I disliked goodbyes. They made my gut feel funny. They disagreed with me on principle. That was why I left at four in the morning the first time I sailed out of Wutai, having a ball with a barf bag in the back of some pirate ship that was not supposed to have any extra passengers. The discomfort made me realize I wouldn't make the journey back unless I had something good to show for it. I finished the stock of tranquilizers before I saw the sun hit Midgar. When I finally stumbled onto land with my jelly legs, I realized the motion sickness was only half of it. I had left my home and it hurt. I missed my house and my cats and I wanted Da Chao in the morning and watered-down sake from the Tavern at night. I missed my dad. That we hated each other and could rarely stay in the same room without springing into a brawl seemed relative, those first few weeks on my own. I missed biting his arm, missed his lame taunting, missed our exchange of you are good for nothing. My world had been small but I loved it. It hurt to lie alone at night, without the comfort of anything familiar, and remember it.
It was strange to realize that was how I felt last night, thinking of AVALANCHE.
We left the Pagoda and made the quick journey back home in silence. There was a lump starting to rise in my throat that made me feel like gagging. Godo told me I had better take everything I needed. Which wasn't much. He looked over Conformer, tsked at the materia that was clicked into it. He told me I had better take some of the herbs that Chekov had pounded for medicine – one of them was supposed to help with dizziness, an organic sort of tranquilizer. "And this is for poison mushrooms," he intoned, with a glimmer of humor, showing me a pouch with little green berries in it. I smirked, and fetched myself a fresh batch of sharpened caltrops, and a new set of throwing stars and daggers, from our spares under the kitchen sink.
"You be careful with that, now," he said, nodding at All Creation.
"You're kidding, right?" I flung my sheesh face at him. He rolled his eyes.
"I also expect you to wield Leviathan." He coughed. "Provided your magic skills have the capacity for it."
I knocked him on the shoulder. It suddenly crossed my mind that if we screwed things up, I wouldn't have another chance to return here. I might never give Shake that wedgie I promised, and I might never again trace the slender shape of Da Chao with my eyes, feed our koi table scraps, or finally hear ninjas-in-training call me master (which, inevitably, I would be now, having evenly matched the Lord of the Pagoda). Godo would be heirless forever and ever, and everyone would pity the great lord of Wutai, both wife and daughter dying too young and his hairline receding at an alarming rate. Who was going to take up the throne? (Not that he really had a throne. It was a figure of speech. He had a bunch of pillows that he could pile on a chair and sit on, if he needed to tower over any subjects.)
"You know, I was so ready to spend weeks and weeks moping here and being a general drag and I didn't even get a day to do it. You miss my whining. I know you do. Can I whine a little now?"
I meant that, really. I had imagined the days divided between my room and my house, and was I finally going to do paperwork? Did he unearth another bunch of suitors for me? We would have more proper duels and maybe that same evening we would have had fireworks. Right now there was no time. The worst was not over, there was still a long journey ahead (with many vehicles, undoubtedly, joy of joys). What was my point? I was going to creep out nearly as quiet as I came in. Somehow I couldn't believe this was happening. Did I mean to be wrenched away from the home I had spent the last few months tirelessly plotting my Big Steal for?
No, the truth was, I didn't know how to say goodbye. So I kept on talking.
"I had it all planned out. Day one, sleep. Day two, sleep. Day three, finish the shrimp crackers in the pantry. Day four, wonder whether I got it wrong. Hate myself for giving away Leviathan. Throw rocks in the forest." I had the best hobbies ever. "Day five, have a beer in the pub. I think I'm old enough now? Would the barkeep let me?"
Godo gave me this tired little slap on the shoulder, and I realized nothing was going to make this easier.
"You need to go now."
Gaaaaaawds. I shouldered my pack and put on my best stoic face and I told him, "I will be back so soon you will wonder at my rapidity, and also, I expect a bonfire and fresh catch squid and sushi served off a hot naked dude. Okay?"
"If you can pay for it," he snorted, and that was going to be the end of the conversation. I nodded, turned my back, went "Bye!" and zoomed out the door. Skedaddled. Away on my fairy feet til the next time, fare him well, gods be with him, but not like Godo will ever need them because he is the gods and is invincible like the sun. By now it had extended to the eastern side of the sky. Just enough time to reach the beach. Had I spent so many hours blabbering, did we spend such a long time fighting?
I knew Godo had ordered me for me, in the end. My sake. That was why I couldn't waste his goodwill by regretting this. I passed under the torii with my eyes bright and my mouth clamped into a smile.
I decided I was going to stop feeling sorry for myself – stop thinking about how it was heartbreaking both to go or stay. This time, I would get things right, I would make things better. I'd fight the good fight in the name of universal good, love and honor, Wutai the prayer behind my every breath, and afterward I could go home and AVALANCHE could come with me. Take a fantastic vacation. They would finally get to party – Wutai wasn't a vacation spot for nothing – til the sun went down and I'd be tossing materia like confetti in the air and we'd be dancing on the sand to the tune of a million drums. Tifa would mix us all tequilas (Sex on the Beach, I would gleefully demand), and we'd all pass out together under the stars.
I stopped, right outside the village, before I crossed the first bridge, to ecstatically wave at Da Chao. It seemed ages ago that I was dangling from her eyelid. From this distance one could see the details of the carved faces, the welcoming palms that reached out to me, beckoned to me, reminded me I would always have this: my beautiful home. I would never lose it. It would always be mine.
I was never very good at approaching the ocean. That usually meant ships, which I could never bear. But this time, the slapping of the waves against the shore reminded me of worse things – what I was about face. To ease my churning guts, I had a conversation with myself that consisted mostly of What I Was Going to Say to Not Sound Like an Idiot When I Showed Up Before Them Like Nothing Ever Happened. Of course it didn't really help, when I finally spotted them sitting outside the airship in some kind of highly intimidating council circle, like a scene out of a survival story. I suddenly wished the scenery had more foliage so that I couldn't be spotted a mile away, looking so awkward as I made my towards them. Augh.
It was Cait Sith, as usual, who sounded the alarm first.
"She's here she's here she's here!" Yes, thank you Caith Sith, for that blaringly loud announcement. Now all I needed were some crickets chirping to accentuate my presence. They all looked up, of course, and Tifa sprang up and moved forward, shading her eyes with her hand as she squinted at me. Barret, Aeris, and Cloud stood as well; Red uncurled. I noticed that Vincent and Cid weren't with them.
I slowed to a safe distance where, if they were pissed in the least, Cloud wouldn't be able to suddenly run me through with his sword. Not like he would – I didn't think he would – but I knew what it was like to be a traitor, to be guilty. It was something I had to acknowledge, tied to the days-old ache in my back, Vincent's face as he told me you know what AVALANCHE is like.
"Um, hi." I think I smiled, wondered how to do this – it was Cloud who said they needed to talk to me, right?
"Yuffie –" Tifa started, then glanced at Cloud and let him talk. He was getting into this leader thing really well.
"We got your letter," Cloud said solemnly.
"Oh, you," This was totally not the right time to be awkward or jokey, which of course meant I was being both those things. "You did? Did you like it?" I was probably stuttering. Help.
"Yuffie," Aeris said gently, and moved forward to close the distance between us, and I was not going to run to her, but were things going to be okay? "What do you really want to say?"
"I'm," What I'd promised Vincent, right, when he didn't tell them, when he could have? This was going to fix things. Somehow. "I'm sorry, guys. I would understand if -" If you just wanted me here to berate me; if you'll never trust me with your materia again. If I'll never get to fight beside you now. "If it's not okay. I know, I know what I did was terrible, it sucks loads to be betrayed. I'm sorry." I looked down, looked up. Looked down again. "I'm really sorry."
"We know, silly," Tifa said, laughing as she came forward. "Look, it doesn't matter."
"As long as you don't do it again," Cloud intoned, lighthearted but with enough of a warning to show he meant it. Barret rolled his eyes and said, "Leaving without you was not an option, but girl, you made us wait long enough!"
"Hey, she came," Red XIII added, padding towards us – they were swiftly forming some kind of half-circle around me. The lump in my throat was now so huge I was gonna choke on it.
"I'm still - still the daughter of Wutai," I managed to blurt out. It was a stupid thing to say, but I needed them to understand, at least some of the reasons.
"Yeah, but for now, you're also a member of AVALANCHE." Cloud balled one of his hands into a fist and the cheesy gesture made my watery eyes seem severely inappropriate.
"Your skills could come in handy sometime," Tifa added.
"And you've rubbed off on all of us." Aeris concluded. I guess that was mostly it. I didn't particularly care.
"Group hug!" Caith Sith bellowed.
"You're such a handful," Barret summarized, and then we were all crushed against each other.
I think that meant the conversation was effectively over.
Cid grinned at me when I came into the airship. "Finally," he intoned, knocking me lightly on the forehead. "I had to finetune the engine, shouldn't be as bumpy. But I've prepared the Emergency Yuffie Kit just in case." He shook out a bunch of plastic bags at me.
"Thanks," I said. "I should, you know, probably resume my usual place beside the cargo now."
"Yeah." He waved me off. "It wouldn't be the same without our barf fountain onboard, right?"
I suppose my reputation preceded me. Everyone filed into the airship, started walking around. Through the panel of windows I could see the ocean, lit up bright red and orange by the setting sun, the water ablaze. This was the weirdest homecoming I had ever had, and it would have probably been the worst – if I didn't know myself better. If I didn't now know what it was I had to do. It hit me that I had always thought about fixing Vincent, making him cheerier; but this time it had been the other way around, oddly enough.
I'd even gotten closer to the Turks. Sort of. My dad, in the span of a few hours. AVALANCHE, even more than before. And I had All Creation in my Conformer. That definitely meant something.
Was I really starting to think Mr. Doom and Gloom had been fixing me?
I was so preoccupied with this mindboggling thought, while listening for the telltale signs that we were lifting off, that I did not notice I had walked right into something very huge and bumpy and rather like a dead, pretty man.
Vincent Valentine caught me by the elbow.
"Wah!" I squeaked, ungracefully, but somehow managed to continue, "-aaat are you doing here?" Lingering towards the entrance to the cargo hall, looking nonchalant and rather fresh for a corpse. I blushed, because he couldn't have possibly been waiting for me. I also tugged back my elbow in an attempt to save face.
"You didn't need to do that," he said. For a moment I wondered what he was talking about, then I remembered the conversation we had had the previous night. His expression was still mild as ever – at least he wasn't glowering – but he exhaled weird on that last word, so I suspected a trace of exasperation. I couldn't explain why this pleased me so much, but it did.
I crossed my arms. "Well, you seemed pretty sure I'd be back onboard."
"I wasn't wrong, was I?"
I willed myself not to blink, because that would make me look even more childish, and I already had a failing grade in flirting. So instead I went for teasing. "Did you follow me to Da Chao last night? If you did, you make a terribly, terribly magnificent stalker. I will also demand a restraining order."
"No, Yuffie, I did not." He paused, almost like he was wondering what to say next. (Man, Vinnie sucked at jokes.) Then he reached inside his cape. "I was, however, the first to see this –" oh yes, yes yes was he really going to – "And I think we all agree that this is yours." Leviathan sparkled in his grasp and I took it, tenderly, hushed with my own sacrifice being returned to me. "But your gesture was greatly appreciated."
I looked up at him. Smiled. Things were probably going to get worse from here, but right now that worry seemed distant, not foreboding.
"Well, I guess this is the end of one fantastical adventure. Fantastically weird," I shrugged. Rubbed my back. "You know, where you sliced me, it's going to have scars. It is going to be your awful signature on me." Yes, truly, I was going to be his most horrible work of art.
Vincent gave me his most zombielike expression. I snickered. Perhaps trying early wouldn't hurt.
"So as payment for permanently disfiguring this beautiful body, when all this is over, can I have your Doom and Odin and Gravity? Pretty please with sprinkles on top? You don't need your materia for moping. At least I don't think you do." I wasn't planning on letting him mope, anyway; not when there were better things to do. "Can I? Please?"
"Maybe," he answered, "When you stop talking everyone's ear off. At least this time you seem to be asking before you take."
"Yes, I know you were worried I wouldn't come too. You were bawling yourself to sleep last night." I sighed. "Vinnie, now we are bonded as glue. You don't have to miss me or be shy. Next time we come to Wutai, I will present you to my father as a candidate for my consort." I grinned. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
Vincent Valentine made a sound not unlike choking.
A/N: AAAAND IT'S FINISHED. OMG.
A few words now, because I've been putting off this story-ender note for eons. XD
So I know I said I would post this epilogue early June. Aaand it's been four months since then. D'OH! I'm so sorry, everyone. Lots of things were happening IRL, but I also realized that this story means a lot to me and - and - I was actually kind of scared to finish it. But I finally have, and I do think it's time to let go. I consider this the only real multichaptered work I've ever finished - I never really knew when I was going to be able to write the next chapter. I started this story when I was sixteen, and it's taken me five years to finish it, which accounts for the pretty big shift in tone somewhere in the middle. I actually think I was better at approximating Yuffie's thoughts when I was her age; the way I wrote then was closer to the narrative style this story deserved. But I'm glad I stuck through with it anyway, and while it is by no means an overly ambitious work, it will always have a special place in my heart. Somewhere along the way it stopped being a Yuffentine and became more of just a Yuffie!fic, but that's okay - to this day Yuffie is, and probably forever will be, one of my favorite fictional characters ever.
And now for some thank you's: Tami, who inspired this whole thing with her beautiful fic Tastes Like Green, not to mention everything else she's ever written; Aton who was one of the first readers and helped me develop Yuffie, Godo, and Vincent the way I did; Noc and NC, for being one of the best cheerleaders for this story and always extending support; all those people who posted videos of the Wutai scenes on youtube, and sidequest FAQs on Gamefaqs, which were valuable references for the latter chapters; friends online and offline; and everyone who has read the story, shared their comments, encouragement and thoughts, liked Yuffentine or even just Yuffie a little more for it, and who has kept an interest despite the long waits between chapters and Yuffie's somewhat manic thought process - THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. Here, have a big kiss. I could never have finished this without you guys. Thank you for letting me share this story with you, it has been one of my best experiences in fandom.
That's all for now, but maybe we'll run into each other again in some future fic where Yuffie is still making the moves on Vinnie (or vice versa?). We'll see. :D