I just realized that chapter three is the only one with a title. I will remedy that soon…
Stuck in Limbo
Her green cast seemed completely out of place when paired with her black ensemble, but there wasn't much she could do about it—all Vincent's fault for being so thoughtful and remembering her favorite color. Godo would be proud that she had relented to wearing a dress for such an occasion. While it wasn't her usual style, it was still on the short side, and of course it had been paired with her signature knee-high boots. Her hair was lacking the headband, too, and her usual pouches were resting on the dresser where Tifa had placed them after she had unpacked Yuffie post-hospital discharge.
She was ready.
And she was going to throw up if she didn't get her emotions back under control.
A knock at her door made her turn and she managed a wan smile at the sight of Vincent in normal clothes. "Everyone is ready."
Yuffie nodded and blew out a breath, glancing at herself in the mirror one last time. The cuts and bruises were still obvious, though the pain in her ribs was a little more bearable. Still, she had confidence that she would be able to sit through the ceremony honoring the fallen soldiers without making a fool out of herself and barfing all over Vincent's shiny shoes.
"Cid is here," said Vincent, interrupting the silence once more.
Yuffie looked at him and shrugged. "Good for him."
She sighed and walked slowly to the door, grimacing at the ache in her joints. "Later, Vince. Later."
Vincent followed her and walked the stairs slowly, ready to catch her if she faltered. Yuffie smiled gratefully, knowing he wouldn't let her fall and resolved to make it on her own. "Has my dad called?" she asked, casual.
Yuffie nodded, amused that her old man had been worried enough to call so often. Hearing her father's voice—while it had annoyed her during her teenage years—was something she craved at the moment. Maybe after the ceremony she'd call him, before Tifa forced her to take a happy pill…
Her heart beat a quick pace by the time they reached the bottom of the stairs and she knew that it had to do with her ribs and how they were starting to protest. Vincent took her by the crook of her arm and led her to the front of the bar where everyone had already gathered. Even Barret and Cid had dressed in a more respectable way, she noted.
The moment Cid's eyes met hers the tension seemed to rise, and only Vincent noticed. "Brat," Cid started, glaring mildly at her.
"What?" she asked, taking Vincent's arm as he began to walk toward the door.
"I'm glad to see you up and about," he muttered, making sure that she was the only one to hear.
She let out a small sigh and nodded. "Thanks, old man." And just like that it felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She didn't know what it was but having Cid be mad at her had felt as if she'd been mad at her own father. Still, she knew that she couldn't even mention it for fear that Cid would curse her out about it… He'd always let the 'old man' comments slide by, but actually telling him that she considered him a father figure…
She smiled to herself and tightened her hand around Vincent's arm.
And when he looked over at her, he was caught by the soft smile on her face.
Her heart was still hammering in her chest when they made it to the WRO headquarters. She could see from The Shera's cockpit that many had come to honor the fallen and she just hoped that Reeve didn't ask her to make a speech because, hello, she hadn't prepared one. She didn't think her voice would even work when addressing the families of her fallen comrades.
"We're all here with you," Tifa said quietly from her side.
Yuffie nodded gratefully and was thankful that her stomach was only minimally acting up. When the airship touched down, she stood and walked with Tifa to the exit ramp. Once outside, they were greeted by a few of the newer recruits, who would be escorting them to Reeve.
She couldn't help but feel like a bug under a microscope as she passed various soldiers, some faces new, but most old. It was unnerving to see them all; to wonder if they were judging her for not making the right decisions in time to save their comrades. For not being the right leader.
"Breathe, Yuffie," said Vincent's quiet voice.
She looked up at him and drew in a deep breath.
When they reached Reeve, Yuffie was surprised to see him wearing a dark coat in honor of the occasion. He moved close to her and gave her a brief squeeze. "I'm glad to see you up and about," he said quietly.
Yuffie smiled slightly. "I couldn't miss this, Reeve. They deserve this much," she said in a small voice.
Reeve squeezed her shoulder in reassurance. "I'm not going to expect you to give a speech, but if you'd like to…"
"I—I haven't prepared anything," Yuffie said, going into slight panic.
Her boss nodded and smiled. "I understand. It's just important that you're here."
Yuffie wasn't entirely convinced that he was right, but she just nodded and waved as he was called away to handle another matter. When she looked up, she came face to face with Harris' wife and son. She nearly turned and ran, had it not been for Vincent standing at her back; protecting her or blocking her in, she didn't know. Besides, she'd never been a coward.
"I'm sorry," Yuffie blurted before she could stop herself. "I didn't—I couldn't save him and I'm so sorry."
Mrs. Harris looked like she hadn't slept in days but she offered a small smile. "My husband… he spoke very highly of you. He said that one day you would make an excellent leader for your country."
Yuffie nearly choked on a sob, but she managed to hold it back, her eyes filling with tears. "It was an honor to have worked with him, ma'am."
"I'm sure he thought the same of you," replied the older woman, nodding. "And you have nothing to feel sorry for. We all knew the risks in this job and still he wanted to help make a difference in the wake of Shin-Ra."
"He was… a great role model. I'm glad I was able to meet him, and you. I'm going to miss him… a lot."
Mrs. Harris sighed quietly before cupping Yuffie's cheek in a warm hand. "You're still young. Honor my husband's memory by living your life to the fullest," she said before nodding toward Vincent politelyand then walking away with her son.
Yuffie watched her go and felt her heart break in her chest all over again because of the guilt.
"We should get going," said Vincent from behind her, making her jump in surprise.
She had forgotten that he was there, but she was grateful that he hadn't left her side. She felt sadness settle over her shoulders like a heavy weight as Vincent led her out toward their seats.
He sat with her in silence, taking in the drooped shoulders and the glassy eyes. What he wouldn't have given to have her teasing him about—about anything, really.
"My dad would've wanted me to say something," Yuffie said quietly, listening as people filled the seats, most of them fellow WRO soldiers.
Vincent looked up at the stage where Reeve would soon address the fallen and their families. "How do you feel about that?"
The ninja sighed and sat back, her good hand tightening into a fist. "I don't know."
Vincent had no reply, but he had a feeling that she did know. Yuffie had always been a sharp girl, even when she pretended to be nothing but a thieving klutz. Clumsy she may have been at times, but she was a ninja. That meant that her training had probably started at a very early age… He'd never asked her what she had done during the time that she had left Wutai and had then met up with AVALANCHE, and a part of him honestly didn't want to know. The world they lived in had been a dangerous place for a long time and she had been a sixteen year old thrown out into a dark world.
When Reeve began to name the soldiers that had died during the mission, her fingers squeezed his tightly, and he could do nothing more than hold onto her hand in reassurance.
He remembered what it had been like to be a Turk. They had mourned their fallen in a rather unconventional way… by drinking themselves stupid at a bar. ShinRa had started out corrupt from the very beginning, and this had meant that mourning a Turk would not happen publicly. After all, Turks had always been nothing but silent shadows, expendable. Many of his friends had never received any public recognition and their families to clear apology to speak of.
"Let us hold a moment of silence to honor our fallen soldiers."
Yuffie closed her eyes and pictured each one of them in her mind, goofing off, making her laugh, competing with each other during drills, imparting wisdom… or really lame moves to put on a woman at a bar. She had to let go of Vincent's hand to pinch herself to keep from bursting into tears. She would break down once she was back in her room in Tifa's bar, not now. Not now.
She watched the rest of the ceremony with dry eyes, guilt gnawing at her insides as she watched the families accept medals and recognitions for their deceased family member. She had to look away when Harris' wife stepped up.
"Are you all right?" asked Vincent quietly.
Yuffie blinked and looked at him, realizing that she had been clenching her hands tightly into fists in grief, to the point where her skin had been turning a pasty white. She watched in detachment as her palms became rosy once the blood began to return. "I'm fine. My ribs are starting to bother me," she lied without looking at him.
He knew she was lying, but he was not willing to call her out on it. Not in her condition, even though he knew that it wouldn't be healthy for her to bottle up her grief. Sighing quietly to himself, he focused his gaze on Reeve as the Commissioner began to wind down his speech.
Sitting in the living room of Cloud and Tifa's home, flipping slowly through the few channels on the television, she wondered what her father would think of the fact that she had said nothing at the memorial. It hadn't been like she hadn't wanted to, but… she'd just been too chicken-shit to get up and say something, even when Reeve had glanced at her when he had ended his speech.
Shame couldn't even begin to describe how she had felt then. Sighing to herself, Yuffie shifted and let out a forlorn sigh as she took a sip of the alcohol she'd stolen from Tifa's bar. She knew that with her meds she had to be extra careful, and that was the only thing that had stopped her from taking the entire bottle. Besides, three little gulps weren't going to kill her.
The volume of the TV was on low since midnight had come and gone an hour before. When they had returned from the memorial, she had excused herself and locked herself up in her room with the excuse of her ribs hurting. Tifa had wanted them to have dinner together but Yuffie had declined and had gone to her room then, trying not to feel the weight of Vincent's eyes on her retreating back. Any other occasion she would've teased him about checking out her fabulous ass, but it hadn't been the right time then.
The ache over her ribs was still present, but she could walk on her own now. She'd swallowed a pill and had slept the evening away. When she'd woken, in the wake of a nightmare, everyone had gone to bed and she had decided to raid the fridge for a snack where she found a plate filled with food that Tifa had left for her. After eating, she had grabbed the liquor and had plopped down on the couch with the blanket Tifa usually kept on hand.
Yuffie wondered if Vincent was sleeping and whether he felt annoyed with her behavior from early in the afternoon. She couldn't believe that he was still around town, and had taken up caring for her since she'd been in the hospital. She had expected him to leave as soon as she'd been walking on her own, but he was still around.
Despite her gloomy mood it made her heart warm to know that he cared enough to stick around. She knew she needed to keep from getting her hopes up though. It wasn't like his actions meant that he'd ever be interested in her as more than a comrade. And there went her mood again… and the second shot of alcohol.
She paused at a channel where various serious looking men were in deep discussion of the current events in the city. What had caught her attention was that one had mentioned the WRO and the recent deaths surrounding Midgar.
They tore into Reeve's leadership, his speech at the memorial, their mission in Midgar, and the WROs true purpose in the city. And right along with it, her name came up.
"The truth of the matter is that they picked someone not qualified to lead a mission—much less an entire group of soldiers. There were plenty of much more qualified men and women to be the heads."
"Tuesti was playing favoritism because of his involvement with AVALANCHE and these were the consequences."
"We have failed to take into account the fact that she has a serious connection with Wutai. After all, she is the successor of the current ruler. She has some knowledge as to how to lead people. I don't believe her father would've failed so much at training his would-be-heir."
"Reeve Tuesti's leadership of the WRO is just as much a failure as Yuffie Kisaragi's in this mission."
Quietly, Yuffie shut off the TV and let out a long sigh that stuttered off a little toward the end. Damn it, she wouldn't cry over stupid words from stupid old men. Still, their words hurt her deeply and made her question whether she would know how to keep her country moving forward and not drive it into ruin.
The third shot of alcohol felt warm as it moved down her throat and she began to feel nice and drowsy. Though that could've just been her meds mixing with the alcohol, she mused in detachment. Why had her life been so completely turned upside down? Why couldn't she have just stayed as head of Intelligence and be done with it? Had she been on her own, no one would've died—except maybe her and her alone—and then none of this would've been happening. Reeve's leadership skills wouldn't have been questioned, and Wutai and her father would've been left out of the bad publicity, too.
Why was it that she could never do anything right?
Muffling her mouth with a hand and the blanket, Yuffie gave into her tears and curled into herself, wishing she'd had the ability to hide away from the world.
The next few days passed by in a blur of sleep, meds, and slow, dulling pain. She could breathe better, but sometimes, when she walked to the bathroom too quickly she'd get winded and would have to stop and grasp at the wall until it passed. She'd been tempted to use materia to help herself along, but the doctor still wouldn't recommend it and she didn't need another episode of fever to interfere with the natural healing.
Yuffie also wondered when Tifa would get tired of having her around, mooching off of her. Well, Reeve had been sending weekly checks for being temporarily incapacitated, and Yuffie had handed them off to Tifa, telling her to use the money to help with the bills, but the ninja didn't know if her friend had. Tifa had always been too darned generous for her own good and Yuffie wouldn't have been surprised to know that the martial artist had been keeping the checks in a safe place for when she'd feel like herself again.
But it wasn't happening. Not much held any appeal to her for the moment. She hadn't gone outside of the Seventh Heaven in a while and she was starting to look a little too pale. The window of her room was kept open during the day, but that had been all the sunlight Yuffie had seen in a while. She got up late in the day, walked down to eat lunch with Tifa, and sometimes Cloud and Vincent, and would then return to her room for the rest of the afternoon. Sometimes she would sit on the old, beat up recliner in her room, staring out the window, and other times she would just lay in bed, wrapped in her blankets depending on the weather which was usually as gloomy as her mood.
Vincent had stopped coming by as much… and it burned. It made her wonder if he had gotten fed up with her already. But… there wasn't much she could do about the way she felt. Reeve had offered the services of a shrink, but she had declined his offer a little too roughly. Maybe he was onto something though. She was tired of feeling like the world was passing her by and she was stuck in limbo.
A knock at her door brought her out of her thoughts and she let out a grunt of acknowledgement but remained where she was in bed. The door to her room opened and heavy footsteps announced her visitor. For a moment her heart pounded in her chest, wondering if it was Vincent, but then she heard Cloud's quiet sigh as he set down something on her nightstand.
"I know I'm not the best person to come here to give you advice, but don't you think this has gone on long enough?" he asked quietly.
Yuffie shrugged. "How long has it been?"
Cloud rolled his eyes, annoyed that she was acting like a child now. "A couple of days. A week. And a half. You're good enough to walk on your own two feet, yet you're still here."
"Are you throwing me out? What's your point?"
Cloud rolled his eyes, aware that she couldn't see him. "Of course I'm not throwing you out. Tifa wouldn't let me…"
When she didn't reply, he sighed and cleared his throat. "I'm kidding."
"I know," Yuffie replied, shrugging.
"Look… it isn't good to wallow in what has happened," he said, quiet. "I know this from personal experience. Guilt eats at you from the inside and destroys everything surrounding you. There are people here who care for your wellbeing, Yuffie, and this is hurting them as much as it hurts you."
"It's not a feeling I can control," Yuffie protested.
"With help you can. You should think about Reeve's offer to have you see a psychologist. Cases of survivor's guilt can destroy your entire life. It almost did mine," he said, honest. "Tifa tried to help me but I wouldn't let her. And you saw how much time I wasted."
Yuffie wondered how much it had taken Cloud to tell her all of that. But what was she meant to do once she got out of her funk? Go back to Wutai to rule? Not after her spectacular failure with the WRO. She didn't have a love interest—and crushing on Vincent didn't count, since he would never reciprocate—so it wasn't like there was a man she was losing. Her friends were another story.
"You can start out slowly. Go out. Walk around the city for a little while. Just don't stay here, locked in this room all day, okay?" Cloud asked.
She nodded with a sigh and turned to look at him. "Thanks for your words, Cloud."
He inclined his head once before walking out of her room and shutting the door quietly behind him.
Yuffie looked over at the nightstand and smiled to herself when she saw a sandwich and a glass of milk sitting there, waiting for her. She'd give Cloud's words some thought but she didn't know whether she'd find the strength to get up and out. Taking a sad bite of the sandwich—peanut butter and jelly, because Cloud sucked at cooking—she chewed slowly and felt tears blur her vision.
Maybe Cloud was right and she did need some professional help. All that was left was for her to help herself.
He swept into her room through the window quietly, taking note that the sheets were a tangled mess around her legs and that her expression was twisted in a grimace. He hadn't been by to see her for a few days because of Reeve and his continued investigation of what had gone on during the incident of Yuffie's mission.
So far, a personal attack on Yuffie had been ruled out, and for this Vincent had been thankful. He had been present when the findings had been relayed to Godo and had nearly felt the relief Godo Kisaragi had exuded at the news. Vincent had then wondered whether Yuffie receiving threats on her life had become a common occurrence in Wutai…
Glancing at her face, Vincent was sad to see that she looked in the throes of a nightmare and his heart ached for not being able to do a thing about it. He wondered how many times she had relived that moment of the explosion, the demise of her comrades, and her own face-off with death.
As it was, he could do nothing but watch in what his conscience was telling him was an invasion of privacy… especially so late at night. His thoughts were interrupted when he noticed her hands curl into fists and her lips part in a cry.
The look on her face was so filled with anguish that he couldn't stop his hand from reaching for her shoulder and shaking her awake. She jumped awake with a strangled shriek and it probably would've been worse had he not released her immediately.
She lay awake, blinking into the dark and breathing in ragged gulps of air; he didn't know whether he should make his presence known to her.
"Yuffie?" he asked after a moment, his concern winning out against his common sense.
She turned to look at him with eyes filled with pain before she looked away and blinked, tears leaving her eyes slowly. "W-what are you doing here?" she asked shakily.
Vincent approached her side slowly, allowing her the chance to move away or ask him to leave if she wished, but she didn't. "I… wished to check on you. I know that I haven't visited you in a few days, but it was because Reeve had me running investigation teams in Midgar."
Yuffie nodded in understanding, not trusting her voice just yet and wishing that her skin could stop itching from the nightmare she'd just woken from. The feel of Mako seemed to have been burned into her skin and it gave her the creepy feeling of ants crawling in her veins. Would the nightmares ever end?
"I will leave you to get more sleep," he said quietly, standing when she didn't reply right away.
"No!" Yuffie exclaimed, louder than she had intended. "Please… I don't think I can be alone right now," she whispered.
Vincent nodded and remained where he was seated. "Are the nightmares frequent?" he asked in a low voice.
"Every time I close my eyes," Yuffie said, sounding incredibly exhausted.
He understood what she meant. He'd had nightmares every single day he spent in the coffin, and with less frequency once he had left it. "I hear that you haven't wanted to leave this room for nearly a week…"
She knew that he was asking, but she honestly didn't want to talk to him about it. "Don't worry about it, Vince. I'll get out of it soon. After all, I'm the great White Rose of Wutai," she said lightly.
Vincent didn't know whether to believe her or not. Never before had he seen Yuffie brought down so far from her energetic, cheerful self. "It's not healthy."
She stared at the dark sky outside her window and shrugged she shoulder she wasn't laying on. "It's not like I'm choosing to feel this way."
"I understand," he said in a quiet voice.
Yuffie nodded but didn't turn to look at him, even at the shuffle of clothing as he removed his cloak—or so she assumed without looking. For some reason his presence seemed to calm her inner turmoil and it also made the tension in her body leave with every exhalation of breath. A part of her couldn't believe that just his presence was enough to put her at ease, but there he was, making her pounding heartbeats slow, but only a little. She had a feeling that her accelerated heartbeats were caused by how he made her feel.
Having him so near, showing that he still cared about what happened to her and what she was doing with her life, made her want to cry. But damn it, she had been doing way too much crying the last few days! She hated how vain it made her sound, but the last thing she had ever wanted was for Vincent to see her with a red, shiny nose and puffed up eyes… There went the tears.
She tried to remain silent but her shuddering breath gave her away. "Sorry, Vince. I bet you're getting sick and tired of babysitting me, huh?" she asked, wiping her tears away with a sniffle.
"It's the least I can do for someone I care about."
There goes my heart. I'm surprised he hasn't heard it yet, she mused.
"Besides, you suffered a great physical and mental trauma," he replied, as if that was reason enough that she was allowed to act like a complete baby.
She felt selfish for putting her friends through all of her drama.
"Yuffie?" he questioned when he received no reply.
"I'm listening," she muttered, sighing heavily. "I'm just tired." Of feeling sad, guilty, overwhelmed, afraid…
"Then I should leave you to get some rest. We can speak more later this morning."
Her mouth ran away from her without her permission before he could even take a step…
"Vince… w-will you hold me?" she whispered, barely audible, cheeks burning. She almost would've preferred Godo, because she missed the old far even though he had never been the affectionate type, but she needed someone to hug her. Even Vincent—the man who shied away from touch—seemed like a good choice at the moment.
Vincent hesitated for a moment, watching her thin shoulders shake, her back still to him. It was a very intimate thing what she was asking him to do. He hadn't touched anyone that way since his Turk years, since before Lucrecia… But here was Yuffie now, asking him for comfort. The question was if he'd be able to put aside his reservations and help her… to be the friend she needed.
She jumped slightly at the sound of muffled clanking and it took her a moment to realize that Vincent had removed those metal monstrosities he called boots… Frowning she lifted her head from her pillow and glanced at him just in time to catch him in nothing but his black pants and a black, soft looking long sleeved shirt.
Turning quickly away, Yuffie felt her heart stutter in her chest when the bed dipped and he quietly settled in, not touching her. She wondered if he didn't want to, or if he felt forced by her request, but then his voice quickly blew those thoughts away.
"You can… settle in any way you wish," he said, sounding hesitant.
Yuffie shifted her body around to look at him and smiled before she shifted close enough to lay her head against his shoulder. Still, she maintained a respectable distance and she curled her arms between her chest and the side of his body. He felt incredibly warm, and she wondered if it was him or if was a result of all of that leather he usually wore.
Despite her effort to stay awake and just bask in his closeness, in the sound of his heart, in the fact that Vincent Valentine was in her bed, keeping her company, her eyes felt too heavy. She didn't think she had ever felt so relaxed before so quickly without the aid of her happy pills. "Vince?" she murmured sleepily.
"Thank you." For sticking around so far, she whispered inwardly.
Vincent's arm came around her back and squeezed her gently in reply as he watched her eyes close. He didn't know what it was about this girl that made him throw away all of his reservations. He had always tried to keep his distance, even from the people he considered friends, but somehow Yuffie had always made this a difficult feat. She was… everything he didn't want in his life but that he couldn't help but desire. She was everything Lucrecia had never been, and he didn't know whether to curse or appreciate it.
He supposed that it was the latter because even as the sun rose, he never let her go.
I don't think there's any way for me to properly apologize for this humongous lack of updates. The writer's block has been killer and it has taken me a long time to get out of it. I had this chapter nearly done for months now and hadn't found a proper way to end it until a few days ago. Please forgive any redundancy when it comes to scenes and dialogue. I'm going to be rereading this story in the next few days to make sure I'm not just repeating stuff.. I have an idea of where this is going, so that's the good part.
Also, I normally don't campaign for reviews, and most of you should know this if you're returning readers from my other fics, but please let me know if you're still reading and if you even want me to continue this story. Pretty please? Reviews also help feed the muse and it's been starved for a while, so you'd all be a lot of help. Anyway, thank you so much for sticking with me so far! Up next I do have a smutty SnowLightning fic that unfortunately will not be posted here, so if you're interested in the pairing, keep an eye on the writing community I have on livejournal.
Thanks for reading everyone and I hope you have a great week!