Note: In the first three chapters, there will be passages of text that cannot be conveyed as I would like using the limitations of this site. For each of these passages (three in total), the oddly formatted text will be followed with a tinyurl dot com url. If you enter that url into your browser's address bar, you will see an image that contains the formatting that I wished the text to have. It's not necessary to look at these pictures, and there are only a few, but I think they enhance this story quite a bit.

The FF7 universe is not mine. If it were, I wouldn't need to add the disclaimer that I am writing FF7-only here, with blatant disregard to Advent Children, Before Crisis, Crisis Core, Dirge of Cerberus, and whatever upcoming "sequels" there may be, which will obviously be abbreviated EC, FC, GC, etc. :)

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·

E Pluribus Unum

Requiescat in Sanguinem
Tempus Morieris
Circus Vitae

I.

Daylight broke over the visage of a woman standing by the sea. Long, black hair flowed freely to a point just below her waist, ending where her form-fitting corset did. Any man who saw her at a distance would have lost his breath, as she seemed the image of a fantasy pinup: lithe legs in leather pants, overlarge breasts pressed into the position of ultimate cleavage, even a materia pendant placed strategically between them…an excuse to stare?

At a closer look, a slightly different image would emerge. Her slimness was not due to good genes, but the presence of strong, hard muscles due to a now decades-long martial arts regimen. Among the smile and frown lines, the small battle scars on her face, she bore purple markings in a near-tribal design. Some were thick, dark, and nearly black; others were thin, spidery, and barely more lavender than her natural complexion.

She reached a hand to her pendant. This hand was callused and battle-hardened. Cradling it in her fingers, a smile began to creep around her face. If one were to dare to creep even closer to her, as close as one might stand near a dear, old friend, or a lover, her image would mutate further.

Her eyes, naturally a smoldering mahogany, had taken a metallic gleam of gold. They narrowed, not in the crinkle of a smile, but in a glare of determination. As her fingers clasped the materia hard, her smile transformed into a smirk. With a small nod to herself, she spun and strode confidently away from the seaside cliffs, towards the canyon before her. Walls of powdery blue stone would soon surround her, sheltering her final destination where glass stairs would carry her far beneath the Planet…to the altar of the blessed. (Or the damned.)

A half-sane giggle escaped from Tifa's lips. The sound barrier was broken, and while she walked, she began to sing…

Sors gloriosa
Et generosa
Aeris, Aeris

Veni, veni, veniam
Ne temori faciam

Estuans interius
Luce incorrupti
Aeris, Aeris


Do it quickly, before you lose your nerve, she thought. Slowly, with a care few who knew her would recognize, she dismounted from her black chocobo. The trip from Wutai had been long and annoying. She wished, not for the first time, that her interest in chocobo breeding had been as intent as Cloud's.

Cloud…

Yuffie winced at the thought, the memories, and concentrated instead on remaining un-nervous. Placing one foot carefully in front of the other, she plunged herself behind Lucrecia's waterfall and into the cave beneath it.

The roar of the water she'd just passed made her entrance and first several footsteps seemingly silent. The steady sound became farther away as she progressed deeper. And the deeper she went, the more oppressive the silence seemed to become. She grimaced with every footfall, every pebble she kicked, every slight whisper of breath she heard escape her lips.

I feel like I'm walking around a tomb. She finally was approaching a place where the passage widened, though, and she became a bit more hopeful. Her final steps took her into a rounded cavern where, front and center, lay a coffin with a deep ebony finish.

"No duh on the tomb observation, Yuffie," she said under her breath with a wry smile. She shook herself back into seriousness and concentration. Then, taking a deep breath, she slowly approached the coffin and examined it carefully. She smiled and nodded to herself, then reached forward and undid the clasp.

Suddenly, the lid flew up and its inhabitant popped straight up into a sitting position.

·

Yuffie screamed and jumped back, one hand covering her mouth and the other subconsciously floating to her abdomen.

"That's your greeting?"

She moaned softly, taking a few breaths to calm down before replying. "And that's yours?"

"Those who are polite, knock. Friends call more often than once every ten years. You must then be neither." Vincent examined her with a wary eye.

"…b-but how did you--"

"I may have been in here for the past ten years, and I may have been asleep just now, but no, I wasn't in stasis for ten years. This time is not like before. I'm perfectly aware how long I've been in here."

"I was going to ask how you knew I was in here, but that does answer other wonders." Yuffie offered him a half-smile.

"You've already forgotten about my super-senses? Senility must set in early for the Wutaian. Though I wouldn't enjoy seeing the antics of your father after ten more years of deterioration."

"Godo's been dead for eight years." One of her hands flitted back to hover just over her pelvis.

"I would offer condolences, but I doubt that's your reason for calling on me." He rose softly until he was perched on the edge of the coffin, then dropped down to the stone floor. "I could guess, but I would rather you tell me. Why are you here?" His voice was cold, yet gentle.

She swallowed. "I've made a mistake."

"I daresay we've all made some fairly large mistakes since…" Vincent's words trailed off as her head began to shake softly.

"No, no, no not that kind of…" Yuffie grimaced. "Well, we've been separate and big-headed and egotistical, so probably, but this is personal and big and…"

Vincent found that his mouth had gone dry. "Why come to me?"

·

"I thought…you might understand." A breath. "He wrote to me. And he visited me. But he always tried to stay as distant as possible…at first I thought he just needed to get his head back together. After his swim in the Lifestream and subsequent psycho time. Tore me up inside. We'd…been seeing each other secretly, since the Gold Saucer, so I didn't have any right to stay with him in any of your eyes. So Tifa did.

"She brought him back. From both his own head and going near catatonic again in the Northern Crater. I just figured that was it. I had lost. I went home, to protect and rebuild Wutai. Godo was sick and a slave-driver. For the last two years of that bastard's life, all I was doing was hocking materia…and…" She swallowed. "Avoiding the eyes and hands of every prick he hauled in with more than a couple gil to rub together. He wanted to marry me off, for a mere pittance, when I…lo-loved…"

·

Vincent's brow furrowed, and his eyes were clouded with bewilderment. "You mean to say that you fell in love with Cloud?"

"Please don't tell me I was stupid and foolish. I was a teenager, and I was. I know I was. I don't think I would have gone for an arranged marriage, anyway. My feelings just made it that much worse. But then my father died." She laughed bitterly. "I thought that was the answer to all my problems. Finally, I thought. I had all these ideas for rebuilding, gobs of cash saved from selling materia. The lords didn't care."

She saw his confused gaze. "I'll explain. Wutai, bass-ackwards Wutai, is still under a convoluted system of noble families. I needed their support to do anything. I was the base, authority-snubbing, tomboyish dyke of a daughter of the most incompetent leader the country had ever seen. They wouldn't depose me, honor prevented that, but they wouldn't aid anything I tried. They were purposefully contrary. Then things changed. Everything worked out. We've been happy and on our way up."

"…how, Yuffie?"

"Don't ask."

"I thought you--"

"It's ugly, but it's not what concerns me." She waved a hand. "Right after I made the…I mean, right after things began to turn around, Cloud began to write to me. This was probably four years ago. Eventually, he took some vacations up to Wutai. We were back to being close again. Friends again. It was wonderful and such a surprise. You know, none of us really kept in contact with one another, I don't think."

She continued. "He always felt rogue, like he had nowhere to lay his head. No family. No hometown. I tried to convince…no, at one point near the end, I was begging him to relocate to Wutai."

"You still weren't over him?"

"I had…a twinge or two, but I was mainly concerned for him. You see, whenever he wasn't in Wutai, he was living in Nibelheim. Completely alone." Yuffie lifted her eyes to meet his. "And then he disappeared."

Vincent's eyes widened in shock. "He's just gone? He vanished?"

"Yes, he has. But…I did see him one last time. I went looking for him, two months ago. Found him the first place I looked. That damn fake, haunted village…"

·

Her feet passed over well-worn cobblestones. She heard a melancholy tune floating through the air above her. Yuffie's gaze fell square on the house in front of her. The replica of Tifa's house. "I should have known," she whispered sadly. However, she did not change her course and continued into the building and up the stairs…

He was at the bench of "Tifa's" piano, slowly but steadily playing the melody to the tune written on the sheet music before him. Dressed in black leather pants and a tight, sleeveless blue top, his physique was on display. Strong arms, muscular chest; Cloud Strife still did not look a day over twenty-one.

Her breath caught, and he chose that minute to pause his playing. Their eyes met, and he learned that he was not alone any more.

"How long?" He left his question half-finished.

"Not more than half a second." Yuffie winced at the unspoken implication. (What, does he think I was stalking him? Peering in? Staring.) "You know," she said, her voice growing a bit too-loud, "you could have just told me. Instead of this."

Cloud rose. "What are you talking about?" He sounded genuinely confused.

"The old times were a mistake. Or hormones. Being friends is too awkward. I'm okay, but don't write. You won't see me again."

"They weren't! Yuffie, that's not what I…not what…"

"Eight months, Cloud. Without calling, writing, or visiting. Now I know I don't have any claim to you, but you could have said good-bye." Her face fell. "Especially when I was so…so used to having your company again. I liked having your friendship, even if I can never have…" She willed her tongue to stop moving before it went way too far in sharing her inner thoughts.

"It's not you," he began.

"I know, I know, 'It's not you, it's me.' But it's all the same in the end."

He swallowed. "I'm sick."

"Sick…"

"Do you think I live here for fun? Do you think I want to be alone? I'm looking for answers here. This is the place where I stopped being normal and…became whatever Hojo made of me. I'm doing research."

"Why didn't you ask me to help you?" Yuffie approached him and, exercising restraint, took his hand in hers. "I can't stay here, but I can read. And look. And offer you a place to take your breaks."

·

He turned away. "She won't get out of my head. I can't expose anyone to that."

"You're strong, and I'm sure I can tell the difference between you and Jenova--"

"It's not Jenova. I think it may have something to do with that, and it's what I started researching here…but that's not my problem. No. I have someone breaking into my head every time I let my guard down, and it's someone I thought was my friend. She was inside once." Cloud's hands curled into fists. "Now she thinks she has a right to be in there whenever she wants."

"…you don't mean…?" Yuffie gasped. "But how could she? She wasn't ever exposed to Jenova like you were. Manipulate materia doesn't have that effect, and doesn't last ten years, anyway."

"I know. She's seen things…looked into more than the distant past. And she's jealous."

"Jealous? But she seemed happy even after that first time we were at the Gold Saucer together. Debacle for us, but she was glad I got to spend some time with you."

"A little while after Meteor, when I was sitting around here trying to figure out what had been done to me…I realized she'd gotten inside somehow, was digging. I blocked her out." Cloud looked up and into her eyes. "I decided, then, that no matter what had happened or might happen with us, I would stay away from you til I was sure she was gone. It took six years."

"That's why?"

He reached up and brushed a hand down the side of her face. "And then I came to make my peace with what-ifs. Say goodbye. But you were free. Alone. The way you looked at me…" His voice caught. "I couldn't leave. I decided to take it slow, so we weren't just using our memories. Kidding ourselves."

Her voice started to tremble. "B-but then you disappeared again…"

"She's back. Not full-time, thank the Planet, but I…can't keep her out."

"What does she want?" Yuffie whispered.

"I don't know. But from…my experiences, I know I have to keep her from getting angry. I have certain memories and areas of my consciousness blocked--for now."

"You're going to tell me to leave and not come back."

His look was anguished. "I don't want to put you in danger. Don't you know I care for you?"

A strange fire began burning beneath her eyes. "No, no I don't. You haven't done a thing…to tell me…or show me. Not in ten years."

"Do you think I haven't wanted to? The last time…I came back to you to say goodbye. Get my last glimpse to help me fight her back out of here." He gestured to his head. "Out of my mind, leave it for me…because I can have you, in my mind."

She scoffed. "Screw that, Cloud."

He looked at her, wounded.

"If there's something you want to do or say, you've got about five seconds. Then I'm walking out that door and going back to Wutai."

·

It seemed like he was there before the words had left her mouth. His hands clutched at her lower back, drawing her tight against his body. His lips began at her neck and marked a trail upward until he found her mouth and kissed her hungrily.

Yuffie's arms curled around his neck, and she matched his eagerness, mark-for-mark. He broke away, tongue and lips running across her collarbone as his hands slid up her form-fitting top. A moan escaped her as his fingers touched a more sensitive spot; the noise stirred him from his mad pursuit.

"We shouldn't." Cloud's breathless voice vibrated against her shoulder.

"Maybe not." She bit her lip. "But I don't want to be safe. I want you, if only once." Slowly, she peeled off her shirt, then replaced his hands on her breasts. She pulled his head back down to hers and deliberately ground her hips against his. A brief pause, only to utter the words, "Don't. Stop."

It was mere moments and slow motion all at once. He laid her down on the bed even as various articles of clothing were being flung across the room. Fingers, lips, tongues explored the exposed skin of the person before them. Their cries rose to a level threatening to awaken the ghost town outside, and then he was within her, finalizing the long-delayed consummation.

Yuffie fell to pieces beneath him; he slowed. Her eyes fluttered open with a sudden realization. She arched her back, and his world exploded.

"You shouldn't have…" Cloud mumbled.

A smirk. "I told you not to stop."

"I don't know if I'll be able to black that out. Keep it away."

"Maybe I don't want you to block out that I love you." Silence.

He sat up. "It's dangerous for her to know I'm in love with--"

·

"This story, while in the range of 'too much information,' is nice and all, but what's the point?"

"This isn't me whining or anything." Yuffie's voice wavered. "He was gone when I woke up. All I found was this." She thrust a bit of fabric into his hands.

Vincent arched an eyebrow at her before unfolding the white cloth. His eyes widened as he examined it. "What, was this the pillowcase?"

She closed her eyes and nodded. "It looks like it's written in…"

"If this is why you're here…"

"One of the reasons. Not the only."

Vincent continued. "…I can confirm your suspicions. This was written in Cloud's blood. I can smell it."

She sank to the floor, shaking. "I didn't want to be right."

"You found this two months ago? Have you gone to anyone else?"

Yuffie shook her head. "There's no one to go--"

"We would all, I should hope," he said, voice quivering with restrained anger, "care about this. Especially since it involves three of us." He paced. "How did she get this power? What's her motive? Do you have any idea?"

"I'd like to know. I haven't seen her in ten years, of course. Cloud hadn't either…except in his mind. She forced her way into his dreams, his thoughts, raping his own brain!"

"It's disgusting, Yuffie. I will never deny that. I am a bit curious, though, why you would taunt someone Cloud was so afraid of."

"I wanted to be with him!" Her voice had risen to nearly a yell.

"Did you have to do it on a replica of her own bed? That's not the way to avoid the wrath of the psychotic!"

Her eyes widened. "I--I never even realized, Vincent. Though I don't put any of it past her if it'd happened in a neutral place."

"I don't really, either. It's just…I'm a bit concerned. If Cloud's disappearance and…this note are her reaction to one night together…" He looked at her, and she met his gaze steadily, confirming what his suspicions and senses had told him.

She swallowed, fighting back tears.

"…how will she react, Yuffie, when she discovers that you're carrying his child?" Vincent moved next to her, placing his good hand on her shoulder.

Drops swam in her eyes, which were fixated on the object dangling from Vincent's claw and the words written upon it:

tiFa says O HI bitch

he's MINE mine MINE

mine mine MINEMINEmineMINEMINEMINE

MINE

tinyurl dot com/lcgms

Small A/N: It's not what you're used to. This plot is not going where you think it is (unless you've read this one before). Hopefully you'll enjoy the ride as much as I have.