping out there,” Sephiroth remarked, not bothering to sit up.  “Get in here before I have to come out and get you.”

Vincent bristled and blushed at the same time, his teeth gritting tight enough to ache.  “I’m fine here.”

With a long sigh and a soft mutter about stubborn captives, Sephiroth sat up.  “Get in here right now.”

“There’s no need,” Vincent said back, his voice still tight.  “I’m warm enough right here.”

“Maybe,” Sephiroth snorted, “but I don’t care if you’re warm or not.  I’m cold.  There’s a reason these tents come with two blankets.  So get over here and
share.”

“You have extra tents,” Vincent gritted out.  “Get more blankets from them if you’re that cold.”

“Oh, you’re really asking for it,” Sephiroth marveled, shaking his head at the man.  “I told you not to inconvenience me.”

Sephiroth shoved off his blanket and Vincent flinched, abruptly aware that he had no clothing on under his own blanket and no where to run, especially with
bare feet.  The man stalked towards him and he jumped to his feet.  At least, he tried to jump.  He ended up wobbling and almost falling right onto the fire
materia’s cheerful blaze.

An arm hooked around his waist and once again he found himself hanging over Sephiroth’s shoulder.  Only this time he didn’t dare kick, not with the skirt-like
blanket he was wrapped in.

“You’re such a nuisance,” muttered Sephiroth.  “I don’t know if I’d rather beat you or rape you, or just shove your head in the snow till you pass out and stop
being a brat.”

Vincent was almost thrown into the tent, the landing enough to wind him.  He caught his breath and steeled himself for a struggle.  Unfortunately Sephiroth was
not only stronger, he was in a much better position being over him instead of lying on his back.

A tugging match on that blanket would have ended with it torn to shreds, and Sephiroth still wanted to take his frustration out on someone.  So instead of
fighting for it, he shoved his arm down over Vincent’s neck and gave the man something else to tug on.  That left him free to undo the cocoon Vincent had
made of his cover.  As soon as it was spread back, Sephiroth dove in.

Weight landed on Vincent’s chest, nearly knocking him over into the side of the tent, and he was too surprised to be embarrassed when Sephiroth stretched
out beside him and wrapped them both in the blanket.  He blinked bemused, and confused, eyes at the man, watching Sephiroth reach down and drag his own
blanket up to lie on top of the first one.  It wasn’t until that was done that Sephiroth actually looked at him.

“Now tell me this isn’t warmer,” Sephiroth sniffed.  “And don’t you dare gag at me.”

Vincent shifted to put more space between them, but didn’t get far between the blanket and Sephiroth’s arm.  He was jerked back over, his face pressed down
against the man’s neck.  He didn’t gag, but he did choke a little.

“Shut up and go to sleep,” said Sephiroth.  “And I’m warning you right now, if you try kneeing me in the groin, I’ll castrate you.”

With that warning, he tossed a leg over Vincent and ducked his face against thick black hair.  His captive didn’t make a sound, but he thought he was still
breathing.  Sephiroth’s brows lowered as he listened.  Then he sighed and loosened his hold on the man’s shoulders.

“Can you breathe?”

Vincent grimaced, his throat very dry, and his face feeling very hot.  “Do you have to...hold me like this?”

“It’s either that or tie you up,” Sephiroth admitted.  “Unless you want to roll over and have me at your back.  We can do it that way, if you want.”

A muffled choking sound answered him, and Sephiroth glared, his eyebrow twitching.  That was nearly as bad as the gagging.

“Just go to sleep,” he muttered.

- - -
TBC



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