For Yuffie Valentine, for without whose input and gentle
nudging along I would never have continued; for all those
purty reviewer-type people who give me nothing but confidence;
and for everyone who said, "Guardian, you lazy bugger,
hurry this damn story up."

Much Ado About Yuffie


Even if he had been asleep, the pounding on the door combined
with the unholy screech would have woken both him and all the ghosts
that remained in his tiny house.

"Vincent Valentine, you open this door right now, or you won't HAVE a
door to open!"

Running a hand through his hair and pulling it up in a ponytail hurriedly,
he made his way over to the door, trying to recall when he'd last heard
Tifa so angry. He unlocked his door and raised an eyebrow at her.
"Ms. Lockheart?"

She was still in her festival dress, but her makeup was smeared and her hair
was falling loose from it's bun. Her hazel eyes were like laser beams and
her hands were clenched in fists, with one very pathetic-looking crumpled
piece of paper clutched in her left.

Her voice was an amazing weapon, rising and falling in a low-pitched
crescendo. "Vincent, don't you dare try to tell me you didn't have a
hand in this because I can bet every gil I own that you were the one
responsible and if you don't tell me what the hell happened last night
I'm going to take a very blunt knife and hack away at your ba - "

"Tifa, what happened?"

"YOU happened!" she shouted, and waved the paper at him like it
was a gun. Vincent deftly snatched it and unfolded it, his eyes
scanning over the lines.

A freezing hand gently folded around his heart, which was slowly
sinking like a ship in an ice-cold sea, and he began a full-body tremble.

("... I could never")

I never meant that why did you not understand I thought you understood
because it's not you incapable it's me and I... I... Yuffie!

("… love someone like me?")

It was something more than mere will that made his voice steady.
"I see."

"You see? You SEE?" Tifa's voice rose to a shriek. "WHAT THE HELL

"Yuffie made... a mistake. Through this mistake, she has obviously
decided there is nothing left for her in Kalm." May the Gods strike
you down dead, Vincent Valentine.

Hands with the power to crush bones lifted him up by his shirt collar
and he found himself thrown back onto the hard wooden floor.
Momentarily winded, he gasped, and looked up at 5'5" of very
angry Tifa Lockheart.

"I don't like using violence on my friends, Vincent," she said silkily.
"But Yuffie is very dear to me, and if you do not start talking..."
She punched one hand into the other.

For a moment, Vincent pitied Cloud deeply.

He took a breath and looked her level in the eye. "Yuffie admitted to...
having a crush of sorts on me. I rejected this."

She sucked in a breath of her own. "Crush?"

For some reason, he could now not meet her in the eye. "She called it love."

Tifa's hands clenched again and she gritted her teeth. "Why, Vincent?

"I am incapable of loving someone as she would need," he answered
in monotone. "I have my own reasons."

"Or maybe you're just too damn cowardly to try to love someone," Tifa

Vincent sat up and looked at her, crimson eyes calculating. "Why are
you doing this, Tifa?"

She ignored him and pinched the bridge at the top of her nose before
nodding. "Yes, that's it... you've got to go to Wutai. To patch things up."


"Do you ever want to see her again?"

To hear her laugh and say my name? To see that cheerful sparkle
in her eye? Flying like a cannonball around me, making me smile?

I care for her. But... not like that...


I... this is all my fault. Another price I must pay.

"You would not comprehend - " he heard himself begin to say.

"I comprehend all too well," Tifa snapped back. "And you'd better
comprehend that you're taking the next ship to Wutai. Cloud can
run your shop, he's more than able to. And don't you dare come
back until everything's sorted out."

"What do you want from me?" he eventually asked, bemused.

The look in her eyes softened. "For Yuffie not to spend nights
wondering. For you not to spend nights wondering. For both of
you unable to look eachother properly in the eye in the twenty
years later that you might meet, to not go through life
with just a ruined friendship..."

"For you not to take the same road I took."

Shipped in with the storage on a miserable little ship bound for Wutai,
Yuffie made her escape.

They'd protested they hadn't had any room. But Yuffie had persisted,
over and over again, cajoling, pleading, begging, demanding, until finally
they packed her in with the storage.

It had been a long walk to Junon and she was tired; too tired to take
no for an answer, or give a flying damn where they put her. So she
cuddled herself next to a big carton and fell asleep, dusty, dirty,
unhappy and tear-stained.

"Miss? Miss, wake up, miss."

The voice seemed to be coming from far away. Yuffie couldn't

"We're in Wutai, miss." The sailor stared down at her, not unkindly.

"Oh... thakgoo," she said groggily and stood up.

Bright light. Yuffie wandered down the unloading plank, depressed
enough to vomit, to stare at the white-and-gable walls of Wutai.

And it was worse than if Godo himself had risen out the ground.

"Oh, Gods - " Yuffie fell to the earth, shuddering, her voice sobbing
now in almost incoherent Wutaian. "I won't ever leave you again! Dear soil!
My soil!"

She rolled onto her back and wept as a late-flowering cherrytree wept
in turn with her, a few stray petals floating out towards her face. She
caught one in her hand and breathed in the faint scent deeply before
crushing it within her palms. Inside her nose was the smell of dust on
Da Chao, and the sharp tingling smell of the cherry petals was inside
her nose, smelling slightly like Vincent -

- Dust and welding, ylang-ylang and the sap of dandelions -

- and he'd smelt like woodchips, like insense and the sap of dandelions -




Yuffie slowly shuddered out of her tears and blearily looked up into
Gorkii's worried, plump face.

He fell to his knees beside her and smoothed the hair from her face
gently, eyes so familiar and kind. "We've been so worried, little one,
and we could not search for you because we know your skills - and
then, the Gods lead me to the outwall to get my letters from the ship,
and there is Yuffie-san, crying as if her heart was breaking - "

She raised a hand to stop him speaking. "I'm fine, Gorkii. There's no
need to fuss anymore." Yuffie rose slowly and looked at the walls
of Wutai. "How's it been without me?"

"Wutai, Yuffie?" A moment of indecision passed over his face,
then he stood and gently took her arm. "Let us sit down and drink
tea over this matter."

Looking at him in slight confusion, she shrugged. "Sure. Gawd, it's
been a long time since I drunk your tea."

"Five sugars?"

She shook her head, a smile etched on her face. "No sugar, this time.
I don't need it any more."

And she laughed, and the echo of laughing before with a man wearing
black laughed back at her, and the hurt in her ached worse.

"I need to go to Wutai."

Cid Highwind looked at the man in front of him and took a deep sip of his tea.
"$#. Why the hell d'ya wanna go to Wutai? Little shithole of a place.
Their tea &(#ing sucks."

Vincent merely stared at him.

"And you bloody &#ing walked over here. I always knew you
were out of your $&!ing mind." Cid finished his tea with a long swig.
"But my baby needs to get out a bit. Jus' to make sure she gets a bit
of damn exercise." Maternal pride shone in his eyes. "And maybe that
stupid &# at helm will fly 'er right. When d'ya need to go?"

"...As soon as possible."

"Great. Jus' give me ten minutes." Cid stuck his head out the
window. "#$! Harry! Get your ass over here!"

Vincent took a deep sigh. It would be a long, long trip, no matter
how fast the Highwind was.

"You want me to what?" Yuffie paused in bringing the cup of tea in
her hand to her lips, staring in fascinated horror.

"Yuffie Kisaragi, you are the daughter of Godo. He trained you, and
we trained you, in all things - including the nuances of rule." Gorkii
looked at her sternly. "Yuffie, it is your duty."

"Gawd, if I knew about this, I would have run away sooner!" Yuffie
banged her teacup down. "I'm no damn leader, Gorkii - I can barely
run my own life, let alone the lives of the Wutaians!"

"It gets easier with time," Gorkii tried to soothe. "You will soon get
used to it, slip into the role, and become a great leader - "

"Like Godo?" Yuffie asked coldly.

There was a pause.

"Yuffie," Gorkii began slowly, "There is nobody we can turn to.
The people know you, they'd follow you, you are a Kisaragi -
do you really want to see Wutai turn into an even worse parody
of how we were before?"

Yuffie pushed back her chair and stood up, hands trembling as
she clenched them into fists. "There are plenty of others they
can turn to!" she shouted. "Gawd, there's you, there's Chekov,
there's - there's - "

"And all of us old men, Yuffie," the plump man said gently.
"You are young and strong. An old, infirm man will reign for maybe
a few years, and then again, Wutai will have no leader."

"I can't do it." Her voice trembled. "I won't do it."

"Then we are lost."

Yuffie took in deep, gasping breaths, trying to remember how to
breathe, trying to remember -

Gorkii walked around the table and straightened her up, staring into her
big dark eyes. "Your father would have wanted you to do it."

She stared at him wildly, then broke into sobs and sank to the floor.

"There, there." Gorkii stroked her hair. "Welcome home, Lady Kisaragi."

Yuffie lay in her bed, half-dozing, half alert -

"Yuffie, can you pass me the lead shavings?"

"Why do you want me to?"

Phantom dancers alone in a small room with a wooden floor.

"Cry it out."

The touch of your shadow, the whisper of your name -

"I love you, Yuffie."

And the brush of his lips, but without his recoil, everything
she'd ever wanted...

"I could never - "

She shivered herself to sleep.

Vincent slept infrequently.

A tall woman with eyes like jade and hair like sun on the cedars.
And a short girl-woman with eyes that sparkled brown and a look
so delicate that you felt you had to crush her between your hands -

Why were they melding into one big aching wound?

"Vincent - Hojo and I - we - we felt it best - "

"Thanks for the stars, Vincent. It was great."

"Can't you see how important this is to me?"

A ring falling into the dust, and the vision of a white laboratory coat
turning into white silk before he dropped into darkness.

Why did he hurt every person he cared about? The demons inside him
prowled; did they come out in his personality?

"... love someone like me?"

For the first time in many a week, Vincent dropped into an
almost coma-like sleep.

".. and trade relations with Junon will have to be discussed, as
imports and exports lie directly on - "

Yuffie pinched her eyelid so that it stopped drooping.

" - and the imports lie towards - "

Her head drooped onto her hand.

" - perhaps we'll need a submarine port built when we - "
Chekov looked at Yuffie. " - get an army made of huge pink

"Will do," she muttered.

"We'll need a fleet of wooden chocobos, too."


Chekov rolled his eyes and stood up. "Yuffie, go out and get
some air. I suppose I'm being unfair; you haven't even been given
leadership yet."

She blinked and shook her head tiredly. "I've been back a week.
I can take it. C'mon; what's that about sheep?"

He chuckled and shut his book. "Just go relax, Yuffie-san.
Gods know you need it. This is going to be a long, hard process,
and you're not going to be able to rest for a while."

"Why, thank you sooo much for your positive outlook!"

Chekov stood and ruffled Yuffie's hair. "We're all behind you, Yuffie.
You'll be good for Wutai."

"Let's hope." Yuffie stood and pinched her nose. "Gawd, I feel
like I've aged thirty years..."

She stretched and muzzily strode out the house, imagining with
longing her nice soft futon and how amazingly wonderful it would
feel to collapse on it. All her stuffed animals were now hidden under
her bed, but they could be quickly called to have a convention and
a tea-party if she felt in the mood. After all, Kazuno the one-eyed
teddybear did not talk about taxation, Hotaru the other teddybear
did not care about relocation, and stuffed chocobo Boco did not
give a damn about Junon diplomacy matters. For this she worshipped

And then the sky darkened overhead.

She had been far too close to the Highwind's engine not to recognize
the purr of it now; her heart split in two, one side leaping to her throat
as the other sank into her stomach. Why was Cid here? Were Tifa and
Cloud with him? Breaking into a run, she passed the puzzled villagers
and sprinted to the gate.

The day was hot, and as the Highwind landed a safe distance from the
walls it churned up dust. Yuffie cupped her hands over her eyes to prevent
them from being choked up with it, trotting towards the airship slowly.

No sooner than it had landed than it rose up again; Yuffie shielded
herself from the winds it conjured, but still had a fit of choking as the
dust went in her nose and mouth. Squeezing her eyes shut tightly, she
flailed around blindly in the cloud, only to lose her balance and topple forward -

A hand and something metal caught her under her arms and pulled her
upright. Her hands grabbed at a shirt and when she dared open her eyes
again it was black, the colour of the way she was feeling, and dear Gods -

She broke away almost madly to try and run away, not to get away from him,
but merely to stop the urge to fling herself into his arms and weep like a baby.

But his hand must have extended, because it caught her as she began to
break away and pulled her back. The dust began to settle and she stared,
eyes large, trembling. The look in her brown eyes was that of a gazelle
wanting to take flight; her entire body was trembling.

"Yuffie - "

"Get away from me." At least, she meant to say that, but it was lost
somewhere on it's way to her lips.

Vincent let her go and she looked up at him fearfully; he was in his
normal shirt and pants, gunbelt secure, hair pulled away from his face,
crimson eyes... burning through her soul like always.
Shit. Why did she have to love him so much?

"Yuffie," he started again.

This time her voice found itself. "Get away from me. Don't...
don't talk to me. Don't touch me." It broke mid-way.

His brow furrowed and he looked pained. "Yuffie, I - "

"You didn't want to talk to me before, why talk now?" she rambled. "Why
did you come here? Gawd, wanted to see how I was getting on?"

"Yes," he broke in. "... I wanted to know if you were well."

"Well, I'm fucking peachy!" she shrieked. "There, your guilt's satisfied,
now you can go and leave me the hell alone!" She turned on her heel
and began to stomp off. Wearily, he doggedly began to follow.

In a fit of rage, she managed to get halfway to her house, Vincent
following hopelessly behind, before she turned around again.
"Just go," she snarled.

He sighed. "If our friendship means something to you, please listen."

"It means nothing! Nothing!" she spat. "Gawd, if I'd known what would have
happened, I'd have not gone near you - " Lie. " - I'd have never looked at you - "
Lie number two. " - and I wouldn't have even liked you, let alone..."
It trailed off.

His brain had been shut off. Why couldn't he say anything to her?
Pretty little speeches had been conducted in his head all the way
from Rocket Town to Wutai, and none of them were coming to the
fore; all he could do was stand and stare at the little spark of fire
she was like a mute.

"Is this guy bothering you, Lady Kisaragi?"

"We can escort him out, if you want."

Oh, shit. This was not the sort of conversation to be held on a
public street, where everyone in Wutai wanted to know every
inch of the soon-to-be-official Lady Kisaragi's life.

"Lady Kisaragi?" Vincent asked, eyebrow raised.

She waved off Yuusei and Kyuu. "I'll be fine. Arigato," she said
hurriedly and turned to Vincent. "This conversation can be conducted
somewhere else. Come on." She stomped off.

Vincent sighed and followed her unhappily.

Once he was through the door of her tiny house, she shut the door
with an angry bang and turned to him. "Whatever you want to say,
say it now."

"I'm sorry," he offered.

She looked at him, unconvinced.

"I... I never wanted... "

"Me to get the wrong idea," she finished coldly.

"To hurt you."

"Look, I've learnt my lesson. Don't blame yourself," she snapped,
eyes flaming. "I shoulda known better than to think you gave a damn."

"I can't love anyone, Yuffie." It was his turn to get the edge to his voice.
"I don't get close to anyone."

"Don't give me that crap, Vincent. Everyone can love."

"I don't," he insisted coldly. "Nobody. I should not have let you close to me;
it was idiotic, thinking anyone would understand after her - "

"She's dead! She's dead! If there's anyone who's dead, it's definitely
Lucrecia!" Yuffie had gotten extremely pink in the face now. "Are
you gonna go the same way Cloud did, huh? Talkin' to girls you can't see?
Calling her name out in your sleep? Gawd, Vincent what kind of life
is that? What kind of life is that! Are you gonna pretend she's tangible?"

He was shaking himself, the demons within his soul baying for blood
as anger slowly rose. "You never understood - "

"I understood plenty! You have to be strong for Lucrecia; admit
she's dead! If she really loved you, she'd want you to go on! I loved...
I loved Godo." Her voice cracked. "And I admitted he was dead.
He's not going to come back. But I'm going to live."

He said nothing, could not say nothing.

"You're trying to die while you're still living," Yuffie continued to rage.
"And it's not worth it! Don't be her, Vincent. If she'd loved you enough,
she wouldn't have taken her own li - "

With a snarling scream, Chaos wings broke out his back, his face
contorting in pain as the changes went through his body. The
Chaos demon was too impatient to wait; he grabbed Yuffie, ready to
squeeze her little body's bones to dust, ready to spill her blood -

And she screamed, and that broke him away; falling to the floor, he
shuddered and writhed for control as the wings slowly receded. As
Vincent finally won the battle, all he did was lie on the floor, motionless.
He'd almost killed her. The hot blood running down his back from
where the wings tore at his too-delicate skin reminded him of what a
freak, a murderer, a torturous demon he really was.

And then her little hands pulled him over, hauling and tugging,
to her bed, facedown so that the tears in his back were exposed
to her. So quietly, she brought a bowl of water over and began to
wash the blood away.

"I... could have killed you."

"Just shut up." Her voice wasn't angry any more; merely tired and oddly
soothing. "Silly jerk."

Her touch was light on his cuts. "But I'm... evil," he practically confessed,
closing his eyes. "I should die."

"Nobody's going to be doing any dying," she said tartly. Yuffie got up
and began to rummage around in a drawer.

"Why do you forgive me so easily about some things and not about others?"
he asked, craning his head to the side.

Her voice was as unsteady as his as she came down beside him again.
"I never forgave you. I couldn't blame you in the first place." He could
hear that she was trying to smile, but it was coming out all wrong.
"Love makes you unable to think straight."


"And it also makes you bandage up stupid men who should know
better than to come and argue with you." Her hands wrapped the
bandages she'd found around his chest and over his back, and they
were blissfully tight and cool against his bleeding cuts.

He twisted his head around to look her in the eye, and suddenly he
remembered the first and only time he'd loved, the fullness and depth
that overcame you and threatened to swallow you whole in it's suffering.
The lopsided smile decorating her lips made him feel like he was able to
burst out crying; it was the face of someone trying to let go.

Letting go.

She noticed his face and drew her brows together quizzically. "It hurts?"

"Not anymore," he whispered.

Yuffie must have read something in his face because her scowl returned
and she stood up. "I'll be in Godo's house," she instructed. "You can stay here,
if you want. My introduction to leadership ceremony's in a couple of days."

"So you really are going to be Lady Kisaragi." He closed his eyes.
"Leadership of anything is a hard, unrewarding job, Yuffie."

"Yeah, well, I'm used to not being rewarded." Her voice was light.
"I'll come back later, Vincent."

She fled out the door.

Vincent sighed and slumped his head forward.

She did come back, complete with a hastily-cooked meal, of which
was not the highest quality of cooking - however, it was hot and
Vincent could identify most of it, so they sat opposite eachother,
eating in silence. She did the same for that night, and the next -
and barely acknowledged his presence otherwise.

Vincent ate delicately as Yuffie chomped like it was going out of style;
they studiously avoided looking at one another, and the only sound in
the room was the occasional clack of Vincent's arm as it hit the
table and the loud gnawing of Yuffie on her rice.

After a little while, Yuffie couldn't stand it anymore and set down
her bowl. "Why?" she demanded.

Vincent swallowed his mouthful. "Why what?"

"Why did you come back here? What did you want me to do?"

He looked at her sorrowfully, sitting up straight and unconsciously
rubbing the place on his left arm where his metal claw joined into flesh.
"I wanted... to make things up to you. I know you left in anger..."

Yuffie stood up roughly from the table and turned her back on him.
"Yeah, well, this hasn't made me feel any better," she said abruptly.
"I thought we had it sussed. You don't give a rat's ass for me, and
I pretend that - "

"Yuffie, you know I care about you."

She whirled around, her face crimson. "Obviously not enough to
know that I wanna be left alone right now! Gawd, Vincent! Can't
you see? I can't HANDLE that you just care about me, I can't HANDLE
that I'm suddenly going to be leader of Wutai, and I definitely can't
handle both of them being spread in my face at once! I can't bear
even looking you in the eye!"

"Vincent, it's barely all I can do to look in your eyes right now. I can't
handle so many things at once, and although I care for you deeply,
Vincent, you're not helping - "

"But, Lucrecia - "

"And one thing I know - you never would've come after me without
prodding, Vincent. Was it Tifa or Cloud?"

It was Vincent's own turn to rise from his seat. "You should know
by now that nobody can order me to do anything that I would not
want to do," he said shortly.

"Why did you want to come here, then?"

"Because I miss you," he heard himself saying, almost faintly.
"I... I - Yuffie - "

He looked at her face, an abnormal scowl pulled across it,
trying not to cry. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears,
and her hair was messy across her forehead. And she was so
beautiful right then, that he felt like he was still only a young thing like her,
full of hope and youth and promises and with so much love to give freely -
the same as he was, faced with Lucrecia, and the same as now she was,
faced with him -

Vincent didn't know how or why his good hand got to her cheek to cup it,
or why he raised her jaw to look at him; all he knew was that Yuffie
looked at him with wild eyes, then broke free from his grasp to sprint
blindly out the door.

And where before he might have stayed, he'd learnt his lesson now;
Vincent Valentine ran after her into the night.

Panting and sweating, Yuffie finally collapsed on a little stone ledge on Da Chao.
She practically retched from exertion without warming up; the ascent to
the top of the mountain was not easy at the speed she desired.

And even then she heard his footsteps behind her and she slumped to
the ground. Damn Vincent. Damn Wutai. Hell, damn everybody and
everything, including her!

Vincent collapsed beside her and she heard his gentle breathing
compared to her own ragged gasps. It had not been a quick journey -
the sky was turning pink for the morning.

After a while, she looked at him, pink-faced from exertion. "You
got here awful quick," she murmured.

"I cheated," he murmured back. "Death Gigas."

"You hate turning into the demons."

"I didn't want you to be up here alone."

"Damnit, Vincent," she growled, feeling frustrated. "I feel like
I have you figured out, and then you have to throw me off...
one minute you hate me, then you look like you might feel for me,
then you hate me again, and - "

He placed a finger to her lips and pushed her bangs out her eyes.
"You should not get stressed so, Yuffie. Today is your leadership ceremony."

"Leadership ceremony can go to hell," she muttered, but she relaxed slightly.
She fell to the ground again, rolling so her head was on his thigh. Vincent
flinched, but quickly curbed his instincts and let her rest.

She looked up at him, her bird-dark eyes more tired than anything else.
Vincent stared back, trying not to lose himself in her gaze.

The noise of birdsong soon pulled Vincent from the darkness of her eyes
and he murmured to her, suddenly realising something.
"Does your Quadra materia go into Conformer?"

Yuffie blinked bemusedly. "I have Quadra? Gawd, don't I wish. Like
Cloud would give THAT up."

An actual smile cracked onto his face. Caught. "So you came of
your own accord, Yuffie, all those years ago..."

"A girl ain't made of stone, Vincent," she said flippantly.

He sighed. "You're irrepressible."

"You forgot, 'And wonderful, cute, and lovable.'"

"Certainly the last part," he whispered.

She sat up, trembling a little. "Don't... don't hurt me again, Vincent,
give me hope, gawd, I don't think I could bear it - "

Vincent kneeled up and slowly, carefully put his arms around Yuffie.
She gave a shudder and buried her head in his shoulder, whimpering.

"I love you," he tried out, whispering in her ear, a shock of warmth
going down his spine when he realised how purely true it was.

And Yuffie, who had waited months on end wishing he could say that and
orchestrating responses in return, could only cry into his neck.

The sun rose over them.

"So, to celebrate another wonderful year, I'd like us to have
a few toasts..." Tifa smiled smugly at Cloud. "Mine has to go
to Cloud. I hope you're enjoying all those dishes you've been

He groaned and raised his own glass to a snickering Yuffie.
"I hope you realise this is all your fault!"

She took a long swig from her own glass. "You shouldn't bet on
destiny, Cloud dear."

Cait Sith jumped up eagerly onto her head, balancing himself.
"So, has Vinny knocked you up yet?"

"No," Yuffie said, mock-mournfully. "If he did, he'd have to marry
me! And then I could be, 'Yuffie Valentine'! Doesn't that sound so cool?"

"Yuffie!" Vincent's face was bright red.

"$#," Cid shuddered. "There are some things I don't need
to know, and that's one of 'em."

"Hear, hear," teased Cloud.

Yuffie giggled and raised her glass. "Well, even though it's
been damn hard trying to run Wutai, I don't think I ever could
have done it without - "

"Me," interrupted Cait. "My sexiness, genius, and utter adorable-ness
has helped her through her time of sorr - "

Yuffie whacked him on the head. " - as I was saying, without Vincent.
As you all know, of course. So, anyway - to Vincent."

He went red again, but she exuberantly set her glass down and flung
her arms around his neck, covering his face in kisses.

"Ti-fa," Cait complained. "Tell the Hormonal Twins to stop sucking face."

"I can't. I think they're a gravitational force."

"Ah, #$! it." Cid drained his entire glass. "To us - I think we survived
'nuther year."

And they all lived, as well as real people can, happily ever after.