Love and Bullets
When the stars have all burned out
You'll still be burning so bright
Cast me gently into morning
For the night has been unkind
—Sarah McLachlan, Answer
Vincent Valentine can still taste gunpowder in his mouth. The bridge is rickety and creaky, despite the fact that the Lord of Wutai ordered it rebuilt around thirty years ago. He doesn't mind; it reminds him of the old bridge. The one they watched Godo pass beneath.
He remembers her tears, the tears she didn't bother to hold back. For all they argued, she had loved her father. He puts his hand on the bridge's 'new' railing and remembers how frail she'd looked as she threw herself into Tifa's arms and sobbed. Remembers how Tifa had run her hands through her short hair and rocked them both from side to side, murmuring sweet-sounding nonsense.
He says her name just barely loud enough for the Leviathan, coiling swiftly, almost angrily, to hear him.
And then he leaves a single white flower on the square railing.
She looked so frail, wrapped in the slender, unpadded yukata that she'd spent so many hours sleeping in.
This was probably the proudest moment of her life and Vincent was well aware of it. She had conquered the Pagoda, mastered the Leviathan materia, come home a hero. And finally, finally, she was going to receive her due.
"Do you swear, on your honour and your family's, to uphold the safety and sovereignty of the Empire of Wutai? Do you swear to love and protect Leviathan and His Beloved for the rest of your days?" Godo's voice showed his age, but just like the rest of him, there was a surprising amount of steel beneath his frailty. It made him sound at least ten years younger.
Yuffie bowed her head, that neck-length dark hair falling in her face. Even through the curtain of hair, Vincent could see the traces of a smile. "I swear it on my honour and on the honour of the Kisaragi clan. May it be so for the rest of my days."
Godo spread some sort of blue ink on his daughter's forehead, intoned something in archaic Wutaian, and placed his hands on the crown of his daughter's head. "Then rise, Champion of Wutai, and keep your word."
There was a sparkle in her eye when she stood, a wicked, twitching curve to her lip that told him she was trying not to smile with her father's maniac grin. She bowed obeisance to her father, then to the Leviathan materia, and then left the building.
It wasn't until later, when they were safely away from the formal social scene, ensconced safely—as safely as anyone could be ensconced—at the top of Da Chao, that Yuffie allowed herself to laugh and then, finally, cry.
Vincent didn't ask. He knew her well enough to know that she would tell him, if he waited a short while.
He actually found himself waiting longer than he'd expected. She curled one long, thin leg up to her chest, stretched out the other. The city lights stretched out beneath her were beautiful. The moon backlit the distant Five Gods Pagoda.
Those lights reflected in her dark eyes. She said, in almost a whisper, "My mother was the Champion of Wutai."
Vincent returns to the Palace. Technically, it was never hers—women cannot inherit the hereditary titles of rulers in Wutai—but the male cousin who claimed what Vincent always considered her rightful place did loan them a suite. After all, raising children in a tiny, trapped house filled with cats isn't exactly easy.
He has grandchildren now. It's strange. He knows he's old—he's "Vintage", he's a perfectly preserved antique—and yet, he feels young. Too young to have grandchildren. Too young to be a widower.
Yuffie is no longer in the futon they shared for so long. The requisite time has passed; he has stayed in another room for long enough. Time to throw out the bedding she died in and replace it with new. All the way down to the tatami mats.
He almost doesn't want to. Death holds no peril for him. He almost welcomes the thought. It will be a nice long sleep after a long, active life.
To think he could last so long after saving the world. After losing his world, not once but twice. After the deaths of children and the births of grandchildren. He would never have thought any of what he has possible.
He visits the kitchen. Pours himself a glass of water and tries to rinse the taste of gunpowder out of his mouth. Fragments of a bullet clatter down the sink and he grimaces. There's blood in his mouth, too.
Damn you, Hojo, he thinks for the thousandth time, but the first time in years.
He slid open the door to the Tiny House. The instant he took a step inside, nastily sharp cleavers whistled their way through the air toward him. He sidestepped—onto a deliberately weakened floorboard. One foot sank deep into the floor and he grimaced.
And then Yuffie was there. She was getting even better than she'd been during Meteor Crisis; her entrance was a silent flash. There was a click that resounded throughout the house, as if every trap had been temporarily deactivated, and then she grinned up at him.
There was a naughty glimmer in her eyes.
"You know, if you'd avoided that first tripwire, you'd have probably made it through safe."
His temper flared. He had been a Turk, he had survived Meteor Crisis and the Deepground Incident right along with her. He knew how to navigate a trapped house. But he stopped himself before snapping out at her. "I had a question to ask you."
She grinned saucily. It wasn't quite the Kisaragi maniac grin, but there was an edge to it. A dangerous edge. "Oh, good," she said, voice just a shade too mild, "I had something to ask you, too!"
Vincent bent to pull his foot out from the sinkhole. "Ladies first," he said, his ancient manners not allowing him to do otherwise.
She folded her arms across her chest. "Why are you here?"
He stared at her. "You… insisted that I return to Wutai with you."
She stared back. Confusion and suspicion lurked in her expression. "I wasn't being serious! You can leave if you want."
Silence reigned for a few moments. Outside, cats meowed. The city continued on its serene, ancient course while her pulse throbbed in her throat and his heartbeat—and Galian, damn him—responded to it.
"I like it here," he said at last.
He made sure not to tell her why, even when she asked. (And she would later ask as many as five times a day.)
He cannot die, he has realized. The Death Penalty has not yet killed him. The Quicksilver failed as well.
The bullet fragment in his mouth is from the Outsider.
Is he going to have to live... forever... with the pain of having lost—
Oh, Yuffie, he thinks.
He would welcome Chaos back into his mind if it meant one more day with her. One more hour. One more smile. One more laugh. One more anything. More.
It is then that he remembers: he cannot die, but he can sleep. (He's very good at sleeping, she would say with a laugh and sparkling eyes.)
Da Chao-statue became his favourite place to be at night. In the winters, he could retreat into the caves, where the fires still raged. Only possession of Leviathan's Scale could quell those flames, and that was Yuffie's rightful property, as Wutai's Champion.
But during the balmy summer nights, he could sit atop the statue and watch Wutai's dazzling array of lights. The paper lanterns were softer, gentler, more serene than the harsh neon and halogen of Edge and Junon, but were steadier than the flickering 100-watt bulbs with which Nibelheim and Kalm lit their streets.
The wind ghosted through caverns. A shadow appeared at his side. He turned and studied Yuffie's face in the dim lighting.
She'd be twenty-three soon, he realized. She'd reached her terminal height, still shorter than Tifa, but noticably taller than she'd been at sixteen. Her face carried the mature lines of adulthood. He could still see the child she'd been when first they'd met, but true childhood had long ebbed away from her.
In the weak, winking light of city and stars, her eyes looked much, much older than they had any right to be.
They stayed silent for a little while, him watching the city he had begun to love; her most likely reaffirming that yes, she would still give her life to protect this place.
"I'm refusing the arranged marriage."
He looked at her again. Against the shadowed stone, she might have been a statue cast in aged bronze, crouching on a rock.
Possible responses filtered through his mind, a dizzying whirl of words he couldn't or wouldn't say. At length, he settled on, "On what grounds?"
She pulled herself into a crazily dangerous and equally confident handstand. When she'd righted herself, she shrugged and replied, "He gives me the creeps."
A typical Yuffie answer. Vincent wanted to ask what about her father's intended match 'gave her the creeps', but he knew better. He'd receive either a too-cheerful "Not telling!" or a nonsense reply.
Instead, he asked, "And what will you tell your father?"
"That he gives me the creeps. Then Dad'll say that I found the match displeasing, and that it would be unworthy of Wutai to force its Champion into a marriage she finds distasteful." A soft chuckle, and then she threw herself into an imitation of a musician Vincent had listened to as a teen. "Another one bites the dust!"
Vincent put his chin in his good hand and let out a puff of breath to blow his hair out of his face. "You can't keep this up forever."
She stood up on the rock, suddenly towering over him for a change. She put her hands on her hips and looked down with a mock stern expression. "And why not?"
He had no answer for that one. It was simply a fact. She couldn't keep running from marriage forever.
"What if I knew who I wanted to marry? If I had to get married, which I don't."
Vincent stayed silent for a long time, trying to quash down the automatic jealousy. He didn't have any right to be jealous, of course. They were friends and nothing more.
Yuffie sat down beside him and kicked a leg against the side of the boulder. She tossed her head back and laughed, then poked him in the side. "You want to know who it is, don't you?"
He said nothing.
She poked him again. "You do, don't you? I know that look, Vincent. You got something you're dying to ask but won't let yourself."
Vincent scowled at her. He almost didn't want to hear her answer. But not knowing, being once more only able to watch as somebody he wanted for himself--despite how little he deserved it--fell in love with somebody else, would be torture. He'd done it once, in Yuffie's words, 'it had sucked,' and he wasn't going to do it again.
Nodding 'yes' was the hardest thing he'd done since he'd arrived in Wutai.
She cackled and whispered it to him, and cackled again when he turned to stare at her. But there was a hard edge to her laughter, as if it were forced.
Her eyes were serious, despite the wicked curve of her lips, as she told him, "I'm not joking."
"I miss you," Vincent says to the bedsheets where Yuffie spent so many of her final hours.
She'd been so frail, stick-thin, at ninety-three. But she'd been lively, too. She'd opened her mouth so wide when she laughed. And her grin had been manic, making even the most innocent of joys seem almost demented.
The room remains silent and he aches for it be filled with noise again. Any noise, from her discussions of Cloud the Kupo Nut, to the lullabyes she once sang to their children, to the laughter of their final months together.
No more silence, he begs. He lived too long in silence, and seventy-two years in noise and laughter seem but a smattering of moments.
"I'm not joking," he tells the spot where she died.
Wutai is one of many places with a legend about a sleeping Champion. However, unlike most places, this legend is known to be true, rooted completely in fact.
Deep in the caverns of Da Chao, beyond the fires that can be quenched only with a Leviathan's Scale, Vincent Valentine rests until he is needed.
It is said that he retired to this place within days after the death of his wife, Kisaragi Yuffie.