Notes: I blame this on reading entirely too much awesome FFVII fanfiction in the past few weeks. It's a fandom I only brushed lightly on back when the game first came out, and now I come back, over a decade later, to see that all this time people have been doing wonderful things with it. I fell in love all over again and somehow found myself cooking a little something up. I don't suppose it'll be too long, but maybe somebody out there will read it and like it. So without further ado, the fic. Or at least the prologue of it, with more to come sometime later.

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Strange Bedfellows

Prologue
Yuffie Makes a Confession

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"Are you sure you're going to be all right, Yuffie?"

Yuffie, who was on her sixth-maybe-probably-seventh shot of Costa del Sol whiskey and was almost certainly not going to be all right before long (very certainly not going to be all right the next morning, but that wasn't important), smiled brightly. "'Course I'm not." She blinked rapidly, braced herself on the bar with her hands as the world spun a tiny bit. "Not even close."

"Want to talk about it?" Tifa discreetly reached for the bottle near Yuffie's left hand while she spoke, somehow sensing that Yuffie had had more than enough to drink. It was barely past eight and the first thing the young ninja had done upon arriving (fashionably late, as befitted royalty) at the fourth annual reunion party held for AVALANCHE at Seventh Heaven had been to plonk herself squarely at the bar and proceed to drink herself silly.

"Nope," Yuffie replied, snatching the bottle away and cradling it against her chest. "Well, yes," she amended after a moment's thought. "I need to get drunk enough that I don't think better of this and back out and maybe go do something better with my time, like try and see what happens if you try to pinch the fire on Red's tail out like you do with candles, or find out if you really can skewer apples on Cloud's hair. This stuff's been gnawing at me forever and a year on top of that, and if I keep trying to ignore him- ignore this," she quickly amended, "I'm gonna go crazy."

"Ah." Tifa nodded. "Him, hmm?" A mischievous light entered her eyes and she leaned forward, lowering her voice. "So who's the lucky guy?"

"Lucky?" In Yuffie's opinion, the bartender was totally not allowed to have that teasing quality to her voice, especially considering she'd been living with the man she loved for nearly half a decade and only just recently gotten him to admit they were perhaps somewhat more than just good friends. "Teef, if only you knew you would so be pitying me with all the pitiful pity you could possibly muster. Like if you took the Lifestream and made it into the Pitystream then maybe that'd be enough."

"What, is it Reno?"

"What? Reno? Seriously? Reno the Turkey? That walking pile of womanizing sleazeball grossness? Are you aware of how many rhetorical questions you're making me ask in a row?"

Apparently, Tifa was having far too much fun at Yuffie's expense to stop at Reno, which completely contrasted with the ninja girl's previous image of her as a motherly sympathetic figure and was rapidly reconstructing it into that of a huge, huge meanie. "Well, then? Who is it? Reeve? Rufus? Rude?" Tifa paused in her listing of every remotely unattached male she knew, men whose names all seemed to begin with R for some reason, and frowned suddenly. "Clou-"

That was enough. Yuffie made her displeasure very very clear by making a little chopping motion with her hand, incidentally knocking over the (empty, she noted with no small amount of detached surprise) bottle of whiskey she'd set back down on the bar. Taking the hint, Tifa zipped her lips and snagged the rolling bottle before it could crash to the floor, looking properly chastised.

"That'sh- That's not nearly enough to be Pitystream worthy," Yuffie declared, morosely picking at the tassels on her vest. "I mean, at least you could look at your reflection on Rude's bald head in the morning and check to make sure you didn't drool in your sleep, and Rufus has those impossibly pretty boyish looks even if I'm reasonably sure he and Tseng have got some sorta thing going on, and... and... and hell, you could use Cloud as some kinda walking fruit rack with all the apples hanging off his hair. All in all, you could choose much worse people to fall hopelessly in love with like a crushing teenager only worse."

Yuffie - who as of that year was twenty and therefore definitely not a teenager - paused, then added firmly, "Much worse. Just watch me."

With that, she pushed herself away from the bar, stood, and set off, walking resolutely if not a bit unsteadily toward the darkened corner booth where Vincent Valentine had been sitting in silence the entire night, nursing a single shot of dark liquor and looking for all the world as if he'd rather be anywhere other than here.

"Oh," Tifa told the air. "Oh my."

---

Four, she knew, was a bad number. Four could bring about all kinds of misfortune and horrible luck and even death.

But then again Yuffie had never been a particularly superstitious girl in the first place, so she set her jaw and squared her shoulders and walked over. And though Vincent's carefully neutral and unblinking gaze coupled with his astoundingly silent silence was usually enough to drive her away, it proved insufficient to defeat an alcohol-bolstered Yuffie on the night of this fourth unlucky anniversary party. She hoped that was a good thing.

"Hey, Vincent," she said cheerfully as she slid into the place across from him. She winced as her hip banged into the edge of the booth, but she was just drunk enough that the pain didn't seem to matter. It didn't, really, she mused. Not compared to what would probably be in store for her soon. Vainly, she tried to squelch the growing dread in her stomach. The booze was supposed to have helped with that, damn it, but it seemed that against Vincent Valentine's relentless stare, even Costa del Sol's famously potent whiskey was sadly lacking.

"Yuffie," Vincent replied, breaking into her thoughts. He was still dressed in the same horrendously red and black getup that he'd been wearing since he awoke years ago, and part of her wondered if he ever washed those clothes. A sudden vision of a wardrobe stuffed with rows upon rows of the same impossibly tattered cloak and clothes with buckles upon buckles entered her mind and she giggled.

"Yuffie." Oh, there was reality calling again. She did her best to glare at Vincent and managed (admirably, in her opinion) to squint somewhat in his general direction. The colors and noises were beginning to blend into each other, but Vincent remained crystal clear in her vision for some unfathomable reason, and so it wasn't that hard. "What are you doing here?"

She drew herself up grandly and replied, with an air of great gravity, "I have concluded that if you were to pinch the fire on the end of Red's tail it might go out for a bit, but once you took your fingers away it'd come back and Nanaki would probably gnaw on your head in revenge.

"It's a party for us, remember?" she hastily added, as Vincent's wordless gaze continued to bore a hole in her head. "The saviors of the world. And even though you only decided to start showing up last year after all that Deepground stuff doesn't mean I can't come to rock faces and get as drunk as my willowy but completely awesome ninja body can manage."

More silence. Yuffie figured that if there was such a thing as hell, it probably involved being tortured horribly by cackling demons while Vincent Valentine silently sat and stared at you for ever and ever. She let none of this show on her face and opened her mouth again. "If you mean by what am I doing here in this very booth sitting across from you, which you should have specified, by the way, since here is such a vague thing and could mean anywhere, really, then I must inform you I came because you are a humongous stick in the mud and it is my sacred duty to pry you out of that mud you're so busily being a stick in."

"I see."

Yuffie collapsed into a hopelessly frantic show of waving hands and gestures at this proclamation, terribly panicked but trying her best not to show it. "Look, Vinnie- I can call you Vinnie, right?"

"No-"

"Awesome. Just Vince was getting old and I thought it was about time I mixed things up a little. Like I was saying, Vinnie, you're at a party and you're doing the exact same thing you did last year when you deigned to grace us with your gloominess, which is sit in this place pretending to drink even though more of that stuff you're holding has probably evaporated than gone down your throat. And then when we've all passed out dead drunk you'll rise silently and dramatically from your seat like a red-and-black ghost and leave without so much as a goodbye." Lips pursed, Yuffie tapped her chin as if deep in thought. "And that's not what people do at parties."

Vincent's brow wrinkled just a tiny bit, and coming from Vincent that was as good as a long, suffering sigh with a palm applied liberally to one's face and a muttered, "Why me?" thrown in for good measure from anyone else. "What do people do at parties, Yuffie?"

"I'm glad you asked, because I was just about to tell you. Listen closely, young grasshopper, for I have been attending parties since I was sixteen and crashing them since a long time before then, and that makes me your venerable master in all matters party-related. So here's what they do: They talk to each other and laugh and get roaring drunk and have lots of fun and maybe even have incredible drunken sex and wake up the next morning naked in bed with a headache the size of Meteor wondering why the hell the sheets are covered in honey and there's a couple of strange guys and girls sleeping next to you... and you're not doing anything like that so I thought I'd help out a little."

Vincent absorbed this information with his usual aplomb and nodded. Yuffie felt compelled to fill the quiet that came between them once again, because the butterflies in her stomach were still fluttering about and perhaps drinking so much whiskey hadn't been such a good idea after all, and above all the horrible sense of silence radiating from Vincent was doing absolutely nothing to make her feel any better.

"I figured that the first thing to do would be to get you drunk too-"

"Yuffie," Vincent interrupted flatly, and this time she did hear him sigh, short and almost imperceptible and incredibly Vincent. "You did not come to tell me what would happen if you pinched Nanaki's tail flame, and you did not come to inform me of what people do at parties." It was statement of a fact, delivered in absolutes, and Yuffie could only gulp and nod.

"No, I didn't." She realized abruptly that she'd been stalling, and screwed up what little remained of her courage faced with Vincent's implacable stare and Vincent's implacable voice.

"So-"

"I like you."

Vincent stopped dead at this, his mouth hanging open for an infinitesimally brief moment before he remembered to close it. His red eyes flashed - actually flashed, which was awesome in a way because Yuffie had thought that it was an expression you only saw in books - and he drew himself up for a solemn reply. "I am glad you count me as one of your friends-"

"Oh, no, Vinnie Vince Vincent Valentine." There would be no stopping her now that she'd started. "No way I'm gonna believe you're possibly that much of a blockhead. I know you're not stupid so let's both not pretend you are, 'kay? I. Like. You. As in like like. As in I would like very much to grab you by the collar of your scruffy red cape and kiss you silly right now. As in let's rephrase that: I'm kinda maybe sorta hopelessly in love with you."

The words spilled out of her in a rush, a flood of sound from Leviathan's daughter. She wasn't quite sure of what she said or how she said it, but she noted with some pride that her voice barely trembled even as she laid out her heart for him to see and she didn't even stumble when she said "love."

"I'm guessing you're really confused as to how this came about, since even though you're pretty hot you're still all dusty and creepy and you had a very unlucky four monsters in your head, and you were sleeping in a coffin for longer than I was even alive. And taking all that into account, that doesn't really make you prime material for ninja girls to fall in love with, but then again there's really no accounting for taste, is there? I mean, strictly speaking, you're-" It dawned on her that she was babbling and she shut up for a very short moment, allowing her jumbled thoughts to tumble out of her mouth in a slightly different order.

"Okay, Vince. What I mean to say is that something happened between point A, which is when Cloud pried open your coffin and I saw you looking totally dead and most decidedly unsexy, and point B, being now, when I can barely even think of you in a serious manner before I start getting really weird thoughts about you - which aren't even about your looks, though they aren't bad by any means, don't get me wrong - and I think it's a tiny bit more than a crush by now. Crushes are definitely a teenage thing, see, and I turned twenty just a few months ago and this thing has not gone away. At all." She accentuated this revelation by spreading her arms wide, as if to impress upon him just how not gone this thing was.

For the first few moments he said nothing, and that was fine because how often do you get confessions of passionate like-probably-love from ninja princesses anyway? It had to be surprising. Shocking even. But then the moments stretched to years stretched to decades stretched to long, long, too long seconds and she couldn't think of anything more to fill it and he still. Was. Not. Talking.

She'd known better than to expect an I Love You Too. She'd known better than to expect sweet nothings and heartfelt declarations of affection and strong kisses that would sweep her off her feet. Still the silence was colder and longer than she had ever thought possible and she wished he would say anything, anything at all.

Vincent blinked once, a slow and deliberate and somehow solemn (again with that solemnity) blink, grave and meaningful like pretty much everything he did. She wondered if he snored gravely in his sleep and had to suppress the crazy little giggle that threatened to come out of her mouth. "Yuffie."

She thought that was maybe the sixth time he'd said her name that night, and every time he did it rattled her a little bit more. Through some small miracle she managed to reply, though her voice was little more than a dry croak and she hated herself for it. "Yes, Vincent?"

"Perhaps you've had too much to drink-"

"I have not," she snarled suddenly, making him draw back a little with the force of her ire. "I can think perfectly straight and maybe I did need a tiny bit of booze to make sure I wouldn't chicken out of this, but if you're gonna try and dismiss this out of hand like I'm some little girl, I'm gonna have to tell you to shut up. And you are. So shut up, Vince."

Vincent shut up.

"Good." Yuffie nodded approvingly. "Now listen."

But with her anger spent, the burning in her heart was dying down fast now, and in its place all the doubt she'd been holding off came flooding back in even stronger than before. The words came from her mouth sounding nowhere near as confident as she'd intended.

"So, Vinnie, I mean, I know this is all terribly sudden and shocking and all, and I might not be perfect like-" She stumbled here, gathered her wits, pressed on. "Like Lucrecia, and I'm not nice enough to charm birds and small animals like Aerith was, and now that I'm twenty I'm pretty sure I'm never gonna grow huge gazongas to make Tifa cry with envy but..." She took a deep shuddering breath - everything was falling apart now, so fast it made her head spin and she had no choice but to go with it or be swept away. "But I'm in love with you so much it hurts and I've tried to keep it inside but that can only go so far, I've tried to tell myself it's just a phase and it'll pass but that's a lie, and oh, Vincent..." The words trailed off as her throat clenched up, and this was not how things were supposed to go, though on second thought she didn't know quite how things had been supposed to go in the first place. She might have been many things, but nobody had ever accused Godo Kisaragi's daughter of being a meticulous planner.

And he was just staring at her. Not with love (that would probably have been too much to ask, even for all the luck of Da Chao) and not with disgust or hatred either (and this was a good thing, a very good thing indeed, because if he had been she might have taken the concealed dagger from its place inside her vest and plunged it straight into her throat, overly melodramatic and incredibly stupid though that may have been), but with honest confusion. And that was somehow almost as terrible.

"Yuffie," he began slowly, more cautiously this time, wary and inept and so painfully unaware of what he was doing to her that she could almost hate him for it. "You can't be in love with me. We may be friends, but aside from the times we were forced to fight together, our contact with each other has been..." He paused, searching for the word, and finished lamely. "Sparse."

Sparse.

"You think this makes any sense to me? That I planned this or something? All I know is that one day I woke up and found out you'd gone and stolen my heart, which really isn't fair since I'm the one who's supposed to be the thief, and look at you, you don't even realize you took it!"

Vincent ignored her outburst completely and moved on. "I am not a good man, Yuffie. You would not love me, if you knew the things I've done."

She let out a laugh that was more like a sob, a desperate and mirthless thing that made him frown with concern. "I know, Vinnie. It doesn't matter to me. I'm not a good girl either, in case you didn't notice. I lie and cheat and steal and I knew a dozen ways to kill a man before I knew how to read. You're-"

She stopped in mid-sentence and fell apart completely, not in anger this time but in sheer frustration.

"Stop giving me reasons why I shouldn't love you! I'm spilling out my heart to you and you're trying to rationalize it! Can't you just say what you feel?" Her breathing had become ragged somewhere along the way, and the world had somehow shrunk down to a pinpoint wherein only Yuffie and Vincent existed. "Can't you love me back?" She tried to smile at him and failed miserably. "Can't you at least try?"

She saw it in his eyes, that it had finally clicked, finally registered for real in that creaky, dusty sixty-year old place Vincent called a brain that this was not some sort of horrible Yuffie joke, not a drunken outburst that would be forgotten come the next morning. Which made what he said next even worse.

"No, Yuffie," he said, and the world about ended at those two words. "I can't."

That was enough for her, quite enough emotional duress for the night, thank you very much. A flick of her wrist and the smoke bomb hit the floor, a thick grey cloud blossoming outwards as startled shouts began to fill the air. She caught a last glimpse of Vincent half-rising, clawed hand just starting to reach for her before the smoke hid everything and she made a mad dash for the exit.

Then she was outside, the cool night air flooding her lungs and slamming away the alcohol.

She ran until she couldn't anymore and slumped against a wall, her arms wrapped around herself. She sniffled a little and giggled and gave the moon a bleary little smile because it wasn't so bad, this heartbreak thing, and just who did Vincent think he was anyway, turning down an awesome ninja princess like Yuffie? He was probably a bit crazy from all those years in that coffin, and he was old and quiet and creepy and she hadn't liked him that much, really. She nodded to herself.

And she started crying because that was all a lie, and try though she might she couldn't lie to herself. Perhaps some day the pain in her chest might fade, but for now it was raw and red and very much there, and she wished she'd never met Vincent while wishing at the same time he would be standing right there in front of her.

He wasn't, naturally, because this wasn't a movie and Yuffie wasn't the heroine, and it looked like happily ever after just wasn't in the cards for her.

---

Life went on, of course. Yuffie didn't die of a broken heart but she never really forgot that night, either, and though she thought of Vincent quite a lot in the following months she managed to avoid actually meeting him again for quite a while.

When she finally did, it was winter, and the moon was shining bright over the snow, and she couldn't see Vincent at first because she was busy pulling a shuriken from the throat of a dead man.