Operation: Exploding Jellyfish!
Chapter Five: So Long, and Thanks For All the (Jelly)Fish
Marlene snuggled up to Yuffie, who had monopolized the couch.
Yuffie sighed, content. She might not be able to sit up or lift things or move her torso at all, but she could snuggle with the Damn Cutest Little Girl In the Whole Wide World, and if that didn't about cover all the shit she ever wanted to do when bedridden, it was time to blow up Edge.
Denzel curled up with his back to the couch, munching popcorn. Reeve sat next to him, one arm loose around the boy's shoulders.
Wasn't Denzel technically in the WRO or something?
Yuffie would have shrugged, but that would have hurt.
On the television screen, the Corel Chainsaw Massacre Man was sneaking up behind poor, defenceless Mary Alice.
"Turn around, you idiot!" Denzel hissed.
Mary Alice went down in the library in a blaze of gore. Chocolate-syrup blood spattered hard back volumes supposedly bound in Corellian leather. For no real reason other than 'because the director could', the camera randomly switched to one of the aisles of books, showing a dark liquid creep towards the camera.
Reeve paled. "Yuffie, are you sure they should be watching this?"
She snickered. "I was younger than Marlene the first time I saw this."
"No wonder you're so fucked up," Reeve replied.
Yuffie, having nothing else to hit him with, smacked him in the back of the head with a pillow. Removing said pillow from under her torso hurt like a bitch, so she smacked him extra hard to make sure it was worth it.
"Yeow!" Reeve yelped.
"I'd say sorry, but you deserved it."
"Did too! I am not fucked up! And you're not supposed to say stuff like that in front of the kids!"
Marlene made a strangled sound. Yuffie, hearing it, turned her eyes to the screen.
The man with the chainsaw was standing behind a pair of children. A tiny little girl with hair that (had the movie been in colour) would have been the colour of corn silk clutched the hand of a boy who would have been a brunette.
"Dennis?" The little girl whispered, her voice stereotypically high and childish in that classic 'little blonde girl' voice. She also had the classic 'little cute girl' lisp. "I feel as though we're not alone."
The chainsaw revved.
Poor cute little Mary Jane and her big brother Dennis were bisected simultaneously. The director went psychotic with the chocolate syrup. At one point, it even dripped down the camera lens.
Marlene screamed. Denzel screamed (like a little girl, Yuffie noted with vicious glee). Reeve screamed, but that was probably because Mary Jane had been holding a stuffed Moogle, and now it was all bloody.
Denzel and Marlene also jumped backwards, which slammed the couch, which jarred Yuffie, so she screamed. In pain.
And there they were, screaming, when Vincent, stark white and armed with the Cerberus, came rushing down the stairs.
"Ow! Ow-ow-ow!" Yuffie wailed. "I am never ever letting any of you watch a horror movie with me ever again! That hurt!"
"How come the little girl had to die!" Marlene demanded.
"'Cos she's not Jeanette, okay! There. The blood is chocolate syrup and everybody but Biff and Jeanette die!" Yuffie snapped.
"What is going on?" Vincent demanded. His tone still wasn't quite a question, but that was okay— AVALANCHE knew how to make allowances for Vincent's terminal case of Vincent-ness.
"Everybody but Biff 'n Jeanette is going to die?" Marlene wibbled.
"Yes, everybody but Biff and Jeanette is going to die. And if you ever slam into this couch again while I have broken ribs, I am going to strangle you."
"What. Is. Happening." Vincent sounded both angry and confused. At the same time.
Hallelujah! Praise Lord Leviathan! Break out the tambourines and sing it! Vinnie managed to have more emotional depth than a toilet bowl!
Urge... to cackle... rising... must... resist...
Onscreen, Biff shouted, "Damnit Jeanette! He's going to find us! Pull yourself together!"
"But I love you, Biff! Why can't you tell me if you feel the same?"
Marlene made a disgusted sound. "She's dumb. How come she gets to live but the kids have to die!"
"Because she has a nice rack," Yuffie replied.
"What's a rack?" Marlene asked.
Vincent put his face in his hands. Reeve glared.
"Jeanette gets to survive because she's Biff's fiancée." Reeve enunciated every word very clearly— especially the 'Biff's fiancée' part.
That was a complete lie— the movie had never stated that in any of its many incarnations. But she had figured that Reeve wasn't going to say something along the lines of, 'Because Biff needs to get laid' or 'Because Biff needs to get married so he can repopulate Corel'.
"That's nice. I'm happy for them. What's a rack? And how do you know it's nice?"
Vincent shook his head. "Yuffie was using an inappropriate term—"
"—I don't think Marlene needs to know that. And I'm sure Yuffie's sorry she said that. Right?"
Yuffie nodded. That goatee was fucking scary.
After a three-block walk, uphill both ways, with him in dress shoes (not so bad) and Tifa in heels (according to the mutterings he would hear later, absolute hell), they finally arrived in Orunita's.
If the food wasn't sublime, he was going to demand his money back. And send Yuffie on some sort of smear campaign. And she'd do it, too. In a heartbeat.
They were actually seated quickly, shock of shocks. And, as he'd specified, they had a hell of a view. The city actually looked something other than war-torn, smog-filled and dirty. The lights of the various buildings and distant view of the mountains was enough that the Cloud Strife Sense of Rip Offs was mollified. At least a little.
Of course, his careful planning all went to hell when a young woman wearing, oddly enough, dress slacks, stepped up to take their orders. Her hair was a violently plum colour. It wasn't just purple: it was purple with a vengeance, as if it were daring him to note that it was purple. Her skin was dark, only a shade or two lighter than Barrett's, and she was wearing contacts that made her eyes look yellow, like a cat's.
All in all, she was quite a character.
He fought to keep the bile out of his mouth. Nothing was going according to plan. That Orunita's hired such crazy looking people (thinking this was rather hypocritical of him, but that's Cloud for you) did NOT bode well for him at all.
"Mr. Strife," the young woman said, and Cloud blinked to realize that this young woman was, in fact, a young man. "I'm Vivi Orunita. I want to apologize for any inconvenience my valet caused, so I'm going to serve you myself."
That explained everything. Everything.
The bile went back down, to its rightful place in his stomach. Cloud nodded.
Vivi smiled, amazingly cheerful. "Now, what can I get for you to drink?"
He traded glances with Tifa.
"A glass of Valentin, red, if you have it," she said, smiling.
He knew it was just him, but he still didn't like seeing her smile at other men.
"And for you, Mr. Strife?"
"W Stout." He replied.
Tifa sighed. "You still drink that?"
"Yes." He left it at that. He didn't feel like being emasculated publicly tonight.
"W Stout, as in the lager?"
Vivi gave him a sceptical look but hurried away. He returned with a glass of red wine and a bottle of W Stout.
After that, it was menus, and discussing food, and just hoping to hell he could get through dinner without pissing Tifa off too badly.
He'd heard Yuffie muttering something about eating spleens if Tifa said no.
Yuffie yawned (which hurt) as she contemplated the next movie.
They'd put off The Corel Chainsaw Massacre (B&W) until after Marlene and Denzel had gone to bed.
But now that they'd finished it (and by they, she meant Vincent in addition to she and Reeve— he'd stayed, after she begged, and even let her use him as a foot rest), she wasn't sure which movie to watch next.
"C'mon, Reeve. Arukado-Sama, The Wolfman or It Came From Beneath The Sewers. Just pick, okay?"
"Uhhh, what are they?"
"Arukado-Sama is the ORIGINAL, black and white Wutaian vampire movie. Waaay scarier than Dracula could ever be. Partly 'cos it's not set in NIBELHEIM or COREL. I mean, are those the ONLY places where scary stuff happens? And The Wolfman is THE werewolf movie, I am not kidding. And well, the Sewers one... Just doesn't compare."
"Uh, doesn't Vincent get a vote?"
Yuffie snorted. "Does the lampshade get a vote?"
Vincent turned his head and Glared.
"Okay, fine. Vinnie, you pick."
"Arukado-Sama." He said it without hesitation.
"Fine." She handed Reeve the DVD, but he shook his head.
"We need popcorn and drinks. I'm gonna go grab an ale out of the kitchen. Either of you want anything?"
"An orange juice and vodka," Yuffie replied. "And don't water it down. You got me started on under-aged drinking; you might as well indulge my adult drinking."
They both turned to stare at Vincent. He rolled his eyes and replied, "Wine. Red."
"Goodie! Vinnie, you can help me sit up!"
"This movie still scares me. I watch it every year, and it gets me every time. I'm not sitting on this couch alone."
And then she pulled The Face That No One Can Resist. She'd learned the trick watching Marlene.
She discovered, to her great surprise, that it actually worked. She nearly pumped her fist in the air and screamed Huzzah at the discovery of a new weapon against the forces of evil— or Vincent's Gloom, whatever.
"Ah," he replied. And he helped her sit up, with a minimum of actual physical contact. He even helped her position her pillows.
Seven minutes later, as Vincent was popping the DVD into the disc tray and settling next to her on the couch, Reeve returned balancing a bowl of popcorn and an unopened bottle of ale. The popcorn and ale went onto the table, and then Reeve went back to the kitchen. He came back with a glass of red wine.
And a leftover milkshake.
Yuffie made her outrage known. "Good. I get the middle. And the popcorn. And you can just do without, Reeve. I am—"
"It's one of Cloud's."
"Did you hear the blender running? He told me to give it to you sometime tonight. I figured you'd rather have one of his milkshakes than a screwdriver."
"POPCORN FOREVER. C'mon, let's watch the movie."
And so, Arukado-Sama began.
They both had the spaghetti. It was neither coincidence nor conscious decision. They just... both had the spaghetti. Tifa, because it went with red wine. Cloud, because he liked it. The end.
They were almost through with the spaghetti, as Vivi refilled Tifa's glass of wine again (it actually hadn't been that many refills, but Cloud was nothing if not prone to random bouts of paranoia), that Cloud began to think of exactly how to give the first ring to her.
Finally, he decided to just start with the background. He set down the bottle of ale. "You know that after the Nibelheim incident, Shinra confiscated the clothing and personal effects of the citizens, right?"
Tifa looked up at him. Apparently, the thought of Shinra employees stripping her father of anything valuable wasn't exactly a pleasant one.
"And then they—"
"—Mass cremations. I know. Reeve told me."
Reeve had looked into some Shinra files for her. That was right. Cloud had almost forgotten about that.
Cloud, not sure of how else to say it, finally said, "They didn't melt anything down. Maybe they thought they could sell it in various estate sales, or something."
He pulled the tiny tin box, marked with a serial number, out of his pocket. He slid the latch and opened it for her.
"I remember that your father wore it a lot," he told her.
Tifa pulled the tiny ring, on a fine silver chain, out of the tin canister. She held it in trembling fingers, and Cloud wondered if he'd done the right thing.
"This— this was Mom's. Her engagement ring."
"She must have had very small hands."
"She did, actually. My mother was tiny. Heh." Tifa looked up at him again, eyes full of tears she wasn't quite ready to shed. "I remember, even in my earliest memories, feeling like a giant next to her— even if she was taller than I was." She choked up. "Thank you. I don't think you know how much this means to me."
Vivi, in that riot of dress slacks and a ridiculous blue peasant shirt, came back to them. "Are you finished with your meal?"
The tears started to spill over, like tea sloshing from one of Shera's teacups. "I don't think I'll be able to eat anymore— not pasta, anyway."
Vivi blanched. "Dessert, then?"
"Maybe a cup—"
"—She'll have the Ring." Cloud cut in. "And a cup of coffee."
Tifa looked both angry and confused. "Cloud, that isn't on the menu."
He merely shrugged.
Vivi returned with a plate. Finer china, Cloud noticed. On the centre of that plate was a small black box, resting on a doily (of course). Someone had ladled caramel, chocolate syrup, whipped cream and various other desert toppings into an intricate tracery surrounding the doily.
Tifa dropped the wineglass.
Yuffie began to laugh. And, because laughing hurt, she also started to cry.
Vincent gave her an odd look.
Reeve looked over at Vincent, then back at the television screen. And then he started laughing. He reached out and snagged the remote control. He paused the movie at a shot of Shin Eru.
Yuffie pointed at the television screen.
Red cape. Black Mandarin collared shirt. Black pants. The buckles, the straps, everything but those damned shoes— it was pretty well a replica of Vincent.
"The half-Eastern hunter. What of it?"
"He doesn't see it," Yuffie found herself saying. "Oh gawd, Vinnie, you don't see it?"
"Vincent, you're dressed the exact same way."
He wasn't willing to meet their eyes. "This is the first time I have seen this movie. It was still a cult classic before she— before."
"But you never saw it." Yuffie sighed. "Hojo had a sick sense of humour."
But Vincent shook his head. "It was not Hojo."
Yuffie and Reeve blurted at the same time, "What?"
"It was... A Deathnight costume. Lucrecia insisted that I attend, and I insisted that I attend armed. So..."
"A Deathnight costume from when? And how did— you know what, I don't want to know why the moths didn't eat your clothes."
"From before things went... sour."
Yuffie shook her head. "We gotta get you some new clothes, Vinnie. You're wandering around in a five zillion year old Deathnight costume." She perked up. "You'd better dress up as something new this year!"
"Only if you do so as well." He gave her the I Disapprove look. "I have seen photographs from last year."
"Really? What'd you think?"
"I am surprised your father did not disown you."
"Aw, come on! It was just—"
"It was just indecent."
"Oh, you know that's how they would have dressed! And my legs were totally covered!"
Of course, the bodice had been tight, and she'd had a long, shiny chain that dangled into her cleavage. In a really sad version of Wutai, it probably was scandalous, and Godo hadn't exactly been happy.
"Fine. I'll go as Sanada Satsumi, the novel version."
"Then I shall dress as—"
"—Arukado," Reeve grinned. "And I'll be Fenri."
Yuffie chuckled evilly. The thought of Vincent in a traditional kimono with cheap plastic fangs in his mouth was just too much.
Reeve poked her, and she squealed, only to make him glower. "Shut up. We're watching the movie!"
"No, what we're watching is goddamn static," Yuffie replied.
In the confusion following the wineglass incident, Vivi immediately rushed back to the kitchen (presumably to grab a towel or something), a couple of employees moved over to try and help, and Cloud grabbed his napkin and began to mop up the spill.
As he worked, he mumbled, blushing furiously, "Tifa, will you marry me?"
Tifa's response was the ever-intelligent, "Oh. My. God."
Cloud blinked. "Tifa—"
It was at that moment that a young woman wearing a red skirt suit decided to accost them.
Well, Cloud felt like he was being accosted. That may or may not have been due to the fact that he was on his hands and knees, scrubbing away a stain.
"Cloud Strife?" The woman asked.
"Mr. Strife, my name is Freya Corlew. I'm with WRIN. Have you heard about the break-in into the WRO headquarters?"
Cloud bit back an angry retort. He stood, nodded.
"Yes. I interviewed Dan Xu, and she described a young woman who matched the description of Yuffie Kisaragi. Do you know if Miss Kisaragi was involved in this?"
He clenched his jaw, finally saying, "She was."
"And what do you think of her actions? Do you know if President Touesti plans to press charges?"
He closed down his face, just stopped his facial expressions. Now was not the time. "I think we have more important things to think about. Tifa?"
He looked over at her. She was smiling at him, her eyes still full of tears, even as she cried. It was like an endless teacup, filling and refilling with tea constantly splashing over.
She took the ring from the box and slid it onto her finger. "Of course," she said.
Cloud, not sure what she was replying to, remained quiet. He just watched her, his breath catching in his throat, hoping she had meant what he wanted her to mean.
After a little while of silence, Tifa sighed. She put her hand on his shoulder (her left hand), her smile widening. "Of course," she told him, softer this time.
Cloud's immediate response was to let out a loud whoop and lift Tifa by her waist into a kiss publicized on Edge's eleven o'clock news.
Yuffie smiled as Reeve leaned over and put his arm around her shoulder. That easy gesture (so in line with Reeve's relaxed, gentle style. He and Cid were the only people in AVALANCHE who did it, and she wondered why) was comforting, for some reason. If he'd forgiven her enough to sit like this, she knew she would be able to sleep soundly.
On her other side, Vincent sat ramrod straight. Even he had begun to relax, though. If you could call it that. It was more that he had begun to gravitate towards the two of them.
Arukado-Sama was classic Wutaian horror: atmospheric, creepy, and clawed its way into your head within the first five minutes. When it was being actively scary, it could lay low even the bravest of people.
She had come precious close to screaming when Uemachi Etsuko had discovered her dead daughter on the day of the wedding. The only thing stopping her had been Reeve's sudden shoving of a pillow into her mouth.
Since then, Vincent had moved closer to her.
Onscreen, Sanada Satsumi advanced through the classic Wutaian castle, the all-white silk of her obi trailing behind her. Despite the fact that this was an extremely old film, the swish-slither sounds of the trailing fabric were easily distinguishable from the soundtrack and other "ambient" sounds.
The katana Satsumi had raised made Yuffie snort. She had a healthy respect for this film, but sometimes, you just had to take notice of when a director changed history.
"What?" Reeve whispered, his eyes never stirring from the flickering images on the screen.
Yuffie whispered back, "The Sanada clan was a ninja clan."
And here was coming one of the scariest moments of the entire film. Satsumi would lift her blade and look into it, trying to discern if anything of the werewolf sort was behind her, but she would be unable to see her own reflection.
All she would see were—
No, she didn't want to see this part. She broke free of Reeve's tightening grip and laid her head on Vincent's chest.
He twitched, but let her remain there.
She closed her eyes, listening to the 'hurry' sounds and shrieks of Satsumi's vision. Beneath her ear, she heard Vincent's heartbeat speed up. She fought down the urge to laugh.
His right arm encircled her.
It was one of the best moments she'd ever had while watching a horror movie. She felt warm, safe. Almost not afraid. Sure, she was in some pain.
But at least she wasn't screaming her lungs out the way she had the time she watched it when she was sixteen, before Sephiroth.
"Yuffie?" He asked.
His chest vibrated when he spoke. Yuffie giggled a little, because it tickled her ear.
"Yuffie?" He asked again.
She lifted her head just enough to look up at him.
"Are you well?"
She nodded, dropped her head back onto his chest. In this position, the movie passed by like liquid.
At about four AM, Tifa and Cloud stumbled into the living room. Tifa was feeling more than marginally punch drunk, but Cloud appeared to be just fine.
That was Cloud for you, though. He just kept going until you knocked him unconscious.
Tifa nearly tripped over an item. She couldn't see what it was.
She heard Cloud snicker.
And he did.
With his lips on the back of her neck.
When the light clicked on, she blinked again.
From the bottom of a veritable mess of limbs, Vincent looked up at her, his expression sleepy. Above him, Yuffie clung to his torso, her arms thrown around his neck and shoulders. Reeve clung to Yuffie, his head pillowed on her back. One of Reeve's hands, Tifa realized, lay just under one of Yuffie's breasts.
Cloud looked up, away from her neck. She could tell because she felt him shift behind her.
Vincent blushed. Yuffie's breasts had obviously pressed into his back, and the back of Reeve's hand was crushed against his shirt.
The blush on his face was almost cute. Tifa held up her left hand, showing him the ring. She wasn't able to keep the grin off her own face.
Vincent's face softened for a moment, the closest he usually got to a smile.
And, as she and Cloud left the room, she saw Vincent's head dip back down. Reeve loosed a loud snore. She paused for a moment, smiling at the trio of deep, even breathing patterns.
Cloud's hands slid to her waist, and his lips slid from her neck to the small of her back. She threw back her head and laughed.