Chapter 9: Growth

It all happened so suddenly, Yuffie could have laughed. It's like living a bad cliché, she thought to herself wildly as she regarded the tiny creature swinging its lantern before her. Of course the Master Tonberry just had to be waddling through the passage she had chosen to sprint down, of course while she was too busy to look where she was going, and of course cornering her now with its ridiculous butcher's knife in the light of its glowing lantern.

Never been a cliché girl before. It would ruin my form to start now, she thought annoyedly, sending the Oritsuru flying towards the creature in a deadly arc. Yuffie Kisaragi was angry and well trained. It was a bad combination for the unfortunate Tonberry, who dropped its lantern and shrieked in pain as its scaly hide was lacerated by her merciless attacks. In a matter of moments it was over, the Tonberry still reaching weakly for the fallen lantern with its dying gasps as she turned away contemptuously. A girl can't even get a good fight down here anymore, she thought with irritation, hanging the metal crane off the belt of her shorts. Not like it would matter, she thought, fingering the protective materia on her bracelet sadly. She was just too good at building fortresses and defending herself. Yuffie wasn't sure she could hurt herself if she tried. So why's it so easy for Vincent to do it, then? her rebellious mind reminded her, making her shiver and wrap her arms around herself. She felt the telltale drops of moisture forming at the corners of her eyes and blinked stubbornly, trying to will her tears away. "Is he really so disgusted by the idea of being close to me?" she whispered brokenly into the darkness.

It was a moment of feminine weakness, one that Yuffie might have kicked herself for if she hadn't been so inclined to give in to her feelings of self-pity at that moment. But damn it, I wanna have a good cry for once! she thought stubbornly. Like she had weeks before in the Gi cavern. On Vincent's shoulder. That thought didn't help lift her spirits.

So lost was Yuffie in her contemplation that she didn't notice the malicious flicker of two yellow eyes as the bloody claw managed to close around the handle of its lantern. There was, in fact, one thing that could make a Tonberry more angry than being lied to, and that was being ignored. Had she realized this, Yuffie might have understood why she shared such a strong affinity with the strange little creatures. As it was, she didn't even notice as the Tonberry used the last of its breath to push its spell out, the flames of the lantern rising slightly. It was only when the crackle of magic made the ends of her hair stand on end that she turned around and realized the spell had been cast.

"Aww, crap…" she muttered as darkness clouded her vision and the licking flames rose around her.

Vincent swiftly made his way down the passage, carefully checking for signs of Yuffie's progress. The little ninja still was the fastest member of their group, and the various twists and maze-like passages the crater was split into didn't make his task any easier. It did give him enough time for a healthy dose of reflection and self-recrimination.

How could I be so stupid? he thought to himself. The young ninja might have been pleased to listen in on his thoughts, but Vincent knew he would have earned every bit of her mocking wrath. She is not Lucretia! he growled to himself, scowling once more. The gunman knew Yuffie cared for him, perhaps even more concretely than he knew of Lucretia's ambivalent affections towards himself. The two women couldn't be further apart in every possible way. Lucretia, with her beautiful curves, her long shining hair, and soft green eyes; his Lucretia, who wouldn't have known how to handle a weapon even if she had written the instruction manual herself. She had masked the softness of her body behind long, loose white lab coats, covered her expressive eyes with thick glasses and kept her sweeping hair pulled away from her face in a strict ponytail. She wanted her career, not his love, and when it was forced upon her, she had used it and twisted it, leaving him a bitter and broken man.

Yuffie's entire lifestyle was a garish contrast to Lucretia, the consummate professional. The ninja was skinny and boyish, with her short, messy hair and overly bright and revealing clothing. She was sticks and stones and hard edges and proud of it. No hidden agendas or feminine wiles lurked beneath her wide, open smile; she held none of Lucretia's mysterious beauty or driven ambition, her lips didn't promise passion and her eyes held no sultry beckon. The only things Yuffie had ever given him were friendship and youthful optimism, without any strings attached. He knew she wanted more, but she held her feelings in check, cautiously waiting for him to make the first move. He appreciated her kindness, but he hadn't been interested in Yuffie as a woman. She was nothing like his first love. And yet, he realized with a growing sense of urgency as he made his way down the passage. And yet, I love her. She's childish, impulsive and obnoxious, and I love her more than I ever loved Lucretia. I am such a fool.

His halted his dark train of thought as he saw a familiar figure sprawled in the passage before him. Concern grew into full-blown panic as he recognized the limp form of the ninja, the lantern of the slain Tonberry still sputtering beside her. "Yuffie!" the cry tore from his throat as he raced forward.

"Just kick me while I'm down, why dontcha," Yuffie muttered angrily as the familiar pagoda of Wutai shimmered into view before her. Always the same, here comes Godo, and then I'll fight mother, she thought, steeling herself for the encounter. But surprise caught her as an unexpected figure shimmered into view. It was her mother standing in place of Godo, her long chocolate hair swimming to the floor in waves and dressed in a soft kimono instead of the usual plated armour. "Mama?" Yuffie said uncertainly, the grip on her shuriken tightening nervously. "You're not supposed to be here," she whispered.

The woman smiled at her radiantly, shaking her head softly at her daughter. "But you've already defeated me. You must face your next opponent now." Dread and fear welled up in the pit of Yuffie's stomach as her mother stepped aside, revealing the figure that stood behind her.

"No…" she whimpered as he strode forward, the blood red folds of his cloak unfurling around him.

"Face me, Yuffie," he told her, beckoning with his golden claw. "You must defeat me."

"I… I can't," she told him, knowing that he wasn't real. That didn't stop her heart from clenching painfully in her chest as she looked upon his terrible beauty. The shuriken fell from her fingers as he strode forward, morphing into the terrible, leathery-winged form of the Chaos beast.

"Then die," he roared, tearing at her with his claws, and she felt herself falling into darkness. There was a faint stirring in her breast, the tingle of the Phoenix summon moving slightly within her as the vision cleared and her body lurched forward. I'm so tired, she thought, a small portion of her mind vaguely thinking that she should really be more concerned. The magic spark of the summon flickered and died out, and her lifeless body hit the ground.

Vincent knelt by Yuffie's prone form, cradling her figure in his arms. Her body was still warm, but as he checked her neck for a pulse, his worst fears were confirmed. "No…" he gasped, his eyes wild, his mask cracked as he searched desperately for her wrist. He found what he was looking for, the materia-laden bracelet jangling off of her arm as always. But the summon within it was as dull and lifeless as its owner, not even a trace of magic swirling inside of the red orb. Vincent quelled a sudden mad desire to rip the traitorous crystal out from its holder and smash it against the wall. "Yuffie," he said brokenly, cradling her gently and burying his face in her neck, his mako-enhanced body refusing to allow him even the simple release of tears.

As he held her, lost under the crushing weight of his agony, he felt a sharp pang in his breast. Yes… only fitting that I join you, he thought bitterly, reaching for the twisting pain inside of himself. Come, Chaos, you can feast on my body. I failed, I failed again. Instead of the expected pain and descent into madness, however, he felt an incredible heat. Vincent closed his eyes and concentrated once more, pulling. Not Chaos, he thought suddenly. This is not Chaos!

Vincent allowed himself to dare to hope as the feverish heat washed over his body. The soft glow emitting from his bracelet confirmed his suspicions as he felt the movement of the summon within himself. He pulled once again, this time desperately, trying to coax it out. "Why? Why won't you come?" he grit out after failing once more. Precious seconds were ticking away, and he could feel Yuffie's body growing colder against his own with each moment.

"The phoenix… it gives you life, but it takes something away each time, too." The words echoed through his memory, and he latched onto it, understanding coming quickly. "A sacrifice… the phoenix needs a sacrifice in order to give life," he breathed.

Once more Vincent closed his eyes, this time calming his mind and reaching deep within himself. He felt the power of the summon even as he found what he had been searching for. Sighing, he opened his mind to the beast trapped in the crystal orb, displaying his offering before it. Please, he thought in quiet desperation. Please.

There was a shifting, and relief flooded through him even as pain drummed a fiery beat along his nerves. It felt as though he was being turned inside out, and Vincent's inhuman cry of pain transformed into the scream of the Phoenix as it rose out of him, bathing the cavern with its holy fire.

… … …

Yuffie woke slowly, her temples thundering as she regained consciousness. "Didn't think I challenged Cid to a drinking contest recently…" she mumbled, her eyes fluttering open.

"You're not drunk," came a monotonous reply.

Yuffie's eyes shot open as she identified the voice, realizing she was lying in his arms. "Vincent!" she squeaked, a hot red blush rising to her cheeks. Then she scowled at him, her eyes growing hard. "Gimmie one good reason I shouldn't sock you again right now," she growled.

"I just saved your life," he answered with a hint of amusement.

Yuffie glanced around, noting the fallen form of the Tonberry as she sorted through her memories. "Oh…" she said, another blush rising to her face. "That's, uh, that's a pretty good reason, Vince," she said lamely. Vincent didn't acknowledge her, his eyes trained carefully on her face as he remained completely motionless. "Um, thanks a lot, you can let me go now y'know," she added, feeling distinctly self-conscious. Oh man, why does the cold fish have to be so cute, she thought to herself as she stared into his pale face.

"No," he said eventually, shifting his arms and pulling her closer. This caused Yuffie to squeak. "No what?" she asked him nervously. "No, I don't think I can let you go," he answered patiently, a tiny smile actually managing to surface on his face as she squirmed in his arms uncomfortably.

Yuffie choked slightly, sure that her own cheeks were going to start giving off steam fairly soon. "Why not?" she managed to whisper, her eyes wide and nervous.

"Because I'm in love with you," he answered, watching carefully for her reaction.

It was as to be expected. "YOU BIG JERK!" she screamed, coming to life like a wriggling snake in his arms and swatting at his head wildly with both of her hands. "GAWD! I should've punched you in both eyes, I should've shaved your entire head like Kikacha wanted!" she exclaimed furiously.

Vincent shut his eyes and lowered his head, wincing as the rain of blows descended. Finally, she relented, grabbing his chin roughly and pulling his head back up. "Don't you ever go and do something that idiotic to me again, you stupid man!" she yelled, and then pressed her lips against his tightly.

"Hey Vince." Yuffie tilted her head upwards and regarded her tall companion as they walked back towards the Materia Falls, hand in hand. "I really died, huh? Gave up the ghost, started pushin' up daises, was feeding the fishes?"

He nodded slightly, looking uncomfortable as she chatted away. "Yuffie, I don't like speaking of it," he said warningly.

She bit her lip and pushed a stray lock of hair away from her face with her other hand. "Well, um, y'know…" she mumbled nervously. "You brought me back with the phoenix, though," she pressed. "But you weren't dead, Vince. How'd you… I mean, what'd you… well… I mean, it TAKES something," she said, her voice hesitant and questioning. When the gunman didn't answer, she assumed the worst and ducked her head sadly. "I'm sorry, Vincent," she whispered sorrowfully.

He stopped walking and pulled her to him, enveloping her in a tender embrace. "Don't be sorry, Yuffie," he told her gently. "I regret nothing."

"But what'd you give him?" she asked, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder.

Vincent smiled and pressed a small kiss onto the top of her head. "I gave the phoenix a very special gift," he said. A blessed and a cursed gift, he thought to himself. One that, despite his mixed feelings over his first love, he had been unable to let go of until faced with a choice. I chose life. I chose you, Yuffie. "I can no longer transform into Chaos."

She wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed him tightly. "Seems like you got a pretty nice deal to me," she told him jokingly, but her voice was thick with tears. Maybe they were tears of regret, or maybe tears of relief, but it didn't matter to him as her arms betrayed her reply. I choose you too.

When the Highwind came to collect them, it was hard to tell if Cid was more surprised by the clan of bedraggled lions that trailed onto his ship after Nanaki, or the sight of Yuffie and Vincent boarding together hand in hand. When the news spread to the others, the new discoveries caused a huge uproar among the former members of AVALANCHE that was only mildly overshadowed by Cid's angry bellowing upon seeing the true extent of Yuffie's materia collection.

Almost a year after her last adventure in the crater, Yuffie Kisaragi finished the book of materia analysis she had promised to write and left Cosmo Canyon permanently to take up her responsibilities in Wutai. Her written work as well as her materia collection was left behind to act as a living museum for the planet. Together with the Huge Materia, it helped to make the peaceful Canyon renowned as the most comprehensive source for the continued the study of planetary energy for decades afterwards.

Vincent Valentine, as mysterious as ever, quietly followed Yuffie to Wutai, never failing in his promise to remain by her side. Godo was understandably not pleased by the development of their relationship, particularly when the gunman revealed his family tree. Still, Yuffie took after her mother in more ways than one, and quickly forced down any dissent to her partner of choice. Though he was her husband, Vincent gladly took the Kisaragi name as his own, giving Yuffie the freedom to rule her people as she saw fit despite the strict traditions of Wutai.

The mako enhancements experienced by both Vincent and Yuffie ensured for a very unique set of heirs for generations afterwards. The Kisaragis became known for their deathly pale skin, unusual glowing eyes, and always, their unbreakable willpower. Yuffie herself lived for an unusually long time, her body never truly maturing though her hair did grey with the passing of years. Her departure from the world was as unexpectedly peaceful as her life had been chaotic, falling asleep in Vincent's arms one late autumn afternoon and never waking up.

Vincent lived on, his unaging body a constant reminder of his past. He remained in Wutai after Yuffie's death long enough to see the birth of his grandchildren, and then left for the wilds of Cosmo Canyon, where it was said that he died alone. Only Nanaki knew the truth, that the gunman had entombed himself to eternal slumber in one of the countless materia caverns of the canyon, where the song reminded him of Yuffie's laughter.

For the lion, life returned to normal shortly after Borah and his tribe bid the residents of Cosmo Canyon a mixed farewell. They settled in the fertile valley, well away from the human encampment, asking only to be left alone. Nanaki remained behind and continued his quiet life within the village. The two lions still did not see eye to eye, especially where humans were concerned, but Borah had developed a grudging respect for the younger cat. In turn, Nanaki vowed to protect the Gi clan, a promise which he upheld until the end of his days.

Author's Essay (because it really is too long to be called a note)

First of all, for Yuffie and Vincent fans, I wrote an epilogue to the story that will hopefully satisfy any ill-will from the lack of romance in this piece. I'm keeping it separate because it doesn't really work as a "trio" story and also to keep the rating of the primary piece at PG. If you'd like to read the sequel, look for my one-shot titled "Autumn Song."

FF7 Strategy Tips

It came out over the course of the writing that I am a real materia nerd. A lot of people started asking me strategy questions, so here are the answers summarized.

Mystile bracelets are the best armour in the game. You can actually dodge Ultimas about 60 of the time with them. I've only ever found two in total, though.

The Emerald Weapon, like all the others, gives you MAD CRAZY amounts of AP. If you know the "secret" of the Aire Tam Storm attack (read it backwards in a mirror), you know it's really difficult to cash in on all that AP the weapon has to offer. But true materia nerds also know, you just can't pass a sweet deal like that up, either. So here's the secret - use unmastered materia except for 3 HP pluses and 2 mimes (1 per character). Use Cloud, Cid, and someone else (I go personally for Yuffie because All Creation takes care of those pesky eyes with one shot). Put rune armlets on all of them, and equip the triple AP weapons on Cloud and Cid and a double-growth weapon on the third character. If your characters are of a high enough level, the stomp won't hurt enough to kill them. If you think you can do it in under 20 minutes, don't even bother with the underwater materia, either. It helps to bring at least Cloud to the battle with his limit break meter already filled for a potshot. I would recommend however loading up your third character, who should have links on their double-growth weapon, with KotR and HP Absorb, as well as mime on the bracelet, since the attacks of double and triple growth weapons are so weak. Don't forget to equip mimes on everyone else, too. Finally if you hit the weapon from behind instead of charging it head-on, it doesn't start with its eyes!

Mythril can be found while you're on the first disc. Go to the cave and make sure that you have a number of battle wins that is all the same and odd, like 11 or 33 or 555 (the sleeping miner will tell you how many you have if you don't meet the requirements), then he gives it to you.

The Twin Viper is not Yuffie's best double-growth weapon, but I never managed to steal the Rising Sun. So... Yuffie doesn't have it in this fiction, either.

Master Tonberries are some of the best enemies in the game, and you can really morph ribbons out of them (if you survive). But Movers and Magic Pots still give you more AP; all are found in the Northern Crater.

Breeding black chocobos requires first having a blue and green chocobo of opposing sexes. Then all you need is a carob nut, patience, and your reset button. An S racing class on both parents helps speed up the process. Of course you could always skip the black chocobo step by trading in the Desert Rose for a gold chocobo. If you like racing, though, black chocobos are smarter.

The Ruby Weapon can be defeated even without the KotR. As long as you have Hades, you can kill it any way you want; summon every once in a while, then sit back and relax. Just be sure to kill off 2 of your party members before the battle begins and resurrect them before it ends, or else you won't reap the full benefit of the AP bonus!

Limit Breaks are usually obtained by using your first limit about 8 times, and then killing 40-60 enemies to get your second. Rinse and repeat for each limit level. The exceptions to this rule are Cloud and Vincent, who need about 80 enemies instead, and of course Cait Sith. Fourth level limit breaks are items which need to be found.

Theories and Premises
I like to think of Yuffie as the "material sorter" of the party during the game. You can't be that single-minded without developing some sort of skill.

I also subscribe to the theory that Vincent was Sephiroth's genetic father. Well, they look alike, right down to height, and at least to me, Hojo is too nasty to spawn a prettyboy like Sephiroth.

A topic of constant debate amongst non Yuffie and Vincent fans is that Yuffie is, in the game, a tender 16 years old, and Vincent, by comparison, is a disgustingly old 57. If you use Japanese dates (which I don't), then Yuffie is 14, making it even worse. I would like to debunk the theory that they wouldn't work out as a couple for at least the American version of the game. Vincent was 27 when he got shot by Hojo and put in the coffin. He then SLEPT for 30 years there. That's right, he slept, unconscious, for 30 years, having nightmares about what a bad man he was until Cloud woke him up. That makes the age of his body in the game a physical 57. Maybe you could say he spent a year feeling malcontent before he retreated to the coffin, but that would still make him technically only 28 years old. Vincent might have the body of an old geezer, but his conscious mind is younger than that of Cid and Barret, and if you want to get technical, he's even "younger" than Sephiroth, which opens a whole can of worms if you subscribe to the theory that he is Sephiroth's genetic father.

Now there will still be some naysayers who will point out that Yuffie is still only 16 years old, and even if Vincent has got the mind of a 27 year old, that's still 11 years of difference between them. And to this I say, yes, you're right. I don't see Yuffie and Vincent being able to have a relationship during or right after the game, it makes good ol' Vinnie seem like a lech of "Miroku" proportions. But let me say this – the difference in age becomes less important the older people get. I'd think by the time Yuffie reached 19 or older, a romance between the two wouldn't be implausible. Particularly since Vincent's body wouldn't be aging all this time. For those of you who still sneer and groan and say it's gross, my parents have successfully shared a 10-year age difference in their marriage for over 25 years now. –I- don't see a problem with their age difference.

I don't like treating Chaos as an independent entity who hates his host and wants to destroy him. Parasites might damage their host sometimes, but they don't live expressly to kill because they'd destroy themselves, too. If Chaos -was- a separate personality, I'd think Vincent and he would share a symbiotic relationship, not a confrontational one. But you don't have to worry about any of that, Chaos manifestation here is... well... just the expression of Vincent's "anger" limit, breaking. (Punny! -sweatdrop-)

My interpretation of summoning is that the summoner becomes the creature he or she calls. So if the writing and perspective is confusing during the summons... well, good, that's what I was trying for!

A tip for authors who struggle with original names for their characters – Chris Pound's varied collection of name generators, both real and fantasy, can help any struggling writer out. "Borah" is from the Klingon generator. Check it out at "www DOT ruf DOT rice DOT edu FORWARD SLASH pound", or just use Google if that's too much work to translate.

Self-made art for this story exists under "www DOT eccentrik DOT org SLASH enkida" - use the menu to click on the section "art – fanart."

Well, that's it, folks. Hopefully the whole story still works within the original ending of the game, I was striving to make something that would "fit" the FF7 world. Now all I have to do is sit back and wait for Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus to blow my fanfiction universe to bits, right? -good-natured grumble-