Title: Dark at the Heart of It
Fandom/Pairing: FFVII; Yuffie, Shalua
Rating: ESRB Rating of T for Teen < grief, complexity >
Summary: Vincent has absolutely nothing to do with Yuffie's hatred of Shelke.
Notes: To the tune of "Some torture chamber of the heart"
The ninja's voice is cheerful as she says, "Tifa, I was just calling to say that I'm not going to be able to make Friday dinner today."
"Yuffie, this is the third week you've missed in a row. Tell Reeve I said not to work you to death," Tifa replies with an easy cheer that masks her disquiet.
"This has nothing to do with Reeve," And everything to do with Shelke, Tifa thinks, missing the tail end of Yuffie's excuse.
"If you say so," she says, mentally removing one place setting from the table while she gnaws her lower lip.
"I promise, I'll try and be there next time."
Tifa hangs up the phone and gnaws on her lower lip some more.
Yuffie does not hate Shelke because of Vincent. It's dumb to hate somebody just because your crush gets along better with them than with you. Really, really dumb. And she doesn't, because Yuffie Kisaragi is not dumb.
Yuffie doesn't hate Shelke because of the fact that she was with the Deepground. Reeve kidnapped Marlene, but she accepted him wholeheartedly into AVALANCHE and is proud to be working for him. He's got a good heart, Reeve, even if he has a tendency to be emo and won't let her have a tranquilizer gun to use on idiot employees. So the fact that Shelke was a Deepground soldier, a member of Tsviet--even if she was disliked--really doesn't bother Yuffie.
Yuffie hates Shelke because of Shalua. Not because Shalua died for Shelke. That's only half of it.
Yuffie hates Shelke because Shalua died for her and Shelke mocked that sacrifice.
"I wish he'd just let me slap her one more time," Yuffie says to herself as she re-reads the final briefing. She let all her paperwork pile up until today, but she's finished it.
Suddenly, her fool-proof plan to avoid Friday dinner doesn't seem so fool-proof anymore.
If she'd just gotten in one more slap--or, even better, a really good right hook--then she could show her face again. She could hold her head high, know that Shelke had gotten the point, and... and...
And it wouldn't hurt so much.
(But it does hurt, it does, the pain is still there right now, her heart is red and throbbing with it. aching for Shalua just as much as it aches for Aerith, for her mother.)
Shalua had what amounted to a military funeral. They buried her with full honours, from the snazzily dressed WRO officers to the mournful wails of trumpets and her hometown's flag folded crisply on her coffin.
Yuffie remembers standing next to Reeve and for once wearing the full WRO non-combatant officer's dress uniform, down to the blue trenchcoat, the buttons all shiny and bright. The black armband on her right arm had been tight, perhaps too tight, but she'd taken comfort in it. It had been like another peron's grip on her, had kept her sane and speaking Standard.
And Shelke had been there too, wearing a black dress Tifa had bought for the occasion. Yuffie can still feel the burn of tears in her eyes as she stared over the coffin at Shelke and Vincent. She'd pretended that Shelke was there not because Vincent was but because Shelke knew her sister deserved her respects.
At least Vincent had taken off that goddamn ridiculous cape and was wearing some real shoes, not those hideous boots.
But the thing that pisses Yuffie off the most about the funeral was that it didn't rain.
Shalua deserved rain.
The phone rings exactly once before somebody picks it up.
The voice is Shelke's.
Yuffie grinds her teeth together for a moment, fully aware that Shelke can probably hear it. Somehow, she just can't bring herself to care if Shelke knows how much she hates talking to her.
"Can I talk to Tifa, please?" Her voice comes out all wrong, like she's just this side of strangling something, instead of the frostily pleasant sound she was aiming for.
Shelke's voice is as emotionless as ever as she says, "Please wait one moment."
Tifa thinks Shelke is changing, is showing more emotion. Yuffie just can't believe that.
Tifa's voice is weakly hopeful. "Yuffie?"
"Yeah, Teef, I was just calling to let you know that it… looks like I'm going to finish earlier than I'd thought."
Tifa's smile is so audible that Yuffie can practically see it. "Great! I'm glad to hear that. I'll sit you right beside Marlene."
"Sounds good," she says, trying to mean it, but it comes out sounding like I'd rather have a Behemoth rip out my liver and feed it to
"Yuffie," Tifa says, a subtle note of warning in her tone, "once Marlene and Denzel go to bed, we need to talk." The warning is subtle, but Yuffie's heard it enough that it might as well be a shrieking claxon.
"It's about Shelke, isn't it."
"She's so sure you hate her," the older woman murmurs into the phone.
That one sentence brings everything back. The sting of Shelke's skin against her palm, They say it'd take a miracle, the crushing weight of Vincent's hand on her shoulder. The sight of Shalua sleeping in her regeneration chamber, dead in her coffin, dead asleep at her desk with her glasses pushed down low on her nose.
Shalua's closed eyes, never to open again because they say it'd take a miracle, and Shelke's dry eyes, seen over the open coffin at the funeral where it didn't rain.
"Well, she'd be right," she finds herself saying with the casually unsympathetic cruelty of the days before Aerith died.
The last time Yuffie saw Shalua alive, she had been running through what video they had of the Kalm incident with obsessive precision. Reeve had turned to her for analysis, despite the fact that she was "just R&D." He had this funny way of expecting things from people; Yuffie will always remember the way he turned to them and said, "I need the two of you to step up on this. If we're right, it—could get very ugly."
And Shalua had stepped up. That was the kind of person she was.
"I'll be heading into Edge soon," Shalua said, never taking her eyes from the computer monitor and scrolling lines of god-knew-what. Her fingers were a fast, loud blur against the keyboard.
"Have fun with that," she replied, devil-may-care and so unspeakably young, even that late. "And good luck, too, you'll need it."
"Not as likely," Shalua had replied, still not looking away from her computer. "Reeve's sending Vincent Valentine there."
"Ooh, Vincent Valentine," Yuffie cackled, curling her hands around a cup of bad coffee and wishing she had some sugar and cream so she could make it even worse. "Yeah, I'd still be careful, if I was you. Radio silence plus those weird dog people things does not equal happy funtimes."
Shalua gave her an odd look, but Yuffie just shrugged.
"Those dog people are actually people," Shalua said suddenly, eyes alighting on a segment of video.
A few keystrokes later, and the segment of video repeated. More keystrokes, making the video freeze, then zoom, then clarify, then repeat.
"Look at the movement. It's slightly unnatural. Those are human joints, albeit excellently modified. Hojo was a fantastic surgeon, I'll give him that."
Hojo wasn't a fantastic anything, Yuffie didn't say. He was a twisted freak with a god complex whose genetically engineered psycho of a son tried to destroy the world.
Instead, she said, "I see that. You wanna tell me how to kill them faster?"
Shalua smirked and opened her desk drawer, pulling out a ridiculously large gun for such a thin-wristed woman. "I'd say... same as anything else. Two bullets to the back of the head. Or, if you must, three to the front of the head."
Yuffie watched as the other woman stood. She stretched, ran her hands through her hair--glad now that it was so short-- and asked, "Leaving now, I take it?"
"I've determined everything that will be of use to me."
Shalua suddenly seemed a lot taller than she had before. Her posture was picture perfect as she rammed the gun into a holster.
"Don't worry about me," she said, pushing her glasses up off her nose. "I'll see you when all this is over, I guess."
"See you then," Yuffie had said with a wink and a wave.
And then Shalua had walked out the door.
The next time Yuffie saw her, there hadn't been time for any words beyond, "Where's the Commissioner?" and Shalua had called, as she rushed out another door, "I don't know, I need to check on something else."
Three months later, Yuffie still wishes she hadn't let her go.
Yuffie's scooter is bright yellow and looks wrong parked next to Barret's ancient truck, Reeve's awesome Shadowfox, and Cloud's scary bite-your-nose-off bike. Vincent and Shelke take the limited public transportation.
She doesn't bother to lock it up, just rests her helmet and a nifty little flashbang on it. Then she walks up the steps and into the house.
Inside, she hears laughter and suddenly it feels like Aerith is alive again, like she never met Shalua or Shelke, like Sephiroth is still out there but tonight they're here, wherever here is and it has become home. Then she remembers and the weight of the past three years crashes back onto her. She is not sixteen anymore.
She forces herself to walk down the hallway--just a few steps but oh good goddamn do they hurt--and confront the scene that haunts her every time she even thinks about coming here.
In the dining room, the AVALANCHE members who can make it to Edge are sitting at the table, laughing. And Shelke is there with them, with that puzzled, calculating look on her face, trying to deconstruct the evening and figure out exactly what it is they're laughing about. She's got a hell of a puzzle ahead of her; some things, you just can't laugh at without having been through.
"A bear wrapped in a marshmallow, that foo' called me," Barret says with that harsh booming guffaw that takes up all the space in the room. Cloud chuckles and Tifa giggles and suddenly Yuffie aches, aches, aches for Aerith.
"And then I puked on his shoes," she says, smiling brightly and pretending that Shelke isn't there.
"Yuffie!" Marlene and Barret cry at the same time. "Good ta see ya, brat," Barret says--and he really is a bear of a man--"it's only been goddamn ages!"
And then Yuffie is bowled over by an armful of clinging nine-year-old.
"Good to see you too, old man," she says, wishing Cid was around so they could really reminisce.
"Yuffie, we're glad you could come," Tifa says, her voice soft and sweet and happy, at the same time Vincent says, "You seem to be growing a sense of responsibility."
"Despite my best efforts," she says as an answer to both statements and means it—sort of. She blows off the hurt like it's nothing but really she's storing it up for later, when she can leave and lick her wounds and make sure to pile up housework too so she'll really have an excuse not to show up next time.
"Why would you not wish to grow up?" It's Shelke's voice, but Yuffie does a double-take because there's an actual inflection in it.
"Whoah, Shelke, you actually asked that question," she says, grinning as if she doesn't mean anything by it.
Tifa catches her eye and gives her the 'we are not amused' look. It's a quick warning look, something anybody who hadn't been in AVALANCHE would miss. But Yuffie doesn't miss it.
She feels completely free to ignore the question, though. Why should she bother to answer? Anybody who has to ask why Yuffie Kisaragi wouldn't want to grow up just isn't worth answering.
She turns to Tifa with her very best rakish grin and asks, deliberately, "When's dinner?"
She hopes to Leviathan nobody sees the screaming Yuffie shaking her fists. Hopes nobody hears her screaming I want out of here.
The very best memory of Shalua, the memory she would have used in a euglogy, if she had been asked for a eulogy, is the night Shalua told her about Shelke. Not in so many words, of course. Yuffie didn't even know the girl's name.
They were staying up all night, Yuffie because she maybe bought into the idea that sleep was for the weak just a little too much (and besides, Reeve was still in the building, still working, why shouldn't she be?); Shalua because she actually had work to do. Being the head scientist in R&D came with responsibilities out the ass. Yuffie could sympathize. It felt like she was babysitting her operatives constantly.
Around one, Yuffie had left temporarily, found an all-night Wutaian restaurant--more a diner, really, but details, shmetails--and came back with three brown paper bags full of food.
Two bags went upstairs for Reeve. Cartons of noodles and cartons of rice and tubs of soup, two fortune cookies and a box of steamed vegetables were placed at his elbow in a random order. She made sure the cookies would be found last.
"Thank you," he said, sipping at his coffee and not looking away from the papers he was reviewing.
"Not a prob," she said, going back to the lab to fiddle around with her communications system and wake up some of her operatives at an ungodly hour just for a sitrep.
While Yuffie was in the middle of typing in a command that Shalua had taught her, the older woman had looked up and asked, "Is there any way I can hijack that system for a second?"
"Finish your lomein," Yuffie had replied, punching the enter key right in the stomach and watching as three nodes on the map the monitor was displaying lit up blue.
Shalua chuckled but picked up her carton of lomein. "You and feeding people."
"I figure if you science types get reminded to eat, you'll remember to shower and brush your teeth," she cracked automatically. "And use deo."
The look Shalua gave her was one of cool amusement. "I see."
"So, why do you want my satellites, anyway?" Yuffie asked once Shalua had finished off the noodles and she was obligated to relocate.