Author's Note: Obviously I don't own the rights to Final Fantasy VII, but I'm pretty sure you guys are all aware of that. The usual disclaimers apply. Additionally, as the summary states, this is a Vincent/Yuffie fic, and while the genre is probably getting a bit too glutted by now, I feel I might be able to do at least a bit of justice to it. As such, bear with me. It's been a helluva long time since I've played the game, I don't own it anymore, though I wish I did, and I could very well make quite a few mistakes in portraying the world of FFVII. Your forbearance would be appreciated, and should you occasion to be a FFVII purist, consider yourself duly warned. The thing that has always been truely important to me in fanfiction is that the characters remain true to themselves, and if you can honestly say that any character is acting OOC, by all means bite my head off. I may not agree with you, but I WILL listen to your criticism, and apply it if it makes sense to me. That being said, as any writer, I do enjoy reviews, so please let me know what you think. On a personal note, Vincent was and always will be my favorite FFVII character, but you will note that the man doesn't do humor very well, at least not if he's going to remain in character. As such, most of the humor of this story will be forthcoming. Please bear with me.

"I tried to kill my pain, but only bled more. I lay dying, and I'm pouring, crimson regret, and betrayal. I'm dying, praying, bleeding, and screaming. Am I too lost, to be saved? Am I too lost? My god, my tourniquet, return to me salvation. My god my tourniquet, return to me salvation." Evanescence, Tourniquet

Gather 'round children, I'm about to tell you a story. It's a good story, though truth be told, the tale is probably wearing a little thin for some of you, but it's important, so I'm gonna tell it again. One of the unfortunate duties of youth is to listen to the elderly, 'cause we do get so lonely, everything for us is in the past, and we love to combine our two favorite pastimes... remembering, and buggin' the hell outta youngsters.

Don't roll your eyes at me, one day you'll understand. In the meantime, sit down and shut up.

Once upon a time, there was an evil empire that was hellbent on destroying the world. Their crime wasn't a crime of hatred... nor of jealousy. Far worse, they raped the earth out of a willful ignorance, and a lack of regard. Perhaps, at first, they did what they did out of a genuine wish to better humanity, but as with all such empires, when the focus became the pursuit of power, and when the question being asked as new technology was developed stopped being should I do it and started being CAN I do it, they lost their place in the sun.

As with all such empires, there arose a group of people who'd had enough, who decided to fight back. They were a misfit crew, such a group of oddballs as you'd never hope to see, but they had what it takes to take down any empire.

The one thing that fuels our greatest triumphs and aspirations, that keeps our planet moving.

No, not beer, smartass!

I was talking about hope! Holy Planet, you youngsters with your alcohol and your lack of discipline... *sigh* Now you see what you made me do? I lost my place... now I'm gonna have to start all over again. Once upon a time, there was... what's that? Oh right... right... hope... group of oddballs... ok. Good. Just seeing if you were listening.

Anyway, the Empire was understandably upset about the existence of a group of people who's purpose was to destroy them, and so it sent all manner of weapons against them. One of these weapons turned on its masters and destroyed them, and then turned it's attention to the planet. Why did it turn on them? Maybe it was a little too evil... maybe it was a little too crazy... or maybe, like its creators, it just didn't care about anything but itself. The end result was that this little group of oddball rebels, who'd lost comrades and suffered terrible trials, became an oddball group of saviors. Ultimately, hope won out over apathy, good triumphed over evil, and the planet was saved.

Where the hell do ya think you're goin', kid? I ain't finished yet. The story ain't over until I say "the end".

No, just "the end". That's all a story should ever end with.

What kind of nonsense is that?

"And they all lived happily ever after?" That's not an ending, and it's damn foolish to boot.

No one gets a happy ending, kid. It's not natural to be happy forever. Sooner or later, if you follow a man's life, your gonna reach the end of it, and death is never happy. It's not as terrible as you think it is, but it certainly ain't a happy occasion.

The lesson to be learned is this... happiness isn't forever, but neither is grief. When you find happiness, you latch onto it, and you spread it around... and that makes it all the more precious.

That's one of the most important thing you can learn, child. That and this; happiness isn't forever, but love can be... and love and hope are just two sides of the same coin.

That's where I'll start my real a tale... a story about a hero who's not a hero, a princess who's not a princess, and the lesson they learned...

Some might say, quite in spite of themselves.


-Dust. It all comes back to dust- the traveler thought. His black boots were caked with it, the air seemed full of it, and if he looked inside, deep inside, which he seldom did anymore because the way was guarded by demons, he was at least subconsciously afraid that all he'd find there was dust.

Dust in the shape of a heart.

It was blisteringly hot, summer in full bloom, and an observer might have stared oddly at the traveler. He walked with a steady gait, one that could not be labeled as lazy, his long legs eating up the ground in graceful loping strides, but certainly not in any particular hurry, as though he had no place important to go. He kept his eyes on the road, ignoring the famed Wutai country-side as though its natural beauty was painful for him, though it would be foolish to think he was oblivious; the way he carried himself proved this illusion to be false.

His clothing was ill-suited to a trek in the Wutai countryside in summer, black combat boots, black pants and long-sleeve black shirt, with a tattered red cloak thrown over the ensemble almost as an after thought, a cloak that partially hide his face but not his brooding eyes. The eyes of this traveler were quite striking... a most unnatural shade of red, like blood on snow in the paleness of his face. His only concession to the heat was a red headband to keep the sweat from his eyes, though truth be told, it was more likely to just to keep his hair out of his face should he have to move quickly. His arms he had folded inside the cloak, so that neither was visible, though it was doubtful this was to give them shade. The road to Wutai was not an overly dangerous one, though it certainly couldn't be called safe either, but the traveler's only (apparent) insurance against the perils of the unknown was a long barrel rifle slung across his back, its surface weathered but obsessively well cared for, unlike his travel-stained and well worn clothing. A series of uncongruous oddities that all added up to one enigmatic stranger.

Vincent Valentine.


One might occasion to wonder what one of the heroes of Avalanche was doing living as a shiftless wanderer, alone and seemingly known to no one. It was not that he didn't have anywhere to stay, on the contrary, if Vincent considered anyone approaching what he would call friends, it was the other members of Avalanche, and any one of them would most likely have given the contrary gunman a place to rest his head. Certainly enough of them, Cloud and Tifa... Reeve... even the foul-mouthed pilot, had tentatively offered him a place to stay. He had, in his quiet, elusive way, turned them all down, and if they seemed both a bit saddened and relieved at the same time, he didn't blame them. He understood their trepidation; indeed, he shared it. Vincent's life was a tightrope of control... he was, after all, a man with very pushy inner demons, and they didn't always restrain themselves to tormenting only him.

So it was that after the final destruction of Meteor and the death of Sephiroth, when the heroes of Avalanche scattered, some together, most individually, to the four winds, Vincent found himself alone again. Understandably, he wasn't quite sure what to do with himself, if anything, though he'd promised a concerned Tifa that he wouldn't return to that delapidated old mansion and the cold coffin contained within. This hadn't been a hard promise to make, Vincent had no intention of ever returning to that place. It was too full of memories... of old pain and encroaching madness, screams unheard in the dark, to be a comfortable place to spend eternity. Perhaps he was being selfish, putting all of his friends and countless innocents in danger by not locking himself away, but the former Turk couldn't face the ghosts the mansion held for him, of enemies and victims, Hojo and Lucrecia, and the price he'd paid, was still paying, for his lack of humanity.

So he became a vagabond, a shadow that passed by for just a moment, haunting the roads and the wilds going no place in particular, and staying there for too fleetingly to make any lasting impressions. He survived on odd jobs... monsters here and there that needed killing, criminals on the run from one authority or another that needed catching... ultimately he fell back on the only thing he'd ever really been good at... hunting and killing.

Though admittedly, this time his targets were monsters and scum. Sometimes you had to fight fire with fire, after all.

Truthfully, he was getting a little tired of sleeping on the cold ground with only his own brooding thoughts for company. That and supplies were starting to run a little low. Not critically, but Vincent was nothing if not detail oriented, and he preferred being prepared over lying in a ditch somewhere.

Wutai wasn't his first choice for a stopping point, but it wasn't his last choice either, and it was close. It'd have to do.


Approaching the gates of Wutai, he was once again struck by the city's character. It had a tidy aesthetic, a martial sort of charm, functional and orderly, but with graceful lines and pleasingly tasteful architecture. It was a city with a history, and it appealed to the need for organization and the sense of solemnity in Vincent's tired soul. He liked Wutai, if only because it seemed to move at a slower pace than the outside world.

Something was wrong however, and Vincent picked up on this as soon as the city came into view. Guards, fearsome with their ceremonial armor and decorated but functional pikes, patrolled the walls, and there was a line to enter the city. Vincent waited patiently for his turn to enter, enduring the oppressive heat, and ignoring the curious stares of those ahead and behind him in line. He drew the wary eyes of both guards when he stepped forward for his turn.

"Name please." One of them asked, the very picture of diligent authority. What was going on here?

"Valentine." Was his short reply. The guard scribbled the name down in his log.

"Reason for visiting?" the guard shifted uncomfortably. The tall stranger before him was pretty well armed... a bounty hunter or a mercenary, neither of which was very welcome in Wutai, especially now.

Vincent considered ignoring the guard's question, but it occured to him that this man was only doing his job, and antagonizing the proper authorities was a good way to draw unwanted attention to one's self.

"Supplies. A place to stay for the night." He muttered quietly.

"We don't want any trouble, Mr. Valentine." The guard cautioned. "You keep that weapon where it's at, you hear?"

Vincent nodded curtly and stepped past the guard, into the city itself.


The streets were silent, which, while a welcome change to the normal cacaphony that greeted his ears when he entered a city, did not ease his state of mind over much.

Wutai was normally very friendly to travelers, as the Lord Godo Kisaragi had done his damnedest to turn the city into a hot tourism spot, with marginal success. After the events of Meteor, Godo had been quick to capitalize on his daughter's newfound fame (or infamy, depending on your point of view... while it was hard to stay angry at someone who'd saved the planet, it was also hard to forgive someone who'd been robbing people blind of their Materia since her preadolecence) and had even, so Vincent had heard, included her residence as one stopping points on the tours.

Vincent idlly wondered how Yuffie had taken this particular arrangement.

Today however, venders who would normally be trying to outshout one another for the pleasure of doing business with him were conspicuous in their absence, and the few passersby he encountered eyed him warily, as though they half expected him to begin firing his weapons randomly into buildings. He ignored these suspicious stares but noted them, and crossed the street to slip inside a reasonably priced drinking establishment.

The dimly lit coolness of the taproom was a welcome change to the oppressive heat and atmosphere of the city's exterior. Vincent, never overly fond of social gatherings of any type (particularly lynch or torch-carrying mobs, but that's another story) nevertheless found himself almost comfortable in a bar's social setting. Here he was able to settle down to drink at his own pace, and let humanity's dull roar wash over him in an almost soothing murmur. Vincent was a good listener, and he entertained himself by listening to the various stories floating past him. Leaning Death Penalty against the side of the bar within easy reach, he quietly ordering a hot tea, and ignored the curious stares of the bartender and the various patrons who had watched him enter until they shrugged and returned to their various drinks. Receiving his tea, he wrapped his good hand around the pewter mug and brought it up to his lips, savoring the herbal scent that wafted up from it as he took a sip.

This sort of quiet anonymity was about as close as Vincent came to enjoying himself.

As usual, it was cut dismally short.

Conversation stopped dead as a pair of guards entered the establishment and swept their serious gaze over the inside of the bar. Squinting from the sudden change in light level, they were nonetheless able to immediately pick out the solitary figure at the bar quietly sipping a jasmine tea.

Vincent sighed inwardly as the guards made a beeline for him. He hadn't turned around when they entered, and he had hoped they'd simply stopped by for lunch.

It was 3:00 pm, but one could hope, couldn't one?

"Mr. Valentine?" One of the guards asked brusquely, as guards often do, when tasked with a duty they deem onerous.

Vincent closed his eyes and breathed in the herbal scent again. "I haven't done anything wrong."

The other guard started to open his mouth, irritation written across his features, but the older, wiser of the two stopped him with a hard look. The older guard sighed deeply and shook his head. "We never said you did. Lord Godo requests a moment of your time."

"I stopped doing requests a long time ago." Vincent muttered quietly.

"My apologies Mr. Valentine, but this is not a request that can be ignored, if you wish to remain a guest in our fair city." The guard returned.

"Ah. One of those requests." he said, in a tone that might have been considered dry, if Vincent were a bit more vocally animated.

The younger guard growled and reached for Vincent's shoulder. "Enough of this! Lord Godo wishes t-"

He stopped dead when a skeletal, golden tinged claw encircled his wrist right before it touched the gunman's shoulder.

"I heard you. Allow me to finish my tea in peace." Vincent said softly, his eyes still closed.

The strength in the grip and the sharpness of the metal claws tipping the strange hand were not lost on the young guard, who gulped uneasily. "Er... certainly Mr. V-Valentine."

Vincent released the man's wrist and the guard snatched his hand back as though he'd just put it in a behemoth's mouth.

Vincent finished his tea in peace, but the quiet tranquility of the moment had vanished like a soap bubble in the rain.


Vincent had no sooner set down the empty mug when the guards began herding him towards the door. Quickly paying his bill, he picked up Death Penalty and shouldered it, then allowed himself to be ushered outside and down the stone streets to the large, pagoda style castle that was Lord Godo Kisaragi's place of residence. The trip passed in silence, the guards being sufficiently cowed by this strange individual in their charge, and Vincent was not exactly the sort for idle chitchat. Instead, he took note of the abundance of personal servants in various colors passing to and fro like worker bees on the fly. Several of the manor houses, normally empty during the hot summer months, looked fully operational, and more alarmingly, guards not wearing the colors of the Kisaragi clan patrolled them.

All of this information was quickly noted, assessed, and filed away by the silent ex-Turk, who appeared to be doing a detailed study of his boot tops.

Vincent was unsure what Lord Kisaragi wanted with him, but he was reasonably sure he wasn't going to like it. Unlike some of the other members of Avalanche, Vincent hadn't capitalized on his newfound fame, and over time, he'd faded into the background of the legend, which was the way he liked it. He felt uncomfortable being praised for ending a threat to the planet that he had more or less had a hand in creating, at least in his own eyes. While the name Cloud Strife and Tifa Lockheart were almost universally known, Vincent Valentine would raise very few eyebrows, if any.

Still... perhaps it was just a social call. A passing interest in one of his daughter's former comrades-in-arms.

Speaking of which... where was the aforementioned daughter? Not that Vincent felt any pressing need to see her, of course. She'd been one of the more annoyingly outspoken members of the group, and she had a nickname for him that irritated him to no end. Still, he admitted to at least a passing interest in how she had weathered the last two years... she would be what now... 17? 18?

He was stopped outside the entrance to Godo's personal meeting chambers by a large Wutain martial artist, who stared at Vincent impassively with his large arms folded over his barrel chest.

"You may leave your weapons with me," He rumbled immediately.

Vincent eyed the man quietly, and to his credit, the large man did not wince from his oddly tinged gaze.

The man narrowed his eyes. "You will not be permitted to enter Lord Godo's presence with those items on your person."

Vincent continued to stare. "I wasn't the one who requested a meeting." He said finally, when it became obvious the man was not going to budge.

The large man snorted, then cracked his knuckles menacingly. "If I have to take them from you, little man, you are going to regret it."

Vincent sighed. He didn't care enough about staying in Wutai to put up with this, supplies and a warm bed or no. He started to turn on his heel, prepared to leave Wutai behind him, when a tired, gruff voice he vaguely recognized came from inside the room.

"Let him in, Sung..."

Sung blinked, then frowned. "But Lord-"

"I trust this man implicitly Sung, let him through."

Sung growled, but motioned Vincent in with a look that said if he so much as sneezed in Lord Kisuragi's presence, Sung was going to turn him into Vincent jelly. He then followed the gunman in and shut the door behind him, walking quickly past Vincent to stand at Lord Godo's side, glaring daggers all the while.

Vincent ignored him.

Lord Godo Kisaragi was a formidable man, but the last few years had aged him considerably. The weight of his years seemed to bow the man down, giving him a cramped, bent look, and lending a hollowed look to his craggy features. Vincent, no stranger to the sensation, thought he detected the sharp look of a pain so familiar it had become, if not an old friend, then at least a respected adversary, in the man's eyes.

He didn't have to say it. He knew at least part of the mystery now.

Lord Godo Kisaragi was dying.

"Forgive my servant, Mr. Valentine. He is a bit overzealous at times, but regretfully his vigilance is not entirely unwarranted, in these troubled times." The hint of a rasp caught Vincent's ear. It was taking everything the Lord had to maintain the illusion of health, but he wasn't fooling the observant ex-Turk.

"Please, have a seat." The lord motioned to a chair. Vincent didn't particularly feel like lounging in such a tense place, but he was perceptive enough to realize that the Lord wouldn't sit unless his "guest" was seated, so he took it reluctantly. Some of his hesitance must have shown, for the Lord sank into his own chair eyeing Vincent gratefully.

"Again, forgive my interruption of your enjoyment of our fair city, but I could not risk the chance that you would leave before I had an opportunity to speak with you, Mr. Valentine."

Vincent said nothing, but appeared to be listening receptively.

After a short pause, Godo leaned forward and clasped his hands together before his mouth, eyeing the gunman resolvedly. "I'll cut to the point, Mr. Valentine, as time is not a luxury I can afford. I have heard that you have sometimes taken on the role of a Bounty Hunter of late... I trust my information is accurate?"

Vincent nodded curtly, his face a study in blankness.

"I have need of your services. The very future of Wutai is at stake." he sighed, stifling a cough. Sung looked at him concernedly. "I am of course willing to compensate you for your work."

Vincent sighed. "Who do you want me to track down?" He said bluntly.

Sung looked like he was about to have an apoplexy over Vincent's lack of concern for the proper honorifics, but at Godo's slightly raised hand he settled for simply looking like a bomb about to explode.

Godo caught Vincent's gaze with his own and frowned. "My daughter."


If Vincent was surprised to hear who he was supposed to bring to justice, he gave no sign. His only indication that this was an unexpected twist was a slight hesitancy before his next question.

"What has she done?" He said simply.

Godo stood painfully and eased his way over to one of the windows, gazing out at the grounds outside the castle. "Look at them... circling like wolves scenting a lame, sick, old buck."

Vincent watched him quietly, waiting for an answer to his question. The old man continued, as though unmindful of his guest's expectations.

"Well I'm not dead yet. Not... *hack* yet." He coughed lightly, then turned back to face Vincent. "Not what she's done... what she hasn't done."

Godo frowned. "How much do you know about Wutai, Mr. Valentine? Specifically, the lines of succession?"

Vincent frowned. His mother had been of Wutainese descent, but she had not taught him much about the people she'd left behind when she'd followed his father to Midgar. What he did know was simply what he could glean over the long years of his employment as a Turk, and what he'd heard Yuffie speak of. "Not much. I know that power has been in the Kisaragi line for hundreds of years... that some mastery of martial arts is required... that's about it."

Godo grimaced. "You know more than most. The Lord of Wutai is choosen from a small group of families who can trace their lineage back to the first settlers who were granted this land by Lord Leviathan, a thousand years ago. Those who would accept the mantle of Lordship must prove themselves capable of the extreme mental and physical dedication required of a Da-Chao master. In essence, to master All Creation." A look of pride crossed his face. "Yuffie, at 16, was the youngest ever to master the technique."

Vincent nodded almost imperceptively, and Godo continued. The look of pride had vanished behind a sudden wave of sadness.

"However, being only 16, she had not yet reached her majority. She could not take the position at the time. In addition, she was deeply embroiled in the fate of the planet, but there is no need to recount that tale to you. It was... understood, that upon her 18th birthday, Yuffie Kisaragi would succeed me as the 19th Kisaragi Lord of Wutai."

Vincent frowned. He couldn't remember Yuffie saying anything about this. She must have kept the information to herself pretty well. Not that Vincent could blame her, really.

"Imagine my surprise when the day of her 18th birthday comes around, and there is neither hide nor hair of her to be found in all of Wutai, save a makeshift rope made of blankets leading out her window, and a sudden large number of mastered Materia mysteriously vanishing." he continued wryly, with the air of a man laying his cards on the table.

Vincent raised an eyebrow. "Why me?" he said simply.

Godo sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. "I will admit you are not my first choice. I would have preferred to keep this matter in Wutai hands... it is... a source of embarassment for our people." He looked at Sung quietly, and the man looked resigned.

"However, while you are not the first person to be asked to accept this burden, you are the only one who I have any hope will succeed at it."

Vincent raised an eyebrow, then looked pointedly at Sung.

Godo cleared his thoat and looked at Sung. "Show him, Sung."

Sung blanched and looked as though his Lord had just asked him to do a jig naked. "Lord..." he choked out.

Godo did not ask again, he simply fixed his servant with a glare.

Sung sighed and lowered his head in defeat.

Then he turned around and dropped his pants.

Vincent blinked.

Taking up most of the large man's pale right buttock was the message, 'You'll never take me alive, coppers!', Followed by a hastily scrawled (but amazingly legible, considering the medium) doodle of someone giving an extremely insulting gesture and grinning catlike at the reader.

A simple author's mark, -Y, displayed the evidence of the man's embarassment.

"As you can see, as formidable as Sung is... my daughter proved to be slightly more... resourceful." Again, that note of pride.

Vincent fixed him with a very expressive look.

It said basically, "This is the person you want running Wutai?"

Godo sighed. "I think the point has been made, Sung."

Sung hastily raised his pants and studiously avoided looking at anyone in the room. Vincent was now able to account for the man's stiff-legged posture.

After moment's hesitation, Vincent frowned. "I still don't see why you want me to do it. Yuffie and I fought together, it's true, but we weren't exactly close. What makes you think I have any more insight into her then him?" he glanced in Sung's direction.

It was a testiment to Vincent's closedmouthedness that this was longest speech he'd made in months.

Godo eased himself into the chair again and closed his eyes. "I thought about contacting the other members of Avalanche about this, but ultimately, it was a Wutain matter... by the time in became grave enough to look to outside help, my hands were already tied."

Godo opened his eyes again and stared at Vincent levelly. "Any one of the other members of Avalanche might be able to find her, Mr. Valentine, but none of them are here. Further, they all have their own pursuits and matters of importance. Mr. Reeve is trying to rebuild Midgar, just as Mr. Wallace has his duties in Corel. Mr. Strife and Ms. Lockheart have settled down in Kalm, they have a business to tend. Mr. and Mrs. Highwind are expecting a child soon... and Nanaki is far too important to risk on this matter- he is last of his kind, and guardian of the eternal flame."

Godo's eyes became distant as he talked. "Wutai needs a leader, Mr. Valentine. Any power vacuum created when I am gone will not be easily filled- there is no one else in the direct line of succession. Wutai would be torn apart by civil war... but my countrymen do not see this. No... worse... they see it as an opportunity." His face hardened.

"There are those who do not wish Yuffie to be found. If I called any one of the more prominant members of Avalanche to Wutai, my enemies would know what reason they were being called for, and they would do anything in their power to hinder their search. No, Mr. Valentine... like it or not, you are the only one I can trust in this matter."

Vincent still felt extremely skeptical, and Godo apparently saw this in his face. He took a sideways glance at Sung, then frowned. "Sung!" He barked hoarsely.

"Yes, Lord?" Sung looked at his leader intently.

"Leave us please."


"Do not make me repeat myself, boy." Godo muttered quietly, his eyes closed.

Sung blanched again, then, with a glare at Vincent that said Godo's safety was Vincent's only chance at leaving this room alive, he stiffly walked to the door and let himself out.

Godo sagged wearily into his chair, pain now written into every line and crease of his face. It was as though his body were being suspended by so many strings, and about half of them had just been severed. He sighed deeply.

Vincent waited quietly, his face betraying, as usual, none of his thoughts.

"I do not know how to convince you of the importance of this mission, Mr. Valentine. Perhaps it is an internal matter, perhaps I am making a mistake in involving an outsider... but I do not think this the case."

He forced himself to sit up straighter and caught Vincent's Mako tainted eyes, trying to hold him by sheer force of will. Gone was the funny old man who had teased and laughed at Yuffie's antics...

Pain and the need for urgency had stripped the humor from him. Vincent found himself strangely saddened by this evidence of mortality.

"Wutai has ever been proud of its self reliance, Mr. Valentine, but as with anything taken too far, it has become a stumbling block. One that could mean the destruction of everything we know."

He took a deep breath and continued. "We have become locked in our traditions, refusing to grow, refusing to change... and the rest of world passes us by. We stood up proudly to Shinra, and their strong arm tactics, and look where it got us. A generation of our brightest and best minds lost to a stiff necked war fought between the greatest technological juggernaut this world has ever seen... and a backwater empire too stubborn to know when they were beaten."

His lips were touched by a wry smile. "Wutai is now a kingdom of oldsters who believe if they stick their heads deep enough into the sand, the rest of the world will forget them, and a generation of youngsters too proud and willful to listen to the few level heads willing to speak up."

"Our kingdom is dying, Mr. Valentine. It is choking itself to death with its own ignorance."

Vincent watched the old man intently. He'd surmised the same, but it was none of his concern if Wutai was too stubborn to accept the truth.

He was extremely knowledgeable in the area of self-delusion, after all.

"That is the reason I tried to turn Wutai into a tourism spot, Mr. Valentine. To bring in new blood... new ideas. To revitalize our country... make it strong again... to show the world that there is something worth saving here... and to get our children used to the idea that they are a part of a world community."

"Whether or not I have failed... whether I was wrong... remains to be seen. I doubt very much I shall see the change in my lifetime. I doubt it very much indeed." He sighed.

Vincent did not argue with him.

"Ultimately that more then anything else, is why I sent my daughter out on her fool's errand. As though Materia, no matter how powerful, could make this country strong again... like a magical Cure All." He chuckled. "No Mr. Valentine... I wanted her to experience the outside world... to understand it, and not to fear it... to even... perhaps, love it a little."

"Somewhere in it all though, I failed miserably... not as a leader, but as a father. Too much duty thrust on her... too much responsibility... and not enough love..." he sighed regretfully. "It was too easy to let the years pass without having to deal with the hard confrontations... the truth is Mr. Valentine... she reminds me so much of her mother that it sometimes hurts to look at her." He looked deeply ashamed. "Now my country sits on the brink of ruin, and if it falls... it will be my fault, and my fault entirely."

He was looking older and older by the minute. Vincent thought he could detect a hint of grief in the man's voice... of a relationship tainted by bitterness on both sides... and a deep and abiding guilt for that bitterness. It made him uncomfortable, but he listened nonetheless.

"Its only hope rests on the thin shoulders of a very willful, very stubborn, very angry and confused young girl... excuse me, young woman, who has had to grow up far too quickly. It's not fair, and it's not right that it should be so, but it is. She has a responsibility to her country, Vincent Valentine. You must make her see this."

Vincent watched the old man for a moment, then slowly shook his head. This was none of his business... this fight between a dying old man and his willful daughter. Kingdom or no, Godo was forgetting one important detail in all of this.

Yuffie Kisaragi was not one to be forced into something she did not want to do. No, she'd chosen her path.

Wutai would survive... it had for centuries, and it would for centuries. Vincent was sure of that. It certainly wouldn't benefit from the sort of salvation a monster with too much blood on his hands could give it.

"I'm sorry, Lord Kisaragi, but I am not the one you want for this."

Godo hid his disappointment well, but nonetheless it showed in the dullness of his eyes. He smiled sadly.

"I wish you would reconsider, Mr. Valentine, but my days of pushing people around are long gone, I'm afraid. Besides, I very much doubt that you are the sort to be easily moved, once you've set your course."

Vincent couldn't argue with that. He gathered up his rifle as Godo stood, groaning quietly.

"Never allow yourself to get old, Mr. Valentine. The discounts it entitles you to aren't worth all the bother, let me tell you." He winced sharply as he moved his stiff body.

Vincent refrained from informing him that he was probably as old, if not older, then the wizened old man before him.

"Please... Mr. Valentine, stay at my home for the night at least. Compensation, for you wasted time."

"That is not-"

"Please... allow me at least to ease my conscience this much. Indulge an old man."

Vincent sighed. "As you wish."

The two walked out of the meeting room together in silence, each a prisoner of his own thoughts.


After the tense meeting with Godo, the solitary comfort of the spacious room that the Lord Kisaragi had provided for him was a welcome relief from his troubles. Vincent rested fully clothed with his hands behind his head, staring at the spotless ceiling from the comfort of the futon provided. He mulled the conversation (Such as it was. Conversations with Vincent tend to be rather one-sided.) over and over in his head, putting together the evidence he'd gathered from his observations with the things that Lord Godo had spoken of. Try as he might, he could find no way to refute what the aged Lord had revealed to him... when he died, if Yuffie was not immediately on hand to fill the gap, Wutai would dissolve into a mass of infighting. It was impossible to predict what the state of Wutai would be when it finally ended, but the inescapable fact was that the new rulers would be the ones with the bloodiest hands.

This made Vincent uncomfortable.

On the other hand, Vincent understood the need for freedom that must have burned in Yuffie's soul. Such a terrible responsibility to foist off on a young woman. Vincent had always viewed the ninja as he would a butterfly... beautiful, flitting from place to place... a creature of sunshine and laughter... but if one were to capture it in an uncaring hand, the beautiful pigments that adorned its wings would rub off and fade over time, and ultimately the thing of beauty would become tattered, dull, and finally dead.

This also made Vincent uncomfortable.

Not for the first time today, he wished he'd chosen a different city to visit.

The soft, muffled scrape of leather on stone broke his train of thought, and he frowned, trying to locate the source of the sound. A normal human being wouldn't have been able to pick out the almost imperceptible noise, but Vincent hadn't been a normal human being for a long time. Drawing Peacemaker from under his cloak, he checked to ensure it was loaded, then blew out the lamp that provided the dim light to the room. Pitch blackness surrounded him, but it took only a few moments for his mako enhanced eyes to adjust.

Another scrape, one that he almost missed, and then the sound of a wooden window cover being drawn slowly back drew his immediate attention. He waited, a nondescript shadow among shadows, his breath easing in and out with a slowness that no human being could have matched. Several tense minutes passed, minutes that seemed like hours, as the intruder hesitated, apparently confused by the state of the room.

Finally who ever it was committed itself, and a black garbed individual, his or her face fully covered, slipped into the room looking this way and that, making no sound that even Vincent could detect.

Vincent was impressed.

But he still drew back the hammer of the revolver and in one smooth motion pointed it at the figure's head. At the telltale sound the figure froze in a crouch, now oriented towards Vincent and the noise he'd made.

"Don't move." Vincent cautioned.

The figure remained stock still, but its breathing increased rapidly.... and its muscles tensed. Vincent sensed it was preparing to spring.

"Don't do it." He warned.

Vincent was a firm believer in action, reaction... cause and effect. One event inevitably causes another. As soon as he pointed Peacemaker at the figure's head, the outcome was simple... if the figure followed his instructions, it would live. If it did not...

A split second reaction saw the figure jerk forward, a small razor sharp knife coming halfway out of its hidden sheath....

A hair later, the resounding blast of the large bore revolver, so impossibly massive that it would have broken a normal man's wrist to fire it, echoed loudly in the small room. The figure was tossed back violently by the force of the bullet, and dropping the knife, it stumbled into the wall to drop out of the open window.

It never made a sound.

Vincent strode over to the window and glanced outside, but the dusk made spotting the dark clothed corpse impossible at this distance. Vincent's night vision was damn good, but it wasn't THAT good. Bending down, he picked up the small knife and examined it intently. A strange symbol adorned it's hilt, one that he did not recognize. Any other observations would have to come later, as at that moment the door burst open and Sung lumbered into the room, his fists raised.

"I heard gunfire!! What's going on in here?" He thundered.

Vincent lowered his revolver from the ready position he'd had it in covering the door and holstered it in one smooth, practiced motion.

"You heard a single gunshot. It was me." He said matter-of-factly.

Sung narrowed his eyes. "I know that! I meant what were you firing at?"

Vincent stared at him a long time, then looked away. He didn't trust this person... something about him struck him as false, and it was obvious that Godo didn't hold him in the strictest of confidences either. He prevaricated. "Nothing. It was an accident."

Sung looked suspicious. "An accident? You expect me to believe that?"

Vincent began to move so suddenly that Sung couldn't react fast enough to stop him as he stepped past the irrate martial artist and towards the door. "Believe what you will."

"WHAT!! YOU-" Anything more, Vincent missed as he quickly made his way out into the courtyard of the castle.


Doubtlessly, someone had just tried to have Vincent killed. This struck Vincent as odd, as he'd only just gotten out of a meeting who's contents were supposed to have been a secret. Supposed to have been, but apparently were not... at least, not entirely. The more that Vincent thought about it, the more he began to suspect who had been leaking information to Godo's enemies. Sung hadn't been present for his refusal of Godo's proposition, but he had been there for its initiation. It stood to reason that Sung had assumed he'd accepted the task, as he was now staying in the castle, because there was no reason to try to kill him if they'd known the truth. So either Sung was a traitor, or he was an idiot, either of which was deadly dangerous, in this game of Houses.

Vincent would have put his money on the latter, were he a gambling man.

As he'd suspected, by the time he arrived at the location where the body would have fallen, it was already gone. There wasn't even any blood... no impression in the soft dirt. Not even a blade of the dry grass was out of place.


While Vincent was not overly concerned with the fact that someone had just tried to kill him, he was nevertheless concerned. Someone felt that the young Lady Kisaragi's absence should be elevated from a temporary problem to a permanent solution. If they were willing to order the death of a member of Avalanche simply because he was preparing to look for the wayward ninja... what of the ninja herself?

-Wait a minute Vincent. Stop that train of thought.- he commanded himself. -You were never planning on going after Yuffie, remember? Also, they might not know you were a member of Avalanche... you didn't exactly announce yourself. A nameless bounty hunter can vanish pretty easy, especially one that few people saw enter the town.-

But if Sung is a traitor, or even if he just has a big mouth... Godo HAD known who he was, and had been quite free with his name. What if they did know?

Worse... what if Yuffie doesn't know people are coming to kill her?

-Do you want her blood on your hands as well? Because you were too afraid of getting involved?-

He sighed. Things were rapidly getting out of hand.


-Well- Vincent thought to himself, as a soft knock sounded on the door. -If that's another assassin, they're getting alot bolder.-

He got up and went to the door, wondering how people got any sleep around here, what with all the intrigue flying around. Sliding open the door, he peered out into the hall, and was greeted by a small man with greasy black hair and the most false looking smile Vincent had ever had the misfortune to witness. Like a bad actor in an equally bad drama, he looked studiously left, then right, and putting his hand against his cheek loudly whispered.

"Mr. Valentine, we need to talk. Privately... the walls have eyes."

Vincent blinked. He wasn't exactly sure what the visual capability of the walls had to do with them SPEAKING together privately, but he got the jist. This also blew his whole, "perhaps they don't know you're a former member of Avalanche" theory out of the water. He sighed inwardly.

"Come in."

After the man had settled himself in and checked to ensure they were alone (obviously so... in a manner that could have been considered insulting, had Vincent not already decided this man was an idiot). He grinned his flagrantly false grin again.

"I represent certain... parties, who have an interest in matter you have decided to undertake."

This was news to Vincent, but he decided to play along. He watched the man warily.

"While we appreciate the manner in which the Kisaragi line has accomplished it's duties thus far, we think perhaps it is time for a more... traditionally minded family to step up to the challenge of leadership." He smiled and nodded, apparently agreeing with himself.

Vincent remained silent.

"It's not that we have any reservations about Lord Godo you understand, but he'd getting old, and he's not exactly in the best of health, anymore. Why, something could happen to him, Leviathan forbid, but we dare not discount the possibility. We need long term stability, and Godo cannot provide that."

Vincent was getting tired of this. He had a feeling the man could speak in ephemisms all night, if Vincent let him. "What do you want me to do?"

The man never missed a beat. "Get rid of the Kisaragi girl. We don't care how. We will double whatever Godo is paying you."

Vincent gave the illusion of considering his offer, when in actually he wanted to shoot this man on the spot.

"I don't make deals with people who try to kill me." He said softly, after a short pause. He was testing out a theory.

The man didn't even try to deny it. "Oh come now... we had to see if you could do what we ask! If you can't take care of one measily assassin, how could you deal with a da-chao master? And you succeeded so admirably!" He grinned benevolently and rubbed his hands together, as though imagining Vincent's confrontation with Yuffie now.

Vincent felt slightly sick. "I think you should leave now."

The man lost his smile. "But what about my offer-?"

"Leave. Now." He didn't yell, but the man apparently heard the ultimatum in his voice. He paled, but snarled and stood up, jerking open the door angrily.

"You'll regret this, Mr. Valentine." He growled, then disappeared into the night.

"I already do." Vincent said, to no one in particular.


Godo was going over some papers late in the night when he suddenly realized he was not alone. To his credit, he simply widened his eyes a bit, then relaxed when he realized who it was.

"So, Mr. Valentine. What brings you here at so late an hour."

Vincent tossed the knife onto his desk and frowned. "Someone tried to kill me."

Godo looked down at knife and sighed. "I'm glad to see they failed." He picked up the knife and examined it. "Katsura make. Very nasty. You are an impressive man, Mr. Valentine."

Vincent narrowed his crimson eyes. They glittered dangerously. "You knew this was going to happen."

Godo never skipped a beat. "I suspected as much. You had a visitor as well, I assume? How much did they offer?"

Vincent sighed. "Double what you're paying me."

Godo chuckled. "It would be amusing if they knew that I haven't offered you anything yet."

Vincent didn't laugh.

Godo's face became deadly serious. "Do you see now what I have to deal with? What is at stake here?"

Vincent closed his eyes. "I assume not all of the families are as... inept in their plotting as the Katsuras."

Godo nodded. "They're the most volatile... the most easily startled. Rather like a boar startled from the brush, to be honest. The others are a bit more... subtle."

"Yuffie is in danger." Vincent voiced his thoughts aloud.

Godo sighed. "The throne is the only safe place for her Vincent. Here she has friends... supporters... out there she has nothing but enemies. They cannot afford to allow her to live."

Vincent shook his head. -Well what are you going to do, Valentine?- He thought bitterly. -Once again you have an opportunity to save a life. For all of her faults, Yuffie has a bright and noble soul. Can you honestly wash your hands of this? Are you going to let her down? Are you going to let all of them down?-

He closed his eyes, allowing himself a brief moment of self pity. -No matter what I do, I seem unable to avoid becoming entangled in other's affairs. Now I am drowning in a sea of trouble, and there is no shoreline in sight. What do I do? Ignore her plight? Or entangle myself further?-

It wasn't really a choice at all.

"I'll need supplies. A chocobo... a fast one." He muttered quietly.

"You'll get them. Anything you need. When will you leave?" Godo seemed more animated, more alive. His eyes gleamed as though he'd won a great victory.

"Tonight. There is no point in delaying." He answered.

"Thank you, Mr. Valentine. You have saved my kingdom and my daughter. (Vincent noted the unconscious emphasis on importance Godo had created when he mentioned his country first) Anything you wish... you may have." He practically bounced, and why shouldn't he? It seemed as though the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.

"Just the supplies and the chocobo will do." Vincent said. A bit wearily.

For the burden had been placed upon him.

-Damn you, Godo... and damn me.-