Three weeks later…

Vincent sat quietly beside Hojo's bed. The man was frail to begin with and now he looked to be nothing more than a husk…breathing at mercy of the machines he was connected to. He never cared for him, but this was never what he wanted.

"Wake…come back to us, Hojo-san." Vincent murmured, his voice rough with emotion. He knew the dire consequences of his death, how she would react and it wasn't something he wanted to see. Vincent grasped Hojo's hand, almost impulsively, he cradled it in the palm of his metal claw, forming it into a fist and wrapping his warmer healthy hand around it. He stood suddenly and turned to leave.

"How long have you been here with him?" Yuffie asked in a pained whisper. Vincent shrugged, unsure himself. He could easily see all that she was feeling fluttering across her face in that instant. Worry, hurt for herself and others, concern she wouldn't openly voice for the man lying in the hospital bed, and the one that nearly took him to the ground…terror of what was to come. Yet all at once she hid behind a mask of strength he knew very well. She was strong, stubbornly so. He was at once in awe and irked by her façade, for no one here knew better than he what it felt like to suffer that pain. He worried she would devolve into the shell of person he had become.

He stiffened as she stood opposite him at Hojo's bedside. She cast him a curious glance, and turned her gaze back to the fragile man before her. She leaned in close, her hair glancing across his cheek, her skin tone glaringly dark in comparison to his shocking pale complexion. She whispered something in her native tongue, and squeezed his hand. His heart rate picked up for a moment, give Vincent a start. He watched as she gently extracted her hand, a small shimmering scale lay in its place.

"It was just the prayer for Leviathan's great healing. We say it for our sick and injured…it calls Leviathan to the body. It's Wutaian healing tradition." She answered his curious stare. "That is a totem of his, it helps the healing process, or so they say." She cleared her throat uneasily. While she held no love for the man, she certainly had no desire to see him this way…no one deserved this in her mind. "Reeve has called us." She rushed out of the room. Her progress was halted suddenly by a hand on her shoulder, spinning her around.

Vincent held back what he had intended to say when suddenly lunged forward, weeping into his shirt. She shook, though no sound came out. She gasped, painfully, for air and control of her emotional state.

"I'm stronger than this!" She hissed, furiously wiping her eyes, half chuckling at the look Vincent gave her. "I am a warrior ninja, I shouldn't be crying like an infant."

Vincent lifted one of his clawed fingers to her cheek, watching in mild amazement as the tiny drop of fluid slid along the digit before falling gracefully to the floor. She shuddered at the gesture, the cool metal feeling soothing against her burning skin.

Vincent opened his mouth to speak and was met by rushed breathing and seeking lips. He found it curious how, either impulsively or instinctively he wasn't quite sure, his body reacted to her. His eyes slid closed and his hands sought her out and held her tight in their grasp, all of their own volition.

She broke the kiss and continued down the hallway toward the conference room she'd been called to with him following close behind, as if nothing had happened. He'd never understand that woman, and in his unusually long life, he'd never try.

It wasn't long after arriving they were joined by Reeve, Reno and Elena, Cid, Cloud, Nanaki, a Wusheng warrior named Jiro and one of Godo's highest ranking General's. Something had happened while they slept…always while they slept. Yuffie silently made a vow not let it happen again, even if it meant not sleeping.

"Well, what comes? Godo would not have sent you away willingly…" Yuffie said, sarcasm doing little to hide her worry.

Chekhov nodded curtly in their direction. "Lady Kisaragi. We've been sent to deliver a message." Her formalities gave way suddenly as she dove for the young woman. "Wutai has fallen…" Chekhov rasped against her ear.

Yuffie felt as though her chest had collapsed within her and was rapidly drawing in all the strength she had welled up inside. "My…m-my…father?" She numbly whispered.

Jiro hit his right forearm across his chest in salute before dropping to one knee. "He has sent the Wusheng to exact vengeance for the suffering of her people. Wutai will show the world she is the nation of Gods! We will spill their blood in her name, in offering to Da Chao and the mighty Leviathan... Let the Empress of Dragons lead us to war." Jiro's head was clean shaven and marked only with a fresh tattoo of Leviathan angrily circling his skull. The dragons head rested at the center most point, above his eyebrows, mouth open as if to either roar its fury or to swallow his victims whole. The artwork was deeply intricate and likely took several days to finish, it was a symbol of rank. Jiro was the leader of the Wusheng, the most feared on the battlefield and therefore he was to honor Leviathan by wearing his mark where his enemies would see it and know fear.

Yuffie envied them, the Wusheng. They each bore a unique marking of their God on their body, they could show their honor in the flesh while she was relegated to fine silks as Empress, and stealing and manipulation…coercion. Acts of cowardice and dishonesty, it shamed her to do the things she had to for Wutai, however, she would stop at nothing for her Country and her people... Jiro stood silently, the deep reds and gold's of his uniform melding with the dim lights of the room. He was like a shadow even when he wanted to be seen.

She had known Jiro since she was very young, she had known all of the Wusheng. She was one of them, and yet not. Being the Emperor's daughter separated her from her warrior comrades. Yet she felt she was more a part of them than she ever was the hierarchy. She was the whisper in the night, the knife in the dark. She was silent and deadly, and diplomatic and regal. She was as potent a threat as her mother before her had been, if not more so. Godo feared and hated it, he fought her desire to learn the Wusheng art, to become a ninja, he fought his wife's need to teach their daughter to protect herself.

"Dakara Eikan." She answered in her native tongue. Chekov smiled and Jiro bowed deeply to them both. She dared, then, to feel the tiniest bit of hope. Her parents yet lived, and had given her the honor of leading her brave nation to war against this malevolent force. For the first time in her life, she craved violence…she longed to see their blood spilled at her hands.

"Another situation has come about…" Reeve sounded distraught and looked pale, as though he'd seen a ghost. She couldn't remember the last time Reno had circles under his eyes like that, or Elena had ever looked so haggard. "I must leave immediately with the Turks, I will send word when I have more news. I will remain in close contact, Cait Sith will stay here as a means to contact me, he will not function on his own." Reeve glanced at Yuffie and Vincent. "I need you to take your team to Junon before you leave for Wutai. We have a hazy report from Angeal…Zack has found Aerith, Lucrecia, and Shalua…Shelke has already been recovered, though badly poisoned. We are unsure of their state, other than all three are currently still alive." Reeve took his glasses off, rubbing the bridge of his nose tiredly. "Please, please bring them back."

Yuffie nodded, turning to Jiro. "I can't go just yet. You know what to do, I will be there in a few days."

"I will accompany you both on your mission, if the Empress wishes." Yuffie shook her head.

"No, they need you to lead the Wusheng. Return to Lord Godo, tell him I am coming and I am bringing help. I will contact you shortly." She bowed gracefully, turning to Vincent with a nod.

"Cid, I believe we will be in need of your services for this particular mission." Vincent motioned toward the dock.

Cid chuckled. "I'd be fuckin' delighted to go and kick some ass." He grinned, grabbing a cigarette from his pocket as they made for the door.

"Be careful, all of you." Cloud caught Yuffie by the shoulder. "Take this. I know you're more of a throwing star kinda girl, but Tifa insisted you have some sort of back up incase you couldn't use Conformer or your other myriad of other throwing weapons." He held a sword in a red silk sheath. She pulled the sheath back to reveal finely polished cherry wood, she popped the blade loose from the saya, reveling at how smooth the blade cut through the air. It was heavy, balanced in her hands, and their was a certain sense of security in having a weapon like this one beside her.

"Cloud…this is Murasame, I couldn't take one of your swords." Yuffie easily slid the blade back into place and back into the silk carrying bag.

He simply shook his head, ruffled her hair and smiled. "You need it more than I do, I would rather you take it than find out you got hurt out there. Please, it would honor me…" Yuffie rolled her eyes, laughing at her friend. She found it strange that in the last few weeks they hadn't done much of that.

She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. "Thank you. Tell Tifa we'll be back before she knows it…" With that she turned and darted after Cid, Nanaki, and Vincent, who had waited at the door for her. Cloud watched as she showed him her gift, he nodded approvingly as she spoke, casting one last glance at Cloud before disappearing out into the night.

OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOo

"Does this mean what I believe it to?" Vincent asked in a quiet tone.

"I kissed you…impulsively." Yuffie spoke over him. "Sorry, what did you say?" She touched her lips as she stood facing him.

Vincent watched her, as though he were gauging her reaction. "You've always been impulsive, no harm done. I merely asked if this exchange implied you were to be Empress." He watched the scenery fly by, amused by Yuffie's ability to not notice how much she hated flying under stress.

Yuffie, on the other hand, seemed to shrink away from him. "When we go to war, it is customary for the Emperor and Empress to lead the country to battle. In this instance my mother and father are unable, I'm not really sure why. My mother would never leave my father if he were injured, however, he would never leave the people defenseless, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't do what he's honor bound to do and lead them to war. Chekhov says it had been him and my mother against the masses for three hours before Shake was able to get up there with any of the Wusheng." Yuffie felt a triumphant swell in her chest, her parents were the greatest warriors she'd ever known. "They had hardly broken a sweat and not a single palace hand had been even scratched." She knew Chekov wasn't telling her something by the way she had told the story, but she hadn't had time then to drill the General. "My mother is a master of the sword, she has spared with Sephiroth on several occasions, maybe just to irritate my father. He hates it when she shows her talent for what he calls 'the unsavory', it isn't 'the way of a gentle flower' he always says. "You are to pour tea for our honored guests, Kasumi! Not best them on our training grounds!'" She laughed at that. "He would get so mad he would actually turn bright red, I mean the color of your cape. Mother was funny, she'd smile and bow. 'Yes, my honored husband. I live to honor and serve you as your will commands.' And three days later I'd see that old man begging her to forgive him for being so rude in front of the Shin-Ra guys. She'd give him her best smile, bow, and give him the same line…he's stopped calling her out for doing what she does, most of the Shin-Ra officers kind of dig it I think. It isn't everyday these guys get to go up against someone as skilled as her and come out alive, intentionally." Yuffie glanced at Vincent, smiling broadly.

Vincent could see, now, what it was about Kasumi that Godo found so appealing. "You're very much like her." He replied simply, turning to leave.

"Thank you, Vince…I-I just wanted to say, before we get too far and there isn't enough time to say anything." She felt like her eyes had weights in them, or her vision did. She couldn't' take them off the carpet. "I…I just…" She suddenly noticed the points of two golden shoes in her field of very limited vision, then a hand gently lifting her chin to meet dancing claret eyes.

He seemed more amused than anything. "I know. I repacked your bag to ensure your return to me for a purpose beyond the simple thought of your safety. I watched you sleep those nights for more than your comfort…I have little to fear, for myself. There is little that gives me pause… except you. You were hurt, gravely." Vincent frowned, a look she hadn't seen since they had first met. "I am…unused…to you." She looked up at him, genuinely confused. "You have a way, a way of getting under my skin…and invading my thoughts when it is certainly not appropriate."

Yuffie stared in shock for a moment, and Vincent could see the very moment his words sunk in. She burst into peals of laughter, holding her sides as though she was in physical pain. "That's…that's the funniest thing…you've ever said…gawd…I shou-shouldn't laugh-" She dissolved into giggles, which despite himself, Vincent found rather endearing. He dreaded what was to come, but for this moment he could try to enjoy the light she offered.

Junon loomed ominously in the distance and a coldness gripped his heart. He was not prepared for whatever they were going to meet, and that made him angry. He felt the monster in him rebelling against its bindings, begging to be loosed upon anyone and anything it could. Vincent turned away, something wicked was waiting for them there…

A/N: So, I'm not dead...just really lazy, and sick now. It has been FOREVER since I've updated anything, I've almost completely forgotten where I was going with any of these. I miss these stories...actually it was a fic called All Creation that got me back in. I miss Valentine'sNinja's stuff...Oh, and Dakaran Eikan, might mean nothing and it might mean as the emperor wishes...I used an online translator and they all gave me different translations ever single time. I almost gave up. At any rate, it sounds cool. Enjoy and critique the heck out of it :D