The Devil You Know,

By Ealinesse.

Disclaimer: Anyone wanna give me Final Fantasy VII? No? … Didn't think so. Standard disclaimers apply – I not own, I not make profit, yada yada…

Warnings: Potential language, like usual. Kiwi spelling, just 'cause. And maybe even some very blonde spelling moments…

Summary: Third story, whole new deal. Direct continuation of SaSM. … What if not everyone was happy with the way things were working out? What if there was a small group, much like Avalanche itself, that wanted to give what remained of Shinra a taste of its own medicine? What if they were feeding off a desperation born of a hatred no longer relevant? … What happens
when you mix all these together with Yuffie, Reno, driving lessons and other such mayhem? Well, we're about to find out…

(Note: While this story runs after the timeline of Final Fantasy VII, it does not encompass any of the prequels or sequels such as Before Crisis, Advent Children, etcetera.)

Chapter Three: A day of firsts

Elena switched the ignition off to the car and pocketed the keys, casting a brief, amused glance at Rude, her partner and fellow Turk-in-crime, before opening the door and leaning out. She grinned, seeing Yuffie's marginally shell-shocked expression and Reno's one of smug content as he chewed, loudly, on a chip. Elena rolled her eyes and flicked a piece of hair out of her face. "Oops?" she said, scratching at the back of her head and fixing Yuffie with an apologetic look. "I didn't see you there – not many people take to sitting on our driveway, ya know?"

"Especially at twelve-fifteen at night," came the vaguely amused rumble from beside her.

Elena shrugged and stepped out of the car, closed the door and leaned against it. Rude came around to stand next to her.

"So," she said, as neutrally and casually as she could under the obviously rather strange circumstances that had somehow led to having a certain member of Avalanche on her butt on their driveway… with their car inches from her nose. With the way Reno was eating those chips, though, it didn't take very much imagination to guess what had happened. And Elena personally knew – and had been told numerous times, - that she did, in fact, have one hell of an imagination. That was what made her such an avid matchmaker, after all.

Yuffie seemed to recover somewhat at this point and got to her feet, dusting loose dirt and shingle off her as if she were shedding a layer of skin. Her hands moved in quick, furious gestures. She looked set to say something when it 'fell' to Reno to step forward; he tossed a chip into the air, and caught it in his mouth.

"Nothing really," he said, shrugging one shoulder in that irritatingly nonchalant gesture he seemed so fond of. A lazy grin played at the corners of his lips. "The brat came along and pretty much fucking dive tackled me for my chips."

"And I suppose it was only because of your Mako whip-snap reflexes you saved yourself, huh, Reno?"

"'Course. Shortstuff didn't stand a chance."

She should have known better than to expect a serious answer by now, Elena realized with a shake of her head. She turned to Yuffie, heard the rabid curses and death threats being issued under her breath, and confirmed her initial suspicions. She bit back a sigh. "Reno, give Yuffie her food back."

Reno pulled out another chip and set it on his bottom lip. His glowing eyes found Elena's, then Yuffie's, and there was a definite provoking quirk to them as he swallowed it back. Yuffie omitted an indignant squeak, and Elena swore to god she was going to spank Reno so hard he was going to be sent back to where he belonged – pre-school.

"Reno." Elena strode forward, pulled herself up to her whole five feet five inches – (five foot seven, 'regulation' boots included) – and cuffed her smirking partner upside the head. "You know, I don't think I need to tell you this again, but I will: for someone whose job it is nowadays to guard the president and citizens of Midgar, you spend a little too much time terrorizing innocent people."

"Pff, she's obviously about as innocent as a Behemoth walking into a mall with a handbag. And you're right, you didn't need to tell me."

Elena rolled her eyes. "Well, you needed it."

"I suppose I needed you to hit me over the head, too?"

"Why not? Sometimes it takes a little bit to kick-start your conscience."

Reno snorted, shooting Rude a withering look before turning back to the blonde. "Conscience?" A long running joke between the two, Reno had often gone (and still did go) out of his way to make peoples lives a living hell. But to anyone who knew the tenacious redhead…

"Yeah. You have a conscience. It's just hiding in the same place your manners are," Elena scoffed. "Don't make me rattle off examples – and you know they're there," she added with a furtive glance at Yuffie – ooh, she was going to get her ass kicked later -, "I've been pushing paperwork for Reeve all night and I'm not in the mood to have a verbal sparring match with someone who thinks an 'order' is something that is an optional decision left up to the person it's issued to."

Reno glanced at Rude a second time, who had up until then been watching the exchange with a slight kink to the corner of his mouth. Neither men said anything, but Elena found that sometimes words weren't necessary. If that look had words it would embody 'I'm sure as fuck glad it's you and not me, buddy'. She found her face reddening slightly despite herself. No matter how much she shot those two down they still bit back. Her eyes darted over to Yuffie, who looked like she was torn between snorting in laughter and glaring at Reno, her apparent delight with a certain Turk's verbal scalding likely having been the only reason her mouth was still shut. The corner of Elena's lip twitched, a new topic found, and she clapped her hands together to get everyone's attention. "So!" she said once again in that falsetto ring, Reno especially fixing her with a curious glance, "how about giving those chips back to Yuffie?"

Reno smirked, recognizing the topic changing ploy that was as transparent as slum cheese. "What, these old things?"

"What do you think?"

Reno brought the packet out from under his arm and seemed to consider it thoughtfully for a couple of seconds. "Seems an awful waste to dish them out to someone who'll just throw them up again in five minutes, doesn't it, 'Laney?"

Oh, sweet shit, here we go…

"Are you suggesting I'm bulimic, asshole!"

Elena grimaced and held out an arm to stop Yuffie from sprinting forward and decapitating Reno on the spot. As much as she would have loved to see Reno squirm, however, she could see some people already opening their curtains to take a peek – that was the last thing they needed. "Too much to ask that we take this off the street, isn't it? If we could just move so the blood spills on Reno's part of the driveway..."

But Reno was grinning infectiously. "So I'll buy you a waterblaster for your birthday."

"Reno. Move. Now." Ear grabs are quite effective on young children – and while Reno could likely withstand happy amounts of asskickings and did in fact relate to a child in everything but build, the grip she had on the stud in his upper ear was like a vice. Reno bent like a cripple to allow for the pull but she tugged further, making sure he stayed that way.

"Shit! For fucksake, 'Laney, that's for my fucking acupuncture not a fucking leash, fffuuuuuuck…!"

"I'll show you acupuncture, mister." She tugged him so her lips were near his ear, her dark eyes warning, if amused. "Be nice to the ninja with the sharp things, because I'm not about to stop her a second time." She shoved him back – releasing the earring before it tore – by a palm to the chest.

Reno scoffed. "Nice?"

"Do you want a dictionary?" Yuffie retorted, looping one arm around her middle and holding her elbow.

Reno, ever the wolf in sheep's clothing, grinned. And if it weren't for the situation where, suddenly, all knew they better take a step back lest they be sucked into something horribly skewed, Elena would have paid a little more attention to the small sound Yuffie let out beside her. Not to mention the fact Reno's current expression was a mockery of something sickening sweet – alter the image and stuff a raw lambchop into the scene and he'd always look more suited to chewing on that than he would licking a lollipop - but for the moment…

"Nice?" he repeated. "Y'want me to be nice?"

"I believe that's what I said."

A low chuckle. "… All right."

-- Elena tilted her head to the side, waiting; Rude lifted his chin, and Yuffie narrowed her eyes in mistrust. For a very valid reason. Even the best deeds done with good intentions are never entirely selfless, and Reno was far from selfless; Karma was beside the point.

Reno looked at Yuffie for a long, tense moment, then back to the chips. Yuffie, chips, Yuffie, chips, Yuffiechips. Chewing on poor little sheep just to make them squeal. Just as Yuffie looked like she was about to remark his face broke out into a maddeningly crooked grin. All looked down at the packet of chips he was holding out to the girl, the lip of the torn newspaper tilted toward her but the packet still definitely in his possession; not offering her the packet back – hell no – but offering her some of the contents inside. Elena could have sworn she saw the streetlight glint evilly off Reno's imaginary pointed canine as the grin became even more warped. "Well, brat? Ya want one? They're pretty fucking tasty and I'm not about to hold them out all night. They'll go off..."

Elena shook her head and began her walk back to the house. Some things never changed, and Reno was one of them. And judging by the way a certain ninja was looking at him right now, it was going to lead to a rather 'untimely' demise.

Kudos to her. Comic, perhaps, but she wouldn't have it any other way. Hell, she doubted she'd even make Yuffie clean the driveway. Anyone who wore Reno's blood after an incident like that deserved the trophy.

Yuffie stared at the packet of chips Reno was waving in front of her face incredulously, shooting a brief glance at Elena's receding form. "You're offering me some of my own chips?" she asked slowly.

Reno's mako eyes glinted wickedly.

"You're offering me. My own. Chips. To try." Each word was spat in a tense attempt at a controlled breath.

"Well if you really don't want some…?"

Yuffie darted forward and snatched the packet out of Reno's hands just as he made to pull them away, realizing that with how easily she'd been able to obtain them that he'd been intending on giving the packet back to her all along. She stepped back with a smart-assed expression anyway, and just for added effect poked out her tongue. Oh Leviathan how she loved doing that…


"Coming from someone who just did the equivalent of stealing a kid's lunch from them in the playground, I'd say it was on par," she replied glibly, pulling out a chip and chewing on it with an air of satisfaction. Said air of haughtiness, however, dissolved mid-chew when she stumbled upon a rather disturbing reality. "They're nearly cold," she hissed out, screwing up her face. "Gross!"

Reno's amusement was clearly visible despite the near darkness, he half expected her to begin scraping off her tongue. "Why d'you think I gave them back to you? No use to me when they're like that, brat."

Yuffie cradled the offended package of chips in her arms defensively, jutting her chin out in stubborn annoyance. "Because I thought perhaps you were going to stop being an ass for once."

"Che, nice."

"It is, isn't it? Ass."






"Oh-kay, that's enough of that, I think!" came a distinctly frustrated voice from the doorway

Yuffie turned to Elena, realizing with a slight flush of embarrassment that she'd tuned the other two people out completely. She bit her lip, and when she couldn't find anything to say, she shoved her hand into her chip packet and pulled out a handful, stuffing them into her mouth and at the same time chewing her way agonizingly past the knowledge that she was essentially now eating nothing more than cold potato and oil.

Reno, apparently, wasn't so easily silenced.

"Enough of what, Rookie? I'm just trying to get the punk to stop catching flies with her mouth."

"You know very well what I'm telling you to shut up for, Reno."

Yuffie could have cheered at Elena like a little girl if she wasn't practically sputtering saliva-ridden potato from between her lips at her latest 'name'.

"Ahh, of course I do. Good thing you're fairly easy to tune out." Reno's eyes fell on her again, and her 'gaping' mouth. Rough fingers reached out and snapped her jaw closed efficiently, flicking her annoyingly on the lips before pulling away. If Yuffie's face wasn't already burning with anger…

"Our driveway doesn't need fertilizer, brat."

Yuffie's mouth virtually stayed closed as she growled incredulously, "Kid!" Having finally broken the legal barrier to 'adult' just over a year back, there was no bigger insult. Especially given she didn't have anything like Tifa's shapely build to back it up.

"Speaking of," Elena intercepted with an eye twitch, trying to salvage some form of piece. "Isn't it well past your bedtime, Reno? You've got to get up early to take the morning shift with Reeve, remember? You're inspecting the ship for the party. You know it has to be ready in two days, and Reeve'll be pissed if you're late – the man runs a ridiculously tight schedule."

Reno's reply was a garbled static murmur of something along the lines of, "what the hell are you, my damned mother?", but for the life of her Yuffie couldn't seem to move passed four very important words.



Two days.

Yuffie paled. She only knew of one party taking place in two days that Reeve would be attending, and it was with a sinking feeling she knew it would be the very same one she'd been invited to. But – her hand began rifling through her pocket for the invite - surely it wasn't on a ship, was it? The invitation hadn't said anything along the lines of that… had it? Or had she been so caught up in the knowledge that she was attending an official, formal function that she had skipped one of the most important details? Like the location.


Yuffie looked up. Reno was grinning like the cat that had got the cream.

Did I say that out loud?

"Yes." Reno fixed her with a dry look. "You're going, aren't you?"

"Yes," she groaned. She dragged a hand down her face. Ship…

"To the anniversary?" Elena cut in, unable to hear fully well from the doorway.

She nodded. Yuffie's mouth, meet venus flytrap. Great friends.

"Makes sense," Rude said as a silence fell, Reno basking in the glory of Yuffie's fumbled realization, and Rude and Elena quite happy to sit back and watch for once.

It wasn't so much uncomfortable for them as it was for her. She was suddenly aware of their differences in 'status', or, more accurately, the sides they had previously taken, with the three of them watching her like – she couldn't help comparing it to - prey. She scuffed her toe against the loose shingle under her feet for a second, pursing her lips as the hush stretched out over several longer moments. What would certain other members of Avalanche think if they found out she'd been hanging around with a bunch of Turks on their property after midnight? Or that she'd been with Reno on 'missions' on various occasions? With her luck if they attended the same function she'd be found out and without explanation like a deer in the headlights. How did you tell a good friend you skipped a birthday party and went frolicking around with a mass murderer and his cronies?

Reno's distinct voice snapped her out of her thoughts before they could drift too far.

"You didn't know it was going to be on a ship, did you?" he asked, smirk deepening. "You have that charmingly nauseous look on your face you got when I was driving us in that truck."

"What do you think?"

Reno laughed. Elena coughed lightly, and Yuffie caught her eyes.

"You're the one that gets sea-sick, aren't you?"

Ignoring Reno's expression of, "she gets everything-bloody-sick, you blonde idiot", Yuffie nodded; it wasn't exactly a secret. Hell, on the short-list of facts that'd been published about her as one of the featured members of Avalanche in a magazine one month, it had, unfortunately, been the number one 'Hot Fact'. Her kleptomania came a very close second. "Very sea-sick." It wasn't like there was a single soul in the world that didn't have some clue…

Elena screwed up her face. "I get a bit like that sometimes. On an empty stomach."

Yuffie rolled her eyes. "If I eat, I end up saying hello to my food again, y'know…"

Elena again chose to ignore Reno's weight comments and stuck to her guns, seeing another perfect opportunity full of potential on the horizon. "Well, I have some pills if you need some."

Yuffie blinked, surprised – not at the pills, but at the offer. "… Yeah?" Elena had always seemed nice to her, but the way she was being tonight was totally unexpected. Well, perhaps not unexpected. Perhaps it was just the way her perceptions about all of these people had done a total one-eighty since this time four months ago. On any other occasion she wouldn't have been caught dead talking to Elena – much less Reno. But… it didn't seem to matter anymore. They were on the same side now, after all, weren't they?

"Sure," Elena said. "Just come see me sometime before the party, I'm not sure where I put them. Ah, no, wait, I might be busy – come in and I'll find them for you now."

Come. In. To their house?

"No, scale the walls and perch on our chimney while we talk to you out the windows, brat. Fuck, you need some sleep…"

Argh, damn it…

Turks. Who could figure them?

That was distinctly what Yuffie was thinking as she found herself seated on the comfortable double-seater in Rude and Elena's lounge, suddenly faced with the idea of 'normal' conversation, and two very abnormal people. Well, okay, one semi-normal cueball, and one smirking little twit with a cancer complex – yet another cigarette was draping out of his mouth like a poorly attached false tooth. She'd glue one to his face someday, teach the punk a lesson like she'd done with Cid...

A sudden loud crash resonated through the small house and into the lounge, and for the quadrillionth time Yuffie found herself straightening and whirling around as that same sound made her ears ring. Whoever their neighbors were, she realized, she felt inimitably sorry for them. So far she'd had the presence of mind to keep her mouth shut about what in the hell Elena could possibly be doing in the kitchen that would require her making sounds far louder than any cheap coffee grinder, but this time she found her curiosity heightened to an all new level. She was her father's daughter, after all.

Yuffie turned back to face the two on the chairs opposite her, feeling marginally like she was sitting in front of an interrogation squad. Then again, with the way the furniture was set up and the pile of rope strewn under the table, that was probably entirely intentional. "Uh… what's she--"

"Coffee," Reno snorted with a faint grin, a break from his seemingly sole task of snickering at her discomfort. "Doubt she'll find any, though. I couldn't."

Yuffie screwed up her face. "She sounds like she's destroying the kitchen."

"She probably is."

Was she the only one that was finding this remotely unusual? "Why?"

"It's coffee." Rude answered, glancing briefly at his partner with an expression that could be loosely termed 'amusement', but was, as usual, bordering close to his typical 'reserved' face. "She hides it from him. Unfortunately she's running out of original places to put it."

And that, she decided, was about the only answer she was going to get without prying teeth or punching the lights out of Reno, whose snickering had returned with the closure of his mouth. She rolled her eyes. "Your face'll get stuck like that one day, Turk."

"It already is. Holy forbid it cracking if he ever tries to smile."

Yuffie looked up at Elena, who was leaning casually against the doorframe, three mugs in one hand, one in the other, hair in complete and utter disarray.


"Err… " Yuffie glanced at her watch, the after midnight time only adding to the other oddities of the evening. "Yeah, sure," she said, knowing she wasn't remotely sleepy anymore and coffee wasn't going to do anyone any major damage. "Why not."

Elena smiled, and turned back into the kitchen.

Reno raised an eyebrow. "You drink coffee." A question disguised as a deadpan statement.

She raised an eyebrow back in mild challenge. "Why wouldn't I?"

"I dunno… you might start bouncing off walls? Stab somebody with that oversized Christmas decoration of yours?"

Yuffie twitched. "Christmas decoration?"

"That is what it is, isn't it?"

She stuck her jaw out stubbornly. Two could play at this. "Well at least I don't go around prodding people with something that resembles a gnarled old severed walking cane."

"An electrical walking cane, shorty. That zaps people. And if you stuck mine on top of a Christmas tree it wouldn't look like it fucking well belonged there."

"You sound entirely too happy about those first facts…"

Reno winked. "Gotta be happy about something."

"Yeah, well yo-"

"Ahem." Word form this time, like the antics were barely tolerated. And from the silent alpha male, too. Yuffie started slightly at the low rumble that was Rude clearing his throat, and watched as the large man got to his feet, totally dwarfing the furniture and all the other knickknacks and gimmicks that were so obviously Elena's. Or at least she hoped they were Elena's, or she was going to have to start questioning the baldy's sexual orientation.

Rude gestured to the kitchen as he addressed them, "I'll leave you two to argue; Elena will probably want a hand with carrying the coffee out."

Yuffie winced as Rude departed. "Uh…"

"Eh, that nearly filled his word quota for the day, anyway," Reno said with a slight yawn, spinning around in the chair so he was sitting sideways, his feet dangling over the edge of the one Rude had previously been inhabiting, arms behind his head as he regarded her with a sidelong glance. "Don't worry 'bout it." The faintly glowing eyes turned to a different target. "Chip?"

Yuffie looked down at the packet she was still cradling possessively in her arms, and scowled, reminded of the fact that, hey, "They're cold, idiot."

"Food's food."

"You still want 'em?"

"Said so, didn't I?"

She shrugged; they were cold and she could no longer be bothered acting like she was still hungry; although only half of the packet was gone, and she had only contributed to a small amount of its demise, the idea of forcing cold vegetable down her throat was not quite so appealing as it was watching Reno devour them with apparent zest. Personally, she rated cold chips right down there with pond scum, and given how often Avalanche ended up traversing lakes and rivers, it wasn't like she didn't have any experience in digesting the latter. Folding the packet so that the top was concealed lest she spill some on Elena's furniture she tossed the roll of chips across the room with a bored, "Catch." Hard, of course

Reno didn't so much as even blink as he, yet again, swiped the object out of the air with effortless ease, unfolded the packet, rested it on his chest just by his chin, and began eating.

Yuffie resisted the urge to groan. Not even an oomph. Apparently, Reno had had a lot of things thrown at him over the years…

Weird. Strange. Out of the ordinary. Abnormal. Ack, wait, that last word didn't quite fit. Unless of course she could somehow justify 'abnormal' as being way too normal for people like them. Yuffie rubbed a hand against her forehead and eyed the two small items in her hand. The pills she'd expected, but Elena actually handing her a small business card with her PHS number?

… Just as abnormal as the invitation to go dress shopping. Her eye twitched. She didn't even know how that'd slipped into the conversation – Elena had probably brought it up – but either way… what could she have said? No? She didn't know anything about any of the shops in Midgar, hated shopping in general, cursed most preppy people she knew, and didn't give a damn about her own fashion sense – her hands picked at her mismatching shorts - obviously. Her main hope for helping her find a dress was out on some mushy detour with Cloud, and so that left her with little choice when it all came down to it.

Elena of the Turks – an evil shopping guru from "greater depths of hell than I could even fathom", according to Reno. Go figure.

Gawd, why was she justifying herself to herself, anyway? She snorted and shook her head, ducking around the curb and into her seedy little motel. Practice, she thought wryly, remembering that she'd undoubtedly soon have to tell Tifa where she'd really been during her birthday gathering before she found out by herself.

Flipping out the keycard, Yuffie made her way into her room, not bothering to switch the lights on because, wait, she'd forgotten to turn them off in the first place. Groaning in embarrassment in remembrance of her earlier stuff-up, she flopped down on her bed backwards, spreading her arms out alongside her, taking up the whole bed. She let the more obvious thoughts come to her now that the coffee had settled in and her brain was working at a million miles an hour, and she didn't have to bother to guard her expression against some arrogant little turd. Said 'turd', really, being said object of said obvious thoughts, of course.

Reno'd seemed a lot more relaxed tonight, and even though that had meant more frustration for her out of his total mockery, she knew she didn't mind it so much as she'd let on. Hell, that was almost – almost – the only thing that irritated her. It surprised her somewhat the way she'd reacted to the banter, and how distracted she got with it that she'd had to be interrupted by Rude and Elena several times in case their house (or sanity) was endangered. But then, what kind of basis did she have to judge their rather unorthodox acquaintance on, anyway? Every time she'd seen him in the past they'd been either trying to kill each other, fighting something else that was trying to kill them, fleeing for their lives, or torturing each other with whip-sharp retorts.

What surprised her the most, perhaps, was the realization that even though they were no longer depending on each other for their lives or relative safety, he was still bothering with her. That was the kicker. But—wait. She rolled her eyes at this last thought. Okay, so she'd stumbled upon their comfy little abode and had run into him by complete accident on the street, serving as a few moments of cheap amusement; he still could have stayed in those shadows and ignored her. Hell, he hadn't even argued like she'd expected when Elena had invited her inside – just made a snarky little comment about her thinking out loud and headed in the door after her. He'd even given her chips back - cold, but he'd returned them without lacing them with some ridiculous 'assassin' poison, or throwing them into a puddle.

Yuffie screwed up her face, looking out passed the moth-infested roof to the murky sky outside. Something up there sure had a twisted sense of humor. What was she going to tell Tifa and everyone, anyway? It wasn't really her fault – not the first time. But running into Reno in the alley and then not leaving when he'd asked? Typical of her to ignore someone's orders but entirely stupid of her to have even hung around, and not exactly a good thing to help her plead her case... whatever that was. Despite the fact that she'd saved his life in the end – even if he wasn't untowardly grateful – she still doubted any of her co-Avalanche buddies would be very pleased. She chose to ignore the thought that she'd found the moments fighting in the alley more enjoyable than any possible party. Not to mention that the Turks – most of them – weren't the heartless bastards she'd always thought them to be.

Actually, she noted with a huff, there were quite a few things she was going to have to omit. Like specific details of Reno's past, perhaps the entire drug incident, and any references to Reno's apparent humanity in general. Yuffie chuckled quietly at this, even though she wasn't overly amused – some of this was going to make for serious plot holes.

The fact that she'd told her father that Tifa had paid for the driving lessons, and that Tifa had no idea why she was even here early was one such example. She tapped her finger against her forehead, lips pursed, trying to think of some way to explain away all this madness without appearing like a total lunatic…

But found herself instead thinking only of what was to happen tomorrow. Dress shopping with Elena at ten, driving lessons with an instructor at two. Leviathan, she wasn't sure what made her more twitchy - four hours with a Turk she barely knew, or an hour in control of a moving vehicle that Reno had helped pay for even after she'd crashed the last one and dislocated his shoulder in doing so. A thought half presented itself telling her she should probably check the break lines – whatever they were – before she got in control of the car.

With a yawn she yanked out the blanket from under her, resorting to breathing out of her mouth from the sheer musty smell, and crawling under it with a small sigh. She let her eyes slip closed. The next few days were certainly going to be interesting…

"I think… no, not blue. Doesn't go with your eyes. Perhaps green? No, wait…" Elena pursed her lips and turned to the sales clerk with an inquisitive look. "What do you have that's simple? And red."

Red? Yuffie lifted a finger in an 'I really don't think that's a good idea' gesture, and followed it up with an articulate. "Uh…"

Elena, already holding several hangers with various dresses draped over her arm, turned to her with a bright smile, shaking her head. "Trust me."

Funny how those words were just as reassuring coming out of this Turk's mouth. Yuffie sighed, wincing as the shopkeeper, an otherwise nice lady in her mid thirties, smiled and pulled out a long red dress from off the rack, holding it by the hem so its lacy frills fanned out for a more obvious display. Wincing, she leaned in Elena's direction, one eye slightly narrowed. "Red's bright… and that thing looks like someone attacked it with tape and wrapping paper."

Elena nodded. "But you'll suit it, yeah?"

She didn't know whether to feel insulted or what.

"You'll look gorgeous, honey. These tailored, tuck-hemmed frills are the latest trend."

Yuffie squared her jaw, sucked in a breath, and opened her mouth to rebut what the attendant just said. "Loo—"

"Just try it, Yuffie. You don't have to like them, but just try them and that way we'll know where to start, okay?"

Yuffie closed her eyes, counted to ten. Then took the dress and the several others offered to her, before eyeing them somewhat dubiously. She couldn't argue with Elena's logic, after all; the woman had been kind enough to invite her dress shopping with her, but she just didn't necessarily agree with… well, how bold the blonde was when it came to shopping. This was the fourth store they'd been in this morning, and every single counter clerk seemed to know Elena by name. It got Yuffie curious (and more than a little nervous) – what cause for dress shopping would a Turk have, anyway? She hated to admit it, but maybe Reno was – to her eternal horror – right.

Her thoughts were interrupted as Elena leaned in close, grabbed her by the shoulder, and steered her in the direction of the fitting rooms, her own pile of dresses in hand. She found herself trundling into the nearest cubicle, the dresses hung up on the lone hook in the room with her, and the curtain closed for her before she could even blink. Damn, that woman was getting good at restricting her potential patties to dark, confined spaces.

"Pity there's no padded walls, y'know…" she retorted to the gesture.

"Come on, don't look so traumatized, it'll be fun!" came Elena's voice from the stall next to her as something was draped over the top of the adjoining wall – several wraps of varying colours and textures. "We can try these with them, too, then move onto other things after that!"

Other… things? This was a new little twist. It was like the blonde was trying to ease her into it.

… Ugh, but it was still disturbing how excited Elena was. If an evil cackle filtered out of the stall next to her any time soon, followed by a gnarled crow of 'excellent', she would not be the least surprised. She turned to the pile of dresses - wondering why anyone could get so excited over potentially tripping over their own feet all night and forsaking all ability to breathe - and blinked at them. "Where the hell do I start?" she muttered under her breath, reaching a hand out somewhat hesitantly to hover over the nearly overflowing stack, that same overwhelming feeling from the passed three stores making her jittery.

As if mocking her, the first hanger and its respective dress slipped off the brimming hook, and plopped to the ground. Red.

Yuffie picked it up with a defeated sigh and held it out in front of her before the mirror, tugging thoughtfully at a strand of hair.

"Try it, Yuffie," came the warning filter of Elena's voice from the next stall.

Yuffie felt her eye twitch. How the hell did she do that…?

"Come on out."

"… No?"


"Fine." Blowing a stray bang out of her face that her bandanna failed to hold back, Yuffie pushed aside the curtain and started blankly at Elena… who immediately cracked up laughing.

"You've got the zip stuck, huh?" the blonde said in between chortles of laughter, scratching at her temple with amused brown eyes, standing just outside the her changing room in a gown of her own. "Come'ere."

She allowed Elena to spin her around and jostle the zip a little, free it, and then tug it upward. Feeling it snap into place, Yuffie turned back around, hands going immediately to the seams just under her arms to twist the thing back into place, looking at herself in the mirror. She felt ridiculous, and more importantly, she looked ridiculous. Muttering a few obscene words under her breath, she raised an eyebrow at Elena as if to challenge her. "I can't wear this," she said bluntly.

"You're right, you can't."

"I… no?" Yuffie let a relieved smile wash across her face, cocking her head to the side, watching her reflection do the same. "I look like a gimp. A small, twiggy gimp strangled in red cloth."

Elena snickered, shaking her head as she crouched to adjust the lines on the hem of said gimpy dress. At least the girl wasn't physically tearing this one off as if it burned; the same couldn't be said for the first few gowns. "It's not that. It's that you'd be doing that all night." She pointed.

Yuffie looked down mid-movement, and found that she was again tugging the bodice up nervously. Snapping her hands away, she rolled her eyes and gestured to her torso. "It's because it's strapless. I don't have anything big enough to hold it up!"

Elena laughed again. "No, that's a load of crap. That one just isn't cut right for you, and you're not used to wearing something without straps. The bones in the dress are also too baggy for your ribcage."

"Bones?" This was far more detailed than any explanation she got from Tifa. When the brunette fist fighter dragged her off to the shops, it was her being shoved into the stall with dresses on pain of materia repossession…

Elena tugged at a series of what appeared to be small, bumpy seams running vertically up the top segment of her dress. "These. They keep the dress in shape."

"Oh… So, if I cut them out it'd—"

"Scoot! Next one!"

Shoved into the stall again, Yuffie sighed and resolved herself to her fate.

Perhaps doom wasn't quite the right word.

"You like it, don't you?"

"I wouldn't go that far…"

"You're smiling."

Yuffie bit her lower lip to conceal her expression. "I'm not smiling, I'm just--"

"You like it."

"I don't love it, but…"

"But it's better than the others."

"… Yeah."


Yuffie raised an eyebrow as Elena slung an arm around her shoulder as casually as one could while their breasts were threatening to pop out of a strapless bodice, and leaned her head on her own shoulder, glancing with what could only be called a sated little grin at their reflections. Yuffie followed her gaze to the full-length mirror, eyes settling dubiously on her own figure. The gown in question, simple in retrospect compared to the others, was elegant, but definitely not plain. It was red – Elena had been ridiculously obsessed with fitting her in that colour, but in the end, after trying a few alternate ones, she had to agree that the green dresses she'd favoured because of their colour weren't exactly flattering in style – and wasn't anything flamboyantly fluffy or frilly… it was just… cut nicely. Yuffie ran a hand over her hip, pleased at the 'line' of the dress, as the blonde had called it. It didn't bunch, it didn't pull, it flowed smoothly from its single strap on her right shoulder all the way to the point it tapered to just above her left ankle. In fact, the more she looked, the more she liked the single strap, the angular, deliberately skewed cut of the hem, even the damn material. Crooked and quirky, but not over the top – brilliant. And more importantly, it didn't feel heavy, or like it was going to fall the hell down if she decided she needed to lift her arms from where they were clamped against her side.

She shifted her weight, twisting her body slightly as Elena stepped away, swishing the lower part of the dress. She bit her lip, eyeing a detail at the side uncertainly. "I'm still not sure about this, y'know?"

Elena just shook her head, used to this same argument by now. "Trust me, Yuffie, that split isn't anything remotely indecent – the shorts you were wearing revealed more thigh than that. Hell, they reveal thigh full stop. That dress," the blonde stooped in a half crouch to tug at the modest split running up the lengthiest side of the gown, "only has a cut that ends just above your knee. What're you worried about? You're not going to be fighting in the damned thing."

… There was a point. Mind you, that was something she hadn't taken into consideration. "Well, now that—"

"Want my opinion?"

Yuffie rolled her eyes. "You've been giving me your opinion all morning."

"Hey, Reno did warn you, Yuffie. And besides, it's the best one by far. It suits you. Get it."

"That's not an opinion, that's an order," she shot back sarcastically.

Elena raised her hands defensively. "All right, you're as bad as Reno." Ignoring the pale glare that got her, she swept her arm toward the counter "Well?"

Looking over her reflection once more, Yuffie tugged absently at a longer strand of hair. She hated to say it, but it was… nice. She glanced back to the stall, where her clothes were bunched in a heap on the floor, then muttered, "What the hell…" There was, of course, the added bonus to buying this dress. That had to mean they were done here, right?

"Good good!" Elena snapped approvingly, grinning and brushing her hands over the bodice of her own dress, catching her eye as she was about to duck back into the stool.

Yuffie was about to close the door when Elena turned and kept it held open, a slight furrow to her brows. "Wait a sec. Need t'see something first."

Yuffie raised both eyebrows, keeping the door open with her toe as it threatened to swing shut. "What?"

"This." Elena's grin widened and she reached forward, her hand darting out and snagging one free-flying end of her bandanna, pulling it clean off before Yuffie could let out so much as a squeak in reply. Her hands flew to her head, bangs of brunette hair falling instantly into her face and leaving only one eye unobstructed. She let out a muttered curse and raked the offending strands back, holding her hand on her head and scowling faintly at Elena.

"What was that for!"

The green-grey bandanna was held up and dangled in front of her. "Don't you ever not wear this?"

Yuffie shrugged. "When I don't sleep – it keeps my hair out of my face."

Elena smirked faintly. "I noticed." She reached out again with her other hand, picking at a strand of chin-length hair. Yuffie flinched. "Why don't you just use clips and things?"

"Ugh… clips are sharp when you're fighting. Ever been hit on the head by something blunt but it hurts because the clip on your head is metal and sharp and stuff?"

The blonde's look was doubtful. "… No. No, I can't say I have. And I can't believe you take that into consideration when you buy hair products."

Yuffie lifted her chin indignantly and took the chance to yank the bandanna back. "Well there ya go. And besides," she added, affecting a look of disgust, "half of them are way too damn girly."

Elena laughed at this, not commenting on the girly issue – for now. She suspected – more than – that this was the real reason. "Oh, come on. Who in this day is going to bash you over the head?"

She shot a blunt look at the blonde at this moment. "Aside from the fact that there's several people I'm close to and they can barely restrain themselves, y'know, even you should know better than to ask that. What about your happy little pet pit-bull, for one?"

"Reno?" A light laugh. "Oh man… if he could just get his hands on some—" Elena let the glare from Yuffie interrupt her. Any talk about Reno brought some form of hostility. Fake hostility, if she could be so bold. "Oh, Yuff. Seriously…? Reno's not going to kill you. Sure, he's a little rough around the edges, but," Elena flicked Yuffie in the forehead, "he's not all made of mako."

Yuffie couldn't believe she was having this discussion. "No, he's part poison, as well."

There was a raised eyebrow in reply and a small smile on Elena's face as she shook her head. "Yeah, yeah." She let go of the door to Yuffie's stall. "Just promise me," she lifted a finger and pointed at the bandanna she was just now retying around her forehead, seemingly jumping subjects left and right, "you're not going to wear that to the function."

Yuffie snorted. "How else am I going to keep my brains in?"

"Yuffie, you can't wear a-"

"I know!" She closed the door to the stall and began the tedious process that was undoing the zip on the gown. "Kidding, Elena, kidding." Or not.

"Excellent!" There was the sound of the changing room door next to her closing, and then another zipper, the next words sounding a lot more delighted than they had any right to be. "Now we just need our shoes and accessories."

Oh, for… "Joy."

She had had, in the past, no idea that shopping could be such a rigorous exercise, or so complicated. Yuffie had called Elena obsessed, Elena had called Yuffie naïve, and the ninja had countered back with blissfully ignorant. It's no surprise really; everyone knows that Yuffie Kisaragi, when on home turf, has no need to go shopping for herself. However, this is far from 'home turf', and if anything, the several large shopping bags billowing out from her sides were a testament to this. But if she thought she'd be getting away with skiving out of anything short of being stuffed into a piece of material that may as well have been sewn onto her body it was that damn tight, then she was sorely mistaken.

In the two hours that had followed the choosing of 'The Dress' (as Elena so termed it), they had visited countless more stores. Shoes were bought – flimsy little things that looked like the straps couldn't hold a deflated balloon let alone a foot – and a chiffon scarf that was… pointless and transparent. Decoration. Unnecessary. The only use it'd probably serve her aside from flapping uselessly at her side would be to wipe away any traces of excess seasickness from her mouth.

… Okay, so maybe the day hadn't been that bad. She'd had plenty of fun, spent enough of her dad's allowance to make him wish he hadn't sent her to that damn party, and… learnt a few things about the Turks thanks to Elena's excitable mouth. She hadn't been quite so forward about herself, but she'd been more than happy to give an opinion. Of course that wouldn't change now.

"What d'you mean it's nearly two!" she demanded, snatching up Elena's wrist and juggling a hamburger and her shopping bags in the other hand. True enough, the minute hand on the delicate watch was fast grazing the eleven on the dial. Yuffie felt her face go white. "Y'know, when I said 'keep an eye on the time' I didn't mean 'tell me five minutes before I have t'be there'!"

"I thought you said you had a ride waiting?"

"No, I said I'd need to catch a ride."

"… Oh." A tense giggle. "I got distracted?"

"Nice one." The shopping bags at Elena's ankles were on her side. They'd had to make a trip back to the woman's car just so they could retain the ability to walk under even more shopping bags. The woman was an addict. "You need help," she said dryly as she looped her arm through the handles of her own packages and prepared to make a hasty getaway.

"So they say," Elena grinned. "But the only help I need is a little plastic square attached to my hip, thanks."

Yuffie found it was her turn to shake her head. "Ugh, you're just…" Another glance at her own watch, now. "Jeez, I gotta go."

"You don't want a ride?"

"You think we'll even get through the traffic?"


"Shit… shitshit…. Shit!" Shoving the remainder of the hamburger into Elena's already teeming arms, she began the sprint to the train station. "I'm screwed…!"

With a last look at the girl's receding form, Elena had to agree with her sentiments. Of course, as she looked down at the ridiculous amount of garments bundled to her chest, she realized Yuffie wasn't the only one. She pursed her lips, grimacing. "I wonder if Rudy'd notice if I pawned some of his collectibles…"

Yuffie didn't even have time to pay attention to the butterflies in her stomach. If she'd been as fat as that disgusting receptionist in her motel she really would have been screwed. But she was fast. Mind you, that didn't matter when you were lost. "Screeeeewed," she muttered to herself, singsong, as she turned on her heel. If Reeve hadn't rebuilt Midgar she'd have at least known half of the new streets. She knew she was meant to be south of where Elena and herself had been shopping, but that still hadn't granted her any grace at all. The direction she'd been traveling due to the build of the blocks had been southwest.

She'd been walking fifteen minutes and had been about ready to give up when the sound of an obnoxious horn burst across the scene.

Please don't be anyone I know, please don't be anyone I know, please don't—



A car pulled up beside her and she turned slowly on her heel to find herself face to face with none other than the takeaway man from the previous night. Her eyebrows shot up – but at least she'd been guaranteed it wasn't Reno. Hell, even the namecalling had ensured that; since when would Reno call her by her actual name?

"Eric?" she asked, stooping to see into the window of the tiny little make of vehicle she'd come to associate with old people.

"That's the one. Sorry I'm late – although, with the way you're looking I'd be guessin' you're no better."

"… I'm sorry?"

"That's okay, it happens, Yuffie."

She blinked. Shook her head. "No, no… I mean, what the hell're you late for? I have drivin' lessons now, not an appointment at the local fish shop, man."

"You got that voucher on you, kid?"

Oooooohhhh… Yuffie swallowed back an old man retort and dug through her pockets. She fished it out and waved it at Eric, neglecting to bother asking how he knew she had a voucher. "You know where this place is?"

"Even better." Eric began flipped open the glovebox, snatched something up, and held it out of the window to Yuffie. Two somethings, actually; a business card with a familiar comical car printed on it, and a set of glaring yellow learner plates.


"And Yuffie?"

She looked up; Eric was grinning now.

"The door on this car opens outward, just so you know."

Reno detested early mornings like nothing else. Early afternoon was just as bad. In fact, any time of day that involved the sun passing low and bright in the sky and glaring through the windshield of a vehicle he was driving deserved to be smothered with smog. The cigarette he intended on smoking would at least grant him some respite – or so he hoped - because the tint to the presidential car's windscreen and the fold-down flip-screen were sure were sure as fuck doing him no good. Early mornings after late nights just shouldn't exist.

Reeve spared Reno a brief look of annoyance as the sound of a lighter's flint came from his left. "Reno. No smoking in here."

"Says who?"

"How about, 'The president?'"

Reno chuckled dryly. "Reeve, man, when you learn to grow some balls and drive your own fucking car around, you can tell me what to do, all right?"

"I could have you arrested for being in contempt of regulations, you know."

Reno took a long drag on the cigarette and blew it out the window.

Reeve sighed. "Tell me why I hired you again?"

"I'm indispensable to keeping your feet on the ground, that's why."

"I highly doubt that's got anything to do with it, Reno."

"So do I." He palmed the car around a corner smoothly, pulling them to a stop at the wharf. He surveyed the truckloads of things being unloaded onto the large ocean liner and felt his smirk falter. "Christ…"

"Christ has nothing to do with it, I assure you. We're splashing out a little for this one."

Reno switched off the car and stepped out, draping himself over the open door, smoking cigarette dangling limply from between his fingers. "No shit. Don't tell me those're tea cozies I see, boss."

"Ha ha." The president adjusted his suit and stepped out, thrusting a checklist folder into Reno's arms as he strode forward to greet the caterers standing on the wharf, several other security guards tailing him. "Look alive, Reno. We've got a lot of work to do."

"We? You'll be stuffing your face on fucking sample pastries all morning."


He groaned. "How was it I could get held in contempt again…?"

"This is a fucking woman's job."

"You're being paid for it, Reno, I'd imagine it'd be a good idea to close your mouth and get on with it. You'll get it done faster."

"Couldn't you have rostered Elena on today?"

"I could have."

"Are you trying to make me suffer?"

"It really isn't a matter of trying, anymore. Did you even sleep last night, Reno?"

Reno muttered a dark comment back that even he wasn't sure what it clearly said. Aside from 'no'. Sleep had been squashed into the few of hours before dawn, a late night unexpected conversation and remnants of caffeine running through his bloodstream preventing anything even resembling slumber.

"Well then, I suggest you quit hitting the bars the night before work and start catching some shut-eye."

Reno didn't even bother to comment. He resumed flipping through the box of serviettes. This really was ridiculous. "You could've hired some kids off the street to do this for you, boss."

"Call me paranoid but I'd rather my bodyguards sort through the equipment coming onto this boat with me."

"Feel so special…" Reno yawned, shoving another box down the conveyor belt. "But there's other fucking ways to get shit onto a ship aside from hiding things in boxes."

"And that's why you're scheduled to check things over later on this afternoon."

"Check things a little more relevant than the serviette boxes?"

Reeve shot Reno a tired look. "Are you going to keep questioning me?"

"As long as I'm just flipping through these things, can I get some goddamned food?"

"Reno, the safety of our passengers and crew is vital to the success of this function. You're not taking this seriously."

"Fuck. I don't take anything seriously, Reeve, let alone… these." He grabbed a handful of pristine white paper squares and flapped them in Reeve's face. "I could be checking the cargo holds, the hull. Searching through the janitor's broom with a fine-toothed comb would get me further. With the logistics of these things you could just weigh or x-ray them as opposed to picking through each box. Do you know how many serviettes are in here?"

"Seven hundred per box."

Reno ran a hand through his hair. "… That wasn't a serious question, Reeve."

"It never is. And you've asked me three or four times this morning. Go and take a coffee break or something, Reno, and wake yourself up. I'm not sending you home today short of firing you."

Reno patted his pocket. "Can I hand you my resignation instead?"

"You always say that, too. I've yet to see anything." Reeve's lips twitched. "Coffee, Reno, and bring me back one of those sample donuts while you're at it, will you? These hips need a little extra padding."

He'd finally found a good patch, although it'd taken him a good ten minutes of his break and several flashes of his badge to members of the crew. He settled back on the crate he'd dragged from the only quiet side of the wharf into the shade, the shadow of the large ship and the sound of the lapping water against the jetty's posts lulling him into a light doze. He imagined this would become his break spot for the next few days, and that was fine by him. The loading section to the dock was on the other side of the boat and from here the shredding of tape being torn off boxes failed to reach his ears. Yep, sitting here with a coffee and cigarette(s) was all-fucking-right to him.

About fifteen minutes passed before he even realized he wasn't alone after all. The sounds of a knife hitting thick wooden planks fell on his ears and he cracked open an eye to peer across the jetty. Down the far end of pier he could make out the form of a kid crouched over something. Hacking. A long pole lay on the ground next to him, and Reno clicked, sitting up from his lazy sprawl and leaning on his elbow. Fishing. Huh.

Reno watched the boy boredly for a few moments more. He had a couple of fish he'd gutted and the smell was beginning to waft unappetizingly his way. Every drag of the cigarette brought the rank smell of raw stomach content, and with a groan Reno dragged himself to his feet, flipping his sunglasses back down and heading on over.

"I wasn't aware Midgar's waters had fuckin' cleaned up enough to fish."

The kid jumped and spun around, the knife flying from his fingers and scattering into the sea. He stared in shock up at the Turk, and Reno raised an eyebrow; apparently he hadn't been the only one who'd thought he'd been alone.

"They look like they were pretty damn bloated, anyway," he drawled when the scruffy kid failed to comment. "Not a lot of use to ya, I bet."

The boy nodded, finally gathering his wits about him to stuff something into his bag.

Reno wrinkled his nose. "Christ, you've got a bag inside that, right? You're not just stuffing raw fish guts in there?"

"… Y-yeah." Another nod. "Um… I… what're you doin' here?"

Reno smirked. "Inspecting serviettes." There was a soft hiss as he tossed his cigarette into the bay. "You been here long?"

"… U-un. All morning."

He really hadn't been paying attention, then. Fuck knows why the kid was so nervous. Maybe he wasn't good with strangers, or wasn't aware that the maritime bans had been lifted on the area. "You naturally twitchy, or you got a stutter, kid?"

The boy's eyes widened. "I-I… I gotta leave." There was a sudden scramble to pick up all his gear, and the lost knife forgotten, the bag was slung over a bony shoulder. Reno chuckled and stepped aside as the boy bolted, then scowled as he proceeded to dart right into the ship's northernmost entrance instead of west over the small walk.

Fuck. "Oi! Stop the little shit!" he yelled as the boy slammed into the two posted guards, kicking into a sprint. The two suited men pushed off the wall and followed behind him, navigating the padding of small booted footsteps through the narrow cargo run. The kid had a headstart on them, but the peel of clattering cutlery in the distance told him it wouldn't be long.

Reno's smoker's lungs were heaving when he rounded a corner and found the kid tangled in a tablecloth, standing next to a rather stunned girl. The trolley had obviously been hers – he'd seen her earlier, hot blonde, great arse – and its contents lay strewn around the groaning little punk on the ground.

"Something wrong?"

Reno shook his head. "'Catch," he muttered, snagging the brat up by his arm. He grabbed the boy's chin and squared it with his as he stooped into a crouch. "What's your name, kid?"


Beagle? What the fuck were his parents thinking? "Where d'ya live?"

"Vanguard street."


"Dunno. Maybe th-three."

That was a start. "What's a smart kid like you doing running from a nice guy like me, eh?"

No answer. His eyes narrowed and he squeezed Beagle's arm a little tighter.

"Y-you've got a gun, sir."

"I do, do I."

"Yeah, i-it's in your jacket. Men like you always got guns, and M'mum says to run if'n I see one."

"So I'm a bad man with a gun?"

"… D'you want me to nod or shake m-my head here, s-sir?"

Reno found a grin on his face despite himself. He released Beagle's arm and handed him off to the other two guards, who were just now catching up. "Hold onto him a second." He wasn't stupid enough to avoid seeing the kid stiffen when he picked up his bag. The zip was open and he took a peek inside. Two fish, some loose gil, and a couple of hooks. He checked the other pockets and found nothing but lint and a small orange plastic water pistol. Great, he'd chased a practical toddler who, judging by the damp patch on his khaki shorts, looked like he'd pissed his pants.

"Scram, Beagle," he said as he held the bag out to the kid and began to walk away, rubbing at his temple. "I'll leave ya alone from now if you bring some damn deodorant next time you go fishing. You two escort him out," he added, looking over his shoulder at the two guards. "And make sure whoever's on duty tomorrow knows to let him through." He paused then, the smell reminding him, before rounding the corner and going in search of his break spot once again. "And someone fucking find him some fresh pants."

"… Yes, sir."

The blonde woman pursed her lips as she lifted the tablecloth, the folds of fabric having successfully concealed the dropped two cartridges and the small pistol dumped hastily within. A pleased twitch twisted her lips as she slipped them into the box of assorted kitchen utensils, the retreating guards none the wiser. As soon as she was sure they were gone she tugged a PHS out from her apron pocket and hit speed dial.


"Pull back the divers for the transfers this afternoon, we just had a close call and I think that Turk almost had us."

"Everything all right?"

"Peachy now the kid got a free pass into the ship. Just call the divers off, we'll bring them back in tomorrow so it's not too suspicious. We can't screw this up now."

"Our inventory status?"

"We're halfway there, sir. Holding it off for today won't hurt."

"All right, I'm counting on you then. Out."

Dial tone.

A determined nod. "Out, sir."

Eheh… -Grins sheepishly- Hi?

So this update is a little after the fact. Or, likely, over a year? I won't go off into a big spiel and bore you as to why I haven't been updating, because… hey, at least I updated? XD -Ducks imaginary rotten vegetables-. But yes, updates should be a lot closer together than the one year margin now, and perhaps I should mention that I never really wanted to drop it. Sometimes the words flow, sometimes they don't, right? Anyways, a big hug, smooch, slobber and squeeing shout-out to those who've had to put up with me bitching about getting this chapter done. You guys know who you are, and I swear if I were you I would've decked me so hard... XD

This chapter is a tad longer than usual, both given that I didn't want to break it off without having anything significant happen, and in that I think I owe it to you guys to give you a big update as opposed to two hundred words and several different ways to say "I'm sorry".

Now, to reply to the reviews that I bet none of you remember leaving.. -Cackles-

BetweenheavenandHell: -Hands you your hat back and bows- I find the responses I tend to pull from people border on frustration and threats of homicide – apparently, some people just want me to hurry up and get these two together. But, there's no quick fix for everything, and -bashes the Reffie's heads together-, they've got nogginslike solid rock, man. XD

:) : I'm glad you feel my writing has improved, and that you're sticking with me. I often read back through my earlier pieces and want to gnaw my ankle off in frustration. At least I know I'm getting somewhere, even if it's at a crawl, eh? -Cheers for updatesXD-

Ryu Thorne: -Cackles!- Well, Donovan was never meant to be liked, oh noes. My fingers were itching throughout most of the scenes to simply type "And Reno and Yuffie pushed himinto the abyss that suddenly appeared and magically reappeared back home." The guy was begging to be offed, and while he doesn't quite share DonCorneo's comic rotundness, the guy's values were laughable. -Punts him- At any rate, I hope you're still reading despite your 'Yuffie-like patience', and I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint. XD

Izzia: XD I'm glad you appreciate the slow development of Reno and Yuffie's relationship… but what about of the fic? -Cringes- Really, apologies for the slow update, but hey, -laughs- Reffie tension isn't lacking in this chapter. The next one will definitely get things into full swing, but for now I hope this will do, yes? And stubborn is the exact word for it – if Reno and Yuffie weren't as bad as each other, and they got together at the drop of a hat, where would the fun be in writing them? Everyone likes a little challenge now and again. XD

Seventhe: One review is more than appreciated, and it's far from inadequate! This lets me know there're people reading, and the constructive comments you left me make for the best kind of feedback. Thank you so much for your comments in regard to the development of my writing style; I've always loved to write, but during Smoke and Shattered Mirrors I found astyle that struck a chord. I aim to keep developing it as well as I can, obviously, and I'm only sorry I haven't been exercising it fic-wise. The development of Reno and Yuffie's relationship is slow, I realise, and while it's getting them used to each other, it helps test the waters for any potential relationship for them – Don't worry, I won't leave you high and dry -they'll get together. This century, even. ;)

Sors: Good to know you like them, man! Hope you're still reading. XD

Tamzin Summers: Aaaaand another new chapter, twice the length just to try and make up for all the absence. And -cackles- Yuffie always struck me as the possessive type, even over food – if it's hers, it's hers, ya know? -Grins-

Eternal Wanderer: No, you're right, it's off to a slow start. This story gets a different approach; a lot needed to happen before I could drop them off in the deep end, as it would've affected the plot and made things a lot more difficult in the long run. Now, though, you finally get a hint of the fact something's up, and all the waffle is over. Here's just hoping it doesn't take me another year to cough the next chapter up, eh? -Laughs- XD

Crystal Snowflakes: I'm glad you like.XD Elena demanded a decent entrance, and nearly mowing Yuff down seemed a lot less lame than have her just waltz up to the girl, yeah? XD

Tijuana Pirate: Hullo! I'm reading your comment "These chapters always seem to pop when I least expect them…" and I can't help cracking up laughing. Given up expecting an update on my part? XD I'm glad you like the banter – I've always found that a brilliant bonus to the Reffie. They're certainly not the type to sit around a table and sip tea now, are they? -grins- I'm glad you felt that Reno's seriousness wasn't out of place – the guy's been through a lot not to have been affected by it, and I can imagine Yuffie treading on some toes to get to where they're going. And… well, Eric? Youll see him a lot more, yes. I don't plan on dropping him off in a gutter, and I'd imagine if you'd read this chapter you'd've seen why.XD And -purrs- Your mention of Caesar salad has given me cravings now… Damnit. Trundles off to the kitchen to make herself some kai in between review replies. XD

The Inimitable DA: Hurrooooo! And pleh, I'm hoping this chapter will function well enough in an upload, although I'm usually shit outta luck with that kinda stuff. I see they've messed with the system a lot since I was last around, though, so -crosses fingers- here's hoping there's at least been some improvements over promises, eh?XD And yes, of course Reno saw Yuffie in the motel. But I'd imagine if he wants to keep his balls – or is waiting for the opportune moment for optimal embarrassment – then he'll keep his mouth shut until his time to shine.XD And hell yeah, Reno's getting good at making Yuffie boil. But hey, maybe it's only a matter of time before she does the same right back; maybe without intending on it.XD And… terror and asphalt? Babe, I think you just found me a future chapter name if I'm allowed to use it. XD -snug- Yuffieplus car equalsmurder charges.XD

Fyria: XD Oh dear, maybe you should be holding a stress ball and that way your Mum won't flake at your pointing and squealing?XD Well, I've stopped torturing Yuffie's stomach… a year after the fact. :o I'm pleased you like the dialogue, and also that you find my OC's an easy read; they're just part of the fun of putting a story together, and I find if an author makes them too intrusive they rub the story raw. I'm working to avoid it, if at all possible, without making them insignificant. Gotta have our bad guys, after all… -GrinsXD- And EEP! -Grimaces at the last comment… then hugs- Uh… Happy New Year, times two?

Solaria735: Elena added into the mix? One word is elementary, my dear Watson. Trouble.But seriously, glad you liked the chapter, of course, and I hope this one's the same! And a hookup this story? -Cackles- Let's see what I can do, eh? ;)

Akai Kuu: Reeeeed. -Snug!- And yes, I had to plug your fic, and DA's! They're awesome, yes, and YOU. -Pokes- Now that I've updated, you must update yours! -Meaningful footgnaw-.XD And yes, playful Reffie. They haven't stabbed each other yet, so -cackles- at least that's a bonus. And teh gasp! You did too name him! Eric, the chip man, named by Eileen. XD -Shoves him up in the spotlight with you-. Awhee, XD, and a driving instructor too. -Grins suddenly-. Rather relevant for you recently, isn't it? I think Yuffie'll have less luck than you with her driving ability, however. -Cackles madlyXD-

Vamptress RavZor: Mmm, gravy.XD And hey, at least she didn't get mowed… although chucking Elena into a car isn't exactly a genius idea. Better let Rude drive from now on. XD

Silverburner: Are you kidding? They yoyo more than the moon dancing around the earth, buddy. It's half the fun. -Grins- Hope you liked it, yes.XD

Well! -Phews- Until next time – which I swear will not be so far off! XD Thanks to everyone still reading for their patience. I deserve a solid kick for staying away so long, yes.

Ealinesse! (Planning out the next chapter as she types).