A/N: Well, in the end, I sort've missed this pairing (despite writing so much of it I got tired of it). So, I decided to write a gradual romantic revelation sequence with faintly Joycean overtones. (In other words, fluff punctuated by musings about kettles.)
This chapter (as well as the fic in general) goes out to ShadedHeartLamora, as a Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's gift. Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: Didn't break it, didn't buy it.
Her fingernails, a little less trim than she prefers, brush the blacktop counters of her kitchen, skipping over spilled grains of sugar and faded rings of coffee. Life at night is a different proposition to life in the day, and she prefers the latter, when her windows look out onto a lively rush of morning traffic instead of a black void speckled with streetlights. Her pyjamas are too small for her, her bed too big; nothing about her life seems to fit as it once did. Growing up, she realises, does not end at eighteen.
She flips on the kettle, and soon the water is bubbling away quietly. With practised movements, she tosses in the teabag, the milk, the sugar, and thinks about her kettle. She wanted one of the whistling ones, a kettle to fill her home with sound and life; but then Cloud had given her a brushed aluminium one as a moving-in present, and her dreams of a whistling kettle went on the endless pile of things that might've been.
When the tea is done (two sugars and strong, she takes it, as does everyone she knows), she gulps it down greedily, nearly scalding her mouth. There's a table in the living room, but she doesn't bother with it. Tables are meant to be spoken across, and there's no one to speak to at three in the morning.
She's aware that she's bored. She expected to be. After a life of adventure, a humdrum existence makes boredom a near-perpetual state. There's nothing on the television, and only the terminally weird listen to the radio in the dead of night. She developed the ability to read a newspaper at six years of age, and the wisdom not to exercise it at fifteen, so that's out too. The only thing she can do is make a phone call.
She uses the home phone Tifa got her. It clashes with the rest of the apartment, but that's why she likes it. All her cutlery was from Cid, the kettle and the toaster from Cloud. Barret got the tables and the chairs, and Reeve bought the TV. Nanaki, tired of chairs and tables and human things, went for the wallpaper and the carpets. Vincent donated a fat, heavy brass knocker for her door, probably salvaged from the Shinra mansion. It's the home that Avalanche built, and she feels like a stranger in it.
She dials Vincent's number (bip-bip-boop-boop-bip-bip-beep, the sound as familiar as any she's known) and waits. If he answers, he answers within the first four rings. He guards it jealously, although no one knows why.
"Vincent," she says when she hears the pickup, "are you awake?"
A few moments of near silence; beyond the faint hum of the phone line, she hears him breath.
"I did not give you this number for you to call me at three in the morning, Yuffie," he says critically.
"Not in those words, no. You mind if I come over? You said I was always welcome."
"It was a pleasantry. You have no intention of hearing about my day when you ask me how it was, and likewise I had no intention of you visiting when I said that," he says, voice full of mid-morning grump.
"Be round in two hours, then," she says, and puts the phone down with a click. She smiles to herself as she stifles a yawn and looks around for some fresh clothes. At least she gave him warning this time.
When she arrives, the sun is already bleeding orange into the clouds and the smells of a waking city are beginning to fill the air. There are the first signs of sound and motion and life, and she drinks it in eagerly. Already, she feels more lively, more like herself.
Despite the morning sunshine, it's still cold out; it's been a rough winter for the city of Edge. Every day, it seems, the clouds linger on the horizon and make threats of snow before skulking away, only to return again next afternoon. It's will-they-won't-they weather, as Tifa always says.
The frost nips at the back of her legs as she climbs the stairs, two at a time, to Vincent's apartment. She wishes she'd brought gloves. The handrail (heavy, cold iron, covered with an uneven layer of ugly green paint) numbs her fingers, but force of habit overcomes discomfort and she keeps her hold.
Without ceremony she bursts through his door. Vincent Valentine's door is not locked; it never is. It stands as a defiant challenge to any would-be burglar, a siren's call leading to bad omens and a very angry Vincent. She notes, as she always does, that he, too, has a fat brass knocker attached to his door, although it's rather less polished than hers. Whether it's because hers sees more use or he polished it before he gave it to her, she doesn't know.
As soon as she enters she smells sizzling bacon, and her stomach growls its approval. Wasting no time, she kicks off her sneakers (white, rat-eared, her name written on them in marking pen) and pads her way to his kitchen. She finds Vincent there, huddled over the frying pan with a pristine white apron draped half-heartedly around his midriff. His eyelids are the soft, bruised purple of a man who cannot sleep, and does not wish to; he greets her with a cursory 'hmph'. He has not brushed his hair since they last met, and for that she salutes him.
She takes a chair (Yuffie never 'sits down'; she always 'takes a chair', as there is the outside chance she may steal it), puts her feet resolutely on the table, and begins to harass him with questions she already knows the answer to. Principally, 'why are you such a mopey git?' and 'so, why so much bacon, Vince?' He ignores her, and begins to cook the hash browns.
When he finally slides a plate across the table to her (bacon, hash browns, scrambled eggs, fried bread, all a hair less then than cremated because he's actually insane enough to like them that way) she thanks him ("Cheers, Heston") and gets on with it. Neither of them bother with too much in the way of table manners, mainly because it's difficult to manipulate cutlery with an iron gauntlet, and the last time Yuffie put her elbows beneath a table she was transferring the cutlery to her pockets.
"This must stop happening," he murmurs after one rasher of bacon. He eats and talks in a strict rota, although he doesn't seem to notice it. It amuses her too much for her to tell him.
"What, your cooking? Couldn't agree more. Maybe if you used a temperature less than the surface of the sun, it wouldn't happen," she grins, and chomps down her fried bread nonetheless.
He takes a moment to finish his hash brown and continues. "You know what I mean."
She does, of course. It's only a little weird that she waltzes out of her warm, comfy apartment at four am in the morning to eat breakfast with Dracula. Just weird enough for rumours to spread.
"I do not want women in my abode," he continues, getting up to pour himself a glass of orange juice.
"Or men, or children, or fluffy cuddly animals with hair clips of steel and a bad habit of farting when you share a tent with him. Yeah, I heard about the no visitors policy at the asylum from Tifa a while ago."
"I am quite serious, Yuffie. You do not know the enormity of it," he sighs, and pours her a glass of orange juice too. Get out of my house, but have a drink first. Typical Vince.
"Of what? Everyday life? Oh, spare me the horror!" she says and rolls her eyes. "Oh, and pass me the steak knife. You torched this bacon."
He grumbles and passes her one. She was kidding, but she makes a point of waving it around as she talks. Can't let a good knife go to waste.
"So, whatcha up to today?" she asks when breakfast is done and the smell of freshly brewed coffee begins to fill the kitchen. Although he's no chef, Vincent could easily make a barista.
"Murder, arson, mental torture. The usual evils in the pursuit of peace," he deadpans. It's halfway between a joke and a lament. His work at the WRO counter-terrorism unit is perfectly suited for him, but he does not enjoy it.
"Yeah, yeah, go cry in a corner. You want to try working at a convenience store, Vince. You'd have to do something that's actually difficult, like count," she jokes. "And you haven't seen vicious until the sales roll around. Some people will kill for the last tub of ice cream."
"Good to see you are taking to your new station in life," he returns neutrally. "I hear your father has disowned you."
She nods pensively. It's a bad business, but in a way it was necessary. So yeah, she was born a princess, but everyone's gotta be born something, and it doesn't mean she should get an easy ride. Or so she says. In truth, she just finds being a person easier than being a princess. Sure, it comes at the price of a nine-to-five job with little in the way of fringe benefits, but it gives her something to do all day. Not at night, though. Nothing helps at night.
Eventually he announces that he has to go. His job, such as it is, awaits him eagerly.
"Give me a lift back to my place?" she asks carelessly.
He frowns. "Why would I do that?"
"Because you're madly in love with me and you want me to be happy?" she tries, although his expression is severely unimpressed.
"If I were madly in love with you," he says calmly, "I would tell you to walk, so as to ensure you get exercise and maintain your well being."
"Yeah, right. You just know I have long, smooth legs and you want me to keep 'em in shape. Men are all the same," she huffs. "It's cold out there, so I might hang around for a while. You want me to lock up when I leave?"
He chuckles darkly. "As I am leaving a known thief in my home, I do not see that it would make any difference."
She watches him go with a frown. His apartment is spotless, his sofa hardly used; his television is still in the box it came in. She gets the feeling he's drifting a little further away from the world, like he's right on the edges of her fingertips and she's fumbling gracelessly to keep him afloat. After a moment's musing, she shakes the thought away; it's none of her business, insofar as he keeps giving her free breakfast. With that in mind, she begins searching his cupboards. Charcoaled bacon is one thing, but nothing beats a good bowl of cornflakes.
A/N: As usual, the plot happens later.