The Materia Hunter- Nineteenth Chapter: Reason To Fight
Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy VII or 'Twilight'.
The silence is companionable now, not uncomfortable or stifling any more. Nevertheless, it is quickly broken. To my surprise, it's Vincent who does so, not me.
"You are challenging the Pagoda of Wutai." A statement, not a question. Man, it's weird how he can hear everything…
"Yeah, guess so." I'm not too nervous. We've taken down WEAPONs, huge, sinister monsters created by the Planet, for crying out loud.
"I was in Wutai with Eastern diplomats on a peacekeeping mission about thirty-three years ago. Back then, your father's father was Wutai's leader and we met with him. But I recall the Pagoda well. I was young and arrogant. The diplomats I was accompanying wanted to see me matched against them. For peacekeepers, I remember them being particularly belligerent people. I did accept the challenge, though. After defeating the first warrior, I grew even surer of myself. The ease by which the second warrior struck me down was startling."
Wow, Vinnie got his ass kicked by the second guy. Must have been Shake's dad. Shake… that brat. I cannot WAIT to kick his puny little butt. He always used to steal my practice knives. Then, he'd pretend that he was all innocent and crap and I'd spend half the day looking for them and dreading how my dad would yell at me for losing them. AND THEN, the little jerk would run off with them and TELL my dad how I'd THROWN them at him, a "poor, innocent little boy", and that he'd run away with my knives so that I couldn't get him.
"Yeah, umm…" I start, a vicious grin forming on my face as I consider the image of Shake ACTUALLY pinned to the wall of the Pagoda with REAL knives. "I'm not worried, to be honest. I mean, I know that you got beaten and all, but that was a long time ago when Wutai wasn't so peaceful and we had a powerful, skilled military. People in general were just stronger then. But now, the Pagoda is more for tradition than anything. The first guy is this old fat dude who used to mentor me and the second guy is a bratty little kid who used to get me in trouble with my old man all the time."
Silence again. But then he says, carefully,
"It is better to be cautious than underprepared."
And he hands me a fistful of Materia. YEAH BABY.
"I expect those back when we reconvene."
"I guess you're coming down into the Crater then, huh Vinnie."
"And you're assuming that I'm gonna come back?"
I count the Materia he's handed to me and assess their types. Master Restore. Master Barrier. HP Plus. Comet. Deathblow. I slip these into my pocket, rolling one last orb between my fingers tenderly.
The others make a good amount of sense to have, but Odin is one of those "extra" Materia orbs that you equip if you have the capacity or if you just like Summons and their power. I feel that all of us have somewhat outgrown a Summon like Odin. But I suppose Vincent has lent me this as a promise of sorts.
He's pretty sure that giving me Odin will assure that I'll come back because when we first met… I gave him Odin. An action that still surprises me. I don't give away Materia. Especially valuable Materia.
I could make off with any other Materia he'd give me. But he's good. And he's right. I wouldn't be able to just not return this one.
"Vinnie, take this one back. I don't think I'll need it." I hold out the red orb, not quite meeting his eyes.
"I think you will," he says, a slight bit more emphatic than usual.
This time, I look him square in the eye. "You know what you're doing, don't you." A statement.
"If I did not, would I see you again?" A question. But more of a statement than I'd just made. My heart rate surges because I don't know what I want to do. When I go back, I don't think I'll want to leave. I'll defeat my dad. And then I'll know that I'll finally gain his respect. I'll finally feel like I'm meant to be Wutai's leader, like I don't have to try and impress anyone higher than me because there won't BE anyone higher.
But it seems that Vincent is trying to make my decision for me.
If Meteor falls, I might not have my chance to make Wutai into what I want it to be. There may not be a future.
"I'll take Odin, then."
"Do so." He watches as I slip the Summon into my pocket with the other Materia.
We land near Wutai not five minutes later. I grasp my Conformer tightly in my hand, fully equipped with both of Vincent's and my own Materia. There is no rain here, but dark clouds threaten in the distance. Gah. They followed us.
"Call me tomorrow morning sometime, Yuffie," says Cloud. He puts a hand on my shoulder and grins wearily at me. "We'll pick you up if you decide that you want to fight alongside us in the Crater."
I put my hand on my hip. "You know what your problem is, Spike?" I shoot. "You have no faith. I'd bet you a million Gil that everyone's gonna be there tomorrow when we go into that hellhole. I know I'll be there. I'm not even gonna call. I expect you here tomorrow morning at 10 AM sharp. Also, get some sleep. You look like you've had your nose broken; the shadows under your eyes are so bad. If we didn't have Vinnie, you would be the team vampire right now. Say, have you ever read 'Twilight'?"
He stares at me, bewildered. "No…"
"Well, you look like Edward Cullen except shorter, blonder, more blue-eyed, and…" I think for a moment, bouncing slightly on the balls of my feet. "… less badass because you can't read minds or produce glittering sweat."
"This 'Twilight' sounds stupid."
"So says YOU, obligatory blond male RPG leader character."
And with a shout of "I SHALL BE BACK, SUCKAS!" I leap away toward the grand front gates of my hometown.
I guess that means that I can't die between now and tomorrow morning, then. I check the time on my PHS. 4:38 PM. It's been a while since I've been just on my own. Funny that it would be here. I wander through the familiar streets, enjoying the bustle of the people, the noise of their steps blending into a rush of silk kimonos, harmonizing with the gentle flow of the stream running parallel to the path. Snatches of conversation catch in my ears, ringing in the familiar buzz of my native language. Quickly, I find myself at the front door of my own home.
"Here we go…"
And I step over the threshold.
Time for business.
Roughly, I tie my hair into a low ponytail with a scrap of silk. It's too long. I grab something with a blade off the wall and sever the tail of hair just above the tie. Better. Carelessly, I toss the discarded locks into a bin. I slide open a concealed door and yank a piece of clothing off a hanger. Battle kimono. Quickly, I strip off my shorts and top and thrust my arms into the sleeves of the kimono. It falls to mid-thigh, and I wrap the wide obi belt around my waist expertly. Battle clothing isn't meant to be fancy—I tie the belt in a simple knot at the back. A pair of tight, stretchy shorts go underneath. Next, I strap on a holder to attach the Conformer to my back. This will be important if I need to use hand-to-hand. Bracers and gauntlets slip over my fingers to protect my wrists and hands. Sorting through my own Materia, I select a few pieces and place them in the open slots. Lastly, I pin a fan-shaped ornament into my newly shorn hair, at the side just above the ear. My mother's. It's called a jhoomar.
Checking my Materia one last time, I place the Conformer into the holder and lace my feet into boots. It's time.
Finally, I can be free from my dad's supremacy.
And get revenge on Shake.
But mostly become free from my dad.
It only takes a few minutes to get to the Pagoda, but I find myself walking extra slowly. I take in the sight of neon lights, of street-side vendors selling key chains and souvenirs, of tourists with cameras and food stands selling our native dishes altered for Eastern tastes. Then, for just a moment, I turn and stare Da Chao in the face, the rain clouds hovering over it, like some sort of ominous sign.
"I know," I whisper, inhaling to take in the earthy scent of the coming downpour. "I'll bring your dignity back."
I run toward the gilded doors of the Pagoda then, and as they close behind me, the rain falls down.
"Welcome to the Great Pagoda of Wutai! To your right is our famous display of Toya Era swords, each used by historic warriors in battle. Unfortunately, the Pagoda is closed for the day, however, so I'm afraid you can't proceed upstairs. If you come back tomorrow, you can certainly tour the upper floors!"
A part of me dies inside. A large part.
"Look, you little tour-jerker," I snarl loudly, stalking forward and gripping the suddenly terrified perky tour girl by the collar of her cheap satin kimono. "I didn't come here to take a damn tour. Do you have any idea who the hell I am?!" My blood pounds powerfully through my veins, adrenaline making me tenser still.
"Se- Security!!!" she screams as soon as I let her go. Oh gawd, this place has security?! Why the HELL would the PAGODA OF WUTAI need SECURITY?!? I snarl again as a group of seedy looking guys in police-y looking uniforms come running down toward us wielding flashlights and wooden sticks. Oh, how nice. Sticks.
"I came here to fight," I hiss, attention turned back to the girl. "I imagine my dad's around here somewhere. Pagoda or no, I'm here to kick his ass." I turn on my heel to leave. "If I have to thrash his sorry butt and haul him into the goldfish pond in his stupid palace to legitimately defeat him, I will. Oh, and…" I reach into my obi quickly and draw out four throwing knives. Yes, real ones. "As soon as I deliver the beat down on dear old Dad, you all are frickin' fired." With that, I turn around, and in a flash, each of the security guys and the tour girl are pinned to the back wall by knives through the palms of their hands. Gawd, I'm pissed.
The Pagoda erupts with screams as I walk out into the rain.
I hate this so much.
"GODO!" I scream as I blast open the door to the Palace with a third level Fire spell. The two weak guards lay incapacitated along the walkway. Pointless. "GET YOUR ASS OUT HERE!" A pair of servant girls cast looks of terror at each other before approaching me, obviously on the verge of wetting themselves. In any other situation, I'd be laughing. But I'm in the mood to kick the crap out of a whole Pagoda full of people right now.
"Excuse me… miss?"
I glare at the two servants and they both cringe.
"Lord Godo is not in at the moment."
My glare becomes harder. "Where is he, then?!"
"He should be in the Pagoda, miss."
Most likely snoring in a fifth floor corner to not notice the ruckus I caused.
"Where are the other Pagoda masters?!"
One of the servants backs away, and I notice that my hand is bleeding from my nails piercing my skin as my fist tightened. I loosen my grip.
"They should be in the Pagoda as well, miss."
I scowl. "Well, old man Gorky wasn't on the first floor like usual. Were they all having a stupid little drinking game on the fifth floor with Godo or something?! It's not like they have anything better to do these days."
"I cannot say, miss."
I turn around to go back out—again. "Next time, you'd better call me 'Mistress'," I mutter as I return to the door.
I enter the Pagoda again to find my four hapless victims still trapped against the wall. I sigh. Looking at them, their hands bleeding, obviously in excruciating pain, their expressions fresh with new terror at my return… it makes me feel like I'm turning into Vincent.
"I might need these knives," I rationalize aloud as I go to each of them and yank the throwing knives out of their hands. As soon as they are free, they collapse to the floor, shaking in fear. Sheesh. I draw my Conformer. They all gasp and scramble away from me. I glare again.
"Cure 3," I cast, my borrowed Materia glowing bright green in the slot of my weapon. The wounds on their hands disappear, but scars remain. A present from Yuffie Kisaragi in thanks for betraying your homeland… allowing it to rot away in tourism, allowing our traditions to be twisted and manipulated… It's so stupid.
I walk away from them wordlessly and ascend the stairs. I need to find my old man. Gawd, I think I could kill him right now, I'm so mad. Hot tears trickle down my cheeks as I remember my mom and her pretty kimonos, her long, long hair, and how she loved Wutai. Wutai was so beautiful. In the springtime, there were cherry blossoms and delicious foods untainted by Eastern preferences. Everyone always wore beautiful, elaborate outfits made of heavy brocade for the festivals in the spring, and the stream was so peaceful with its water lilies and the way it ran under the bridge in front of the Turtle's Paradise, which used to be just a normal restaurant that served the best dango for the cherry blossom season. Now it's a bar and sushi place. I've never even really liked sushi. But it's apparently Wutai's staple food, according to the rest of the Planet. That and "kung pao chicken", which I had never even heard of much less tasted before I visited Midgar for the first time, shortly after I set out on my own.
Everything I've seen connected to Wutai in the East breaks my heart. But I think that coming back here breaks it even worse.
I emerge onto the second floor of the Pagoda to be greeted by an odd counter I hadn't seen there before, at the left wall. I approach it warily. No one is there, and a "Closed" sign is propped up on the counter's surface.
"Moo Goo Take Out—Best Kung Pao Chicken in Town!"
I collapse to my knees in front of the stand and bawl my eyes out.
"Damn it!!!" I scream, pounding the floor with my fist. The walls shake with a sudden enormous clap of thunder. My sentiment, exactly.
"Leviathan," I pray, "please help us."
I drag myself to my feet and head to the third floor.
I walk past the wide rack of tour brochures and I try not to care, tears flowing freely all the way. This is home. This is my blood, my birthright, my memories. I hate Godo so much.
I reach the fourth landing shakily.
Finally, someone who remembers who I am. I greet Staniv silently with a view of the top of my head. My eyes stare, boring holes into the floor. I don't want to see. He grips me tightly by the shoulders momentarily before embracing me. I just cry harder.
This is home. This is my blood. This is my birthright. These are my memories.
I'd rather be on the Highwind right now. I'd rather be embracing Vincent.
Anywhere but here.
I take a shuddering breath before balling up my fists again and socking Staniv as hard as I can straight in the jaw. A satisfying crack and a yelp of pain meets my ears. He crumples to the floor, holding his face. But quickly, he makes to get up. I draw my Conformer swiftly, one of its glinting points aimed straight toward Staniv's neck. I can hear him swallow.
"You know why I'm here," I whisper, hoarse from my tears. "Now change into your God form or concede. Either way, you'll be defeated."
He sighs and rises to his feet despite my blade. This time, I look up into his eyes. They look regretful. He knows why I'm upset. But soon he'll be answering to ME, not my old man.
"I am Staniv, fourth of the Five Mighty Gods. I am undefeated, and you shall not be the one to best me, Lady Yuffie Kisaragi." He backs away from me, suddenly intense as he takes a fighting position. "WEAPON CHANGE!"
I narrow my eyes as Staniv shifts into his God form—the War God. He swings a heavy flail over his head. Immediately, I cast Wall.
"UUURGH!" And he hurls the flail at me, the heavy iron weight hurtling straight for my stomach. I leap out of the flail's path easily. But I make the mistake of not looking back. Suddenly stars pop in my eyes, delaying only slightly the splitting pain in the back of my head. I suck in a burst of air before falling to the floor painfully. What the HELL was that?! Did his flail just FOLLOW me around the room?! From my place on the floor, I look up at Staniv, once again swinging the weapon over his head. He glares down at me fiercely. Damn him. I spring to my feet, head pounding, vision swaying.
"Regen." I take off straight toward Staniv, Conformer held out like a shield. He grunts and swings the flail toward me again. Prepared this time, I spring over the attack. When faced with attacks that can track you… get the attack to destroy its owner. The oldest trick in the book. I dive at Staniv and flip myself over his shoulders just in time to see, or rather hear his face being used as my shield from his own weapon.
"Weapon change, huh?" I remark, surveying the now-defeated War God on the floor. "Yeah, I'd agree that you need a weapon change." He reverts back into his human form, the fierce eyes and gray leathery skin dissipating to reveal Staniv, unconscious. I'll take his stupid body as proof. Slinging his arm around my neck, I drag him up the stairs.
I don't dislike Staniv. He's a nice guy. But he's part of the reason Wutai is like this, and I can't forgive that. The Five Mighty Gods preside over Wutai together, though my father is mainly responsible as the reigning Lord. Our legislature is pretty ineffectual, in my opinion. Godo makes all the decisions. He can be overruled only if the other four of the Five Mighty Gods oppose him in unison, which means that the other four all have to agree on one thing opposite Godo for him to be overruled. So basically, there might as well be only one Mighty God because Godo's never, ever been effectively opposed.
Whether he opposed Godo or not, the solution is simple: defeat him and take Wutai into my own hands.
"GODO!" I cry as I emerge onto the top floor. Four figures whirl around to face me, shock evident on their faces. I meet the eyes of old man Gorky first as he looks toward Staniv's unconscious form then back to me. Shake stands next to him, grown up, but still shorter than me. Beside him stands Chekhov, a middle-aged yet very pretty woman. Her eyes turn sharp quickly. I only glare back. And next to her…
My old man.
I drop Staniv to unceremoniously to the floor and stalk toward him, hand automatically reaching back for the Conformer. My limbs shake slightly from unrestrained anger. Vaguely, I hear the sounds of Staniv coming to behind me.
"You. Are. An. IDIOT," I snarl viciously, once again reminding myself of Vincent. I point the Conformer at his throat as he scowls down at me.
"And you are a disgrace," he spits. "How dare you talk to me like that; you are no daughter of mine, and you speak to me as if YOU have authority!" Suddenly, he grabs the arm holding the Conformer and forces it to the side. I resist, but as I do, a stinging pain erupts in my cheek.
He slapped me.
I scream in rage and launch my fist toward Godo. "FIGHT ME, OLD MAN!!!" I scream, missing his face narrowly. "I WILL INHERIT WUTAI!! AND LEVIATHAN WILL SMILE DOWN ON US ONCE MORE!!!"
And so it begins.
I find myself staring down an impossibly tall three-faced beast wielding a wicked looking saber. Swiftly, it slashes at me, and I flip out of its way expertly. Gonna have to do better than that, old man… I swing the Conformer out in front of my body as two green Materia orbs glow bright in its slots.
"Regen!" I cry, narrowly dodging another slash of the Omni God's sword. Unexpectedly, the God lands a well-aimed kick into my abdomen, knocking the wind out of me. I land on my back and roll to the side, gasping for breath. "Wall!" The slight sheen of the defense shimmers before me just a split second before the sword smashes into it, aiming for my shoulder. My heart leaps.
I sprint around to face the Omni God's terrifying white side as I reach into my kimono for the throwing knives I'd stashed. However, when I throw them, the God dances out of their trajectories, and the white face grins eerily. I scowl and make to throw the Conformer when a familiar pyramid of white hotness captures me. I scream. Oh gawd, oh gawd this hurts. Oh gawd, it's Trine. My Wall releases me from the spell earlier than if it hadn't been there, and silently, I thank Vincent for loaning me Master Barrier.
"Comet!" I call as the Materia beckons down a shower of rocks to beat Godo's head in. Satisfied, I watch him slowly crumple against the barrage. A particularly large rock impacts the white forehead and I smirk as a thick line of blood flows. Thanks a lot for the Trine, buddy. The attack ends, and a cloud of dust rises from the impact site.
"HRRAAUUGHH!!!!" Suddenly, the Omni God emerges from the dust, red dragon's face glaring murder down at me, saber raised. As if in slow motion, I feel the blade contact with my left shoulder and swipe across my chest, ever close to my heart… I choke a breath down in shock as the blood spills over the Conformer in my hands, and a twinkle of red flashes in my eyes before…
An ethereal silence sweeps overhead, and I find that I can't move. Everything in front of me seems unreal, like I'm reading it out of a storybook.
The sword in my chest freezes in its path as the dark knight descends. A steel blade is drawn, and it flashes before the charger gallops away.
As the Summon fades into the quivering air, the dark knight turns to look at me.
I just barely catch sight of the Omni God dissipating to reveal my old man, collapsed on the floor before I collapse myself, blood still leaking out of me in a warm, wet gush.
Well… I beat him.
Staniv sprints to my side and eases me gently into his arms. I pant heavily in pain. Oh gawd. I think he broke my ribs. That bastard. I'm gonna kill him.
"My Lady," he says breathlessly as he engages my Master Restore. Normally, I'd be extremely pissed because he's touching MY Materia. But this is probably the one allowable exception. "You won, my Lady."
"I know, idiot," I mumble groggily, the loss of blood starting to make me dizzy. "Bastard had it comin'." My eyes close. But he's probably smiling. Staniv was never a very strong leader. He never had a very strong will, I guess. But I know he thinks my old man is annoying in his old age, if nothing else. He'd just never say it out loud.
I feel myself being lifted from the floor before I drift away into sleep. Damn… blood loss…
What is probably several hours later, I wake up to darkness. Slowly I sit up, testing myself. No pain, it seems. I run a hand across the path of the sword wound. It's gone. Oh Master Restore. How I adore you and your seductive emerald glow…
"What time is it, Staniv?"
"Three in the morning."
"Why are you here, then?"
"To look after you."
"You know that the wound is gone, right?"
"So you're basically just creepily staring at me while I'm asleep for no other reason than to admire my sexylicious body. Also, it's not exactly light in here. If I started randomly gushing blood, you probably wouldn't even notice. Besides that, why do you thi—"
His fingers close on my upper arm and my heart jumps into my throat.
"Lady Kisaragi," he says heatedly, different from the weak-willed Staniv I know. "Are you aware of how long you have been gone from Wutai? Years. And you can't say that because you fell from your father's good graces, you fell from the regard of others as well."
I stare straight ahead in the darkness. "Staniv, I'm sorry if you missed me. But I had to leave."
He continues on anyway, his hand still grasping my arm. This is really uncomfortable somehow…
"When you returned to town only a short time ago with Materia you had stolen, I saw you although you did not enter the Pagoda. Something felt strange inside of me, and Lady Kisaragi, I must tell you now. I have very strong feelings for you… my Lady."
Okay, scratch that. This is beyond uncomfortable. This is MAD AWKWARD.
"Er…" I try to laugh, but it comes out as a weird, nervous hiccup. "Strong feelings, huh? I thought you all might not like me a whole lot, but I never knew that you HATED me, man. Sorry." Yeah, I know that's probably not what he meant by "strong feelings". But I don't know what to say… Obviously, I don't have any feelings at all for the guy… Well, maybe I feel sorta bad for him… now.
"You misunderstand, my Lady. You see, I… I have fallen in love with you."
I twitch unconsciously at hearing him say the words. "Staniv, this is silly.. You're my mentor, my teacher, you're ten whole years older than I am, and…" Suddenly, an image of a very sexy Vincent Valentine pops into my mind's eye. A very sexy Vincent Valentine who is also at least twice Staniv's age. I sigh.
"Well… you know…"
He sighs, too. "I know, my Lady. I did not hope that you would share my feelings or welcome them. However, I thought it important that you know, especially with the fall of Meteor impending. I am sorry to trouble you. It was very abrupt of me."
Ohhh, so this is his last minute confession so he has no regrets. Gross.
His fingers find mine and before I can protest, his lips brush against the back of my hand before he leaves.
I'd better get some sleep.
I thought that I'd want to stay here now that Godo's been defeated. But I really just want to go, at least for a little while.
Mind racing, I force myself into a fitful sleep.
What are you fighting for now? Wutai is yours. Cloud and the others will stop Meteor. Why are you going back?
I don't know. I just have to.
Fate. Fulfillment. Love. This is your fate. Without fulfilling it, you would regret. What has there been to give your life meaning? There has been adventure, but although you have run so far away, you have gotten nowhere in all these years… And for the first time, you know what it is to have companions and what it is to work toward a cause greater than yourself alongside them.
My eyes open slowly, my head as clear as if I'd never fallen asleep. Morning light filters in through the paper shade over the window.
I dress quickly, thoughtlessly. Today is the day. Shorts, top, bracers, gloves, socks, shoes, headband. I reach out to pick up my Conformer when a streak of red catches my eye. I blink, hard. There's a second Summon Materia in one of the slots. Did Odin get Mastered? I blink again. A dragon rises from the depths of the red, then disappears again. Leviathan…?
I whirl around, frown already set on my face. Old man.
"You have reigned victorious over me in battle, and for that, you should be commended. The Leviathan Summon is now yours, and when you next pick up your weapon, you will also find yourself with the knowledge of the All Creation technique, handed down along with Leviathan for many generations." He takes a deep breath, seeming to concentrate very hard. "When you go… trying to stop Meteor, I just want you to know… Yuffie… we… we are proud of you here in Wutai. I am proud of you, my… daughter."
I stare at him, dumbstruck. No way… That old man just said that he…
"Uhh… er…" Coherent as ever, I am! "Thanks, Dad." My heart soars. I don't know why. I don't even like Godo, but somehow, I don't want to go now. A tear drips off the end of my nose. Oh, damn it…
Somehow, some way, I end up buried in my Dad's arms, sobbing, my arms clinging to him so hard that he would probably die had he not been the stubborn, tough guy he always is. He strokes the back of my head gently and I sniff, feeling all of six years old again.
"You can do this, Yuffie," he says gruffly, still stroking my head. "We all believe in you. You'll come back, with the Materia!" I choke out a laugh, finally releasing him from my death grip.
"Yeah, definitely with the Materia!"
He hands me his fancy silk handkerchief and I blow my nose into it with an impressively loud 'HONNNNK'. He just smiles.
Not a half hour later, I find myself on the Highwind, oddly calm despite the fact that we're heading toward the toughest fight of our lives.
"Hey Vinnie!" I grin brightly. Vincent just stares down at me, expressionless. If he actually could bring himself to say it, I swear he'd be holding out his hand demanding, "Gimme back my Materia, you little wench!"
"Okay, okay, I'll give you back the Materia…"
"You have been bleeding a lot."
I stare at him, eyes wide. I guess I did bleed a lot… though I wasn't awake for it, Godo did slash through a lot of flesh before I took him down. Guiltily, I think of Staniv. Wait. Guiltily? Oh gawd, why am I feeling sorry for that guy?
Vincent reaches out and touches the spot on my shoulder where Godo's blade entered.
"It was repaired well."
I smile sadly. "Yeah," I mumble, remembering Staniv's panic as he used the Restore on my Conformer to close my wound. "Godo cut me with his saber, and after I won, Staniv healed me."
"Congratulations for your victory."
I return the Materia to him wordlessly. Oh, the pain. Don't worry, my lovely little balls of magic. You shall be back in Mommy's arms soon!
Spike pokes his head toward us. "We'll be there in an hour," he says tiredly. Though I can tell that he's exhausted, his eyes seem to burn differently than before. He's determined, found his reasons to not only fight but also to stay alive. I smile genuinely.
"We'll be ready."
"Thanks, Yuffie." He smiles back.
Cloud Strife is really a good guy.
"Vincent…" I murmur, eyes cast down to my hands, folded in my lap. "Why are you fighting? Is it really because Sephiroth is Lucrecia's son?"
He seems to consider me for a moment before replying, "It is."
"That's all?" I question, looking up to meet his eyes. "Just because you…"
"I failed her. My own immaturity repulses me when I remember that I had put her through so much pain. All she had wanted in her final moments was her son. She loved Sephiroth even though he was what he was. Even after her death… I continued to fail her. Sephiroth grew up, suffered. Had I loved Lucrecia like I had claimed, I would have loved Sephiroth as well, and protected him. But I hated him. He was the manifestation of my nightmare."
"You say you failed her, but if you realize you didn't love her, then why does it hurt you so much, Vincent? We talked about this once before… You said that even though you didn't love her, you cared about her still, and felt responsible for protecting her, at least as her bodyguard. But… why is it really so much of a burden? What is it?" If he didn't love her, then why does he still feel so guilty? I feel like there's a part of the story missing here.
Vincent takes a deep breath. I wait. He looks at me painfully.
"My father's name was Dr. Grimoire Valentine. He was an expert in the study of Planet Life and an accomplished biochemist. When I was 19, he took on an intern, a prodigal young scientist interested in one of my father's recent studies. The intern's name was Lucrecia Crescent. I knew my father had a student. However, I never met her until after my father's death, only a couple years after Lucrecia's internship with him ended. I had no way of knowing that she was the one."
"That's a weird coincidence, but what does it have to do with Sephiroth?"
"Lucrecia and my father made a discovery in their time together. I do not know the details of what they were working on, but something in their experimentation went wrong. To save Lucrecia, my father was killed."
My eyes widen. "That's horrible, Vincent. If I were Lucrecia, I would feel so guilty, especially to you."
"She did. But she kept her involvement with my father a secret. For a long time, I did not know that she had ever known my father at all. But after the incident with Hojo and me, Lucrecia spent her final days fighting to save me. Though I have only a little recollection of the time I spent in her lab, I know she talked to me more than she ever had when I was well. She told me everything, about my father, about how he'd died… But her guilt was unnecessary. I held no bitterness toward her. After her death, all I could think of was how much I hated Hojo, hated Sephiroth… Now, I hate myself. I hate that I hated Sephiroth. Lucrecia participated in my father's death and saved me as a product of her guilt. I could not even bring myself to save her son, though I know I helped to bring about Lucrecia's death. Now I will destroy Sephiroth because my guilt drives me to. Guilt that I did not save her son when I could not save her. What remains of Sephiroth is bitterness and pain. I know Lucrecia would not want to see him as he is now—so marred by her decisions and the past that he has grown corrupted. Now the only thing I can do is erase the outcome of her poor decisions and alleviate her remaining guilt."
"I'm sorry, Vincent." I swallow loudly and look away from his eyes. "I'm so sorry. It just seems that in the end, you are the one who will feel guilty and unhappy. What then, Vincent? Whose fault is that? Your story is just a huge tangled net of self blame. But when things happen that you can't control, whose fault is it then? And who is left to look out for your happiness? I think..." I reach out and place my hand on top of his long pale fingers. "I think that claiming some happiness for yourself is alright, too. Then people won't worry about you, and you won't have to feel guilty for burdening others. I know that if I were unhappy for some reason, people would wonder why. I would feel bad for burdening them with my problems. I'd feel sucky for feeling sucky! And it might be no one's fault at all. But it's my fault if I refused happiness for myself." I smile as Vincent stares down at me in disbelief. "I think that I would be happier if you were happier, too, Vinnie. So after we go down and kick Sephiroth's ass and stop Meteor, we're gonna have Cid drop us off in Wutai so that we can get completely plastered on my Dad's dime at the Turtle's Paradise. Then, we're gonna go to Costa Del Sol and soak in some rays and just lay around like an old retired couple. Sound good to you?"
He just stares at me for a second. I stare back, unblinking.
"Perhaps you are right, Yuffie." My eyebrows shoot up as I feel his hand shift under mine, and his fingers curl around my fingers gently. My face melts into what I hope is not a goofy grin.
"Of course I'm right, Vinnie. I'm the Materia Hunter Yuffie. And I am God."
One last chapter, then the epilogue. Thank you for staying with me.