Chapter Six – Becoming Who We Are
Yuffie sighed loudly as she listened to yet another boring trial for one of the country folk on the outskirts of Wutai. She vaguely absorbed details about someone’s chicken trotting on the wrong side of the corn fence to attack his prized goat and make it go sour and then said chicken getting burnt to a crisp in the wrong oven. To make matters worse, this was only one of the dozens of similar problems she had been forced to listen to that day.
At least she had the treasury meeting and the defenses meeting to look forward to still. Oh joy of joy, all sarcasm intended. But compared to what she had already suffered through, it was like getting prepared to go to a party. She really wasn’t cut out for this sort of work.
As the two men broke out into a shouting match that she had no intention of stopping, Yuffie propped her chin on her hand and thought longingly of the old days. Fighting with AVALANCHE, roaming the world in search of materia… sparring with Nanaki. She probably thought about him the most. The last time she had spoken to her friend was a month before when he called out of the blue. She still couldn’t understand that.
She missed him, she missed the simplicity that her life used to be. Sure there was the complication of being in love with her best friend who wasn’t quite human, but they had always promised each other to take things as they came. Yuffie wondered why that decision had shattered so quickly when faced with a small bump in the road.
Soldiers were coming in to break up the two yelling men now and the elders were giving her hard glares for not doing something about it. She pretended as if she couldn’t see their stares and straightened in her chair.
“You were wrong,” she stated boredly, pointing to the old man on the right. He spluttered but she continued, shoving her thumb towards the other. “You were wrong, too. Stop wasting my time and do something with your lives.”
The horrified gasps from the elders was worth every moment of it. The two guys dropped their jaws in shock but she just couldn’t care anymore.
All of it. She didn’t care for any of it.
The loneliness consumed her, the elders always bickered and she was bored out of her mind. She was tired of listening to it, tired of staring at papers that didn’t make any sense to her. She hated being forced to be alone, rarely having time for herself. It was all outdated, traditional nonsense.
With a jerk, Yuffie jumped to her feet, to the surprise of everyone present. All the eyes in the room that weren’t already on her, turned her direction. It was far too overwhelming, too much more than she ever wanted to handle and especially not on her own. Even those waiting to make their complaints grew silent. They were all waiting for something brilliant, for her to make her move. Astound them. Prove that she was anything like her father.
But Yuffie wasn’t and she didn’t want to be.
Without another word, she leapt over the chair she had been sitting in and slipped out the back door, ignoring the loud cries of surprise from behind her. The moment it was closed, she flipped the lock and took off on a brisk walk, heading straight for her own room. She didn’t look at anyone until she was safely inside her quarters, the doors locked and firmly barred against all unwanted visitors.
Yuffie sagged briefly against the thin door, casting her eyes over the large quarters. Though they were hers, there was nothing there to remind her of herself. She had been moved, without her consent, from her childhood home to this place. Most of her belongings were still at the Kisaragi house, including everything that mattered to her. This room was little more than a plush office.
There was a desk, laden with papers nearly tipping to the floor.
The bed was perfectly pressed and empty, more convenient than comfortable.
Paintings decorated the wall, scrolls with elegant characters painted on them, likely depicting the history of Wutai. Even more likely, it was a history before ShinRa destroyed everything within the country.
The carpet was plush but deep grey. If she’d had a choice, she would have gone with a dark blue. Something less bland and stone-like. Anything less bland to be truthful.
Honestly, for all her power as the Lady of Wutai, she really wielded very little.
She wondered what Nanaki was doing at that very moment. Was he listening to another of Akili’s descriptions of his own history? Was he learning some of his culture? Was he sleeping or eating? Was he on one of his brief stints to Cosmo Canyon, always checking up on the reconstruction?
Was he with Lesana?
It was the last question which bothered her the most, niggling in her stomach in an emotion that felt a lot like jealousy. She kept trying to tell herself that it didn’t matter since they weren’t meant to be. But her heart didn’t want to hear that. Not when she could remember the warmth of his arms or the feel of his kisses.
She missed him terribly.
The ninja detected the sounds of feet approaching, hurried and annoyed steps, and quickly moved away from the door. She knew it was the elders coming to ask, or demand rather, that she return to the audience chambers. Then they would want her to meet more boring and self-absorbed nobles of Wutai, most of them twice her age and vying for her hand in marriage.
But she didn’t want to hear it anymore. She just couldn’t find it in herself to care. Not about the politics or the suitors. She hadn’t had a moment to even grieve properly since her return. It was more than she was willing to take.
Yuffie just wanted to escape.
Her eyes flickered to the window, curtains pulled back to let in the mid-afternoon light. It would be a simple matter to slide it open and slip outside. Cid and Vincent were only a phone call away. If they weren’t busy, she knew they would be willing to give her a ride somewhere. Anywhere.
She had the sudden desire to leave. Rocket Town, Junon, Mideel, Fort Condor, she really didn’t care where. So long as it was no longer in Wutai.
Knocking resounded abruptly on her door. She heard them calling her name, tones filled with annoyance rather than concern. Stubborn, selfish bastards. She ignored them completely, feet taking her at a fast clip to her travel pack, never unpacked. She scooped it up, slinging the strap over one shoulder. The weight felt perfectly familiar.
Yuffie grabbed her phone from the charger, shoving it into a back pocket before heading for the window, heaving it open with a slight grunt. Fresh air and warm sunshine attacked her face. Behind her, there was more knocking and more calling of her name. She snorted to herself, hopped up onto the window and swung her legs out, landing silently on the ground outside.
With every step she took away from the official quarters, she felt something inside of her ease. The bands around her chest, restricting her breathing and making her seem trapped, gradually loosened. It took only moments for Yuffie to pull out her phone and dial Cid, the pilot agreeing to give her a ride after a cursory exchange of words.
Relieved that her escape was soon to come, Yuffie had one last task to complete. She tugged a sheet of paper and a pen from her pack and penned out a quick letter to Illeana. She didn’t want to disappear and worry her friend unnecessarily. With a brief explanation, she folded the paper up and dropped it off, leaving it in the western-style mailbox for her friend to get later.
Yuffie didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty for running out on what were supposed to be her responsibilities. What was the point anyways, if the elders were going to dictate everything that she did? She hadn’t made her own decision since returning to Wutai. Every paper she signed, every law she approved, every choice of left or right, had been the elder’s discretion. It was only further proof that she wasn’t cut out to lead Wutai.
Especially since her only worry in the past months hadn’t been the budget or the suitors or the funding for rebuilding, but on Nanaki and what had transpired between them. She hadn’t been concerned in the least bit for the state of Wutai. All that mattered was the pain in her heart.
She had tried at first, to pretend that it didn’t hurt and to push away all thoughts of Nanaki. She didn’t dwell on the way he touched her, or the sound of his laughter. She didn’t allow herself to remember the adventures they had been on together. But inevitably it all returned to haunt her, at night when she was asleep and especially vulnerable.
Yuffie blamed it on the amulet.
Her dreams had never been so vivid before, so clear and in detail. It was as if she were reliving every important moment to her. Like someone were trying to torture her with her recent past.
It wasn’t so much that she minded the reminders. They were happy times, happy memories. Some of them even caused her to blush when she recalled them. And above all, they made her smile. Until she remembered that they were only memories and not likely to occur in the future. That was when the pain came.
The only thing Nanaki had ever wanted was to find his clan, to answer the questions that had always haunted him. He had that chance now. She wasn’t going to take it from him. If it turned out he would rather remain with the Iyatokan, she was no one to stand in the way of that. After all, she had only ever wanted his happiness for him. She supposed that was what love felt like.
The whirring of helicopter rotors attracted her attention and Yuffie looked, smiling as she saw Cid’s pilfered chopper heading her way.
She never thought she would ever say this but… she was glad, for once, to leave Wutai behind her.
Yuffie stood outside the door to her cousin’s apartment and fidgeted, hedging on whether or not to knock. She wondered if he had a ‘guest’ in the form of a silver-haired former General. She would hate to interrupt but the only reason she came to Junon was to hang out with him. She supposed she could have gone to Rocket Town and bunked with Aeris or something, but didn’t really want to be around kids at the moment.
Thus the reason she was in Junon, standing in front of Tseng’s door, her hand poised to knock but not quite getting there. She strained her hearing, trying to see if she could detect moaning or something else that was indicative of Tseng having a guest. A faint blush decorated her cheeks at the thought of actually playing witness to any of it. Though, if she thought about it, Sephiroth was rather hot. However, she didn’t even want to think about her cousin like that at all.
When no sounds were forthcoming, Yuffie decided for bravery and finally went ahead with knocking. That done, she waited patiently, rocking back and forth on her heels. She hoped Tseng didn’t think it was too rude of her to drop by unannounced. They were family but they hadn’t been family that long, if anyone could understand what she meant by that. They were still working out the particulars of establishing a familial relationship.
She heard the sound of a chain lock being undone before the door opened cautiously, unsurprising considering that he was a Turk. It opened fully once the man within realized just who was waiting on the other side.
“Yuffie?” Tseng questioned, blinking in surprise.
The ninja smiled nervously, raking a hand through hair that desperately needed a cut. “I’m not interrupting, am I?” she questioned half-teasingly. Her eyes darted past him, half-expecting a half-dressed silver-haired man to suddenly appear and skewer her for daring to interrupt them…
Okay, her imagination was really getting out of hand.
Tseng shook his head. “No, Sephiroth’s not here,” he responded, his cheeks pinking a bit at what his cousin was implying. “But you… aren’t you supposed to be in Wutai?”
“Yeah, about that…” she trailed off, one foot toeing the ground in a habit from childhood she had long thought she had broken. Yuffie sighed, lifting up her gaze and pleading with liquid brown eyes. “You don’t mind if I stay here for a bit, do you? I’m not going back to Wutai and I can’t exactly return to Cosmo Canyon right now.”
He regarded her for a moment. Even if he wanted, Tseng didn’t think he could say no. She looked so lost and lonesome. A orphaned child, heart locked in turmoil, faced with more responsibility than she was ready for, having saved the world twice or not. She was still only a teenager.
He stepped aside, pushing his door open in a silent gesture for her to enter. “Is everything all right?” Tseng asked, knowing good and well that it wasn’t. But he wanted to hear it from her.
“Yes,” Yuffie responded, almost as if by rote before she abruptly shook her head and changed her mind. “No. No, it’s not. I hate it.”
Tseng furrowed his brow and closed the door as she walked into his living room, dropping her bag with a clank to the floor. She sank into one of his comfortable couches with a look of evident relief on her face.
“I’m not cut out for this leadership stuff,” Yuffie continued. “I wish it would all just go away.” Her face twisted up at those words, a mix of exhaustion and abandon. It was a look no teenager should have.
His frown deepened. “I can understand that,” he commented, following her into his living room. “Do you want something to drink?”
“How about a daiquiri?” Her voice was slightly hopeful but Tseng would be the first to tell her that alcohol didn’t solve anything.
It certainly had never helped him. It dulled the pain, numbed you to it for a while, but once the feeling faded, everything crashed down, ten times worse than before.
Tseng shot her a look, wishing that it didn’t feel parental. “No.”
She sighed and flopped back down on the couch. “Then, no, I’m fine.”
“Okay.” Tseng lowered himself into his favorite chair, a leather-covered piece that he hoped to introduce a certain former General to eventually. But that was a matter for later consideration. “Was it the elders? Were they pushing marriage again?”
She waved a hand, a vague attempt to encompass everything. “It wasn’t just them, it was everything. I think it’s all so stupid. This tradition and rules. It’s all outdated. Don’t you?”
The Turk tilted his head to the side, contemplating. “Compared to the rest of society, Wutai is considerably behind,” he hedged.
“I think so, too. I want to do something but I just don’t know what.”
“Have you considered modernizing Wutai?”
Yuffie blinked. “What?”
“You know, instituting a new government.” Tseng sat back in his chair, drumming his fingers on the arm. “Replace the justice system, disband the elder council… in other words, abandon the aristocracy.”
Brown eyes widened slightly. “You think that would work?”
Tseng shrugged. “It is worth a try. Nothing is going to change in Wutai until someone makes a change. And right now, that someone would have to be you.”
There was a tiny spark of interest, excitement that was daring to grow inside the young ninja. She thought, for one moment, that it might even be possible. Until rationality and reason crashed her ideas with realizations. Even if she wanted to do all those intelligent things, without experience or even a clue, it would all fall flat.
“Except,” Yuffie stated glumly, “I know nothing about that kind of stuff. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”
“Nanaki does,” Tseng pointed out quietly, gauging for her reaction. “He is very good at that sort of thing. Cosmo Canyon is just one example and he’s only recently found himself in charge there.”
The ninja sighed and buried her face behind her hand. “Yeah, I know,” she admitted with some reluctance. But to ask for his help she would have to talk to him, be around him when there had been nothing but separation between them. She didn’t know if she was that strong.
“I talked to him a month or so ago,” Tseng said after a moment of silence that he spent regarding her intently. “Archer had given him the impression that you were married.”
Brown eyes peered through nimble fingers. “Why would he do that?”
“Because Archer’s an idiot,” Tseng stated flatly before suddenly clearing his throat, trying not to speak too ill of a man he considered his friend. “He was misinformed. Nanaki was quite disturbed by that information. I know it bothered him so I quickly cleared up that matter. He was relieved.”
“Oh,” Yuffie commented with some disinterest, her mind spiraling into other considerations. Until hit her just what, exactly, her cousin had just said. She turned her gaze on Tseng, suspicion furrowing her brow.
“Wait, why were you talking to Nanaki in the first place?” she queried, knowing Tseng’s propensity to not get involved with much of anything. It wasn’t as if he and the demi-human were particularly close despite having fought together in the Chaos War.
She was therefore amused when he looked away, a faint flush of embarrassment stealing his cheeks. “I might have stopped by to see him on my way to Rocket Town,” he responded. Had it been anyone else, she might have dared name it a mumble but Tseng was too confident for that sort of behavior.
It was immeasurably cute, both that he would try to help her and that he responded in that matter when confronted with the evidence of his attempt. “Oh?” she said, sitting up straighter in the couch. “And what did you talk about?”
“What do you think?” Tseng countered, rising to his feet and padding quietly to his kitchen.
He was still in earshot however and listened for her response as he moved to retrieve his coffee, earlier abandoned at the doorbell and suddenly remembered. He hoped it was still hot; he hated cold coffee with a passion.
Yuffie shifted uncomfortably on the couch, having her suspicions. “Yeah, that was a dumb question, wasn’t it?” she said softly to herself, covering her face again with her fingers. “I don’t even know where to begin with that particular problem.”
Coffee secured, Tseng flipped off the now empty pot and returned to the living room. “Did it ever occur to you that the both of you are just foolish?” he questioned, watching her from the doorway for a moment.
The ninja blinked. “What?”
Tseng shook his head, returning to his seat and carefully setting his mug on the table after taking a taste-sip of the cream-colored liquid. Perfectly blended to his liking. “You’re so busy asking yourself ‘what if?’ that you haven’ even considered asking each other,” he elaborated. “You’re basing everything on assumptions.”
She frowned and looked at the floor, hand dropping to pick at the blanket loosely adorning his couch, a gift from Elena a few winters back. “I know,” she admitted after a moment of silence. “But I’ve never been able to think straight when it comes to him.”
The Turk took a sip of his coffee, blowing slightly to cool it. “That’s because when it comes to him, everything is too close to the heart,” Tseng said, momentarily wondering where all of his wisdom was coming from. It wasn’t as if he was the authority on relationships. Hell, he hadn’t ever had a meaningful one before Sephiroth. Still, he had the feeling that whatever he was saying to Yuffie was soaking in.
Tseng sat forward in his chair, pinning her with a look that often worked well on his subordinates, making them squirm in their seats with the understanding that it was important and not to be ignored. It worked especially well on Reno.
“I’ll tell you the same thing I told Nanaki. Time isn’t going to wait forever. If you don’t do something now, in the end, neither of you will be happy. Ask yourself, Yuffie, what do you want?”
“What do I want?” she repeated.
It seemed so simple a concept. What did she want for herself? Over the past few months she had done nothing but think of Wutai. What was best for her country. What was best for Nanaki, what would make him happy. But what did she want?
“You want to let him go?” Tseng continued, prompting her every inner thought. “Are your feelings simply friendship? Stop trying to make his decision for him and be a little selfish. Decide what it is you want first.”
Her lips curled into a smile before she could stop them. “Most people would advise to not be selfish,” she countered, her mind still spinning with the sheer simplicity of his suggestion.
Tseng shrugged. “Well, most people don’t take love advice from hired assassins.”
“Point,” she conceded with a sheepish grin, briefly raking a hand through her hair. “I guess I have some thinking to do, huh?”
He nodded, drinking deeply of his coffee. He wanted to finish it before he had to leave. “I’m sure you’ve already been doing a lot of that. Don’t worry about Wutai for now, Yuffie. Just think about this, about Nanaki. And remember, you’re not in it alone, even it feels like it.”
Yuffie looked at her cousin, feeling her eyes getting a little misty at the genuine tone to her voice. The surge of emotion left her a bit helpless and she tried to joke it away. “I never knew you could be so sensitive, Tseng,” she teased. “This is a side of you I’ve never seen.”
Her cousin coughed, looking a bit abashed. “It’s recently discovered,” he said, actually mumbling this time and for cone, not looking like his usual stoic, Turk-self. She wondered if they had Sephiroth to think for that, dragging more of Tseng out into the open where he could flourish.
Tseng cleared his throat, and hopefully his embarrassment. “In any case, stay here for a while. The guest room is down the hall to the left and next to the bathroom. Feel free to raid my kitchen.”
As if on cue, Yuffie’s stomach chose that moment to give a loud, protesting grumble. He shot her an amused look and Yuffie held up her hands in defeat.
“I missed dinner when I abandoned the elders in the middle of audience day,” she explained. “And Cid and Vincent didn’t have anything on the helicopter except some sad looking gumballs that I wasn’t about to try.”
Tseng lifted a brow. “Audience day, hmm? I’ll bet they were furious.”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.” Yuffie rolled her eyes and snickered quietly at that, thinking of the shock and anger on the elder’s faces. For some reason, in that moment, it felt as if a great burden had been lifted from her shoulders.
Silver eyes darted to the clock and Tseng suddenly rose to his feet, carrying his almost empty cup with him. “It’s still early but you know you have free roam around here. There’s a spare key on a hook by the front door if you want to leave.”
Yuffie regarded him curiously. “Where are you going?”
It was so cute to see his cheeks turn pink like a school boy… or Nanaki when she was being overly bold with him. “Out.”
The look in her eyes suddenly turned mischievous and Tseng started to head towards the doorway, a sudden urge to escape nearly overwhelming him. “Oh? On a date? With Sephiroth?” Yuffie prompted.
It was just cute that he looked as if he were an eager teenager going out with the school beauty queen. She had to hold back her snicker on that one. She was never telling Sephiroth she had called him that.
“Yes,” Tseng answered swiftly, stretching his limbs towards the door and the safety of his room beyond.
He planned on making a quick change of clothes before slipping out the door. He and Sephiroth were supposed to meet at a cafe that the two of them were quickly growing fond of. He didn’t want to be late.
Yuffie smiled at Tseng’s hasty answer and shook her head. “Go on, have fun then.”
He nodded and moved to slip out the doorway, until her voice stopped him.
The Turk paused, looking over his shoulder. The smile remained on her lips but there was a hint of something behind her eyes. “Thanks.”
Surprise flitted in Tseng’s gaze but he nodded nevertheless. “What’s family for?” the male responded before darting into the hallway.
Yuffie felt warmed by that, as if she and Tseng were finally starting to find their niche as family. It made her feel less alone, knowing that she still had someone of blood relation on her side.
She settled more comfortably into her couch, taking a second to pull off her couch and drop it to the floor. Her mind was spinning, already turned onto contemplating Tseng’s words. The Turk had made more than several valid points.
What did she want? And more importantly, what did Nanaki really feel? She wouldn’t know without asking. Feeling a bit embolden, Yuffie decided to give that a try. She dug her phone out of her pocket and quickly dialed Nanaki’s cell.
However, she was immediately sent to voice mail without so much as a single ring. Either his phone was dead or he was out of the service area, most likely the latter. He wasn’t in a place to get a signal at the Iyatokan homesite.
A bit disappointed, Yuffie hung up without leaving a message. It wasn’t really something that she wanted to say over the phone anyways. She let the phone drop from her hand to land on top of her discarded jacket. Besides, Tseng had said that she needed to figure out what she wanted first and he was absolutely right.
It was time to make her own choices based on her own wants. No more hovering around waiting for the answers to come.
For once, Yuffie was going to seek them on her own, for better or for worse.