[r]ating: ESRB rating of T < themes, language >
[f]andom: Final Fantasy VII
[s]ummary: [Little Empress, don't fear. I'm watching over you.] Wherever she goes, she can feel him, WATCHING her. It started with hangup calls. Breather calls. Condolences. But it didn't last long. Sequel to AWTDC.
[n]otes: Snippet of Chapter Four
How did you get this number?
I can't get my head 'round you
Of course you're not coming over
Snap out of it
You're not making any sense
— Psychobabble, Frou Frou
Chapter Four: Warning Signs
Vincent Valentine stared at that slip of paper. A means of warding one's home from evil, he knew. If it worked, would his demons be able to pass?
"What is the meaning of this?" He demanded of the guards who had appeared.
"That's none of your business," the nearest guard replied. "We don't talk to gaijin anymore."
The guard's eyes narrowed. "That means you. And you're not going in, either."
Vincent glared. This was a Seventh Hell Doom Glare, guaranteed to melt brains in sixty seconds.
The guards backed away. "We're not going to let you hurt her," said the farthest.
"I do not wish to hurt her."
The second-nearest guard edged closer. "She said you'd say that."
Yuffie had been expecting him? And didn't wish to see him? So she was angry, then. But why? Did she hate him for that kiss? Did she hate him for walking away?
"She told you to turn me away?" A pause. "Me specifically?"
"Uh." Not one of the guards seemed to know the answer to that. Only the second guard seemed to have anything to say. "She just said to turn foreigners away, even if they said they meant her no harm."
"Ah. I am a friend of hers. Vincent Valentine."
"Sounds foreign," guard one said. "Prove you know her."
Vincent pulled out his PHS. He tapped the yellow button, holding out the speak-end to the guards, so that all of them could hear.
Yuffie answered. Her voice was wary, thin and sleepy. "Vinnie?"
"You have very zealous guards," he replied.
"I'd say sorry, but I'm not."
She didn't say anything further for a little while. The guards looked at each other and then at him; he had proven them wrong, likely throwing them for a loop.
At length, Yuffie said, "Come on in. Let him through."
The guards blinked and backed away. Vincent didn't gloat. It was not in his nature, and it would only prove to his disadvantage. People liked poor winners about as much as poor losers, and being on ill terms with Yuffie's soldiers wasn't likely to put him on good terms with Yuffie. Instead, he moved toward the door they had watched.
The kekkai— or was it an o-fuda? Both used kotodama, words of Power, and both required blood— did not impede the door's movement or his ability to put his hand in the grip.
Inside, nothing had changed. The presence of the protective ward was his only hint that anything beyond grief plagued the household. The halls were as neat as ever. The koi swam serenely in their pond. They must have brought Godo comfort. He stared at the greenery, at the stillness of the water and the vacuous mouthing of the koi. Their tranquillity must have seemed comforting or even pleasant to the aging Emperor.
He merely saw that they were fish. Simple, ignorant animals. They were incapable of knowing or thinking. Even if they had been capable of knowing, they would have nothing to know beyond a sheltered pond.
What Yuffie herself might see in them, he could only guess.
He turned away from the pond to see Yuffie standing outside her father's room.
"I didn't think it'd be this hard," she told him.
The sorrow in her voice and defeat in her posture, the suddenly frail cast to bones that had once seemed birdlike, made him want to enfold her in his arms. He saw Godo's death take its toll on her, he wanted to reverse it, to hold her and comfort her and— he couldn't bring himself to do it. So he moved toward her instead, forcing his spine straight and his head high, wishing she could remember the pride of who she was. A year before, she'd had that pride in abundance.
"I still miss him." Her voice was soft, nearly a whisper, and slurred: tired. But her eyes were awake, if resting deep in their sockets.
"That will lessen with time." Much time. Years, most likely, he thought but did not say.
She drifted toward him. "I hate living here." Step, step. Tabi-clad feet made bare whispers across the floor.
"So move," he replied. "Live in your mother's house."
She took another step nearer. He bridged the gap between them, small though it had been.
"Build a new palace. Refurbish this one. Leave Da Cha O." He smiled for her. It was the least he could do. "Flee society completely— live in a hut on the mountain."
She laughed, then. The sound was nothing like the laugh of a year earlier, but the mirthful nature was a start. Even better, she wrapped her arms around his middle.
He wondered why he had been so reluctant to return. She had obviously needed him— needed them all. Sending them away hadn't been her best idea. Cooperating, however, had been equally unwise. He wrapped his arms around her, hugging her close.
"How long are you staying here?" She murmured into his chest.
"As long as you want."
He heard her take a deep breath and then breathe out heavily. "Where are you staying?"
Vincent shook his head, and then realized she couldn't see it. He heaved out a sigh and said nothing, letting her draw her own conclusions.
Yuffie didn't disappoint. She lifted her head to look at him. Wide grey eyes in a hollowed, pale face went wider. "You don't have any plans, do you?"
He shook his head again.
"Then stay here." She was stick thin and reedy, like the tall, whistling river grass by the River Leviathan, but her voice came out strong and sure.
"As you wish," he replied.
She smiled, and it was the wan smile from a month ago. The drawn, pinched, stressed thing he had disliked so much. Gang Wu lay at the root of that smile, already dead and Vincent wanted to kill the man. That Yuffie herself had executed Gang Wu didn't matter; he wanted to rip him to shreds with the claw.
But somewhere in those haunted-looking eyes— just the way she looked after Aeris died, after Sephiroth, after Meteor— he saw the faintest sign of hope.
It wasn't enough, nowhere near enough, but it would do.
"Three days," Yuffie told his chest. "Three days until the funeral."
She shook her head. He could feel her breath through his shirt and shifted slightly. "Never."
He placed his good hand on the back of her head. He wanted to tell her that everything would be fine, but he didn't know that for certain. Things in life didn't really turn out for the best; they turned out the way they turned out, and people went on as best they could.
That this tragedy would destroy her, crippling her ability to rule Wutai, was entirely possible. He would do anything he could to help her bear it, but the truth was— almost every ruler Ascended the Pagoda in the midst of tragedy. For the Second to take the throne, the Emperor had to die. Godo would have prepared her for that. She had withstood the loss of Aeris; the loss of her father, while crushing, should not make her crumble like this.
The o-fuda, an unusual colour protecting Ashura, the doubled guards and new mistrust of foreigners: all of it hinted that something deeper and darker than her father's death had gone wrong.
"Something is wrong."
Yuffie gave a short, bitter bark. "Were you here at all a month ago?"
"Do not lie. That is not all that troubles you."
She shrugged. "I'm in the middle of a shitstorm, Vincent. Kim Canon—"
"—an o-fuda is no use against one who does not come in person. Do not lie to me."
Sighing, she looked away.
Vincent stared down at her, trying to discern whatever he could. But he learned little. Her condition told him only that her grief and stress had marked her significantly. Her body language gave no clue to the source of her distress. So he watched her and said nothing for a little while. She replied to his silence with silence of her own, a rarity, and that worried him as well.
"Tell me," he said at last.
"I want to handle it on my own."
She turned away from him, moving nearly soundlessly on nightingale floors. The carelessly-buttoned shorts slid on her hips as they moved. They were baggy enough at the thigh that she almost looked healthy.
Yuffie paused only to tell him, "You can have the spare room. You know where to find it."
And then she left.