AN: So, this story was born when I was talking to a friend about the Christmas elves being really busy this year. She innocently asked if they were ninja elves. I can just tell you that the plot bunnies attacked that and insisted I write Yuffie dressed up like an elf. And, thus, this story was born.

Also, this is my first foray into the Final Fantasy VII fandom. I have written for Kingdom Hearts off and on since 2004, and I'm currently working on a slight crossover with KH and FFVII, but this is the first FFVII fic I've written.

And, like the summary says, it's AU. I couldn't really fit it into the canonverse. So, read and enjoy.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A Christmas Story

Wednesday, December 1

"-and I want a pony and a puppy and a zebra-"

"Kid, I'm Santa, not a fuckin' zookeeper!"

"Cid!" Yuffie hissed from her spot next to him. She gave him a warning glare again. This was the fifth time in the last thirty minutes that she had to do this. It was also the fifth time that she had to give a kid extra candy to make sure they didn't tell their mother what Santa said. Whoever said this was the most wonderful time of the year never had to deal with a Santa who had a tendency to curse and kids who planned to blackmail said Santa.

Under Yuffie's glare, Cid had the sense to look a little chagrined. "I mean, Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas!" The kid gave him a suspicious look, and then left his lap. Once he was out of hearing range, Cid muttered to Yuffie, "ain't it time for a damn break now?"

She looked at her watch. "We have time for one more kid before lunch." And, as if on cue, another child was being ushered towards them by an overeager mother. Yuffie smiled cheerily at the little girl. "Hello, sweetie. Are you here to see Santa Claus?"

The little girl nodded shyly and hid behind her mother's legs. She couldn't be more than four years old. "Go on, Darla," the mother encouraged as she pushed her towards Santa. "Go tell Santa what you want."

A lot of coaxing later, little Darla was sitting on Cid's lap, wide-eyed and silent. "So," Cid began in his 'Santa' voice, "what do you want me to bring you for Christmas, Darla?"

Darla said nothing and simply stared at him.

"Do you want a doll?"

Again, she said nothing.

"A puppy?"

Nothing.

"A kitty?"

She still said nothing.

This was a first for Cid. Since he had taken this job a few days ago, every child had a long list of presents they wanted Santa to bring them, ranging from the standard dolls and toy cars to the exotic zebra from the child before this one. Perplexed, he started naming off other items the kids had requested from him.

"A truck? A pony? A book? A movie?" He noticed she was starting to shake a bit. "Are you okay, Darla?"

Instead of answering, Darla vomited up everything she had eaten that morning all over Santa Cid's lap.

"Dammit, kid! You-" he stopped when he saw Yuffie coming towards him with that look in her eyes. And Darla's mother was right behind her, looking apologetic and quickly gathering her daughter. She was gone before Cid could say anything to her. "Put the damn sign up, Yuffie. We're taking our lunch break now." He staggered off towards their changing rooms, trying not to spread the vomit anymore than it already was.

After calling the cleaning crew to take care of the mess on the floor, Yuffie took a few minutes to laugh quietly to herself. So far, it had been an adventure every day since they started this job-if it could be called that. She didn't want to take it at first, but at Shera's urging, Yuffie had agreed. Someone would have to try and keep Cid's cursing in check, and that someone was Yuffie.

Both of them hated this job at the mall, but neither of them would quit it. Yuffie needed the extra cash for Christmas presents, and Cid... well, Shera just wanted him out of the house for awhile. Ever since he was injured at his job with Shinra three months ago, he did nothing but mope around the house and watch soap operas. Sure, he would be returning to work sometime after the holidays, but he was driving Shera crazy in the meantime. Thus, Cid's current gig as Santa at the local mall and Yuffie as his elf.

But, now it was their lunch break, and Yuffie had just the place in mind. Of course, she would be going to lunch by herself today as Cid would be spending the entire time cleaning up after their last fiasco. Usually, they would take their lunch together at the food court in the mall. But, Yuffie wanted something different today. She knew there was a new little cafe within walking distance of the mall. Unfortunately, she also knew that she would not have time to change out of her costume if she wanted to get there and back within the hour. Yuffie mentally shrugged; she supposed it wasn't that big of a deal. She'd seen people in her classes at Rocket Town Community College come dressed in much worse.

She looked down at herself for a moment. Red and white striped tights, short green dress with white fuzzy trim and black belt, and-she felt the top of her head-green hat with puffball at the end. Oh, and who could forget the over-exaggerated makeup to make her eyes more elfin and her cheeks rosier. On second thought, maybe it was that big of a deal, but it couldn't be helped. She'd just have to ignore all the stares.

-0-

The short walk to the cafe was full of stares and snickers, but Yuffie just held her head high and ignored them. But, once she reached her destination, she stopped short. It was absolutely packed. She didn't see an empty table anywhere outside, which meant it was full inside, too, since no one would willingly volunteer to eat outside in the cold and the wind. Maybe a table would open up while she waited...

She walked in and realized with relief there was one spot left at the bar; she rushed towards it before anyone else could grab it and squeezed in between the wall and a man on the other side. It was a tight fit, but it was better than sitting on the curb outside to eat. Finally situated to her liking, Yuffie turned and studied the oblivious man beside her.

Long black hair trailed down his back haphazardly, blending in with the black shirt he was wearing tucked into black slacks. A brown leather satchel sat unlatched at his feet with a long red cloak draped across it. And, Yuffie, beginning to realize who she sat next to, looked up and noticed that he was reading a stack of papers in front of him and, with the pen in his hand, slashing red ink across the pages.

"Professor Valentine?" Yuffie asked, perhaps a bit shakily, but from what she'd heard about this man, maybe it was warranted.

"I don't take late work," he grumbled, not even looking up from what he was doing.

"Yeah, but-"

He didn't let her finish. "Or bribes."

"Well, I know that, but-"

"If you fail, it's because you earned it. I don't give grades, you earn them."

Yuffie huffed. "And if you would just shut up for a minute-"

He looked up at her in anger and stared at her for a moment. "You aren't in any of my classes," he finally said in annoyance at being bothered. He didn't comment on her costume.

"That's what I was trying to tell you!"

Ignoring her, he continued to grade the papers in front of him.

"They were right," Yuffie mused, "you really are a bastard."

"I'm sorry to disillusion you, but my parents were married when I was born," he replied, then paused for a moment before continuing, "and before you say it, my mother was not a female dog, either."

Yuffie could feel an eye twitch coming on. This man was so infuriating. All she wanted to do was have a little bit of friendly conversation with someone while she ate lunch. Before she could retort however, the waitress had finally made her way over and took Yuffie's order. "I am so glad I didn't take your class," she muttered under breath.

Apparently, she muttered louder than she thought for Professor Valentine answered her. "I'm sure the feeling is mutual, Miss..." He looked at her expectantly.

"Oh, sure. You want to know my name so you can avoid me at the college, huh?" He simply stared at her and waited. "Geez, you sure are persistent. It's Yuffie. Yuffie Kisaragi."

"Hn." He finished the current paper he was grading by boldly scrawling an 'F' across the top of the page and placed it to the side.

Sneakily, Yuffie slid the paper towards herself and started reading it, her forehead wrinkling in confusion as she tried to figure out why this student was receiving a failing grade for this. It was better than anything she'd ever written or read. She flipped to the last page. What she saw made her blood boil. "You're such an asshole!"

"Duly noted."

"You failed this student because he was one line short of twenty pages? One line?" She slid the paper in front of him and pointed out the offending comment at the bottom of the page.

Professor Valentine gave her a clearly annoyed look. "The requirements for the assignment specifically said that it must be at least twenty pages, not a word less. This student failed to meet that requirement. The consequences for failing to follow directions were clearly laid out at the beginning of the semester." He pulled the paper away from her and turned his attention back to the work in front of him, obviously done talking to her.

Yuffie was glaring at the side of his head when her lunch arrived. The tomato soup was steaming hot, and the ham and cheese panini smelled mouthwatering. And the taste! It was the best soup and sandwich she had ever had; it certainly beat the food that could be found in the mall. If it wasn't for her present company, this could have been one of the best lunches she'd ever had in her life.

However, it was over too soon, and as Yuffie paid her check and left her tip, she gave her neighbor a cheeky grin. "Well, Professor Valentine, this has been an enlightening time. I'm so glad we had this chat, and I was able to verify for myself that the rumors were true. You certainly are the asshole they say you are."

"Hn."

"See ya. Oh, wait, no I won't!" Yuffie left the cafe without a glance behind her and headed back to work. Looking at her watch, she could see that she would have just enough time to get there about five minutes before her shift began.

-0-

Thursday, December 2

The day was actually going a little bit better than the day before for Yuffie. The kids were still asking Santa for impossible things, but at least today Cid was cursing considerably less. Also, no one vomited today, and for Yuffie, that was always a plus. But, now it was their lunch break, and while Yuffie had asked Cid to join her in her new favorite cafe, he declined. She figured he would be taking a nap while she was out.

Still in her elf costume, Yuffie quickly covered the distance to the cafe and groaned. Apparently she wasn't the only one who loved this place; it was packed again. Maybe she could sit at the bar again... without the company of Professor Valentine this time. The same seat she had yesterday was empty as was the seat beside it. She let out a small sigh of relief.

As soon as she sat down, Yuffie realized that the seat beside her may be currently empty, but it wasn't unoccupied. A satchel and cloak were at the foot of it. "Crap," she grumbled under her breath as she looked around. There was nowhere else to sit. Perhaps she could make it through her lunch hour without talking... She snorted. Not likely.

And, speak of the devil. Here he came now. She waited until he got close enough to hear her. "Oh God, not you again," she muttered rather loudly.

"If you despise my company so much, Miss Kisaragi, why do you continue to eat here?" he asked as he sat down, then turned to her with a single eyebrow raised in question.

"Because they make a damn good soup and sandwich!"

The waitress, who had arrived without their knowledge, looked at them both in apprehension. "Will this be on the s-same check?" she stuttered as both of their angry glares turned to her.

"No," they both said simultaneously.

-0-

Friday, December 3

On Friday, the cafe appeared even busier than it normally was at this time, and Yuffie despaired of possibly having to eat elsewhere. That is, until she noticed that this time Professor Valentine was seated at a small table outside, and the seat across from him was empty. She nabbed it without giving it a second thought.

He merely glanced up at her from the book in his hands and sighed heavily. "And to think I thought I would be safe from you out here," he muttered.

"Hey, this wasn't my first choice either, buddy. Do you really think I would choose to sit out here with you in the cold?" She shivered slightly as a cold wind swept through the covered area; whoever made her elf costume was not concerned about the wearer being warm. "Gah, I should have brought my coat today," she complained bitterly. Winters in Rocket Town, she had discovered, tended to be hit or miss; some days, it was bitterly cold while others were as balmy as a day in the summer. Then, you had days like today that start out warm, then turn cold once you left your coat at home. She'd much rather have the winters of Wutai where you knew what the weather was going to do in any given season.

So lost in her internal musings about the weather, Yuffie missed the coming and going of the waitress until a cup of hot cocoa was placed in front of her. She stared at the whip cream on top for just a second before turning to the server. "I didn't order-" she started.

"I did," Professor Valentine interrupted, never looking up from his book. At her silence, he lifted his eyes and looked at her. "If I have to sit with you, Miss Kisaragi, I would rather not listen to you complain about how cold you are."

"Yuffie," she said suddenly. "Call me Yuffie. Miss Kisaragi makes me sound like some old crazy cat lady spinster."

There was a slight lift to the corner of his mouth at her words. "Very well... Yuffie."

-0-

Saturday, December 4

Yuffie decided that Saturdays were the absolute worst days to be working at the mall as an elf. And, she was sure Cid would agree. They must have seen hundreds of kids, and it had only been a few hours. But, at least now, it was her lunch break, and she would have at least an hour away from the screaming brats-er, little angels.

Arriving at the cafe, she realized that it wasn't as busy as it was during the work week. More people must either eat at home on the weekend, or maybe they just sleep really late. Regardless, she wouldn't have any trouble finding a spot to sit today.

But, after looking around, she found herself a bit disappointed to see that Professor Valentine wasn't there. And she worried about why she was disappointed. After all, he was really just another asshole, so why should she be disappointed that he wasn't there today?

She sighed and placed her order; this would be the first time she'd eaten lunch alone in quite awhile. However, as soon as she had resigned herself to this, the chair across from her was pulled out, and he sat down. In confusion, Yuffie looked around at the empty tables scattered throughout the cafe that he ignored.

"I have papers to grade," he announced. No hello, no good morning. Of course, this was an improvement over their normal greeting. As if emphasizing his point, he pulled out a stack of papers and began to read them over.

"Is this the only place you grade papers, Professor Valentine?" Yuffie ventured as she watched him immediately begin to cover the paper in read marks.

"Vincent," he muttered, looking up at her for a moment, then back down to the paper in his hands.

"What?"

"You are not my student, Yuffie. You may call me Vincent." He continued to grade the paper.

She smiled. "Okay."

The rest of their lunch was rather quiet as Vincent made a dent in the stack of papers he was grading, and Yuffie watched him, concerned for the poor students in his classes.

-0-

Sunday, December 5

"So, what have you been doing lately, Yuffs?"

It was one of her days off, and Yuffie decided to spend it with her oldest friend. She had met Tifa back when she was a child and was sent to spend some time in the summer with Cid and Shera; they were the closest thing to an uncle and aunt that she had. Of course, Cid and Shera couldn't be there all the time, due to their jobs, and they were worried about leaving an eleven year old home alone all day long. Enter Tifa, babysitter extraordinaire. She was four years Yuffie's senior, and though she started out as her babysitter, a bond was quickly formed. Now, they considered themselves to be the closest thing to sisters.

"Ugh. Working at the mall with Cid. You know Shera made him get a job as Santa of all people, don't you?" she answered as she took a sip of her drink. It paid to have a friend who owned a bar; you tended to get free drinks. Of course, in Yuffie's case, she was only allowed to have the virgin version of the drinks as she was still a year shy of the legal limit. Tifa wouldn't risk losing her license to serve by giving the younger girl alcoholic beverages.

"Cid? As Santa?" Tifa asked in disbelief. The thought of him poisoning the minds of small children with his colorful language sent a shudder through her body. The man should never be allowed to be around children under the age of fifteen.

"Yeah, I know. That's why I get to be the elf. Shera thought I might be able to deter him from cursing all the time," Yuffie explained as she sighed. She looked at the clock on the wall; normally, at this time, she would be taking her lunch break at the cafe. And, more than likely, Professor Valentine-Vincent-would be there. She had to admit, he was kind of starting to grow on her... like a fungus, she quickly amended.

Tifa saw Yuffie looking at the clock and realized with a slight shock it was already lunch time. The bar wouldn't open for a few more hours, so she would have time to enjoy a leisurely lunch with her friend. "Hey, let's go to that new cafe! I want to try it at least once before it closes." Restaurants in Rocket Town were notorious for closing down after only a few months unless it was family owned and run.

-0-

The cafe was even emptier on Sunday than it was on Saturday. Yuffie and Tifa had their choice of tables and chose one near the front window so they could people watch. Christmas shopping had really picked up now that it was December, and it would only continue to pick up as the month passed by. But Yuffie was not watching the people outside; she kept quickly glancing around the cafe as if looking for something or someone.

Tifa grinned. "Are you expecting someone, Yuffie?" she asked innocently as she picked up on what Yuffie was doing.

"He's usually here by now," Yuffie murmured, more to herself than to Tifa.

That was immediately pounced upon by the bartender. "He? He who?"

Yuffie's attention was jerked back to Tifa. She had been so lost in thought while looking for him, that it hadn't even registered what Tifa had been asking just a moment before. "No one. I mean, yeah, there's no one."

Lifting an eyebrow, Tifa merely stared at Yuffie. She knew that eventually Yuffie would break and spill everything. One just had to be patient, and Tifa was nothing if not patient.

After a few minutes, it happened. "Okay, fine," Yuffie huffed. "One of the professors likes to eat here at lunch every day. He's... well, he's an asshole, really."

"But..." Tifa urged.

"But nothing. You know, most of the students who take his class fail."

"Oh, did you ever-"

"Hell, no!" Yuffie exclaimed. "I research my professors before I take a class with them." And it was true. If she signed up for a class, she asked around and searched on the Internet for information about the professor: how hard the class was, were they helpful, and the chances of passing a class. "Professor Valentine has such a bad reputation that it would be a cold day in Hell before I would take a class of his."

Tifa jerked a bit at the name. "Professor Valentine?"

"Yeah," Yuffie drawled. "Professor Vincent Valentine."

"Literature?"

Yuffie nodded in agreement. "Mm hmm, he teaches some of the sophomore level literature classes," she elaborated as she stared at her friend. "Why? Have you heard of him or something?"

"Yuffie, you remember when I went away to Edge University for awhile a few years ago?" She was discussing the time before her father died, and she inherited the bar. Back then, Tifa had wanted to study literature and had gone away to school, only to have to come back and take care of things here in Rocket Town after her father's death.

"Yeah, but what does that have to do with this?"

"There was a Professor Valentine there, too."

"Well, it has to be a coinci-"

"Long black hair?"

"Yes, but-"

"Crimson eyes?"

"Okay, so that may-"

"Walking past right now?" Tifa pointed out the window.

"What?" Yuffie hissed as she followed Tifa's hand, then quickly pulled it down. "Don't point! He might see us!"

Tifa let out a soft snort of laughter. "He can't see you, Yuffie. This is tinted glass"

Yuffie watched as he continued past the window; he was carrying his normal brown leather satchel in one hand, and his cloak was buckled around him. It was the first time she had actually seen the cloak on him and not just folded over his satchel. She had to admit that the red of the cloak brought a bit of color to his normally pale face. "Yeah, that's him," she whispered to Tifa, as though she was afraid he might overhear.

"He used to teach senior and master's level literature at Edge University," Tifa elaborated. "I was in his Shakespeare class, but had to drop out when-"

When her father died, Yuffie mentally finished. "So, what was the class like?"

"Hard, but by the time you get to that level, you're expecting it to be hard."

Yuffie let that sink in for a moment. Okay, so maybe he was used to teaching students who were prepared for that level of difficulty of the class? She filed that thought away in her brain for future reference. "So, why did he leave?"

"Not a clue," Tifa replied as she began to tap her fingers against the tabletop. "I didn't know he had left until you mentioned him being here."

-0-

Monday, December 6

It was expected today when Yuffie sat down at the bar beside him; they were back to their original seats. In fact, his satchel had been placed on her spot and only moved when he spotted her coming towards him. He still had a stack of papers to be graded. Vincent stared at her in curiosity for a moment.

"What?" Yuffie asked impatiently when she noticed his stare. "Do I have something on my face?"

"You're dressed quite normally today, I see," he told her as he took a sip of his drink.

It was true. Monday was her other day off from her job. And, as it was a day off, she was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a green sweater. "I'm not working today. You didn't think I'd wear that thing when I wasn't working, did you?"

He shrugged. "I just thought you were eccentric. I didn't want to ask."

"You thought... that I was... eccentric? And wore it because I wanted to?" she asked in disbelief.

"You should see what some of my students wear to class."

Groaning, Yuffie slapped a hand her to her forehead. "I may be a tad bit crazy, but I'm not that crazy."

"That's debatable."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Vincent didn't answer her as he placed a big red 'F' on the paper in his hands.

Before he could set it aside, Yuffie ripped it from his hands. "Oh for fuck's sake, you did it again, Vincent. Did you even read the paper or grade it based purely on its appearance?" He didn't answer her. "You do know this is a sophomore level class right?"

"Hn." He was only vaguely paying attention to her as she griped at him.

Yuffie left out a growl of frustration. "You aren't teaching at Edge University anymore, Vincent! This is a stupid little hole-in-the-wall community college in the middle of nowhere for people who can't make the grades to get into the better schools or who can't pay the tuition for them. You are teaching a sophomore level literature class to people who are not literature majors and don't even care about literature! All they want to do is pass the stupid class for their literature credit and be done with it."

"And what do you know of it, Miss Kisaragi?" Vincent asked harshly. "Do you think that I should just give them a passing grade even if their work is less than mediocre? I don't give grades; they are earned. And if a student wants to pass my class, then they had damn well be prepared!"

"But don't you get it?" Yuffie persisted as she tried to get her point across. "They aren't prepared for your class; they aren't ready for the level you teach it at. Yours is probably their first exposure to a literature class. And you unintentionally poison their mind towards it when they find they just aren't good enough to pass a sophomore level class being taught at senior level."

Vincent started to say something, but Yuffie didn't give him a chance.

"You know what? Just forget it." She signaled the waitress over, cancelled her lunch order, and laid down enough cash to cover her drink and tip. Without another word, she left the cafe.

-0-

Tuesday, December 7

Yuffie was having a bad day today. She was once again at work and wearing the much hated elf costume. Add to that, Cid's mouth was simply uncontrollable today. And she had a final tonight in one of her night classes that she hadn't had a chance to study for. She should have studied for it yesterday, but after her argument-if it could be called that-with Vincent and the afternoon shift at the mall the day before, she simply felt too exhausted to study. So, she was going to try and study today at lunch.

But, she didn't even know where she was going to eat lunch today. It was less than a week ago that she started going to the cafe, but it had quickly become her favorite. However, she really didn't want to face Vincent again today. And, she knew, without a doubt, that he would be there, probably sitting at the bar and failing students right and left.

For some reason, just thinking about yesterday made her lose her appetite, and she decided that she would confiscate a bench near Santa's workshop to study. She would be nearby when she had to go back to work and wouldn't lose time by walking somewhere that could be spent studying.

The bench she chose was empty, and she spread her bag and books out on it to keep strangers from sitting near her. She really needed as much peace and quiet as she could find and keeping someone from taking the seat next to her would help with that. So, having finally settled herself to her liking, she opened her history book and started going over her notes.

About halfway through her lunch hour, Yuffie was so engrossed in her studying that she did not notice the figure approaching her until a paper bag from her favorite cafe was placed on her open book. She looked up and saw Vincent standing over her, looking slightly guilty. He also looked really misplaced in the middle of the mall.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, trying to keep the sullenness out of her voice. It wouldn't do to act like the child he probably already thought her to be. But, really, she was still slightly hurt from yesterday's incident, and she didn't know why. Perhaps that bugged her more than anything else.

"You missed lunch," Vincent said simply as he started to push some of her books over, then paused. "May I sit down?"

Yuffie, who had been peeking in her bag to find the same soup and panini she had the day she met him, nodded. "I was studying," she explained as she shifted the book out of her lap and pulled out the cup of soup.

"Finals?"

She started with a smart assed retort, then stopped herself and nodded instead. "I have night classes." She took a sip of the soup; it was as good as it was when she had it last week. And the panini was crisp and gooey with cheese at the same time. She had to admit, if Vincent was trying to make amends, he was doing a damn good job so far.

"Hn."

"I work during the day so I can pay for my tuition and room and board, plus having a little spending money for the extras."

"I see." Perhaps that would help explain her outburst yesterday; maybe she was someone who couldn't afford to go anywhere but the ' stupid little hole-in-the-wall community college in the middle of nowhere' she spoke of.

Yuffie looked at him suspiciously suddenly. "Hey, how did you know where to find me anyway? Are you stalking me?"

"I simply asked where I could find Santa's elves." Of course, in the process, he had also garnered some strange looks as they told him to look in the mall. He decided to leave that part out.

"That would have been a sight to see," Yuffie chortled, good mood brought back out at the thought of him doing just that in that serious tone of voice.

"Hn."

The remainder of their lunch was spent in silence, broken only by the sounds of Yuffie eating her panini and slurping her soup.

-0-

Wednesday, December 8

"How do you know I was once at Edge University?" Vincent asked as soon as Yuffie sat down at the bar. The question had been bothering him for two days now, ever since she mentioned it on Monday in her little tirade about how he graded papers.

Yuffie bit her lip. She should've known that this question would be coming since she let the information she got from Tifa slip. Might as well be honest. "I have a friend," she started, "she was at EU a few years ago. She was studying literature."

"Hn."

Surprised, Yuffie realized that she was beginning to understand what his little noncommittal noises sometimes meant. This one clearly meant "continue." She had only known him for a week for now, and only an hour a day at that; she couldn't have learned to speak Vincent-ese in that short time. Yet, she did continue. "She was in your Shakespeare class."

Vincent nodded; he remembered teaching that course very well. It had a reputation as being one of the more difficult of the literature classes due to the subject matter, not the professor. Many students dropped out before the course was even halfway over. "Did she... finish the class?"

"Uh... no, she didn't," Yuffie stammered out, briefly wondering how much of Tifa's history should she give Vincent. Of course, if he didn't know her name, it couldn't hurt, could it? "Her father passed away about a month into the semester."

"Please send her my regards," Vincent said solemnly.

Nodding, Yuffie agreed and tried to look for a way to change the subject. This conversation was starting to get a bit too serious for her liking. Then she remembered what she had stashed away in her bag. "Oh hey, I brought contraband," she whispered loudly to him.

"Contraband?"

"Yeah, contraband. I don't think they'd appreciate me bringing my own cookies instead of buying some of theirs." She pulled a ziploc bag full of chocolate chip cookies out of her bag with a flourish. "Shera-she's like the aunt I never had-made them last night and insisted I take some to work with me." She offered the bag to him. "Want some?"

Gingerly, Vincent took one and ate it. He had to admit it was good, but not as good as what his mother made when he was a child.

"Good, right?" Yuffie asked eagerly as she nibbled on one herself.

"Yes, but I prefer spiced biscuits," he admitted, surprised at himself for opening up even just a little bit.

"Spiced biscuits?" Yuffie asked in confusion as she tried to think of what he could possibly mean. "What're those?"

"They're cinnamon cookies."

Yuffie thought for a moment, then she realized what he meant. "Oh! You mean snickerdoodles!"

Wincing, Vincent replied, "...yes. That."

Blinking repeatedly, Yuffie stared at him before bursting out, "Oh my God, Vincent! You can't-or won't-say snickerdoodles!"

"It's a ridiculous word."

"It's a type of cookie; it's allowed to be ridiculous."

"That still doesn't change the matter."

"Oh, c'mon! Just say it! It's not that hard, I promise!"

Vincent heaved a deep sigh; there was no getting out of this now. "Snickerdoodle," he said quietly, grimacing at the same time.

"See? That wasn't so hard, was it?"

-0-

Thursday, December 9

He wasn't there. Yuffie looked at her watch to check the time in case she was early, but, actually, she was a few minutes later than usual. Releasting a sigh, she placed her bag on his normal seat to save it and waited.

Ten minutes later, and he still wasn't there. This really wasn't like him. Of course, how well did she really know him? They'd only had seven lunches together. And it wasn't like they were dating. They just-well, enjoyed was quite the right word, given their frequent arguments. They just tolerated each other's presence at lunch. But, no, it was more than that. Otherwise, he wouldn't have hunted her down on Tuesday to bring her lunch. They were... something. She'd have to leave it at that.

Another five minutes went by, and he still hadn't showed. Yuffie fingered her cell phone. Quickly making a decision, she called the college's information desk and asked to be transferred to Vincent's office. She also wrote down his extension to be programmed into her cell phone.

He answered the phone with a groggy, "Hello?"

"Vincent?" Yuffie asked. It sounded like he may have been asleep.

"Yes?"

"Where are you? You're late."

"Who-who is this?" She could hear the confusion in his voice.

"Oh, c'mon. You just eat lunch with me every day."

It took him a moment to answer. "Yuffie?"

"The one and only." He didn't reply, and she came to a decision. "Hey, where's your office?"

He gave her the building and room number without thinking, then asked, "Why?"

"You'll see," she chirped then hung up. She quickly speed dialed another number. "Cid? I'm not going to be back this afternoon." Holding the phone away from her, she listened to his colorful language. "No, food poisoning," she lied and waited for his answer. "Yeah, think you can call someone to take my place?" Yuffie smiled when she got the response she was looking for. "Yep, see you tomorrow."

Her last order of business was the wave the waitress over and set up a meal to go.

-0-

The campus of Rocket Town Community College was, in fact, quite small. She had no problem finding the right building and office. Of course, it helped that she was currently taking classes here. She knocked on his office door and received no answer. So, she checked the name plate to verify that this was indeed his door, then opened it.

It was Vincent's office, alright, but she couldn't be completely sure it was Vincent at the desk. Sure, the hair looked like his, sprawled all across his desk as he slept. And his red cloak was hanging by the door. But his face... it was so relaxed; there were no worry lines as he slept. Yuffie realized then that he was actually quite attractive and wondered why she didn't notice it before.

She placed his lunch on his desk; she hoped he liked it. Over the past few days, she had noticed that he had ordered something different each day, so it was a gamble to guess what he would like. But she figured she couldn't go wrong with their up scaled version of the grilled cheese sandwich. Everyone loved those, right? And you can't have a grilled cheese sandwich without tomato soup; she had brought a cup of that as well.

Not wanting to wake him up when he looked so relaxed, Yuffie sat the sack down on his desk and made herself at home. He kept the office simple and clean, she noticed. It wasn't cluttered like other professors' offices were. There were no photos of family and friends anywhere. However, one wall of the office was covered by a large bookcase and completely full of books, mostly classic literature.

As she was browsing the titles in the bookcase, she saw a stack of graded papers out of the corner of her eye; she glanced at him again to make sure he was still asleep. He was. Quietly, she shifted the stack so it was facing her and was shocked at what she saw.

The paper on top had a big 'F' on the top, but that wasn't what surprised her. No, the 'F' had been marked out and replaced with a 'B,' and some gentle criticism had been exchanged for the harsh criticism he had earlier placed there. She checked the paper beneath; it was the same thing—the original 'F' had been replaced with another grade. The next paper was the same.

A noise that sounded suspiciously like a mumbled name—Lucrecia, was it? She filed the name away for future reference-from her left caused her to jump back and look around guiltily.

Vincent was starting to wake up. He lifted his head and stared at her blearily for a moment. "Yuffie." His voice was a little hoarse from his nap, and he cleared his throat and rubbed his face with one hand before noticing the paper bag on his desk. He reached for it.

She looked down and realized she still had one of the papers in her hands. "You re-graded the papers?" she asked in shock, looking at him with eyes wide with confusion.

His eyes, which had been focused on what he was pulling out of the bag from the café, lifted to hers for a moment. "Someone reminded me that this was a sophomore level class, not senior level."

Slightly embarrassed, Yuffie looked anywhere but at him. Her eyes landed on her bag, and she realized she was still in her elf costume despite the fact that she had taken the rest of the day off. "I'll be right back," she told him as she grabbed her bag and left the office; she knew where a restroom was nearby she could use to change clothes. However, as she left his office, a few students passing by noticed her leaving and stared after her.

When she returned, Vincent had already started eating his lunch, strings of cheese oozing from his sandwich. "Thank you," he told her, motioning towards his meal.

Smiling, Yuffie waved him off. "It's no big deal. You did the same for me, so I'm just returning the favor." She sat down in one of the chairs in the room and placed her elbows on his desk.

"Hn."

"So, is there a reason you were sleeping in your office?"

Vincent raised an eyebrow and looked at her, then gestured towards the stack of re-graded papers. "I was up late with some work." He saw the clock on the wall behind her and noticed the time. "You're going to be late for work," he told her and wondered why the thought of her leaving left him feeling vaguely disappointed.

"Nope. I took the rest of the day off." She pointed to her clothes. "You think I would change back into normal clothes only to have to change back again for work?"

He shrugged.

"Besides, I have my last final tonight, and it's the worst. So, I need to spend some more time studying for it." She pulled her bag to her and opened, then looked at him in question. "You don't mind if I study here, do you? I'll be quiet, I promise!"

"Hn."

-0-

Friday, December 10

Yuffie was in a rush. She ran into the café, looked around for Vincent, and then skidded over to his table. "I swear," she huffed as she pushed her hair out of her eyes, "the closer it gets to Christmas, the crazier the kids get."

"Is that so?" he asked as he took in her frazzled appearance.

"Oh God! This one kid wants, I kid you not, a nuclear bomb so he can blow up his school." She rubbed her temples to massage away the small headache the children had brought on. "If I didn't need the money, I would so quit this job." A hot cocoa was pushed towards her.

"Here. I think you need this today." The corner of his mouth lifted in an almost smile when her face brightened, and he realized that despite the elf costume and exaggerated makeup, she really was quite beautiful.

Happily sipping at her drink, Yuffie grinned widely. "Vincent, you do know the way to a woman's heart." She blinked in surprise; did she really just say that?

Vincent was a bit taken aback at her comment and didn't quite know what to say.

"Anyway," Yuffie said, perhaps a bit loudly as she tried to carry the conversation past her awkward comment, "I won't be here tomorrow. But, I'll be back on Monday."

"Is that a threat or a promise?"

"Both." Yuffie laughed and took another drink of her cocoa. It really was quite good, and it was nice of Vincent to order her one. She would have to repay the favor some time.

-0-

Saturday, December 11

As a member of the faculty at Rocket Town Community College, Vincent was required to attend all graduation ceremonies. He had always hated these functions as it meant he would have to sit in his regalia and watch as countless students he didn't know were called and walked across the stage. He would much rather spend his time doing something else, perhaps even having lunch at a certain café with a certain person.

Judging by the time on his watch, which he surreptitiously looked at, the ceremony was just about halfway over. He only had a few more hours here, and then he could leave to find something more entertaining to do for the rest of the afternoon. Of course, anything was more entertaining than being here, even watching paint dry.

"Yuffie Kisaragi," the large booming voice called, and Vincent's attention was immediately back on the ceremony. Surely there couldn't be another girl with that name. He watched as Yuffie, his Yuffie, crossed the stage to receive her associate degree and vaguely wondered when he had started to consider her his.

She grinned cheekily to the crowd as a few people stood up and cheered loudly for her; the young blond man had even let out an ear-piercing whistle for her. Vincent merely clapped politely from his seat with the rest of the faculty. Perhaps he could catch her before she left after the ceremony ended.

-0-

She had taken the black cap and gown off and was chatting with her friends when he approached her. He, too, had removed his regalia and was carrying it folded over one arm. Her back was turned to her, but she must have seen her friends looking over her shoulder for she quickly turned around and smiled. "Vincent, these are my friends Tifa and Cloud," she introduced, smile still in place.

Vincent nodded to them both in greeting, and then grasped Yuffie by the arm and pulled her slightly away from them; he ignored their suspicious looks. "You didn't tell me you were graduating," he accused, letting go of her arm.

"Um," she stuttered, at a loss for words—that didn't happen that often. "Surprise?"

He simply stared at her, waiting for her to continue.

Sighing, Yuffie placed a hand on her forehead. "Okay, look. I didn't think you'd care. I mean, we've only known each-"

He interrupted her. "I see." He really didn't know what to say to her. Really, he had thought they were at least friends of some type or another.

From the tone of his voice, Yuffie could tell she had hurt him somewhat. "I didn't mean-" she broke off, then looked away. "I'm sorry, okay? Really, I knew you would be here anyways and sitting with all the other professors, and I just didn't think, alright?"

Vincent let that sink in for a moment as he stared out over her head. And, the moment dragged on while Yuffie was obviously getting uncomfortable with his silence. "I apologize for my behavior. It was uncalled for."

Glad that the silence was broken, Yuffie smiled again. "No, no. It's okay, really. Sometimes, I just don't think, you know?"

"Let me take you to dinner?" Vincent asked suddenly, and then elaborated at her surprised expression. "As a graduation gift to you."

"Um, okay." Out of all the things Yuffie was expecting, this wasn't it. "When… When do you want to go?"

"Is tomorrow night good for you?"

"Sure."

"Then I will call you later with the details." He wrote down her number before walking away and letting her go back to her friends. Little did Yuffie know, Vincent was just as surprised as she at his suggestion of dinner.

-0-

Sunday, December 12

They had arranged to eat at the local Italian restaurant; it was nice and had excellent food, but it was also casual enough to make them both feel comfortable. Another plus was it was Yuffie's favorite restaurant for dinners; the café had taken the place for her favorite lunches. It was also decided that they would meet at the restaurant. Though Vincent had offered to pick her up, Yuffie politely declined and said she would meet him there.

Having just entered the restaurant, she looked around for him. The hostess informed her that someone matching his description was in the back of the seating area and led her to his table. Yuffie almost didn't recognize him; his hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, and instead of his normal black, he was wearing a crimson shirt. His cloak was nowhere to be seen.

"Yuffie," Vincent greeted, standing up until she sat down, then resumed his seat.

She laughed lightly at his gentlemanly behavior. Any other guy she knew wouldn't have done that. "Vincent." As she was arranging her skirt, she realized something. "We match," she said as she pointed to her red chenille sweater and his shirt.

"I noticed." The corner of his mouth turned up just slightly.

Seeing the almost half smile on his face, Yuffie realized that it was an expression she loved to see. It was like he didn't quite know if something was worth smiling about or not, but it was endearing to see the look on him. And she would do anything to see it on him more often. "Everyone's gonna think we planned this," she stage whispered to him.

Before he could answer, they were interrupted by their server and ordered their drinks. The menu was perused, and a silence crept up on them. It continued until Yuffie couldn't take it anymore.

"This isn't any different from lunch, you know." She saw his brow furrow in confusion. "I'm still Yuffie, and you're still Vincent. And, we're just having another meal together like we do every day."

"And you still can't stand the sound of silence." His expression told her he was joking.

She decided that the look in his eyes was almost as endearing as the almost half smile. But, she quickly composed herself. "You know me so well," she teased, letting a bright smile cover her face.

"Hn."

"And I know you, too! I knew you would give one of those noncommittal grunts of yours!"

The rest of the evening continued much like one of their better lunches, with lighthearted bantering from Yuffie. As they left the restaurant, Yuffie was surprised when she found herself reaching up and kissing him on the cheek in thanks. She wasn't nearly surprised as Vincent.

-0-

Monday, December 13

At lunch, neither Vincent nor Yuffie mentioned dinner the night before or the kiss she gave him. But, Vincent had arrived at the café early enough to garner them a table in a more secluded corner. He told himself it was because he liked the quiet, but if that was so, why did he continue to come here for lunch?

When Yuffie entered the café, she found Vincent sitting in the corner and reading a book. She quickly approached the table and pulled the book away from him before she sat down. "No reading while I'm here," she warned, waggling her finger at him. "It makes me feel like you're ignoring me."

"Very well," Vincent acquiesced and placed the book back into his satchel. He could see her point, though, to be fair, even if he had a book while she was there, he wasn't able to concentrate on what he was reading. Her voice had the ability to pull him away from the printed words. Of course, at what she said next, he wished he was still able to ignore her like he could when they first met.

"So, who's Lucrecia?" Yuffie had been contemplating asking him this for a few days now, ever since she heard him mumble the name in his sleep, and the curiosity was starting to drive her crazy. But she didn't miss the way he immediately tensed up, or the way those crimson eyes of his stared at her accusingly. She wanted to leave.

"What do you know of Lucrecia?" he asked coldly. No one had spoken of her for nearly two years now. He didn't even allow her name to cross his lips in that time until now. Seeing Yuffie starting to push away from the table, he grabbed her wrist and ignored her hiss of pain. "Who told you about Lucrecia?"

Yuffie tried prying his hand off her wrist; his grip was really tight, and she was sure it would leave a mark. "No one! You said her name in your office! While you were sleeping!" Finally, his grip loosened, and her wrist was released.

He needed to get away; if he stayed, Yuffie would either yell at him for hurting her—even he could see the bruises forming on her wrist—or she would pester him about Lucrecia until she got her answer. Or maybe even both. He wasn't sure if he was ready to discuss Lucrecia with someone else. Ignoring the hurt look on her face, Vincent threw some cash down on the table, enough to cover both of their lunches, and left without an explanation.

Yuffie simply stared at the tablecloth, wondering why she felt tears welling up in her eyes. She knew from the time she met him that he was nothing but an asshole.

-0-

Tuesday, December 14

Yuffie wasn't sure if she wanted to try the café for lunch or not today; he might be there. And, right now, she didn't really want to see him. She pulled her sleeve back a bit and looked at the faint bruising there. Nope, she really didn't want to see him, but she needed to have lunch, and the café was her favorite. She would just have to avoid him if he showed up.

Upon entering the café, she could see Vincent in the same place as yesterday, but she turned away from him and headed for the empty seat at the bar. He hadn't seen her yet, and if she was lucky, he wouldn't see her at all as she had resolved to get her lunch to go. But, luck wasn't with her today, and she saw him look up and see her.

She turned her head away from him, staring blindly at the wall across from the bar. However, she could see him approaching her from the corner of her eye. "I don't want to talk to you," she hissed when he sat down beside her.

"I apologize for my actions yesterday, Yuffie. They were unjustifiable." He kept his voice low; it wouldn't do for everyone in the café to know what had happened yesterday. Of course, if anyone of them were there at the time, they may already know.

She refused to look at him again until he gently took her injured wrist in his hand. "Don't touch me!" she ground out, yanking her wrist back and hurting it more in the process.

"Please," Vincent said softly. The thought of what he had said and done were eating him alive; he never had forgiven himself easily, and this was something else to add to his list. "Please let me tell you about her."

When Yuffie finally looked at him, she could see the pain in his eyes, and, against her better judgment, agreed to join him at his table. "This had better be good," she warned him as she sat down across from him and kept her hands out of his reach.

He nodded, then sighed heavily. "She was my fiancée," he explained, speaking so softly that Yuffie had to lean forward to hear him.

"What happened?" Yuffie prodded when the pause had grown too long for her liking.

"She was a Biology professor and researcher at Edge University, where, as you already know, I taught literature." He waited a moment for Yuffie to say anything, and when she remained silent, he continued. "We had been together for three years and engaged for a year when she left me for one of her peers."

"Oh, Vincent, I'm so-"

"Please," he pleaded, "let me continue." It was hard enough to be telling someone this, but he had to let it out. "He was the current head of the Biology department and had tenure. He also worked closely with her in her genetics projects. She was studying human DNA; she said she wanted to improve the human race," he said wryly.

Yuffie didn't interrupt his silence this time; she simply gave him time to continue. But, she did reach her hand across the table and rested it upon his in comfort. He smiled weakly at her.

"She said it just happened. That one night they were working late on some experiment or another, and she realized that she loved him instead of me." His eyebrows furrowed as he relived that moment. "After all our time together, after sharing everything with each other, she just left me." Another pause. "As you can imagine, I didn't take it well. I ended up doing something regrettable," he supposed that was a nice way of putting what he had done—beating the twerp to a pulp, "and was asked to leave the university."

Yuffie tightened her grip on his hand.

"But the kicker," he let out a hateful laugh, "the kicker was I found out that before my father died and when he was the head of the Biology department, Lucrecia had had an affair with him."

Sensing he was finished, Yuffie released his hand and left her seat, taking the one immediately to Vincent's right. "I'm so sorry, Vincent," she whispered as she pulled him to her in a hug. She held him tightly as she fought back her tears for him.

Of their own accord, Vincent's arms wrapped themselves around Yuffie and held her tightly to him as he buried his face in her shoulder and neck. "I loved her and trusted her, and she left me," he said in a harsh, low voice to her skin. It had been a long time since he had allowed himself to hold someone—or let someone hold him—like this, and he didn't realize until now how much he needed it.

By the end of their lunch, Yuffie was still sitting beside him, though no longer holding him, and neither had taken more than a bite out of their sandwiches. It was with much reluctance on both their parts when Yuffie had to return to work.

-0-

Wednesday, December 15

In her elf costume, Yuffie sat down at what had become their table, took her hat off, and ruffled her hair before even looking at Vincent. She was determined that today would be a lighthearted day even if she had to force it; they had had enough drama yesterday and the day before. She knew just where to start it. "I've heard some interesting things from some of your students lately." She quirked an eyebrow at him. "Care for me to share?"

"Please." Vincent wasn't sure if he appreciated the fact that she was going on like nothing had happened yesterday or not. On the one hand, it was slightly embarrassing to be seen in such a state, but on the other, he had to admit that holding on to her had felt… nice.

"I've heard through the grapevine that a record number of students have passed your class this semester."

"Hn." He knew that when he submitted the final grades for the semester. Never before had there been so few failing grades, and it was all due to Yuffie's insistence that he treat the class as a sophomore class, as he should have been doing from the beginning.

She wasn't finished. "And there's a rumor going around that you've gone soft." Actually, the rumor the students were spreading was that his job had been threatened, and he would be fired if more students didn't pass the class, but she chose to keep that tidbit to herself for now.

"I see." This was something he was expecting. Of course, to give the students credit, he had gone soft this semester.

"You should probably also know that there's also a rumor going around that the reason everyone got better grades was because you're getting laid." She saw that it took a moment for that one to sink in.

Vincent very nearly spit the coffee he had just taken a drink of out of his mouth. "What?" he sputtered as he wiped his mouth with a napkin.

"Yeah, they said it was a prostitute dressed like an elf." She blushed.

He looked at her suspiciously and waited for her to explain herself.

"Well, remember when I brought you lunch in your office?"

"Yes," he said tersely.

She sighed and suppressed the urge to let out a nervous giggle. "When I left your office to change clothes, some students were passing by." She let that sink in for a moment. "I was wearing the elf costume at the time."

"I see."

"Hey, it's not my fault, you know!"

"No, no it's not your fault," he agreed as he heaved a deep sigh. He knew this was going to be a hard rumor to rid himself of.

"If you hadn't been so hard on your students, then suddenly passing them, then they wouldn't think something like this. So, really, it's your fault!"

"Your logic never fails to amuse me, Yuffie," he said as he felt a small smile tug at his lips. "You were angry when I was failing students, but now you're angry at me for passing them. So, pray tell, what should I do?"

"Well… that is…. Um…. Okay, never mind."

-0-

Thursday, December 16

As soon as Yuffie sat down, she dropped her head to the table and banged it a few times. Vincent simply stared at her, wondering if he should stop her from hurting herself or let her continue to let out her frustrations. She finally raised her head and tenderly rubbed her forehead where a red spot was forming.

"If I ever decide to work with kids again, please remind me that they are little monsters," she groaned as she pushed up the sleeve on her right arm and revealed teeth marks. "That was from some little brat who wanted more candy and bit me when I wouldn't let him have it."

Vincent grabbed her arm and dragged it across the table to get a closer look. "At least it didn't break the skin," he murmured as he gently traced across the marred skin with soft fingers.

Yuffie felt herself give a little shudder at the feel of his fingers, but she quickly suppressed it and drew her arm away. "That doesn't mean it didn't hurt," she insisted while she pulled her sleeve back down her arm. "And his mother just said that he didn't take his medication this morning, then ran off with him." She heaved a deep sigh. "I can't wait until I'm done jobs like these and actually get to do something that I want to do."

"Will you be continuing your education then?" Vincent found himself asking. Though she had just received her associate degree this semester, most graduates would transfer to one of the universities and earn a higher degree.

She looked up from her sleeve; she had noticed that it had become discolored where the kid had bitten here. "Hm? Oh, I will. But it may take a while for me to get there." Her food arrived, and she looked at the server in confusion-she hadn't placed an order yet-until he indicated that Vincent had already ordered for her. It was a nice gesture, and he seemed to know what she liked to eat. She smiled at him to show her appreciation.

"What do you mean?" The smile she gave showed him that the gamble he had taken on ordering her lunch for her had paid off. He would have to do it for often if she was going to smile at him like that.

"I gotta pay my own way, remember?"

"What about student loans?" he suggested. Many students, he knew, took out student loans to pay for everything and finished their education quickly.

Yuffie sighed. "Well, I could, and I may end up doing that. But, really, I would rather not be in debt up to my eyeballs before I even graduate."

"I see."

"But," she started in a more upbeat tone of voice, "this means I get to take some time off from school until next fall. Well, unless I end up taking some online courses next semester." Of course, if she did that, she would only be able to afford one or two courses. The tuition at the university was much higher than the community college.

"Have you picked a university?" he asked, half afraid that she would be going to Edge University. It was, after all, one of the top five schools. But, for some reason, he didn't want her to be that far away.

She nodded. "Yep, Nibelheim U., here I come! Well, eventually anyway."

"Hn." The relief Vincent felt at her choice of university was almost palpable. Nibelheim University was only about an hour's drive away, close enough that she could stay in close contact with all her friends in Rocket Town, perhaps even living in Rocket Town if she didn't mind the commute. But, now he wondered why he cared so much for her to stay nearby.

-0-

Friday, December 17

Yuffie was on her phone when she walked into the café for lunch; she also appeared to be angry with whomever she was talking to. "No, I'm not. What do you mean why not? You know why not!" She grimaced at Vincent and putted to the phone, pantomiming that she would be done in a moment. "We are not having this conversation again, Godo!" Hanging up, she plopped herself down in the chair.

"Problems?" Vincent asked, raising an eyebrow.

"My dad." At his blank look she continued, "He wants me to come home for Christmas."

"Hn." He waited for her to continue.

Wincing, Yuffie decided to spill the whole story to him. All her other friends already knew, so she might as well tell him, too. "My dad's really traditional, you know. Well, traditional is the nice way to put it."

"Traditional?"

She rubbed her eyes; she didn't like thinking about it. "Yeah, from the time I was seventeen, he was introducing me to suitable families who had sons about my age." Pausing for a moment, she looked at Vincent. "I didn't know it at the time, but he was introducing me to my suitors."

"I… see."

"So, when I told him that I wanted to go to college and not marry some guy that he picked out, he practically disowned me," she explained, remembering her dad's comment about marrying into a good family and always being taken care of. "And I haven't been home since."

Vincent didn't know what to say. That she was defying her father and doing what she wanted was admirable. But, what about the rest of her family? Did she not see them either? "What about your mother? Do you not see her, either?"

Waving him off, Yuffie shook her head slightly. "She's… Mom's been dead for a long time now. If she was alive, well… things would have been different. I don't think dad would have tried doing this."

"I am sorry for your loss," he told her solemnly.

"Thanks, but it's okay. Really." She smiled at him, forcing all thoughts of her mother to the side. "I mean, at least I have all the friends I met here, right? It's like my mother always said, bad things happen for a reason. But, it's up to us to find out why."

Vincent merely hoped her mother was right.

-0-

Saturday, December 18

"Okay, I have to know," Yuffie started as she pulled out her chair and sat down. She also slid the book Vincent was reading away from him while he merely raised an eyebrow. "Why do you still come here and eat lunch every day? I mean, you're off for the rest of the semester. So, you don't have a set lunch hour. But, you still come here every day at the same time."

She had him there. Though he had often wondered this since his holiday time had begun a week ago, he had never come to a conclusion. "The food is good," he finally told her, hoping that explanation would suffice. He wasn't sure he wanted to delve deeper into his reasoning and find out the real reason he kept coming here.

"Well, yeah, okay, I'll give you that, but that doesn't explain why you still come at the same time every day!" Her lunch arrived; it was something she hadn't tried yet from the menu, but she was sure she would like it. She always did like the lunches he ordered for her.

"Perhaps I am accustomed to eating lunch at the same time every day," he explained calmly.

Yuffie looked at him suspiciously and narrowed her eyes. "Okay, I might buy that." But, there had to be more to it than that, right? After all, he always saved her a seat, whether it was at the bar or at his table. And, for the last few days, he had ordered her lunch before she arrived so that it would be ready right after she got there. On especially cold days, he would also order a hot cocoa for her. So, there had to be more; she was sure of it.

"It might also be the company," Vincent admitted; the corner of his mouth lifted into his almost half smile. "These last few weeks have been entertaining to say the least." A small chuckle welled up from his chest.

"Did you just… You did, didn't you?" Her eyes were wide with shock as she pointed at him. "You just laughed!"

"Is that so surprising?"

"It is when I haven't heard you laugh even once since I met you!" She didn't count the harsh, self-deprecating laugh he had released when talking about Lucrecia; it was too hateful to really be a laugh. She just hoped that she could hear more laughs like this one. Though small, it was full of happiness.

His almost half smile turned into a smirk. "I may have to try it more often then."

-0-

Sunday, December 19

Yuffie was spending her Sunday with Tifa again this week. With all the craziness that had been going on lately between Christmas shopping, graduation, and Yuffie's job at the mall, the two of them hadn't been able to spend much time together. But they had both resolved to find time to spend catching up on things today. And Yuffie had so much she wanted to tell Tifa.

"Did you know Vincent was engaged?" she asked her friend as they sat in the empty bar. It was mid-morning, and the bar wouldn't open until late that afternoon. And Yuffie had promised to help Tifa clean the bar and ready it for the patrons after their girl talk.

Shaking her head, Tifa waited for the rest of the story; she just had to prod Yuffie a bit. "So? What happened?"

"She left him for another man and had an affair with his father before he died." Yuffie wrinkled her nose. "I mean, that's just eww."

Tifa frowned in sympathy. "That had to hurt him."

"I think it did. I think…" she trailed off and thought for a moment before continuing, "I think I know why he was such an asshole, you know? I think he may have just been bitter. He lost everything. His fiancée, his father, his job."

"His job?" Disbelief colored Tifa's voice. How could losing his job be related to this?

"Yeah, he wouldn't go into details, but he said he did something 'regrettable' and had to leave." Yuffie shrugged. "He didn't tell me what it was, and I didn't want to bother him by asking about it."

Tifa looked shocked at the younger girl's confession. "You didn't want to bother him about it? Yuffie, are you sick?"

"What? Just because I know when to have tact, you think I'm sick?"

"Well, yeah, you never have before."

"Maybe I'm just growing up," Yuffie countered, then ruined it by sticking her tongue out. "So, anyways, he seemed, I dunno, broken by the time he finished talking about it. But, he was fine the next day."

Looking at her sharply, Tifa's brows furrowed. "The next day? How often do you see him?"

"We have lunch together every day but Sunday." At Tifa's surprised look, Yuffie exclaimed, "What?"

"Yuffie, you're not dating him… are you?"

It was Yuffie's turn to look surprised. "What! Why would you-"

Tifa interrupted by ticking the reasons off on her fingers. "You have lunch every day together. He took you dinner."

"It was a graduation gift!" Yuffie insisted.

"You talk about him all the time."

"I do not!"

"He told you about his ex-fiancée."

"That was my fault! I brought it up when I heard him mumble his name in her sleep!" Tifa's eyebrows were raised to her hairline. "No, not like that! I took him lunch to his office once, and he was asleep. Geez, get your mind outta the gutter, Tifa."

She added another reason to her list. "And you took him lunch. Is there anything else I should know?"

"Yes," Yuffie grumbled in annoyance.

Tifa waited. "Well?"

"We're just friends, that's all!"

A smile graced Tifa's face. "If you say so."

-0-

Monday, December 20

As Yuffie had the day off, she had arrived at the café extra early; she was pulling what she called a Vincent as she was reading a novel and not paying attention to her surroundings. Which is why she was surprised when someone who wasn't Vincent sat down across from her. "This seat's taken," she told whoever it was without even bothering to look up from her book.

"I'll keep that in mind, Yuffie."

She knew that voice; she looked up and smiled. "Cloud, what are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be at work?" Waving the server over, she ordered some coffee for Cloud.

"I had to go pick something up from the jeweler's," he told her, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small velvet box. "They called and told me it was ready today."

Yuffie's eyes widened as she stared at it. "Is that what I think it is?" she asked in surprise. It had to be; she just knew it. Tifa and Cloud had been dating forever it seemed like to Yuffie, and she had known he would ask eventually.

Nodding, Cloud passed it over to her. "Do you think she'll like it?" He opened the box for Yuffie to see it.

"It's beautiful," Yuffie breathed as she gently picked the box up to get a better look at it. Cloud must have saved up for months for this ring; his job with the delivery company paid well, but not that well. "When are you going to ask her?"

"Christmas Eve, at the party. Do you…. Do you think she'll like it?" he asked nervously.

Beaming at him, Yuffie nodded. "She'll love it," she insisted as she left her seat and hugged him. He was like the brother she never had, and now he would be even closer to her. "I'm so happy for you!"

Unbeknownst to either of them, Vincent was watching the entire scene from near the entrance of the café. For some reason, it hurt to watch her with another. And when the ring was handed to her, for he knew very well what that type of box was for, he couldn't stand watching any longer. Without a word to anyone, he turned and left the building, leaving Yuffie to wonder where he was as he refused all calls to his cell phone from her.

-0-

Tuesday, December 21

Vincent wasn't quite sure why he was here today. Perhaps, he was subconsciously a masochist. Or, more likely, he wanted to hear it from her own lips, though he wasn't sure she would show today since he hadn't yesterday. But he hoped she would, even if she was newly engaged to another. Suddenly, a hand was slammed down on the table in front of him. He had never even seen her walk through the door.

"You stood me up yesterday!" she accused as she angrily threw herself into her seat. Her eyes narrowed and glared at him. "I waited and waited for you, and you wouldn't answer your phone."

At her accusation, his own anger flared up. "I wasn't aware you were my keeper, Miss Kisaragi," he bit out harshly, daring to meet her glare with one of his own.

She felt an eye twitch starting. "Don't you dare revert back to that 'Miss Kisaragi' crap," she ground out. What was wrong with him? They had moved past this, hadn't they? At least, she thought they had. "Where were you yesterday?"

"Does your fiancé approve of you stalking me?" Vincent snarled as a scowl took over his face. And she had the audacity to look shocked at his words? "Did you not think that I would find out?"

Sputtering, it took a few moments for Yuffie to answer him. "I'm what? You think I'm engaged? What the hell are you talking about?" Confusion clouded her head. What had she ever said that would lead him to think that of all things?

Vincent felt his anger peak; she would dare to lie about this? "I saw you with him yesterday, Yuffie! I saw him give you the ring!" Reaching across, he grabbed her left hand and pointed to her fingers without looking. "This ring right," he looked down, shocked to see there wasn't a ring, "here?"

Yuffie dropped her head to her hand, propped up by the elbow. "Yes, Vincent. What ring indeed?" she said snidely and continued when he didn't answer, "What you saw was Cloud showing me the ring he's giving to Tifa, my best friend. Remember? I introduced you to them at my graduation?"

Realization showed across his face, and Vincent began to feel like a fool. Now that she had mentioned it, he vaguely remembered the blond man. "I… I apologize, Yuffie," he said softly as he released her hand and pulled his back.

"What's the deal, Vincent?" she asked angrily, not willing to accept his apology just yet. "It's not like you own me, so even if I did get engaged—which I'm not-it wouldn't be any of your business."

"Again, I apologize. I don't know what came over me," he explained as best he could, and it was the truth. But, he could still see the angry glare in her eyes. He sighed. "Perhaps, I should take my leave." He started to stand up, but stopped when he felt her hand grab his wrist.

Yuffie rolled her eyes and then looked at him expectantly. "Vincent, just sit down and shut up." He didn't seem to budge. "I forgive you, okay? Just don't make any more snap assumptions without asking me about them first."

"If you insist." He sat back down.

-0-

Wednesday, December 22

"You're kidding me, right?" Yuffie asked in disbelief when saw Vincent at their normal table. "You want to stay in here when it's snowing out there?" It was one of those very rare days in Rocket Town where snow fell; those only came about once every five years or so.

"Yuffie, it's not cold enough for the snow to stick," he told her seriously. While it was plenty cold enough outside to require a coat, it was still warm enough that the snow melted as soon as it hit the ground.

Yuffie tugged on his hand—she didn't remember grabbing it—and pulled him to his feet. "But it's snowing, Vincent!" she pleaded with wide eyes and lip starting to tremble just a bit; she pulled out all stops on this one and gave him the full force of her puppy eyes. "You know it never snows here."

"Yuffie—"

Pulling his arm, she managed to get him to move another step towards the door. "And we wouldn't have to be out there that long!"

Vincent sighed as he felt himself giving him in. "Just for a few minutes," he conceded as he grabbed his cloak from the back of his chair. On the way out, he informed their server that they were not finished and to not clear the table as of yet. They would be returning—he hoped—to eat a hot meal to warm them.

Once outside, Yuffie dragged him to a less crowded area a little ways down the street from the café. Here, the snow was falling freely without hitting anything until it touched the ground. And she was spinning around with her mouth open as she tried to catch some. But, she stopped to look at him and then grabbed both of his hands. "You can't just stand there, you know."

"You're like a child," he told her softly as she dragged him around in a slow circle. However, through their linked hands, he felt her shiver; her coat—jacket, really—did seem rather thin. He picked up his cloak from the bench he had draped it over and handed to her.

She looked at him, then the cloak in his hands. "Why—"

"You're cold, are you not?" At her nod, he placed the cloak on her shoulders himself.

Smiling, Yuffie pulled it tighter around her shoulders. She had to admit, it was a warm garment. But, even better, its scent was enticing; she supposed it smelled like him, though she had never been close enough to tell. "Thanks," she whispered vaguely wondering why she was speaking so softly.

"Hn."

Soon, the snow stopped falling, and they both returned to their lunch in the café. Reluctantly, Yuffie tried to return the cloak to him when they sat down at their table, but he insisted she keep it for her trek back to the mall and work.

-0-

Thursday, December 23

Yuffie ran to their table and dove into her seat, looking a bit harried as she handed the cloak she had borrowed yesterday back to him. Her hat was nearly falling off of her head, and she hastily pushed it back up. "I only get a half lunch today since it's getting so close to Christmas," she explained as she grabbed the hot cocoa he had already ordered for her.

"Why didn't you just eat at the mall?" Vincent asked in slight confusion. It would have saved her a good fifteen or twenty minutes of her shortened lunch break to stay there and eat in the food court. At least he had already ordered her meal, so she wouldn't have to wait long for that.

She looked at him in exasperation. "I couldn't stand you up!"

Sighing, Vincent rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Yuffie, I would much rather you get to enjoy your lunch in the mall than run here and have to rush through a lunch."

"Are you sure?" she asked in suspicion as she eyed him carefully, expecting him to give something away in his expression.

"Yes, I am sure."

"Okay then, if you're sure," at his nod she continued, "then I won't be here tomorrow. They expect the crowd to be worse tomorrow, so I'm not even sure if I'll have as much time then as I do today." Her meal arrived, and she immediately started eating it. Of course, when she burned her mouth on the hot soup, she regretted that action.

Vincent gave her his almost half smile as she quickly grabbed some water to cool her mouth down. "I can bring you some lunch tomorrow, if you like," he offered, knowing how much she loved the food here.

Yuffie beamed at his suggestion. Maybe eating while in the mall would be more tolerable if Vincent brought some food from here. Of course, it might be more tolerable even if Vincent just brought himself. She couldn't deny her growing attraction to him; she just had to repress a lot of her actions. "That would be great!" She started digging around in her wallet for some cash. "This should cover it," she said as she tried to hand him a few bills.

"No, it'll be my treat."

"Are you sure?"

"Yuffie?"

"Hm?"

"I believe we already had this conversation."

"Alright, alright."

After Yuffie hastily finished her meal, Vincent came to the decision that he would walk with her back to the mall. Her shortened lunch also meant that he would have less time to spend with her, and the thought bothered him. So, when she stood up to go, he did as well and followed her out after they paid their checks.

Their conversation, however, had run dry as they walked through the crowded sidewalks, and Yuffie was desperately looking for something to break the silence with. Her thoughts immediately flew to her plans for the next night and wondered what Vincent would be doing. "So," she drawled as they weaved through another clump of pedestrians, "any plans for tomorrow night?"

"Besides staying in, no," he admitted. Since the incident with Lucrecia and Edge University, his social life had dwindled away. That included any plans for holiday get-togethers.

"But it's Christmas Eve! You gotta be doing something!"

"You don't think a quiet evening at home would suffice?"

"No!"

"Hn."

Yuffie let out a growl of frustration as she watched him out of the corner of her eye; she noticed that the corner of his mouth lifted when she did so. "You're impossible, you know that?" Those were her parting words to him as she entered the mall, but a plan had already begun to form in her head.

-0-

Friday, December 24

On his way to the café to pick up lunch, Vincent's cell phone rang; he recognized the number. "Yuffie."

"Don't bring me lunch today, Vincent."

He stopped walking and looked at the phone as if he had misheard. "What?"

"We don't have time for a lunch break at all today, so the big boss is having something brought in for us to eat while we work," she explained sounding quite tired and exasperated over the phone.

"Yuf—"

"Sorry, Vincent. I gotta go." Then she hung up.

For a moment, Vincent just stood there. He knew she had started going to the café when she started her job as Santa's elf at the mall. But, he also knew that today was her last day. Did that mean she would no longer be coming to eat lunch with him daily? They hadn't discussed it, and he had assumed it would be brought up today, but now that was an impossibility. Of course, his subconscious reminded him that she even came on her day off, and all he had to do was call her. He had her phone number. But… that would mean…

He cut that thought off harshly, not wanting to go there. She was an acquaintance, nothing more. What they had was nothing but a shared lunch hour and conversation. That was all.

Vincent turned around and started walking towards his apartment.

-0-

That evening, Vincent was lying on his couch and slowly nodding off as the television replayed It's a Wonderful Life. He had seen the movie so many times throughout his life that he could nearly quote some scenes line for line. But, right now, he was simply sleepy. He had been suffering from mild insomnia for the past few weeks and often found himself nodding off if he was still and quiet long enough.

Just as his eyelids were dropping, a banging on his door jerked him awake. He groaned and threw an arm over his eyes as he wondered who it could be. Rarely did anyone ever come to his apartment, and he liked his solitude. The banging sounded again, this time accompanied by a muffled voice, and Vincent decided he couldn't ignore whoever was there as they would probably only continue to knock.

Opening the door, he was shocked to see Yuffie there, no longer in her elf costume, but instead wearing a pair of black slacks and a dark green blouse. Her fist was poised to knock again, but she quickly dropped it. She didn't wait for him to speak, but grabbed his wrist with both hands. "C'mon!" she said as she tried to pull him out of the apartment.

"What?" He had to admit, his brain was still a little sleep addled, but even if it wasn't, he still thought he would be confused by her actions.

She tugged again. "C'mon! We're going to Tifa's."

"Where?"

"Tifa's! She's having her Christmas party tonight at the bar. So, c'mon!" She pulled again, but he was strong enough to resist her tugs.

Vincent used his free hand to rub his eyes. "Yuffie, what are you talking about?"

"The party at Tifa's," she enunciated very carefully, looking at him like he was slightly moronic at the moment. "She closed down the bar and everything so that it's just a private party."

"And why are you telling me this?"

"Did you really think I would let you spend Christmas alone, dummy?" She pulled on him again. "Now, c'mon!"

This time, he only resisted long enough to make sure he was presentable and to grab his cloak.

-0-

Saturday, December 25

Warmth surrounded Yuffie as she slowly gained consciousness. Sure, the mattress felt a bit lumpy, but she couldn't ever remember a time when she had been this warm and snug, so it more than made up for the mattress. Sighing in pleasure, she stretched lightly and slowly opened her eyes. Her sight was met by long strands of black hair which she knew were not hers.

Trying to scramble backwards, she was met by resistance when the arm she didn't know was around her waist tightened and pulled her closer. It was nice, she had to admit, but who was this and what the hell happened. The last thing she remembered was drinking some punch that she was sure had been spiked.

Yuffie looked down the length of her body, relieved to see her clothes fully intact if a bit wrinkled. She was also glad to see her bedmate's clothes all present as well. Vaguely, the clothes of the person next to her registered in some part of her mind, but she was still a bit sleep addled and couldn't place them. She raised her eyes and was shocked when she recognized the face.

Like when she had found him asleep in his office, Vincent's face was completely relaxed in sleep. His hair was mussed and falling into his face, so Yuffie reached up and gently pushed it back, stroking his cheek softly in the process. She decided to make the most of this and snuggled just a little bit closer to him, relishing in his warmth.

The next few minutes, Yuffie spent trying desperately to remember what had happened and how they had arrived here together. From her position, she did deduce they were on Tifa's couch; she would recognize that horrible pea green color anywhere. She could also see the mistletoe hanging in the doorway and a flash of memory told her that she and Vincent had been caught beneath it. Her lips tingled when she remembered his chaste kiss.

Vincent shifted, and Yuffie nearly giggled out loud when she felt him bury his face in her neck and breathe on her skin. It tickled the fine hairs on the back of her neck, and she had a hard time trying to stop herself from squirming. This was too nice of an experience to ruin by squirming.

But, she froze when she heard him a mumbled "Yuffie" fall from his lips. He was thinking about her? Even while he was asleep? The thought made her giddy, and she started running her hand through his hair. It must have woken him up, however, for he pulled back and looked at her with eyes filled with confusion. "Morning," she whispered a bit guiltily as she removed her hand from his hair.

"Yuffie." His confusion cleared, and he relaxed against her as his fingers resting against her back started knead her flesh. He should get up, he realized, but he was too comfortable here. And it had been far too long since he had taken the comfort of simply sleeping—nothing more-with someone, knowing you weren't alone.

"So…" Yuffie started, then paused as she tried not to groan when his fingers found a stiff spot on her back. Tifa's couch was not the most comfortable place to sleep. "So," she tried again, "is there anything I need to know about last night?"

Vincent's lips lifted into a half smile. "You don't remember." It wasn't a question. He could tell by the way she was acting that there wasn't much from the night before that she did remember.

"No," she admitted a bit sulkily. She would forget when something apparently nice happened. Just her luck.

A small chuckle rumbled out of his chest, and his other hand moved to her hair and stroked it gently. "Tifa offered to let us stay the night since we were both a little more than tipsy."

"That doesn't explain the couch," Yuffie insisted, trying not to close her eyes at the feel of his hands in her hair. If she could, she knew she would be purring.

"You refused to let me stay on the floor." He raised an eyebrow as he let that sink in. "You insisted that the couch was wide enough for both of us and wouldn't take no for an answer."

"Oh."

"I believe you also threatened bodily harm if I did try to sleep on the floor."

She was starting to feel slightly embarrassed at her actions; if she had been sober, she knew she would have never made the suggestion to Vincent even if she wanted to. Of course, it was nice waking up like this, so maybe she should thank her drunk self. But what about Vincent? He seemed like he was okay with it, but was he really? "Are you… mad?"

His fingers stopped their movements in both her hair and on her back. "No," he reassured softly, then surprised her by nuzzling her cheek and rested his lips by her ear. "It's quite… nice… waking up like this." He didn't realize he had just echoed her earlier thoughts.

"Good," Yuffie murmured as she hugged him the best she could in this position. She closed her eyes and let herself relax in his embrace. Without meaning to, she let herself drift off into sleep once more.

-0-

Later in the morning, they were awakened by Tifa's squeal of delight at seeing the two of them curled up into each other on the couch. She apologized and left the room, but quickly returned with a camera and started snapping pictures, exclaiming how cute they were. However, that was short-lived when Vincent abruptly excused himself and left the two girls alone in the room.

"Thanks a lot, Tifa," Yuffie huffed as she moved over to Vincent's side of the couch; it was still warm from his body and had his scent. She felt like a drug addict when she caught herself sniffing at the fabric.

"Oh, Yuffie, I'm sorry," Tifa apologized sadly. "I didn't realize—"

"No, it's fine. You didn't know." Sighing, Yuffie sat up and straightened her blouse out. "I think he's just a bit embarrassed."

Tifa looked at the ring on her finger and thought of Cloud; he used to be like that, but as they grew as a couple, he had gotten over it. "Give him time, Yuffie." She patted her friend on the leg, then stood up. "Try and get Vincent back in here. We're going to do presents as soon as I can get Cloud awake."

Following Tifa's advice, Yuffie found Vincent in the kitchen. He had apparently found the coffee and was currently fixing himself a cup. She was scared to touch him, half-afraid that earlier had been something she had dreamed up in her mind. But, when he turned towards her and had that half smile on his face, she knew it wasn't. "We're about to open presents in there." She pointed her thumb towards the door, then groaned and slapped herself on the forehead. "Crap," she muttered.

"Yuffie?" he asked quietly as he approached her. She was obviously distressed about something.

"I forgot to get you something for Christmas!"

"Yuf—"

She interrupted him and continued. "I really didn't know what to get you, and then before I knew it, Christmas was here, and I still hadn't gotten you anything. So, I'm really so—"

"Yuffie, hush." He reached out and pulled her to him, allowing her head to rest against his chest.

"But—"

"This is enough, Yuffie." He kissed her softly on the lips, arms wrapping around her and pulling her tight against him. "This is enough," he whispered against her lips when he pulled slightly away, crimson eyes staring into hers intensely before he gently kissed her once more.

Yuffie didn't know what this meant for them or what the future would hold, but for now? He was right. This was enough.

-0-

AN: At one point, I thought this fic was never going to end. And then the ending got there all too soon, and I feel like I've rushed it. I can't win. Apologies for any OOC-ness.