AN: This has now been proofread! Although there may still be a few typos since I am, unfortunately, Beta-less… *cries*

Disclaimer: I own nothing, nothing at all! I disclaim everything and give all its claims to Square.

.xxx.

I was sitting in a room, staring a fire. It burned, and burned and I think it maybe seared off half of my retinas, and even when all I could see was the fire, orange and red and flickering and burning, when my eyes wanted to shrivel away from it like little raisins in my head, I couldn't look away.

From far away, I heard someone call my name.

I turned, finally, only to be faced with ice.

The cold was a welcome relief from the flames. There's so much depth to ice, if you think about it; layers of blue and white and pale water, twisty and rippling, and frozen forever. Unmoving. Unchanging. Just as quickly as the fire had grabbed my attention, I was drawn to the ice, unable to move away from the column of frozen water.

I heard the voice again, and my focus shattered. There was earth beneath my feet and I relished the feeling—warm, muddy earth squelching between my toes. A wind ruffled my hair and I basked in that, too.

Fire behind me, Ice ahead, Earth Below and Air all around.

But then the Fire melted the Ice and the Water surged to cover me and the Earth and the Wind disappeared and the Lightning struck and I was screaming, screaming, screaming, writhing as the shocks pulsed through my system, and wanting to die all over again, and one thought hit me harder than anything.

I'm Alone.

Vinnie…

It was at this point that my mind said, "Fuck you very much," and decided to finally wake my dreaming ass up from the land of psychotic, killer, happy-fun-dream-times. The happy-fun part said with heavy sarcasm, obviously.

While waking up from a horrible dream to a plush, comfy bed is usually a fabulous thing, it is not so fabulous when one is faced with the unpleasant sight I was immediately faced with. That sight being Rufus's surprised face as he quietly entered the room.

"Ah, I see you're awake." He stated simply and I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.

"Oh my gawd, you have got to be, like, the most observant person I've ever met. Johnny, give the genius a prize!" I drawled snottily.

He pulled up a chair next to the bed, raising one pale eyebrow as I struggled to sit up. "There's no need for hostility, Miss Kisaragi. We wouldn't want you falling back into a coma, now would we?"

My mind came to a screeching halt. "Uh… say what about a coma?"

"You've been unresponsive for two weeks. We've all been rather worried." There was something flickering under Rufus's calm expression as he spoke but, at the time, I was too preoccupied with freaking out to really take note of it.

"TWO WEEKS? Oh sweet Leviathan I am gonna have some major catch-up work to do with this stupid power stuff." My hands scrubbed tiredly at my face.

"There's still no news regarding Draknor, which may mean we still have some time." As Rufus said this, he placed a hand on my shoulder and I stiffened as though I'd been electrocuted.

It's a weird thing, to be comforted by someone who's supposed to be your enemy. Especially when said enemy has the bluest eyes you've ever seen—bluer than Cloud's and bluer than Support Materia and blue as Blizzaga—and for some reason it felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room and all I could see were those blue, blue eyes and all I could feel was the hand on my shoulder.

I shoved it off, and some of the tension puffed out into nothingness, but most of it stayed.

"Don't touch me."

"My apologies."

We sat in silence, still looking at each other, and I was reminded of the ice from my dream, with its hidden depths frozen over and hidden, chilly. Yet as long as I stared at him, he remained unreadable. He wants something, I thought, He wants something and I don't know what it is yet, but Leviathan help me, I will find out.

Finally, I sighed, blinking away from our impromptu staring contest. "So… if I've been sleeping for two weeks, what's been going on here?"

"As you can imagine, Valentine has been going berserk trying to find a way to wake you up. I was more interested in why you were comatose to begin with."

"Thanks ever so." I snorted, a wry smile twisting my face before I cringed. Vinnie…

Rufus missed my flinching, a wolfish grin brightening his features. "Don't mistake my intentions. I simply thought that if we knew the reason for your unfortunate reaction, we'd be one step closer to a way to snap you out of it."

"And did you figure out the cause?"

Here, he paused, his face closing off once again. "There, uh… seems to be an issue with the fine print." He had the tone of a man picking and choosing his words very carefully, and I zeroed in on his face again. Any levity to the taut atmosphere between us promptly died in a hole.

"And what… pray tell, Shin-Ra, is the issue with the 'fine print'?"

He leaned forward, elbows to knees and looked at me. I mean, really, really looked at me.

"How much of yourself are you willing to give to take Draknor down, Yuffie?"

I could feel my lips thinning into a tiny line, hear my jaw setting in the stubborn, Kisaragi way.

"However much of me it takes. More than that. I didn't help save this planet twice to see some crazy fuck-face screw it up again. Especially not when he started off by messing with my Wutai."

I'll be the first to admit that my moral compass doesn't always point me in the right direction. Something about the magnetic fields of my kleptomaniac brain affecting it and making it tend towards thievery and lying and all those things good people aren't supposed to do. But if there's one thing I know, it's that when it comes to loyalty—to friends, to family, to Wutai—you will never find someone more loyal than me. Except maybe Aeris (sweet, beautiful, sister Aeris who died for all of us), or Teef (strong, unwavering, mother Tifa who refuses to give up on anyone, ever), but maybe that's just the female in the three of us.

Whatever Rufus saw in my answer made him grimace and turn away. "If you want answers, meet me in the library tonight after you've had a chance to eat something and get cleaned up. Can you walk?"

"Probably." I flexed my legs experimentally beneath the sheets and everything seemed to be in working order.

"Good." Rufus stood with a flourish, making his way toward the door. "It's either walk or be carried by Reno, and I think we both know which you'd prefer."

I choked out something that was caught between a laugh and disgust, before remembering. "Wait a minute! Where's Vincent now?"

The blond turned slightly in the doorway. "Catching up on sleep. He's been watching over you for most of the past two weeks."

As Rufus finally left and all the tension fled with him, I allowed a goofy smile to slather itself all over my face. A shower was in order, and then I most definitely needed to call Tifa.

.xxx.

The dial tone droned once before it was answered. "Yuffie? Oh my god, Yuffie, please tell me you're all right!"

I winced away from the receiver as Tifa shrieked into it. "I'm fine, Teef, really! I guess I just need an uber-nap is all. Besides, a two-week coma is, like, nothing! If this was a coma-competition I would be the biggest loser, ever!"

Apparently, at hearing the dulcet tones of my obviously unharmed voice, Tifa calmed down enough to laugh. "Only you would make a joke out of something like that, Yuffie… Only you."

"Well I need to make up for the complete and utter lacking sense of humor from the rest of you! I swear to gawd, other than me, Cid's the only funny one and that's only because he curses every other word."

"Hey, I told that Tonberry joke one time that was very entertaining—"

"Yeah, and it gave me nightmares for weeks!" I shuddered. "Fucking Tonberries…"

Tifa's laugh tinkled through the phone and I grinned.

"So, anyway, tell me about how things are going at Rufus's! At least, uh, how they were going before you decided to fall asleep for two solid weeks."

"Well, the dude seriously splurged when he had this place built, or bought it, or whatever. I swear, Teef, it's so gaudy it's ridiculous! I mean, back when Wutai had money we wouldn't have ever done up our palaces like this. He's got grounds, like with grass and everything. Where the hell do you find grass in Edge? You don't, that's where. Unless you're Rufus McLoaded, apparently."

"Well, I suppose if you have the money…" I could head Tifa's Chiding Tone of Fairness and Equality coming out, which meant it was most definitely time for a subject change.

"I know, I know! Peace and love and not judging and all that. I'm just venting 'cause I don't like the guy. Anyway, that's not the important thing. The important thing… the reason I called you in the first place..." I drew out the words, grinning wide enough to split my lip. "Actually, I don't know if I should tell you or not. It's kind of a secret, I think."

"Cute, my tiny ninja friend, very cute." I could hear her pouting.

I cackled. "Okay, you really wanna know?"

"Obviously."

It was at this moment that I started getting a bit nervous. What if Tifa thought it was weird or skanky or totally wrong? I mean, there's the whole age-difference thing, even if Vinnie only looks twenty-seven, he's technically, like, sixty-plus and while I never stopped to think it was weird didn't mean that Tifa would think the same way.

These thoughts led to my eventual word-vomit. "Well…. I, uh…. I sorta, kinda, totallykissedVinnie."

"You WHAT?"

"Yeah…. I kissed him. And then, um, we sort of talked, and then we just kind of made out some more, and then I guess I went into a coma. I mean, there was some other stuff that led to the coma, not the kissing, but the kissing probably could've put me into a coma since it was, ya know, like way hot and intense and did I mention I think I might be, like, halfway through falling in love with him and OHMIGAWD why aren't you saying anything you totally disapprove don't you?"

I am Yuffie Kisaragi, smoothest of the smooth.

There was complete silence for the span of three heartbeats, and then Tifa burst out laughing.

"Y-Yuffie," she finally managed to choke out between giggles, "I've only been waiting for this to happen for years now."

"Uh… say what now?"

"Oh, come on. I mean, I realize for a lot of the time it was just close friendship between you two, but after a while… it just seemed like you'd be sort of perfect together. Did he get all weird and give you a speech about demons and sins and how you can't be together?"

"Oddly enough… no. Which I was totally expecting. Maybe our Vin-Vin's growing up, eh?"

"You mean, your Vin-Vin."

"Heh. I like it."

We chattered for a little bit longer, Tifa informing me on all the recent comings and goings of her life with Cloudy-Poo and the kids. Things had settled down since we'd left for Rufus's, and Marlene and Denzel had returned to the bar from Elmyra's. Barret was back in Corel going about life as usual. The same went for Nanaki and Cid.

"We're all still keeping an eye and an ear out for anything having to do with Draknor, though, and I know Reeve has been working overtime, sending people back to Wutai to start rebuilding."

"And Godo?"

"Still resting at Elmyra's. I think he likes it there." There was a hint of a grin in Tifa's voice and I immediately began cringing.

"Oh no, you don't think—"

"I dunno, Yuffs. Your dad kinda has it going on, in an elderly sort of way."

"Oh barf. Tifa, go have sex with Cloud or something, 'cause I'd much rather picture that than Godo with anyone."

"Or you could go get it on with Vinnie-kins." She giggled.

"Do not mock my nicknames! They are, like, totally the best, and you know it, Boobs."

"I'm blown away by your creativity."

I laughed, flapping a hand that she couldn't see. "Alright, well I've kept you from your life long enough, Teefers, so I'll let you get back to it. Call me soon though, lady! It's just me and a bunch of icky boys here; I'm dying from the lack of estrogen!"

"Will do, Yuffie," She laughed, "Miss you. And take care of yourself!"

"Miss you too, Boobs." I hung up with a last cackle, Tifa's sigh being the last thing to flutter through the receiver.

"I'm not interrupting Girl-Time, am I?"

I turned towards the redhead in the doorway and beamed

"Aww, Turkey, your feminine little self could've joined in if you wanted to!"

He sauntered over to where I was sitting against the bedframe and slid down next to me. "Thanks, brat, you're so sweet!" The last two words were punctuated with a violent noogie to my scalp. "Seriously, though, how ya feelin'?"

I elbowed him gently. "Just peachy, yo." I then stuck my tongue out as he rolled his eyes.

"Imitation: the sincerest form of flattery, princess."

I smirked. "So what brings you to my bedchamber, fire-crotch? If it's lovin' you're looking for, I'm afraid I'm going to have to refuse."

At this, he laughed outright. "Not looking to get Cerberus shoved in my face, thanks. And there's some dinner for you downstairs, if you're hungry. Vincent's still sleeping, and the boss-man, er, Rufus is freaking out in the library about something. I dunno, I don't ask anymore."

I stood, stretching. "Well, dinner sounds good, and then I've got a date in the library to get the low-down on the newest developments. Care to join me with the whole eating thing? I love a little side dish of banter every now and again."

At this, Reno shook his head. "Wish I could, princess, but I'm actually taking off. Now that I know you're okay and all, it's time for me to get back to Reeve and see what help I can be over there."

"Awww, was the Turkey worried about me, hmm?" I batted my eyelashes and crossed my eyes and Reno chuckled.

"Nah, not worried. I knew you'd come out of everything okay," he paused, letting the sincerity sink in before smirking, "You're a friggin' roach Kisaragi. It'd take more than a two-week sleep-a-thon to get rid of you."

And once more, just for old time's sake, I smacked Reno in the back of the head, before squeezing him around the middle. "I'll miss you too, Turkey." I pulled back, wiping at phantom tears, "Now get out of here before I start crying all over you."

.xxx.

Dinner was quiet, but delicious, and even though I spent most of it wishing 'til my eyes hurt that Vincent would appear, he did not. In all fairness, the guy did spend thirty years sleeping in a coffin, so when decides to sleep, the guy can obviously sleep.

It appeared that, with Reno's departure, the only living souls in the huge-ass mansion where I was currently residing were Rufus, Vincent, and yours truly, because I hadn't seen another human being in all my exploring pre-coma, and all my wandering post-comatoseness had yielded no one else either.

Bored with eating and bored with wandering alone, I ended up heading to the library yet again. And when I arrived, Rufus was pacing up a storm, just like Reno had said.

"Something eating ya?" I asked causally, leaning against a bookcase and watching him twitch.

"Yuffie," he turned, affecting his smooth-political-man persona, "why don't we have a seat?"

"Mm… you sure you wanna do that, Shin-Ra? You look pretty twitchy to me."

He smiled thinly. "Perhaps sitting down would help. And then we'll get down to some answers."

I liked answers, so I was quick to oblige. The documents from before were still sitting on the same table, although someone had taken the liberty to put a laminated sheet over a few of the pages. I took my same place. Rufus took Vincent's.

He gestured to the documents. "Yuffie… how much of this did you read before you…?"

In another time, with another man in the room, I probably would have gotten sidetracked and begun thinking about how good it had felt to kiss Vincent in this very room. But in that time, with Rufus Shin-Ra in the room, all I could focus on was blue ice-fire, and the low voice asking the questions.

"I skimmed the introduction and the section on fire. Why?"

That same, pale eyebrow lifted slightly. "Skimmed?"

I shook my head, shooting him a withering look. "Old Wutaiian is incredibly hard to read, and even more difficult to then understand once it's been translated. The sentence structure is much more complex, and many parts of the sentences become unnecessary when translated."

He cleared his throat. "When it became obvious that you weren't going to wake up anytime soon, I brought my translator back in. It took him a full week, but he managed to read through these documents in their entirety."

"And?" It was my turn to raise my eyebrows.

"I… I think you will want to read this particular section carefully." One long finger pointed to a tiny section that had been covered with a laminated page and highlighted.

I squinted my eyes, focusing on transferring the language from Old Wutaiian to Standard in my head.

In these powers, one must put their life and from one their life shall be taken by the powers. Inch by inch, day by day, the life will wane and the power will grow. The risk gives way to the reward and it is with

I stopped reading, choking on something in the air. Across from me, Rufus's eyes were sad.

"How much of yourself are you willing to give to take Draknor down?" he asked again. "Because each time you channel these elements, each time you use these powers, you give a little of your life-force over to them."

My ears were ringing and my vision was getting a little fuzzy and I stared at him, really stared at him and I saw sadness and longing and something else I couldn't place but I was too, too, too fucked to even begin to think about those things.

"How much of yourself are you willing to give, White Rose?" His eyes were lasers, cutting through me, Blizzaga-sharp and sizzling.

"Don't call me that, Shin-Ra scum!" I snarled, punching the table. A slight crack ran through it and I glared at the offending wood, as though it held all my life's problems. "Don't call me that unless you want to see my thorns."

"Yuffie, then. How much?" His voice was harsh, demanding.

And I sat there, and scowled at the table, and thought.

And realized.

"My answer hasn't changed, Rufus." I met his eyes. "I'm going to keep on down this path for now. But I'm going to try and find another way." The air between us was crackling like a static storm. "You ask how much I'm willing to give. As much of me as it takes, and more. Now get the fuck out of my face."

Once again, as he was on the threshold, about to leave, I stopped him. "Does Vincent know?"

There was a tiny hesitation from him. "No."

I squeezed my eyes shut. "Good."

.xxx.

I was left alone for quite some time. At first, I tried distracting myself from the ugly, inevitable truths staring me in the face. I thought back to the days when all I had to worry about was whether or not I'd get caught stealing some poor sucker's materia. I thought about my first days with AVALANCHE, crushing on Vinnie, reading those stupid books with Aeris and Teef, making fun of Cloud for his hair and Barret for his 'tude and Cid for his oldness and nicotine addiction.

I thought back even earlier than that, when I had first been taught how to run up a wall. I practiced everywhere. Against the palace, against the Pagoda, against the Turtle's Paradise. It was the best feeling in the world, running straight at a wall, full-tilt and being able to ascend it, flip backwards, to fly.

I think I was three. Maybe I was five. The point was, it was one of the best moments of my life. Can you really blame a girl for loving to fly? Sure, my patron god may be a water serpent, but I think I've always envied the birds the most.

But the human brain is a funny (read: stupid) thing, and chances are when there's something you don't want to think about, your mind is just gonna fixate on that until you go chocobo-shit crazy.

Which is why I was very much glad for the distraction when the library door slammed open, and Vinnie appeared in the doorframe. The short hair and the blue suit made him look so young and his eyes were huge in his pale face and he just seemed… vulnerable. It was kind of adorable.

"Yuffie…" his voice was quiet, always husky, and that whole stupid grin thing I had going on a while ago? Came back in full force.

I propelled myself up so I was sitting on the library table, legs swinging. "Hey, Vinnie! Have a nice nap?" Gawd, I am so ironic sometimes.

He was in front of me in an instant, one hand on my cheek and his eyes just taking me all in, and there was most definitely some major blushage going on with my face.

"Uh… I'm guessing you missed me?" I grinned weakly as his gaze honed in on my lips.

Adorableness gave way to sexy as he brought his mouth to mine. Seriously, dear listener, find yourself a monster man. Or… monster woman, if that's how you swing.

For a while, nothing was said. Not verbally at least. When we did surface from each other, I was dizzy and giddy and wondering how we were ever just simply friends when there was so much more between us.

"Don't do that again." He whispered hoarse and gravelly. "Just don't."

"Not planning on it." And then we were lost again.

Still, I couldn't shake the desperate, gnawing voice in the back of my head chiming, 'Oh yes you are, Yuffie. Oh yes you are.'

From then on, I was drowning in kisses… and guilt.

.xxx.

When I returned to my bedroom for the night, everything was just as I'd left it, save for a single, white rose on the bedside table.

Curiously, I picked it up, wondering when Vince had had the time to leave it.

Lying beneath its milky petals was a note, written in distinctly non-Vinnie handwriting.

All it said, in clear, crisp font was, 'Be Strong.'

I glanced at the rose in my hand again. It still had its thorns.

.xxx.

AN: I hope this lives up to expectations, as I'm pretty sure this is my favorite chapter to date. I'm also positive that writing this story is causing me to develop a major thing for Rufus… O.O

Thanks go out to my awesome, fabulous, amazing, beautiful, handsome, terrific (etc., etc., etc.,) reviewers: MadBlossomingPrincess, myeve123, SoranoYukinaSia, serenbach, LiveLifeLikeNeverBefore, Le Requiem, Dontgotaclue88, realestboo, BlueRaven, and MoonlightOrange666! Any thoughts (critiques, criticisms, compliments, whatever!) on this chapter would be muchly appreciated, so don't hesitate to hit that little review button!

'Til next time (which will be sooner than a month from now, I promise)

~Bru