All Places In-Between
Chapter Twelve: Why I was hers
When I awoke, I was warm. My head throbbed as it so often did after I changed, but compared to previous transformations, it was mostly dull. Why had I transformed? What had happened the night before?
We'd been walking through the forest- it had been raining. We'd changed, and she'd teased me, then the card game and... Oh. The kiss. Then what? She'd left- she'd ran, because I'd said something stupid. I'd found her on the conch house, and she'd fallen-
Shit, she'd fallen! I sat up-
And was promptly bowled over by what is to be considered the most horrendous migraine in history. The entire world spun under me, and I was thankful that I had only sat up in bed. I fell backwards, somewhat winded and extremely dizzy, and threw my arm over my eyes to drown out the light that only served to worsen my pain.
"Here," Yuffie's voice called out. I heard the distinct sound of sloshing water, and I knew she held out my canteen. Holding up my hand, Yuffie handed it over, thankfully without the cap, and I greedily drank as though I'd die of thirst. She took the empty canister as I finished, and replaced it with a handful of dried fruit.
"You remembered?" I mumbled before I shoved a few pieces of leathery, over-sugared mango into my mouth.
"Yup. You need food and water after you transform, and you get a really bad headache that makes you pissy."
The corners of my mouth twitched and I found myself fighting off a smile. "That so?" I took a bite of what I assumed had once, long ago, been an apple.
"Yup." I heard a distinctive crunch, meaning she'd been hiding a bag of potato chips the entire while.
"Do I get one?"
"Do I have any choice?"
I whole-heatedly smiled this time. "You do, I suppose." Regardless, held out my hand patiently. She sighed, then deposited a few chips into my hand. Tossing them into my mouth, I crunched, pleased by the over-salty taste of the fried potato.
"Thank you, Yuffie."
"No, Vincent; thank you. Sorry I'm such a pain in your ass."
I took another bite of mango. "How about we compromise. You never assume that you know what I'm thinking, and instead ask me when you suspect something and listen to what I tell you, and in return I will forget how troublesome you are."
"Deal. First question."
"We together now or something?"
I took yet another bite of fruit, mostly to busy myself. How was I supposed to answer something like that?
"I think it depends on you. Do you..."
"Totally think you're smokin' hot? Think you're sculpted out of marble and sent down from the gods simply to tease me? Think you're so full of patience for other people that you've completely used up any in regards to yourself? Think you're still a little hung up about your past? Why, yes. Yes I do."
"Let's simply see where the wind takes us, Yuffie. How does that sound?"
"Good enough. But you're an idiot if you think I'm sharing any more of my chips." I heard the rustle of the bag and I was left to assume, based off the resounding crunching that went on for several minutes, that she'd consumed the rest of the chips in one large mouth full.
'Such a cheeky spirit,' Death Gigas mused.
'Indeed,' Chaos echoed.
'That so?' I asked. 'Death Gigas, might I ask what happened between you two?'
His reply was dry. It was also the most he'd ever spoken to me. 'No, Valentine, you may not. Rest assured that what happened between Yuffie and I was nothing that you need to concern yourself with. I made sure she was safe. We spoke for a small while, but what she said to me and I to her is nothing I feel the need to disclose with you.'
Yuffie threw me a knowing smile. "Gigas telling you about how I talked his ear off?"
'She did no such thing. I greatly appreciate her company.'
"He says he didn't mind, but he won't let me know what you two talked about."
Her smile widened. "Let's go to Kalm next."
The abrupt subject change threw me off for a moment. "Kalm? You want to bypass Midgar?"
"Kinda. I don't remember much of what happened there, but I just have a bad feeling about it." She shrugged, then took a bite of dried fruit for herself.
"Shall we travel north, to Icicle Inn, or do you wish to go south again and head back through Bone Village?" I'd leave the choice entirely up to her.
Yuffie weighed her decision for a long moment, obviously caught in thought. "I'd like to go back to Bone Village, sure, but I don't remember anything about Icicle Inn, so let's go there."
"You most likely don't remember much about the place because we never had the chance to stay long. It was just somewhere we passed through along the way. I don't even recall staying the night, to be honest."
"It'll be nice to spend some time there, then. I won't have to constantly worry about trying to force my brain to remember."
"If you want a vacation, I'd suggest Costa del Sol."
"Beats the hell out of the snow."
"Well then, let's actually stay in Costa del Sol this time." I could practically hear her smile. "We bypassed it last time because I was so motion-sick, and the heat was not helping in the slightest."
And that was it. We packed up our things with hardly another word, other than the occasional "Did you see my other sock?" and set the course of our journey to the frozen tundra.
When we reached the cliff tops, well out of view of the ancient conch-shell houses that once belonged to the Cetra, Yuffie tentatively took my hand as we began into the frozen wasteland that spread out before us. The day was still young, the sun was still low on the horizon, and I was more than happy to be up so early for once. Considering the time of day, and how far we had to go, I felt confident that we'd reach Icicle Inn before nightfall.
If we didn't, we might freeze to death.
But, saying such out loud would be a damper on Yuffie's bright spirits, and that was the last thing I wanted.
What? I was trying to be an optimist
Seeing her chipper, almost shyly holding my hand... it was cute, and novel, and all about the little things love had never been about to me before.
Now, I'm not saying that I outright love Yuffie. But, to deny that she held a place in my heart would fool no one. I selflessly scoured the world for her, and when I found her I selflessly followed her across the globe so she could regain her memories and once more become the person she used to be. However, while I was coming to believe that she would never again be the Yuffie everyone once knew, she was becoming a little more -like- the old Yuffie every day. But, opinions and ideas change with people, and Yuffie had changed quite a bit, with or without her knowing of it.
'Have you ever stopped to think about why?' Chaos sounded oddly pensive. Perhaps a good or bad thing, depending on the situation.
'Why her memories are gone?'
No, I hadn't. Not really. Not in depth. And suddenly I felt guilty for not even thinking twice about the whys or the hows.
"Hey, Yuffie. Have you regained any memories that might help us figure out why you lost them all in the first place?"
It was worth a shot, right?
She shrugged, kicking a little snow of her shoe. "Not really. But, then again, I'm not sure what was from when we were all together, and what's from whatever I apparently went through."
"Nothing at all?"
She began chewing her lip. After a while, she sighed. "I don't know Vincent, I just don't know. I remember dark places and a crazy tentacle monster. I remember cold places and an asshole with crazy white hair. I remember lots of tears, lots of hurt and sadness. I can't remember what it all ties into, though. It's fragments. I'm broken, remember?"
"You're not broken." It came out a little too sharply than I had meant it to.
She looked up at me and tilted her head, then gave my hand a reassuring squeeze. "Gigas said roughly the same thing."
I couldn't tell if it pleased her or not, but I wasn't about to let her badmouth herself in front of me. If there was one thing that could be said about Yuffie Kisaragi, other than her being obnoxious, loud, constantly exuberant and perplexing on a most frustrating level, was that she never lacked self-confidence. If she was down on herself it meant that there was something wrong.
"Is there something you're not telling me?"
"Maybe yes, maybe no." I scoured her face for a shift in emotion but found nothing other than a mild passing interest as she gaze about our surroundings.
"If there is something bothering-"
"I know. You won't demand I tell you, but you'll be there for me if I ever want to talk about it. And maybe I'll bring it up sometime. But not now. Not when I don't understand it; not when I don't know what it could mean to me."
I'm glad she understood I wouldn't push her. Even though her words could have been sarcastic, as they often were, these were not. She -did- understand that I was there for her when she needed it. And, well, the rest of the time, too.
She gave my hand another reassuring squeeze without meeting my eyes, and that was how I knew she was done talking about it for now.
'Well, it was a good try.' Chaos' words, too, lacked sarcasm.
'There is much going on within her that she must deal with herself before she feels ready to seek the help of others.' Death Gigas was becoming more talkative by the day.
'What makes you say that?'
'Because we are much the same, she and I. Love and loss, ups and down. Perhaps, Vincent, she is even more like you than you think.'
I did tend to let my past own me, didn't I? Was dwelling on her lost memories such a good idea?
Though the questions I had were many, the answers were few. No one could decide what was good for Yuffie except for Yuffie. That's how it was, and that's how it would always be. I could help her, guide her, but only she knew what she was meant to do with all of it.
It was passed noon when she spotted something on the horizon. "Hey, is that smoke rising up?"
Sometimes it was handy having superior vision. "Looks that way."
"Good. My feet are freezing."
"We didn't exactly come prepared for freezing-cold weather. We're dressed for autumn, at best."
"I know. Hi-top tennis shoes aren't ideal for tracking through the snow."
For a moment, I almost panicked. "Do you have frostbite? Are you alright?"
She waved it off with a smile and a shrug. "I can still feel my toes, don't worry. It's cold, but it's not -that- cold. I'm just bitching for the sake of bitching."
She was right. It was cold, but the snow was hardly few inches deep at best. I suppose that made sense; it was colder in the south because it was winter in the opposing hemisphere. That made it summer in the north, even though there wasn't much of a difference other than a little more sunshine in the day.
"As long as you're sure you'll be alright."
She squeezed my hand. Unless you're offering to give me a piggy-back ride, I think I'm alright."
I'm not a fan of the cold. I suppose I could also claim that I wasn't a fan of overly-warm places, either, but it was also rather relative; the last thing on your mind when you're freezing to death would be how miserable it might be to sweat on the beach in the tropics. I'm more of a fan of the temperate climates, places like Junon where there really isn't a way to completely distinguish between seasons, especially if one lives below the city. The water is always moderate, the wind always has a slight bite to it what with it being next to the sea, and the summers aren't so sweltering that it makes one miserable.
I liked autumn; the discoloration of the leaves, the suddenly sleepy animals that hurry to store last minute food surpluses for their long winter sleep.
Spring just made my nose run and my eyes itch.
Mountains began to creep up on either side of us as Yuffie and I trekked closer to Icicle Inn. Snow crunched under our shoes and reminded me, for some awful and known reason, of the snapping and groaning of bones.
That was unusual for Yuffie; questions didn't normally sit quietly with her.
"Are you sure? You're welcome to ask me anything."
"I don't think it's something you'd be familiar with, that's all."
"Nope. Maybe later."
Something was on her mind, but true to my word I would never force her to talk about anything she wasn't comfortable with. I could easily assess that it was something having to do with a past memory of hers, but I wouldn't pry about it unless I felt it completely necessary. If it wasn't hurting her, I would let it be.
Children were playing out in the snow when we entered the village. Several of the younger ones saw us and ran to their parents or older siblings, pointing and informing their elders of the new people who've come to town. That was the problem with smaller towns; they never made for good hiding places.
'Where the hell did that come from?' Chaos seemed truly surprised.
I mentally shrugged it off. 'Years of Turk training don't exactly fade away. It was simply a wayward thought.'
'You're weird, Valentine. You're the type of man to walk into a party and instead of have a good time, you'd be more likely to plan an exit strategy.'
I didn't responding to his baiting. So what if I had a cautious outlook? Better to be slightly paranoid and considered a little strange than to be dead, any day of the week.
We holed up in the inn. The inn in Icicle Inn; say that ten times fast. Yuffie tossed her bag on the bed and immediately began digging for a new pair of socks. "Remind me why I wanted to come up here again?"
"I don't think you gave me a very legitimate answer in the first place., actually."
"Oh, he's sarcastic now. Wonderful. It took half a day of traveling through the snow for him to develop a sense of humor."
"I've always had one, I'm simply less inclined to share."
"There he goes again," she giggled, giving up and completely shaking the contents of her bag free. "Did you spot a laundromat in this place?"
"No such luck, but I bet we could ask the owner of the inn if he has a washtub we could borrow."
Yuffie stuck out her tongue, obviously not pleased with the idea, but less pleased about finding no clean socks.
"Did you need to borrow a pair of mine while we wash yours?"
"What size shoe do you wear; like, thirteen? No thanks, you're feet are huge. I bet even your ankle socks would come up to my knees."
"My feet aren't that big," I countered, lamely.
The innkeeper did have a washtub, and while it wasn't terribly cold outside, it was still a little too cold to hang our laundry on the wash-line outdoors. If this was summer and most likely the warmest it got in the town, I'm surprised there even was a wash-line in the first place; it just seemed silly.
Yuffie, barefoot and dressed in a spare pair of sweatpants and an older t-shirt, most likely a hand-me-down from her adoptive grandparents, did her laundry first. "I hate washing clothes by hand," she complained. "My hands get all pruney."
"Take a break and let me wash mine before your hands get pruney, then. We'll take turns."
"Vincent Valentine does his own laundry. Who would have known?" She flashed me a devious smile.
Well, can I be blamed? I didn't want anyone else touching my undergarments, thank you very much.
When it was my turn to use the wash basin, Yuffie put on her shoes, even without socks, and climbed up the steps of the basement to the outside. "I need some fresh air," I was informed. "It smells too clean down here."
How anything short of a hospital could smell too clean was beyond my guess, but I wasn't going to argue; washing my underpants with Yuffie staring over my shoulder wasn't exactly my idea of a good time.
But, I should have known better. Where ever Yuffie goes, she lands herself in some kind of trouble, be it big or little. Her curiosity was, at times, insatiable, which was both a good trait and a bad. By the time I finished my laundry, as well as the rest of hers (I couldn't exactly let it sit there, could I?), she still hadn't returned. So, knowing she'd managed to do something that was unique only to her, I set off in search of her.
Where I found her actually surprised me. We'd learned, on our first trip through Icicle Inn, that the snow mountain town was where Aerith was from. Not completely, but in a way of sorts. Her father, the late Professor Gast, had fallen in love with Aerith's mother, Iflana, while the Gast had been supposedly interrogating her about the mysteries of the Ancients. That dangerous love produced our friend, true, but it drove Hojo to kill Gast in cold blood.
I noticed a flicker from from the window of one of the old, ransacked houses down the lane and somehow I knew Yuffie was inside.
I opened the door to the sound of recorded gunshots. Yuffie had been watching the videos of Aerith's mother and father, and I'd walked in right as Gast was killed. Yuffie's back faced me, and from her slouched form I could tell she was beyond upset.
"This shit is pretty messed up," she commented over her shoulder. Though her voice sounded dead, I knew there were tears in her eyes.
And for some reason, I knew she had never really believed me about Hojo's cruelty. He'd only been polite and understanding when in her presence, or at least as far as she could remember. He'd questioned her as any doctor should, had helped her understand when she did not, and listened to her problems.
But now... now she saw him for who he was. Not as I saw him, not as I knew him; no, there were no others alive who'd seen Hojo's cruelty as I had. Yet, now she saw how cold he could easily turn.
"He killed both her parents."
I nodded, mutely.
"Both of them, dead. One with a bullet and the other later with experiments."
"And what a cruel twist of fate it was that his son killed their daughter."
She wiped the wetness from her cheeks with the backs of her sleeves. "I didn't think he was as bad as you made him out to be."
"You didn't know."
"But you told me."
"I told you what was done to me by his hands, yes, but I didn't mean for you to hate him just because I do."
She hiccuped. "I don't think I can look at him the same way. He... He killed them."
I grew somber. "Would it change your opinion of me to know that I, too, have killed?"
"In cold blood? Like this?"
I looked away. Shame washed over me. Hojo killed because he didn't hold human life precious. Yet, I... "You forget I worked for Shinra, Yuffie. I was ordered to shoot, so I pulled the trigger. How many lives have I taken, how many families have I ruined? Far too many to count."
She began to sob. "You're such a fucking downer."
I let the silence come between us. Eventually she stood, her eyes puffy and red. "I'm cold." She sniffed, miserably.
I opened the door and followed her out of it, toward the inn. The sun had set, plunging the town into the quiet darkness of night. She didn't speak to me again for a long while. That night, after we'd folded our dried laundry and stoked the fire and went to bed, Yuffie stirred. She rolled one way, then the next, and then over again, finally heaving a heavy sigh before she stood.
'Do you think, by chance, that she's leaving you?' Chaos prodded, curiously.
I sat up, but it was as if she read my mind; "I'm just taking a piss. Go back to sleep."
True to her word, the bathroom door shut and a short time later I heard the toilet flush and the door crack open again.
She stood at the end of my bed, rubbing her hands up and down her arms. "Room in there for one more?" Her voice was groggy with sleep and lacked the playfulness I would normally expect from that kind of statement from her.
My heart jack-hammered in my chest as I raised a hand to lift up the covers and silently offer an invitation to her. She quietly curled up next to me.
What was I supposed to do? Ifrit blow- it'd been so long since I last courted a woman.
I gingerly placed my hand on her hip, just letting it sit there, and gauged her reaction carefully.
She let out a sigh. "Don't get any ideas about me; I'm not being cutsey. I'm freezing my ass off in my own bed." To demonstrate, she placed her bare toes against my shin.
"Shit-" I hissed as I pulled my leg again. "Put some socks on! Your toes are like ice."
"I -have- socks on," she pouted, moving closer to me and snuggling up against my chest.
She went quiet again, but I knew she didn't sleep.
"Care to tell me what's on your mind?"
"Some kind of mind reader, Valentine?"
"Nothing of the sort. You're just easy to read."
She sighed, then went silent for a few moments. "It's a weird question."
"Is any question you ask normal?" I was trying to be sarcastic, but I could feel she was attempting a seriousness I wasn't used to seeing in her.
"Are you really okay with me?"
"What?" I asked – no, I suppose I blurted it out quite dumbly – before I could stop myself.
She squirmed. "Well, for starters you're way older than me."
"Yes and no, I suppose. I'm twenty-seven, but sixty-seven. I look the younger part, but feel the older."
"It doesn't bother you?"
"Should I let it?"
"Just making sure."
"Is that what this is about? How old I am in comparison to you?"
Ah. I could see where this was going already. "Does it bother you to know that I've been involved with other women?"
"First off, don't make it sound like a capital offense; you don't belong to me, so I'm not allowed to get pissed off at who you slept with before. And second, let me answer your question with one of my own: does it bother you to know that I've been involved with other men?"
I suppose I should have seen it coming. She was young, and love was a daring new adventure to someone with as much naivety as Yuffie. But... "When were you in a relationship?" She was only sixteen when she joined up with us, though I suppose by her standards that might have been old enough. Had it been in Junon? Suddenly, I did care- and quite a bit. What was this possessiveness that I felt overcoming me?
I heard Galian growl in the back of my head, and Gigas mumbled a curse of sorts.
Well, that explained it.
Yup, my demons had a thing for her. Great.
"I don't recall specifics, I just remember that all of them were complete assholes."
"What do you have to be sorry for? All I remember is them treating me like shit; yelling, cursing..."
And I began to wonder... Were these really her ex-boyfriends, or was this something more sinister entirely?
"What do you remember of them?"
"Their faces and voices, mostly."
"Did any of them hurt you?"
"I don't... I don't remember."
"What do you remember? Their names, how you met, why you didn't stand up to them?"
She sighed. "I remember three. Each one was meaner than the one before, and for whatever reason I can't remember how I met them, why I left them, or why I didn't kick their asses in the first place."
And that was when I began to really worry. Were these men the reason she'd lost her memory?
No, that was not something I could ask her outright. If she was unconsciously blocking the memory, she might not recall the events even when presented with some sort of trigger. If she somehow did recall them because of my prodding... Was she ready to face whatever demon was within her mind? Her memories had suppressed themselves for a reason.
'You seem sure of yourself, Valentine.' Chaos didn't seem even slightly amused.
'It's the only conclusion I'm drawing. Yuffie is capable of taking on some of the most powerful creatures on this planet; there is no way she couldn't defend herself against men lest there was a damn good reason.'
'And you've convinced yourself that reason was-?'
'I'm not completely sure, but my suspicions are now circling some kind of torture or rape.'
I jumped when Galian snarled inside my head, which, in turn, caused Yuffie to jump. "What?"
"Your toes-" I quickly lied. "Stop touching me with your toes."
"I didn't talk much about my past relationships with any of you, did I?"
"I can't speak for Cloud and the others, but as far as I know you either didn't have any or you simply never talked about them when I was around."
She made a noise that was somewhere between annoyance and affirmation. "You're talking to your demons, aren't you?" Her accusation was right on the money- was I really that transparent to her, or was she growing used me?
"Yes and no. They don't like that you can remember these... ex-boyfriends of yours, and they aren't happy to hear that you weren't treated properly by them."
Give her information, but never state it outright; it was true that both Galian and Gigas weren't pleased by what they heard from Yuffie about how she was treated, but no further explanation, or even a hint about my speculations, was necessary. Lie by using truth.
If my speculations were correct, was she even capable of having a relationship? Or would her memories come flooding back the moment I touched her a certain way?
The incident in the City of the Ancients- she'd instigated it. She had been the one to roll me on top of her, which left her in complete control. But what would happen if she felt forced?
I couldn't push her.
Neither in gaining her memories, nor in any kind of relationship.
Don't get me wrong- I wasn't in love with Yuffie. I was, however, of the strong opinion that love has the capacity to grow anywhere with due time, so while I was still mostly unsure about what kind of relationship Yuffie and I were capable of, I was certain, at the least, that we were capable of some kind of relationship, be it romantic or otherwise. We were already, at least what I would define as, close friends, and it was obvious she liked me. Who was there to say that we couldn't, eventually, have something more?
This burden - the reason for her memory suppression – wasn't something I was able to find out. I could speculate until I was blind and deaf for all the world would care, but only Yuffie knew what really happened to her.
All I could do was help her. All I could do was stay by her side, dry her tears, hold her when she needed it and throw a sarcastic remark at her when she didn't.
And that was when I committed myself to her. We might not have been in a relationship other than a dysfunctional one for the time being, neither 'together' nor not, but I was hers.
"I like your demons," she remarked, yawing. Clearly she was done talking about whatever was on her mind.
"The ones who have met you seem to like you, as well."
"When do I get to meet the others?"
I was quiet for a while, and so was Chaos, surprisingly. I decided to answer her truthfully. "Hell Masker is... more of a shut-in than Gigas, so chances are he won't be meeting you any time soon. And Chaos... Chaos sees all that I see, and speaks to me the most. For what it's worth, he already knows you as well as I do.
I could feel how pleased this made Chaos. I think, to an extent, that it pleased Yuffie, too.
"Not going to let them out, then?"
Chaos stilled, his admiration suddenly dim.
"Not unless I need them. That's what they are there for; when I need help."
I felt an overwhelming rush of reassurance from all of them, even Hell Masker, from who I often felt the least.
'Good, Valentine. Nice to know that you understand our forced agreement.' Death Gigas' praise was polite, which was, in his case, most likely the best I'd get from him.
Even though I couldn't see Chaos, I knew he smiled. 'We are called demons by you humans,' he explained, 'because you lack words and imagination to otherwise explain us. That is why monsters are monsters to you- not merely animals, or other creatures that share the planet. I'm labeled a demon because I don't fit the norms you humans associate with everything. I look dark and evil, therefore I must be.'
'What are you, then, Chaos?'
"What am I? Valentine, that question is far too profound for a simple answer. I am both living and dead; I can pass from this world to the next and back again. I've seen the Lifestream, I know its song, but I cannot sing with it. I am no more a demon than you are, Vincent. I am simply me; I am a creature of this earth, just like any other.'