Chapter 6

Nanaki didn't come to meet them when they arrived, and the gatekeeper's expression was somber as he welcomed them in.

"Nanaki's with Bugenhagen," he said. "He hasn't left his side in days."

"I take it he ain't doin' too well," Barret said grimly.

Ira shook his head. "We're all worried... I think it may not be much longer now."

The others were nodding solemnly. Yuffie lifted her gaze towards the observatory, where Bugenhagen lived. Night had fallen, but its lights glowed in the darkness. Yuffie didn't wait for the others, but walked on past Ira and started up the steps.

Cosmo Canyon had a certain steadiness to it, a reliability, like Nanaki himself. It had been here a long time, and though Yuffie wasn't sure if Bugenhagen had always lived here, she knew he'd made it home for a long time, too. Maybe forty or fifty years, since Nanaki was a cub. Long enough to have been friends with his parents, and long enough, too, that Nanaki probably felt closer to him than to the memories of his parents.

Yuffie wasn't sure what that was like, exactly. Her mother had died more than ten years ago, and Godo had pulled away from her, and no one had taken their place until Barret. She'd seen him injured, but it was hard to imagine him on a sickbed.

Bugenhagen's bedroom was on the mid-level of the observatory, just below the telescope. All those wrinkles on his face had always made him look ancient, but lying in bed now, he looked so much smaller than Yuffie remembered. He barely seemed to make a lump in the blankets.

Nanaki lay on the floor beside the bed, and he looked up as Yuffie reached the top of the ladder. He glanced at Bugenhagen, then back at her, and shook his head slightly. Yuffie put a finger to her lips, tilting her head in question, and he nodded.

She climbed back down to the room below, and the others entered the observatory as Nanaki came down to join her.

"Grandfather is sleeping," Nanaki explained softly. "I'm afraid you won't be able to speak with him now."

"That's all right," said Barret. "How you holdin' up? Anythin' we can do for you while we're here?"

Nanaki shook his head. "I couldn't say."

"Have you eaten?" Wedge asked. "Times like this, it's easy to forget."

"No... No, I don't think I have, in a while."

"Then we'll go down to the pub and fetch you something. We can all eat together."

"All right," said Nanaki. "Thank you."

The others started for the door. Jessie looked back. "Yuffie, you coming?"

Yuffie hesitated, then shook her head. "No. Just grab me whatever, okay? I don't really care."

Jessie nodded, but she stepped back to pull off her pack and hand it to Yuffie. "You hang onto this then, so I don't have to lug that thing all over the place."


The others left, and there was silence save for the faint hum of machinery. They were surrounded by it, from the common kitchen appliances nearby to the planetarium in the room next door and the telescope overhead. She knew it wasn't powered by Mako, but the sound still bugged her. Or, maybe it was just the absence of any other sounds. She thought she should've been saying something, but she was drawing a blank.

"The Huge Materia?" Nanaki asked finally, nodding to Jessie's bag.

"Yeah," Yuffie answered. She set the bag down on the kitchen table, drew out the Nibel Huge Materia, and set it down, not wanting to hold it in her hands. "We're three for three now. Zack called on the way over. The battle at Fort Condor's over."

"Are he and Cloud all right?"

She nodded. "Yeah, they're okay. I mean, Zack sounded kind of weird, but I guess he's just tired."

"I expect it wasn't an easy battle," said Nanaki.

"Maybe. I've never really fought in one like that, you know? They happened all the time when I was a kid, but I just heard about them."

Nanaki was quiet for a moment. Then he said, "I have some idea what you mean. The battle that claimed my parents... I was far too young to join it. I sheltered with Grandfather, and I heard tales of their bravery, afterwards. I used to think that I should have liked to see that bravery for myself, but now..." He shook his head.

"I'm really sorry," Yuffie blurted. "About Bugenhagen. He's your whole family, and... it's not fair."

Nanaki said nothing. He padded over to her and bumped his head against her thigh. Yuffie dropped to a crouch and put her arms around his neck, her fingers in his mane. His head rested on her shoulder.

It occurred to her again, this was going to happen to him a lot. The years would go by, and the elders would get older, and AVALANCHE would get older, and even the kids in the canyon now would grow up and grow old. Nanaki would be here for so long that nobody would be able to imagine the canyon without him, but it wouldn't be like that for him.

Yuffie held him a little tighter.

"I think I called you insensitive once," Nanaki said softly. "I may owe you an apology."

Yuffie shook her head and drew back. "No, it's fine. I thought I'd come here and cheer you up or something, but that's not actually my strong suit."

"But, I am glad you came," he said. "The people of this canyon, they've known me for many years. And that's a comfort. But many of them still see me as the child I was. You are... my friends. My peers, I suppose."

"You're a lot older than me," Yuffie pointed out.

"In years, yes. I think we are at a similar place in life. Learning to stand on our own."

Normally, Yuffie would've liked the sound of that. "You're not on your own," she said. "Okay?"

"...I know," he said. "Thank you."

The others returned, and the five of them sat down at the table and ate dinner together. They didn't talk about Bugenhagen, but about anything else. Kalm, Midgar, Marlene, Tifa. Their recent mission. Yuffie told him about their run-in with the same dragon he'd saved her from, and Wedge asked questions and got them reminiscing about their journey to defeat Sephiroth.

Yuffie wasn't sure if he was cheered--she wasn't sure if he could be--but maybe for an hour or two, they helped him to forget the impending tragedy.

Afterwards, Nanaki returned to Bugenhagen's room, and he encouraged the rest of them to retire to the inn. Yuffie wasn't sure about leaving him, but it'd been a long day, and she needed the bath.

She settled in the tub, warm water enveloping her. Cosmo Canyon was so dry, it had to be well water, she thought, drawn up from deep in the earth. She wondered how often it rained here.

It wasn't like Wutai at all, but Yuffie was actually growing to like the place a little. Maybe it was just the complete absence of Shinra, so unlike any other place she'd been to. Or maybe it was that she'd made enough memories here for the place to endear itself to her, even if it was boring and full of nerds.

After she'd dried off and dressed, instead of turning in, she headed down to Nanaki's room.

It was in a weird place, through the pub and beneath the inn. But maybe the pub hadn't always been a pub and the inn hadn't always been an inn. Maybe once all these caves had belonged to Nanaki's people. And then they'd been empty, for a while, and then new people had made them home.

Nanaki wasn't there, of course. Just a dark, empty room, its walls hung with fabrics and its floor carpeted in cushions and rugs. On the bench on the far side was a pile of letters. AVALANCHE had been writing him, too, she guessed. Cosmo Canyon had a phone, but it wasn't so easy for him to use.

Yuffie had been in here just once before, the night they'd come back from Gongaga. She'd been exhausted, and too much had happened for her to think about it, but she couldn't not think about it, and when Nanaki had invited her, she hadn't had the energy to question it. They hadn't really talked much. He'd left her with her thoughts, and that was the night she'd made up her mind to stay with AVALANCHE. Maybe even join them.

When she'd reflected on it before, Yuffie had always figured he'd noticed she had a lot on her mind and wanted to give her a quiet space to unwind. If she'd gone back to the room with Tifa and Aeris, well, she would've just been thinking about them, and how terrified she'd been when Sephiroth had almost killed them back in Gongaga. Nanaki was a lot better at picking up on that stuff than she was.

And that was why it only now occurred to her, months later, that maybe he just hadn't wanted to be alone. Cosmo Canyon had been attacked that same day. It must've been hard on him.

Hours ago, she'd thought maybe she could talk to him about what was bugging her now, but having seen him, she understood that wouldn't be happening. Sure, he'd listen if she told him, but he wouldn't be able to turn his mind to it. He couldn't deal with her stuff on top of his own. Not this time.

Yuffie chewed on her lip, turned around, and headed back up to the observatory.

The scene wasn't much different from when she'd entered before, just dimmer. Nanaki had turned out the lights, and instead it was mostly moonlight coming in through the windows. He lifted his head to look at her.

"Mind if I sleep on the couch?" she asked quietly.

He kept looking at her, and then slowly blinked his eye. "Not at all."

Yuffie settled on the couch on her back, and closed her eyes. She could hear Bugenhagen breathing, long slow breaths that should have come a little easier than they did. It wasn't an easy sound to fall asleep to, and when she did sleep, it was never deep enough to dream.

Barret and the others returned in the morning with breakfast. This time, Bugenhagen was awake, so they ate crowded together in his bedroom. Yuffie and Wedge sat cross-legged on the floor while Barret and Jessie sat on the little sofa, and of course Nanaki never left his grandfather's bedside.

"So many visitors for one old man," Bugenhagen remarked with his usual levity, but his chuckle turned into a cough.

He didn't seem to want anybody fussing over him, so they tried not to. Instead they told him why they'd come: to seek his insights about the Huge Materia. After they'd eaten, and Bugenhagen told them he was finished, even though he'd hardly touched his food, Jessie brought the Nibel materia up from downstairs and placed it carefully in his hands.

Bugenhagen held it, shaking his head wonderingly. "One almost feels as though one could listen to it," he said, "like to the voice of the Planet itself. But the voices in this materia have been torn out of that living flow that is the Planet's Lifestream. It is, by comparison, inert."

"Does that mean we can't use it for anything?" asked Wedge.

Bugenhagen frowned thoughtfully. "This Huge Materia... it's very crude. I don't believe the Shinra really knew what they were making. They kept on condensing their Mako, without any guiding principal behind the act but power. You might be able to draw some magic out of it... but I can't imagine it would be a particularly efficient way of wielding magic."

"I'm guessing we can't easily get rid of it though," said Jessie. "Like the Black Materia. This one survived being at the heart of a reactor explosion, and there's not a scratch on it."

"Hmm... Perhaps. This Huge Materia does have its differences from the Black Materia, though. The Black Materia was made by the Planet, and its power has a singular focus. Elegant, if also terrible. Not this cobbled-together thing."

"Do you know of any way to get rid of materia?" Yuffie asked him, and when Jessie threw her a quizzical look, she added, "Well, if it's no good to us, then it's just another weapon for the Shinra, right?"

"I don't," Bugenhagen admitted, "but that doesn't mean there isn't a way. Nothing in this universe is eternal, after all." He tried to hand the Huge Materia back to Jessie, but his frail hands couldn't manage to lift the heavy crystal. She quickly took it from him. "Perhaps the Planet knows a way," he added.

"Could be," said Barret, and he caught Yuffie's eye across the room. "Could be it's been tryin' to tell us somethin' about that, but we haven't been quite ready for the conversation."

"Nanaki tells me Aeris has been teaching you all to listen, to hear the Planet as it was meant to be heard. Not like me and my machines."

"What's wrong with you and your machines?" Jessie asked. "If some of us need the world's largest hearing aid, I don't think the Planet's going to mind."

Bugenhagen chuckled quietly. "You're right, of course. I've always felt that... it's the ideal culmination of man's ambitions, to use technology to deepen our understanding of the Planet. It's a funny thing, though. Nanaki says he hasn't had the machine on, but I swear I hear it sometimes anyway. I wonder what it's trying to say to me..."

"You'll figure it out, Grandfather," said Nanaki. "You have plenty of time."

He didn't. They all knew he didn't. Even Nanaki had to know that.

"Anyhow," said Bugenhagen, "you mustn't linger on my account. I know you young people always have somewhere to rush off to. If I were a few years younger, I might like to come with you."

"Are you sure?" Jessie asked, looking between him and Nanaki. "I mean, now that we've got the Huge Materia, we've sort of thwarted Shinra's plans for the moment."

"Yeah, we probably got some time before the next crisis," Barret agreed.

But Nanaki shook his head. "Grandfather is right. You may have stalled one of Rufus's plans, but I doubt he'll give up on the notion of attacking Midgar. Besides, don't you want to get home to Marlene?"

Barret scratched his head. "Well..."

"Go on," Nanaki said. "Take the Huge Materia to Aeris. See what more you can learn."

"Awright," Barret conceded. "But we'll be back again when we can."

"I'm staying," Yuffie said abruptly. She said it without thinking, but the words out of her own mouth didn't surprise her.

"Yuffie," Nanaki began, "there's no need to--"

"I'm staying," she repeated. "Besides, we oughtta have the rest of the nerds here take a look at the Huge Materia, too. We can't expect Aeris to know everything."

"You got a feelin' about it?" Barret asked her.

"...yeah," she said. "I guess so." She didn't think this feeling had much to do with Leviathan, or the Planet, but she had to listen to her gut all the same.

Barret nodded. "Awright. We'll leave the Nibel one here. Got two others Aeris can take a look at."

They said their goodbyes, and Yuffie could tell Jessie had to fight down the impulse to hug her. She did give Nanaki a quick pat on the head, which he didn't shake off like usual. Barret very carefully shook Bugenhagen's hand, and then he and Jessie and Wedge were gone, and the bedroom was quiet.

Bugenhagen broke the silence. "You'll want to take that on down to Hargo first," he said. "You know where to find him?"

"Uh... Yeah. I think so."

He always smelled like old books, that guy. It didn't take her long to locate him tucked away in a little alcove, half-buried in them. He didn't look up until she'd set the Huge Materia down atop the book he had his nose in.

"Ah?" he said. He adjusted his glasses and looked up at her. "What's this you've brought me?"

"It's called Huge Materia," she said. "The Shinra made it... It's supposed to be really powerful, but we don't know how to use it, or how to get rid of it. We already showed it to Bugenhagen, but there wasn't a lot he could tell us. I don't know. I thought... You know some stuff, too, right?"

Hargo smiled at her. "I like to think so," he said. "I feel I spend all my time now trying to write down what I do know, while I still remember it. That way, when my time comes to return to the Planet..." He trailed off, shaking his head.

"So, can you help?" Yuffie prompted.

"Hmm..." Hargo laid a hand on the Huge Materia. "I wonder if this materia would be to the Ancients like my own disorganized notes are to the others here. Full of snatches of knowledge, but hard to make sense of."

Yuffie frowned. "Are you saying materia was like books to the Ancients?" People were always saying it was full of their wisdom; was that how they'd stored things for others to know?

But Hargo shook his head. "No, I expect they had books of their own. They had their own writing, at least. Materia is something different. Well, I suppose I can't tell you anything for certain--the accounts I've studied are apocryphal--but they suggest that materia came about after the decline of the Cetra. The Planet began making it of its own accord, in an effort to build a similar connection with humans."

"The Planet made it for us?" Yuffie said in surprise, but it made sense when she thought about it. Why would the Ancients have needed it? They called up magic directly from the Planet itself, because they could talk to it. Aeris herself had stopped using materia after she'd left Midgar, once the Planet's voice got clear enough.

"Again, it's only a theory," said Hargo. "I'm not sure we'll ever know the truth of it."

"Well, the Planet would know. I mean... unless planets forget things."

Hargo tapped the Huge Materia with a finger. "Everything in this crystal was once a part of the Planet's memory, wasn't it? Who's to say what it's lost, over time--between its own intentional sacrifices, and the things the Shinra have pulled out of it and destroyed forever?"

"Forever?" Yuffie repeated. She chewed on her lip, staring into the Huge Materia. Was that how it was?

"That doesn't mean it can't be replaced," Hargo went on gently. "That was once the duty of the Cetra, to cultivate the Planet and raise new Spirit Energy. Shinra has caused a hemorrhage these past decades, but now that you and your friends have stymied that, I think the Planet may have a chance for recovery."

"Were you pessimistic about it, too? Like Bugenhagen?"

Hargo's face fell. "Yes," he said, "I suppose we all became a little resigned to it... But you've given us hope. You've given Bugenhagen hope."

"But..." Yuffie faltered. "He's dying."

"...maybe so. But because of you, he can die having seen Nanaki home safe again. I think he wanted to hold on long enough for that. And, not only that, but now he has hope that there will be a future for those he leaves behind."

Yuffie nodded slowly, but she wasn't sure what to say.

"I'll have a look through my books," Hargo offered, "and see if there isn't anything more I can dig up for you. I may not have much on manufactured materia, but perhaps what we know about naturally born materia may be of some help."

"Thanks," said Yuffie. She left the Huge Materia with him and wandered outside.

It was mid-morning. One of the canyon's windmills turned slowly at the edge of her vision, and some kid's voice carried up from the bonfire below, loudly counting down. Other kids scurried off, looking for hiding places. Two of them hurried up the steps hand-in-hand--Yuffie recognized them as the pair from Nibelheim, and the brother put a finger to his lips as they passed her and disappeared into the room behind her.

They'd come a long way since the last time she'd seen them, if they were playing with the other kids now. Recovering, like everyone had hoped for them. Their parents had died in the massacre, and it wasn't hard to imagine that they'd gone out on the desperate hope that their children would survive them.

Yuffie's mother had died in battle five years into a war that would go on another four, and one they would ultimately lose. So, what had she gone out believing? Had she been hopeful for Yuffie's future? Had she expected Yuffie to grow up in a victorious Wutai?

It was hard to imagine what that would've looked like. It would've been a lot different from the Wutai Yuffie was trying to build now. Losing the war had changed too much for them to go back.

Cosmo Canyon would have to change, a little, once Bugenhagen was gone.

Yuffie returned to the observatory, but she didn't go into the bedroom this time. She didn't want to intrude on them, but she didn't want to be far either.

She poked through the kitchen, and wandered into the planetarium next door, but she didn't know how to turn it on. A room full of machines she didn't know how to use. She wondered if this was the future, like Bugenhagen said. Technology that helped them to understand the Planet, instead of ignore it.

Would they bring stuff like this to Wutai, too? Jessie had rambled in one of her letters about hydroelectric dams. Yuffie hadn't understood most of it, except that it was something that would work well with Wutai's many rivers.

Yuffie tried to imagine her home all lit up with electric lights. Television and radio and telephone to make it easier to know what was going on not just in the rest of the world but between the different towns up and down the continent. Yuffie had travelled to them that autumn by chocobo, but maybe one day there'd be trains.

What would the gods make of that? What would her people make of it? Back before the war, they hadn't really known Mako reactors were so bad for the Planet; they just hadn't trusted the way Shinra presented itself. And when they'd made their stand, a lot of them had made it against the technological progress that Shinra represented, as much as against Shinra itself.

But the way people did things here... that was different.

When she returned to the kitchen, Yuffie could hear Nanaki's voice speaking steadily up above. It took her a minute to realize he was reading something aloud. She went and sat at the base of the ladder, near enough to make it out.

It sounded boring. Some history book about the canyon in decades past. A biography maybe. But, she could see how it might be soothing to listen to.

The sound beneath it wasn't. Bugenhagen's breathing had grown more labored. He wheezed faintly as he inhaled. Yuffie wrapped her arms around her knees and tried to focus on Nanaki's voice instead.

She almost thought she felt it, before she heard it. The pause. Nanaki's soft, indrawn breath. His voice, sounding very small, saying,


Silence followed. The worst kind of silence.

Then, Nanaki's howl pierced through it.

Her first instinct was to bolt. All those funerals during the war, someone standing with their hand on her shoulder, ostensibly to comfort her but really to make her stay. To make her behave and look the part of a noble Kisaragi. As if a little kid could be a proper stand-in for a father away on the front lines.

And then she thought of her mother. Aeris had said, she didn't know for sure if humans could stick around the way Cetra could, resisting the peaceful oblivion of the Lifestream. She didn't know if they could linger, if they could be heard, maybe sometimes in dreams.

Wait, she thought. Don't leave him just yet.

Yuffie had no idea if anyone was listening to her, and if she couldn't even make out her own mother's voice, she sure wasn't going to hear anything from Bugenhagen.

She waited until Nanaki's howls had subsided, and then she ventured back upstairs.

Nanaki's head and forepaws lay across the bed, his eye closed, his nose just touching Bugenhagen's hand. He didn't look at her, or even move.

Yuffie couldn't remember the moment she'd been told her mother was dead. It was a blur. So she imagined what she said now... it wouldn't matter, in the long run. Nanaki would forget.

"I'll go get Elder Hargo," she offered, even though everyone had probably heard already. "I'm sure he knows... how to handle everything."

The next few hours were hard, for everyone. The entire community was in mourning. Bugenhagen had meant something to every single one of them.

Yuffie stuck close to Nanaki, though. When Hargo came with others and coaxed him from the bedroom, and when they watched Bugenhagen's body being carried away, to be prepared for burial. Nanaki at last left the observatory, but he moved sluggishly, like his body had become heavy. He seemed to give up on keeping up with them.

"You wanna go back to your room?" Yuffie suggested.

Nanaki made a noise in the back of his throat, and after a few moments, he pushed himself forward again. The few people they passed quietly offered their condolences, and a group was gathered around the bonfire, but no one seemed bothered or surprised when Nanaki ignored them.

When they reached his room, he stopped in the middle of it and stood there, staring blankly at the far wall.

"...I can go, if you want," said Yuffie.

But he shook his head, and at last lay down on a rug. Yuffie sat down cross-legged on a cushion a little ways away.

"...does crying help?" Nanaki asked softly.


"Humans cry when this happens. Does it help?"

"Oh." Yuffie frowned, trying to think. "I don't know. I guess... sometimes it feels like you're getting some of it out, you know? But mostly it's just embarrassing."

"I see."

"Does howling help?"

"I think it's... about the same."

"Well, if you want to anyway, I'll just plug my ears."

Nanaki didn't reply. He was quiet for a long time, long enough that she wondered if he'd fallen asleep. He probably hadn't been sleeping much lately.

"Grandfather told me... my duty isn't to this canyon. He said there was more for me to learn, in the world outside it."

Yuffie wasn't sure what he wanted her to say. "Well, you're not gonna get any argument from me. You know how I feel about Wutai, but there's a lot going on in the world. I gotta be a part of it."

Nanaki turned his head enough to glance at her. "But... here you are."

"You're my friend. And anyway, I think I owe you one or two favors."

"You've been keeping score?"

"Not officially."

"Hm. I'm happy to consider us even, if you like."

"Sure," Yuffie decided. She thought for a moment. "And, y'know... if you wanna get outta here for a while, you can head out with me in a couple days. But I get it if you wanna stay, too."

"Won't you be returning to Junon?" Nanaki asked her.

"Well, yeah," she admitted. He couldn't come back with her there; he'd stick out like a sore thumb, and that wasn't super conducive to espionage. "But we can call up Shera and get her to pick us up. I'll make my way back to Junon, and you can go... wherever."

Nanaki didn't answer right away. "I'll think about it," he said at last.

Yuffie nodded. "Yeah. No rush. I mean, now's not a great time to be thinking about anything. You want a distraction, I'll even support you reading one of those boring-ass books you've got."

Nanaki huffed. "They aren't boring."

"If you say so."

"For now... all I want is to sleep. And for things to be different when I wake."

Again, Yuffie didn't know what to say. She wished she had some kind of wisdom to offer him, but she didn't read books and she didn't listen to old people. All she knew was he felt bad, and he was going to go on feeling bad for a while.

"Try an' sleep then," she managed. "I'll be here if you need anything."

He nodded. "...thank you, Yuffie."

But it seemed dumb for him to thank her, when she couldn't really do anything.

She wondered if he would leave Cosmo Canyon. Maybe it would be good for him for a while, to get away from a place that Bugenhagen had been the beating heart of. There'd be no escaping his loss, not for a second. And she didn't think it was good to skip out on mourning, but it didn't have to be constant either. Right?

What had Bugenhagen wanted him to learn anyway? Nanaki was already pretty smart. But... he did seem conflicted sometimes, about his place in the world. Hard not to be, considering what he was.

They'd given Bugenhagen hope about the future, so... he wanted Nanaki to have a good one. Was that it? Yuffie listened in the silence, as if she'd be able to hear an answer from him.

No. All his wisdom, it was part of the Planet now.

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