AN: I got the idea for this while listening to way too much romantic music for the violin. Sigh….Joshua Bell is an awesome violinist. And I have to submit something to my Creative Writing Advisory teacher to keep him happy, since he's been bothering me about writing stories. Just a bit of fluff, Yuffie and Vincent, so enjoy!

.:The Sweetest Chocolate:.

"How do you make chocolates?"

The question had been innocent—and coming from any other female, Tifa would have offered nothing more than giggles, a sly wink, and her secret recipe. Well, maybe she would also have wormed enough details out for a bit of blackmail later, but that was beside the point. (Who said that kind-looking surrogate mothers of little girls named Marlene couldn't have a bit of immoral fun on the side? She was a bartender, for goodness sake.)

But this was not just any girl. This was Yuffie Kisaragi—the tomboyish, hyper ninja and thief that had probably killed more men in her short seventeen years than she had harbored crushes on them.

Yet, somehow, she was now standing before Tifa with eyes downcast, a slight blush of embarrassment tinting her cheeks. Tifa nearly dropped the beer mug she had been washing, and hurriedly pinched herself. Okay, that hurt—maybe she wasn't hallucinating. But perhaps Yuffie was.

Stooping down to look into Yuffie's eyes, Tifa said slowly and clearly, "Yuffie. Has Reno smacked you on the head with his nightstick recently?"

The younger girl pouted and crossed her arms over her chest. "Shut up, Tifa! I'm serious."

"Well, your speech and auditory abilities seem to be fine…" Tifa muttered clinically. "Maybe it's a Confuse spell?"

"Tifa! Oh my GAWD! How hard is to believe that I want to learn how to make chocolates?"

"Um…Yuffie? You've always had an aversion to anything feminine. Remember when Godo tried to put you in a kimono during the festival last year? I think we would have more luck trying to get Vincent to suntan at Costa Del Sol…"

At the mention of the tall gunman's name, Yuffie suddenly flushed crimson, and Tifa shrieked. "It's him?"

"N-no. I don't like Vincent!"

"Oh my god! It IS him!" Tifa suddenly smiled slyly. "So how long has it been?"

"Shut up."

"It must have started when he carried you around that time when you fainted, right? You guys had no Phoenix Downs, and he ended up hauling you around for like twenty miles until he found Cloud and forced him to revive you." Tifa giggled girlishly, an action she had not had the chance to indulge in for years, since AVALANCHE began its quest to end Shinra's monopoly. Come to think of it, she hadn't celebrated Valentine's Day for years either.

Yuffie was now glaring at her with enough force to rival Vincent's patented crimson Death Glare (Level 1, No. 2). "Tifa—" she ground out through gritted teeth. "Just teach me how to make the goddamn chocolates!"

"All right, all right…but you have to agree to one condition."

The young shinobi eyed the fighter suspiciously. Tifa may have been as kind as Aeris was, but she had a wicked side that the flower girl never possessed. "What?"

The occupants of the new Seventh Heaven in Edge were treated to the heady aroma of dark chocolate and the not-so-pleasant cursing of a certain seventeen year old girl for the next three hours. When Reno of the Turks had strode in nonchalantly, he had wolf-whistled at Tifa, called her "baby," and then laughed nonstop for ten minutes when he saw Yuffie with an apron on, sucking the burn she had received from the chocolate. A large shuriken had been tossed in his direction, severing the tip of his long ponytail.

But the Turk was not to be deterred. After beating a hasty escape from Yuffie's attempt to shave him with the Conformer and some Fire spells, he returned minutes later with a mystified Cid and Barret (both of whom had been visiting). The two could only stare—and let out a string of expletives that pithily expressed their emotions. Then they all left when a vein began popping in Yuffie's forehead and she started to reach toward a very hot pan.

"&#$ing chocolate! Why can't it just stop dripping out of shape?" Yuffie screamed.

"Watch your mouth, young lady! Marlene's playing right beneath the table with Denzel!"

The little girl in question turned away from styling Denzel's hair with pink ribbons and cast a look of pure innocence at Yuffie, which burst her bubble of anger immediately. "I'm sorry, Teef. And you too—Marlene," Yuffie said, truly repentant.

She only smiled, revealing gaps in her white teeth. "It's okay, Yuffie-nee-chan. Daddy's a whole lot worse. That's why Auntie Tifa always hits him…"

Yuffie laughed. Some things never changed.

Marlene observed Yuffie's attempts to simultaneously pour the chocolate into the mold, stop it from burning her fingers, and not drop the pan at the same time. Then the dark candy overflowed and half of it dripped down from the counter to maliciously coat Yuffie's bare feet. A howl reverberated throughout the town of Edge, startling even the young pilots-in-training aboard the anchored Highwind.

After the glow of Yuffie's Cure spell had faded, as well as the sound of her fervent swearing, Marlene laughed that pure, endearing giggle that people often described in books when creating random paragons of children in order to contrast them to a darker antagonist. But let's get away from this author's random rants about literary techniques…

"You must like him very much," Marlene said absently while drawing a heart with a red crayon.

Yuffie sputtered indignantly. "I don't like ANYBODY."

"Well, just be careful. And use protection."

Yuffie's jaw dropped to the ground, and Tifa gasped.The older womanwas the first to recover. In a dangerous voice, she questioned the little girl. "Where did you hear that?"

Marlene's eyes widened slightly. "Isn't that what Uncle Reno always says?"

It could be said at this point that Reno did not return to Edge for a few months after this incident, due to serious injuries that seemed to have been caused by someone's exceptional strong fists.

When Tifa returned from pummeling the red-haired Turk into the dirt about twenty minutes later, Yuffie presented her with the fruits of her labor. The older woman inspected the finished candy with a scrutinizing look.

"Why dark chocolate?"

"This is Vincent we're talking about here, Teef."

"Well, that's true..."

Glancing up to meet Yuffie's hopeful grey eyes, Tifa could not bear to discourage her.

"It looks….nice, Yuffie."

A smile lit up on her face like the sun breaking from storm clouds. "Really? Can we wrap it up now? I can't wait to see the look on his face—"

"Wait. You have to fulfill the condition first."

Yuffie's face suddenly darkened with dread. "Weren't you joking, Teef? There's no way I'm doing it."

"Would you like me to tell Cloud, Barret—" she ticked the names off her fingers idly as she spoke. "—Cid, Shera, Marlene, Denzel, Red XIII, and maybe even that bastard Reno about your little situation?"

"I hate you, Tifa. You are officially as evil as Sephiroth."

"I know."

An hour later, Yuffie tiptoed on her geta carefully with the little red box held in a small basket. "Just two more steps…" she whispered to herself as she tried not to fall down. "Come on, you're a Wutaian princess. You're trained to do this since birth." But geta were still so goddamned annoying, and she hadn't worn the wooden heeled sandals in years.

As she walked with mincing steps, she tried to calm her racing heart. How hard could it be? All she had to do was walk over, dump the little box in his lap, then try not to trip on his cloak as she walked over back to the chocobo. Her brain said that it was easy. Her heart, nerves, and entire body said something else.

What if he rejects the chocolates? What if he accidentally shoots me because he can't recognize me while I'm wearing this? What if he actually likes milk chocolate with enough sugar to melt a hole through Barret's teeth? And most importantly of all, what if he hates me?

There was no doubt in her mind that she could be quite exasperating at times. It would be no surprise if Vincent, the paradigm of aloof reticence, detested her with a (well-hidden) passion. There was also the considerable age difference to speak of. But some irrational part of her still hoped that there was some chance he could at least enjoy the chocolate.

Reaching the chocobo stable behind Seventh Heaven with few mishaps, she sighed with relief. Now if she could just steal—no, borrow—Cloud's gold chocobo for a few hours. Spiky, as she had affectionately named the bird, was the fastest and smoothest animal they had in the town. She would be hard-pressed to find a better one for a trek through the outskirts of the city, with their barren flats and plateaus.

Leaning into the corridor, she resisted the urge to swear as a familiar head of stiffly gelled hair rose over the low walls of the stalls. Why did Cloud have to be here? She had to escape before he noticed her, in her current attire.

Whirling, she stepped off quickly, but was horrified by the resounding clack of her sandals. Damn those shoes! Another reason to burn them after this.

"Who's there?" came the wary voice of the blonde swordsman. Maybe she could get out of here before he—

"Yuffie?"

—saw her. Turning, she was greeted with the sight of the normally composed Cloud Strife gaping at her, slack-jawed and looking rather like an idiot as he stared at her.

"HiCloudcouldIborrowyourchocobo?" she rushed.

It took a moment for him to register that. "What?" he replied intelligently. The shock had obviously not worn off yet. Was it so astounding that she sometimes wore clothes other than her customary battle gear?

"I. Need. Chocobo. NOW." she enunciated clearly.

The twenty-two year old man paid no mind to her demands and instead, placed a calloused palm on her forehead. "No, it's not a fever…" he muttered, and she tried to kick him.

Almost unconsciously, he dodged her half-hearted assault and peered into her eyes. "Yuffie. Has Cid brained you with his Venus Gospel recently?"

She was furious. And slightly amused that both Cloud and Tifa thought so alike. But mainly furious. "Just give me a damn chocobo, Cloud! I am perfectly fine, so stop badgering me!"

"Okay," he said with a doubtful look, and stepped aside to allow her into Spiky's stall. The bird warked at her cheerfully and even conceded to bowing down for her when Yuffie realized that geta were rather inconvenient for mounting tall birds.

Throughout the whole ordeal, Cloud just stood by, staring at her as if he was trying to hold back a desire to cast Esuna on her several times. Yuffie had to kick the swordsman with a sandaled foot to remind him to move from the chocobo's course.

As he watched the girl ride away in sidesaddle, Cloud shook his head in disbelief and decided that a stiff drink from Tifa's bar would help.

The scent of linden blossoms always brought back memories. The fragrance was heavy, rich, like a perfume that lingered long after the mysterious individual had left. And he knew so very clearly how long it lasted—even the safe's steel walls could not prevent the scent from permeating his decades-long sleep every year. That was when every tree surrounding Shinra mansion bloomed, the delicate yellow-green blossoms drifting to caress the edifice's dilapidated walls.

As always, even in his dreams, the smell never failed to elicit those reminiscences from a deep corner within his scarred mind, where he had hidden them, locked them away, in hopes that they would never torment him with their guile. But his wishes were futile, as Chaos often reminded him, and his treacherous mind inevitably led him down the scented lane of memories with rose-tinted glasses.

Lucrecia had always been so exquisitely feminine in her every action, even in the way she wielded a spoon to slip a dollop of ice cream into his mouth that time under the linden trees. Vincent remembered it so clearly—those minute details, like how a small petal had been caught by her eyelashes, and how his hand had brushed it away so gently.

Chaos's disgust was nearly palpable. Yes, Vincent was delusional and every one of his demons knew it, but he didn't care. To say that memories of Lucrecia were painless would be a cruelly cynical joke. Perhaps the bitter, wrenching guilt that twisted his modified, monster heart would be atonement nearly enough to pay for the pain he caused her.

The staccato thuds of approaching chocobo steps jerked him from his reverie. Touching a hand to Death Penalty strapped on his hip, he tensed slightly in his position of repose on the tree branch. The weapon that fed off of his sin and destruction was never weak in disposing of those who disturbed him.

Presently, a golden chocobo trotted into the clearing below him and stopped. Though Vincent recognized the bird as Cloud's, the rider was unfamiliar. Her back was turned to him, and he could only discern that she was a young woman, probably a high-class Wutaian lady. The elaborate kimono she wore was a subtle tint of pink, sprinkled with darker shadows of sakura blossoms and leaves. The obi was a dark red, almost the color of wine, and the fabric was shot through with silver and gold threads.

Her hair was tied high in an elaborate style, held in place with an ornamental comb. A basket was held in her right hand. All together, she looked as if she had stepped from a pagoda in Wutai.

Vincent's gun hand relaxed, but he did not make his presence known. The almost doll-like young woman would only be horrified by his demonic appearance. As he watched, she took a few steps, stumbled, and then uttered a string of curses that he recognized from Cid's exclusive repertoire reserved for situations in which the Highwind was damaged. And in his knowledge, only one young lady could swear like that.

In one swift movement, he leapt from the branch to Yuffie's side. Her reaction was comical, as expected. The youngninja jerked away with a movement so entirely lacking in grace that it was incongruous with her beautiful kimono. She almost lost her balance as she teetered unsteadily on her geta, and would have fallen if he hadn't reached out with his hand to catch her wrist. If he had paid a bit more attention, he would have seen the blush that appeared on her cheeks when his hand touched her. But she recovered quickly enough.

"Vinnie!" she screeched. "Why can't you make a sound when you move!"

"…"

He took the chance to examine her, unknowingly mesmerizing her with his crimson gaze. It was indeed Yuffie—though she had certainly made efforts to dress in a drastically more feminine fashion, he could still see the life in her storm grey eyes, in the determined set of her young face, even in the defiant way she had thrown tradition aside and worn no makeup to match her otherwise near-ceremonial garments.

"What is the occasion?"

She jerked her head up to meet his gaze, then dropped her eyes to the ground and muttered something.

He was amused, and intrigued at the same time. He had never known her to be at a loss for words. When she could only mumble a few words under her breath, he did not press her further. Glancing about their surroundings, he smiled slightly. It was rarely this pleasant in the ancient gardens hidden in a valley close to Edge. He had discovered the copse of antediluvian trees in one of his sojourns in search of solitude.

An idea struck him. Perhaps a walk would help dispel Yuffie's nerves, which were unusual in themselves; he had rarely seen her nervous either.

"Let us walk to the lake," he said, and offered her his arm. She stared at it dumbly, then reverted to her usual self.

"I'm not that weak, Vinnie. I can walk by myself; I'm not an old woman that needs help to hobble along…" and with that, she mustered some confidence and strode onwards ahead of him, resolution sounding in each step. And of course, muttered threats of Fire 3 spells toward her geta whenever she stumbled. Vincent tried to repress a smile as he followed.

By the time they reached the lake, with Spiky following a few paces behind, Yuffie seemed to have gathered some courage. Turning to face him with a downcast face, she suddenly reached into her basket and drew a be-ribboned red box out, then held it out to him with both hands.

Vincent blinked at the box a few times, then shot his gaze to her now crimson face. "Just take it already, Vinnie!" she said with a slight quaver in her voice, and he obeyed thoughtlessly. Only after he took it from her small hands did the full impact of the gesture strike him.

No. He could not accept this gift, this token of affection. She was at the prime of her life—a princess, a warrior, a youth with visions brighter than his had ever been. He was nothing but an empty shell, a travesty of humanity enhanced by dastardly experiments. He had nothing but pain to offer her, and yet she was here, bravely wearing her heart on her sleeve for him.

"Yuffie…" he whispered softly, preparing to break off this relationship before he hurt her, before she became another on the list to atone for.

But she would have none of it. "I don't care if you hate me, Vincent. I don't care if you just want me to leave, or if you don't want another burdensome fangirl on your back." Here, she looked up at him with a firm smile. "I just want you to take the chocolate and smile for once."

He did nothing but look into her eyes, searching for something in their watery depths. He didn't know what he looked for; maybe he was searching for a reason for it; maybe he was searching for forgiveness.

Yuffie was everything that Lucrecia was not. She had none of the older woman's elegance or soft seductiveness in her movements; Yuffie was clumsy, sometimes crude, and audacious to a fault. But there was something in her forthrightness, in her resilient cheer that had always tugged at him. He had attributed it at first to mere concern for a team member, but time and again that had been proven wrong when he found himself worrying about her safety when she was not in his party.

"Yuffie…" he said again, attempting to steel himself to execute the deed. But she stopped him once again with an achingly bittersweet smile, her eyes meeting his for a second before dropping to her cursed geta.

"Yeah, I know, I know. I won't make you say it." With that, she turned and left, her stance rigid and harsh, feet falling with an edge of disappointment in each step.

Until, of course, she tripped. A malediction rushed halfway through her lips as she desperately tried to regain balance, waving her arms wildly. It seemed that the fates were cruel enough that they would ruin even her shameful exit with this. Tifa was so going to kill her for the grass stain that was sure to result when she hit the ground.

But the spiteful grass never got a chance to soil the pink silk—an arm, cold and smooth as metal, caught her before she fell, and a moment later, a black-gloved human arm steadied her. She blinked, then looked up questioningly into the crimson eyes that had so often stared back into her own with apathy. But this time, there was something wavering in their scarlet depths that she could not discern.

With a lithe movement, Vincent plucked a small blossom-masked twig from the branch above them and gently tucked it behind her ear, his fingers just brushing her skin with infinite tenderness. She blushed immediately, her heart racing from that slight contact. He was practically carrying you just a minute ago, Yuffie! she admonished herself. Get a hold of yourself!

He tilted her face up, his touch on her chin feather-light. "Yuffie—thank you."

Then he smiled, a real smile this time. She hadn't seen it since…oh, since forever, and her heart leapt. There was nothing quite like seeing Vincent smile—it was rare that the past did not cloud his vision, when he lived purely for the moment.

She found a grin making its way across her face, and she did it without thought or reservation. Stepping forward, she wrapped her arms around his waist in a brief, tight embrace, feeling him stiffen with surprise. He smelled of roses and gunpowder.

Releasing him before he could react, Yuffie smiled up into his face. "You'd better like the chocolate!" Somehow, she avoided falling again and mounted Spiky; then she rode off without a backwards glance.

It was only after she left the edge of the forest that she allowed herself to squeal girlishly and throw her arms around Spiky's neck so hard that the bird nearly choked. Then she gave a battle cry that reached even a flying falcon's ears, and sped her way back to Edge. But she never kicked the chocobo to full speed—and the flowers were safe in her chocolate-brown locks.

He opened the small box, carefully peeling away the layers of white tissue paper. When he saw it, he almost laughed out loud. Instead of the flawless, artificial confectioner's candy he had expected, there was only one imperfect heart of dark chocolate lying in the box. He wondered how many blistered fingers it had cost her to make it.

As he broke off a small corner and tasted it, he smiled once again.

After all, the sweetest chocolate was the one that was misshapen and slightly burnt.

.fin.