[Shattered] Traditions 02

Chapter Two: When September Ends

Forest. That was his first impression. Tall, dark trees surrounded the exit of the cave, completely concealing it from any eyes that would pass above. No wonder no one had ever found it before. Nanaki blinked in the brightness, that while dim thanks to the thick canopy of leaves and the rapidly setting sun, was significantly brighter than the darkness of the tunnels. His ears heard wildlife, and the rushing of water.

But he didn’t see any of his kind.

For a moment, his heart dropped into his stomach. Had his hope been for nothing? Without realizing it, he started squeezing Yuffie’s hand in desperate need of encouragement. He didn’t notice that his claws were digging into her skin until she gave a slight cry of pain.

He apologized.

“Where are we?” she asked, craning her neck to look around them. More and more trees, as far as she could see. And they were the tallest she had ever seen, ever more than in the wilds of Wutai, far to the south where it had been uninhabited for as long as the Wutaiians could remember.

The demi-human shook his head. “I don’t know. Close to Cosmo Canyon I imagine.” He took a step forward, his hand dropping hers as he poked around the empty area around them. His keen eyes spotted what appeared to be a trail, though overgrown and obviously unused for a long time.

“We can follow this.”

Yuffie appeared at his side, regarding the path with some skepticism. “Looks more like a monster run,” she commented, not entirely willing to walk where hungry creatures preferred to hunt.

That might have been true, but Nanaki wasn’t deterred in the slightest. He steeled his resolve and stepped onto the trail, tall grass crunching beneath his feet. The peaceful quiet of the forest was soothing to him, along with the continuous song of birds chirping. It meant that there wasn’t anything to fear in the immediate vicinity. The first fall of silence would be an important warning.

Moving quickly, the demi-human followed the length of the trail, Yuffie at his side. It dipped deeper into the forest, the air gradually cooler thanks to the thickness of the foliage. There was a comfortable silence between them as they traveled along at a steady clip. And ten minutes later they found themselves approaching the end of the trail, catching a glimpse of something beyond the line of trees.

Nanaki put an eager burst to his step and finally, he emerged, only to find himself facing a sheer rock face, rising up intimidatingly in front of him. He tilted his head back, looking up and up until he could barely make out the blue of the sky through a gap in the trees. The stone looked impossible to transverse, lacking even the barest hint of hand holds. It was a dead end.

Or at least, it seemed that way. Frowning and barely withholding the stream of curses that would have made Cid proud, Nanaki’s eyes dropped to the ground. Beneath his feet, the grass was pressed down even further than on the trail and his keen gaze caught sight of several prints that seemed all too familiar. Just like the ones in the tunnel. He crouched to inspect them closer, wondering just how old they were.

Yuffie’s quiet gasp of shock drew him from his reverie as the ninja pulled closer to him, radiating uneasy vibes. She wasn’t afraid, but whatever was going on, wasn’t making her happy in the least.

The demi-human rose to his feet and found the two of them surrounded. His eyes widened in disbelief. Surrounded, yes, and by more than a dozen of lion-wolf creatures. The Iyatoka. His clan. What he had been searching for this entire time.

Only, they didn’t appear to be too welcoming. The hair was raised on the back of their necks in a definite aggressive fashion, and fire tails blazed warningly. A few angry gazes were centered not on him, but glaring furiously at Yuffie standing just beside him.

Unconsciously, he stepped in front of the ninja, putting himself between her and their angry stares.

“Stop! Do not take another step!” One of the Iyatoka growled, this one larger than most of those surrounding him. His fur was a darker red than Nanaki’s own, and riddled with scars as if he had seen many battles.

The demi-human glanced around him, trying not to show his discomfit at being completely surrounded. “We’re not here to hurt you,” he said slowly, though given that he and Yuffie were armed probably didn’t help matters.

“I doubt that,” muttered another, this one sounding female. “You’re human.”

Nanaki turned towards her in surprise, only because it had been so long since he had seen a female of his kind. His memories of his mother were fading so quickly and he had only ever been able to look into the mirror. Females were slimmer, and the ruff on their heads was smaller, but they looked faster. Golden eyes stared back at him.

“He is not human,” a third voice inserted as yet another Iyatokan pushed his way through the crowd, some parting to let him by. “Can you not see the amulet?” an older-looking Iyatokan demanded, his fur spotted with strands of grey and silver though he still managed to stand proud and strong.

As Nanaki watched warily, this newcomer sat on his haunches in front of them, aged eyes studying them curiously. “How did you come across that? It has been lost for decades.”

The tension hadn’t faded in the slightest, the others still looking as if they would rather attack and ask questions later. Nanaki had the feeling he had to tread carefully and was mentally thanking Yuffie for knowing tact for once. She hadn’t once threatened the Iyatokan or taunted them.

“I found it,” the demi-human explained, one hand rising to touch the metal unconsciously. “My grandfather Bugenhagen said it is mine by right. Was he wrong?”

A mutual chorus of gasps rocked through the crowd and he became the focus of their intent stares, not a one interested in glaring at Yuffie any longer.

“Can it be?” the elder Iyatokan questioned, his voice gravelly with awe. “The honored one? Are you… the son of Seto?”

The sound of his father’s name was bittersweet; Nanaki managed a jerky nod. He realized that his appearance certainly seemed to prove otherwise, but if they knew of the amulet, than it was likely they knew what it did. His confirmation of his parentage sent a ripple of confusion and understanding both through the crowd, low murmurs floating to his ears. It took several moments, but the threat of tension and violence finally calmed.

“We never expected the barrier to fall,” the aged Iyatokan commented in a solemn tone. He moved forward, rising from his haunches. “Come, son of Seto and guest, we have much to discuss.”

Yuffie and Nanaki exchanged glances, an understanding passing between them before the demi-human seemingly unconsciously grabbed her hand and followed after the older lion wolf. “Nanaki,” he corrected. “My name is Nanaki. And my companion is Yuffie Kisaragi, next in line to Wutai.”

“Even Wutaiian royalty visits us,” the elder Iyatokan remarked with some surprise as the two fell in line beside him with the others of his kind following behind. Nanaki could barely out the sounds of their paws across the ground; they walked that silently. “To be honest, we never expected to see a human again. In fact, we wished not to.”

“Why?” Yuffie asked, finally managing to overcome her intimidation. The elder didn’t seem to dislike her that much.

Solemn golden eyes found her as the lion wolf swung his head around to regard her with ageless wisdom. “Has so much time passed that the world has forgotten its history?”

Nanaki shook his head. “It is more like it is not being taught. We’ve some knowledge of what happened but the details were pretty slim. Mr….?” he trailed off, hoping to prompt a name out of the elderly Iyatokan.

His eyes swung back Nanaki’s direction. “Forgive my belated introduction. I am Kalan, second-in-line to the chieftain. And don’t worry, I will do my best to explain everything. Of course, I expect my own questions to be answered as well.”

“Fair is fair,” Nanaki conceded with a nod.

Yuffie listened to it all with a quiet that was unusual, even to her own realizations. But this was Nanaki’s moment, not hers. She need make no comment. Instead, she concentrated on watching the path in front of them and observing the many Iyatokan surrounding her. She never expected to see so many having survived.

A part of her wanted to dislike them, for being part of the temptation that would take Nanaki away. But she simply couldn’t. Even if they shot her distrustful looks and shied away from her as if she were death incarnate. Honestly, most could probably rip her to shreds in an instant. She was the one who should have been afraid, not them.

With a barely repressed sigh, Yuffie jerked her attention back to their path, finding that they were approaching a series of caves that were embedded into the side of the cliffs. She could make out the smell of food cooking wafting from many of them, as well as the light sound of conversation and could only deduce that they were homes. However, the elder bypassed most of this, going to one on the end of the row that was bordered on the far end by a thick, nearly impenetrable stand of prickly bushes.

“I wouldn’t recommend going any further,” one of the Iyatokan at her side murmured, noticing her curious gaze. “There is a sheer drop off that would kill even you.”

She tried for a smile, not liking the idea of going splat. “Thanks for the warning.”

He sniffed and looked away. “In any other situation, I wouldn’t bother,” he said, deliberately turning from her and padding in another direction.

The ninja watched him go, wondering why her stomach felt just a little tight and wobbly right now. She had the sudden urge to throw up and didn’t know why. Perhaps it was the uncertainty that coiled in her belly like the flu.

“Yuffie?”

She started at the sudden voice in her ear, though she instantly recognized the tone. Nanaki’s hand gently touched her elbow as he steered her towards the cave. “You okay?”

Yuffie nodded, giving him her best and brightest ninja smile. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Her best friend shot her a strange look but didn’t push further. “Thanks for coming with me,” he reiterated quietly as he led her into the coolness of the tunnel, lit by what appeared to be materia lamps. They exuded a comforting warmth and probably would have been pretty if the ninja wasn’t already feeling awkward.

“And miss out on the adventure?” she joked teasingly. “Though, something tells me there’s no materia to be found.”

He grinned and a part of her heart melted. “A pity I’m sure,” he shot back, equally playful. The happiness practically sparkled in his eyes and Yuffie felt terrible for hating it. She really was a bad person.

Lucky for her, she was saved from anymore fake enthusiasm as they finally emerged into a large circular room with several doorways visible from the opposite end of it. Scattered around were large, comfortable pillows and hanging from the walls were many types of weapons. Nanaki promptly plopped himself down on one of the many cushions, pulling the ninja down beside him as the Iyatokan arranged themselves around the room. She was glad that most of them had gone to their own homes, leaving only a select few behind.

“I suppose I should start with why we left?” Kalan asked once everyone was suitably settled.

Nanaki shook his head. “I know that much, and I can pretty well guess the reason for the barrier though I wonder why Grandfather never told me about it.”

“Because he did not know,” the aged Iyatokan answered. “As much as we trusted Bugenhagen, we wanted no records of our location, for any worse case scenario. And it seems our worries were justified.”

“Then you know about the War and the attacks on Cosmo Canyon?” Yuffie blurted out, wondering how they would find such information.

Eyes swiveled towards her and she swallowed thickly, mildly uncomfortably. “We aren’t entirely unaware as to the planet’s circumstances,” one of the Iyatokan answered, who hadn’t identified himself. “Rest assured. If our home had been threatened, we would have fought. But it seemed the enemy cared nothing about us.”

“Balaam was more interested in taking down the larger cities anyways,” Nanaki commented, his darkening slightly at the thought of the most recent battles before he managed to steer his thoughts towards his own personal questions. He tapped the necklace lying innocuously against his chest.

“You recognized this,” he began, attracting their attention. “Grandfather never could give me a proper explanation for its purpose or why I’m in this form.”

“I think, perhaps the best one for telling that tale is myself,” a voice answered from the doorway, female this time.

The two visitors turned to see a slimmer Iyatokan step inside, her fur a brilliant crimson with very little scars. Her shiny yet sparser mane was decorated with many beads and her eyes held much wisdom, but what was most astonishing was that she didn’t regard either with distrust or fear. In fact, her look for Yuffie was almost… welcoming.

“Forgive my intrusion,” she continued as she padded inside, moving to take a seat next to Kalan. “I am Akili, the keeper of our clan’s history. Welcome.”

Like the history buff he was, Nanaki’s eyes practically sparkled at the thought of getting to learn more. Yuffie found it cute. “I’m Nanaki and this is my best friend, Yuffie.”

“I know,” she replied warmly. “Now, didn’t you want to know more about the amulet?” At Nanaki’s answering nod and murmured ‘please’, the female Iyatokan continued, settling herself comfortably on a pillow.

“That necklace is one of a set of two, the both of them representing the pact made so long ago between the Wutaiians and the Iyatoka that it has nearly been forgotten,” she began, her voice taking on the low lilt of storytelling. “As a symbol of trust and love, the two are given to the husband and wife who represent a joining of the two tribes. In other words, one of Wutaiian descent and the other of Iyatokan. There is old magic woven into the necklaces, enabling the wearer to take the form of their counterpart.”

At this point, mind spinning with what he had learned, Nanaki held up a hand, needing a moment to absorb the information. “So that confirms that the amulet is the source of the changes,” he mused aloud. “But what activates it?”

Akili looked mildly amused. “Usually the transformations can be controlled. But yours is an atypical situation. For instance, you do not have the other amulet, nor did you understand its properties. In all likelihood, the changes were brought by a fierce desire to protect someone you cared about, the perfect match for the other half.”

Golden eyes shifted to Yuffie for all of a moment as he digested Akili’s words, surprised to find that a blush was filtering to his own cheeks. He had been intent on protecting Yuffie for most of those times.

“Who are Tolkan and Kairi?” the ninja asked quietly as Nanaki still reeled from the sudden knowledge. “Their names are on the back. ‘From Tolkan to Kairi.’”

At the sound of their names, a hushed silence fell over the Iyatokan and Akili’s eyes dimmed with sadness. “They were the last to hold the amulets,” she answered quietly, her voice tinged with sorrow. “I do not know what became of Kairi, but Tolkan died in Wutai of severe injuries. Though it is my belief his heart simply couldn’t take being without Kairi.”

It reminded Nanaki of the dream he had. Was that a vision of the past? The moment that Kairi and Tolkan had separated? He had Kairi’s amulet after all, and he had found it in the Temple of the Ancients, the location in his dream. Did that mean Tolkan survived long enough to make it home?

“Then Kairi wasn’t Wutaiian but Iyatokan?” Yuffie pressed, interested despite herself.

“Correct,” Akili responded with the Iyatokan version of a smile, which was only slightly less menacing than it should have been. “Thus the reason Nanaki was able to transform with it. The other amulet was returned to us as a way to bury the daughter we could not.” She paused, her expression turning slightly stormy. “It wasn’t long after that we were forced to go into hiding thanks to the prejudices of humans.”

Nanaki fingered the necklace, tracing the grooves on the back. It held a heavier history than he ever would have suspected. “Is it mine to keep?” he asked.

“Of course,” Kalan interjected before Akili could answer, and the two shared an amused look before the elder lion wolf continued. “It accepted you, therefore it is yours.”

A smile crept onto the demi-human’s face, easing the slight worry that they would request he return it. He was oddly attached to the necklace. “If it’s not too much trouble,” he began after a moment. “I’d like to know more about the Iyatoka. Grandfather was teaching me some things but was unable to finish before he… passed.”

Akili looked thoroughly pleased at the thought of having a willing student, her tail wagging slightly in a move that Yuffie well recognized. Nanaki often did that without realizing it himself. She grinned as well as an Iyatokan was able and settled more comfortably onto her pillow.

“I think that this calls for some refreshments, don’t you?” the female lion wolf questioned, many of the younger Iyatokan near the doorway taking the suggestion for the order it was and disappearing outside. “Well then, shall I begin?”

Sensing that it was going to be a long day, Yuffie sat back in her seat and tried to ignore the eyes burning holes into the back of her skull. They couldn’t have made it more obvious that they hated humans if they tried. It made her uncomfortable to be surrounded by so many that disliked her. It wasn’t unlike being in the thick of battle.

She tried to listen attentively to what Akili was explaining, but her attention span grew shorter and shorter until she wasn’t even listening at all. Yuffie never really did have much patience for long, historic tales. But she didn’t dare interrupt. The interest and joy shining in her best friend’s eyes was worth every discomfort.

Even if he seemed to have forgotten her presence entirely.

Time passed, though she wasn’t sure how quickly or how long. Food was brought and served though she couldn’t find it in herself to eat heartily. She nibbled so that she didn’t appear rude but the flipping in her belly was too distracting. There was a steady but silent stream of Iyatokan in and out of the cavern, probably come to gape at the outsiders that they hadn’t had in a long time. She couldn’t be sure.

It really wasn’t a surprise when she began to grow tired. Boredom might have had something to do with it, but either way, she could feel her eyes drooping and her body starting to settle into that warm, meltingness that implied she was near sleep. Without her consent, a yawn escaped her mouth despite her attempts to hold it back.

Beside her, Nanaki immediately noticed. Preparing to ask a question, he instead turned to her, a brow lifting half in amusement and half in query.

“Sorry,” she responded with a sheepish smile. “Long day.”

He wasn’t fooled. “You should have said you were getting bored,” he murmured, leaning in close so that the others could hear him.

She shook her head. “That wasn’t it,” Yuffie lied. “But you know me, I’d rather be materia hunting than getting lectured.”

“We have talked long into the night,” Kalan commented thoughtfully, interrupting their little tete-a-tete. His eyes held knowledge as he looked at the two visitors. “I am sure that the both of you would like to rest.”

“It’s fine,” Yuffie inserted hastily, giving them an encouraging smile. This was for Nanaki, she reminded herself. She understood the pain of losing family and wasn’t going to begrudge him this. Even if she had to hide her own selfish feelings.

The demi-human, however, chose that moment to stretch, bones popping across his neck and back. “He’s got a point, Yufs. I am interested in resting as well.”

She couldn’t argue with that.

“Very well,” Kalan responded, rising to his feet with a languid movement. “I took the liberty of having a room prepared while Akili was speaking.”

“Which I do hope to continue at a later time,” the female Iyatokan inserted with sparkling eyes.

Nanaki nodded. “Of course. There is still much I wish to learn.” He tipped his head slightly in her direction.

“If you would follow me then.” Kalan padded towards one of the darkened doorways, pausing as he waited for Nanaki and Yuffie to rise and follow after him.

Behind them, the others began to gradually disperse, the low murmur of talking accompanying their exit. Yuffie wasn’t surprised to catch her or Nanaki’s name in their conversation. Unconsciously, she drew nearer to her best friend who didn’t seem to notice. Sometimes, he was so painfully oblivious. And other times… Yuffie’s cheeks burned at the thought. Other times he knew exactly what she wanted.

The elder Iyatokan led them through a small series of tunnels that nearly made her head spin, all of them lit by the same types of materia lamps as before. Finally, just when she thought she was going to be dizzy, they stopped in front of one room. Kalan paused and perched on his haunches beside the door.

“Feel free to come and go,” he explained. “If you are hungry, the kitchens are down to your right and the restroom to your left. I apologize that we don’t have more… human accommodations.”

Nanaki bowed faintly since it seemed the polite thing to do. “No, it is us who have intruded without so much of a warning, not that we would have been able to give one. We are thankful that you would give us a place to sleep.”

“It is no trouble,” Kalan assured him as Yuffie listened. “My grandson recently mated and no longer has use of the room. Please rest. There will be more time tomorrow.”

With that, the Iyatokan turned away and headed down the hall, back the direction they had originally come. “Pleasant dreams.”

Nanaki watched him go for a moment before turning his attention to Yuffie. “Well,” he began, gesturing towards the door. “You first.”

“Oh, the adventure,” she teased, rolling her eyes before pushing through the cloth and stepping into a room lit by materia globes. Only to come to a dead stop in realization.

The room was nice with a very homey feel to it. There was a low table in one corner and tapestries decorated the walls, not to mention the stylized weapons arranged throughout the room. And even the bed looked comfortable, heaped messily with blankets and looking as if Yuffie could just dive right in and fall asleep.

But that was just it. There was only one bed.

When Nanaki entered behind her and came to a stop, she knew he had noticed as well.

“Ah,” he said after a moment, clearing his throat noisily. “They gave us one bed.”

Yuffie’s heart skipped a beat at the thought. “So they did.” She wondered what the Iyatokan thought of them to assume so much. Not that it wasn’t entirely untrue just that… they hadn’t really attempted that type of intimacy yet. They shared a home but not a bed. This was different.

Awkward was too easy of a word to describe the sudden atmosphere.

Beside her, Nanaki shifted and took a small step backwards. “I’ll go find Kalan. Perhaps he has another room.”

Trying to brush off the slight air of discomfort, Yuffie settled for being playful. “What? You don’t want to sleep with me?” she countered, cocking one hip to the side as she settled her hand on it.

Her keen ninja eyes didn’t miss the slight blush that tinted Nanaki’s cheeks a faint red. “I’ll sleep on the floor,” he amended. But he didn’t take another step towards the door. That was a good sign.

Yuffie waved him off, eying the floor that though covered in rugs, was still a stone surface. “Don’t be silly. I won’t make you do that.”

She could feel her heart thundering in her ears at the subtle but not really suggestion she was making. It was a step and she didn’t know if he wanted to take it. But she did.

The ninja caught his hesitation and grinned, trying to ease his conscience. “I promise not to molest you in your sleep,” she added, the tips of her ears burning at just the thought.

At her proposition, the small flush turned into an outright blush, darkening his tanned skin with pink that she found too cute. “If you insist,” he said carefully, fidgeting where he stood.

“Good.” Yuffie pulled her arms above her head and stretched, letting out a sigh of relief. She turned to her best friend. “Were you really tired or were you just fibbing for my sake?”

In the process of removing his weapons and such, piling all into a disordered stack onto the low table, Nanaki ducked his head. “I was tired,” he fibbed quietly. It was true but it wasn’t. He probably could have listened until the early morning hours, despite the fact he was feeling the fatigue. He couldn’t help the excitement.

Yuffie’s shuriken was placed on the floor with a faint clank, her many pouches and accessories joining the weapon. A smile flitted onto her lips before she walked over to one of the torches, examining it.

“How do you think we turn this off?” she asked curiously. Her fingers flitted across the smooth glass surface and the moment they touched, the globe dimmed until it was barely glowing. “Oh, well that explains it.” Another touch and the materia completely extinguished, leaving one other to light the room.

The demi-human chuckled, reaching up to unwind the tie from his hair. He couldn’t sleep with it pulled up, having learned that the hard way. He had woken up with a headache. Behind him, Yuffie plopped down onto the bed with a visible bounce.

“Comfortable,” she commented, her eyes locked on the floor. An unexpected wave of shyness had swept over her.

He noticed it quickly. “I can still sleep on the floor,” he began, not wanting to make her uncomfortable in any way.

Yuffie shook her head, suddenly flopping backwards onto the bed and rolling to face the wall, leaving plenty of room for him on the other side. “It’s fine,” she called out loudly, trying to make her voice sound determined. “Lay down.”

His lips curled into a smile. “Hai.”

Nanaki moved to the remaining globe and with a touch, cast the room into darkness. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust before he could make out the bed and Yuffie’s form on it, still huddled to one side. He carefully picked his way across the floor, mildly cursing under his breath when he tripped on something that felt like Yuffie’s boot before he made it to the bed.

The ninja feigned disinterest as she felt the mattress dip when he climbed in beside her and the blankets shift when Nanaki moved to get comfortable. She was hyper aware of his presence, of the warmth that was so near. But it was also somewhat comforting.

It definitely wasn’t the same as simply sharing a tent.

“Goodnight Yuffie,” Nanaki murmured, making sure to tuck his tail at his side since it had a mind of its own at times.

Despite herself, Yuffie grinned, feeling marginally better about the entire situation. “Night, ‘Aki.”

It came as no surprise when minutes later, the both of them were deep into their slumber.

***

Time had seemed to pass so slowly for Yuffie over the past week. She had hardly seen anything of Nanaki. When he wasn’t enraptured by Akili’s storytelling, he was meeting all of the other Iyatoka in the small village. They had accepted him warmly, happily, most eager to see the son of their great warrior Seto. All remembered his sacrifice.

As for Yuffie, she had been nothing less than ignored. She spent half the time in the room, staring at the ceiling. It wasn’t so much that she was confined to the small space, but that she didn’t really feel like wandering around the Iyatokan’s home on her own. They were still uneasy about her.

From what she had learned of their history, it came as no surprise but still, it seemed to make a gulf form between her and Nanaki. He didn’t notice it, too excited by the fact he had found his kin. Yuffie wasn’t angry at him for it though. It was a painful truth she was learning to face.

That maybe things were simply better this way.

She stood there watching as he danced and laughed, enjoying every beat of the drums and pulse and throb of the voices. Yuffie had been amazed at first, in the dexterity of the Iyatokan. There was very little they couldn’t do. But now, she was used to the sight. It ceased being amazing when she realized that they couldn’t care less as to her presence.

Their music was wonderful, their voices incredible. She could feel every beat pulsing in her blood and she wished she knew the words to sing along. They were singing in another language, probably their own, and it sounded like a call to war, or the description of some great battle. A bonfire blazed up in the middle of the courtyard and food was being passed all around. She was surrounded by the Iyatokan.

Yet, Yuffie had never felt so alone.

It wasn’t Nanaki’s fault’, she tried to tell herself. She couldn’t be so selfish as to want him to spend time with her. But sitting awkwardly on a log and trying to pretend as if she fit in wasn’t making things any better. She was pretty much ignored by the Iyatokan except for perhaps a few of the younger cubs. It was boring.

Yuffie sighed and lifted her gaze, returning to watching Nanaki. He truly was beautiful, masculine, yet beautiful all the same. He had loosened his hair from the ever present ponytail and it hung freely, still decorated with beads. Even more so now that so many had been gifted to him. And despite the fact he stood several feet taller than the Iyatokan, he was enjoying himself, dancing among them, laughing with them.

She had the sudden and distressing thought that maybe it was time for her to leave.

Yuffie jerked to her feet, surprising one of the Iyatokan that were passing by, but she didn’t pay him any mind. Turning her back on the revelry and the fire blazing bright, she picked her way across the ground and through the darkness, back to the room that she and Nanaki were sharing. There was no point in being at the bonfire anyways. They weren’t there to celebrate her.

She thrust aside the cloth covering and stepped inside, feeling grateful for the lack of noise within. Her eyes swept over the space, catching sight of her and Nanaki’s stuff mingled together. His pack sprawled over the floor, some of her throwing stars spilling out of the sides. Her shuriken and his claw in a pile on a table. Clothes mixed together from teenagers too lazy to pick them up.

It hurt for reasons she couldn’t identify.

With a huff, Yuffie plopped down on the bed, one hand idly fiddling with her necklace. Her finger traced over the grooves, now memorized thanks to this becoming a habit. She wished she had Levi to talk to, or someone for that matter, maybe Aeris. But her phone only worked from time to time and Nanaki barely got reception.

Beyond her, she could dimly make out the steady thump of the drums, but she couldn’t hear the voices. The fire globes flickered and cast shadows on the wall. She was bored and alone and didn’t know what to do about it. Perhaps it had been a mistake for her to come. He didn’t really need her there. Did he need her at all?

Maybe she was the one clinging.

And while Yuffie knew rationally that she was probably overreacting because Nanaki didn’t think of her like that, a part of her also knew that there was an element of truth in her depressing thoughts. He was happy here. She hadn’t seen him smile like that for a while, not since Bugenhagen died. She wasn’t anyone to stand in the way of that.

There was a selfish part of her that wanted to though.

The cloth swished across the doorway and Yuffie looked up, finding that Nanaki was stepping through, his cheeks flushed red from the exertion of dancing. “Yuffie, you left,” he stated, his tone a bit worried. “Are you all right?”

Was it wrong for her to be happy to hear that concern?

She shook her head, offering him a somewhat shaky smile. “I’m fine, Nanaki. I just felt a little tired. All of this excitement, you know.” Her words were fake, her smile hollow, and he knew it, too. She rose to her feet, and idly started cleaning because she had nothing better to do.

Golden eyes peered at her intently and Nanaki stepped further into the room, letting the door swish shut behind him. “Yuffie,” he stated slowly, watching her flit around, moving stuff but not really picking up anything. “You’re cleaning.”

She shrugged. “It’s a mess.” her heart was beating so loudly in her chest he must have heard it, and the gripping feeling on her lungs, she wondered if it was the beginning of irrational tears. He was happy, why couldn’t she be for him?

Yuffie moved to the stack of dirty clothes but before she could get to them, he was in front of her, placing his hands on her shoulders. She couldn’t help it, she looked up and found his eyes darkened with worry. For her.

“You’ve been acting weird lately,” he asked her gently. She didn’t even know he had noticed. “What’s wrong?”

The words were on the tip of her tongue. It really should have been easy to just blurt them out and explain everything. Except, it would hurt him. He would want to leave for her sake, or something similar and she couldn’t let him do that. Or what if, Kami help her, what if instead he simply sent her away? She couldn’t take that risk.

“Yuffie?”

She did the only thing she could think of. She kissed him.

Yuffie wrapped her arms around Nanaki’s neck and pressed her lips to his, melting her body against his. He froze in surprise for all of a moment before allowing his arms to fall around her waist, tugging her close to him. She tangled her tongue with his, deepening the kiss with every breath.

Please say you want me. Please, just say you need me. The words pulsed in her mind, too cowardly to be spoken aloud.

The kiss ended all too soon, Nanaki breaking off with a slight gasp. He looked into her eyes and all she could see was confusion and more questions. His mouth opened, probably to ask her something else, and she cut him off, kissing him again. She pressed her body against his, all warm and sweaty from the dancing, and devoured his mouth, memorizing the feel of him.

Any protest he might have tried to cultivate, died in the fires of a teenaged male libido. Incensed by the dance and the pliant body in his arms, Nanaki promptly forgot what he had meant to ask Yuffie and deepened the kiss, ever mindful of his fangs. His hands moved of their own accord, traveling up and down her back. Her tongue wrestled with his, a needy sound reverberating in her throat and Nanaki felt something inside of him stir, lifting to life.

Yuffie began to pull Nanaki backwards in the direction she knew the bed to be, her legs feeling slightly weak and trembling beneath the onslaught of emotion and touch. Words blasted in her mind over and over as her knees hit the edge of the bed and she tumbled backwards onto it, pulling the demi-human with her. It was a miracle that neither of them were injured in the process. Her thoughts were spinning, the same litany of pleadings that she refused to voice aloud.

Please, don’t leave me. Please. Need me.

He was perched above her, his scent and strength nearly overwhelming as his lips attacked her neck, hot and hungry. She practically purred as the sensations washed over her, her hands roaming all over his back in encouragement. One of his own propped his weight, the other glided down her side, squeezing gently and causing her to arch into the touch. The world disappeared around them, narrowing down until it was just her and him and the feelings.

It felt so damn good and a part of her knew that she was just running away from her problems, running away from her emotions. But she didn’t want to stop either. She wanted to believe, to think that maybe with this, he would stay. Maybe, just maybe.

Nanaki’s hand dove under her shirt, skimming across her belly and she shivered, pushing into his touch. His fingers hesitated at her bra for all of a moment before he pulled down the material and fondled her breast, a bit more roughly than he probably intended. But the feel of his warm hand on hers overrode any pain. It felt so damn good and her nipples hardened, sending trembles of pleasure down her spine every time it brushed against his palm. It was unskilled and it was clumsy but she loved every minute of it.

Heat suffused Yuffie’s body, making her cheeks flush as she arched against Nanaki, her hands roaming over every part of him that she could reach. She tried to pull him closer, to feel him pressed against her, the scent of him washing around her. It felt so comfortable, so right. It made her heart practically burst.

The demi-human lowered his hips against hers and began to grind. Yuffie could feel his hardness pressing onto her, fueling the fire already spreading through her body. She answered his movements by rising up to meet him, arching up into each needful, downward roll of his hips. Blood pulsed through her veins, carrying away with it all reason as noises she never thought she would ever make escaped from her throat.

It was garbled and incoherent, but even inexperienced, Nanaki seemed to understand that it meant more. His lips moved over her skin, on her neck, on her ear. His tongue followed after, laving her with kisses and licks as he succumbed to his own desire. Groans of need, whispered somethings that she couldn’t even begin to make out joined the rest of the noises they were making.

Somewhere beyond where she cared, in the world that she was desperately trying to escape from in an illogical fashion, she heard a phone ring. It could have been hers, or Nanaki’s, she really didn’t know. But she did recognize Reeve’s ring tone since they both had the same tune set to recognize the WRO President in an instant. But she ignored it, noticing that Nanaki either didn’t hear it or was choosing to ignore, too.

The rational part of her brain warned her that now might have been a good time to stop. But it was the most attention she had gotten from Nanaki in the past week, and she was afraid. Yuffie didn’t want to lose him. And dammit, it felt too good.

She was aware that they were nearing the danger point of no return, that they had never gone this far and hadn’t even discussed it. But by Barinthus, she didn’t want to stop, couldn’t stop. She didn’t want him to leave her alone. She was so damn selfish.

He suddenly lowered his head, mouthing her breast through her shirt and she cried out in both surprise and pleasure, able to feel the warmth of his mouth and the pressure. She rocked her hips against his, an answering erection straining against the zipper of his jeans. It occurred to her that clothes probably should have been coming off but neither of them seemed to think of this possibility.

It was as if they were deaf and blind and stupid in the wake of their lust. Yuffie wanted it and she didn’t. It felt ten times better than her tentative attempts at touching herself. Every pass of his tongue, every brush of his hand was like fire, electricity shooting through her veins. Yet, on the outskirts of it all, a nagging rationality wormed at her conscience, that maybe she was doing this for all the wrong reasons.

Nanaki’s hand tickled gently at her stomach, claws raking ever so lightly and causing her skin to tingle. She moaned his name, chanted it over and over on the end of a murmur.

She could hear him whispering something against her neck. It could have been her name. But Yuffie really couldn’t say, she wasn’t listening. She was losing herself to the desire and the need, to the desperate cry for attention, her hands grasping onto his back in fear of letting him go.

The phone rang again, the noise piercing the fog surrounding her brain. It was Reeve again. He never called twice in succession unless it was important; it was an unspoken rule. The last time had been right after the Chaos war when he informed her and Nanaki of the funding approval for rebuilding Cosmo Canyon.

She knew she should answer it.

Her body tingled but the sense of wrongness, the sense that she was making a horrible mistake was a discord on the edge of the pleasure. She was drowning in desire but dammit, it wouldn’t fix anything. It wouldn’t fix the worries and the uncertainties that had cropped up inside of her. It wouldn’t fix the fact that Nanaki needed something other than her.

It wouldn’t fix anything.

“S-stop,” Yuffie managed to gasp out, one of the hardest things she ever told herself to do. “Nanaki, stop.” She uncoiled her hands from his back and placed them against his chest, shoving with enough strength to push him away as she ignored the screams of denial her body was making. “Nanaki!”

Whether it was her harsh words or her actions that finally got through to him, she didn’t know. He suddenly stiffened as if realizing what exactly he was doing and the look he shot her with those beautiful golden eyes was completely apologetic before he widened and scrambled away.

“Oh shit,” he breathed in an uncharacteristic curse. “I’m sorry, Yuffie. I didn’t mean to… I…” Words failed the normally eloquent demi-human and he faltered, tilting his head to the side when the ringing phone caught his attention.

She looked at him for all of a moment, taking in the harsh breathing and the flush to his cheeks, the brightness in his eyes. He was so damn beautiful that it hurt to look at him. An uncomfortable silence swept between them, almost louder than the still ringing phone. With a start, Yuffie scrambled out from beneath Nanaki and dove for the cell, wanting anything to cover up the awkwardness.

“H-hello?”

On the other side of the room, Nanaki found himself severely cursing his own actions. He only half-watched as Yuffie carried on the conversation, her back to him. Instead, his mind was on a frantic run towards sheer confusion. What in the hell had just happened? He thought of the bonfire and the dancing, of coming to talk to Yuffie, her kissing him and then… it was all a mix of pent-up feelings, intense longing, awkward groping and more sensations than he could even imagine.

His entire body was thrumming and his lips tingled. The demi-human swore that the taste of her was still on his tongue, almost intoxicating. He’d never wanted anything so badly in his life and yet, he’d almost ruined it by pushing her too far, like he’d always said he would never do. Had she been saying stop the whole time and Nanaki hadn’t listened. He felt like the world’s biggest jerk.

Yuffie’s sudden gasp interrupted his thoughts and he looked up to watch the phone clatter to the floor, falling from her suddenly limp fingers. Concern rapidly replaced his own self-disgust.

Nanaki strode towards her. “Yuffie?”

She didn’t answer and he quickly moved around her, his eyes widening at the scared and devastated look on her face. He placed his hands gently on her shoulders as he tried calling her name again.

Slowly, she blinked. “He’s dead,” she whispered, her arms rising to wrap around herself as her knees suddenly buckled.

The demi-human reacted quickly, catching her before she hurt herself and slowly lowering the seemingly nerveless ninja to the ground, though he refused to relinquish his hold on her.

“What?” he asked, uncertain that he’d heard her right. Nevertheless, ‘not Vincent’, was the first thing that came to his mind. ‘Not again.’

But he was wrong. She shook her head. “My father,” Yuffie whimpered in a tone that was wrenched with heartache, promptly burying her face in his chest as slow tears trickled from her eyes.

“He’s gone.”

 

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