Chapter 18

The Leviathan Materia.

Yuffie didn't know how Godo could have had this and not heard anything. Just holding it, she felt the connection so intensely.

Maybe he hadn't wanted to feel it. He'd left it unattended up on the top floor of the pagoda, out of sight and out of mind.

Yuffie always wanted to hold onto anything she could get her hands on, and right now, that was a lot. She had Wutai and she had her friends and she had a duty to all of them. And it was hard, actually, having that much. She wanted to stay and fight. This was her home!

But she knew Tifa was right. They didn't have anything else that could handle a Weapon made by the Planet, and in a way she felt Junon was her responsibility, too. Sash and Zack and Cloud and Wedge--she couldn't leave them without back-up. So she had to go. She couldn't leave this to anyone else; they didn't have her connection to Leviathan.

It was okay to leave, right? Barret was here, and Jessie, and Nanaki. Even Vincent once he got his ass back out of bed. She'd seen all of them in a pinch, and she knew they'd fight hard. Gorkii and the others would, too, because whatever differences they had, they loved Wutai, too. She hoped that the power of the Huge Materia wouldn't just strengthen Leviathan, but each of their connections to the gods from whom they drew their magic.

Yeah. Scarlet and her troops wouldn't know what hit them.

Aeris put a hand on her shoulder, and Yuffie drew a breath. She wasn't running away. She was doing her part.

"You guys ready?" Yuffie asked.

"Ready," said Tifa, her hand coming to rest on Yuffie's other shoulder.

Yuffie could remember the moment when she'd summoned Leviathan before, at the Northern Crater, but if there'd been any thought in her head at all back then, she couldn't have said what it was. She hadn't known what she was doing. She hadn't planned on it. It had just happened, flooding through her in an instant.

She closed her hand around the materia, and focused her thoughts into it. It was still easy, way easier than she'd expected.

Leviathan's form rose fluidly from the river beneath them, changing nothing about the water's flow. It was the river.

It tugged at something deep down. This wasn't the same bridge as in her dreams, and this wasn't the shape her mother took, but she felt them tracing a line towards this moment. They'd replenish the rivers of Wutai--

Yuffie climbed over the railing of the bridge and leapt down. Leviathan's body was solid beneath her, real. Its scales were cool to the touch, like a shaded creek on a warm summer day. Aeris and Tifa leapt down to join her, Tifa especially looking a little uncertain.

They didn't share Yuffie's reverence for the gods, but actually touching one was probably still weird for them.

Actually, it didn't feel weird to Yuffie at all. It felt like the most natural thing in the world.

From the shore, the others were staring. Marlene waved at her from Barret's arms. Yuffie lifted her arm to wave back, and then she planted it firm against Leviathan's scales, holding the materia tight in her other hand.

This was the part she really needed to get right.

Leviathan swam the currents of the Lifestream, all over the world. It knew how to reach the shores of Junon, faster than any body of water alone could carry them. She couldn't get caught up in thinking about speed or their human bodies, because it wasn't like that.

The Ancients had tucked away entire places with their magic. The vastness of the Temple of the Ancients and the altar where they'd prayed for Holy, they didn't occupy space the way they were supposed to. Nobody knew how to do that anymore, but they'd given the Planet back so many of its lost memories, and Leviathan had told her they could do this.

Just three small people, just for a short time, they could exist in a place that didn't make any sense when you tried to think about it.

It felt like sinking into water. Not drowning. There wasn't any panic. She couldn't see anything, not because her eyes were closed or because it was dark, there just wasn't anything to see. She felt Leviathan all around her, embracing her.

She remembered suddenly, vividly, the last day that she'd seen her mother alive. Yuffie had seen her mother off before, but the last time, she was starting to understand the toll. She'd seen people go and not come back. Koji had been there that day, one of her mother's warriors, entrusted with looking after Yuffie, for a while, while he recovered from an injury. He'd died later, years after her mother.

Yuffie had found Kasumi just as she finished packing her gear and clung to her hakama, determined that her tiny body should weigh her down like an anchor. Koji had had to help pry her loose, and her mother had run her fingers through her hair.

She hadn't wanted to leave, but there were things worth fighting for. Yuffie felt the sentiment, more than she remembered the words.

Nothing was ever supposed to be just gone, or even disconnected. In Wutai, they knew this, too. All things were meant to return to the ocean. Yuffie sank into Leviathan, and Leviathan swam the Planet's unseen currents.

And then something shifted. Yuffie felt a pressure against her eyelids, and when she opened them, the salt of the ocean stung her eyes. Water, not Lifestream, rushed past her, cold and heavy. Leviathan's head broke the surface, and the sea spilled down from her shoulders. Beside her, Tifa gasped down a sharp breath. Yuffie glanced at Aeris on her other side--still there.

The dawn lay ahead of them, sun just about to break over the cliffs that backed Junon. An immense creature--maybe it was even bigger than the Shinra building, Yuffie thought--had risen up out of the water and wrapped itself around the main cannon.

Metal groaned under its bulk, and one of the tubes that fed the cannon had broken loose, spilling Mako over the monster's back. Weapon, too, was keening; the Mako ran down the scales between its fins, over a gaping wound left by the cannon fire, and at last down the coil of its tail into the ocean.

"...hard to disagree with that," Tifa remarked quietly, and Yuffie did feel bad for it. If she'd been a giant monster, she'd have wanted to rip Junon to pieces, too. Especially that stupid cannon. As if the war had ever left Wutai's shores, as if the Shinra were the ones who'd needed to protect themselves from something.

"But it's like destroying the reactors," said Aeris. "We don't disagree, but..."

Tifa nodded. "This isn't the right way to do it. If that cannon falls on Junon-- We can't let that happen."

Yuffie shivered. Her hair and clothes clung wet to her skin, and sitting still like this, the winter air was going to freeze them stiff.

Beneath her hands, Leviathan was waiting on them, on her. "Do we have to fight it?" Yuffie wondered. "What if it just... went back to sleep?"

Tifa met her gaze. "Well... You know our policy."

Ever since Corel Prison, the only death Tifa had ever condoned was Sephiroth's. Yuffie hadn't really thought about that extending to giant sea monsters, but... why not? It was just doing what it was doing to try to help the Planet, just like they were. They only needed it to stand down.

But it wasn't exactly going to talk, was it?

As if responding to her thought, Leviathan lifted its head up out of the water, opened its mouth, and emitted a long, low note.

Weapon paused at the sound of it. It uncoiled slowly from the cannon--not completely, but enough to turn its body in their direction. Glowing yellow eyes stared out at them. Some part of its flesh pulled back to reveal its mouth, and it roared.

Yuffie flinched. Aeris planted her hands over her ears, and Tifa reached out an arm to steady them both.

Scattered cannon fire sounded from the smaller batteries, but if anyone was aiming for the new sea monster that had appeared, nothing came close.

Leviathan was undeterred. Its body moved forward, sliding so easily through the water that Yuffie almost didn't realize they were moving. The harbor approached even so.

Weapon's mouth began to glow, and a white-hot blast shot out, sailing over their heads and striking the sea behind them. A deluge of water shot up, far enough not to splash them but close enough that Yuffie tasted the mist. The waves churned in its wake, crashing up Leviathan's sides and lapping at their ankles.

A warning shot?

Yuffie wondered if Weapon recognized Leviathan, and if it understood its intent. They were both born of the Planet, in different ways. But Weapon had been created only to be a weapon. Leviathan could be that, but it was so much more than that.

Beneath her hands, it felt... decisive.

"I think this is where we get off, guys," she said to the others.

Tifa didn't voice any question, she just met Yuffie's eye uncertainly, and then nodded. The harbor was close enough they could swim to it--and close enough to see the extent of the damage. Docks lay in ruins, smashed to pieces. The bow of one ship stuck up vertically from the water, while another had been lifted completely from the sea and hurled into the level just above. Yuffie couldn't see any others, and she wondered how many Weapon had sunk.

Tifa was first into the water, beckoning Aeris after her. Yuffie leaned down against Leviathan, basking in the cool familiarity of its scales. The connection would always be there, but she didn't know if it would ever feel so real or present again. It wasn't only her mother, there were so many other spirits and memories inside of it, but Kasumi was there, too. Watching over her and, today, fighting alongside her.

"This isn't goodbye," Yuffie whispered, but she knew it was a kind of goodbye. She slotted the Leviathan materia into her shuriken, took a breath, and dove into the water.

The cold slammed into her anew, without Leviathan's presence to mitigate the discomfort. By the time she reached the twisted remains of the nearest dock, her body felt numb and heavy. Tifa helped to haul her out, and the three of them stood shivering together.

"Ohhh," said Aeris, rubbing her arms. "I didn't think about this part. Where's a blanket we can cuddle under?"

"Gross," said Yuffie, but that wasn't why she turned away.

The sun had just broken over the cliffs of Junon, and behind them, Leviathan had risen completely out of the ocean. The pale dawn glinted off of its scales and rosy light glowed through the translucent ends of its fins. Water didn't drip from it, but instead swelled beneath it, the pull of the water god stronger than the tides.

Weapon roared again, the sound reverberating down to the metal beneath their feet. As its mouth began to glow, Leviathan plunged forward. It dove through the air, the length of its body phasing through Weapon and continuing past it towards the command center, where it stretched its head up towards the sky and became a waterfall. It spilled down over the Shinra logo and each level of the command center. As it splashed down over the base of the cannon, the water ran on past Weapon, and returned at last to the sea.

In its wake, the glow had faded from Weapon's mouth. It uncoiled, slowly, from the cannon and let its body slide back into the sea, following the last traces of Leviathan's passing. Its bulk disturbed the water, sending waves crashing up over the ruined dock, nearly sweeping them off. But at last it came to a rest, its head not quite submerged and its long fins stretching out behind it in the shadow of the cannon.

Just beneath the surface, its huge golden eyes looked in their direction, and then slowly closed.

The waves calmed as it settled, but Yuffie stepped back as they came in, seeing Weapon's blood in the water.

Aeris let out a breath.

"Is it... dead?" Tifa asked her.

"Yes," Aeris answered softly. "It's... returning to the Planet, at long last."

Yuffie sneezed.

"We really need to get out of these wet clothes," Tifa decided.

Yuffie let her gaze linger on Weapon's still form a moment longer and then spun on her heel. "C'mon!" she said. "I know a place we can loot."

"Yuffie--" Tifa began.

"What, you think anybody's selling anything right now? Besides, we just saved their asses. They owe us way more than a couple jackets."

"She makes a good argument," said Aeris--definitely for Tifa's benefit. Yuffie knew, Aeris didn't have the slightest problem with her plan.

"I guess you're right," Tifa conceded.

"Ohh, but we should have a proper shopping trip once this is all over," said Aeris.

Yuffie made a face. "Are you kidding?"

"Not at all! It'll be fun, I promise. I'm sure we can find you something cute in the boys' section."

Yuffie threw her a look, not sure if that was a general comment on her fashion sense, or something else. "Did Jessie say something?" she wondered.

"She didn't have to," said Aeris. "She never calls you a 'girl' anymore, and you were so happy after we went to Wall Market."

"I still can't believe you took her there..." said Tifa.

"She was absolutely safe!" Aeris insisted. "Weren't you, Yuffie?"

"Yeah, I guess so," said Yuffie. "The hookers were really nice actually."

Aeris hurried a few steps ahead so she could turn around and face Yuffie, a knowing look on her face. "Were they? Anybody in particular?"

"I don't think she meant it like that, Aeris."

"Thank you, Tifa," Yuffie said pointedly, shooting Aeris a look.

Aeris sighed, dropping back with them. "Okay, okay. I won't tease. But you should really think before you say things like 'the hookers were really nice.' It definitely puts thoughts in people's heads."

"Maybe 'cause yours's always in the gutter anyway," said Yuffie, and Tifa laughed.

They came up from the harbor into the street just above it, but Yuffie hardly recognized it. The giant cannon never let you forget Junon's purpose, but the attack had made it clear just how thoroughly every bit of it had been designed for war. Massive blast walls had gone up, shielding the buildings nearest to the sea, and sections of the street below had slid aside, allowing the smaller cannons beneath to lift into place.

For anything else, it was overkill, but Weapon had proven too strong for them. Yuffie spotted all of one cannon still in position. Most were knocked out of alignment, torn from their bases and smashed into the walls behind them. Others smoldered in pieces from Weapon's white-hot breath, which had raked through them and gouged into the blast walls behind them, setting some of the buildings on fire.

The bodies of soldiers littered the street. It was a sobering sight, and Yuffie grit her teeth to press on. They'd brought this on themselves, but that didn't make her feel good about it. A lot of them were just... stupid. Really, really stupid.

The thrumming of helicopter blades brought her up short. The three of them looked up, and Aeris was the first one to wave.

Wedge was leaning out the side, waving back.

The copter landed in the street, in the space between cannons. Wedge jumped out, and Sash followed. Before she knew what she was doing, Yuffie ran up and hugged her.

"You're not dead!" she exclaimed.

"Good to see you, too," said Sash, returning the hug with an awkward pat. "Why are you soaking wet?"

"And how did you get here so fast?" asked Wedge.

"Um, Leviathan brought us," Tifa explained as Yuffie pulled back. Eyeing the helicopter, she caught a flash of red hair and realized that Reno was in the cockpit. That was gonna be a whole other conversation later, she was sure.

Wedge exchanged glances with Sash. "So that really was Leviathan," he said.

"You saw it?" Yuffie asked, brightening.

"Yeah," he said. "We saw the whole thing. And it means Weapon's... dead, right? It won't be getting up again to attack Junon?"

"No," said Aeris, "it won't."

Wedge nodded solemnly. "I'm not really happy it's dead, but... I'm glad Junon's safe now."

Aeris nodded, but she was looking at Sash. "Isn't that Zack's sword?" she asked, but what Yuffie noticed was the Mako glow in her eyes. She wasn't wearing the contacts to hide it, and Yuffie had forgotten.

"Yeah, don't worry," Sash assured her, waving a hand. "He's coordinating the civilian evacuation and figured he didn't need it right now. He sent us out to do some search and rescue-- I think you guys did most of the rescuing, but there's some gear in the back if you wanna change."

"Definitely," said Tifa.

"Ugh," said Yuffie. "I hate wearing Shinra uniforms."

But she was freezing, so she didn't protest.

Wedge climbed back inside ahead of them, and Yuffie was about to protest that, but he went straight through to the cockpit and clapped his hands over Reno's eyes. "Okay, you're all clear!" he announced.

"What the hell?" Reno demanded. He shoved at Wedge, but Wedge didn't budge. That was more than okay in Yuffie's book.

She climbed into the copter with the others, and as they stripped out of their wet clothing, Sash handed them each a uniform. Yuffie's was way too big for her, but even if it was an ugly, smelly, stupid Shinra uniform, it felt dry against her clammy skin. Tifa sat down on the bench beside Aeris once they were dressed, wrapping an arm around her, and Aeris motioned Yuffie over to join them. Yuffie made a face, but she was too cold to turn it down.

Tifa let Wedge know they was safe for his eyeballs and then turned to Sash. "So you're getting people out through the air base?"

Sash nodded. "In batches, down the lift, and we're getting the injured off to Midgar by air. It's still a mess; we don't know where to send half of 'em, but Cloud got in touch with Fort Condor so we're hoping we can get some of 'em placed out to villages out there."

"A mess," Tifa agreed, "but I don't think they can stay here. Was the reactor damaged?"

"We're not sure," Sash admitted. "It could be Weapon just took out the main pipeline into the city. But either way it could be an explosion waiting to happen."

Yuffie chewed on her lip. There was one more Huge Materia down there somewhere, and maybe Shinra hadn't designed that one to be its own bomb, but it was hooked into the power system for the cannon. If any part of that blew up, was the Huge Materia going to make it worse?

"But the base still has power?" Aeris was asking.

"For now," said Sash. "It's got a dedicated generator. Anybody who knows how long that'll last lit out of there a while ago. If it runs out, we'll be stuck tossing a ladder down the elevator shaft and prying the doors open."

"Wait, they just left?" Yuffie asked incredulously.

Sash shook her head. "I'm not saying they're not cowards, but things got pretty bad here before Zack and the others showed up."

"I can believe it," Tifa said, glancing out the open side of the helicopter. Yuffie couldn't see any bodies from where she was sitting, but that didn't mean they weren't still there. And plenty more she hadn't seen, all over the city.

They were all quiet for a minute, and then Tifa looked back at Sash. "How many soldiers do you think are left at command?" she asked.

Sash smirked, grimly. "You wanna find out?"

Reno twisted around in his seat to look at them. "You're kidding, right? You guys look like something the snake dragged in."

"We rode in on a god," Yuffie corrected. "Don't make me smite you."

Reno hesitated, and threw a look at Wedge. "Can she do that?"

Wedge just shrugged.

"I know it's been a long day," said Tifa, glancing around at all of them, "but I can't imagine we'll get a much better shot. Are we up for this?"

No one said they weren't.

They gave the word to Reno, and the helicopter lifted back into the air. Yuffie shut her eyes, swallowing. Aeris's arm tightened encouragingly around her shoulder, and Wedge plopped down on her other side, and Yuffie tried not to think about how totally gross and sappy this all looked. It was just practical, so she didn't freeze to death.

She wondered if that shithole apartment she'd barely spent any time in was still standing. There wouldn't be any hot water for a bath right now, but there was a decent blanket on that bed, and good tea somewhere in the pantry. Dumb creature comforts that she really wanted right now.

They landed on the street just outside the lower level of the command center. Reno started to power down the helicopter, but Tifa leaned forward into the cockpit.

"You report back to Zack," she said, "and get back on search and rescue."

"Excuse me?" said Reno. "I know you guys think you're tough, but whoever's left at command is gonna be the toughest Shinra's got. I'm lending a hand."

"No, you're not," Tifa said firmly.

"You're not the boss of me."

"No, I'm not. But Rufus was, and Tseng was. I can't have you at my back, getting confused about that. I'm guessing it was Zack's idea to let you out in the first place, so you help him. I don't need you."

Reno glared at her for a long moment and then huffed out a "fine" through grit teeth.

If it were up to Yuffie, she might have let him come. Shinra was a sinking ship, there was no way he'd hop on now. But it wasn't her call, and she knew, after Sector 7, Tifa could never trust him.

Yuffie leapt out of the helicopter, and her boots splashed down in a puddle of seawater, the remnants of Leviathan's passing. The water god was still with her.

Sash's ID still opened the door into the base. Dim red lighting lit the hallway, and Tifa brought them up short at the end, peering around the corner.

"Infantry," she whispered back to them, and it was Aeris who stepped out first, knocking the men off their feet with a blast of wind. The rest of them ran on past her. As Yuffie reached one of the soldiers and kicked the rifle out of his hands, she realized they'd never really done something like this before--an assault on Shinra where they didn't have an exit plan. They were playing for keeps. She planted her boot on the soldier's chest and looked to Tifa.

"Leaving them's a liability," said Sash.

"No," Tifa insisted firmly. "Where can we lock them up?"

The media room wasn't far. They forced the men inside at the point of their own guns and Wedge held the door while Sash figured out how to lock them in. Tifa tossed the rifle she carried aside and turned on her heel.

"Is this the way?" she asked.

"Yeah," said Sash. "But listen... I don't know if we can really make it through this without killing anybody."

"...I know," said Tifa. "But we don't do it unless we have to. We never do it unless we have to."

They pressed on through the gallery. The power flickered on, and Yuffie nearly jumped out of her skin as lights illuminated the gold statue of the late President Shinra, larger than life in the center of the room. Ahead of her on the walkway, Sash leaned over the railing to spit in its direction. Yuffie smirked, and followed.

The power didn't hold long. It shorted out near the top of the stairwell, plunging them back into red dim. They halted there, letting their eyes adjust, and Sash crept up to get a look at the door leading into the command center. She sank back down, held up four fingers, and gestured to her eyes.

She wasn't just saying she'd seen four guys. They were SOLDIER, like she used to be, with the same Mako glow.

Five against four. They had the advantage, right? Even against SOLDIER?

Tifa gestured for her and Sash to go in first, the rest of them hanging back. Sash drew her sword, and the two women sprinted up the last few steps. Wedge laid down rifle fire until they'd closed the distance, putting the SOLDIERs on the defensive. Yuffie caught Aeris's eye, and they hurried up behind.

Yuffie's shuriken flew, catching one SOLDIER in the arm as Tifa ducked beneath his comrade's sword. Tifa spun to kick him, sending him tumbling over the railing into the stairwell. Sash had forced another back against the sealed door, and Aeris encased the last of them in an ice spell. Wedge charged forward, cracking the man with the butt of his rifle. He fell to the floor as the ice shattered, and Tifa wrenched his sword out of his hands.

It was quickly knocked from hers by the SOLDIER she'd first engaged as he bodychecked her. He lifted his sword as she stumbled, and Wedge moved in with a yell, lifting his rifle. The sword stuck halfway through the metal barrel, and Tifa punched the SOLDIER in the jaw, knocking him down. Wedge dropped his gun, and it clattered to the floor with the sword still embedded in it.

The last SOLDIER standing overpowered Sash and cast Bolt, downing all three of them in range in an instant. Aeris threw up a hurried barrier spell as he brought his sword down on Tifa, and Yuffie hurled her shuriken. It knocked his helmet from his head, disorienting him. Sash recovered first and stabbed upwards from the floor, catching the man in the side. It wouldn't be fatal, if any of these guys had a Restore materia.

The other two SOLDIERs were starting to get back to their feet, disarmed but not finished. One reached for his sword. Tifa clumsily knocked it spinning and grappled with him. The other struck Wedge, keeping him down, and turned towards Sash.

Yuffie loosed her shuriken one more time, and the blades slashed across his back. Sash pulled her sword free of his comrade and struck him hard in the helmet with the pommel. They all rushed to help Tifa, who threw the last SOLDIER off of her into the nearby railing. He started to get back up, but Sash held him at sword point, and he froze, looking up into her face and seeing one of his own.

Aeris helped Tifa back to her feet, and Yuffie squatted beside Wedge.

"You okay?" she asked him.

Wedge groaned, but he started to sit up. Yuffie touched his arm, letting Leviathan's magic flow through her to heal his bruises.

"Why are you with these guys?" the last SOLDIER asked of Sash. "You're SOLDIER."

Sash shook her head. "Shinra never cared about us. You die for Rufus Shinra, and he won't even remember your name."

"We're fighting for Junon," the man insisted.

"So are we," said Sash.

There was nowhere to lock these guys up, but they could keep them out of the command center. Tifa and Aeris helped Wedge back to his feet while Yuffie collected all their ID badges. Yuffie swiped one of them to open the door, and they hurried through. It closed and sealed behind them.

The command center was more of a mess than she'd expected. The huge window facing the sea had shattered, and with every flash of the lights, their bright red glinted off broken glass littering the floor. One of the curtains blew loose in the wind. One display monitor was static, and the rest were just dead. Personnel were clustered around the computers farthest from the window, keys clacking as they desperately tried to bring up downed systems that probably couldn't be fixed remotely.

Elena was at one of the terminals, and rather than standing placidly by his desk, his back to the sea, Rufus stood leaning over someone's chair, giving instructions. Tseng was the only motionless figure, standing just behind him.

They hadn't run this time. She'd give them that.

Tseng quietly alerted Rufus to their presence as he drew his gun from its holster, and Yuffie narrowed her eyes. What had that asshole done with her shuriken? Her materia? This time he was not getting the better of her.

Rufus straightened up, looking the five of them over. He had to know they'd made it past his SOLDIERs; how did he estimate a couple Turks and a bunch of scared infantry would stand up?

"I see Scarlet's intel wasn't entirely accurate," he remarked, brow furrowing faintly. "But I'm busy, at the moment."

Tifa took a step forward. She didn't always like being the leader, but Yuffie knew Rufus was somebody she wanted to deal with personally. "I'm surprised you're actually trying to clean up your mess this time," she said.

"My mess?" Rufus arched his eyebrows. "Are you telling me you had nothing to do with that monster?"

"Us?" Tifa said incredulously.

"Well, we did summon Holy..." Aeris put in quietly, and it was stupid, but Yuffie wasn't surprised if Rufus couldn't tell the difference.

Yuffie planted her hands on her hips. "We just saved your asses from that 'monster,'" she said.

Tseng's attention shifted to her. "You called on Leviathan?"

"That's right," she confirmed, glaring him right back in the eye. "But you're not welcome, 'cause we didn't do it for any of you assholes."

At that, Elena jumped up from her seat. "You--!"

"But we did do it for Junon," Wedge cut in hurriedly. "We've got people working on the evacuation right now."

"The evacuation that should have been your priority," Tifa added, not managing to be as diplomatic as usual.

"My priority is the defense of this city," said Rufus. "Where do you expect its people to go?"

Tifa shook her head. "We're not like Shinra. We're not out to make everyone our enemies."

"No. You just accept every traitor and deserter that wanders your way."

Tifa was quiet for a moment, her mouth working into a straight line. "...we can end this peacefully right here," she said. "We don't have to fight."

"You expect me to surrender?" asked Rufus.

"Look around you. Don't you think it's time?"

"How do you expect to fix things here, without me?"

Sash spoke up dryly. "Helps to have a few traitors who know a thing or two about Junon."

"Sir!" said Elena. "We can take them."

Yuffie saw Rufus's weight shift, and even before he nodded to Tseng, her shuriken left her hands. It struck the keypad to the emergency exit before Rufus could reach it. He knew he couldn't take them! But Tseng and Elena opened fire anyway.

Wedge threw something, grabbed her arm, and pulled her down. She hit the floor beside him, and as the flashbang exploded in the face of their enemies, they scurried the few feet to the nearest desk.

Tifa, Aeris, and Sash had taken cover behind the desk one row over. Yuffie's shuriken sailed back around, struck the wall behind where she'd been standing, and clattered to the floor just out of reach. Yuffie picked out Rufus's voice as the gunfire subsided, calling someone over to help with the damaged door controls. Booted feet crossed the room.

But on the other side of the desk, just visible through the hole for the wires, Yuffie could make out someone in uniform crouched beneath it, hiding. It was almost the exact same hiding spot Yuffie herself had used, when she'd spied on Rufus and his cronies only a few weeks ago.

Was it Junon they'd stuck around for, not Rufus?

Water dripped down the back of her neck, making her shiver, and she glanced upwards. A seam in the metal plates of the ceiling, where the water that had been Leviathan was leaking through. It was still with her, all around her, its power at her disposal for just a little while longer.

Yuffie slouched down, stretching out her leg to try to snag her shuriken with her toe, but gunfire forced her back against the desk. Aeris caught her eye across the gap, a look of concentration entered her expression, and then she motioned for Yuffie to try again.

She darted for her shuriken, and bullets pinged off of Aeris's barrier above her. Tifa and Sash started to creep around the desks in the other direction, unnoticed for now. Yuffie risked a glance over her cover before she ducked back down.

Rufus and two of the infantry stood at the door with Tseng standing close guard. Elena was the one directing the remaining infantrymen, who stood with rifles at the ready for the second any of them broke cover.

But they didn't have to break cover to be vulnerable to magic. An ice spell formed around the desk Aeris was hiding behind, and when it shattered, it sent her sprawling across the floor, and her shield spell unravelled. Wedge dashed across the gap to her, tugging her back close behind cover as the soldiers opened fire.

Yuffie hastily scrambled into the spot Wedge had occupied as a Bolt spell crashed down where she'd been crouching. They could still do this, she was sure of it, but Yuffie didn't want to claw this victory from Shinra bit by bit. She wanted to overwhelm them.

It was now or never.

She thought of the river swelling against its banks, rushing past beneath the bridge, beneath her feet. A deluge fit to carry away even the most stubborn holdout.

With the materia in her shuriken strengthening her connection to the water god, it came to her as no accident and no half-formed thought. A tidal wave of water manifested out of nowhere and crashed down onto the Shinra. Shrieks and shouts followed, and Yuffie stood to watch as the wave surged across the room towards the open air--

"Yuffie!" Tifa shouted.

--but that was too far.

The water subsided as quickly as it had come, releasing its hold on Shinra uniforms and leaving them scattered across the floor as it lulled to a trickle. The last of it slipped over the lip of the broken window, glittering in the red of the emergency lighting.

Rufus, the stubborn asshole, had managed to grab hold of the door frame to keep himself from being swept away, but none of his guards had managed the same. As he tried to shake the water from the barrel of his shotgun, Tifa vaulted over the desks towards him.

Tseng intercepted her, abandoning his handgun to engage with his fists, as if he was any match for her. Elena was helping one of the infantrymen who'd been injured on the broken window glass, but she looked up sharply as Tifa landed a punch to Tseng's jaw, sending him down.

He was no match for her, but he had delayed her. Rufus brought his shotgun to bear on Tifa, Aeris cried out, and Sash leapt towards Tifa.

The shotgun blast went wide, the slug crashing into a computer monitor as Sash tackled Tifa aside. Wedge gave a yell and broke his cover, hurtling through the aisle between desks and pinning Rufus against the sealed door.

Yuffie dashed after him, grabbed the shotgun, and yanked it out of Rufus's hand.

Tseng was getting back to his feet at the same time as Tifa and Sash, and Elena had stood from her wounded charge, but Rufus called out to them, "Stand down. It's finished."

Tseng eyed them warily, but he lifted his hands as Sash trained her sword on him. Elena and the infantrymen stayed put. Aeris hurried over to check on Tifa, and then the two approached to join Yuffie.

"We got any rope?" Yuffie asked.

"Computer cords might work for now," Sash proposed. Yuffie collected some from the damaged or disused stations, and one-by-one they bound up their captives. She coaxed the two soldiers who'd hidden during the fight out from beneath their desks, but she just made sure they were unarmed.

The captured infantry sat on the floor where they were bidden, but Rufus refused. He wanted to maintain some kind of dignity in his defeat, but the effort was short-lived. Tifa stared him down for a long moment, and then she unceremoniously kneed him in the groin. Elena cried out in alarm as he crumpled, and Yuffie wasn't the only one who snickered.

Was this the last of Shinra? Yuffie wondered, a heady feeling coming over her at the sight of them. Rufus and the last of the Turks, lined up against the wall with their hands bound, suits damp and collars askew and hair falling into their eyes. Far from the pristine images they paraded around on TV, when they wanted to act like they were the last bastion of civilization.

Wedge was the one to voice the question. "...Tifa? Does this mean we've beaten Shinra?"

"I think, maybe, it does," Tifa said slowly. She looked at Rufus for a moment longer and then turned her attention on them. "Not exactly how I wanted to do it, though. We've still got some work to do here to keep Junon from falling apart completely. Let's see if we can get a sitrep out of these guys, and then we'll get in touch with Reeve."

Yuffie left talking to the Shinra soldiers to Sash and Wedge. Someone needed to keep an eye on Rufus, and she liked seeing him at the point of her shuriken, with the Leviathan materia at her fingertips.

Maybe the devastation Weapon had wrecked on Junon wasn't what Yuffie wanted anymore either, but she wanted Rufus to stew in this for a long time. There was absolutely nothing dignified about Shinra's surrender, and even though she knew they were an impressive team--the woman who'd killed Sephiroth, the last of the Cetra, an ex-SOLDIER, the world's most determined sidekick, and, of course, Yuffie Kisaragi--Rufus didn't see them that way. They were a rag-tag team of former terrorists, traitors, lab rats, and some teenager from a defeated nation.

But she was one hell of a teenager, and Wutai, too, was fighting back. Fighting their own battle, right now, to win back their pride. There was no way they'd lose.

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