Chapter 14

Yuffie demoted the Highwind, for that crash. Not that it had ever ranked high on her list of vehicles, but she'd rather be bounced around in the back of a truck, staring at Vincent's creepy eyeballs.

She dropped to the floor and clung to the railing as the belly of the Highwind hit the ground. The ship lurched forward, its long nose overhead plunging ahead, and Yuffie almost flew between the bars out onto the dome of a window beyond. She scrambled her way back onto solid floor and lost her lunch on it as the ship trembled to a stop. She stayed shaky on hands and knees until she felt Barret's metal hand on her back.

"You okay?"

Yuffie swallowed and sat back, scrubbing the back of her hand across her mouth. Gross. "I hate flying," she said.

Marlene still clung to him beneath his other arm, her eyes wide. Yuffie looked out across the bridge. Cid had bashed his head on something, but he was waving off the crew as they tried to pull him away from the controls. Aeris crouched next to Jessie, while Nanaki was just getting to his feet, his ears still flat against his head.

"I'm gonna check outside," Tifa announced across the room, having beat Yuffie to the conclusion that everyone was mostly okay in here. But they had passengers, and Vincent and Shera hadn't been on the bridge with them, and they still didn't know what had happened.

Yuffie didn't take it for an accident.

She picked herself up, took a moment to steady herself on the slanted floor, and turned to look out the window. She knew they'd landed in the plains north of the capital, but with the Highwind nose-down in the snow, there wasn't much to see. Everything looked weirdly dark, and still.

Barret was talking softly to Marlene, reassuring her. Yuffie went to check on Jessie instead.

"It's nothing," Jessie said before she could ask. "I think the universe has it out for my feet for some reason, but I just fell on my ankle wrong. Aeris is fixing it, right?"

"Right," said Aeris. "If a few bumps and bruises is all we have to deal with, then we're in pretty good shape."

"Not bad for a crash landing," Jessie added.

Yuffie thought they were leaning a little heavy on the optimism.

If it was Shinra, then that meant some kind of Shinra forces right near the capital. They couldn't be in the capital, could they? There was no way of knowing. Tifa had secured satellite phones for most of AVALANCHE, but they were the top-of-the-line tech. Nobody had that in Wutai, and there weren't any phone lines; there was no way to check in with anyone except in person.

"I'm going after Tifa," Yuffie decided.

"I'll go with you," Nanaki volunteered.

"Let me know if there's anyone badly hurt," Aeris said. "I still need to have a look at Cid."

Yuffie nodded, and left the bridge with Nanaki.

The constant beeping of alarms faded behind them, but the red lights continued to flash in the belly of the ship, and something was smoking from beneath the catwalk. There was the low din of scattered, anxious conversation, and Yuffie spotted Tifa on the second level, talking to a knot of passengers. Yuffie sprinted up the steps to join her.

"How's it lookin'?" she asked.

Tifa finished her conversation with an encouraging smile and nod, then turned to Yuffie and Nanaki. "Most everyone was settled in their quarters; I'm hearing mostly bumps and bruises so far, maybe a concussion. I'm having anyone who wants to get checked over go to the conference room for now."

"Shera?" Yuffie wondered.

"She's okay," Tifa assured her. "She went down below to assess the damage. I haven't seen Vincent yet... I think he was out on deck."

"You don't think the crash could have thrown him off?" said Nanaki.

"I'm sure he's fine," Tifa said, though the furrow in her brow said otherwise. "He's tough."

"We'll go look," Yuffie decided. "Aeris's gotta handle Cid, but then she can probably take care of the concussion and stuff."

"Right," Tifa said, nodding. She moved on towards the next room, and Yuffie turned away from her to hurry on up to the deck.

It was empty when she reached it, but it afforded a clearer view of their surroundings. The featureless northern face of Da-chao rose only a few kilometers to the south, and to the north... there were lights that shouldn't have been there. Besides some disused fortifications, there were only a few small villages north of the capital, and nothing close enough that she should have seen it from here. The lights were steady, artificial.

She started towards the railing for a better look when a clawed hand appeared over the edge, and Vincent hauled himself up.

"Whoa!" Yuffie yelped, jumping back.

"Vincent," said Nanaki, more composed in his surprise. "You're all right?"

Vincent nodded. "I went to get a closer look," he explained, and Yuffie noticed the ladder. He hadn't been thrown; he'd climbed down. "Those lights are a Shinra camp. They shot us down."

"What're they doing here?" said Yuffie.

"Waiting for the Highwind. They set up an anti-aircraft missile launcher."

Nanaki tilted his head. "A missile launcher? Shouldn't it have done more damage?"

"I don't think damage was the point," said Vincent. "They want their ship back."

He was already striding back inside, and Yuffie hurried to keep up with him and his freakishly long legs and apparently unflappable balance. "Wait, but how did they know we were coming? Do they have somebody besides Reno feeding 'em intel?"

"It's possible," Vincent considered, "but I think not."

" think they simply noticed the Highwind's patterns," Nanaki realized. "In ferrying refugees between Midgar and Wutai, its flight path has become predictable. That's better for us, in a lot of ways. They aren't expecting us to be among the passengers."

"And they don't know we've got the Huge Materia with us," Yuffie added.

"Ideally," Vincent agreed.

They reached Tifa, and Vincent quickly caught her up on the situation.

"Whether they know who's on board or not, they're definitely coming for us," was her conclusion. She looked around them at the refugees on board, some of them standing around in anxious knots, others carefully making their way to the conference room, a few still stumbling around in a panic.

She looked to Yuffie. "We were close to the capital, weren't we?"

It was the only place it made sense to run to, but Yuffie faltered. If they took refuge there, and Shinra wasn't satisfied just taking their ship back...

Was Wutai ready to fight? Did it want to fight? Maybe Shinra's force wasn't that impressive, and AVALANCHE alone could handle it, but...


"Yeah," she answered at last. "Yeah, it's not far. If nobody's hurt too bad, we should be able to get 'em there ahead of the Shinra."

"Shinra should have no reason to attack," Nanaki offered gently, "as long as they don't know we or the Huge Materia are here."

"But we don't know what they know. We don't even know that they're not already in the capital, too! I know we have to get these people out of here, but..."

If she brought the Shinra down on Wutai, then she was doing exactly what Godo had been afraid she would.

"We could definitely use more information," Tifa conceded, "but we can't wait around."

"You will need some time to organize everyone," Nanaki pointed out. "I believe I can reach Wutai the fastest. If I go ahead, I can warn them of what might be coming, and report the situation there back to you while you're en route." He glanced at Yuffie, and she nodded slowly.

"Yeah. Okay. You know the way?"

He nodded. "I believe so."

"All right," said Tifa. "You get going, Nanaki. We'll handle things here."

Nanaki turned and raced back outside without another word. Yuffie felt a little better, knowing they'd have some warning. He could reach Gorkii... and maybe some of them would relish the chance to face Shinra again. What else were they training for, right?

"Yuffie, if we're gonna get these people moving, then Aeris could use a hand in the conference room. Vincent--"

"We need eyes on the Shinra," he said. "Now, and once they reach the Highwind."

Tifa hesitated. Then, "You have your phone?"

Vincent nodded. They'd made sure to get him one in Midgar, though Yuffie had her doubts about his ability to use it.

"Okay. Be careful, all right? Don't let them spot you."

And then Vincent was gone, too. Tifa strode for the bridge to catch the others up, and Yuffie forced her feet into motion. Wasn't it what she wanted, too? A rematch between Shinra and Wutai? But not if Wutai wasn't ready. Not if it meant bargaining Wutain lives against the Huge Materia. They needed it to save the Planet, and letting Shinra have it put so many more people in danger, but if Shinra attacked her home to get it... Would anyone in Wutai think a bunch of rocks were worth fighting for? Would any of them be on her side?

She joined Aeris and Jessie in the conference room with the injured, but she didn't think to relay the situation until Jessie asked her.

"Well, Cid's not gonna be happy about that," Jessie said. "But the Highwind's not going anywhere until they get it fixed. With any luck, we can just steal it right back."

Yuffie blinked at her. "Really?"

"Why not?" said Jessie. "If they weren't expecting us, then we get everyone safely to Wutai, do a little recon, and come back with a few reinforcements. Just a little hiccup."

"Man, I hope it's that easy," said Yuffie.

Jessie definitely wasn't stupid; she knew things could go a lot worse. But Yuffie hadn't been dwelling on the optimistic possibilities. Shinra might've only sent a small team, expecting to deal with a civilian crew and a bunch of refugees. Their biggest loss might just be the time stranded here while Shera fixed the Highwind.

She wondered how the Shinra had come. By ship? Were their Gelnikas not really on 'stand-by'? How long had they been waiting?

"Some of us can fight, too, you know," one of the refugees spoke up. "Shinra thinks it can keep messing with us... I'm tired of it."

"See?" said Jessie. "We'll have plenty of back-up."

Yuffie tended to think of the refugees as helpless, but that didn't mean they were, did it? A lot of them were fed up with Midgar and with Shinra, and maybe they had some fight in them. The idea of people like that teaming up with hers... Well, it was kind of like her and Sash, wasn't it? They didn't have to forgive each other for anything in the past to go and kick some Shinra ass.

But it made her uneasy that Aeris hadn't contributed anything more to this optimistic outlook. She'd been weirdly quiet ever since they'd first left Midgar, and now it almost felt like she'd been expecting something to go wrong.

That part was probably just her imagination. She was probably just tired, or something.

Tifa and Barret started getting the refugees off the Highwind before they'd seen to all the injured. Yuffie climbed down with the last of them, leaving Aeris to help with convincing Shera and the crew to actually leave the damn ship. For some reason, they didn't share Yuffie's totally objective opinion about it.

It felt like it was taking them forever to get a move on, but outside, dawn hadn't come yet. The ship's impact had thrown up the snow around it, and everyone was gathering beyond the fresh drifts, carrying their few belongings and fewer flashlights. There were a couple of kids besides Marlene, and Yuffie's first thought was that that was going to slow them down.

Not that she wanted to leave a bunch of kids behind for the Shinra. It was just a fact.

Tifa and Barret had divided the Huge Materia between them--Yuffie could see the weight of it in their bags--and Barret carried Marlene on his other shoulder.

"We should get going," said Tifa, throwing a glance northward, towards the lights of the Shinra camp. Some of those lights had stayed put. Some of them hadn't.

"What about the others?" Yuffie wondered.

Tifa nodded to the deck above her. "They're coming."

That was the moment Yuffie realized that Tifa expected her to lead the way. Well, of course. Why wouldn't she? This was her turf. Da-chao stood tall just a few kilometers ahead of them.

"Okay," she said, moving to the head of the line. "C'mon."

The snow evened out beyond the crash site. It wasn't deep, just deep enough to cover the grasses grazed short by wild chocobos. Yuffie didn't expect to see any around; the crash would have spooked any flocks nearby.

Aeris caught up to the front of the line not long after they'd set out. "Everyone present and accounted for," she said. "Even Cid."

"Good," said Barret. "Don't need to give 'em any kinda leverage just 'cause somebody's bein' stubborn."

"Do you think we should kill the lights?" Jessie asked, joining them, too. "I know it's no secret where we'd be headed, but they don't need to know how close we are."

"I think we'll hit the treeline before they make it to the Highwind," Yuffie reasoned. "That'll give us some cover."

"This is unfamiliar terrain for the rest of us," Tifa put in. "We don't need to make it harder on anyone."

They continued on. Tifa took the opportunity to check in with Zack, but Yuffie didn't bother to listen, opening herself instead to the changes the past few weeks had wrought. Most of the leaves had fallen by now, making a slippery carpet beneath the dusting of snow as they reached the trees. They slowed, but Yuffie felt a little better sheltering under the tangle of branches. It wasn't just that they gave cover, but this was the forest that surrounded the capital. She was almost home.

Still, it took her completely by surprise when she saw figures in the trees ahead of them. Not Shinra; she could tell that just by the way they moved.

"Man, you guys are looking pathetic," said the nearest of them, stepping into their path.

"Shake!?" Yuffie said, her hands reflexively balling into fists. He was just some bratty kid, what was he doing here?

"That's right. That weird dog of yours came through here a little while ago, he said you could probably use a hand."

"He's not my-- You were already out here?"

Shake nodded, and he folded his arms casually across his chest, trying to look older than he was. She was totally still taller than him. "We spotted the Shinra yesterday. Nobody's exactly sure when they got here, but it's not like we weren't gonna notice somebody hanging around on our doorstep. There's not a lot of 'em, so far, but we're keepin' an eye on the situation."

"So you've already been preparing," Tifa concluded, stepping up beside Yuffie.

"Of course we have," said Shake. "Even those guys from Midgar are getting ready to shake sticks at them, or whatever it is they think they can contribute."

"I'm glad to hear it," said Tifa, ignoring his bad manners. "We were worried we'd be catching you by surprise with all this. Did Nanaki still go on ahead?"

"Yeah, he wanted to talk to Gorkii about your materia, or something. You guys need an escort the rest of the way? You took so long getting here, I thought Yuffie might've forgot the way."


"Ain't no need for that," Barret cut in sternly. Even carrying a four-year-old, he could look pretty imposing, and Shake's confidence slipped for just a second in a way that was extremely satisfying. "You wanna pick a fight with somebody, you wait for the Shinra."

"I think we can make it all right on our own," Tifa added more diplomatically. "But we left someone behind to keep eyes on the Shinra. I'd feel better if he had some back-up."

Shake hesitated, clearly not wild about following the suggestion of a foreigner, but he nodded. "Yeah, all right. I'd like a look at what they're up to myself."

"Try not to get caught," Yuffie told him. "I know you're a pipsqueak, but you might be just big enough for even the Shinra to spot you."

Shake rolled his eyes. "I'll be fine," he said. He motioned to a couple of the others, and they peeled off to join him, circling past the refugees through the trees.

Yuffie hated how easily they followed him, but she shook it off and pressed on.

"Old friend of yours?" Aeris asked.

"Absolutely not," she said. "He is such a brat."

She didn't want him to get caught, but... if he made some kind of mistake and almost got caught and felt real stupid about it, that would be perfect. Plus, they'd sentenced him to dealing with Vincent, so there was that. Vincent wouldn't give two shits about his attitude.

The dawn light was rising in the east as they rounded the base of Da-chao. The river hadn't frozen over yet, and Yuffie heard it before she saw it. Across the bridge, the first buildings on the outskirts of the capital came into view, and Nanaki came bounding up to meet them.

"No trouble?" he asked them first. He never did seem to get winded.

"No," Tifa confirmed. "I don't think the Shinra put a priority on chasing us. No word yet from Vincent, though."

"I'm sure he's being careful," said Nanaki.

"Or he can't figure out how to turn his phone on," Yuffie put in.

Jessie threw her a look, half amused, half exasperated. "I definitely explained that part. We'll hear from him soon enough."

Nanaki turned with them as they moved on across the bridge. Yuffie realized there was someone standing at the other end, as if on lookout. She recognized the woman from Gorkii's classes; Naho, she thought was her name. She nodded as Yuffie passed, and Yuffie nodded back.

She hadn't expected any of this.

"So, what did Gorkii have to say?" she asked.

"I explained to him why we've come," said Nanaki. "He has questions that I believe only you can answer, but he has pledged his assistance. He thinks one other guardian will also want to help, and suspects another could be swayed."

"That'd bring us to five..." Yuffie considered, glancing at Aeris. "It might be enough."

"I guess it'll have to wait until we take care of the Shinra, though," Jessie reasoned.

"You think?" Aeris wondered. "I'm not sure how much time we'll have, but I think we might rest a little easier knowing there's no way the Shinra could get their hands on it."

Was that what she was worried about? Yuffie ran a hand through her hair. "If there's gonna be a fight, then there's no way I'm sitting it out. But I guess we can try an' get the ball rolling, while we wait on Vinny."

"Gorkii did think it was a good idea for you to try speaking with Godo," Nanaki said carefully.

She made a face. "Of course he did."

"I'll talk to him," said Tifa.

"," said Yuffie. "I mean, yeah, later, but... I do wanna talk to him."

"Don't really want you doin' that without back-up," said Barret.

"You can wait outside, okay?" Yuffie decided. "But I want this to come from me."

Gorkii met them in the small plaza nearest to the east bridge, and Yuffie handed off the tired group of refugees to him, promising to talk to him later about the Huge Materia. Shera and the crew hung back, too; this time hadn't exactly gone smoothly, but they were used to coordinating drop-offs with Gorkii.

It was early yet, and the streets were quiet. The sun was just beginning to crest the eastern forest, leaving much of the capital still in shadow. They passed Yuffie's house, and the bridge that had been in her dreams so often. The river flowed smoothly beneath it, the sound clear in the stillness, and she knew if it were daylight, then she could have seen clear to the bottom. Part of her wanted to stop, yank her boots off, and wade in to feel the stones beneath her feet, even with how cold it was.

Was her mother here, now? Was Leviathan?

Shinra forces had never reached the capital, back during the war. There'd never been fighting here, but Yuffie could remember a few times when it had come close.

She glanced up at Marlene, riding in Barret's arm, quiet and solemn. Scared, probably. She looked ahead.

"The safest place," she said, "if the Shinra show up here, is gonna be the main shrine. That's where you guys oughtta be."

"Ain't that in Godo's place?" Barret recalled.

Yuffie nodded. "Yeah. But it's a sacred place, he's not gonna kick out a little kid. There's a hidden passage to the basement, and an escape route, if you need it."

"We ain't gonna need it."

"I don't think so either."

She really didn't. She could already tell, her people weren't sitting around and waiting, not this time. They weren't going to step aside and let the Shinra disrespect their home.

Tifa finally got a text from Vincent as the pagoda came into view ahead of them. The Shinra didn't know about AVALANCHE or the Huge Materia, but Scarlet was with them, and she wanted to arrest the Highwind's crew as traitors to Shinra. They would definitely be coming.

Yuffie felt weirdly confident as she went up the steps to Godo's house. They hadn't spoken in two months, since Barret had punched him and Yuffie had privately disowned him. She'd worse than called him a coward; she'd told him he was just like the Shinra.

Maybe she was just tired enough not to be anxious. She hadn't slept on the Highwind, and even though she knew it was only now getting late back in Midgar, it still felt like she'd been up all night. But wherever her calm was coming from, she'd take it. She didn't expect it to last long.

It occurred to her as she led the way down the halls to the shrine that it was early enough he might not even be awake. It had been a long time since he'd gotten up with the dawn.

But to her surprise, the shrine was where they found him, kneeling in front of the glittering statue of Omni.

She barely stopped herself from calling him 'Dad.' "...Godo?" she said. "I wanna talk to you."

Godo rose unhurried to his feet and turned to face them. "You've brought AVALANCHE again, I see," he noted.

"Yeah," she said, "but I didn't plan on them being part of the conversation just yet. Can we talk in your study?"

"Fine," he said. He fixed a cold look on Barret on his way out.

Barret glared after him, then set Marlene down and turned to Yuffie. "I'll follow you in a minute," he said. "Be right outside if ya need me."

The others nodded their agreement, and Yuffie was pretty sure most of them were going to wind up parked outside the door, ready to intervene the second they thought she needed it. It was overkill. But... it was kind of sweet.

"Thanks," she said.

Yuffie walked back down the hall to the study. Godo had closed the door behind him, like he didn't expect her to follow through. Or maybe he was just keeping up the act, pretending like she'd never lived here and they were basically strangers. This wasn't her house, he wasn't her father, and there wasn't even common courtesy between them.

She took a breath. He was already trying to get a rise out of her, was what it was. She wasn't going to let him.

She slid the door open, stepped inside, and shut it behind her. Coming into this room had been a lot different when she was little. It had been a place she'd come to feel close to him when he was away, or enjoy his company on the rarer occasions when he was home. Now, she couldn't stand it.

Godo spoke first.

"Gorkii tells me a platoon of Shinra soldiers is on our doorstep. He has our people prepared to fight them."

"That's right," she said.

"I assume you want me to support this," Godo went on. "That's hypocritical of you, isn't it?"

Yuffie's brow furrowed. "What're you talking about?"

"You've had your AVALANCHE friends bringing them here for weeks now. You said you didn't want us rolling over and accommodating the Shinra, but our cities and villages are already full of them. They're here treating our land like their own."

"That's not the same thing. They're not Shinra."

Godo regarded her levelly. "You haven't been here," he said. "What would you know?"

She wanted to punch him. What did he know about it? How often did he even leave this damn house anymore? If he'd really, actually been paying attention, then he wouldn't think that.

She thought of Nanaki somewhere outside the door. Channel Nanaki, she thought. He would just swish his tail and say something diplomatic. Yuffie didn't have a tail to swish, but she clenched and unclenched her fists, letting go the urge to use them.

Yuffie hadn't been here. But she thought she knew the character of the people who'd come. They weren't invaders.

"...I know most of them came here because they're sick of the Shinra way of life," she said.

Godo shook his head. "They may say that, but it's all they know. It's what they've brought with them."

"Then stop ignoring them and show them something different. You wanna preserve the old ways? Then you should be teaching them to anybody who'll listen."

"Our ways are for our people."

"How's that been working out?" Yuffie asked.

Godo's mouth drew into a line, and she could tell he wanted to yell something. He didn't. She wondered if he was holding back because he didn't want Barret to punch him again. "Disrespectful as always," was all he said.

Yuffie held back, too, but not because she was scared. She'd come here to be an adult--some kind of leader, maybe. There was more important stuff going on than their baggage. Besides, if he got her to snap first, then it meant he was winning, and she did not want to let him win.

"Look," she said. "I didn't come here to pick a fight."

"You just brought one with you," Godo observed.

"Will you just let me finish?"

Godo frowned, but he gestured for her to go on. Maybe he was just trying to treat her like someone who wasn't family. What did that say, if it was better?

She took a breath. "Maybe..." she began, "maybe it was the smart play, for a while. Keeping our heads down. But nobody wants that anymore. The world over, people are standing up to them, even people who used to be Shinra, and I know we're stronger than them. You really wanna stick it out like this? You wanna be the one guy who didn't believe we were ready to fight again?"

"The Shinra are only here because of what AVALANCHE has been doing," said Godo. "Not Wutai."

Yuffie let her hands settle on her hips. "So... what? The enemy of your enemy is somebody you couldn't care less about? You wanna stand on the sidelines and let 'em duke it out like it's got nothing to do with us?"

Godo didn't answer. If she'd thought that Barret came close to persuading him, months ago, he seemed a little closer now. But his pride made him a stubborn ass.

Yuffie decided not to keep pushing. As long as he stayed out of the way, fighting wasn't what they needed from him.

"I saw Mom," she said instead.


"She's been trying to talk to me for a while now. I finally heard her."

Godo's mouth worked, his face full of incredulity, fury, and... something else. "I can't believe this is what you're stooping to," he said.

"I wouldn't lie about something like this!" Yuffie insisted. "I really saw her. She's with Leviathan."

Godo turned his back on her, grunting in some kind of acknowledgment. He had to know, even as much as she bucked tradition--he had to know she'd never disrespect the gods or her mother's memory. " really saw her?" he asked.

"Yeah," said Yuffie, watching his back. It was hard to read him like this, but he seemed like he was holding himself still, with effort. It had been a long time since either one of them had brought up her mother.

"......what did she say?"

"She said... that we have a responsibility to help the Planet. Because we've kept the old ways, we're the only people who know how to do it, anymore. Our magic, the magic of the gods, can help restore something the Planet's lost."

"And what does that have to do with the Shinra?" Godo wondered.

"The Shinra are the ones who pulled it out of the Planet," she said. "They wanted to use it as a weapon."

Godo turned back to face her, and something dark had entered his expression. "And you have it? Their weapon?"

Yuffie knew exactly what he was thinking in that moment, and she got it. She absolutely got it. Take Shinra's weapon, use it against them as something that could definitively rival their power, and get revenge for Wutai. For Kasumi.

She got it. But she knew better.

"You're not seriously asking me that," she said.

"You want me to fight the Shinra," said Godo. "You have a weapon you've taken from them. Why not use it?"

Yuffie shook her head. "You wanna fight the Shinra by being like the Shinra? Now who's being a hypocrite?"

Godo fell silent. His brow furrowed, and the dark look left him.

"I know you don't really respect anything I have to say," Yuffie went on, glancing away from him, "and honestly, I don't really wanna work with you either. But it's what Mom, and Leviathan, would want. You don't wanna support us fighting the Shinra, fine, but this is another way you can help Wutai. And there aren't a whole lot of people left who can do it."

There was a short silence, and then Godo said, "I'll think it over." She hadn't expected that.


"...did she say anything else? Kasumi?"

"You didn't come up," Yuffie said. It was true, but she'd expected her candor to feel more satisfying. There was no way Godo was the man her mother had married, not anymore, but... "But, I don't know. Maybe she's been trying to reach you, too. You could try listening, for once."

"Yuffie--" he began, saying her name for the first time in the conversation. Less like a reproach and more like when he'd been her dad.

She interrupted him. "I think I've said everything I need to. You let me know what you decide. I got a lotta other work to do."

Godo didn't try again. Yuffie turned and slid open the study door, and Barret was so close outside that he actually had to take a step back to allow her to exit. Jessie and Tifa weren't far, with only Nanaki maintaining any kind of distance.

"Wow," Yuffie remarked, shutting the door behind her. "I knew you guys were gonna be eavesdropping, but I thought you'd at least try to pretend you weren't."

Jessie shrugged lightly. "What's the point, really?"

"You did well, Yuffie," said Nanaki, injecting a sincerity into the mood that she'd hoped to avoid.

"Proud o' you," Barret added, pulling her into a quick side hug before she could protest. He was getting better at that. Or were her reflexes going? "Though, I wouldn't've minded havin' to step in again."

"Yeah, yeah." Yuffie waved a hand dismissively as she started back down the hall towards the shrine. "I had it this time."

"It did sound like it went well," said Tifa, "but... you don't think he'd really try to take the Huge Materia, do you?"

"What?" said Yuffie. "No. No way. Part of him might want to, but it'd take a lot for him to cross that line."

"Good," said Tifa.

Back in the shrine, Aeris sat on the floor, with Marlene asleep in her lap. It was definitely past what her bedtime would have been back in Midgar.

Aeris put a finger over her lips, but asked softly, "Well?"

"A resounding maybe," Yuffie answered. "Beats last time."

Aeris smiled. "I'm glad to hear it."

Tifa was looking at her phone. "Vincent just texted," she said. "The Shinra are busy securing the Highwind. We've got at least a few hours before they come our way. We should all rest while we can."

Yuffie hesitated. Rest, at a time like this?

"That means you, too," said Barret. It always sounded a little weird when he was trying to keep his voice down.

"It really looks like they have things covered in terms of lookouts," Aeris put in. "I know you want to be in fighting shape when the Shinra get here."

Yuffie looked at her. "What about... talking to Gorkii and everybody about the Huge Materia?"

"You really think we'll be able to do that kind of magic without any rest?" She smiled encouragingly. "We got things started, right?"

It was a good point. Anyway, if the Shinra didn't have reinforcements to bring in, then they could probably settle things in one quick skirmish. Probably. They could think about the Huge Materia afterwards.

"Right. Okay."

Yuffie took them down to the hidden basement room to fetch some bedding, but the others decided they'd rather set up there than in the shrine. It wouldn't have been Yuffie's choice, but the shrine was, to them, the realm of something they didn't understand, and they felt like they were intruding.

"I'm gonna head on back to my place," Yuffie announced once she figured they could finish up without her.

Barret raised an eyebrow at her, but Nanaki spoke up before he could actually say it.

"I'll go with her," he said. "To be sure she does."

"Awright," said Barret. "I know your place's closer to where the Shinra'll be comin' from, so if you get to 'em first, try an' save us some o' the action, okay?"

"Yeah, no promises," said Yuffie.

Outside, it was finally looking like morning, and people were coming awake. In the plaza by the pagoda, people were gathering to train, even without Gorkii. By their clothes, a few of them were from Midgar; their form was terrible, but... Yuffie liked seeing them there, all the same. So much for sticking to their Shinra ways.

Nanaki was watching them, too. "Part of me wishes we could have done it this way, when the Shinra came to Cosmo Canyon," he said quietly.

"Aren't you a bunch of pacifists?" she wondered.

"I am not," he said. "My people are not."

Right. They were supposed to be the defenders of the canyon, or something. "Well," she considered, "maybe you need some new people. I mean, I guess you can't really train anybody to fight like you, but maybe I could lend you some people. Call it a cultural exchange."

"And what would we be providing you?" Nanaki wondered, sounding amused.

"I don't know," she said, but she kind of did. "Maybe-- some of your ideas? About how to move forward, without Shinra."

"...that seems like a fine notion," he said.

Yuffie turned on her heel to walk backwards, facing him. "Man, are you sure you wanna make me go to sleep? I'm like, really smart right now."

"You're going to trip," Nanaki said mildly as she stumbled over a rock that was not supposed to be there, "so maybe not that smart."

Yuffie stuck her tongue out at him and turned back around. "C'mon. Let's see if my cats remember you."

It didn't feel as weird coming home this time as it had before. Maybe she just hadn't been gone as long, but maybe she didn't feel as out of place either. Wutai was with her.

And the house that had once belonged to her mother felt, for the moment, filled with presence, rather than absence. The others could sleep under the shrine, in the protection of the five mighty gods, and Yuffie would be here, with her mother's memory, and the river just outside.

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