Shitsuren glances up from the rose bed, smiling at her sister's approaching figure, but the grin quickly fades when she sees her grim expression. She stands, ignoring (mostly) the look of concern in the Valentine boy's garnet eyes. "Katsu?"
"You need to come," she says, moving swiftly into the garden, but she turns back to the pagoda, expecting the adolescents to follow.
They do, without question, both understanding the urgency and necessity. Sage is following quickly on the ninja's heels, listening to her whisper to herself as her pace gets quicker. "Please, Mama, hang on." It's followed by a sniff and her hand reaches up to quickly wipe away a treacherous tear.
When her hand falls back to her side, Sage's fingers wrap around it, and though she shoots him a look that dares him to continue living, he flashes a reassuring smile, and they enter the pagoda together.
Their mother's bedroom seems unusually small when they appear. The girls see their father sitting on the edge of the futon, hand gently soothing her feverish brow. Sage's eyes are drawn elsewhere, to his father's lone figure standing with his back against the wall, a grief-stricken expression on his face.
She's frail and she's obviously trying desperately hard to keep breathing, and yet she's yelling at the man currently caressing her. "I mean it, Rufus, you have to keep your promise."
He nods, again and again. "I told you Yuffie, your word will be upheld."
She seems to relax, and sighs. "Thank you, Rufus." She coughs, but smiles a little. "You be good to my Wutai, okay?"
He smirks. "Of course."
She smiles gratefully and takes his hand, squeezing it. "Are the girls here?"
Rufus glances over his shoulder to check, then nods. Yuffie raises her hand and beckons them, and immediately Katsu runs to the bed. Shitsuren hesitates a moment, glancing at the young man beside her.
He squeezes her hand before letting her go.
"Hi babies," Yuffie whispers when her daughters come into her line of sight. Uchikatsu smiles back through watery eyes, and Shitsuren holds her mother's hand. "Mama's really tired, girls."
Katsu brushes Yuffie's hair from her feverish forehead.
"I want you both to know that you are the most important things in the world to me, and that if I could, I would stay here for you." She coughs, but waves away Shitsuren's attempt to call the doctor. "It's okay, Shi, my little ninja. You girls can take care of yourselves now; you're all grown up, strong, beautiful, smart women." She closes her eyes, too tired to keep them open any longer. "I'm so proud of you both," she whispers.
"Goodbye mom," the girls say, each kissing their mother's face. It's not so hard now, they've been saying their goodbyes for a week now: every time they leave the room, in case when they come back their mother is gone.
"I love you, my princesses," she says, but her voice is so faint it can hardly be heard.
"It's okay sweetheart." She begins to cough again, and blood trickles down her chin.
"Dad, what do I do?"
Yuffie can hear the panic in her eldest daughter's voice, but she cannot summon the energy to reassure her. She can't even find the reassurance herself, and a shudder of fear grips her. "Vincent..."
Sage's eyes shift from the dying woman to his father, who had stiffened at his name being said.
"I am here, Yuffie."
She is too weak to lift her arm to reach for him, and she softly whimpers his name again.
The girls are beckoned to their father's side, and they go reluctantly, watching with grieving eyes as the gunslinger approaches the bed and kneels next to their dying mother.
Her arm flings out weakly and she touches his knee, her fingers curling around the material of his trousers, trying to tug him closer.
He moves to sit on the edge.
Her fingers slide up his shirt and grasp it as tightly as they can. He is pulled down to her level.
"Say goodbye, Vincent," she whispers, but in the silence of the moment, everyone can hear.
Rufus looks away when his wife is drawn into the arms of this man, as the gunslinger lies beside the broken ninja and their foreheads touch.
She is rasping for breath now, and it sounds like a horribly painful ordeal, and yet his arms circle her like if he physically held on, she couldn't leave.
Stubborn, like usual, she waits for him; she waits like she waited for him to forgive himself, she waits like she waited for him to accept her love. She waits like she waited when he needed to move on.
She is struggling for air, hugging him like a life preserver. "Please Vincent, give me peace. Let me go."
"I love you," he says, he moans because the pleasure and the pain are corroding his soul. He has never felt elation the same as loving Yuffie, and yet he has never felt so much pain due to that very same thing.
"I love you too, Vinnie." She pauses, and a tremor shakes her: a shiver from the lack of heat in her dying body, a tremble of fear as death waits impatiently for her to give up. "I'm scared," Yuffie utters.
"So am I."
"Talk to me, Vinnie," she whispers. Her eyes are closed and her face is pressed against his chest. "Take my mind off it."
"Don't leave me."
"Vincent." Her voice is surprisingly firm. "I can't help it. I don't want to leave you. I don't want to leave my girls; I don't want to die, Vincent. I love you, Vincent, and I'm so sorry."
He says nothing.
"Talk to me," she says. "To take my mind off of the pain of loving you."
His eyes close and his lips touch the top of her head. "Do you wish you didn't?"
She sobs. "No."
He pets her hair lovingly and sighs, attempting to divert her mind. "What did you make Rufus promise you?"
He is surprised when she sobs again.
She kisses whatever part of him is closest and whimpers. "I made him promise that the girls..." she coughs and cries at the same time. "I made him promise the girls could—could marry whoever..."
Vincent's eyes snap open, and his arms tighten on her.
"Whoever they choose." She's coughing more and more, and there is blood on the front of his shirt. "But Vincent," she whispers. "Even if they spend their lives with the men they love..." She puts her hand over his heart. "One day, they will have to say goodbye too."
"I can't, Yuffie. You are my reason."
She attempts a weak laugh, but it comes out as a cough. "No, I'm not Vinnie, I just helped you find your reason. You have love and you have a life, even if I'm not a part of these things. You have your Auburn-Haired-Beauty and your two beautiful children. They are your reason."
He stares at her for a long moment, and then kisses her forehead and her eyelids and her cheeks and finally her blood stained lips, for the first time in over twenty years. "I will never forget you."
She smiles slightly. "How could you? I'm the Great Ninja Yuffie. It's time to say goodbye, Vincent."
His eyes reflect his pain. "Give me time, Yuffie..."
Still stubborn even on the brink of death she sighs. "I haven't got much to give, Vinnie." Yet he holds her for hours, listening as her breathing gets shallower and shallower. People come and go, but no one tries to disturb them, not even Sage, who has so many questions needing to be answered.
In the silence of their embrace, he contemplates everything. Every instance she had saved him from any facet of his life. The times she propelled him forward, held him back, endangered him, saved him. Every smile, every laugh, every touch, every kiss.
He knows it is getting harder for her to hold on.
"It hurts so fucking much," she admits, her hand tangling in his hair. She pulls him close and plants a desperate kiss on his forehead. "But I..."
"Don't say it," he hisses. His hand reaches up and a finger slips over her lips. "Please don't say it."
"Love you," she mumbles around it, cool grey eyes holding his.
"I love you, Yuffie." It is the first words he's spoken in over an hour, and groggily she opens her eyes.
"Love you too, Vinnie."
He thinks of Lily, of Sage, of Aurore. He thinks of Yuffie's speech to Reno all those years ago. He thinks of providence and fate and karma and he wonders if she was an angel sent to guide him. He finds it's getting harder for him to hold on, and wonders if now she has to go home because her work saving him is through.
His lips press against her forehead and stay there as he whispers: "I will miss you, my white rose. Goodbye."
She seems to find relief in this and she relaxes, allowing him to unwind his arms from around her and remove himself from the bed. His hair is a mess and his clothing stained with the woman's blood as he moves away from her, and is confronted by Rufus.
"I'm sorry," he mutters, understanding what it feels like to see one's love in the arms of another.
Rufus, for his part, doesn't say anything in malice, and Vincent wonders if he knew more than he should have for much longer than he thought, for the hand that claps his shoulder is one of comfort.
Still, he passes by him and sits dutifully by his wife, calming her, cooing to her.
They stayed that way until morning. Vincent stood at the edge of the room, and Rufus and his daughters circled their mother, waiting for the inevitable moment to arrive.
Although he tries to ignore it, the gunslinger can pinpoint the exact moment when his beloved stops breathing. His own heart stops for a moment, but it keeps beating: a testament to his life without her.
When he is given time in the morning to say his final goodbye, her body is no longer warm against his fingers. It is cold and lifeless, while he is warm. His son stands, distantly frowning, yet somehow sympathetic in the hallway when Vincent brings himself to leave the shell of what had once been Yuffie. He sees the silent tear drop on his father's face, and he isn't sure if he should feel betrayed, disgusted, or sorry.
"Dad?" Sage's lips are tugged into a frown. "Did you love her?"
He owes him miles of explanation, but all he can offer is a quiet shake of his head.
He can't (but he tries, gods, he tries) stop himself from feeling it.
The look of hurt in his son's eyes hurts. The guilt weighing heavily on his third left finger hurts. The fresh memory of his dying lover's plea for him to let her go hurts.
So fucking much.
A/N: Well, thats all guys. Thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.