8: Honeymoon Rituals

Feeling eyes on her back, Yuffie glanced behind her. She decided to break the awkward silence that had been going on since it had manifested earlier that morning in the forest. "Spiky, what do you think you're staring at?" she remarked in what she hoped was a nonchalant tone.

He shook his head slowly, looking anywhere but at her face. "Nothing. Just following you, Yuffie."

"I get to lead the way for once," Yuffie stated in feigned shock before letting a small yawn out. "Whadda day! I feel so special, nyuk nyuk nyuk. Who knew that Chocobo-butt would ever let someone else have the leader job thingy?" She chuckled to herself. "I finally get to say, 'Let's mosey!' Nyuk."

Cloud rolled his eyes tiredly. "Make up your mind on where to look. You said you wanted to play detective today. So do it." He crossed his arms.

"Geez, someone is still super sassy today. Did you wake up on the wrong side of the ground?" Yuffie mocked the ex-Soldier by crossing her arms over her small chest as well, only with an offended look on her face to boot. "Or did peeing your pants after seeing that monster put you in a shitty mood?"

"I did not pee my pants," Cloud said, finally looking at her with unreadable eyes.

The Great Ninja did her infamous I-am-turning-my-back-on-you-right-now-because-I-could-care-less-about-what-you-have-to-say twirl. "Okay, well I think we should head to the butcher house. I remember Kent saying that it was the only place that had any suspicious activity goin' on, so that's our best bet for now." She glanced back at Cloud for a millisecond. "There was some type of break-in with only the raw meat as the victim, or something like that… Right?"

"You're right. Good idea," the blond remarked casually with a curt nud, taking a few larger strides to walk side by side with the young ninja. "I was thinking the same thing."

"'Course ya were, Cam," Yuffie smirked. "Cuz we honeymooners have ESP and all that." She rolled her eyes again, increasing her speed to make it harder for Cloud, er Cam, to keep up. Too bad his legs were longer than hers. It made it simple for him to walk ahead of her instead.

Damn. The Great Ninja Yuffie is no follower!

Not that she minded watching Cloud from behi

"Slow down, Chocobo-butt."

"For the last time, don't call me that."

"Make me, Cam."

Cloud sighed, closing his eyes for a few seconds while they continued to walk. "You are…" he trailed off, but Yuffie could have sworn she heard a word in his mumbling that sounded like the word different.

Yeah, so she was different. Didn't everyone on Gaia already know that? There wasn't another person on the globe like the Great Ninja and the Single White Rose of Wutai. Yuffie Kisaragi was one-of-a-kind. It was truly a wonderful and splendiferous thing!

Er, well…at least she liked to think so.

Did Cloud think different was a bad thing? An insult? A negative quality? Annoying? A detriment to his stride? Well, shoot. Wouldn't someone like Cloud rather be around a kind a girl who?

"Here's the butcher house," Cloud's sudden comment broke into her reveries. They both stared the place down, trying their best to get a feel for it before walking in casually. It was a shabby gray building, with dilapidated sidings by the windows and a rusted metal front door. Not exactly a place Yuffie felt like walking into, but whatever. This was all part of the mission! And she had sexy Cloud here to back her u–––ugggh! Why had she been saying Cloud and sexy in the same sentence in her mind so much lately?

It was so frustrating.

XxXxX

Cloud glanced at the run-down building, trying not to show on his emotionless face how much he'd rather be taking a nap at the inn. All that walking from the forest to the Dera village earlier that morning was…well, it was tiring to say the least. They had been moving so quickly. And for some reason, the awkward resonating silence that was surrounding Yuffie and him during that walk was not too comfortable.

"Ready?" he glanced over at the small ninja to see that she looked as tired as he felt.

His companion gave a quick eye-roll before nodding. "As I'll ever be, Spikes. Let's mosey." She galloped towards the front door before letting herself in, leaving Cloud standing outside by himself.

He simply shook his head. "Alright, then." As he walked inside, he noticed many things. For one, the place reeked of blood. But not the blood most people would immediately think of. It was just the raw meat. Cloud's nose, as well as all his other senses, were so much stronger than those of a normal person, so the stench was obvious to him.

So obviously, the powerful stench mixed with his steadily deepening exhaustion started to give him a headache. His blond eyebrows knotted together from the beginnings of the dull tension in his temples.

"You okay, Cloudy?" Yuffie asked with what sounded like a trace of care in her voice.

He simply nodded. They explored the whole place, looking through crates, opening drawers at the front desk, and perusing through old paperwork. "Yuffie. Read this."

She sauntered over, looking interested. "Hmm." She read it aloud slowly. ""On the night of 17 February, – Hey, that was a few weeks ago!" Yuffie interjected with enthusiasm. Cloud sighed. He had already known that certain tidbit of information. She continued, "Fifty pounds of raw meat were stolen. There was no sign of a break-in, and no money was stolen from the money crate. The only piece of evidence was a set of prints from the front entrance into the back room. The prints were covered with dried muck. They were half the size of the average person's foot, but double the width. No further investigation is occurring at the moment due to lack of evidence and time.""

"I don't understand why they don't have time," Cloud wondered aloud. He crossed his arms over his chest and started to think

"Didn't you know that when they say something about time like that in a write-up, it only means that they don't care enough and don't have sufficient evidence to keep investigating? I've read that in tons of Reno's reports. Nyuk, it's common knowledge at the WRO headquarters, I woulda thought you'd know that, Chocobo-brain," Yuffie guffawed arrogantly.

He just shook his head in annoyance. Did she forget that he barely ever took any of Reeve's missions? "If they don't care, then why are we here"

"WHATCHU DOIN'!" a loud voice suddenly exclaimed from the front door.

They both whirled around to discover a burly man with a dirty white apron at the entrance. He looked ticked off and confused, and was eying the two of them down. Cloud, taking a step forward, opened his mouth to make a quick excuse, but Yuffie beat him to the punch.

"Oh, hi! We thought this was a restaurant?" She skipped away from Cloud towards the butcher; she seemed to ignore the obvious glare he was sending her way. "We know Dera has the finest meat in all of Gaia because it's always prepared by a really really talented butcher"

Cloud exhaled a sigh of relief. He guessed she wasn't in charge of espionage and intelligence gathering at the WRO for nothing. She could really be pragmatic when she needed to be.

For a mission, that is.

"Aw, shucks. Y'all are too kind," The big man was now blushing as he walked towards them with a small smile on his face. "But this 'ere is just the butcher house. I sell meat but no one ain't gon' eat no meat in here." He looked around and scratched his nose. "It ain't exactly the best place to dine, y'all." Realization dawned in the butcher's eyes. "Oh, I know who y'are!"

Cloud and Yuffie exchanged a look. "You do?" the mercenary carefully asked. If their cover was blown, he was never going to let Yuffie live it down.

The butcher nodded happily. "Yep, I shure do! Y'all are the honeymooners Kent was talkin' bout!"

The ex-Soldier exhaled a sigh of relief. They were still safe.

"Kent sure talks about us a lot, doesn't he," Yuffie murmured to Cloud. He nodded in agreement, taking a step forward and placing his arm around Yuffie's shoulders. Might as well make it seem more legitimate, he figured.

"Yeah," Cloud stated with a fake smile. "That's us." He felt the small ninja stiffen next to him. He wondered why.

The butcher looked pleased with himself as he continued to look at the two of them. "Well, I'll be darned! You two are th' danged cutest honeymooners we've ever had 'ere in Dera!"

"They actually have honeymooners come here?" Yuffie whispered quietly to Cloud who merely shrugged. She stiffened further.

"So you excited for the celebration tom'rrow then?" the man asked excitedly.

Yuffie and Cloud shared another look, this time more confused than before. "Celebration?" they both asked.

He nodded happily. "It's a tradition 'ere in Dera, don'tcha know!" He clapped his hands, then rubbed them together energetically. "It's where the newlyweds spend the day finding one gift for each other that represents the way they feel about each other. It ain't usually somethin' ya buy…more of a special object actually." He nodded to himself. "Then there's a celebration in the Village Square!"

"Oh, gawd," Yuffie groaned uncomfortably. "You have to be kidding me."

"Excitin', isn't it! I kin tell how y'all burstin' with excitement!" he shouted enthusiastically. He approached the 'couple' and clapped them on their shoulders. "Yeh best be gettin' back to the Lodge. It's gon' be a long day for y'all tom'rrow and yeh need rest, heh heh."

He ushered the honeymooners out of his butcher house, leaving them standing at the front entrance completely baffled.

"This sucks. Now how are we supposed to get to the bottom of the monster problem?" Yuffie kicked a clod of dirt with her foot.

"So much for the brilliant undercover identities," Cloud stated as he started to walk back towards Shadow Lodge. "Everyone in Dera knows us as the newlyweds now."

"Shut up, Cloud," she retorted with a small pout, crossing her arms over her small chest.

The sun was setting over the village as they continued to walk, leaving the sky painted with beautiful shades of indigo, rose, and orange. Cloud smiled at the sight. Dera really was something special. Different. The only other time he had seen the sky look this spectacular when Avalanche spent the night in Cosmo Canyon. The memory brought chills down his spine.

Too many ghosts, he thought to himself.

He glanced over at Yuffie.

He supposed she was considered one of those ghosts.

"I knew you'd guys would want me around. We woulda never made it to Cosmo Canyon without my awesome ninja skills, nyuk nyuk nyuk!" Yuffie had said by the bonfire, five years ago. No one had chosen to reply to her. She had looked across the bonfire at Cloud, smiling genuinely. She had seemed almost grateful for that second. But before he could even think about it, a mischievous smirk reappeared as she kept talking, "We better be goin' somewhere cool after this! I wanna go find materia!"

Cloud smiled to himself at the memory. He couldn't get over how some things just never changed.

The pair wordlessly made their way back into Room 3 in the Lodge. They quietly said goodnight to each other, and promptly passed out within five minutes. Yes, Cloud had fallen asleep without a struggle yet again.

XxXxX

"This is just stupid," he murmured to himself as he flicked on all the correct switches. "Damn ninja." He moved his favorite goggles down over his eyes. "I need to see this shit for myself," Reno stated.

The company van took off from the Shinra Headquarters' Motopad. It headed southeast.

"It's shit that I have to do it in a van, though," he cursed to himself as he gripped the wheel with unnecessary force.

XxXxX

Yuffie sighed to herself for the fifth time since she had woken up that morning. She didn't know what to do. Gawd, what kind of gift would Chocobo-brain McCloudy actually care for that he didn't already have or need?

They had decided to each look for a "gift" by themselves, and once they found it, they were to meet back at Shadow Lodge. It'd been two hours since they had temporarily parted ways after breakfast and Yuffie still had no idea what to get for him. Er find, rather. It wasn't supposed to be a gift that could be purchased anywhere, the butcher had said the day before. So maybe if Yuffie were to just

"AHHH!" Yuffie the Great Ninja of Wutai was covered in dirt. She had just tripped ungracefully over a stupid…rock? The ninja crawled over to the culprit, not caring that almost ever inch of her had dirt on it a that point. Tilting her head, she stared at the offending object.

It was gray.

It fit right into the palm of her hand.

…she gasped dramatically. "It's shaped like a chocobo's head, nyuk! I just found my thingymajig. Whoo hoo! WHOO HOO!" She jumped into the air and started pumping the rock in her fist up in the air, over and over again while she made strange noises and continued to ignore curious looks that were being sent in her direction.

Perfect! Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. "Wonder what bird-brain found for me…"

XxXxX

Cloud knew exactly what he was looking for. The idea came to mind the day before while the butcher was talking about "finding" the gift versus buying it. He bent over to pick it up, a small trace of a smile on his face. It was perfect, he thought. Hopefully Yuffie didn't think it was stupid or

Since when did he care what Yuffie thought? They weren't even in Dera for a real honeymoon. He was just going through the motions so they wouldn't blow their cover. He nodded his head. Yeah, can't blow the mission.

He twirled the object in a circle between his fingers. Despite all his previous thoughts, he still couldn't help but to hope she didn't think it was lame.

Cloud leaned against the outside wall of Shadow Lodge, placing his hands in his pockets. He already put his gift for Yuffie in a safe place back in their room where he was sure she wouldn't find it. He waited for a good twenty minutes before he noticed Yuffie in the distance, traipsing her way casually back to the lodge.

"Cloudy, didja find me something good!" she teased him playfully, punching him lightly in the chest. "Because if you didn't, our marriage might start to have some major issues, ya hear?"

He crossed his arms, trying hard not to smirk. "Yuffie, if we were actually married, our marriage would already have more than just a few issues." Cloud rolled his eyes when Yuffie mirrored his actions with her own arms and stomped her foot.

"Geez, I was just kidding. You know…as in a joke? No need to be such a spiky-headed jerk all the time!" She huffed before pounding her way back to their room to take a shower and change for what was sure to be an interesting night for the two of them.

"Who said I wasn't kidding too?" Cloud sighed lightly. "And I never said it would have been a bad thing anyway," he murmured to himself, scratching the back of his head awkwardly as he walked into the inn. Ruby the receptionist winked at him with a wave as he walked by. Reasonably creeped out by the woman, Cloud strode a bit too fast into their room.

What he saw on the bed completely shocked him. "Um, Yuffie? What is this doing in here?"

The ninja popped her head out of the bathroom. Cloud's eyes widened when he realized she was obviously in a towel, even though she only peeked her face out.

She shrugged. "I was wondering the same thing. I smelled too bad to care," she replied pointedly before shutting the bathroom door and starting a shower for herself.

Cloud walked over to the bed, eyes widening as he picked up the beautiful emerald green dress. A note fluttered to the floor, he noticed.

Y'all will both be needin' a nice outfit fer tonight, I figured. No need to repay me.

-Kent

Cloud's eyes widened when he saw a prim and proper suit and tie underneath where the green dress had been lying. Was it weird for him to feel surprised that people in the village of Dera actually wore nice clothes like this? He shrugged to himself, lifting his outfit into the air for silent appraisal. "Whatever. I'll just go with it."

He heard the shower turn off after a good ten minutes or so. Then his hearing sharpened when he heard the unmistakable sound of skin on tile. He reacted before he even knew what he was doing. He barged into the bathroom. "Yuffie, are you oka"

"CLOUD, GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!" Yuffie shrieked hysterically from the bathroom floor. She had her towel draped over her middle in a disheveled manner, and Cloud noticed that her face was beet red. "Are you deaf? GET OUT!"

"OhSorryI heard you fall" he managed to stammer out as he scratched the back of his head.

"Get. Out," she repeated, her face slowly becoming more of a magenta color. "Please."

Cloud turned tail and fled the scene, clicking the door shut and walking over to sit on the bed. "What just happened?" He face-palmed and was embarrassed to notice that he himself was also blushing.

XxXxX

Yuffie hid in the bathroom for as long as she could. When she was sure that she heard Cloud leave for Village Square, and when she was positive that her heart had finally stopped beating in an almost arrhythmic manner, she shakily opened the door and walked over to the bed.

She saw Kent's note on the floor and smiled. "What a nice old geezer. Too bad Cid isn't that nice, even though he's basically just as old," she laughed to herself, "the old asshole." The ninja tried her best to be graceful as she stepped into the dress; she didn't want to rip or damage something that Kent had obviously gone out of his way to let her borrow.

Sighing when she decided she was good to go, she quickly grabbed Cloud's gift and dashed out the door. She hoped she wasn't late or something.

Nyuk, they don't even have clocks here!

XxXxX

Feeding pure lies to anyone who asked to hear the story of how they met, or how he proposed, Cloud made his way around Village Square. It seemed as though nearly the entire population of Dera was out here tonight…which didn't really count for much. There were maybe two or three-hundred people in all. Not like it bothered Cloud anyway. He was never really much of a crowd person in the first place.

The mercenary grabbed a glass of water from the beverage stand as he wondered for the tenth time when Yuffie was going to decide to show her face.

"Aha! Ther' be the lovely bride o' the fine gentleman," he heard Kent proclaim from a few feet away.

Cloud slowly turned around as he took a sip of waterHe promptly started to choke on his drink when he saw what everyone else was looking at: Yuffie. She…she looked unbelievable. He had never seen her wear anything other than her ninja gear, so seeing her in an elegant dress…well, it rendered him speechless, to say the least.

Yuffie slowly made her way over to her "husband," a smirk widening across her cheeks as she got closer and closer. "You okay there, Cam. Too much liquor in that for you to handle?"

Cloud coughed embarrassedly one last time before answering, "It was water."

She crossed her arms and looked at him in surprise. "Then why were you coughing?"

"A gift is meant t' be free," Kent cut in in a loud voice. He was now standing on top of a barrel with a toothless grin on his face. Everyone in Dera was smiling and speaking in hushed tones to each other as they watched Kent happily. "These two newlyweds have reminded us tha' they have given a unique kinda gift to each other: love." He clapped his hands together excitedly."Love is patien'. Love is kind…Love is free." He looked back and forth from Cloud and Yuffie, who each felt more and more awkward as the old man went on. "Love is an intangible thin', but for us 'ere Derans, we see it clear as day on th' faces o' these two people." Kent's smile widened. "It's m' pleasure to officially start the newlywed tradition'l celebration! Yolanda. Cam. I've spoken o' the intangible love yeh share. Now allow m t' speak o' the tang'ble love."

Cloud blushed crimson and his ears starting to feel warmer. He was too embarrassed to note that Yuffie was blushing furiously as well.

"Tangible love," Kent sighed. "A beautiful thing, really. We see love in the way you look at each oth'r."

Cloud and Yuffie looked at each other in confusion.

"We see love in yer body language," Kent continued as he made a motion with his hands, waving the pair together. They took a step apart from each other as a result. "We see love in th' way yeh look at each oth'r." The 'newlyweds' promptly looked elsewhere. "We see love in yer generosity and gifts t' each other."

Cloud glanced over at Yuffie, who looking down at her foot, fumbling awkwardly with a clod of dirt.

"Cam. Yolanda. Please give…the gift," Kent finished with a small smile. There was a twinkle in his eye as he kept looking between the two former Avalanchers.

The blond cleared his throat and walked over to Yuffie. "I guess we have to do this in front of everyone," he murmured to her. She nodded, still looking at the ground. He noticed her cheeks were still dark red. "You want to go fir"

"Hereyougo!" Yuffie suddenly blurted out, shoving something in his hand. She crossed her arms and looked back to the ground in embarrassment.

Cloud looked at his palm in confusion. It was a rock. A gray rock. A gray rock that was…shaped…like a chocobo? He let out a laugh. Then a few more. He couldn't help it. He just kept on laughing. "Where did you find this?" Cloud asked in between laughs.

Yuffie looked as though she had never seen Cloud before in her life. "I…er, I tripped over it actually. Don't you dare make fun of that, you spiky-headed j-"

"I wasn't going to," Cloud interrupted with a small smile. "Thank you," he voiced as he placed the rock in his pant pocket.

"And now, Cam's tangible gift to Yolanda," Kent narrated from somewhere behind them. He seemed to be moving around ever since he had finished with his overly dramatic speech about love.

"Um," Cloud scratched his head a few times. It was a nervous habit. He couldn't help it. "Uh, here you go." He grabbed the gift that he was secretly proud of.

A white rose.

Yuffie's eyes widened when she looked at it. She made no move to grab it out of his hands.

"Aren't you going to, uh, take it?" Cloud asked awkwardly. Why was she staring at him like that? He wanted to clap in front of her face to snap her out of it, but he figured that wouldn't be a very loving thing to do in front of all of these Derans.

"YouHowI can't believe you" she stammered quietly. Slowly, she reached a hand up to take the beautiful flower from him. "Thank you, Cloud," she whispered, eyes suddenly glassy. "Thank you so much."

He simply nodded in response, not knowing what else to do or to say other than, "You're welcome."

"Thar be it!" Kent shouted happily. "Tangible love in the form of a thoughtless gift. This 'ere be the best newlywed cel'bration we've had for fifty years, I'll say!"

XxXxX

FORGIVE ME FOR THE HUUUUUUGE DELAY AND REVIEW? I HAVE NO IDEA IF THIS IS STILL OKAY SINCE IT'S BEEN SUCH A LONG TIME… =(

THANK YOU FOR READING!

I love all of you SO MUCH!

teaser for next chapter: there's a secret cabin in the woods...yuffie may be in need of some rescuing...a certain redhead pays the dynamic duo a visit...