Even after all her time as Empress, Yuffie was still eager for distractions from her paperwork.
But when, early one morning, her daughter Haru entered the kitchen, carrying a photograph album that she hadn't really looked at in years, she realised that the conversation she was about to have was going to be more difficult than any trade negotiation.
She resigned herself to being late for her morning meeting with the council. Some things were just more important.
Haru clambered onto the chair next to her, a little frown on her face (and she had an epic frown; aside from the colour of her eyes and a slight Wutainese cast to her features, she was the image of Vincent. Yuffie sometimes wondered how many other mothers worried that their daughters would develop wrinkles before their thirteenth birthday), and opened the album to a picture she hadn't looked at for so long, but still remembered every detail of.
"Who's that man in the picture, mama?" she asked, obviously confused. Like every little girl on the face of the Planet, Haru recognised a wedding photo. She also, obviously, recognised that the man in the photo was not her father.
She shared a quick glance over her daughter's head with Vincent, a type of silent communication they had only developed after so many years of marriage. They had never quite come to an agreement about what parts of their… colourful… previous love-lives they would share with their daughter.
After all, her story was well known in Wutai, part of the history of her culture that Haru would have to learn one day. And while Vincent's past was less well known, it was the focus of much speculation, some of it wilder than the actual events.
The one thing they had agreed on, however, is that Haru would be older than six when they discussed it with her. But Yuffie wasn't going to lie to her daughter, or treat as if she was stupid, just because she was a child.
She sat down and turned the album towards her to look more closely at the photo. She and Kito looked so young, smiling and happy, blissfully unaware of their future. She smiled a little again, looking at the photo. There was the tiniest pang of remembered sadness, but mostly she could remember how happy she had been then, and it was a good feeling.
"His name was Kito," Yuffie began, looking back at her daughter. "I was married to him, before I married your dad."
Vincent sighed slightly, though whether in disapproval or just general discomfort with the topic she wasn't sure. She was sure he'd let her know, one way or the other, when Haru was asleep.
Haru only seemed puzzled by this. "How can you have been married to two people?"
Yuffie snorted at that. "I wasn't married to them both at the same time, Haru." She shifted awkwardly and then added, "Kito died." It was a brief statement, but those words contained a whole story of pain and regret that could definitely wait until the little girl had grown up a bit more.
There wasn't much of a reaction to that, just an "oh" and another little frown while she mulled it over. She was Vincent's daughter in temperament as well, mostly. She had thrown the odd awe-inspiring temper-tantrum though.
Yuffie thought that it was hugely unfair that her daughter had inherited all her bad traits.
Haru didn't say anything for a while. Death was a hard concept for any child to grasp and her only real frame of reference was that Lord Fuzzingtons had died a few weeks ago- and Yuffie herself had been more upset than Haru. She was glad about that though; when she had been her daughter's age, her country had been in the middle of losing a war, and death had been all too familiar to her. She was glad (and kind of proud too) that Haru was a stranger to anything like that.
"Were you sad?" She asked after a while, her voice small and uncertain.
"Yup," Yuffie answered lightly, but honestly. "Really, really sad." She ruffled up her daughter's hair and smiled at her solemn expression. "But, you see, your dad was my best friend. He helped me to feel better when I was sad, and stopped me from doing stupid things when I was angry. Then, one day, we realised that we loved each, and we got married." It was a simplified version of the story, sure, but it was true.
"And you were happy again?" Haru asked, still sounding a little uncertain. It was a lot for her to take in, Yuffie knew.
She smiled at her, and then turned her smile onto Vincent, as wide and brilliant as she could make it (which was pretty wide, and extremely brilliant). "Yeah. I'm happy again."
Vincent's expression softened slightly. She'd practically felt his discomfort at the topic. It was hard for them both to talk about, in different ways.
"What was he like?" Haru asked. Yuffie supposed that her curiosity was probably her fault, too.
"He was…" how was she supposed to describe him, to sum him up in just a few words? "He was funny and kind, and a bit too serious at times," she said slowly. "He was clever, much cleverer than me and sometimes we argued a lot and…" for a short time, he had been her everything. But that was not something she would say in front of Vincent, not when she knew he was already feeling awkward. "Next time you talk to Grandma Suisen, you should ask her," Yuffie told her instead, knowing that Suisen would appreciate the chance to talk about Kito.
"Okay mama," Haru agreed easily, looking back at the photograph.
Yuffie carefully pulled the album away from her. "But for now, don't you have some rope-escape lessons you should be at?" she asked, and couldn't help laughing as Haru wrinkled her nose.
"I hate rope-escape lessons," she grumbled, pouting and folding her arms in an oh-so familiar way.
"So did I, but you'll never know when they'll come in handy," Yuffie assured her, ignoring Vincent's slight snort. "Believe me." With a very put-upon sigh, Haru stood up to go. Kissing her father, and then her, she skipped her way out of the door.
Yuffie turned her attention back to Vincent, who was studying the photograph album intently. She took another glance at it too. Behind her and Kito, her friends and family were all assembled, smiling for the camera in different degrees. But right at the back of the photo Vincent stood, only his profile showing, determinedly not looking at anything at all.
She hadn't thought anything of it at the time, as that had been Vincent's default reaction whenever anyone had the temerity to point a camera in his direction. But looking back she could see the traces of pain in his face. Although she had no regrets about her first wedding, she still hated the thought that something that had made her so happy had caused him sadness, and she hated that the photo seemed to have stirred up some traces of it for him.
So Yuffie did what she did best and provided a big, noisy distraction to take his mind off it. She leapt across the kitchen table, scattering paperwork in her wake, and landed in Vincent's unsuspecting lap (earning herself a slightly-winded "oof" in response, much to her amusement). His arms automatically went around her, warm and secure.
"Heya Vinnie!" she said cheekily, squirming in his lap to make herself comfortable.
He sighed above her head, more amused than exasperated, and she smiled to herself as she realised she had caught him on the cusp of sinking into angst, successfully preventing it. "Hello, Yuffie," he replied tolerantly, leaning down to brush a kiss against the crown of her head.
They had been married for nearly eight years now, Yuffie realised. After Vincent's ever-so-slightly unromantic proposal, he had made up for it by giving her a beautiful red-gold ring, topped with garnets and pearls. Their wedding had been much smaller than her first, with just her friends and the people she considered family in attendance. But she had been no less happy than in her first, seeing Vincent staring at her in her new kimono, with all the love he felt for her actually showing on his face, ranked as one of her all-time best memories.
She had been especially happy that Kito's mother and sister had come as well; it meant a lot to her that they could be happy for her. Tifa had cried, again, but she had chalked it up hormones as she had been carrying her second child at the time.
She had taken the name Valentine as her own. Although Haru was Kisaragi-Valentine (to preserve the dynastic name) Yuffie refused to go through life with a triple-barrelled name. Kisaragi-Matsuri had been enough of a mouthful. Besides, it made Vincent happy. Yuffie had come to realise that there wasn't a lot she wouldn't do to achieve that.
Their wedding had been announced to Wutai in general after the fact. She had basically told her people that they could accept it or else (although it had been phrased in slightly more diplomatic language than that). And although there had been a few rumblings of discontent, the change had been accepted peacefully. That was partly because Yuffie had worked hard to secure her position in the years before her marriage, but possibly also because Vincent could look pretty scary when he wanted to.
He didn't take an active role in ruling Wutai, preferring to leave all that to her, but he was an able and willing adviser, and definitely the organised one of the two of them. He kept her focused when she got bored and distracted. He would come to meetings if she needed him to glare at someone for her, though. He was the most potent weapon in her political arsenal.
They had settled into their lives together with just a few adjustments. Although they still lived in the royal pagoda she had shared with Kito, she had let Vincent choose a new room for them, and to move things around until he felt at home. She had wanted him to feel that he had his own place in her life, not like he was simply plugging a hole that had been left in her. She knew he appreciated the gesture, he had demonstrated it quite vividly to her on their first night in their new room.
While they had the occasional clash of personality, sometimes friendly, sometimes not so much and although they occasionally got on each other's nerves, they always managed to get by. Besides, arguing with Vincent had got a lot more stimulating (and occasionally amusing) now that she didn't have to respect his personal space. They loved each other, and that was the most important thing. She had learned to treasure the important things and to let the little things go.
Well, most of the time, anyway.
And when Haru had been born two years into their marriage, she felt as if their happiness had been complete. She had actually found out that she was pregnant on what would have been Kito's birthday and had cried all over Vincent, worrying him a little until he realised they had been happy tears. She had felt as if her first love had been sending her a blessing from the Lifestream.
Watching her daughter grow, and seeing Vincent as a father, was the greatest joy of her life.
She snuggled closer to Vincent with a contented sigh as she remembered, winding a lock of his hair around her fingers. His simple presence was soothing to her, his strength a comfort, as it had always been; whether he was at her side in battle, or easing her heartache as her best friend, or by being with her every day as her love and her partner.
He was her everything now. She had been lucky to experience such love and happiness once, twice was almost more than she deserved. Not that she was complaining, by any means. Far from it, in fact.
"You're going to be late for your meeting," Vincent reminded her quietly, voice rumbling against her ear.
"I already am," she replied, not moving from his loose embrace. After a moment, his grip tightened around her as he accepted the fact she would not be leaving her comfy seat any time soon.
"I wasn't expecting to have that talk quite so soon," Vincent observed after a while, but his figure was relaxed against hers and his voice was calm. She had obviously soothed away his discomfort just in time.
"Hmm," Yuffie agreed thoughtfully. "Well, it'll be your turn soon enough," she observed with a laugh, feeling Vincent start slightly against her. "Don't worry," she assured him, tilting her head to kiss his jaw. "We'll handle it. No problem."
Vincent smiled, the expression less-rare now but still something she loved to see on him. "Yes," he agreed. "We will." He paused for a second, turning to look her right in the eyes. "You… you are happy, aren't you?"
She snorted rudely, socking him in the shoulder before kissing him soundly. "You know I am, Vinnie!" she assured him, rubbing at his shoulder where she had hit him. "How about you?" she asked him teasingly, already secure in the answer.
Vincent bent slightly to kiss her, briefly and sweetly. His eyes expressed everything to her that his tone did not. "I never thought I would have any of this," he told her quietly. "How could I be anything but happy?"
Yuffie felt a sappy grin touch her mouth for a moment - after all, once she would have never though she would hear Vincent say any such thing, especially not to her - before nudging him in the ribs, cheerfully ruining the moment. "Wow Valentine, you're so going to get lucky for that tonight!"
A smile flickered across his lips before he kissed her again, deeply and seriously this time. She pressed herself closer to him as she returned it, thoughts of her Council meeting flying out of her head.
When her heart had broken, Vincent had sticky-taped back together for her. When it felt like there had been nothing left for her but a miserable winter, it turned out that Vincent was her spring. The thought that she had done the same for him, even a little bit, made her heart beat faster.
After all they had been through, all that she had learned, all that she had lost and gained, how could she not be happy?
A/N: And we're done!
I'm such a terrible liar. My apologies. I actually meant to have this up a few weeks ago, but real life kept happening to me (as did, uh, Dragon Age: Origins). I've re-written this so many now but I had to end it at some point. Hopefully it wrapped everything up for you guys- I felt like they deserved a happy ending after everything I put them through.
Thanks you so much to everyone who has read and (hopefully) enjoyed my strange little reverse Yuffentine, and extra special thanks to those of you who let me know what you thought. It turned out a little different from my original idea, but I'm pretty happy with it now. Thanks for sticking with me through various life crises, injuries and illnesses, writer's blocks and technical problems, and prematurely greying hair.
I have plenty more Yuffentines in mind, and I've also been working on a Rufus/Yuffie fic as well (Yeah, I was surprised too). So stay tuned!
This is your last chance to review, people! You know you want to!