Chapter 21

The river flowed steady beneath the bridge, and Yuffie sat already in the middle, her bare feet dangling. There was a kind of music in the way the water brushed the banks, and she could see clear through to the stones at the bottom of the riverbed.

Her mother sat beside her. Yuffie was at once herself, and a child, and her mother seemed larger than life--she was larger than life. Yuffie felt her as much in the familiar figure beside her as in the water that flowed beneath their feet.

She was content, for a while, with the quiet. But quiet moments with her mother never lasted.

"It's gonna be okay now," she said, "right?"

"I think so," said Kasumi.

"You're not sure?"

"I can't predict the future," her mother said gently. "But the Planet is stronger than it's been in a long time. It should endure a while longer."

Yuffie relaxed, a little. "...and Wutai?"

"You tell me."

Yuffie hesitated, but that part was up to her. Up to the living. "I don't know how everything's gonna shake out with- Godo. He's gonna fight me on something. But things aren't standing still anymore."

Kasumi nodded, returning her gaze to the river. "That's as it should be."

"I wish you could be there. I mean, I know you're watching, but really there. To be part of it."

"...I know. I wanted to come home, as I was."

Godo had never told her. No one had told her, and Yuffie wondered if her mother still remembered, now, or if that was something that had slipped away from her, but at last she had to ask it.

" did you die?"

Kasumi didn't answer right away. The water's flow seemed quieter, the hush between them veiling their surroundings.

"The Shinra sent one of their robots into our camp," she said, "while we slept. The lookouts sounded the alarm, but it still killed many. I was the last."

"You took it down with you?" Yuffie wondered. The heroic, badass final stand she'd always imagined. Why wouldn't anyone want her to know about that?

Kasumi shook her head. "I didn't do it alone. But by the time it fell..." Her hand came to rest over her abdomen. "...its weapons had already done their work."

It hadn't been a quick death, Yuffie realized. Her mother had claimed one final victory, but her last act had been to succumb, slowly, to her wounds. She thought of Bugenhagen's raspy breaths at the end, and the pall his impending death had cast over Cosmo Canyon before the moment itself came.

"I so wanted to make it back to you in time," her mother went on, "to say goodbye."

Yuffie chewed on her lip. She hadn't said it, but it sounded like she meant this moment to suffice. "Are we not gonna be able to talk like this again?"

"I can make you no promises. I go where this current takes me."

Yuffie leaned into her, wrapping her arms around her. Kasumi's hand came to rest in her hair.

"I'm so proud of you. Of who you've become." The folds of her mother's kimono were cool beneath the grip of her fingers. "Remember, even if we don't speak again: everything is connected."

It was raining when Yuffie woke, a gentle patter against the windows of the Junon apartment. With the reactor down and most of the city evacuated, there were no other sounds to compete with it. No hum of electronics, no voices of passersby or cars driving past. Yuffie let herself lie with it for a while before she pushed her blankets aside and got dressed.

Sash was already up, sitting in the kitchen with a mug of tea. Yuffie's eyes fell on the kettle, sitting atop a hot plate on the counter.

"It should still be warm," Sash told her before she could switch it back on.

"Cool," said Yuffie, and she snagged another mug out of the cabinet to make herself a cup.

Sash watched her. "So, the rest of you are headed out today?"

"Yep. But don't get all mushy on me."

"You're the one who went for the hug."

Yuffie shot her a look, because she was not mushy. "Sorry for being glad you didn't get eaten by a giant sea monster," she retorted as she poured the water over the tea strainer.

Sash smirked. "Didn't expect you to bring one of your own."

"Leviathan's not a monster."

"Sorry, sorry," Sash relented. "It really was impressive. Guess you were right."

"Of course!" said Yuffie. "...about what?"

"When you said Shinra wouldn't know what hit 'em, once Wutai joined the fight," Sash clarified. "Leviathan wasn't just you, right?"

"No." Yuffie hesitated, but the details were a little too personal to explain to Sash. Instead she decided to be satisfied with Sash's concession of defeat and planted her hands on her hips. "I was right, huh?" Wutain forces had defeated Scarlet and her troops, and a Wutain god had brought Rufus to his knees. With a little help from Tifa. "But it looks like you're not really gonna need me around here anymore."

"Nah. No more stealth required."

"You get to be out in the open, too," Yuffie pointed out. "Which's good, probably, 'cause I don't know how much longer your acting skills were gonna hold."

"Uh-huh," said Sash, taking the dig in stride. She took a sip of her tea and then added, "Think that might be good for me."


"I mean... For five years, I was basically nobody. Declared dead and forgotten. It's been... nice, working with you guys."

Maybe she kind of appreciated the mushy stuff, is what Yuffie thought that translated to. It felt good to matter to people. She settled at the counter with her tea, and finally asked it: "How'd you end up with Hojo anyway?"

Sash raised an eyebrow. "'With' Hojo?"

"You know what I mean," said Yuffie, gesturing to the tattoo on her hand.

Sash sat holding her mug in both hands, letting the steam drift up into her face. Sash had spent a lot of time with Zack in the aftermath of Holy, but Yuffie wasn't sure even he knew the story. He just seemed to have an inkling, because he knew Shinra.

"You might've noticed," Sash began at last, "there aren't a lot of women in the military. Even fewer in SOLDIER. Honestly I think it was Sephiroth himself who approved my joining; most of my commanders saw my ambition as a problem.

"When Godo signed the surrender, not everyone in Wutai stopped fighting. I got sent out on my own to deal with some guerrilla fighters. It never should've been a solo mission, and I think they knew that."

"They were trying to get rid of you?" Yuffie wondered, her brow furrowing. Of course that was like the Shinra. She'd heard it time and again: loyalty meant nothing to them, if you made yourself inconvenient in some other way. What made it uncomfortable this time was that her own people had been made the tool for it.

Maybe she hadn't given Sash enough credit, for being able to overlook that part.

"Seems that way," Sash said with a shrug. "I could've written it off as bad intel, if they hadn't decided to hand me off to Hojo once they realized I wasn't quite dead yet. Zack tells me that was just a couple months before Nibelheim."

" didn't blame Wutai?" Yuffie asked.

Sash shook her head. "If it wasn't Wutai, it would've been something else. Monster attack or local terrorists. I'm not saying there's no hard feelings, but I know who cost me those five years."

Yuffie nodded. "Good," she decided. "'cause you're not bad to work with either, for somebody ex-Shinra."

Sash smirked. "That how you feel about your AVALANCHE buddies?"

"Yeah, they're all right."

"They're no Shinra, that's for sure," said Sash. "All this stuff about saving the world and not losing anybody doing it. It's naive, but I like it."

Probably it was naive. They'd lost so many in the war, and Yuffie had almost fallen apart over losing one person in one battle. Still... "It's worth trying for, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Sash agreed.

Once Yuffie had finished her tea and found something to eat that vaguely resembled breakfast, she set about packing up her stuff. The clothes she vastly preferred to the Shinra disguises and the sentimental junk her friends had given her nearly a month ago. Marlene's hand-drawn storybook and a journal she'd never found time to write in and a framed photo of all of them at her party. Maybe they'd snag a new one, in Kalm, that really had everybody.

Sash expressed some disappointment at her grabbing the tin of tea out of the kitchen, but that had been a gift, too, and it was hers. She should've been grateful that Yuffie let her have any.

Aeris's potted flower, she picked up last. She wasn't travelling on foot, so she didn't have to stuff it away in her pack and risk crushing it. Sash had kept it alive in her absence, but Yuffie wanted to bring it home to Wutai. Maybe once it got a little bigger, she'd plant it by her mother's grave.

Did her mother like flowers? Most of the paintings in her old house were mountains. But even Yuffie liked flowers, so she figured it was okay.

The streets were largely empty of people, but littered with the things they'd left behind. Cars abandoned because you couldn't drive out of Junon. Belongings dropped in haste, and never gone back for. The rain gave it all a sort of uniformity, a grey slickness that made it all part of the same city organism.

A few streets were impassable, blocked by a landslide of debris from buildings hit directly by Weapon's attack. Yuffie passed a rescue team digging through the brick and metal rubble, and maybe someone was still alive in there, but it was more likely they'd find bodies.

There weren't too many buildings like that. She still couldn't wrap her mind around the enormity of Sector 7. She wasn't sure anybody else could either. The way she understood it, there hadn't been any rescue teams. It was too much.

This was something it was possible to recover from. But she wondered how many of the people who'd left would come back. How many of them had that kind of tenacity?

She ran across Vincent before any of the others, as she approached the air base. He was leaving it, which meant he was going the wrong way.

"Um, what're you doing?" she asked. "Didn't Jessie talk to you?"

He stopped for her, but his body language said it was momentary. "I don't believe your plan requires my assistance," he said.

"That's not the point! You missed out on my party, you're not allowed to miss this one, too."

Vincent tilted his head, skeptical. "You think Barret will be offended?"

"I'll be offended," Yuffie declared. "Everyone's gonna be there, and you're part of everyone, so suck it up."

He stood for a moment considering the street behind her, and Yuffie shifted the plant into one arm in preparation for dragging him bodily back to the air strip, but then he just nodded. "Very well," he said, turning with her to reenter the base.

"So you're planning to stick around Junon?" Yuffie wondered.

"Until the Highwind returns."

"What d'you need the Highwind for?"

"It's a preferable mode of travel to the Gelnikas," he said, as if that explained everything. Especially when Yuffie thought it was a toss-up: they both sucked.

"I guess," she said, screwing up her face, "but I meant where are you going?"

Vincent shook his head. "The travel is the point."

"Oh." Yuffie thought about that for a second. "So you're gonna continue your grand world tour, huh? You know they don't take it everywhere."

"I am aware. But I am not ready to... settle."

It was another thing that Yuffie could kind of understand. What did it say about her that Vincent was starting to make sense to her? Maybe she could just say, she was getting better at seeing other points of view.

"Well," she said, "if you wanna help out in Wutai whenever you swing by, I won't mind. There's a lot of people there who've been living under a rock for a while, too, so it might be more your speed."

Vincent glanced down at her. "I appreciate the invitation," he said.

They stepped out into the open air just beneath the air field, and Yuffie crossed to the lift platform. Vincent was walking slowly, letting her stay ahead of his long stride.

"Anyway it's a good thing I talked you into this," she said as she hit the button for the lift, "'cause you haven't hit up Kalm yet, right? I bet it looks way different from how it used to."

"I imagine so. It used to be more fortress than town."

"Isn't 'Kalm' kind of a weird name for a fort?"

"It was named for its commander," Vincent explained. "But I agree, it's ironic."

"Who were they defending against anyhow?" Yuffie wondered.

"It isn't as though this continent was always united under Shinra's rule. But those wars were well before my time, still."

"Huh. I guess Wutai was like that, too." Yuffie had never dwelled on it, but she knew that the forts they'd used during the war with Shinra had been built much earlier, too. But people would barely talk about the good things before the war, much less a time of internal strife. "People don't really think about that stuff," she went on, "it seems like forever ago."

"It is, unfortunately, human nature," said Vincent.

The lift came to a stop level with the air field. Beyond a scattering of helicopters and smaller aircraft, the Gelnika waited with its cargo hold gaping wide. A few days ago, this thing had been full of Shinra troops and weaponry, but now they were hitching a ride to a birthday party.

Human nature, huh?

"Well, I don't like that," Yuffie decided. "We're gonna do better as long as I'm around."

Vincent glanced at her again, and she thought he looked amused. "An era of peace, in the time of Yuffie Kisaragi?"

"Exactly!" she said, refusing to let his skepticism bring her down. "And I'm gonna live to be a hundred and fifty."

He didn't say anything to argue it, and Yuffie took that for tacit acceptance. Vincent might be immortal, but she was gonna be around to annoy him for a long time.

They had everything planned out well before the Gelnika reached Kalm. Yuffie didn't think Barret suspected a thing. She and Nanaki and Vincent were just staying over a night before they went on to Wutai, because it would be a while before they saw everybody again.

Tifa went shopping in the morning, and there was nothing suspicious about that; the team hadn't been home much lately. She took Vincent and Marlene along, the former as a pack mule who needed to see more of the town and the latter to make sure she didn't spill the beans. She enlisted their landlady, too, offering to buy her some things as a bid to win her over. She had not signed up to have this many weirdos in her house.

Jessie was the distraction. She and Barret had already made plans for their first Marlene-approved date, so her taking him out to the movies on his birthday was the perfect cover, suggesting they were letting him off with something low-key. Yuffie even said her goodbyes beforehand, pretending like the Gelnika would be heading out during the movie.

But as soon as Barret and Jessie were out of the house, the rest of them sprang into action. Yuffie went out to meet Zack, Cloud, and Wedge at the town gate; Wedge had caught a ride over to Midgar and driven with them all sneaky-like, instead of coming on the Gelnika, which could've tipped their hand.

Tifa busied herself in the kitchen, and before long the house filled with the scents of baking. She'd been able to pull together enough ingredients to approximate something she called a 'spice cake.' Cloud knew exactly what she was talking about, so even though neither of them said it, Yuffie took it for a Nibelheim recipe.

Marlene insisted on helping at first, but she was so excited she was making more of a mess than anything, so Zack managed to lure her out of the kitchen with the promise of arts and crafts, and Wedge took over as helper while Cloud cleaned up.

Nanaki and Vincent drew look-out duty, keeping an eye out in case something happened and Barret was headed back early.

Before Yuffie could involve herself much in any of it, Aeris beckoned her upstairs, claiming she needed help with the flower arrangements. Yuffie could read between the lines, and she went anyway.

The boxed flower beds shoved against the windows were still in full bloom, their scent filling the room. It smelled more like spring in here than winter. Aeris crossed the room to them with a pair of clippers, and Yuffie trailed after.

"You don't actually need my help with this right?" she said. "I don't know anything about flowers."

Aeris threw her a smile. "You can still be my manual labor," she said, "but no. I just wanted to talk, while we have the chance."

They really hadn't had the opportunity for a one-on-one chat since everything went down. Junon had been busy--the good kind of busy--but they'd been all hands on deck, scrambling for normalcy. And Yuffie had not been in a talking mood on the flight over on the Gelnika.

But, Yuffie wasn't totally sure what Aeris wanted to talk about. She took a seat on the edge of the nearby bed. "The Planet's fine, right? That's what Mom said."

Aeris was still smiling as she sorted through her flowers, looking for the right blooms. "You talked to your mother again?"

"Yeah... It was good."

Aeris nodded. "The Planet's doing well," she said. "I think, we can finally say it's in recovery, instead of just struggling to stay alive. There's still work to be done, but... I think it's going to be all right."

"Yeah. That's what I think, too."

"I'm so... grateful, that we were able to do this together," said Aeris.

Yuffie squinted at her. "Why're you talking like I'm leaving forever?"

Aeris laughed, her face dipping almost into the flowers she'd gathered. "I'm sorry," she said, turning around. "I guess I don't usually get so serious! It was just really special, that's all."

Yuffie nodded, watching as she found a vase for the flowers and set about arranging them just so. "You think maybe the Ancients used to do magic together like that?" she wondered.

"Maybe," said Aeris. "I think it was probably a little different, but that doesn't mean that new is bad. I think maybe there's a lot we could learn from each other."

"You wanna learn Wutain magic?"

"Why not? You're already learning to hear the Planet."

She was always so sure of that. Yuffie fidgeted, stretching her feet out in front of her. "I don't know," she said. "I guess? I don't know if it's hearing the Planet or whatever, I just get these gut feelings sometimes, like out of nowhere." She hesitated. "But right now I don't feel... anxious about it, anymore. Like I feel like things are okay."

"It was like that for me, too," said Aeris. "Mom helped me to work things out, and sometimes... it can be hard to know."

" still talk to her?" Yuffie wondered. How long ago had Aeris's mom died? When she was just a kid, right? The same as Yuffie?

"Mm," Aeris hummed, and Yuffie thought she understood what she really wanted to ask. "Sometimes she's more herself than others. I know, eventually..." She trailed off and turned to Yuffie with a smile. "It's a little extra time, though, isn't it?"

"Yeah." There wasn't any sure answer, from anybody. She had it while she had it.

Life was kind of like that anyway, she guessed..

Aeris pushed the vase of flowers into her hands. "Here. Go on and take that downstairs. You've got a different parent to worry about today."

Ultimately, the decorations they pulled together were lame. A few vases of December flowers, a paper banner reading 'Happy Birthday Barret' in crowded crayon letters, and various other 'artwork' that Marlene and Zack deemed worthy of putting on display around the room. Each was worse than the last, and Yuffie honestly couldn't tell who was humoring who.

But Barret was one of those people who actually believed in bullshit like 'it's the thought that counts,' so when he walked through the door and eight different voices shouted, "Surprise!" a grin split his face from ear to ear. It was his party, so if it was enough for him, then that was fine.

Yuffie would have (and had) insisted on presents.

There were never enough chairs, but Tifa made sure to sit Barret down at the head of the table, and plates and food were passed around. Barret was suitably impressed with their secrecy, and if he thought the decorations were lackluster, he was too good a dad to say so in front of Marlene, who clambered into his lap and told him how she'd helped with the cooking.

Maybe it was still a good party, even without the material stuff. Honestly, this had been the first year in a long time that Yuffie could remember anybody making such a fuss out of her own birthday. Growing up during the war, she'd been lucky to have even one of her parents at home for the occasion, and afterwards... it hadn't been at the top of anybody's list.

She'd always wanted this many people making a fuss over her. She absolutely wasn't giving up on presents for next year, but she could admit, in her head, that the company was the more important part.

So when Nanaki slipped out, she noticed.

It was dark outside, the comfortable kind of dark that night was supposed to be. A warm glow lit the windows of a few other houses besides theirs, and a lantern hung in the archway over the entrance to the pub where Tifa may or may not have still had a job. There were no electric lights, and in the immediate vicinity, Nanaki's tail was the brightest thing around. He'd only settled on the pavement just outside.

"You okay?" she asked him.

"Yuffie," he said, glancing up at her, his one eye glinting as it caught the light from the windows. "Yes, I'm fine. You go on back inside."

Yuffie didn't really think he was fine. "Nah, I could use a breather," she said, plopping down next to him. She lifted her gaze, searching out what he'd been looking at. "You actually can see a couple stars out here, huh?"

"Just the brightest of them."

Yuffie let the silence settle between them as she tried to puzzle out how he might be feeling. That wasn't a talent of hers, but this was Nanaki. Bugenhagen's illness had prevented him from joining in on her birthday, and his death had impelled him to leave home, looking for a distraction or maybe just some way not to feel powerless. But this celebration was all about family, and not at all about doing anything that made a tangible impact. Nanaki wasn't saving any lives by trying to laugh along with their jokes. Maybe it just reminded him of the family he'd lost.

And come morning, when they left for Wutai, they'd be going back to a series of funerals. Not just Guiying's, but others, too, who'd fallen in the battle with Shinra. Yuffie had never suggested that Nanaki attend them with her, but she was adamant she be there herself. It wouldn't be something he could avoid entirely.

She wondered what Bugenhagen's funeral had been like. She didn't know the practices in Cosmo Canyon. She wasn't about to ask now.

" sure you want to come with me to Wutai?" she asked instead. "I'm not gonna be offended if you change your mind and wanna go home for a while."

Nanaki's ears flicked, and she thought maybe he didn't want to talk about it. He kept his gaze fixed on the sky, but he said, "It isn't homesickness, so going home won't cure it. Grandfather... wanted me to be a part of the world. To be out in it."

"Is that what you want?" Yuffie wondered.

"I don't think I know yet," Nanaki admitted. "But... I want to try. I want to feel that I'm... doing something to honor his memory."

"...yeah. I get that." Yuffie leaned back on her hands, the stones of the pavement cold beneath them. She used to wonder if she was doing right by her mother's memory; it was good to have some certainty in that now. "I'm sure he'd be proud of you, and all," she added.

"I know," he said. "So would your mother."

Yuffie didn't want to get that deep into the mushy stuff. "Well, I am pretty badass," she said.

"That isn't all you are."


"'Badass' is simply your battle prowess and determination. It fails to describe how deeply you care about the things you fight for."

"...I can't believe I got you to say 'badass,'" said Yuffie.

Nanaki finally glanced at her again, his whiskers going forward. "I am capable of swearing," he said.

"Let's hear it then. Say 'fuck.' Wait, no," she decided, jumping to her feet, "you should do it in front of everybody. I wanna see their faces."

It took a little persuasion to get him to come back inside, his chief protest being that several people would be upset about Marlene hearing it, but Yuffie promised to cover her ears and that was that.

She'd introduce Marlene to curses later, on her own. That was what big siblings were for, right?

Vincent was the first to officially bow out of the festivities, surprising no one, and retreated back to the Gelnika for the night. Barret put Marlene to bed not long after, and when Nanaki volunteered to keep her company in her tower bedroom, Yuffie let him. They went on for another hour or so after that, just talking dumb, inconsequential stuff.

It was comforting, after so many urgent strategy meetings and late night phone calls, that the most pressing issues anybody had to talk about were what kind of dog Zack was going to get or whether Tifa was going to look for another job if the pub decided to fire her. It was stuff that only mattered to them, in their own lives, and wouldn't have far-reaching consequences.

It wasn't that they didn't have more important plans. They had plenty of plans. But they'd been over them already, and nothing had leapt out of the woodwork to change them. No ambushes or unexpected monsters. They could think farther ahead, because everybody was probably still going to be alive by next Saturday.

You didn't plan on getting a dog if you thought you'd have to run off and stop the world from ending.

Things started winding down. Zack, Cloud, and Wedge decided to make the drive back to Midgar, and Jessie went to see them off, still teasing Wedge about being a big-shot who needed to jet off back to Junon.

Tifa and Aeris shooed Barret out of the kitchen, insisting he wasn't allowed to help with the dishes, but Yuffie didn't stop him from nudging the furniture back into place, because she wasn't going to do it.

Yuffie leaned back against the banister at the base of the stairs. "So," she said, "how's it feel bein' 36? Your body shutting down, about to croak?"

Barret huffed good-naturedly. "I ain't got your energy, but I ain't got one foot in the grave either. Gonna be around for a good while longer."

"Hmmm," she said, feigning skepticism as she watched him set a chair back in place. "Guess we'll see how that goes."

He just shook his head at her and then stepped back to assess whether all was right with the table. Deciding it was, he shifted his attention to her. "You gonna be okay, goin' back an' seein' Godo without me?"

"Yeah, I oughtta be," she said. "I'll still have back-up." Nanaki would have her back, and Vincent could stand around and look intimidating.

"Good," Barret decided.

"...he really fought, though, huh?"

"Didn't see it first-hand, but yeah, he really fought," Barret confirmed. "Which I expect means he's gonna make himself a bigger ass, tryin' to act like he's in charge o' things."

"He is in charge, technically," Yuffie pointed out. She didn't like it, but that was how it was.

"Technically," Barret reiterated. "How's that work anyhow? You guys choose 'im or is he more like a king?"

Yuffie made a face. "Mm, more like a king. It's not like, a strict succession, but lineage is part of it. Like, if he dies or steps down, the noble houses are s'posed to get together and decide on a new lord."

"Noble houses, huh?"

"Yeah. Is it hypocritical to think it's stupid, but still wanna be in the running?"

Barret rubbed his hand over his beard, considering. "Guess it might be, a little bit. But it ain't like you're not tryin' to earn it."

"I guess," Yuffie said, but she felt like that was good enough. She might've been born a Kisaragi, but the name alone wasn't winning her any popularity contests. She'd fought for the respect she had, and she'd keep at it.

"...I'm not quite there yet, anyways," she decided. "It should be somebody more like Gorkii. At least for a few years, until he gets really super old."

Barret looked surprised. "Yeah? Well, he seems like a decent guy. Nothin' all that excitin' about 'im, but he's bridgin' the gap between folks who wanna move forward an'... folks who aren't so good at that."

"Yeah, I guess he's pretty good at the diplomatic stuff. Way better than Chekhov."

Barret chuckled. "Think she'll get along okay with AVALANCHE, but the, uh, GRO might have a harder time handlin' her."

"She causes any real problems and you let me know," said Yuffie. "I'll swing by and patch things up."

"Will do," said Barret, and she could tell by his expression that he was about to go on into something more, but she cut him off.

"Uh-uh. I don't want any mushy stuff. We'll see each other around, and that's fine."

"I'm gonna call you," he said. "Once a week."

Yuffie rolled her eyes. "Ugh, if you have to."

Once a week was good. She could've even gone with twice, but no way was she going to be the one to up the ante.

The door opened, and it wasn't Jessie getting back but Barret's landlady. It was almost eleven on the dot, by which time they'd assured her the party would be over with. She took in the comparatively empty room, and her eyes drifted up to the party banner still hanging over the table.

"Did you all have a good time...?" she asked, when what she really wanted to know was whether the others were definitely gone.

"Sure did," said Barret, and he jerked a metal thumb towards the kitchen. "Saved you a piece o' cake."

"Oh... Thank you."

"Least we could do," Barret insisted. "We been pretty chaotic lately, an' then we come back an' kick you outta your own house for a party. Things oughtta be calmin' down now, though."

"I'm sure your daughter will appreciate that," she said, and she glanced uncertainly at Yuffie.

Yuffie knew she meant Marlene, and the look was because Yuffie absolutely didn't live here, but Barret was being way too accommodating; Yuffie couldn't resist the opportunity to mess with her. "Wow, lady, are you serious?"

"Oh, no, I didn't mean... Of course you aren't his daughter..."

Yuffie straightened from her post and nodded to Barret. "Anyway, g'night, Dad. I'll leave the rest to you guys."

Barret ruined it a little bit by looking genuinely touched, and she remembered belatedly that she'd never actually called him Dad before, and had never really planned on it.

"G'night, Yuffie," he said, and she hurried up the stairs before he could make it weird.

Flopping down across Jessie's bed, she wondered if it had really felt that strange. Calling Godo 'Dad' was a habit she'd had to fight her way out of, and she still mostly thought of Barret as Barret, but he did act like a dad, and she liked that about him. She'd picked him because of that.

Maybe she'd try it out for a while, in her head, and if she got the chance to talk to her mom again, maybe she'd ask her about it. It wouldn't be disrespectful to anybody but Godo, and that was fine.

But she wasn't just after ammo against him. He was going to make things rough, she was sure, but Yuffie could handle him. Like her mother, she didn't believe in things staying the same, and nothing was.

Tomorrow, she'd head home to Wutai. And this time, there was nothing about that she was dreading.

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