Yuffie took a quick peek at the already badly-crumpled piece of white paper in her right hand. It was a very simple message, consisting of an address and a city… Room 127, 1314 Castor, Section 2, Junon. 1314 Castor was an apartment building made of brick and steel, bearing a large scar in its northwestern corner on the fourth floor, where rusting steel rebar could be seen amidst crushed brick, the consequence of Sapphire WEAPON's attack on the city.

All of that was a distant memory, but there was still work to be done. Yuffie's work was in intel, gathering information for the World Regenesis Organization… and Materia for herself whenever she could. Today was one of those days, when Yuffie would collect her pay for all those hours of difficult work. Her eyes briefly scanned the bolded message at the bottom of the sheet of paper, but she ignored this. It read: 'ADVISORY: Extreme risk, dangerous person inside building, do not attempt extraction alone.' Yuffie crumpled up the paper and shoved it in her pocket. She'd work alone.

"'Sides, my shuriken'll keep me safe…" Yuffie thought with a smile, reaching back and running her hand across one of the four blades of the large shuriken strapped behind her. "I won't even need it if I get in and out of here quickly enough!"

The front door of the building was unlocked, and when Yuffie walked into the lobby, she could see no one on duty. It was clear that the apartment had been long since abandoned, and those who remained behind were on their own. It was a daunting prospect, but an attractive one… an apartment in Uptown Junon had once run 3,500 Gil a month… those who were willing to stick it out and kill the occasional monster that showed up could now have it for free.

"127… the first floor. No stair-climbing for me!"

Yuffie strolled down the hallway, briefly looking to her left and right for any sign of life in the adjacent rooms. A musty, moldy smell hung in the air, a clear indication of neglect in the parts of the building that weren't occupied, and probably in some of the others that were. She could hear some activity nearby, but dismissed it quickly, not wanting to bother anyone who wasn't her real target.

Her target was a particularly powerful Spell Materia, said to have been plucked from the ruins of Midgar at the spot where Diamond Weapon fell. Among the hundreds of Comet, Contain, and Kjata Materia that had fallen amidst the debris was a unique stone, with properties unlike anything Yuffie or her friends had heard of before. They wouldn't have heard of it at all had a WRO member not tracked a particularly enterprising Materia hunter to his home in Junon. Because of the potential for danger that powerful Materia had if they fell into the wrong hands, the WRO wanted to gather as much of the Materia as they could to minimize the danger. It was a perfect task for Yuffie… she could steal Materia and actually get praised for it! Not as if she needed the praise, of course… but it was a good feeling for Yuffie to have people actually congratulate her for her favorite hobby.

"And here we are, Room 127! The magic number… wonder if somebody's home?"

The door to the room was closed, but it was also unlocked. Yuffie resisted the temptation to stroll on in… instead, she looked up and saw a vent above her head.

"That's my door," she whispered, unscrewing the vent and opening it up, then climbing inside and making her way down the short, narrow passage to room 127's grate. "Here we are… now… is this guy home?"

Yuffie peered down into the room, her eyes darting back and forth. Inside was a chair, a desk stacked with numerous papers, an unmade bed, several assorted weapons… no Materia, and no living persons. The latter ensured Yuffie would have plenty of time to look for the former. She leapt down into the room and began rifling through everything.

"Yoohoo… Materiaaaaaaa…. gonna find you… where are you?!" As Yuffie talked to herself, she began making a mess of the room, throwing papers everywhere and kicking a small stack of dirty clothes aside. Despite the room's unkempt condition, it smelled cleaner than the rest of the building, even the pile of dirty clothes didn't look any more dirty than the ones Yuffie and her friends typically tossed away after a hard day of training or fighting. "It couldn't be hidden that well… unless the guy who lives here took it with him… oh man, that would really suck!"

Yuffie didn't give up. She looked everywhere she could think of… under the bed, between the sheets, in the pockets of all the shirts and pants, in all the drawers, in the closet… but the only Materia she found were a pair of low-level Fires. She let out a sigh, thinking she'd have to wait for the occupant to return home before finding anything.

"Guess I'll hide in the closet and knock him out… but I'd have to wait for him to come back, and that gets so boring!"

As Yuffie began to let out a sigh of disappointment, a glint on the shelf above the bed caught her eye. The only object on the shelf was a small picture of a young couple holding an infant child… but behind the picture, something was shining. Yuffie walked over.

"Didn't want to disturb that picture, but…" Yuffie shifted it a couple of inches, and there, resting on the shelf, was a small green orb. As Yuffie placed her hand near it, she could feel an intense radiation of magical power, comparable to the glow given off by a charged-up Ultima materia. Yuffie gasped, then smiled. "This is it!"

She picked up the Materia and held it in her hands, her eyes glistening, her palms beginning to sweat. She was holding the powerful Ardor Materia, capable of burning an entire forest to the ground in its unrefined form… and once powered-up, capable of leveling a city.

"This is so cool…" whispered Yuffie, her fingers caressing the smooth surface of the green jewel. "I could sell it, or I could use it myself… or I could just show it to Cloud and Tifa and brag about how I have it and how they don't! Yuffie Kisaragi, you are-"

A reflection off the surface of the Materia caused Yuffie to immediately spin around. Her hand reached behind her to her shuriken, but she suddenly felt a strong hand around her throat, slamming her hard into the wall and hopelessly pinning her weapon between the brick and her back. She gasped out a silent scream, her eyes widening as she glimpsed through the darkness at the figure pinning her. She could make out long, black hair and somewhat pale skin, though her fading vision prevented her from seeing exactly who she was dealing with.

"Get off me…!" Yuffie thought, raising one of her legs to kick her assailant, who responded by stepping in closer, preventing Yuffie from bending her knee all the way. She was able to kick the man in the shin, causing him to wince, but not to release his grip to any meaningful degree. "Oh…! How could he have gotten the jump on…"

Yuffie's thoughts faded, followed by her consciousness. When the man could tell the girl had gone limp, he let her gently slide to the floor, the Materia falling from her hand to the thinly-carpeted floor.

"Should've known I'd have visitors once word of this thing got out," said the man in a soft voice, bending down to pick up the Ardor Materia from the floor. While he was bending down, he looked at Yuffie's unconscious face, wondering if the now-unconscious intruder was someone he knew. "Don't think so… but the name… Yuffie Kisaragi… that name is familiar."

-

Yuffie awoke to darkness, a darkness that didn't go away when she opened her eyes. She could feel that her arms were now behind her, and that she wasn't able to move them at all for some reason.

"Tied up and blindfolded… better than being dead, I guess."

Yuffie didn't bother struggling, at least not until she'd assessed the rest of her situation. She could feel that she'd been handcuffed, and that the bonds had been re-enforced with duct tape, tightly wrapped around Yuffie's wrists just above the cuffs. More tape had been wrapped around Yuffie's body just above her stomach, going all the way around her body and keeping her arms pinned to her back…. and there was more tape around her midsection for good measure, about a dozen layers of it wrapped around her body above her breasts and below her shoulders. Her arms were completely immobile. More tape was wrapped around her body to pin it to the back of a chair… presumably, the same wooden chair she'd seen upon entering the room.

"Fmmmmck…."

Yuffie's eyes widened under the black cloth tied over her eyes. Her mouth was sealed shut, a piece of duct tape pressed tightly down over it. Normally she'd have been able to open her mouth and push it off with her tongue, but an hour of being adhered to her lips had fused it to her skin, and it would take a concerted effort and strong fingers to peel it free. Yuffie's legs were taped down to the front legs of the chair where she was seated, duct tape wrapped around her ankles to keep them pinned tightly down. She found it surprisingly easy to wiggle her toes.

"Bound and gagged… I've been bound and gagged before! But wait a minute… why can't I feel my…"

Now she knew why she could wiggle her toes so easily… and why she felt so cold. Her clothes had been almost totally removed, leaving her clad in only her black cotton panties and her loose-fitting sports bra.

"…FMMMCK!!"

Yuffie thrashed a bit, trying to move her body forward in the chair, though all she managed to do was whip her head back and forth. She tried again, whipping her head to the left this time.

"Maybe if I can at least shake my blindfold loose I can look for a way to-"

Yuffie felt a smooth hand on the side of her face. She began to let out a scream when she felt the hand move behind her head and loosen the knot on her blindfold.

"I'm… saved?"

The blindfold was removed, and Yuffie blinked her eyes, looking up to see a man with long, black hair standing over her. A memory came rushing back, and Yuffie recognized the man as the one who'd attacked her right after she'd found the Ardor Materia. The man wasn't her rescuer, he was her captor!

"If you're wondering whether I touched you, don't worry, I didn't. Wouldn't be fun to play with an unconscious girl, anyway."

The man allowed himself a smile, and Yuffie growled, narrowing her eyes before widening them after realizing the implications of the man's last sentence. He hadn't done anything to her while she was awake, but he was planning to now?

"Nmmmmmm!!" Yuffie emoted, thrashing in her chair again. The man gave a quick laugh, his blue eyes narrowing as he bent down to be face-to-face with his captive.

"You're a cute little sneak thief," the man said, brushing the back of his hand down Yuffie's left cheek. Yuffie squealed and pressed herself back into the chair. The man didn't try to move his hand in again, he pulled back and stood upright, keeping his gaze fixed on Yuffie's eyes. Yuffie's expression was now a third fear, a third perplexion, and a third anger.

"What's this guy going to do?" she thought, still strongly fearing that she was about to be violated in some way. "If he wanted to kill me he'd have already done it… unless he's planning to rape me before killing me! Dammit, I have to get out of here!"

The man continued to look at Yuffie, and this gave her the opportunity to get her first good look at him. He was young, she could tell that right away… in fact, Yuffie guessed that he was probably younger than Cloud, and maybe only a year older than her. His clothes were somewhat unusual, he wore some kind of armored vest over a thin black t-shirt, and his blue pants were either denim or leather, it was too dark for Yuffie to tell.

"I took your clothes off so I could figure out who you were," said the man, pointing to a lump of clothing piled up near the door, which Yuffie immediately recognized as the outfit she'd come in wearing. The man was holding a plastic card in his hand, looking at it with a bit of bemusement. "WRO… I'd seen one of them tailing me earlier, but it wasn't you. Honestly, can't you people leave well enough alone? I'm just trying to make my way in the world…"

The man tossed the card, Yuffie's WRO credentials, onto the bed. Yuffie looked over and could see that her shuriken was also on the bed. She could absolutely guarantee that if her captor left her alone with it, he wouldn't be her captor for long. She looked back up at the man, whose tone wasn't menacing at all, in fact, it was calming in its own particular way. She was still nervous about being sexually assaulted, though.

"And the note, which proves you guys were particularly scouting me for my Materia. Guess even the cruddy part of Junon's no longer safe from the long arm of the World Regenesis Organization, even if you're not trying to mess up the Planet. Apparently, the only people allowed to have good Materia are you and your buddies."

"I'm not here to confiscate your Materia, I'm here to steal it!" thought Yuffie, though she wasn't sure whether or not she wanted to let her captor know that. Certainly, she might be in less personal danger if he knew she hadn't come to haul him off to jail. "Mmm…mmmmmmmm!"

"Not yet," the man said, realizing that Yuffie wanted him to remove her gag. "I'm not sure whether or not I want to talk to you, I have some people of my own to talk to first. You just sit tight, I'll be back in a Midgar minute. Maybe."

The man turned away from Yuffie and started to leave, and an overwhelming feeling of relief swept through the bound ninja girl for two reasons. One, she wasn't going to be violated… not yet, anyway. And the other reason… she was going to be able to use her shuriken to get free.

"I can't believe this guy is this stupid!"

As if able to somehow read Yuffie's thoughts, the man turned back and looked down at the bed. He bent down and picked up Yuffie's shuriken, briefly glancing over to see her eyes widen in fear and disappointment. He gave a smirk.

"I'm insulted."

Without saying another word, the man left the room, taking Yuffie's shuriken with him and closing the door behind him. Yuffie was left alone to ponder her predicament and struggle in her bonds, though the amount of duct tape around her limbs ensured she was going to have a very small chance of getting free. She thrashed around a few more times, her head whipping back and forth, her muffled shouts filling the room.

"Hhhhhhmmmmmphhhh mmmmmm! HHHHHLLLMMMPHHHH!"

-

"Speak."

"This is Trace here," said the man, pacing back and forth in the hallway in front of Room 127, speaking quietly into a cell phone to ensure Yuffie couldn't hear him. "You were right. They sent a WRO agent after me."

On the other end of the line was a woman with long, blonde hair, sitting atop a bed lined with red velvet sheets in one of the Gold Saucer's most expensive hotel rooms. She brushed her hand through her hair and lifted her thin-rimmed glasses slightly before continuing her conversation.

"Trace, what did I tell you? Don't go down to Site D without making sure no one's tailing you. Now you're going to have them on you for the rest of your natural life. What did you do with the agent?"

"She's tied up in my room…"

The voice on the other end let out a sigh… a long, exasperated sigh.

"So you're… having fun then?"

"Not that kind of fun. I don't think she came to arrest me, though. I think she just wanted the Materia."

"Well, if she wasn't going to arrest you before, she'll definitely do it now. You're not going to… kill her, are you?"

"Well…." Trace's voice faltered. "You know of a Yuffie Kisaragi?"

There was silence on the other end of the line. Then the voice began to speak again.

"Don't do anything until I get there. Well, you can do a few things, but… you know what I mean. Trace, you can't let ANYONE know you have Yuffie Kisaragi with you. You said she's tied up, right? Did you gag her too?"

"Of course," Trace replied. "I was going to ask her some questions, but if it's a good idea not to-"

"Well, keep her gagged most of the time. She's friends with some important and powerful people, and probably a lot more valuable than all the Materia you've found put together… but if her friends find out she's in danger-"

"…she's the princess of Wutai, isn't she?"

"Among other things," said the woman, whose voice was now accompanied by the sound of items being hastily packed up. "Where else have you heard of her before?"

"It's on the tip of my tongue, but… it doesn't matter. If you say she's important, she's important, and I'm not letting her out of my sight."

"Don't. I'll see you in a few hours."

Trace could hear the sound of a phone being hung up. He closed his own phone, placing it in his pocket and turning back toward the door of his apartment.

"She must be some girl to wield this thing around," Trace mused to himself, turning the large shuriken back and forth in his right hand. "Glad she didn't get the chance to stick me with it…"

-

Yuffie's mind raced as she thought about everything she'd uncovered on the search for the Materia that she might be able to use to free herself before her captor returned. There was nothing lying out in the open, no overtly sharp objects that she'd be able to reach to cut herself free from the tape, let alone anything she could use to pick the cuffs from her wrists.

"I guess I shouldn't worry much about the cuffs… I can escape if I just get all this tape off!" She tugged fiercely at her bonds, but her arms weren't able to move, and her legs had been taped down extremely tightly. Even if she was able to tip the chair over, she wouldn't be able to move around enough to reach the nearest sharp object if she could find out. "I'm stuck! I'm totally stuck! Ooohhh… I should've told Cloud where I was going… Cloud would mess that guy up good!"

The door opened, and Trace walked back into the room, holding Yuffie's shuriken in his hand. She looked up at him and narrowed her eyes, but didn't try saying anything through her gag. He tossed the shuriken back onto the bed and walked over to Yuffie, briefly looking to see if her bonds still held… they did.

"I suppose you'd like me to take that off now," said Trace, indicating the tape over Yuffie's mouth. She narrowed her eyes and gave a small growl, then slowly nodded. "I'm going to ask you some questions… but I'd like to improve my nonverbal communication skills, so let's see how much I can learn while still keeping you from screaming for help."

Yuffie blinked several times, then let out an angry squeal. She was incredibly frustrated with her situation, and upon learning that she wouldn't have the chance to explain herself by being ungagged, she bucked forward once more in her chair.

"First question. Are you here on official WRO business?"

Yuffie thought for a moment, wondering what she should answer. She got her information about the Ardor Materia from a WRO contact, and she supposed that she was doing their work… but she was doing her own work first and foremost, and she figured she could be truthful and still give Trace a 'no' answer. She shook her head.

"It took you an awful long time to answer that question…"

"Ggg…ggggrrrmmm! Mmmmmm..! MMMM! Mmmmmmmmph! You expect me to be able to explain myself? I just answered you, you big idiot! MMMMMMM!"

"Okay… if you're not here on official business, then are you just here to steal my Materia?"

Yuffie nodded almost instantly. She figured she no longer had anything to lose by telling the truth.

"I thought as much…" Trace placed his hand in his pocket, caressing the Materia he'd taken back from Yuffie after having knocked her out. He kept his gaze fixed on hers, reading her expression… she was as annoyed as ever, but less tense than before, and certainly less afraid of him. "Becca probably wants to ransom her off to her father or her friends. I suppose that could work, but… it feels so…"

"What's he thinking?!" Yuffie shifted nervously in her chair. She still felt uncomfortable being in front of a man without her clothing, even a man as attractive as she was beginning to find Trace. "Looks like Vincent without the creepiness. Doesn't act like him though… well, they're both pricks."

"One more question," said Trace, bending down so that his face was just a few inches from Yuffie's. "Do you believe you're in danger right now?"

The question startled Yuffie, causing her to let out a small squeak through her gag. She thought about it for a few moments, then shook her head.

"You're wrong," Trace replied, placing his hands on Yuffie's cheeks and pulling her face close. "You are very wrong. If your friends don't do exactly as my friends and I say, you are going to meet a very bad end, do you understand me?"

"Mmmm….mmgggmmphhh…! What's that mean, huh? So NOW you're gonna kill me…?" Yuffie tried to get her head out of Trace's grasp, but he held on tight, turning her back to him as she tried to move her head away. "Mmmmmmm!"

"And if you cause me any trouble…" said Trace, his voice lowering. "I am… I am going to cut your throat with your own weapon."

Yuffie nodded her head as much as Trace's hands would allow her to do. He gave a smile, then leaned in and kissed her, right where her lips were under the tape. She screamed for the duration of the second and a half that Trace's lips were on hers, then swore at him through the tape as he released her and walked away.

"Let this be a lesson not to steal other people's things," said Trace, going over to the bed and picking up Yuffie's shuriken. He removed it from the bed, leaning it up against the post at the end before lying down and looking over at Yuffie. "Oh, and before you get any ideas, I'm not sleeping. Remember what I said."

Yuffie stared into Trace's eyes for the next ten seconds, seeing if he was telling the truth. Her captor didn't blink, and the more Yuffie looked at him, the more he smiled.

"Fmmmmccck yyyymmmmphh…" Yuffie emoted.

"No thanks," replied Trace, placing his right foot up on his left knee and giving Yuffie a smile. "Don't try anything."

Yuffie looked forward again, toward the door. She shifted in her chair, trying to move her feet as much as she could… her big toe could barely brush the floor. Walking out with the chair was not an option.

"That dumb guy, he… uggggh!" Yuffie glared back at Trace. "Grrrrrmmmmmmmmphhh! MMMMM! Give me my clothes back! Give 'em back!"

Trace simply waved at Yuffie, who began gesturing toward her clothes with her body, hoping her captor would get the message.

"Hhhhhrrr…mmmm! Mmm…mmmcccc…mmmm!" Yuffie's eyes shifted back and forth from the pile of clothes near the door to Trace on the bed. He could immediately tell what she wanted, but just laughed and gave her a dismissive gesture of his hand.

"You got your underwear on, that's good enough," said Trace. He shifted in his bed and turned to face the wall. Yuffie's eyebrows raised, and she gave another loud yell, but Trace didn't budge this time. Yuffie's eyes rolled back, and she looked up at the ceiling. It was obvious that there was nothing she could do to convince Trace to do anything that might require him to loosen any part of her bonds. She was absolutely stuck, and there was nothing she could do about it.

"Mm…. mmmm mmmmmmph!" Yuffie gave an exasperated shout, bowing her head. She didn't know how much time she had to come up with an idea, but she was going to come up with something.

Minutes passed, then more than an hour. Several times, Yuffie glanced to the huge shuriken laying at the foot of Trace's bed, but she didn't dare risk it, even if she didn't entirely believe her captor would kill her for trying to escape. She looked over at Trace a few times as well… she was attracted to him, at least physically. Yuffie wasn't the kind of person who was into being tied up, she was a free spirit and she certainly wasn't submissive or someone who liked being controlled, even by someone she trusted. Still, she could feel her body responding to the sensation of being bound in close proximity to a young man like Trace.

"Yes, I know, I know I'm excited, but… the ninjas of Wutai are supposed to put their lustful feelings aside… and besides, I hate this guy!"

Yuffie's shifts and struggles had only managed to loosen the tape holding her to the chair a little bit. It held mostly strong, and certainly hadn't weakened enough to allow her to get free. Her wrists were bound exceptionally well, and with the addition of the handcuffs, she couldn't struggle enough to loosen the multiple loops of strong tape binding them. After two hours of thinking and struggling, she'd had yet to come up with a solution to her problem. She'd worked up a bit of a sweat in her struggles, but this wasn't nearly enough to slide herself free.

"No, I'm probably just going to be all smelly when I get out of this…" Yuffie thought, wrinkling her nose. "This guy… what's his deal, anyway? What's he gonna use this Materia for? Is he going to sell it or what?"

The weapons she'd noticed in the room when she'd arrived, a couple of firearms and some knives, had all been stashed away before Yuffie awoke from being rendered unconscious, so using those in any sort of fashion had been ruled out as well. Yuffie could tell that Trace was a fighter of some sort… probably a mercenary. Definitely not from AVALANCHE, she'd have recognized him if he was and he never would've kidnapped her, either.

"Whoever he is, he said he'd kill me… even if he doesn't mean it, I have to get out of this somehow, there's gotta be a way… and if I can't get out myself, maybe I can…" Yuffie closed her eyes. "Maybe I can get someone else to help me."

Yuffie already knew she could scream fairly loud even with her mouth taped up. She remembered her captor's earlier words, but she decided that he wouldn't kill her simply because she'd screamed for help. Swallowing her pride, Yuffie took in a big gulp of air through her nose and let out the loudest scream she could.

"MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!"

The scream was almost as loud as the loudest scream Yuffie could muster when she wasn't gagged, and it quickly drew Trace's attention. Yuffie screamed several more times, trying to alert anyone in the building who could hear her.

"HHHHHHHLLLMMMMMMPHHHH MMMM! HHHHHHHHHHLLLLLMMMMMPHHHH MMMMM! HHHHMMMMPHH MMM MMMMPHHH HHHHHMMMMPHHHH!!! HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME!!!"

Trace let out a sigh and looked back up at the ceiling again, slowly shaking his head. The building was full of prostitutes, drug addicts, and old people, and even if any of them could hear Yuffie's screams, nobody would come. It didn't stop her from trying for a full minute to summon help, screaming until her throat was sore and she was red in the face. She let out several gasps and bowed her head, slowly shaking it.

"Nobody's coming… this building is full of jerks!!!" thought Yuffie, thrashing in frustration. "…or maybe they… just can't hear me…"

Yuffie closed her eyes. She didn't want to cry, but she could feel the tears starting to come. She shook her head, opening her eyes again and looking down at her feet.

"Come on, Yuffie… remember when you were captured by Don Corneo? That guy wanted to drop you off a cliff and you never got scared! This isn't any different!"

It was different, Yuffie thought. Her friends came immediately when Don Corneo captured her. Here… it had been forever. No one even knew where she was, except for her WRO contact who had given her the note about the Materia… and he would be on assignment in Nibelheim for the next several days.

"They're not coming… dammit… they're not…"

Trace again shifted in his bed. He was starting to tire, as much as he was trying to keep himself awake. He figured Yuffie would have to tip her chair over in order to reach her weapon, and that would wake him up if he did end up falling asleep. He shifted again, curling up his body into a position that was a bit more comfortable. In the process of doing this, his pocket ended up tipping, and the Ardor Materia rolled out onto the bed. It continued rolling softly under it fell off the bed and to the floor, casting a sparkle that caught Yuffie's eye.

"Mmm?"

She watched the Materia continue to roll until it ended up right underneath her left foot. She slowly looked over at Trace, who was curled up, facing away from her. He hadn't noticed the Materia roll out of his pocket.

"This is… my chance…?!"

Yuffie's toes slowly curled over the Materia. She could feel the magical energy coming off it, sending a warm feeling up through her foot, into her ankle and up her leg.

"This isn't gonna work, it… has to be attached to a weapon, right?" Yuffie's eyes drooped in disappointment. Without a piece of equipment to attach it to, Materia was useless.

But it still had energy… energy Yuffie could feel… and if she could feel it, perhaps she could tap into it as well.

"Okay, Yuffie, focus!" Her toes curled around the Materia as much as she could make them. She looked down at the Materia and tried to concentrate as much as she did when she used a spell normally. "Maybe if I concentrate I can burn this chair! …it might be a bad idea, but hopefully the chair will fall off me before I get burned too badly, and then I can run out of here and get the rest of the tape off somewhere safe!"

It was a crazy plan, but in Yuffie's experience, crazy plans usually worked, and this was one of the craziest. Yuffie concentrated, feeling the warm energy of the Materia slowly travelling up her left leg. She closed her eyes, focused on the Materia even more… she clenched her fists, trying to focus the Materia's energy into the chair, and…

She felt the cold steel of a blade at her throat.

"Take your foot off my Materia, please," said Trace, his voice deadly serious. "Take it off NOW."

Yuffie's eyes met Trace's, and she tried concentrating the Materia's energy into him. It didn't work.

"Next time my Materia falls out of my pocket, you tell me," said Trace, withdrawing the shuriken from Yuffie's neck and bending down to reclaim his Ardor Materia from the floor. Yuffie gave him a squeal, and he responded by glaring at her. "You didn't think you'd be able to use it without a weapon, did you?"

"It was worth a shot," thought Yuffie, breathing a sigh of relief as Trace put the shuriken back at the foot of his bed. "And you DIDN'T kill me. I knew you couldn't go through with it!"

Trace put the Materia back in his pocket and thought about returning to bed, but instead, he stayed up and looked at Yuffie again, his eyes glancing up and down her body. He'd noticed before, when he was removing her clothes… Yuffie was cute, in her own sort of way. Not drop-dead gorgeous, but definitely a welcome sight, especially when she was taped to a chair in her underwear in his room. He knew he could do anything he wanted to her, but the thought of it was despicable, and he hadn't thought of entertaining it for more than a second.

"Even if I wanted it, Becca would fillet me…" thought Trace, his eyes returning to Yuffie's face. "And I'm still having second thoughts about the whole ransom thing… I'd never have to worry about money again, but I'm happy living the way I do anyway. Materia salvaging is dangerous, but it's exciting… and this craphole of an apartment is monotonous, but it's home."

Yuffie didn't know why Trace was still looking at her. Was he admiring the view? Was he that much into her? Yuffie shifted her body and turned her head slightly away… though this only revealed that she was beginning to form a hint of a blush on her cheek. Trace saw this and raised his eyebrows, a look of uneasiness crossing him.

"You're… enjoying this?" Trace asked tentatively.

"Whhhhmmmmphh? NMMMMMMMM!" Yuffie screamed, though her entire face was now beginning to turn a bright shade of red. "Ymmmmhhhh pmmmmmmvvvvrrmmmphhh, lmmmmmmy gggggmmmmmph!!"

"…I'm not a pervert," Trace replied, able to discern some of the words Yuffie had just belted at him. "If I was a pervert I'd have done it already!"

Yuffie raised an eyebrow.

"You know exactly what I mean," said Trace, bending down to place his hand on Yuffie's cheek. Yuffie pressed her body back into her chair as far as she could, and Trace stopped just short of touching her face. "It's not that you're not… I mean, it's…"

Trace attempted to hide the nervousness in his voice, and the fact that he too was beginning to blush. He coughed and started again.

"You're cute, but I'm with someone. This is strictly business, and don't think I'm not afraid to hurt you."

Yuffie's mind had several things to process at once. From the mixture of surprise and the sense of flattery she felt at being called 'cute', to the fact that her captor was in a relationship (with who?), and then bringing up that he might be 'afraid' to hurt her? He clearly wasn't speaking like someone who'd be able to go through with cutting her throat. She'd dealt with those kinds of people before, and Trace wasn't one of them. Now she had an inroad, and she was going to exploit it.

"Mmmmmmmm…?" Yuffie leaned her head forward and blinked her eyes. She lifted up her chin once, then twice. "Mmph. Mmph."

Trace looked back at her, knowing what she wanted. Yuffie wanted to be ungagged again, but Trace would have none of it. He wasn't going to let her charm him, even if he thought there was no way he could be charmed. He had a different idea in mind, and he hoped that what he had planned would calm his captive down enough so that he wouldn't feel quite so guilty about potentially ransoming her off. He turned Yuffie's chair toward his bed, which elicited a set of quizzical and annoyed 'mmph's and grunts from his captive. Then, he sat down across from her and began to speak.

"I guess… there's no harm in telling you who I am," Trace said. "And since your mouth's taped, I know I won't be interrupted."

"Oh, you wanna bet?" Yuffie thought, before letting loose with a series of loud yells and protests. Trace looked at her for several seconds with an annoyed glare before clamping his hand over her taped mouth, which served to slightly muffle her loud protests. Yuffie continued squealing for a good ten seconds, before realizing she was tiring herself out. She gave up, and Trace lowered his hand. "Fine… tell me your boring life story."

Over the next half hour or so, Trace related the details of his early life to Yuffie, who listened on, mostly with annoyance and boredom, but with some curiosity at the more interesting or emotional bits. Trace was 19, and he'd lived in Junon his entire life. His father was a member of SOLDIER, his mother a scientist at the Underwater Reactor. Trace had wanted to become a scientist like his mother, though he'd trained hard under his father, hoping to honor his father by being a good fighter even if he didn't carry on his legacy as a SOLDIER. His father had died after being cut down by a man named Zack Fair in Nibelheim, the details of which Trace learned in his travels of the world after the fall of Meteor. His mother was killed by a malfunction of one of Shinra's most powerful techno-weapons, the Carry Armor, which lifted the woman up into one of its arms and crushed her frail body in its grasp. After the death of his parents and the fall of Meteor, Trace left Junon for a time, joining up with a group known as the Scavengers and searching for relics, mostly Materia left by the Mako wells spread throughout the world and by the activity of the WEAPONs which had ravaged the land. It was as part of this group that he'd met Becca, a woman four years his senior, with whom he'd started a relationship. Kidnapping wasn't something Trace had ever done before. Upon hearing him say this, Yuffie gave him a quizzical look.

"Then why…?"

"Seeing you here, after hearing from Becca how the WRO's been looking into Scavenger activity, I suppose I wanted to send some kind of message. To be honest, I… probably would've let you go as soon as I figured out you weren't sent by them, but Becca came up with this whole ransom idea, and-"

As if on cue, Trace's cell phone rang. He took it out of his pocket and sighed.

"I'll let her talk to you. Maybe you two can work out some kind of arrangement." Trace smirked. "I'll take the tape off as soon as I tell Becca what's up."

Trace answered the phone. Yuffie looked on, her eyes focused on Trace.

"So he's… not such a bad guy? But he still kidnapped me, so… oooohh… I'll figure out what to do while he's talking to his girlfriend!"

"Becca?"

Becca's voice on the other end of the line clearly sounded stressed. Something had happened, something that greatly frightened her.

"Trace, you might be in trouble. You know… you know my older sister? The crazy woman I talk about sometimes?"

"…you mean-"

"Yes, her. She called me, Trace. I don't know how she figured out that you have Yuffie Kisaragi, I swear I didn't tell her anything, she must have my lines bugged because-"

"Wait, is she coming here?" asked Trace, a worried tone forming in his voice as well. Yuffie's eyes widened, both out of fear and out of curiosity. "When is she supposed to be here?"

"Any minute, any second… I can't stop her, Trace, just please be careful, for the love of God-"

There was a knock at the door. Trace looked up immediately.

"Trace?"

"Becca… I'll see you soon," Trace said, hanging up the phone. He began walking over to his closet, where he'd stashed a pair of dual foot-long blades that he used as weapons. Yuffie shifted nervously in her chair. She gave a muffled yell to draw Trace's attention.

"Untie me! I can help you!" Yuffie again gestured for her gag to be removed, and Trace started back over to her… but before he could reach her, there was a loud bang, and the door came down. "Mmmmmmmmmmmm!!!"

Standing in the doorway was a woman in a long, red sleeveless gown, her blonde hair tied up behind her head, allowing two long strands to hang freely down. Down the left side of her face was a long scar which passed from just beside her eye all the way down to her chin… on her back was a hideous burn scar. The rest of her body was flawless, her silky white skin giving her an air of elegance betrayed only by the indelible marks on her face and skin. Yuffie recognized the woman immediately.

"Scarlet!"

"My my, you knew exactly what you were dealing with," said Scarlet, passing Trace and walking toward the bound Yuffie. "Very nice work, though… I'd have preferred leather myself. Tape, it's so… so basic, so barbaric, so-"

"Get out of my home, Scarlet," Trace said ominously, holding one arm behind his back. "Get out… right… now."

Scarlet turned away from Yuffie and toward her captor, who looked fearlessly into her eyes, starting to tremble despite himself. Trace knew exactly what Scarlet was capable of, he'd never forgotten an encounter he'd had with her when he was only five… she was 22, fresh out of college and already at a high-ranking position in Shinra. She'd slapped his mother, he'd watched it happen… and when he came up to stop it, she dug her fingernails deep enough into his cheeks to draw blood. His mother had tried to stop her, and she slapped Trace's mother so hard it flung her to the ground and caused her to twist her ankle.

His own personal pain was nothing compared to Scarlet's other deeds… she'd burned an entire town to the ground once, and he knew she'd burn ten more if it would further her selfish ends.

"You are going to give me this girl, aren't you?" Scarlet cooed. Behind her, Yuffie shifted nervously in her chair, looking into Trace's eyes and shaking her head. "I won't hurt her… it's her friends I'm more interested in."

"So am I. They're willing to pay top dollar for-"

"Drop it, Trace, we both know you're not the kind of person to kidnap for ransom. Oh… has my little sister started to rub off on you?"

"Becca is… nothing like you," Trace said through clenched teeth. Scarlet replied with a smile.

"You're right, and that's why she's with a pathetic-"

"GET OUT!" Trace snapped. Scarlet stepped back, putting an equal distance between Yuffie and herself. She reached behind her back, to the revolver strapped to the back of her waist.

"She's got a gun, she's got a gun…!!" thought Yuffie, her eyes widening. "Sssshhhmmmphhh gggmmm mmmm ggggmmmnn! GGGGMMMMMNNNN!!"

Scarlet withdrew the gun rapidly, took aim at Trace's forehead, and found her weapon pushed violently back by her intended victim's ten-inch blade. The sound of metal on metal was accompanied by a small shower of sparks, and Scarlet gritted her teeth as she tried to push her gun back toward Trace's head. Trace reached back with his left arm for his other blade, but as he grabbed it, Scarlet kicked him in the stomach, forcing him backwards. She took aim at him with the gun again, firing. The bang echoed through the room, and Yuffie let out a scream.

The bullet passed just over Trace's head, embedding in the wall on the other side of the hallway. Scarlet tried to fire again, only to have Trace elbow her violently in the face, knocking her back and sending blood gushing from her nose. Scarlet responded by pointing her hand at Trace's chest.

"Blizzaga…!" she screamed, the green Materia embedded in the holster of her gun lighting up as a great pillar of ice filled the doorway of the room. Trace found himself engulfed with a feeling of bitter cold, and he fell to his knees, shivering violently.

"He's not going to last much longer!" thought Yuffie, her gaze immediately returning to her shuriken, lying at the foot of Trace's bed. "I have to get to it somehow…!"

Throwing herself to her left as hard as she could, Yuffie tipped her chair in one powerful gesture. She landed hard on her left leg, but she didn't care, her adrenaline numbing her pain as she tried rolling her chair onto its back. She'd only have to roll her chair over a couple of times to be able to knock her shuriken to the ground, and once it was there, she could try cutting herself free… but there were a lot of uncertainties in that plan, and it would take time, something she wasn't sure Trace had very much of.

"You could've just given her to me, and I would've let you live," said Scarlet, once again taking aim at Trace, who was desperately reaching into his pocket, still shivering violently as he went for his Ardor Materia. "I still hate your guts, but for my sister, I suppose I-"

"Shut up!" Trace shouted, firmly gripping his Ardor Materia and pulling it out of his pocket. As he went to put it into one of his blades, he heard another loud bang and felt a searing pain in his left shoulder. "AAAAAAGGGGH!"

Scarlet's bullet ripped through Trace's flesh, shattering his shoulder and rendering his entire left arm useless. Yuffie could see none of this, she was now on her back, trying to make the last roll she needed to make toward the foot of the bed. Still, she could hear Trace's scream, and knew immediately what had happened. She let out a cry of terror and threw her body to the left again, rolling hard into the bedpost and causing the shuriken balanced on the bed to wobble.

"Come on… come on, get down here…!" thought Yuffie, tears forming in her eyes. "Mmmm…!"

Scarlet ignored Yuffie's struggles for the moment, her eyes focused on Trace's as she walked up to him, her revolver pointed at his head.

"What do I tell Becca? Do I tell her that you tried to kill me? Me, her older sister? And that I just had to defend myself…"

"She… she hates you as much as I do…" Trace said weakly. Scarlet looked for a moment as if she would violently rebuke such a thought, but she simply smirked, giving Trace a look of smug self-satisfaction.

"You're probably right," Scarlet replied. She leveled the gun at Trace's head. "Now-"

Something slashed across the flesh of Scarlet's left ankle, causing her to let out a scream of agony. She buckled, and nearly lost her grip on her gun, reaching with her free hand to grasp her wound. Trace smiled, holding a blood-covered blade in his right hand.

"I still have… one good arm…" said Trace, lunging at Scarlet with the blade and forcing her to parry with her gun. As he strained to push his blade toward Scarlet, he looked behind her and saw Yuffie grasping her shuriken, using it to cut the tape from her wrists. "Well I'll be damned…"

Sweat dripped down Yuffie's face as she worked intensely, moving up and down a fraction of an inch to cut the duct tape from her wrists on the edge of her shuriken. With every pass she made, she could move a millimeter more, and all of this had an exponential effect on how quickly she could get free. Within seconds, she had the tape off of her arms, and could now work freely to cut herself away from her chair with what little slack the handcuffs still binding her wrists would give her.

"No tape is a match for Yuffie Kisaragi…!" Yuffie thought to herself, rapidly sawing away the tape that bound her to the chair. Now able to maneuver forward, she began cutting through the wood of the back of the chair itself, cutting through it so that she could get a clear path toward cutting away the tape from her torso.

While all of this was going on, Scarlet was still trying to push her gun back toward Trace so she could get a good shot at him. The two were now on the ground, Scarlet on top of Trace, who could only use one arm to keep her back. His left shoulder was dripping blood, though not at a rate that would be dangerous any time soon, the bullet having done far more damage to Trace's bones than to his arteries.

"Even… if you survive… you can't run from me forever…!" said Scarlet, straining severely against all of Trace's force.

"Everyone thinks you're dead!" Trace replied. "If you come after me, you'll have to come out of hiding… you and that fat bastard Heidegger… there's no place for you in this world anymore!"

"Then I'll make a place!" Scarlet shouted, kicking Trace hard in the forehead and crawling away from him. She scrambled to her feet, racing to get up before Trace could stand and lunge at her. "With your Materia, and with all the others still yet to be found… I'll build a machine to bring even the WEAPONs to their knees!"

"What a crazy bitch!" thought Yuffie, now free of the tape around her torso and using her shuriken to cut the tape away from her ankles. It was an extremely difficult feat of dexterity, one that required her to bend back and reach down to maneuver her shuriken with her cuffed wrists… but it was a feat she was trained for and one she could easily manage. "Come on… just a bit more…"

Trace stood up and dove for Scarlet, exactly what she was expecting. With a knowing smile, she swung herself out of the way, then kicked hard at the back of Trace's head, enough to bring him to the floor in a face-down position. She kicked the blade out of his right hand, then stepped hard on his left shoulder to force the blade from the other… and also to force out a scream of pure agony as his crushed bone was ground into his nerves and muscle. Trace nearly passed out, but remained conscious just long enough to feel Scarlet's revolver pressing into the back of his head.

"I think… I think I'm going to make Becca come around," said Scarlet, "come around and tell me where all the good Materia is. Then I'm going to torture her… and kill her, just like I'm about to kill you."

Trace was in too much pain to say anything… he could feel the tears welling up in his eyes now. He tried holding them back, he didn't want to spend his final moments sobbing.

"Becca… stay away from Scarlet… as far away as you can…"

Scarlet's finger began to pull the trigger. Scarlet smiled, and then she felt something impact the side of her head.

It was Yuffie's foot, and it hit with more than enough speed and force to put Scarlet deep into unconsciousness. Yuffie grimaced, hopping for a moment and letting out a muffled cry of pain.

"Never kick somebody barefoot again!" thought Yuffie, standing next to the unconscious Scarlet with her hands still cuffed behind her back and her mouth still taped. "Mmmm…mmphhh!"

She knelt down beside Trace, who gave a painful moan as he turned toward her, trying to muster up enough of his strength to say something. He was smiling as he spoke.

"Handcuff… key… in… bottom shelf… drawer…"

Trace passed out.

-

Trace awoke to see two faces looking down at him. One was Yuffie's, her smile bright enough to light up the room. Yuffie had gotten re-dressed, and had her shuriken once again strapped to her back. The other face was the most beautiful in the world, at least in Trace's eyes.

"Hey there," said Becca softly.

Trace couldn't feel his shoulder, it had been shot up with a huge dose of painkillers and was heavily bandaged. He was in a slight daze, though he was coherent enough to remember everything that had happened back in his apartment. He was lying in a bed in Junon Hospital #3, and as the memories came flooding back, he had a number of questions he wanted answers to. As he began to open his mouth, however, Yuffie clamped her hand tightly down on it, preventing him from talking.

"Now you know how it feels not to be able to speak," said Yuffie, half-angrily and half-jokingly. She winked at him. "I'm gonna ask you a question and you're going to give me a yes or no answer, okay? Question one… are you sorry for kidnapping me?"

Trace narrowed his eyes and let out a muffled growl. He looked to Becca for help, but she just shrugged her shoulders and threw up her hands. Then he looked back at Yuffie… and shook his head no.

"What?" said Yuffie indignantly, placing her hands on her hips. "I go to all the trouble of saving your life, and you just insult me like you don't even care! I should kick your butt!"

Becca explained to Trace everything that had happened. Yuffie had taped Scarlet up in Trace's apartment before rushing Trace to the hospital and calling Becca to inform her that Trace was safe. Yuffie then returned to Trace's apartment… and saw that Scarlet had somehow managed to slip her bonds. She was on the loose… and inevitably eager for revenge.

"But what's important now is that you're safe, Trace…" Becca said softly, leaning in and kissing her boyfriend on the forehead. "I already apologized to Yuffie for everything… I… owe her my life for saving you."

"Awww, don't mention it, I was in plenty of danger too," Yuffie replied happily, putting her arm behind her back and smiling. "Saving your boyfriend was just a little extra. Although if you wanted to pay me, I suppose you could do it in Materia… lots and lots of Materia! Shiny, sparkly, multi-colored-"

"I have a better idea," said Becca. "How would you like to join the Scavengers and go hunting for Materia with us? We go all over the world, we keep what we find, and sometimes we get to chip in and help restore the world… although the WRO doesn't think we're actually doing our part…."

"Hmmm…" Yuffie began mulling the idea over. "How much Materia do you guys usually-"

"A lot," replied Becca, smiling. She looked over at Trace. "You tell her, it's your Materia that she was after, after all."

Trace had already fallen back asleep, the effects of the painkillers keeping him subdued for the near future. Becca giggled and turned back to Yuffie, who was already able to give her answer.

"I'll do it!" said Yuffie excitedly. "Those WRO guys might not like it, but if they want me, they can come find me! You guys are used to hiding out from them, so you can help keep them off my back, right?"

"Of course," Becca said. "It's good to have you onboard."

Becca extended her hand for Yuffie to shake, but Yuffie would have none of it, instead leaning forward and giving Becca an excited hug. Becca smiled, returning the hug while being careful to avoid touching any part of the sharp shuriken attached to Yuffie's body. The two parted, and Yuffie turned to leave the room.

"You guys just call me whenever you're ready to go on a mission… tell Trace there's no hard feelings and that I hope he gets well soon, okay?"

"I will… and thank you again."

Yuffie exited the room, an uplifting feeling coursing though her spirit. The day had been quite an adventure… certainly frightening at times, but she'd come out of it with a pair of new friends, and possibly a chance to gather more Materia than she'd ever had before. In fact, she'd already started.

She reached down into her pocket, her fingers wrapping around the Ardor Materia she'd taken from Trace's apartment. She could feel its energy coursing through her, warming her. She smiled.

"No hard feelings… right?" Yuffie said softly, smiling as she exited the hospital. As she walked, she tossed her shiny new Materia up into the air.

THE END