Chapter Twenty-Three: On Both Sides
Archer sat back in his chair in the common room and took another sip of his Café Mocha as he placidly watched his best friend pace back and forth across the floor. They had been traveling for awhile now and probably had at least thirty minutes before they would get to Wutai, but that didn’t stop Reeve from continuously worrying and fretting.
With communications towers destroyed around the world, the executive’s phone was useless in his hands, and there was nothing he could do to reach Reno more than he was already doing. He hoped and prayed that the red-haired Turk would still be there when they arrived. Reeve wasn’t sure what he would say or what he would do… didn’t have time to ponder that. All he knew positively was that he loved Reno, and there was no way he was going to allow him to run away again.
“Cid will be seriously pissed if you wear a hole through his floor,” Archer commented calmly as his hand twitched on the table. He suddenly wished desperately for a cigarette, even though he had given up the habit a year or so before. Now would have been a good time to revive dying habits after all.
Reeve’s head shot up and he glared heatedly at the amethyst-eyed man, though he didn’t stop in his pacing, worry lines etched into his forehead. He had already taken off his jacket, having slung it across the back of one of the chairs, and had even rolled up his sleeves on his arms and loosened his tie. The executive managed to look younger having shed most of the confining garments. His coffee, so graciously bought by Kyle, lay untouched and steaming on the table. Probably a good thing… it didn’t seem as if Reeve needed any more caffeine.
“I believe Cid would understand given the situation,” responded the amber-eyed man flatly.
Archer sighed heavily and looked at the executive. They had been friends for a long time… nearly five years. Almost as long as Cid and he had been apart. Kyle had been a brilliant designer in his own right, and ShinRa always knew when to recognize potential. They snapped him up right out of school and set him to work under Reeve in Urban Planning. Together, the two of them had designed many worthy projects, including one that was now forgotten in some archive for a city that would have been even better than Midgar had ever been.
Still, after all those years, Archer sometimes found that Reeve’s eccentricities were a bit annoying. The executive tended to take all blame and responsibility upon himself, even when it wasn’t necessary, and he was blind at times to anything that wasn’t right in front of his eyes. Thus, the cause of the reason they were now flying halfway across the world a day after all the major cities on Gaia had been attacked.
“Well you are certainly not doing yourself any good pacing like that,” Archer responded evenly. “He’ll be there.”
(Seiryu’s other is a bit high strung,) commented a familiar voice within the engineer’s head.
He nodded idly in response. “Aye, that he is.”
Reeve stopped his rapid pacing abruptly and stood staring, his head cocked to the side. He often did that when talking to Seiryu, as if the motion of his head really affected the telepathic conversation.
(Would it interest you to know he is safe and alive in Wutai?) the silver dragon questioned within the executive’s mind.
Amber eyes widened. “You know this? How?”
Seiryu chuckled, still managing to lisp somewhat as he had when he manifested in physical form. (Where do you think I exist, my animus? On Gaia? Somewhere secreted away, perhaps?)
Reeve had to fight down the flush of embarrassment. “I never thought about it…”
(The red-head has an anima. We have spoken. He is concerned for your safety and does not yet know that you are coming to Wutai. I told Asclepius to make him remain but not explain why.)
The executive made his way to his chair and sat, wrapping a hand around his cooling coffee and ignoring the bemused looks Archer kept sending his direction. Reeve pursed his lips as he continued his conversation with Seiryu.
“Where do you exist then?” questioned the executive.
The silver dragon chuckled. (All will be revealed soon, my animus.)
“Figures,” Reeve muttered. “No one wants to answer my questions.”
Archer cocked an eyebrow at his friend. “Problems?”
The executive shrugged. “You know how immortal beings are… They must speak in riddles that make absolutely no sense until /after/ everything happens.” He peered into his coffee cup skeptically before taking a hesitant drink, for the moment satisfied with what Archer had chosen for him. “Do you think I did the right thing?”
“What do you mean?” Kyle asked as he stretched and yawned, feeling generally tired. The past few days had been anything but relaxing, and the engineer was beginning to feel as if he had been wound too tight or stretched to thin. He could only be so laidback, and it seemed as if that aspect of his personality was going to rebel. And Reeve, though he was his best friend, was seriously starting to raise his stress level.
The executive ran a hand through his hair distractedly. “Left Midgar… I mean with everything in the state in it’s in… was it wrong for me to leave for personal reasons?”
Archer sighed. Leave it to Reeve to worry about something like that. He spent far much time worry about others and none about himself… or the ones he really cared about.
“I think Jennifer, Tseng, and Elena can handle it. Tseng’s been with ShinRa a long time, and Jennifer’s been your secretary for the past six months. Besides, Reno deserves this… if you haven’t noticed; things haven’t been well between you two.”
“Which is why he left in the first place,” muttered Reeve exhaling softly. He shook his head, berating himself internally as he laid his head down on the table.
Suddenly, Archer grinned. “Speaking of which… is Jennifer single?”
Reeve looked up, surprise registered on his face as he furrowed his brow in confusion. “What?”
“Jennifer… does she have a significant other?” the amethyst-eyed man queried. He idly tapped his coffee cup on the table as he grinned and settled back comfortably in his chair. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a date…”
The executive gaped at his friend. “But… what?”
Archer shook his head. “You thought I was going to make a play for Cid, didn’t you?”
Reeve raised a brow as he sipped on his coffee again, for the moment, all thoughts of his inefficiencies forgotten. “The thought had crossed my mind… as I’m sure it has for many of the others.”
Kyle sighed as he ran an irritated hand through his hair, fingers nearly tangling in the tie for his small ponytail. “Geez Reeve, I thought you of all people would know me better.”
Reeve could only shake his head and laugh quietly into his cup. He mused for a moment before he spoke again. “So… you gonna give women a try again, then?”
“You already knew I played for both teams, Reeve, don’t go pretending it’s new news,” responded Archer dryly.
The executive laughed quietly and tapped his fingers against the table as he contemplated his friend’s earlier question. “I don’t really know anything about my secretary to be honest, but if her flaunting is any indication, I’d say she was single.”
Archer grinned. “Good. Seems everybody around me is all paired up; I think it’s my turn now.” His mind instantly filled with many possibilities. Not that he wasn’t still somewhat in love with Cid Highwind, but he had learned six months prior that nothing was going to drag the pilot from his love of Vincent. The two were made for each other, and Kyle knew it. He had lost his chance long ago when jealousy and pride helped him make the wrong decision.
For a moment, the two men fell silent lost in their own thoughts as they calmly finished off the now cold coffee’s they had started long before.
Suddenly, before either could react, the air inside the common room shimmered, and two forms suddenly appeared. Reeve and Archer gaped in surprise as two bodies began to take form directly in front of them.
On the left was a young pale man with long metallic silver hair and pointed ears much like the elves in a child’s fairy tale. He wore a long robe in varying shades of green and grey, while his brilliant emerald green eyes observed everything placidly. In one hand, he held a short platinum staff adorned with a simple jade sphere.
His companion was a young woman of ethereal beauty. She was pale, like he, with stunning amethyst eyes. Her long white hair with grey tips was braided extensively and pulled into a heap of loops and knots atop her head. Fabric draped over her body in a myriad of colors. Her graceful neck and pointed ears were adorned with golden jewelry, and her wrists and upper arm twinkled with an elegant design.
Kyle stared in awe as his mouth gaped open. Reeve looked much the same, although his face also held an intent look of curiosity.
The male smirked as he looked down at them. “Frightened?”
Archer laughed. “Not in the least… who are you?”
It was the female who responded, placing a hand on her hip as she traded glances with the silver-haired male. “I am surprised you do not recognize our voices, even if our forms have changed.”
“Seiryu?” questioned Reeve, very surprised. His eyes had widened completely.
“The one and the same,” responded the silver dragon in human form. His smirk turned solemn. “Danger is on the horizon.”
“Trouble approaches on swift wings,” added in Tiamat, she of the white hair.
Archer stood to his feet suddenly, their words striking something inside him. “Wutai?” The word was almost whispered, though question it was.
The two nodded. “And all of the beasts are heading straight for this airship,” intoned Seiryu.
“We’ve no choice then,” remarked Reeve solemnly. He stood to his feet. “I won’t even ask how you know. We’ve got to wake Cid and stop them before they destroy anything.”
Archer nodded in agreement. “Let’s go.”
(Ack, the fluffy! Warning: Fluff and Candy!)
Nanaki lay on the ground, staring up at the deceptively blue and clear sky. The patch of grass beneath him was fragrant and soft, a startling contrast to the slight scent of death and burning that lingered over the city of Cosmo Canyon. This one spot overlooked the demi-human’s home town and was perfect for his sought solitude.
Arms folded beneath his head, the red-haired male sighed softly and tried to ease the ache in his heart and mind. His grandfather was gone from this world, Isis having left also not long after Yuffie, Cid, and himself had arrived. The demi-goddess had gradually faded away until she could no longer be seen. Bugenhagen had touched the lives of many. Nevertheless, Nanaki knew he could not keep his sorrow forever locked within. Grandfather would have never stood for it.
And now with his absence, it was Nanaki to which the elders turned for guidance. It was the demi-human to which they turned for questions about the planet and current events. Especially those concerning the recent attack on their city. He was tired of their persistence, tired of their demands, and was glad for this one moment’s peace.
Up here, he could still watch over Cosmo Canyon, always alert for any attack, free from the soot and ash taste that accompanied any of his meanderings through the town faded with the scent of the fresh breeze.
Nanaki’s ears perked up when he heard the sound of footsteps, light and barely pressing into the ground as they approached. He knew of only one other person with enough agility to sneak up on him like that.
“I knew I’d find you here,” came the voice of his best friend Yufffie Kisaragi. His eyes opened, and he looked up to see her grinning down on him, one hand cocked on her hip as she always stood.
“I’m hiding,” he offered by way of explanation before he closed his eyes and went back to relaxing. He didn’t mind Yuffie’s presence. He knew she wouldn’t bother him with fiscal figures and petty arguments. If anything, she would just let him be and that was quite enough.
He heard her huff quietly before settling down onto the grass next to him, sitting rather than lying. “You miss him alot,” she commented more than asked.
Golden eyes opened. Out of the corner of his vision he saw her idly picking at the grass, while his own gaze remained trained on the heavens above. A few clouds slowly drifted by, barely obscuring the clear bright blue of the free sky. “He was the only family I remember.”
“But… it’s not like he’s gone forever, you know,” she responded. “You’ll see him again. It may be awhile, but he’s still there with you.”
Nanaki smiled, uncoiling one of the arms from beneath his head to playfully push on her arm. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you sound so serious.”
“Hey!” the ninja retorted, brown eyes sparkling. “I have my moments.”
He chuckled lightly but didn’t say anything in return, settling back into his comfortable position. Yuffie was quiet as well, and the two sat for a moment in companionable silence.
Nanaki looked over at his best friend. She had changed somewhat in the past six months or so. Not so much that it was completely noticeable to others, but to him, who had spent the most time around her, she had become a bit calmer, more mature. She still teased and tried to take his materia, and was occasionally loud and obnoxious, but that was just her way. The demi-human had come to understand that about the young ninja.
He couldn’t help but admire her from where he lay. He had never noticed the inherent loveliness in humans as a lion wolf, only seeing their aesthetic nature. However, as a demi-human, he could at last understand the attraction, but Yuffie’s beauty was different than that of Aeris’ sweet glow or Shera’s plain yet sparkling façade. She was like sunshine, all bright and cheerful.
Neither of them had spoken of the kiss since it occurred. It seemed the both of them were too embarrassed to say anything and had pretended as if it had never occurred. Nanaki didn’t want to lose his friendship with her, but he knew deep within his heart that he desired more than that. He wanted her… it was a feeling he had come to just realize. Her personality was almost the perfect balance to his own: her playfulness dragging him out of his somewhat contemplative and serious shell, her intelligence a match for his own, and she was a fighter as well. Nanaki would never have to worry about her on the battle field, though that did not stop the odd feelings of protectiveness that would rise in him.
As his mind wandered, Yuffie started to amuse herself. Fingers trailed through the grass and weeds that they were reclining on, as if searching for the ever elusive four-leaf clover. Without thinking, the young ninja started to hum, the lazy warmth of the sun and gentle breeze making her feel strangely content.
She had a pleasant voice, nothing noteworthy like those of opera or pop culture, but altogether nice to listen to. The tune she hummed was something light and airy, relatively simple like a lullaby.
“That is a beautiful song,” the demi-human murmured, stealing a glance at the ninja. “Where is it from?”
Yuffie blushed, twirling a three-leafed clover around in her nimble, ninja fingers. “My mother used to sing it to be when I was little. It’s one of my fonder and clearer memories.”
He nodded in understanding and closed his eyes, absorbing the warmth of the sun. For the moment, all thoughts of war and destruction were far from his mind. He vaguely registered the sounds of Yuffie moving but wasn’t overly concerned. After all, it wasn’t as if she would attack him or anything.
Suddenly, soft fingers lightly grazed over his chest as the weight of the amulet was lifted. His eyes sprang open, and he looked up to see Yuffie leaning somewhat over him, eyeing the necklace interested as a thumb traced lazy circles over the ‘flamel’ design. The gold metal glinted in the sunlight, casting small rainbows over the ninja’s face.
“I wonder if you’ll ever change back,” she murmured thoughtfully, eyes flickering over his face before returning back to the amulet.
Nanaki felt his breath catch as he watched her, his skin tingling where she had barely touched him. The brown-eyed woman gradually allowed the gold links to slip through her fingers until it landed back on his chest with a slight thump, though she remained hovering over him. Something sparkled behind her eyes.
He wanted to kiss her. That unmistakable urge rode up in him again. “Yuffie… I…”
She shook her head gently, leaning over him. Slowly, deliberately, she brought one of her hand before his face, putting a finger to his lips. “Shh,” she hushed simply, before leaning over and pressing her lips to his own. His eyes fluttered closed on their own accord. For the first time, she initiated the contact.
In a moment, time stopped, and Nanaki almost forgot how to breathe, so absorbed was he by the soft press of her lips and her airy scent all around him. She kissed him gently, but he quickly took over, pushing his mouth against her own and coaxing her lips to part as he skimmed his tongue against the plump skin. She tasted wonderful.
The hand that had shushed him now rested on his chest, bearing her slight weight on him as Yuffie balanced herself so that she wouldn’t fall over. Their tongues carefully explored their mouths, dipping into each hidden caress and memorizing each unique flavor.
Nanaki couldn’t help the heat that began to spread through him, igniting fires he had been trying to suppress no more than the ninja could stop the red flush tinting her cheeks.
An arm uncoiled itself from behind his head and unconsciously tangled fingers through her black locks, tilting the ninja’s head further and rubbing on her scalp. She whimpered somewhere in the base of her throat before nipping gently on his bottom lip and deepening the kiss. What had begun as a simple kiss was turning into something far more powerful.
It was the need for air that finally separated the two best friends. Both of them were mildly panting, lips separated by only a few inches as their eyes locked. It was a tender expression that passed between them before Nanaki pressed himself upwards once more, invoking another kiss from the responsive ninja. He used a hand to balance himself as he moved into a half sitting position, not releasing his gentle hold on her head.
One of her hands still laid against his chest as the other came up and tentatively placed itself upon his shoulder, gently squeezing the muscle and fingers lightly playing across his skin. The feathery touches were almost a tease to the demi-human as he swiped his tongue inside the ninja’s moist cavern and memorized her taste. It was one he knew he would never tire of, something mysterious and vaguely exotic yet also citrus, as if she had just eaten an orange or tangerine.
Her lips pressed against his hungrily, but it seemed they dared do no more than kiss, almost devouring each other’s mouths in their passion. Nanaki couldn’t remember a time he felt more breathless and more excited… yet also terribly frightened all at the same time. This was his best friend he was kissing, but he didn’t want to stop, and neither it seemed did the ninja. He wanted so much more than just their friendship, easily recognizing the warmth that was spreading through him and slow throbbing that was starting to take form between his legs.
Yuffie smelled absolutely delicious and that was the only way he could describe it. He pushed down the moan in his throat and threaded his fingers through her hair in the same moment he rubbed a thumb over her cheek, an endearing gesture. The hand on his shoulder tightened slightly as the one on his chest slipped from its place.
Despite how much he was enjoying their embrace, and the soft play of her lips and tongue against his, Nanaki knew that they could no longer keep dancing around the issue. He wanted her to know how he felt and hoped that she could return his feelings. He would hate to lose his best friend, but it was worse in the long run to never try…
The demi-human slowly broke away from the kiss, pulling away so that he could look into her beautiful grey eyes, like the sky after a fresh rain. “I’m not going to pretend like this didn’t happen,” he said softly.
Yuffie blushed but didn’t pull away from his hold, unconsciously licking her lips. “I was confused at first,” she explained, voice equally quiet. “I wasn’t quite sure what to say… and then a proper moment never came up.”
Nanaki sighed, lowering his golden eyes for a moment in shame. “It’s my fault really; I should have said something sooner, but I am beginning to think that I want more than just our friendship; there’s something about you… I… can’t explain it, I just know.”
She nodded slowly. “I know… I feel it too, but…”
“But?” questioned the demi-human, idly running his thumb over her cheek once more.
“There are circumstances that I wish I could just forget, but I can’t. And father expects so much of me, and it just doesn’t seem fair…” The words began to rush out of her in all a torrent as her face scrunched up with sorrow, eyes glistening with the threat of tears. “I mean, I’ve only met him once; that was when I was a child, even then I thought him stuck-up, and I really don’t want to marry him because I like you more and its not really a choice that I…”
Yuffie was quickly cut off as Nanaki kissed her once more, something soft and tender. It was effective in that it silenced her and calmed her down a little. She leaned into his touch and wrapped an arm around his neck. He indulged himself for a moment before he gently pulled away.
The ninja blinked and pouted at the loss, looking unbelievably cute. He chuckled lightly before speaking about her earlier trouble and confusion. “Perhaps if we just take things slow…”
She nodded. “I do want to be with you; it’s just…”
He shook his head, the beads and shells clinking lightly. “It is okay. After all, we are friends first and foremost, right?”
Yuffie smiled at that. “Of course, you know you’re my best friend, Aki,” she teased, calling him by her pet name as she gently tapped his shoulder with her fist. “Unless of course there is some other ninja out there you would rather steal your materia.”
“No!” exclaimed the demi-human in mock horror. “Not my materia!”
The ninja giggled as she poked at him. “Yes, all of it. Even that precious Earth that you think is hidden, but I know you have.” Yuffie winked at him before waving a hand in front of his face, green materia nestled between her third and fourth fingers.
Golden eyes widened in mock disbelief. He had actually gotten better at noticing when the agile materia thief had taken his magic. This time he had realized but played along for the sake of her amusement. He pretended to diligently search his pockets and armlet before conceding that the ninja did indeed have his most precious Earth materia.
“Give it back then,” he said. “You’ve proven your point.”
Yuffie appeared thoughtful for a moment, tapping the materia laden hand against her chin before a somewhat evil grin broke out on her face. “Umm, no,” she teased as she leapt up and took off running across the hill, green grass soft beneath her feet.
Nanaki laughed and jumped up chasing after her. Sure, they were supposed to be adults. Yes, they were two of the youngest members of a group of heroes to save the planet. After the events of the past few days, both of them deserved a little fun, even if it did seem childish.
Yuffie giggled as she ran from Nanaki, taking random turns and occasionally casting glances over her shoulder, Earth materia clenched tightly in her fist. However, it wasn’t long before the red-haired male caught up to her. Nanaki was the fastest and strongest member of their team. She knew she had no chance.
The brown-eyed girl tried to nimbly dodge out of the way, narrowly evading his first grab but getting caught by the second. He wrapped his arms around her in some semblance of a tackle, and the two went crashing to the ground, Nanaki rolling slightly to the left so that he didn’t crush the smaller female with his weight.
The two were laughing as the demi-human struggled to pry his materia from her grip. However, slim hands held on tight as Yuffie steadfastly refused to let go. The two friends playfully rolled across the small field of grass and flowers, petals getting caught in their hair with each movement.
“That’s it,” grinned Nanaki, the two of them finally coming to a stop with him halfway straddling her. “Its time for desperate measures.”
Brown eyes widened. “No. Not that. Anything but that.”
But it was too late.
Without warning, Nanaki dove in, fingers attacking. Yuffie began to giggle uncontrollably as he tickled her. She was extremely sensitive and ticklish, and to the little ninja, it was pure torture. The dark-haired girl writhed and gasped beneath his touch, trying her hardest to catch her breath from all the laughter spilling out of her.
Nanaki was laughing as well as he teased her.
“Fine,” gasped the ninja, holding out her arm and showing him the green Earth materia. “I give up.”
The demi-human smirked as he stopped tickling her and grabbed his materia, putting it back in its proper place on his armlet. Yuffie was trying to catch her breath as she looked up at him smiling.
“What?” he questioned, cocking an eyebrow.
She smirked evilly. “Your turn.” And with that she lunged up and tackled the demi-human, nimble fingers instantly searching out his most ticklish spots.
The sounds of their laughter filled the air as their anima’s watched on in amusement before disappearing in a short twinkle of light.