Empress & Concubine

BY : tinkerheck
Category: Final Fantasy VII > General
Dragon prints: 1535
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VII from the Final Fantasy Universe, or any of its forms or related media. I do not own these characters. I spent money to learn about this series, and I make no money in borrowing it.

 

++++++++ disclaimer ++++++++

I do not own Final Fantasy VII from the Final Fantasy Universe, or any of its forms or related media. I do not own these characters. I spent money to learn about this series, and I make no money in borrowing it.

++++++++ story notes ++++++++

Post DoC... Plot references from Advent, DoC, FFVII.

I made every attempt to remain faithful to FFVII canon as close as possible. However, I am certainly not an expert on the FFVII universe, and there will likely be times when I veer from canon due to ignorance or the advancement of the plot. Therefore, so as not to ruffle feathers, I shall now consider this fic an AU (although, personally, I do not think this an AU ­– You'll have to decide for yourself, and you'll have to read it to do that!) Do not bother criticizing me for getting canon wrong, you will be ignored.

The tags & warnings I selected cover the entire fic, from beginning to end. As such, you will not find all of these situations in every chapter, and some will not show up until late into this fic.

This fic contains Reffie, Yuffentine, and (briefly) Renyuffincent. (Yes, I probably made that last one up. Go ahead. Say it. You know you want to. It rolls off the tongue real sweet-like.)

There will be bad language. There will be violence & bloodshed. There will be squicky medical happenings. There will be character death. There will be lemony events.

For the most part, long sentences in italics are thoughts (human), and sentences in bold are for the Galian Beast.

I have no respect for overly-organized religions, or the zealots that follow them, because they have no respect for me. If I have written something that illustrates this perspective and it offends you, please simply stop reading this fic.

++++++++ chapter notes ++++++++

I fly beta-less. Please forgive the typos.

As always, thanks for reading!

 

+

Empress & Concubine

Chapter One

I Love You, Goodbye.

+

 

Now, Chaos.

Pain, indescribable even for the great and long-suffering Vincent Valentine, ripped through both mind and body as the pure form of Chaos, soul wrought of terra corrupt, was finally allowed to unfurl itself completely. The demon exploded out of his human host and rushed to meet Omega full on.

Less than a second before the agonized gunslinger felt the shockwave of their impact slam into his body, he called upon the Protomateria to do its job, sending both forces back into the Planet where they belonged and ending this miserable clusterfuck.

His job done, the blast threw him violently away from the epicenter of the massive burst where the two energies had collided. Vincent fully assumed he was going to die at that moment. He silently thanked Lucretia and Shelke for returning to him the one weapon he’d needed to succeed.

All of Gaia, saved, once again.

Vincent now lay on the cold ground, body slightly broken and unable to move. He stared up at the thick white mist, all that remained of their conflict, as the Protomateria put things to rights and the explosion dissipated into utter silence like so much steam.

This is rather anticlimactic, he thought bitterly. There weren’t even flames.

He knew he’d been hurled some distance from where the members of Avalanche and the others were watching. They wouldn’t hear his calls, so he did not bother yelling out. And by that point, the idea of crying for help held no appeal.

He felt at ease, despite his physical wounds. Chaos and the Protomateria were suddenly absent from his very existence, leaving him strangely calm, and feeling… different.

What had become of his other inhabitants, he did not know.

Bright stars came back into view as the pitch black sky cleared itself, and were it not for the piles of destroyed technology that lay all around him, it was as though Omega and Chaos had never come to blows.

+

Dear Vinnie,

It’s come to this: The Greatest Ninja Ever has resorted to pen & paper. Marlene’s girlie stationary with unicorns and moogles, no less. Gawd!

I hope you are all right. I refuse to believe otherwise. We still haven’t heard from you! I know you don’t like it when I call you on your phone. :) hahaprobablywhyidoitsothatstoobadhaha :) But you aren’t even responding to Shelke’s text. C’mon Vincent. Enough with the Emo.

Okay, so if you get this on or after Tuesday the 23rd (in the month of April, not May, just in case you are being EMO INCARNATE), I had to leave on Monday.

Wanna stay and wait for you. Can’t. Wutai stuff. Important.

I just wanted to tell you in person that I have totally fallen in love with your tragic, beautiful, sullen self.

Yeah. So, I’m gonna be unladylike now, and ask you some stuff in this note.

Do you want to go out with me? Or fool around? Or maybe both? Both would be better. Time is short, for reasons I can’t get into now. So, get back to me on this.

Nice ass-kicking of the cosmic forces, BTW. You SO rule.

Love (srsly),

Yuffie

+

“Tifa?”

The barmaid poked her head up from behind the counter.

“Yes?”

“What does, when written, s, r, s, l, y mean?”

She smiled. “Ah… Yuffie mentioned she was leaving you a note on the table next to your bed. That’s a textism for the word seriously.”

Vincent hid a very small smile behind the collar of his cloak.

“She really wanted to wait for you, Vincent. But her father got word to her last Monday about something, I don’t know what or why, and she left within the hour. You only missed her by a few days.”

“Hn.”

“Did she say why she had to go in her note? She didn’t even tell me,” Tifa muttered, sounding letdown.

There was a pause, then Vincent simply said, “No.”

Tifa was one of the few members of Avalanche that understood Vincent’s paragraph-impersonating mono-syllabic discussions, and there was no way in hell he was indulging her with any more information about that letter. That particular no meant ‘what was in her note is meant for my eyes only’. Being the wise woman she was, Tifa dropped it.

Vincent decided to leave 7th Heaven that day. It had been good for him, assuring himself that everyone involved was intact after such a monumental event like AlmostOmega (“Yuffie’s word,” Cloud had muttered). Even though he was slightly worried about Yuffie’s quick departure, and slightly more unhinged by her advances, at least Vincent knew that she, too, was safe.

But after only a few days rest, Reeve called and asked him to stop by the WRO and “would you be a sport and let us run some tests?”

Blood. Needles. Scientists.

Experiments…

Vincent decided that it was time to quietly get back on the road. He’d had enough of cold lab tables, and remembering cold lab tables.

Packing his things to leave that morning, he had folded Yuffie’s letter carefully and slipped it into the safety of the inside pocket on his leather shirt.

+

Of all the creatures that could have stayed within him after Chaos was released, Vincent Valentine was almost glad that the Galian Beast had been the one.

The Deepground conflict had ended nearly four years ago. When Chaos was released, an opening for the others had presented itself. It was short-lived, but Hellmasker jumped at the chance as soon as he realized it was before him. The ski-masked misanthrope had been in such a hurry to leave that he practically burned Chaos’ ass on the way out. Death Gigas, with his mind nearly as closed as his eyes, had been a little slow on the uptake but once he felt Hellmasker’s absence he was not far behind in taking his own freedom.

Vincent had no idea where the two of them went, or what form they were now in, or if they even were at all. All he knew is that they were gone, and for good.

But the Galian Beast … he had chosen to stay.

His reason was simple: when Vincent died, Galian would die along with him. Most of his physical enhancements were still intact, but Vincent himself was no longer immortal. That had left with Chaos.

It turned out that Galian was tired, and only at Vincent’s demise would he move on to whatever secrets the universe was holding for him. Until that time, he was content to reside as a tenant in a familiar human body, in a world that would not have understood or accepted him were he free to do the wandering with his own ‘demonic’ feet.

Chaos had been the strongest of the four, and he had maintained a tight hold over the others when Vincent had been his host. Vincent, in turn, had been under the impression that Chaos felt the need to control the others to keep him, as their host, safe. Turns out that wasn’t the case at all. Chaos, ripped from his proper environment and confined to Vincent’s, had huge control issues. Allowing Hellmasker, Death Gigas and Galian the opportunity to put their two cents in would have taken that control away from him.

Past transformations had proven that the Galian Beast was not physically capable of human speech. His race did have their own language, and spoken aloud it was akin to fingernails on a blackboard to a human’s ears. But with the freedom to speak his mind returned to Galian, Vincent soon learned that the creature understood human languages, and through thought alone he was able to express himself quite clearly. Poetically, even.

The first thing Galian had done after things settled down was to formally request that he no longer be referred to, incorrectly, as a ‘demon’. He was not normally so filled with rage and violence, despite his outward appearance. It was Chaos who had stirred the muck with Galian, enraging him before each transformation to the point where Vincent came to think of him as a wild beast; a fantastic defense mechanism, but nothing more.

While Vincent didn’t know much about what sort of entity Galian was, he learned Galian was definitely a he. Instead of succumbing to the bitterness of his own long and tragic life, Galian was a sympathetic, sentient being with a good sense of humor. Stuck with human foibles, he had learned to appreciate pleasant scenery and good books.

Contained within, and relaxed now without the iron fist of Chaos on his neck, Galian had also proven himself to be a good conversationalist. He didn’t hold back on agreeing or disagreeing with his host, and he never played the spoilt brat attention-monger like Chaos had. He was very observant not only of their surroundings, but of Vincent’s reactions to them.

Galian had a sarcastic sense of humor as well. It was much more defined than Vincent’s, and nearly as good as Yuffie Kisaragi’s. The beast was using it on him right then, giving the gunslinger a very hard time, which is why Vincent was almost glad he was still around.

“I don’t know why, but she stopped sending text messages and leaving voice mail on my phone all of a sudden. I was told just yesterday by one of my other comrades-“

Tifa Lockhart? The one with the large mammary glands and the gentle heart?

Vincent sighed. In his head, he muttered, Yes, Tifa. May I continue?

By all means.

“Just yesterday, Tifa told me Yuffie will be at the gathering. So she has not gone missing, there is no cause for alarm. But I do want to know why she stopped communicating all of a sudden.”

Did you respond to her missive?

No. I never do, he smirked, adding, because we’re at war.

Galian fell quiet.

“Well?”

He heard the creature sigh; a long, suffering noise.

“Galian?”

I would have – what do you call it – texted? I would have responded.

Now Vincent was silent. Traversing over a patch of jagged rocks, he jumped a small stream to gain passage though a large grassy meadow, continuing his brooding, solitary march to the 7th Heaven bar.

What was he supposed to do? He didn’t want to encourage any feelings in Yuffie that he simply could not reciprocate, and if he started a cell phone conversation with her, the flighty girl might think he was interested, well, that way, and then all sorts of wrong would rock his peaceful world.

I would have lost the battle. Not to mention my peace and quiet.

Protecting your peace and quiet. Right. And that’s why you still carry around, on your person I might add, that note that she left for you right after Deepground.

Leaping easily over an ancient stone barrier, he answered in his head.

She had to return to Wutai before I made it back to 7th Heaven. We just missed each other, and I did not get the chance to discuss its contents with her.

Nor have you ever, though you’ve had plenty of opportunities since I might add.

Vincent pursed his lips. Galian had a low tolerance for denial.

I keep her note with me for my own reasons.

Yes, never mind that those reasons might be the very same ones she had for leaving it for you in the first place–

Careful, Galian.

Of what? What will you do? Transform? Galian laughed in Vincent’s mind, tickling his brain with a rich, throaty sound. We both know you cannot do a thing to shut me up. Valentine… Princess Yuffie reminds you, in person or otherwise, once on your birthday and once on Wutai New Year’s that the offer in that letter still stands. That’s a delicious proposition twice a year. Your pride has you expecting it now, like a man on a pedestal! But you turn her down, even though you want her. This denial is grotesque.

You can shut up any time, really­–

Would you like to hear the horror story about how long I have been alone since my family was killed? There’s a moral in it about living in isolation that you might find interesting.

Vincent curled his lip. Galian was probably revealing more to him than he’d ever intended to with that one.

Yes, I am feeling generous today. I can see you and Miss Kisaragi falling in love and having massive amounts of fantastic sex if you’d only just get over yourself.

She’s a child!

No she isn’t. The fact that I catch you staring at her – especially certain parts of her – is proof of that. I’m right about how you feel.

“Whether she is attractive or not is not the point,” he yelled out loud.

Agreed. The point is that you find her attractive.

It wouldn’t be appropriate. And the rest of Avalanche would castrate me.

No, they wouldn’t. The big one – the one with the gun for an arm – he’s too caught up in his daughter’s coming of age issues to notice anything else. The one that plays with puppets doesn’t notice things like that. Speaking of castration, he’s the eunuch… The big red cat creature can already smell your desire, but he isn’t one to meddle in human love affairs. The one that uses crass language and smokes might be a problem… he’s actually quite protective of the Princess. But you could take him. Now, that Tifa girl, and her beau with the bad haircut – they already know you like her.

Vincent groaned.

They have eyes, Valentine.

“Oh, Titan’s teeth. Please just stop talking. Please?”

No. So you plan on confronting Yuffie and demanding an answer as to why she dare stop communicating with you, even though you have never had the decency to respond. How very gentlemanly of you. Are you also going to let the Princess know that you’d begun entertaining thoughts of getting into her tight little shorts during the Deepground event? Before she left you that note?

Shut up, Galian.

+

“So, I told just told Marlene that she can go into town with him to the arcade, but only to the arcade, and only if she is home by eight. That’s what I told her and that’s how it is.”

“Yeah, okay. She’s the most precocious twelve-year-old I have ever seen, Barret. Good luck holding her to that one, big guy,” Cid drawled, earning snickers from nearly everyone else at the table.

“Never mind that, smoke stack. What’re you planning to do next, Spikey?”

Barret’s question hung in the air as they all watched Cloud glance at Tifa, who glanced back. She looked down quickly, a blush creeping up her face.

“Ah, well. You see,” Cloud started. He looked over at Tifa, who gave him a small nod. “I’ll be sticking around here for a good while. Tifa’s gone and made me a dad.”

The resulting congratulatory noises coming from each member of Avalanche sitting at the huge table in 7th Heaven’s back kitchen was nearly deafening. Well, except for Vincent, who, while quiet, was definitely smiling behind that high red collar.

Yuffie grinned at Tifa, who picked up her orange juice again. “What about you, Yuffie?” she asked before taking a sip.

“Yeah ya brat, you ain’t said word one as of yet as to what you been up to,” Cid blustered, ruffling her long hair, which she’d decided to let grow for two years.

“Quit that, old man,” she muttered, smacking his hand away and smoothing her hair down.

In the years since Deepground and Omega, Avalanche had been free from calls to ‘save the Planet’. A time of relative peace had allowed them to gather together, at least once a year, to catch each other up and stay in touch. Their lives were far from perfect – there were still minor terrorist factions to contend with, as well as monsters and materia and power sources and poverty –

In other words, they still had work.

Reeve and the WRO had become a major force in cleaning up the Planet, and most of Avalanche were in his employ in one form or another. Shelke had become a permanent fixture at the WRO, first as a means of getting her mako doses. But she had proven a valuable member of Reeve’s more elite team in the company’s computer lab, so she took him up on his job offer, and got free room and board at WRO HQ on top of it.

Cid offered up the Shera as transport for the WRO, “hauling Catboy’s shit”, as he so eloquently put it.

Barret was still mining, but more often than not whatever he uncovered from Gaia was more valuable to either Reeve or Rufus Shinra as research material rather than energy alternatives, so he too made a decent living.

In the end it had turned out that Rufus Shinra had been the hidden benefactor behind the WRO’s takedown of Deepground. Recompense, he’d called it, but whatever it was it had amounted to good works for Rufus Shinra, so no one was complaining. It gave him a chance to re-build Gaia and put his father’s company on a better path. And, at the very least, the Turks still had work, too.

Deepground was the beginning of a beautiful, if not very odd, relationship. Shinra and the WRO had shook hands and melded efforts. Not corporations, but ambitions, projects. Missions.

Which meant that Reeve and Rufus were getting chummy, and members of Avalanche occasionally found themselves teamed up with Turks. It was weird.

Vincent Valentine checked up on Shelke every so often, and took the occasional job from Reeve as well, but for the most part he stuck to himself. If it had not been for Yuffie’s annoying phone messages, his contact with everyone else would have been less than minimal.

Yuffie Kisaragi… Well, her story was about to change.

“I got things going on, as a matter of fact, smoke house.”

She smiled at Cid strangely. She wasn’t acting like herself at this gathering, and everyone had noticed it.

“Like what?” Cloud’s clipped voice cut through the tension.

Yuffie smiled at his question and looked down, suddenly shy. Tifa frowned. Something was off with her girlfriend.

“Yuffie, you haven’t left any voicemail or text messages on my cell phone in over nine weeks. What’s going on?”

Vincent Valentine had finally chimed into the conversation. He had been considering not showing up for this year’s get together at all until Yuffie’s attentions had suddenly ceased. As he’d been discussing with Galian on the way there, he’d had every intention of cornering the ninja and demanding an explanation.

Over the years, Yuffie’s habit of calling Vincent’s cell phone and leaving funny, useless messages had become a standing joke amongst the members of Avalanche. The joke carried itself further, as Vincent’s response to Yuffie’s messages was always absolutely nothing. There was a private little war going on between the most outspoken member and the least talkative member of their group.

Whichever one of them stopped their routine first could be declared the loser, so when Yuffie appeared to suddenly stop communicating, Vincent tried to tell himself that it had been his victory. That lasted for about two minutes until his imagination took over, and Yuffie’s cell phone silence began to disturb him greatly, even though he would never admit that publically.

A small, perfectly monotone voice cut in. “Does it have anything to do with the Emperor’s failing health?”

Shelke. No couth that one. Yuffie had honestly grown to like the girl, but she frowned at her just then.

“How do you…?”

“I’m sorry for prying. Please believe me it was not intentional. While surfing the WRO network, I intercepted a scrambled email message sent to your cell phone from Wutai about two months ago. I was worried you were being sent a virus. By the time I finished decoding it, I realized just how personal it was, so I elected to ignore it.”

Yuffie looked down. The others fell silent and gave her the time she needed to tell them her story.

“It’s all right, Shelke. No harm done. And thanks for keepin’ a lid on it all this time.” Shelke offered her a small smile. Yuffie sighed heavily and continued. “Okay, here it is. Godo’s sick, yeah. Not dying just yet, but it’s inevitable. It’s his liver or kidneys or something. I can’t really bear to know the details. I went home right after I got that message, and I was… kinda preoccupied, so… That’s why no one’s heard from me for a while.” She looked down, lost in thought.

Vincent noted that she did not make that last statement personal, in any way, to him.

“Oh, Yuffie. I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head quickly at her friend. “Not now, Tifa. Later. We can cry later, okay? Godo made me promise not to cry. Not too much, anyway. And last week he demanded I come to our gathering, ‘cause he knows it means a lot to me. But I’m headed right back home again after this. I need to prepare for…” She fell silent for a bit. Nanaki moved to stand next to her chair and rubbed his side against her thigh comfortingly. She brushed her hand down his back, then weaved her small fingers into his mane, silently telling him stay by me.

“I’m… Gonna be in charge, guys. As Empress.”

Eyes bugged out and gasps abounded.

“Yer only a kid! A teenager. They can’t put all that on you!” Cid blustered. As usual, when things looked their worst, he was always the first one to make sure Yuffie was okay.

Yuffie smiled at the pilot. She really was going to miss how he U-turned from annoyed to protective with her so quickly. “The council isn’t doing anything to me, Cid. Not yet, anyway. This is a decision that Godo an’ me made together awhile back, when he first started getting sick. And incidentally,” she said, pursing her lips at the pilot, “I turned twenty-two last November. On my birthday, when you gave me a freaking stuffed pink chocobo, though I had asked you for a bottle of whiskey. Remember now?”

Barret gasped. “Twenty-two? No. Really? No. Ain’t you still like seventeen or something?”

Cloud blinked at him before stating matter-of-factly, “I pity Marlene.”

“Daddy never intended for me to take the reigns this soon, but…” she winced, looking back up at Tifa and the others. It was Vincent she did not make eye contact with, and it did not escape him. “There are no cousins. I’m the only living blood royal. If I don’t step up to the plate and take the throne, the Kisaragi line will come to an end. As much as I don’t wanna be Empress, I don’t wanna disappoint my ancestors, either. Not to mention Leviathan. As far as the timing goes…” She drifted off for a moment, frowning. Taking a deep breath, she continued. “Godo’s guidance will be invaluable to me. It’s sorta the best thing for me now, if I jump in the deep end while he still has time to teach me how to swim.”

Everyone was staring at her, speechless. She laughed.

“Looks like play time has finally ended for the greatest ninja ever, guys.”

“Play time?” Cloud asked, incredulous. “You were one of the Planet’s saviors, Yuffie.”

She laughed nervously. “Well, I just mean… You guys have always been on me for my immature behavior. My hyper personality, you know? Like I could never stop playin’ around. Truth is, I was just trying to pack as much living into my personal life as I could… cuz I knew it was doomed to end one day. And… I guess that day is finally here. At summer’s end, Godo will formally announce his abdication to me, and after that, I’ll be crowned Empress Kisaragi, Ruler of all Wutai.” Her voice was chirpy, though it was tinged with sadness, too. “Of course, you are all invited to the coronation. Black tie affair, by the way.”

The silence could be cut with a knife, until Cid finally broke it.

“Holy fucking shit.”

+

Yuffie balanced precariously on the top beam of the railing surrounding the back porch of the 7th Heaven bar. She had been all the way across it and back again, in the pitch black of night, just trying to see how many passes she could stack up before she lost her balance and would need to leap off and save her dignity as a ninja with a graceful landing.

Five… not bad. Not great, but–OH!

She corrected herself, but just barely. Not a sound was heard. If Cloud knew what she was doing, he’d fry her ass but good. She laughed, a quiet little huff.

He’d probably have a coronary, now that I’m weeks away from running my own empire. I can just hear him now – ‘For fuck’s sake, Kisaragi! What the hell are trying to do to me? Get me beheaded?’

That made her laugh out loud, which made her lose her balance.

“Oh, Cloud,” she snickered, arms flailing, “I couldn’t do that to your unborn kid-wo… woah! WOAH!!”

Still laughing, she managed just enough momentum to fling herself upwards into a mid-air somersault, intending to land with at least a little bit of grace onto the porch.

A shockwave registered itself through her body as her feet never made contact with wood slats. Instead, she found herself held securely, maybe even tightly, in the arms of one Vincent Valentine. Gasping, her hands went to his chest as she stared into his eyes.

“Wha… Oh! Um. Hi, Vincent. Heh,” she shrugged, embarrassed at being caught.

He glared at her a moment - just a tiny expression, but that was all Vincent ever needed to make most people run the other way. Most people, but not Yuffie. She had his body language completely down, much to his dismay.

He sighed, closing his eyes and releasing the breath he had been holding for what seemed like the last ten minutes.

“Yeesh, Vinnie! Were the hell’d you come from? Thin air?” she asked while he set her down gently onto her own legs. He didn’t let go of her waist until he was sure she was steady. Unnecessary, but that was Vincent. Yuffie’s stomach clenched a little at the feel of his hand while it slipped past her hip.

“I was out here, standing in the shadows, before you even started your circus routine. Yuffie, must you always be so reckless?”

“I only have a few weeks left of reckless left, Vinnie. Do not judge.” Her voice was tart. She straightened her top and pulled up her socks. Smiling a brilliant smile at him, she teased, “Must you always hide in the shadows?”

“Speaking of not judging things… I like the shadows. They don’t judge me.”

That got her attention. She straightened and looked him squarely in the eyes. “Since when have I ever judged you, Vincent Valentine?”

He leaned his elbows against the porch rail and looked out at the alley below. “You called me a Vam–”

“Oh, gawd! Let it go, already! I only did that once. You popped out of a coffin, remember?!” She laughed, standing next to him, careful to keep a good foot of personal space between them.

“You’ve called me it since that time.”

“I most certainly have not. The name just stuck, that’s all. And now everyone else uses it, not me. Just because I used it first people assume I say it all the time. Think about it. I don’t.”

Vincent smiled that imperceptible little smile, the one she knew so well. She was right. She hadn’t used the term once since that day. Not even when texting.

“See. I’m right… right?” Yuffie gloated in the dark.

“What were you saying about Cloud and Tifa’s baby just now?”

“You mean before my spectacular dismount?”

He swore he could hear her face looking smug.

“Yes, the one you failed to execute.”

“Only because you got in the way.”

“Of you breaking your neck.”

“We’ll never know now, will we?”

“Yuffie.”

“All right! I was imagining how Cloud woulda reacted if he’d caught me using his porch as a balance beam.”

“Badly. He would have reacted badly. And rightly so. You are more precious to the Planet now than ever.”

“Ah, yes,” she grinned, although the smile did not reach her eyes. “Now that I am to be a world leader, my life suddenly has value. It’s okay to think good of my bratty ass, right?” Cynicism dripped from her words, and Vincent could practically feel the temperature drop around her, despite the late July heat.

“I have no wish to get into a heated discussion with you.”

How about a heated pool?

Vincent closed his eyes and gripped the railing a bit tighter, trying to ignore Galian. The wood creaked slightly under the claw’s pressure.

“Is the puppy chiming in again?” Yuffie’s voice was instantly soft and sympathetic, and he looked down to find she had placed her hand on his gauntlet. She’d always been the one that was never afraid of him transforming, or even the beasts he had transformed into. Somehow, that had never made it easier for him to treat her as though she were just a comrade.

A non-committal ‘Hn’ was all he offered.

“You know, Vinnie… If Galian has an opinion about me, I’d love to hear–”

“Absolutely not.”

Bastard.

“Whatever,” she griped, removing her hand and looking away from him and up at the stars.

The silence stretched out between them until Galian couldn’t take it any longer.

Say something. Ask her about her father. About Wutai.

Vincent did not answer him, nor did he speak aloud.

All right, the creature sighed, clearly annoyed with his host. Ask her about the damn text messages then.

“I…”

Yuffie looked at Vincent, raising her eyebrows, waiting for him to continue. Nothing. She finally spoke.

“You what? Come on, Vincent,” she laughed. “I only got about a month left here.”

“I was worried when your texting stopped so abruptly.”

“Worried. Really? I figured you’d be thrilled that you won the war.”

“At first I enjoyed it.”

“Figured,” she drawled. “Good to know.”

“That didn’t last very long, though. I started imagining all sorts of trouble you may have gotten yourself into.” He looked at her pointedly, his voice dropping to nearly a whisper. “It was not pleasant for me.”

She nodded. For Vincent, those six little words were a tome’s worth of dialogue when it came to verbally revealing that he saw her as a bit more than a friend. However, Deepground had been a long time ago, and she was now convinced that was as much as she was ever going to get from him; verbally, emotionally and otherwise.

“Well… this time it was Godo that got himself into trouble.”

“Yes, and you have my sympathies. Perhaps if he were to let Reeve conduct–”

“Vincent. About the offer.”

He sighed deeply, looking down. “Yuffie…”

Time to move on. Here goes. She bit her lip.

Vincent tried to tell her, yet again, that is was impossible, improbable, and bad idea all around. “It’s not my birthday yet, but my answer is still n–”

“No. That’s right. No. As in, no, it does not still stand.” She spoke firmly. “I’m rescinding the invitation, as of this moment.”

Vincent stared at her mouth for a moment, completely at a loss for words.

Well. Didn’t expect that, did we?

Yuffie blinked. “Are you all right, Vinnie? You look like I just stole your favorite gun.”

Oh ho! I believe Miss Kisaragi just made a very accurate blow to your ego. It is a very large target, making aiming for it unnecessary, but her method was clever, and the gun thing just smacks of sexual imagery –

SHUT THE HELL UP GALIAN.

She shook her head, clearly seeing that an argument was taking place in his head. Sighing, she continued.

“I know it’s a big cliché, but it’s not you, it’s me, really. I’m afraid that ship has sailed.”

“Yuffie… you are young girl with your whole life in front of you.”

“Vincent. I’m a young woman who is about to be crowned Empress to her nation. The only thing left for us would be a tawdry one-nighter, and I’m afraid that was not what I had in mind. Not with you, anyway.”

‘Not with you?’ Hah. The little vixen.

He frowned.

“Look, hear me out. I figure I owe you at least an explanation after all this time. Godo will not last much longer, bless his heart. He can only protect me for so long. After he is gone I’ll be utterly alone in any face-off I get into with the council, except for the members that still support my line, and there ain’t too many of them left. They expect me to marry and produce an heir. If I can’t accomplish these things on my own, they will find a husband for me. And don’t go thinking I can get out of it, either. We are talking about centuries of court tradition. I may be the greatest ninja ever, but even I won’t be able to fight the council on this one. You heard what I said at dinner. I been packing as much living into my life as I could because it’s all about to be taken away from me. Bottom line is… I love you. I’m in love with you,” she said with a sincerity that even he couldn’t deny.

”I was hoping you might wanna see, just see, if you could feel that way too. I coulda sworn there were a few indicators now and then that you were at least game for tryin’ it out.”

He eyed her a long time before answering.

“And then what, Yuffie? Suppose I expose my heart to you. We fall in love, I have some pretense of a normal life, finally… then I just give it up to the demands of Wutai?”

She scoffed. “No, you idiot. You marry me before they sink their claws in! You look Wutai, and that’s good enough. I dunno if you are or not, but we can get that faked easy enough on paper to make you legally eligible.” She looked at him, but he didn’t respond. “The point is that they cannot force an arranged marriage on me if I’m already in a legally binding one. We stay together and live in the palace, happily ever after, making baby ninja gunslingers.”

Smart girl.

That was the idea.”

“And what if I don’t want to have children? What then?”

“Then we get ’em from somewhere else.”

He smiled, tiny and hidden, but she saw it all the same. “I meant, what if I don’t want to raise children?”

“Then we end it.”

He paused at the finality in her voice. It was an unnerving tone for Yuffie, and they – he had been hearing a good deal of that from her tonight. His next words were very carefully weighed before speaking them aloud.

“Apologies. That wasn’t an honest argument, because I do actually want to have children someday. But all I know how to do is fight and destroy things.”

“So?! You learn how to do more stuff,” she said, waving a hand around like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Yuffie… What if I don’t want to live in Wutai Palace, married to a royal, doing royal things?”

“Then we end it.” Again with the finality.

“You wouldn’t consider living elsewhere with your husband?”

“Are you asking me to, Vincent?”

I think she just tricked you, Valentine. No, wait… you did that to yourself.

“No. I was not making an offer.”

“Didn’t think so.” She bit the inside of her lip. “Vincent, I’m gonna be Empress, whether I like the idea or not. Whether you do or not. If I get together with someone, and then he decides he just can’t live in a palace, then we end it.”

He shook his head and looked away from her, ending the fantasized role-playing for the night.

“The whole idea… this idea that we ‘try each other out’… It still sounds forced, Yuffie. Not like a real romance.”

“We had time for a real romance. That’s what I’ve been offering your emo-ass for four years!” Her voice kicked up a notch in speed and volume, indicating anger was not far behind. “But that’s done now. I’m sorry that Godo’s sickness and my royal responsibilities are so fucking inconvenient to your romantic aesthetic.”

“That’s not what I–”

“No – you know what? This is good. I’m glad we’re finally discussing the mutant chocobo in the room. I’m officially sorry I ever left you that note. You know what else? I promise to leave you be. It’s your phone, after all, and I have no right to call it. No more stupid texting, no more forced offers – even though I swear that’s not what I’ve been doing all this time. You’re off the hook, pal.”

“Hold on. That is not how I want things to be between us.”

“Okay then, how do you want them to be Vincent?”

She could almost see the gears in his mind turning, trying to find the right angle, the one that would give him the least amount of grief. It was a strategy of his that she knew well. And the chances were slim that he’d actually speak up before a week’s time.

“Well, in any case,” she sighed, looking away. “I ain’t gonna have time to be your pen-pal anymore. Wutai still needs to re-build, and the WRO and Shinra have already offered their help. I just have to get my country over this feeling that they can’t accept help from outsiders, especially Rufus,” she said, sneering.

Right now. Reach out. Just touch her hand, that’s all I’m asking.

Vincent clenched his teeth and kept himself very still.

Yuffie couldn’t hide the disappointed look on her face, not even if Cloud would have busted in just then and given her all of his mastered materia, free and clear.

“I hope you’ll come to my coronation, Vincent,” she said gently. After a long pause, Yuffie turned away from him and walked to the bar’s back entrance, letting the screen door slap against the warped doorframe as her lithe body disappeared into the kitchen.

Galian muttered an obscenity in his native language, alien and unpronounceable, reminding Vincent that the voice within wasn’t a native of the Planet.

You’re a moron, Valentine. Goodnight.

He didn’t know how long he stood on the porch alone in the dark, not even Galian for company, before he was sure Yuffie was safe in her room for the night and the rest of Avalanche had retired as well. He re-entered the kitchen, shouldered his pack, went back out onto the porch and leapt over the railing. Landing quietly in the alley, Vincent turned South, grateful for the punishment of a long, solitary journey back to Niebelheim.

From her window on the third floor, Yuffie Kisaragi watched as a dark figure moved purposefully away from the bar, her room, her.

+

“Cut it.”

“Okay, a little trim for her highness, to go home in style, yes?” Tifa smiled affectionately.

“No, Tifa. Cut. It.” Yuffie grabbed the scissors from the vanity and held them out to Tifa over her shoulder, eyeing her friend in the mirror.

Tifa frowned, taking the scissors from the younger woman and setting them back down on the vanity carefully, picking up a hairbrush instead. “You want your short hair cut back again? But Yuffie, this took you forever to grow out. And it looks beautiful on you!” Tifa ran her hands through the long thick locks, all one length and just slightly wavy from the heat and perspiration. She noted with a modicum of envy that it was now all the way down to the young woman’s narrow hips.

“Every girl I see watching you at the bar is jealous of it!” She giggled. “Including me!”

Ever since Yuffie had let her hair grow out, Tifa had been braiding it and playing with it when the ninja came to stay at 7th Heaven, long into the night, the two of them engaging in girl talk. The young woman tried to tamp down how much she was going to miss Tifa’s ministrations; the simple act of having her hair played with had reminded Yuffie of her mother, long gone.

She closed her eyes for a second, willing the memories away. Stay focused, Kisaragi.

“No; not my old hair cut, Teef.”

Tifa breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, okay. I get it. Just more than a trim. How about a couple inches past your shoul–”

“No. I mean shorter than my old hair cut. Cut it off. Pixie style.”

Tifa eyed her in the mirror for a long time. Yuffie’s voice was not her own.

Then again, maybe it was. Maybe she has always had this in her.

“Are you sure? I thought you were expected to be the epitome of feminine beauty as Empress. Long, flowing, shiny, thick hair is usually associated with that. And you already have it.”

Yuffie leveled her with a lopsided, bitter grin in the mirror.

Tifa stopped and leaned in, speaking fast. “That came out wrong, sorry, you’re the epitome of feminine beauty either way, I was just–”

“Teef!” Yuffie laughed. “I wasn’t thinking that at all. And don’t you dare start guarding yourself or what you say around me. I ain’t the Empress with you, ever. You got it?”

“Sorry, you’re right. I promise. I’d hate that too, probably.”

Yuffie nodded, happy that at least someone she knew was not going to be walking on eggshells around her after that damn crown was on her head.

“In with the old, out with the new, right? I plan on letting the council know right off the bat that I will not be manipulated easily. The boots and shorts can be changed in an instant. But my hair will be like a big ole splinter in their eyes, and at pixie length it will be stuck there a looooong time. It’s as good an opening move as anything else.”

Tifa nodded, brushing through Yuffie’s mane slowly, both of them savoring the moment.

“Kinda like a chess game, right?” Tifa brushed through the ends with vigor to clear the knots. She held the thick hair en masse with her other hand, just above the brush strokes, so that her actions did not yank at Yuffie’s scalp.

Just like Mama used to do.

“Yes. Life at court is exactly like chess, only there is kunai and poison, too. Godo will hate that I have lost the length, but he will see the strategy in my decision and he will probably adore me for it.”

“Yuffie, your father already adores you,” Tifa said, smiling slyly.

“I know…” the ninja countered lightly. Her eyes shined in the mirror.

“Speaking of adoring… I noticed Mr. Valentine left last night without saying goodbye.”

There was a pause, then, “Yup.” Smile gone, Yuffie had popped her ‘p’ like it was bubble gum.

Tifa shook her head, a disgusted look covering her face.

“So… this change may have a little to do with him as well?”

“Yup.”

Coward, Tifa thought bitterly. She gave her friend a sympathetic look in the mirror. Instead of wallowing in misery, Yuffie was intent on embracing her new life. That was more than she could say for Vincent.

“Pixie-style, ne? I think that’d look totally hot on you. You have the ears for it. And it’d put the focus on your eyes, where it should be. Especially now that you are a world leader,” she teased. “Plus, most of the baby fat has left your face… A pixie cut only compliments good cheekbones, and yours really came out in the last year or so.”

Yuffie smirked. “No one but you has noticed that yet, trust me.”

“Maybe in our group. They’re just used to thinking of you as a little girl. It’s frustrating for you, I get that, but I also see guys at the bar looking you over all the time now.”

“Yeah?” Yuffie blushed a little.

“That crazy Turk with the orange hair – Reno? He almost walked into a wall checking you out the last time the two of you were in the bar at the same time. Of course, the Garrison belt you were sporting as a skirt may have had something to do with that.”

Yuffie smiled. Seeing some happiness returning to her friend’s face, Tifa conveniently left out the fact that Vincent had also been watching her skirt that night, as well as keeping a close eye on Reno’s whereabouts.

“I can use my fingers as a guide for the height… ‘bout a half-inch, okay? That will last you a long time. This won’t really be hard, now that I think about it. But I’ll have to put it in a ponytail first and cut it off at the base of your neck, otherwise we’ll have a major mess to clean up.

“Do me a favor and braid it first before you cut it off.”

“Ah - you’re gonna keep it? That’s sweet. Marlene did that, too.”

“Oh, I’m not that sentimental. I’m not gonna keep it. I’m gonna cram it in a box and have Strife Delivery Services toss it over the front gate of Shinra Mansion.”

“Yuffie…” Tifa scolded, but her heart was clearly not in it. She secured a hair band at the base of Yuffie’s neck. “That’s mean.”

Yuffie relaxed a bit while Tifa separated her ponytail into three even pieces and started braiding it, nice and tight, just the way the ninja liked it.

“Yes, it is. So… you think I shouldn’t do it?”

Tifa fell silent for a moment, concentrating on the braid. She pursed her lips as she worked.

Cocking an eyebrow, the mother-to-be finally responded.

“I’ll make the shipping label for you.”

+

The haircut turned out to be the perfect idea. When Yuffie strolled down for breakfast the next morning, Cid threw a wolf whistle her way, and Cloud actually noticed.

Yuffie said her goodbyes to her friends, tearing up a bit in the process. A short time after she left, Cloud found Tifa upstairs alone, sitting on their bed with a box in her hands.

He kneeled on the floor in front of her, glancing at the box, then at her worried face.

“What is it, Tifa?”

“Yuffie’s hair is in here,” she sniffed, fingering the edges of the box. “She wanted you to throw it at Vincent.”

Cloud couldn’t stop himself from laughing.

“I think…” She sniffed again. “I think we should hang onto it for now. Maybe there will come a time when giving it to him will serve a better purpose… right?” Cloud saw the beginnings of a good cry coming on.

He also knew that Tifa was talking about Yuffie and Vincent’s future, and not about making Vincent feel like a responsible jerk right now.

“Well… You never know, sweetie. You never know.”

+

tbc

+

++++++++ notes ++++++++

Points to anyone who knows the artist and title of the song Tifa was channeling during the haircut.

If you read it, **please** review it. Thanks!

 



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