"Miss Wallace, you can come in now."
Principal Winters sat at her desk calmly organizing papers with her brown hair swept back in a clip. One small piece escaped and hung on her forehead, and she absentmindedly brushed it away. Her brown eyes were sharp and her outfit was pressed impeccably. When all the papers were in order she picked up the report sheet that explained why the little girl had been sent to the office. She heard the door creak open but did not look up as it softly shut, and listened to the tentative steps of the little girl as she tiptoed towards the desk. The chair that was designated for her sat front and center of the Principals desk. Principal Winters kept looking and reading the sheet as the little girl stood on tiptoes and reached up to the arms of the chair to heave herself up onto it. Principal Winters didn't glance up as the little girl sat meekly and uncomfortably with her legs dangling off.
The report had been filed by the teacher on recess duty, Miss Kelly, and it was listed as being a violation of the rule against violence. But when Principal Winters read the actual report of the event, she did look up.
Surely they had it wrong. This tiny girl couldn't have done what they said.
But apparently this was not a joke, and this little girl had beat up Timmy Johnson, the resident bully. Not only has she beaten him up, she'd twisted him around onto the ground, had him in a headlock at one point and very nearly broke his arm. It was all Principal Winters could do not to stare. She calmly and collectedly put down the paper, pushed her shoulders down, folded her hands on the desk and then looked down at the little girl.
"Hello Marlene," Winters greeted.
Marlene's head was bowed and she peeked up, only moving her eyes. "Hello," she said quietly.
"Did you hurt Timmy Johnson, Marlene?" Winters gently asked.
Marlene lifted her head and her mouth opened, to begin a protest, "He said-"
"Marlene," Winters interrupted, and raised her eyebrows meaningfully. "Did you hurt Timmy Johnson?"
"Yes," she murmured, cowed and guilty-sounding.
"I'm going to have to call your parent or guardian, you know," Winters informed her.
Marlene's eyes grew wide, but she shut the mouth that had opened and pressed her lips together. Slowly, she nodded.
Not seeing the reaction as anything curious, Winters took no notice. Marlene seemed very well mannered. "Who is your parent, Marlene?"
She frowned. "He's not here."
Winters nodded. "I know, I'm going to call him."
"No," Marlene said. "I mean he's not in Midgar. Yet. He's on his way here today."
The Principal furrowed her brow. "Why is he in Corel?"
Marlene frowned. "He's helping rebuild it."
Something in the Principals mind tickled at her, whispered at her but she shook it off. "And your mother?" she asked, opening a drawer in her desk to flick through the files to the 'W's.
"I don't have one," Marlene said easily.
"So who is taking care of you, Marlene?" Winters asked, looking up at the girl in the purple dress.
Marlene smiled at her. "Tifa!" she said gleefully, "Tifa Lockhart!"
That was when Winters stopped. She looked up and stared, because Tifa was a distinctive name of the world hero Tifa Lockhart, the bartender and fist-fighter who was part of AVALANCHE, who had helped defeat Sephiroth. Winters frowned and lifted her hands to fold them on the desk once more. It was not the first time children had told her they had relations to famous or otherwise known figures. One boy had insisted that Superman was his father.
"Marlene," Winters said in an only slightly reprimanding tone. "Lying is wrong," she said meaningfully.
Marlene looked puzzled. "But…"
"Marlene, I'd like you to apologize for lying to me."
"But I'm not-"
Marlene stared at her as though Winters had five heads, and then she folded her arms against her chest. "I'm not lying," she said defiantly and lifted her little chin like she, all of seven years old, could stand up to this woman who sat so polished at the desk.
Winters sighed and went back to looking for the files. "So this 'Tifa' is taking care of you?" Winters asked, deciding to play along.
"Not just Tifa," Marlene said, matter-of-factly, "Cloud too, though he's gone a lot."
Winters almost sputtered, but kept her composure. Now she was claiming Cloud Strife was her guardian! At least this would all be settled as the Principal drew out the emergency card. Placing it on the desk, she looked at the girl and scanned down the list.
And then, unable to help it, her jaw dropped.
Wallace. The little girl was Wallace, and listed under her parent's name was Barret Wallace, leader of AVALANCHE when it had only been an eco-terrorist group, man with a gun arm. Wallace. This little girl, according to this card, was the child of a world savior. Wallace. Unless her parents had thought this was a good joke, this little girl was growing up under one of the most well known figures of their time.
Of course. In Corel, helping rebuild. There had been an article about him in this morning's paper.
So she picked up the phone to call the cell phone number listed, on the off chance the man would be in town. Dialing, she looked at the girl (was that a hint of smirk on those lips?) and held the phone to her ear.
The phone rang nine times before the message picked up.
"Barret Wallace. Leave a message and I'll call you back or somethin'."
The Principal frowned, but waited for the beep.
"Mr. Wallace? This is Principal Winters, from Marlene's school. Today is April 7th, and I'm hoping you might be in town. Please call as soon as possible. Thank you."
She hung up the phone, and smiled at the little girl with closed lips. No matter. Her eyes scanned to the emergency numbers as she sipped her coffee.
And this time, she nearly spat it out. Sure enough, as she should have expected, was a familiar name under the 'Emergency Contacts.'
Seven familiar names, actually.
First up was Tifa, listing the home and cell. Calling the home, the machine picked up and she left a message yet again, and smiled again at the little girl who was smirking more and more by the minute. Then Winters dialed the cell phone number.
"You've reached Tifa Lockhart's cell phone, please leave your name and number after the beep, and I'll call you back as soon as possible. Beep."
"Miss Lockhart? This is Principal Winters, I left a message on your home phone. It is April 7th, and I'm calling from Marlene's school. If you could call me back, that would be wonderful. Goodbye."
She hung up.
"Tifa didn't answer?" Marlene asked, all innocence but for that gleam in her eyes, that 'I told you so.'
"We'll try your other guardian then, Cloud."
"He won't answer," Marlene informed her.
Unfortunately, the girl was right.
The phone rang and rang, and he never picked up. Finally, the message.
"Cloud Strife. Leave one."
"Mr. Strife? This is Principal Winters from Marlene's school. It is April 7th. Please call me back as soon as you can. Goodbye."
Glancing down, the Principal couldn't believe the numbers listed, and her heart thumped. Next listed was the cell phone of the hero and Princess Yuffie Kisaragi.
Dialing the number, the Principal hoped for a change in her luck.
And she sighed with relief.
"Hello! Miss Kisaragi this is-"
"Hello? I can't hear you…"
"Miss Kisaragi! This is Principal Winters from-"
"I'm sorry? Speak up! I have real bad reception…Hello? Hello?"
"This is Principal Winters from Marlene's school-"
"Haha psych! Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. This is THE greatest ninja ever Yuffie Kisaragi's cell phone, so make it good."
Winters grit her teeth in frustration. "Hello Miss Kisaragi, this is Principal Winters calling from Marlene Wallace's school. If you could call me back ASAP that would be great, I need to discuss Marlene. Goodbye."
Her smile at the little girl was tighter, the kind of sickly-sweet smile that usually hides frustration or sarcasm. The next number on the list was Cid Highwind.
"Does this goddamn thing work? Oh. Wait. You've reached the cell phone of Cid HIghwind, so- shit, Shera, I'm making a voicemail here - leave a message and I'll call you back. …#& how do I turn this goddamn thing off? Well I could do it over again Sher but I can't figure out how this goddamn thing-"
"Mr. Highwind? This is Principal Winters from Marlene's school, and if you could call me back as soon as possible that would be great. Bye."
"Cid has a naughty voicemail," Marlene informed her, "but they're going to help fix it."
"'They?'" Principal Winters asked, jaw clenched with frustration at these people who didn't pick up their phones.
Marlene's triumph was written all over her face, but her smirk bled seamlessly into an innocent smile. "All of AVALANCHE is getting together today!" she said excitedly.
The frustrated Principal punched in the next number without looking at the name, sure she would find out when he or she didn't answer. Did these people have a vendetta against phones? What if she was calling about Marlene in a fatal accident? It was dangerous, and frustrating, that's what it was.
But she did get the shock of her lifetime - or one of them, since they were coming around quite often today - next.
"Hello, this is Reeve Tuesti's phone, and leave a message and I'll contact you. Bye!"
Principal Winters froze, but repeated the same message she'd been saying for the past five minutes.
"Mr. Tuesti? This is Principal Winters from Marlene's school, please call me back."
"Who haven't you called?" Marlene asked curiously, trying to peer up onto the desk.
The Principal's glare made her sink back into her seat. The Principal's finger jabbed the numbers on the keypad, and her nails drummed as the second to last contact's phone rang and rang and-
"This is Nanaki. Please leave a message."
"Mr. Nanaki! I'm from Marlene's school, Principal Winters. Call back."
She slammed the phone down and Marlene beamed.
"I love Red. He's furry."
The Principal couldn't help but stare at this girl, who was growing up in the shadows and around the greatest men and women of their time, almost oblivious to the status of the people who raised her.
Finally, the Principal who'd stopped going to church at twelve sent up a prayer and gently pressed the last number.
The phone rang, and rang, and the Principal was going to have a hissy fit and-
And the Principal was about to shout in frustration when she realized it wasn't a message and someone had picked up and she heaved a sigh of relief, all her muscles loosening and her slumping.
"Mr. Valentine! Thank god you picked up, I've been calling everybody. Are you in Midgar?"
"…who is speaking?"
"This is Principal Winters from Marlene's school! I've been trying to get in touch with your colleagues but…"
"…what do you need."
He was very direct, apparently, almost to the point of rudeness. "Well," Winters said, frowning, "Marlene is in a bit of trouble and if you are in Midgar and could come and talk-"
"I'm on my way."
And before the Principal could thank him there was a click and he'd hung up, abruptly and rudely, but she couldn't bring herself to care. She slumped slightly, and Marlene beamed.
"Vincent's coming?" she asked, excited.
"Yes," the Principal said, nodding, "Mr. Valentine is on his way."
Marlene sat up straighter, eyes glowing with excitement. "Vincent is so cool! He has really soft hair and really pale skin and these eyes that are red like my Christmas bow and red hots and he's tall and has a golden arm and a big red cape and a really big gun that-"
And then something dawned on her.
"Marlene," Principal Winters asked, eyes widening, sitting up in her chair, "do…do the heroes- I mean, your…"
"Family," Marlene supplied proudly.
"Right. Your family…do they…do you think they'll be bringing their weapons?"
Marlene blinked. "Well Vincent carries his gun around everywhere."
Principal Winters was an inch from fainting. The little girl on the chair beamed as the Principal slumped, and meanwhile, seven people's phones buzzed with the signal that they had a message, and meanwhile, seven people checked their voicemails.
Principal Winters had always wondered about the windows in Principal's offices. Windows that were textured with that almost white, so they weren't clear. What was the point? She supposed so you could see someone coming without them actually seeing you, because she hadn't even heard him before the silhouette of a tall man in a red cloak came into view. He turned and rapped politely on the door.
"Come in," she said, trying as hard as she could to stay calm and collected.
The door opened.
She couldn't help it. She gasped.
For all she'd heard about Vincent Valentine, he was a fearsome thing to behold, with a dramatic cape and blood red eyes, but of everything she'd heard about him, they'd left something out.
Vincent Valentine was gorgeous.
His pale skin was flawless, and his nose was straight and perfect for his face, and his wild hair contrasted wonderfully with his skin and his eyes, and as red eyes settled on her, she knew no one would ever tell him this.
But she couldn't miss that gun holster, hanging from his hip.
That was her impression (though she was sure that the shock of seeing a hero had made her overly dramatic) as he swept into the door and stood silently as it shut behind him, looking at her blankly.
"Have a seat," she offered.
He nodded and pulled up a chair just like Marlene was sitting in.
"Uncle Vincent!" Marlene chirped, and he looked down at the girl.
Was that nearly a smile?
"Marlene," he greeted with a slight nod of his head.
Then he remembered why he was here and he looked up, and Marlene's grin faded.
He looked at her expectantly, and she realized he was waiting for her to say something. But her mouth was dry and her throat closed up, all affected by the shock of being so close to The Vincent Valentine, ex-Turk and hero of the world.
"What is the-" Vincent actually started.
But then the door burst open.
"Wha's the matter?" Barret Wallace roared as the door flung open and connected with the wall so harshly the Principal winced. "Is somethin' wrong wit Marlene?"
The Principal stared, her heart pounding her chest as the large black man stood menacingly and fiercely a the door, gun arm glinting maliciously. It was all the normally calm Principal could do to not press her hand over her heart. Instead, she took a deep breath and smiled her plastic Principal smile. "Take a seat, Mr. Wallace. Mr. Valentine has already arrived-"
There were suddenly a few rapid knocks on the door before it was opened, slightly tentatively, and the worried form of a woman stepped in the door.
"What is it? Is Marlene okay?"
The Principal could feel her heart pounding.
The Tifa Lockhart stood in the door in a white pea coat. The Principal knew those hands were deadly, but Tifa Lockhart was beautiful and quite…well endowed and the Principal couldn't help but feel a stab of jealousy, because Tifa wasn't aware of her soft silky hair and deep eyes. But more than beauty the compassion struck, because she was so worried about this girl who wasn't her daughter, and as lame as it sounded, it sweet.
"Barret!" she exclaimed. "Vincent, I didn't know…"
"Pull up a chair, Miss-"
But she couldn't' finish before the door was flung open and a figure darted in, and Tifa only just sprang out of the way as the figure bowled in, stopping suddenly.
"Yuffie K has arrived," she announced with a grin. "How's Marlene?"
Then she looked around and saw the three others in the room and she couldn't help but grin. She laughed, and although all her mischievousness and devilish grin was there, the Principal could see it all hid a pretty girl, although no Tifa (who was?) and the Principal realized, with a thud of the heart, not only a hero but a Princess was in the room. Of what were considered 'civilized nations,' she was the only remaining Princess. Tribes that settled around the globe, largely nomads, there were Princesses and royalty, but that was seen differently.
"Aunt Yuffie!" Marlene squealed.
Yuffie grinned and walked over behind the chair, leaning down on the back of it. "Hey Mars-Bars."
"Hey…um…Yuffs…um…Puffs," Marlene attempted feebly. Yuffie grinned.
"Jus' like the brat, always burstin' in on importan' conversations," Barrett grumbled good-naturedly, as though forgetting he'd done the same.
"Oh shut your pie-hole, Marshmallow."
Apparently it was an inside joke, for Barret glowered while Tifa held up a hand to hide her grin and a flash of amusement passed through Vincent's eyes.
The Principal stared around at the four people, and realized she'd left four other messages.
What, oh what, had she gotten herself into.
"Well, if you'll excuse me, I'm Principal Winters and," and I'm about to have a heart attack from talking to you heroes, "and Marlene got in some trouble-"
"What the $%# do you mean I have to put out my #$%^% cigarette?!"
"Oh Leviathan," Yuffie said, and looked over at the door. "Captain Cancer is in the house."
The silhouette of a man appeared, a cowed little receptionist appearing after him.
"Please Mr. Highwind, there are children…"
"Psht," Mr. Highwind said, and pushed open the door.
"Mr. Highwind," The Principal said wearily, "Take a seat. I'm sure another one of your colleagues will be joining us short-"
On cue, the silhouette of not one, but four people appeared. Yuffie leaned forward, nearly bending over Marlene's chair and then her eyes widened. Then- "Shit."
"Yuffie!" Tifa scolded.
"Don' you be using that goddamn language 'round my lil' girl!" Barret roared and slammed his good hand down on the desk, making the desk shudder and Mrs. Clare Winters jump.
"Like you're any better!" Yuffie protested while Tifa tried to maintain a straight face, but succumbed to laughter.
Then, the door was pushed open.
"Puh-puh-P…Mr. President!" Clare stammered.
Yes, she'd called him, but not having though he'd actually come. Then, the other three figures filled in the doorway, and her heart became paralyzed with fear.
Clare Winters's had grown up in the time when Turks were the worst possible sight to be seen, frightening and everyone to be feared.
There was a red-head, a bald man and a blonde girl. Three people whose names she would later learn were Reno, Rude and Elena. The bald man and the girl stood stock still, professionally straight backed, but the redhead sauntered in easily, and winked at the Principal. Then he looked around and grinned, and she saw his eyes search for the least forgiving face.
"Princess," he smirked, and Yuffie narrowed her eyes, "Long time no see."
"Turkeys," she said stiffly.
"Reeve," Tifa said softly, "Why did you bring them?"
Reeve frowned. "I didn't."
Reno laughed. "It's our duty to protect you boss."
"Oh yes," Reeve said, raising his eyebrows, "I see. Obviously the danger of an elementary school was far too perilous for me to face on my own."
"Far too perilous," Rude said stoically and nodded, though amusement tugged at the corners of his lips and flashed in his eyes. AVALANCHE stared; Rude had just made a joke.
"Those first graders, you know," Reeve said, though amusement was getting the better of him, "vicious."
"They're like animals, boss," Reno added, smirking.
"We didn't dare let you go in alone," Elena was fighting a smile, pressing her lips in as it fought to turn upwards.
Winters was getting over the shock of seeing heroes and becoming annoyed. Barret pulled a chair up next to Marlene and Tifa sat on the other side while Yuffie stood behind Marlene, leaning down on the back of the chair. Cid remained standing, but Reeve had forgone the chairs entirely and sat on the white couch against the wall. Reno came around the other side and plopped onto the couch, lounging back with his nightstick dangling from one hand. Rude and Elena, however, stepped into the background, suddenly having an air around them that made you not only look away from these boring figures, but forget them entirely. But Reno grinned devilishly from the opposite end of the couch as Reeve, and he winked. Barret was fighting every urge and Tifa's hastened mutterings to get up and start a fight. The muscle in his jaw worked as his vein in his forehead bulged. Vincent Valentine had remained silent, standing further back from Marlene than Yuffie, against the bookcase that stood opposite of the desk. He was the only one who seemed to be paying any attention to the Principal, blood red eyes fixed on her steadily, and making her wish they weren't.
Marlene had successfully shrunk in her chair, becoming small and innocent looking, trying to fade into the background of the mayhem. She smiled sweetly, and Tifa was too busy talking Barret into a semi-calm state to notice, but Yuffie noticed and was grinning, a look that suggested she knew that face all too well, from personal usage.
"Speaking of dangerous first graders," Winters said, and heads turned.
She had their attention.
But not for long.
The door was pushed open, and Winters looked over, surprised. The milky windows hadn't shown her even a silhouette. By now, Winters had deduced that her receptionists were either too shocked to announce them, or the intercom had broken.
It was the beast that wasn't a beast, that was intelligent, that was part of a people. Wasn't human, but was a person - he used language, was intelligent and had an organized mind.
He looked around. "It seems I wasn't the only one to receive your message," he said calmly, and walked in front of Marlene's chair and sat on the floor as Marlene smiled widely and strained forward to pet at the mane. Winters could tell from the look on Nanaki's face that it was only for the child he endured it.
"As I was saying. Marlene here got into a bit of trouble today-"
"Trouble!" Barret interrupted, slamming his hand down. "What did my girl go and do to git in trouble?"
"Well Mr. Wallace I will explain-"
"Papa!" Marlene interjected, bursting out. "It wasn't my fault!"
"What did you do Marlene?" Tifa asked softly, and the girl looked guilty.
"Well you see-"
"Mr. Wallace, Miss Wallace and Miss Lockhart!" Winters exploded, standing up and slapping her hands down on the desk. Every head turned to her, and she was sure she saw Reno's eyes glance her up and down. "If you would please!"
The door pushed open.
"Sorry I'm late," The voice came, and every head swiveled as though on a rotary.
Cloud Strife, THE Cloud Strife, leader of AVALANCHE, hero of heroes, stood in the door.
Winters was too far gone to be bedazzled.
"Mr. Strife, thank you for coming, now sit!" The Principal ordered, and the leader looked momentarily startled before looking around. The chairs were gone, and the only spot left was on the couch between Reeve and Reno.
Cloud narrowed his eyes at his former enemy, who smirked back.
Stiffly, Cloud moved and sat down on the couch, hands on his knees and his sword leaned up next to him, a silent reminder to the Turk. Winters glared.
"Thank you. Now if you would please all just listen, we are going to talk about Marlene!" she cried, hysteria edging into her voice.
The heroes all turned to her in surprised silence.
She took a breath.
"Now, I did not expect all of you, so you may leave if you like. But your little six year old here was at recess, and she got into a fight," Winters said, but didn't allow any time for the others to talk. "She took a boy two years older than her and somehow your…daughter, charge, little girl-"
"Kidnapee," Reno added, and there was a fierce glare from Winters, but one that was put to shame by the one given by the entirety of AVALANCHE.
Especially Vincent Valentine's.
Barret lunged up out of his chair, but Tifa jumped up to restrain him, and Yuffie grabbed his arms, and somehow these two women (both at least a foot shorter than him) managed to hold him back.
And as Barret sat, she realized why - Vincent had calmly seized the back of the man's jacket, apparently having been able to predict the man's reaction. As he was wrestled back into his seat, Yuffie and Tifa glared fiercely, but they might as well been sending kisses of adoration for how Valentine's glare put theirs to shame.
"Anyway!" Winters cried, growing hysterical. "This little girl not only fought this boy, but she broke his arm and the nurse is trying to get his nose to stop bleeding!"
She took deep breaths, leaning forward on the desk while silence settled.
"Marlene!" her father roared.
"Marlene!" Tifa scolded.
"Way to go kid!" Cid laughed with a whoop.
"How'd you do it?" Yuffie asked eagerly, leaning in on the girl who was simultaneously beaming and looking reproached.
"You could have been hurt!" Tifa said.
"Violence is wrong!" Barret thundered, slamming his gun arm down so hard the desk shuddered.
The room filled with shouts and laughter and scolding and praise from the main cast in a saga of saving the world, and Principal Winters could only put her head in her hands and break down into giddy, crazy, hysterical laughter.
And little Miss Wallace just sat in her little chair amidst it all, like she was her entire life.
A/N: Just a little one-shot, fun side-thing. Hope you like it. :)