Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Final Fantasy VII characters. All of this is a work of fiction based off of that created by Square Soft. Don't sue me! I just like to write!
Chapter 1: The Letter
Skin, bone, muscle, tendons. That was all she was. Blood, nerves, cartilage. There was so little holding her together, connecting her small joints and animating the delicate and complex maneuvers of her thin fingers. She was too small for the musculature in body to overpower anyone, but the sleek limbs were honed to overcome that. Sharp eyes and pricked ears governed her lean frame, coordinating her movements with the precision of a surgeon's knife.
Her sharp pixie features were enraptured with movement. Every form flowed gracefully, ignoring a rule that enforced clumsiness in her normal mannerisms, the waste of energy that her excited gesticulations caused. Every form fell into place as naturally as the leaves returning every spring to the trees. She was in her element, drawing on whatever energy she believed animated and flowed through her. Everything was only pulled together by her frail mortality, wrapped nicely beneath lightly tanned skin, festooned with a boyish bob tumbling into her eyes, and edged by the Conformer dancing with her in the forms.
Reeve never got tired of it. He came every morning to watch her, and relished her delight in motion and energy. Yuffie existed on her own plain now, oblivious to everything that didn't exist within the four bland walls of the holographic training facility Shelk had developed. And Yuffie was her favorite practice partner, pitting her mind and holographic masterpieces against Yuffie's own strength. This morning was no exception.
"Are you ready Yuffie?" Shelk's voice sounded. Programming the holograms was her specialty, her passion. She loved the challenge, the dissection of movement, and the programming of data relating to styles. Yuffie had progressed remarkably as she and Shelk drew a deeper and deeper understanding of style, strengths, and weaknesses.
The Conformer soared back into Yuffie's outstretched hand, and the ninja grinned. She turned and cast a look back at the command room, but the one-way mirror obscured Shelk. Yuffie only saw her reflection.
"Oh yeah baby! Bring on the holly jolly fakers!" Yuffie crowed, pumping her fist into the air and casting her Conformer in what look like careless excitement. She knew exactly where it was going and what angle it would take, and her fingers closed tightly over it without missing a beat. Her muscles were warm. It was time to move from simple the couplets of movement to full sonnets.
And just like every morning, Yuffie stopped being human, and became a dance. She wasn't a dancer, she wasn't the music, she was the dance itself. This was Reeve's favorite part, when her crazy smile nearly split her face in half, and she engaged in combat. She was so fast he hardly ever figured out what it was she did. But Shelk let him sit in sometimes to watch as she replayed tapes of Yuffie's performance, picking out flaws in technique and reprogramming her holograms accordingly.
Yuffie was in top form this morning, her Conformer sailing through massive numbers of enemies, as she wove and wound her way through them. They posed little threat for her, however they swarmed. So, as her muscles were properly warmed up, Shelk sent out the ensuing waves. Yuffie kept going, with the blasts of materia sailing through the room in colorful explosions and flashing in her eyes like fireworks. They had been working on dealing with massive amounts of opponents, and Yuffie was progressing nicely.
"Sir, sorry to interrupt," came the voice of one of his subordinates. Reeve looked back, curious as to the disturbance. "There are messages here for you and Ms. Kisaragi."
"From who?" Reeve extended a hand, and the boy gave him a printout. "Ah, Barret. I wonder what he's up to these days?" He smiled, opening the letter. It was a request for WRO assistance with a minor problem located at one of the old Mako reactors outside of Nibelheim. Reeve nodded. "Have two squads dispatched to Nibelheim."
"Sir!" the young man saluted, and then swung around and hurried off.
The second letter was from Godo. Reeve looked back towards Yuffie, who was immersed suddenly in the aftermath of a massive Fire explosion, her eyes gleaming in delight. The flames cleared, leaving soot on her cheeks and clothes. She was positively ecstatic.
He waited until she was done, and then made his presence known by strolling in. Yuffie glanced at him, wiping some sweat and soot from her face, and grinned. "Aw, Shelk! You know Reeve ain't a challenge! Why'd you make a Reeve hologram?" she called. Reeve chuckled.
"No. I'm here with a message, not pick fights with you," Reeve smiled. Yuffie strapped her conformer back on, grinning devilishly.
"Where to this time? I'm excited now!"
"I don't know. This one comes from your father," he extended the sealed envelope, and the smile faded quietly from her cheeks. She hesitated, and then reached out to take it.
"I hope nothing happened to Wutai," she frowned, opening it quickly and racing over the words. She breathed out a perplexed sigh, and closed the letter. "He wants me to come for a visit? What on earth for?" She just shrugged her shoulders, and looked at Reeve. "Did you need me right now? I gotta go baby-sit my old man. He's missing me again." Her eyes flicked upwards, as if asking for patience.
"Not really, no. Is everything alright?"
"Something about him being really lonely."
"Excuse me! I'm looking for one Kisaragi Yuffie!" called a man's voice, and both their head snapped towards the intrusion. Reeve didn't recognize the strange man at all, but a blast of wind shot past him. He blinked a few times, and found that Yuffie was suddenly hanging off the man in the swallowtail suit.
"Kale! What are you doing here?" Yuffie was beaming with that vibrant radiance she never ceased to emit. The man with mussed black hair and pristine clothing grinned down at her.
"I'm here to see you of course! How has my favorite Materia thief been?" He did the most shocking thing Reeve had ever seen. His tall frame bent and he planted a kiss on the top of her head, and Yuffie playfully pushed him off.
"I haven't had a cootie shot in ages! I might get sick now!" she complained. Reeve stood there slack-jawed. The mere thought that she would allow anyone to kiss her was mind boggling, and besides that, he had always thought she was partial to Vincent. Hadn't he seen that faint pull between them, the shadows of affection playing just beneath Yuffie's skin, not even sure of how to express or display care for someone so dear to her and so far away?
"I made sure I was clean before I came within fifty miles of you," Kale promised, making an X over his heart. "You're stunning, Yuffie! Look at you! Positively beautiful!" His attention suddenly turned to her appearance, and he placed a hand on her cheek with such an intimate smile that Reeve's head spun. What did this mean?
"Aw shut up! I'm still two toothpicks wide and shaped the same," Yuffie pulled his hand away and punched him playfully. "But I could take you in about three seconds! You wanna go?" Her fists were up, batting the air in demonstration.
"No, really! Whoever says that is blind!" Reeve straightened up. He'd always liked Yuffie, mostly because she made him smile and they'd spent enough time gambling and pulling pranks on each other throughout the Meteor fiasco that she was something of a sister to him. As such, his brotherly protection flared. Who was this man that dared to touch her, and why did he find himself worthy?
"Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah. You were always way too much of a diplomat. What's up?"
"Actually, I did come on business. You know me," his smile was still familiar, but it wasn't as playful and childish. It brought a more suitable look to his face, but he still eyed her as if he owned her. Not in the sense of possession, but in the sense of long years of acquaintance and intimate attachment. "I came to warn you about this." He tugged the letter out of her hand. "You know you're going to be 21 now right? You haven't forgotten how to count or anything?"
"Last time I checked, two and one make three," she answered, lifting her nose in the air. But her voice didn't have the same spark in it. Something was wrong.
"Ha, ha. But you know what I'm here for if you're 21, right?" Kale didn't look like he was quite happy either. "It means you have to come back. It's time for you to hang up your wings."
"…yeah," Yuffie smirked, and crossed her arms. She looked vulnerable to Reeve, her small frame drawn in with slightly hunched shoulders. That insanely, ever-present grin faded away, completely draining from her eyes now.
"Yuffie, what's happening? Who is this?" Reeve asked, approaching them. He wasn't able to contain himself anymore. Kale looked over at him, now seeming to notice him for the first time. Yuffie turned to him.
"Reeve…I have to put in my formal resignation from the WRO," she said, and a sinking feeling welled in the pit of Reeve's stomach.
"I have to go back to Wutai…It's time for me to…start acting more like an Empress." Something else was implied in that statement, and Reeve looked between she and this man. He was so tall to be Wutain.
"I see…" Reeve had always known Yuffie would have to go back someday, return to the Pagoda and get ready for ascension to the throne. He had known she couldn't always be the bridge holding Avalanche together. Cloud might have been the delivery boy, but it was Yuffie that bound them together. Cloud was their leader, but Yuffie was the eyes, ears, and desires of everyone in the group. She held on to their connections, held them close, and could hunt any of them down in a heartbeat. Even Vincent. Maybe not a heartbeat, but she could find Vincent Valentine faster then anyone else. "So, what'll happen after that?"
Yuffie was silent a moment, picking up pieces of her courage and arranging it in armor. It was a visible effort, and she was obviously distraught.
"I…won't get to leave," she answered, knowing full well what his question meant. It had nothing to do with the WRO, and everything to do with the way their lives were. Reeve wondered faintly if anyone really understood what it meant for Yuffie to be a princess. As far as he knew, he was the only one that lost any sleep over the thought that she'd be leaving one day.
"You must be Reeve. Yuffie tells me about you when she visits," Kale extended a hand. Reeve took in numbly, gazing at him blankly. Didn't this man know that part of the world was shattering? Yuffie was leaving…not just the WRO, but AVALANCHE. There was no way as ruler she could endanger herself like she always had. Worse then that, she would fall out of their lives.
"I haven't heard about you," Reeve replied. Kale shrugged.
"Yuffs doesn't really talk about me much to anyone. It's really very unfair, seeing as we grew up together," he cast her a melodramatically hurt look, but Yuffie wasn't in the mood for games. His face softened, and he put a hand on her shoulder. "I wanted to tell you before your father tried to lure you in. That's all. I've already made most of the preparations. You can look them over when you get home, okay?"
"I don't really want to think about that right now," Yuffie answered, shrugging his hand off. "Anyway, why don't you go get yer stuff. I'll be along soon. The cook here has this great pastry, and I wanna snatch a few more before I go!" she tried to brighten, and Kale only nodded. He turned and went without looking back, and Yuffie turned to Reeve. "I, um…I have to go. That man, he's my betrothed…we've been set to marry each other for ages," she scratched the back of her head.
Ah. That explained a great deal about her struggles around Vincent. It made him sad. He'd watched her for five years, and seen how her eyes sparked and her face brightened when she saw him and how she delighted in ruffling his feathers. Vincent had only ever been really angry with her once or twice. He humored her, and he let her bring animation into his stiff, unreadable existence.
"I guess I always knew it would come," Reeve smiled at her faintly. She nodded, and shrugged her shoulders, opening her palms as if to say 'oh well.' He couldn't say he didn't want her to go back. It was her duty, and who was he to object? But, it just seemed like he should say something. "I…don't really want you to go back." She looked at him curiously. "I don't think the others realize how much you bring us together. You're certainly my connection to everyone. What'll we do without you?"
"Aw, shucks, Reeve! If you weren't so old, I'd think you were in love with me!" she punched his arm playfully, but he could tell it made her happy. "But thanks. Good to hear someone else recognizes the beautiful justice fighting ninja of Wutai's most excellent worth and unequivocal talent!" She posed for him, throwing her head back. Reeve smiled, and did the most brotherly thing he could without thinking about it. He tossed an arm around her shoulder, and mussed that glossy, almost black hair. She laughed, pushing him off of her. There was some life back in her eyes.
"Yuffie!" Shelk's feet were making an uncharacteristic ruckus as she came down from the control room. "You're leaving? For good this time?" her usually even voice was higher then normal, edged in fear. Yuffie's smile faded a bit, but she nodded. "I…I don't want you to go!" Shelk clenched her hands into fists, her eyes on the ground. Rather then upset her, Yuffie's face grew brighter.
"C'mon kid! Think about the perks! You can come see me whenever you want in Wutai and get the Royal treatment!" Yuffie put both her hands on Shelk's tiny shoulders, shaking her slightly. "It'll be great. I'm talking banquets and silk and all the handsome men you could ever want, right at your fingertips! They'll be real too, not virtual!" Yuffie winked, a promise in her smile. Shelk hesitated a moment, and then threw her arms around Yuffie's middle.
"Who'll challenge me?" she asked softly. Yuffie hugged her back.
"You know, some of those boys have been lookin' real hard at you. I bet you could get one of them to do this sorta thing with you. But pick a handsome one! They're always the strongest!" she admonished. "Not a girly handsome. They don't like to chip their nails. But a good one with a square jaw! No flat noses like mine!"
"You have the most Midgarean face I've ever seen!" Shelk shouted, throwing her head back to look at Yuffie. Yuffie curled her nose up.
"I take offense to that!" she yowled, taking both her hands and destroying Shelk's hair. The young woman wailed, as Yuffie grinned impishly. "Don't you insult me! I'm 100 Wutai! This isn't the last you've seen of the great Yuffie Kisaragi!" She reached down and hugged Shelk tightly once again. "Now get outta here! You've got duties! I know you do! You can't spend all your time playing computer games!" Yuffie swatted and shooed Shelk off, and turned back to Reeve. She was back to her normal self.
"Yuffie!" called the AI cat, dragging a life-size stuffed animal of himself after him. "Fer you!" he called. He presented the stuffed cat, grinning, with his whiskers twitching. "So ye don' forget!"
"Aw! Cait!" She grinned, hugging the stuffed animal. She bent and planted a kiss on the plush, furry face, and Cait Sith kicked at the floor in an 'aw shucks' sort of animation. Standing again, she looked at Reeve, hugging her doll. "So, can I get you to mail my junk out to me? I don't think it's really that much,"
"I guess I can manage. You know, I am losing my right hand," Reeve gave her a melodramatic sigh, still in shock that it was actually time to let her go. This was really it. "You'll send me an invitation, won't you? Send all of us an invitation?"
"Yeah. You guys are top on the list." She nodded, still hugging her stuff cat.
"Cid's here today. I'm sure he wouldn't mind dropping you off,"
"I was gonna ask the crawfish. It'll be my last time on an airship, ya know!" There was a mixture of glee and depression lacing her words. "At least I won't have to get motion sickness all the time any more. Hell, I probably won't do much leaving of the pagoda!" she cackled like a doomed prisoner, and rubbed her hands together. "They'll regret anything like that! I promise!"
"I wouldn't want to try you," Reeve held up his hands, watching the delight spread predatorily across her impish features.
"Let's go find the crustacean!" Yuffie linked arms with Reeve, as he had seen her do with Tifa or Aeris a time or two, and he obliged her by bending his arm. She dropped her head onto his shoulder, hugging the stuffed cat tightly. He patted her arm with a smile.
Cid was in the lounge, just coming to life. He was certainly not a morning person. Not by a long shot. He stood with three cigarettes already mashed in an ashtray next to him, brooding with bloodshot eyes over a slow coffee pot.
"Fuckin' grandma percolator," he growled, tapping his fingers. "That's three cigarettes, pig bitch!" There was a string of other colorful swears, three distinct sentences of them, before the pilot realized that Yuffie and Reeve were approaching. "Woah, Reeve, you robbin' the cradle. 'Fraid that one ain't much but sticks and hinges."
"Shaddap! I need a ride," Yuffie released Reeve's arm, snatching a pastry from the tray next to the coffee pot.
"No can do, chicken bones. Today's my day off," Cid barked, grinning like a coyote.
"Pleeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaase!" Yuffie adopted the whining tone that drove Cid crazy. It annoyed him more because he had a difficult time denying her anything when she used, rather then the pitch of her voice. "Come on Cid, I really need a ride!"
"The Hell? You got two Chocobo legs, so go an' use 'em!" Cid huffed, frowning.
"But I wanted one last ride on the Shera," Yuffie frowned. Cid paused, and looked at her with his blood shot eyes real hard. He pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and wet his lips.
"What d'you mean 'last ride'?" he demanded.
"I have to go back to Wutai now," she replied. "I have to resign from the WRO."
"Shit kid! You can't go!" Cid burst before he could stop himself. "The Hell are we gonna do withoutcha?"
"Suffer a miserably boring existence," Yuffie answered, taking the pot of coffee and pouring him a mug full. Cid scratched his chin, the same desperate thoughts running through his head that Reeve was trying to wrestle with.
"…Getcher shit. Where the fuck are them lazy ass kids you assigned me?" Cid groused, taking the mug of coffee and jamming the cigarette back into his mouth. "You getcher scrawny tail down to the Shera in half and hour."
"Yes sir!" Yuffie gave him a sharp salute.