AN: Thanks for all the reviews! I just want to tell you that reviews always brighten my day! And, please enjoy!
Later that morning, Yuffie found herself under the ever-so-watchful eyes of Aerith while she scrubbed the breakfast dishes as penance for skipping out on her morning chores. While she did not like having chores, she did agree with the others that, considering the size of the castle, daily chores were needed for each member of their small and strange family. And, since Aerith was the best at organizing without making anyone angry and probably the most fair when going about it, she was chosen as the one to distribute the chores evenly among the five of them.
But, that still left Yuffie where she was now—scrubbing and scraping cooked-on food off of the dishes. "So, tell me again how this is even fair since I didn't even eat breakfast this morning?" she grumbled as she used a fingernail to scratch a bit of egg off a plate.
"Just do the dishes and quit complaining, Yuffie," Aerith replied as she went around and watered the few plants she had moved into the room. She felt it made the kitchen more aesthetically pleasing and softened the harsh bright white of the walls, something she planned to remedy the next time she bought paint.
Yuffie sighed and continued in silence, realizing there was no use arguing with Aerith. The twenty-seven year old had a way of winning every verbal battle through calmness. Sometimes, Yuffie felt as though it was almost like a secret power of Aerith's—to be annoyingly calm while being verbal blasted. However, that isn't to say the former flower girl didn't have a temper. There was many a time when the ninja was able to ruffle Aerith's feathers enough to get a rise out of her. But, today Yuffie just didn't feel like taking the time and effort to rile her friend. She was too busy contemplating her dream.
So engrossed in her reflection, Yuffie didn't notice when her companion finished her rounds with the plants and came to stand beside her. It was the sound of the tin watering can hitting the marble countertop that finally caused Yuffie to snap to attention and nearly drop a plate in the process. "Don't do that," she hissed as she quickly readjusted her grip on dish in her hands, "you nearly gave me a heart attack." It was also unnerving that this was the second time in just as many days that someone had managed to sneak up on her—if you considered the Cloud from her dream sneaking up on her.
Aerith leaned against the counter and looked intently at the younger woman. "Are you feeling okay, Yuffie?" she asked gently, "you seem to be a bit out of sorts today."
"Yeah, I'm fine." Yuffie smiled wanly and wrinkled her nose. "I just had a kinda weird dream last night."
"You want to talk about it?"
"No, not really," the ninja bit out, becoming more intent on the dish she was scrubbing in order to avoid Aerith's scrutiny.
Aerith sighed and moved a few steps away from the counter, pretending to occupy herself by pulling a few dead leaves off the fern she was trying to save. "You know, it helps if you talk about your dreams. Dreams always have a meaning, and I could help you find it," she said nonchalantly.
"I said I don't want to talk about it, Aerith," Yuffie growled through clenched teeth. "It was just a stupid dream."
A light chuckle escaped from Aerith. "It wasn't that dream where you find yourself riding a chocobo naked through the Traverse Town Square on Market Day, was it?" She pressed a hand to her lips to repress her laughter.
"No, Aerith. It wasn't." Yuffie slammed the plate in her hands down upon the counter, ignoring both the new crack in the dish and Aerith's dismayed gasp. "And thank you ever so for bringing that dream up again. I thought I had thankfully forgotten it, but surprise! I haven't." She turned around to glare at the brunette for a moment before grabbing a trashcan and sweeping the plate and its tiny shards into the bag.
Aerith took the trashcan from Yuffie's hands and stepped beside her. "It was a dream about Leon, again, wasn't it?"
The sudden rosy blush upon her cheeks was answer enough, but Yuffie tried to deny it. "N-no, it wasn't! Why would I dream about him?" she stammered while hastily running a sponge across the counter top.
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks," Aerith quoted while hiding her smile behind her hand, but nothing could hide the smile in her vivid green eyes. "But, seriously, Yuf, it's nothing to be embarrassed about. It just means that you need to tell him how you feel. He might surprise you."
"Yeah, I tried that, Aerith, remember? And, in case you've forgotten, he turned me down. He said I was too young for him." She closed her eyes at the painful memory, feeling her cheeks heat up again at the agony of the past mortification.
There was a long pause as Aerith simply stared at her. "…Yuffie, you were thirteen years old at the time."
"Nine years is nine years," the ninja insisted. "The age gap hasn't changed since then."
"And it was enough to crush my heart, so no, I don't think I'll be telling Leon how I feel, thank you very much," she said hastily before her friend could try to convince her to confess to Leon. It was bad enough when he turned her down seven years ago; and, even though she was only a kid at the time, she didn't think she could go through the heartbreak again. It was better to keep things like this bottled up inside and hidden from the ridicule of the world.
Silence reigned in the kitchen as Aerith gathered her thoughts while moving to sit at the table, and Yuffie continued with her current chore. It was a blessed relief for her to be able to work in silence for a few moments after that conversation. But, it wasn't to last for very long for the sound of heavy boots clomping down the stairs alerted her to the fast approaching presence of Cloud.
The blond swordsman stopped at the entranceway to the kitchen and surveyed the scene for a moment. He could tell from the way Aerith was chewing her lower lip that something was bothering her, and the way Yuffie, who normally chattered away like a squirrel, was working in silence tipped him off that she was not in the best of moods either. And, naturally, he would be the one relaying a message she would most likely not care for. He could only hope she wouldn't kill the messenger.
As if feeling his eyes upon her, Aerith raised her head and smiled weakly at him. Though she loved the man dearly, their relationship was a strained one at best. After they had returned to the then Hollow Bastion four years ago, she was ecstatic to find that her childhood friend had not perished at the hands of the Heartless after all. But, he had suffered greatly in the years he had spent alone, and he still had the mental scars to prove it. Gone was the happy-go-lucky playmate she had known when they were kids, and here was the quiet, stoic swordsman prone to bouts of brooding. And, of course, there was the whole Sephiroth ordeal to contend with a few years ago. It had all left an emotional impact on the man, one that would take many years to heal.
Cloud nodded to Aerith in acknowledgement. "Yuffie, Leon needs you help."
"Please tell me that this involves kicking the butts off some stray Heartless because I really could use the opportunity to blow off some stream," she begged as she wiped her hands on the kitchen towel.
"Unless there is some new variety of Heartless in the form of window grime, then no," Cloud attempted in a light-hearted joke.
Yuffie grimaced. "The windows in the conservatory I accidentally volunteered for, I assume." She glared half-heartedly at Aerith.
"At least Leon was willing to help," Aerith ventured while smiling, her eyes crinkling up at the corner in good humor.
"Are you sure Leon needs my help?" the ninja asked Cloud, refusing to be intimidated by his stern eyes. By now, she had learned that though his eyes were hardened, the man, himself, wasn't nearly as harsh.
"I believe his exact words were 'Tell Yuffie she has three minutes to get her ass up here.'" The corner of his lip lifted in a slight half-smile.
Yuffie huffed and rolled her eyes. "Fine fine. I'm going." Without another word, she left the room and its occupants behind her. She decided it was better to get out of there and away from Cloud and Aerith, anyways. The way they danced around their feelings for each other was maddening. Anyone with half a brain could tell that they loved each other… except for them. "And Aerith advises me to tell Leon," she muttered under her breath as she stepped into the conservatory.
The conservatory itself was a gorgeous room during Radiant Garden's halcyon days. Now, however, the glass was coated with a thick grime that had been growing ever thicker since those long gone days, giving the room a gloomy and even sickening feel to it. And, during those abandoned years, the plants had suffered greatly. The more invasive plants had grown over the smaller, more delicate ones, and vines had started growing over the glass panels, filtering the sunlight even further than it already was. In a word, the conservatory had looked like a jungle when they had first returned four years ago.
It was not until they had actually moved out of the small house they shared with Merlin in the borough and into the castle three months ago that they began the arduous task of bringing the castle back to its former glory. They would have liked to have begun this task upon their arrival to this world, but making the borough inhabitable and safe was their first priority for people were arriving daily to repopulate the land. But, now that they had secured the borough and were within the castle walls, they could focus on the castle itself. And, of course, after performing the most urgent repairs, Aerith had insisted they work on the conservatory. Naturally, the first order of business was to pull down the vines and trim back the more invasive plants so they could actually move around easily in the room, and then clear away the grime—the task now assigned to Yuffie and Leon.
Yuffie sighed and leaned casually against the door frame, scanning the room for Leon. "I was told my presence was ordered," she called to the seemingly empty room. She was hoping that Leon had given up on her coming to help and had already moved on to another task—one that wouldn't require her aid. However, her hopes were soon dashed.
"Your presence should have been here half an hour ago," a disembodied voice grumbled from above her. "I've had a hell of a time trying to reach some of these panes."
Raising her eyes to the ceiling directly above her head, Yuffie found Leon standing upon rickety scaffolding and staring down at her with the icy glare she had actually missed in her dream last night. "Why, Leon!" she exclaimed, mockingly holding a hand over her heart, "I didn't know you cared!"
He dropped an old, wet rag full of holes on her head. "Get your ass up here and start scrubbing."
Yuffie saluted and pulled the rag off of her head. "Yes, mon capitaine." She rolled her eyes and started climbing up the scaffolding, ignoring the protesting creaks and groans from the metal. "I really don't see why you need my help, to be perfectly honest," she said when she reached the top.
"Because you're lighter and more agile. You can reach the spots I can't," Leon explained rationally.
"Wow! Is that actually a compliment from Mr. Stoicism?" She hopped up and sat on the railing, dropping the rag at her feet.
"If it gets you to start working, then you can call it that if you want. You do far too little around this place as it is." Leon dipped his rag into a bucket of very dirty, very sudsy water and started scrubbing the glass, leaving dirty streaks in the wake of the rag.
Yuffie huffed and slid off the railing. "Isn't there like a spell or something we can use to blast away the grime?" she asked hopefully.
"And not break the glass? I don't think so, Yuffie." He looked pointedly at the rag at her feet and then back at her.
"Fine, fine. I get your message. I am yours to order around." She picked up her rag and started to dip it into the bucket, but stopped when she realized how filthy the water actually was. "But can we please get some fresh water because I am so not sticking my hand into that mess." She shuddered at the thought.
Leon sighed loudly and let his rag drop to the floor of the scaffolding with a plop. "Will that get you to actually start working?" he asked, annoyed.
There was a pause before she answered. "Well, I can definitely say that I won't until the water is clean," she answered, easily side-stepping his question.
Pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, Leon shook his head. "I really don't know why I even bother," he grumbled as he picked up the bucket and started down the side of the scaffold.
Yuffie waited until he was out the door and out of sight before doing a small victory dance. "Yuffie one, Leon zero," she whispered to herself. She decided if she kept up like this, she may be able to avoid doing any actual work today. But what to do next to stall Leon from forcibly making her work?
She started pacing while tapping her chin with one finger. The more she paced, the more the scaffolding groaned and creaked. An idea formed in her mind. If there was no scaffolding, they couldn't reach the upper windows. If they couldn't reach the upper windows, then they couldn't clean them. Of course, Leon, Cloud, and possibly Cid would have the scaffolding back together again within a few hours, but it would keep her from scrubbing for a while and give her a chance to come up with another excuse. Now if there was only a way to quickly do away with the scaffolding.
An almost evil smile formed on her face. There was a chain hanging from the middle of the conservatory that had once held an elaborate chandelier. Now it was just dangling there. If she could leap from the scaffolding to that chain, she could swing from it and knock the structure down, hopefully making it fall apart in the process. And, considering how rickety the scaffolding seemed, she was sure it would break when it hit the floor.
So, standing upon the railing, Yuffie leaped to the chain and held on for dear life as it swung wildly for a moment. She was quickly able to gain control of the direction by leaning her body from side to side and guided it towards the scaffolding. Now if she could only grab the structure and pull it over.
There. She caught the railing with her foot. The force from the swinging chain caused the scaffolding to begin to topple, and Yuffie tried to pull her foot back to safety only to realize belatedly that the laces of her boots had snagged on something. Her hands slipped from the chain as the weight of the scaffolding pulled her down, and she fell with a crash and a scream upon the floor of the conservatory, hitting the floor, bouncing slightly, and her foot pinned beneath the scaffold. There was a sickening crack followed by an intense pain radiating out from her right arm. The blinding pain at the back of her head caused the light in the room to flare before everything faded to blessed darkness.
What seemed to Yuffie as only moments later, she felt something brush across her forehead, and she opened her eyes to see three pairs of eyes staring down at her. The green pair she easily attributed to Aerith, nothing strange there. The other two pairs were both blue, but the darker of the two she would recognize anywhere. After all, she had roomed with the owner of said eyes for the better part of nine years. The third pair of eyes she didn't recognize immediately. They seemed slightly familiar to her, but nothing she could easily place. Her own eyes drifted from those eyes to their owner's face. That's when she realized they belonged to Zack.
She did a double take, then moved her eyes back to Leon's again. That's when she noticed the severe lack of apathy present there. She dropped her head back to the floor and winced when she jostled her arm. "Oh fuck! I'm married again, aren't I?"
AN: This is the last chapter that I have pre-written. What this means for you is that I will be writing chapters to this story, Asphyxia, and various one-shots as I'm able. I'm going to try very hard to update at least once a month, possibly more, as inspiration hits. I do have most of this story plotted out, it's just a matter of putting it into words. So, from this point on, there probably won't be updated on a regular schedule. Also, I've hurt my shoulder somehow, and my doctor is on vacation. This makes typing hard since the only pain killers I have that work make me incoherent. Therefore, I can't type a lot at a time due to the shoulder pain. And, I go back to work next week, so I'll have that constraint, too. But, I do hope to start on the next chapter of this and Asphyxia very soon.
Anyways, I've blabbered on far too long.
And, remember: reviews are always appreciated, but never required.