Categories > Games > Kingdom Hearts > But That Was In Another Country

vomiting dusk

by spiderflower 7 reviews

Sometimes the good guys don't win against unstoppable odds. Yuffie Kisaragi and the last stand: before Traverse Town, there was the Planet, and before Sora, there was AVALANCHE. Chapter five; movin...

Category: Kingdom Hearts - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Characters: Cloud,Yuffie - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2007-04-27 - Updated: 2008-06-28 - 10206 words

But That Was In Another Country


and i am your children
and i am millions
and i wanted to sail up, i wanted to try but
you know the sky got too low
and the ocean got too high

am i too late, is it over?

dar williams, "the great unknown"


v. vomiting dusk


It's kind of funny - I tried to talk about it to Tifa later, a lot later, and she tried to tell me why Barret broke down and shot out all the windows in the comm room - what the Turks had meant, really meant. I mean, there they were to me: King Silence, Queen Retard and Princess Got A Gun. Rude, Reno, Elena, three parts snazzy suit and one part bullet. Anyone from Midgar had this crazy little portion of their head that was scared of the Turks, and really scared of the Turks, apparently even when Reno stuck cigarettes up his nose. It was probably a holdover from the days when Vincent tied up his stylish tie, or something, but - Aerith, you'd understand, wouldn't you? The Turks dying was not just an end of an era, it was the end of some kind of steadfast belief that Turks /got the job done/. The sign of the end when even the cockroaches die. I hadn't been there when they blew up chunks of Midgar, or kidnapped you, and I admit that I wasn't even sperm back when the Turks were probably totally scary and I didn't know Tseng from a bar of soap, but Turks dying was a /sign/. A sign that wasn't Turks dying.

And Reno was all over the helicopter. I remember that. I remember that. He was all over the helicopter.

It's kind of funny and it's kind of retarded: because I don't even feel like I have the right to mourn them, it's just - people say "Oh, that was the way they wanted to go!" and /like hell it was/. That assumes /any of them wanted to go/. The Turks would have lived forever.

I feel stupid for writing all that. Also my pen that writes in three colours is running out, and I should go steal another from Huey. I feel it is not a crime to steal from three giant baby ducks. No jury would convict me. Hell, even Leon just says, - okay, Leon says "Pay them," but I can tell that inside his heart he supports me. Gawd, anyway, what would he know? His fiancee used to fire dogs from her arms and he doesn't know how many belts he needs to hold up his pants, he probably thinks that's normal.

Anyway, I need to take a breath.

Goodnight, Blade Kisaragi. Goodnight, goodnight. Goodnight.


Two of the accountants died that week. I don't even know why, they were having a fight, they started to accountant-brawl and one stabbed the other - Stabbo'ed went into the freezer alongside the other guy, and then we had to lock the other one in his room because we didn't know what the hell to do with him only then he hung himself too because Barret let him keep his shoelaces on purpose. Reeve, who was usually the voice of quiet accountancy respect, was out - up in his crazy machine in the Reevecave, shaking and moaning and rattling, just living in one long seizure. I guess he'd never died up close before. He wasn't Cait Sith and he wasn't Reeve Tuesti, he was just this twitchy guy we had to strap to the bed, which brought our AVALANCHE count of crazy people at least temporarily up to two. Cloud would go and sit next to him so that Tifa could spoonfeed them both vacuum-packed chicken broth without having to go look around and waste time, and there they were, our own little mental ward. Reeve was more interesting but Cloud could go to the bathroom by himself, which put both of them about equal coolness. Cloud would sit there in a girl's t-shirt because he put on whatever I gave him and stare at Reeve, who just kind of wore ropes and a bedsheet, which now that I think about it is probably why Reeve didn't really want to wake up. Tifa didn't even sigh blankly at Cloud wearing a unicorn riding across his chest in a halo of gritty sparkles. She didn't sigh at /anything/.

It broke both of them for a little while - Barret and Tifa, I mean; they just played nursemaid because it was what they knew, what they'd always done before, and the accountants and secretaries seethed and panicked among themselves, and I locked myself in the communications room with Marlene and candy corn and Vincent. What else was there to do? Reeve had been the one to say, I know what to do, this is how it is, and we followed him because he at least had radio connections and a big concrete barn under the earth. We have followed for much less/. We followed Cloud because he had a good determined face. Okay, I followed Cloud because I thought there might be money involved, but there might have been money with his good determined face, and - who do you follow? What do you do? What the /hell do you do?

"Rook to d-five wishing we were playing anything else in the whole wide world, capture your knight," I said one evening - damn if I can remember what evening it was, because back then I lost sight of the days. I'd look up what day it was on the computer and say "Wake up! It's Monday!" or whatever hilarious comment I could think of to him ("wake up, it's Monday" not really being among the hilarious comment list) and Vincent didn't even complain, just said "thank you", as if me giving him the day was as good as coffee. For a lot of it it was just him, me and Marlene, and more him and me, considering the fact that Marlene was more interested in magazines about horses and cutting out her favourite pictures. (Marls slept in a trundle bed behind me, full of nightmares and little-girl snores. I once caught her forcing Vincent to sing her a twee little song about a spider who couldn't get his retarded self up a drainpipe and found himself at the bottom again, full of existential angst and dying in a puddle, or at least that's totally how he sung it.)

"Are you sure?"

"I hate it when you say 'are you sure', you're just trying to psyche me out."

"I just wanted to make sure... that you were sure, that is."

"You are trying to psyche me out, because I'm nearly winning for once. And I think you're kind of pissing with me. - Want to hear a joke? Actually, you have to listen, you've got no option, I can say whatever I like and you can't stop me. Okay, here it is. Knock, knock."


"No, you have to. I'm serious. Knock, knock."

"... ... ... who's there."

"An interrupting chocobo."

"... an interrupting chocobo wh - "

"WARK." (He had to listen to five minutes of me laughing hysterically, pounding the communications board in self-congratulation, spraying a fine film of candy corn on the screens, etc, etc.) "Your move! You can take as long as you like. I know it is absolutely hard to play when you are crippled with laughter/. I know my lighthearted ways see through to your /very soul and make it hard for you to think, which is why I nearly won last time. Well. I would have won, but I was being nice to you. It's all you have to go by, living each day on my harsh defeats. Vinnie, I've been worrying about this a teensy weensy amount - "

"Bishop to e-three," he said. And: "Check." And: "... You owe me four million gil."

"Hey. Hey. Stop counting your gil, I can get out of this." (I probably couldn't have.) "Just you wait. Can you wait?"

"I think I'm getting good at it."

"You know, you're getting kind of funny, too." Possibly this was the reason why Vincent was at least a million times more entertaining than Cloud; he sometimes cracked jokes. The jokes were pretty bad. Like, they were pretty much on the level of jokes told to you by your uncle on your birthday. That is not an exceptionally high rating, but it was higher than Cloud's, which at that point wasn't even on the level of jokes told by your grandpa. He also had a really nice voice. Shut up. I mean, it... it was kind of slow and he had this tiny bit of accent if you listened, just enough to fill a thimble, and it was nearly as deep as Barret's, and he talked in a long and kind of drawly way that at first bored me and then put me to sleep, which are two different things. This one time I asked him to try to get me some sleep by saying random words at me - which he did, which was probably the amazing thing - and I snored off somewhere during juxtaposition and /remonstrate/. (Juxtaposition? What a word nerd.) "Do you want to be my apprentice?"


"You lamer. Why not?"

"... 'Interrupting Chocobo' helped cement that, Yuffie."

"What/ever/. Anyway, Vincent, like I was saying, I was thinking - "

"Are you ill?"

"Gawd, I teach you to be a little funny and now you can't shut up with it. Vinnie, I've been worrying about this a teensy weensy amount lately, but aren't you kind of starving to death?"

"No," he said.

"Whew! Okay, thank you for that, because I'm like, 'well, I'm sitting here with my bag full of candy corn and maybe I'm torturing you on accident with my crunching or I don't know, candy corn is pretty awful,' but - "

"I'm dehydrating," he said. "I have no water. My body can only survive so long while I'm like this."

I sort of sat there in stunned silence, with a mouth full of candy-corn and all the little bits dribbling out: and I choked a little on it - on both that, and on the crappy candy corn, until he said "Chew," and I did so that I wouldn't die live on-air with him. Well, actually, Marlene probably knew enough to wake up and give me CPR, but I'd been eating a lot of lime-flavour candy corn which she didn't like so it was touch and go as to whether she'd do it with my nasty lime-flavoured lips. And there he was, and there I was, and there were the facts spread out in front of us both. "You're dying. Oh, Gawd, Vinnie, you're /dying/."

"... Yuffie - "

"You're dying. You're dying right here/. You were dying through Twenty Questions. /You're dying now."

"Yuffie, calm down."

"How can you tell me to c-calm down? You're dying and I bet your ass is fifty feet from a bucket of old water, or whatever, whatever - you're stuck in a box and I bet you're getting bedsores and - you're dying!"

"You're going to wake up Marlene." (He just sounded tired. He sounded so tired - how did I miss that? He'd sounded tired for days.)

"I don't care," I said, but I did, and I lowered my voice to an angry saliva hiss. "Your stupid cellphone hasn't run out of batteries but you're dying? How is that fair? How the hell is that fair? This is stupid! Everything is stupid! You know that? We should've, we should've done what Cloud said and met this head-on, we should've - this is so gawd-damn stupid - "

"Either I go into a deep hibernation, or I drink," he said. "I have a choice. Once I am in that sleep, I will be there for three months. Once I drink, I have to leave, because they will have found me. Do you understand?"

"I understand this sucks - "

"My safety was never guaranteed if I did the former. There are three hundred and sixty-three bullets in this house, if I can get to them. The Death Penalty self-reloads, but it's a handgun - "

"How long?"

"... I have nineteen hours to make a choice."

Wiping my mouth left sickly green trails along my fingers, settling into the cracks of my knuckles that I'd all cut up walking on my hands in the gym. I was shaking out of anger and out of fear and wanting to wake up: back on that snowy path that lead to Tifa's bar and Kalm, not caring about anything except the frozen candybar in my linty pocket. Of course I'd thought about getting out and making a heroic rescue of Red and Cid and Shera and Wutai, and Vinnie, like all we had to do was all we had to do the last time - give Cloud his sword and let him do the thousand slashes. We solved everything before by drinking salty gross water in the Northern Crater and just suffering a bit, like everything was determined by who drank the crappy water and suffered. And I was pissed off at Cloud like he'd started the whole thing just by seeing it, not that there weren't good reasons to be pissed off at Cloud, and I was pissed off at you - because where were you? Where was Holy? With you gone, did the Planet just not care? Without you, was everything just charcoal and candy corn and dribble, and how was that fair anyway? You didn't die for that! You never would've died for that!

"I'm coming to get you," I said, in one embarrassing blurt.

For some reason, that really pissed him off, because he said sharply: "Don't you ever think practically?"

"Stop treating me like some kind of baby/." (It was so stupid, down there, how him just being rude made my cheeks burn and my eyes hurt. As if that spelled anything other than 'baby' in big blinking neon lights.) "I'm a /ninja. I can - I can slip through! They won't notice one person, right? I can take Cloud's motorbike! I could take the truck. We can ride in style. One person could spring you, and - then - "

"And then what?"

" - then..."

"After you leave a sealed cave and make the trek - across an ocean - through untold peril - " (/Peril?/ What a word nerd) " - on foot across the Nibel mountains, in the dead of winter? Spending weeks walking it, or little less on a truck that can't go up a mountain? What then, Yuffie? Or are you going to think up a plan on the way?"

"I taught you to be funny," I blubbered, gone, wasted, ripped to shreds without
much effort, "not /sarcastic/."

There was a silence where I tried to stop crying and failed, laying my head down on the desk and on the blotting pad and knocking off half the chess pieces and sobbing out of pure frustration. Nothing had ever seemed further than him, then, than Nibelheim, halfway over the world on the next continent where he lay dying in a box. I felt sorry for him and then sorrier for me and then sorry for him again, and his silence was a little sorry too. We were all more than a little pathetic back then.

"I'm so scared of dying," I said, and I wept so hard that I was just one long wet hiccup. "And not just scared of me dying but scared of everybody dying, and you're just being a jerk because you know I'm scared of you dying too. I'm scared of - of having to put B-barret in the freezer with the popsicle accountants, and I'm scared of being scared, and hiding under this desk 'til I die, and I'm scared of being alone because Tifa's giving me her powdered egg and stuff and her wrists are so skinny..." One long dribbly sniff. "I go to bed terrified and I wake up terrified! You think I don't know how bad this is but I do. I fucking do, with a capital fuh-huck."

"Yuffie," he said, and it wasn't not gentle, "get into bed."

You know when you start crying and you just can't stop? I was fighting for each weeping, gritty breath as I unfolded my own trundle bed and put it next to Marlene's, sobbing in that way when you're just trying to be quiet about it, seeing everything through an eyelid-hot squeeze of tears as I shucked off my shoes and crawled underneath the covers. I was crying too hard to argue, which pretty much tells you how bad I was at that point, just bawling into my pillow and curling my toes up in the blankets without bothering to get undressed.

"It's worse when you're nice," I said, and cried harder at the speaker on the desk. I tried my best to enter into some kind of crying athletics, long-distance and sprint crying, big gulping breaths. I had lost absolutely every tiniest bit of my classy wit and snappy comebacks, and I was pretty much just four years old and Marlene, sitting in that big office chair and howling my guts out. I had no plan and no faith and no nothing, and the too-thin mattress was sagging underneath me. "You're not even b-being nice. You just want me to be quiet. You're a big stupid jerk."

"When I was thirteen I wanted to play the guitar in a band," he said, absolutely unexpectedly.

"That don't make no damn sense," I said, in my best Barret, through a hurricane of sniffles. But it was a present or a tranquilizer or both, and I took it because those things from him were so rare and he knew it: "... why didn't you?"

"... my father worked for Shinra."

"Oh," I said. And: "Really a guitar?"


"Really a guitar?"


"Gawd, you were so lamesauce," I said, and I eventually cried myself to sleep because I was right, because he couldn't even say sorry but sometimes gentleness is worse.


I only managed a handful of hours. I'm not saying it was any kind of sixth sense, because I could have slept through Meteor, but I was a little awake anyway - first taking Marlene to pee, and then spending my time nursing my headache from crying too hard. My face was all sticky and swollen and red and I couldn't remember my dreams. I was only drowsing when I heard the crackle from the 'phone; and then I heard something else, which made my heart stop and sink somewhere down into my intestines.

He pushed the lid of the coffin off.

The trundle bed closed up on me and ate my foot as I stumbled over to him, skidding on the tiles; and I scrambled with the headset and flicked the speaker-switch, all groggy arms and legs and slept-in clothes. There wasn't any preamble as I heard him suck in the air of the tiny catacomb cave. "... Yuffie, please tell Tifa that I will be going dark."

"Vincent - "

"If I find a way to safely maintain contact, I will do so. I'm heading for Cosmo Canyon; there is too much open space to make an attempt on Rocket Town."

"Vinnie," I blathered, and - forever winning the gold medal for Most Pathetic, not knowing what to say, my tongue fuzzy and welted from too much candy corn and too much crying, somersaulting into Total Fail - "You'll never know what happened to Biff and Shirilla's secret baby now."

"I do not think," he said, (ignoring totally the plight of Biff and Shirilla's secret baby, but who cared) "that we should be things in cages. You made that... clear." There was a noise like him checking the safety on his gun, the tinny tinkle of bullets. His breath was all regular now, heartbeat to lungs, and after long weeks of the forty-second sigh it sounded to me like hyperventilation. "Yuffie, I'm going to turn off my cellphone now."

I wanted to say: I'm sorry I ever called you depressing because even if you are it's okay, it's okay to be depressing because being depressing is okay. I'm sorry I made fun of you wearing red and black all the time. I'm not sorry I made fun of your pointy witchypoo shoes. I'm sorry for giving you the dribble glass at the hotel in the Gold Saucer. I'm sorry I stole your materia. I'm sorry for prank calling your cellphone and asking for Seymour Butts thirty-six times. I'm sorry you never got to play guitar in a bar in the dark and become a total rockstar like you wanted.

What I said was: "Don't forget to use the bathroom."

(This is a really shitty last message.)

He didn't say "Goodbye, Yuffie," and I don't know whether I wanted him to or not. I don't think I could have handled /goodbye/; I don't think I handled not having it, either. I guess it was punishment. All my life I had been leaving other people, ever since I put on my shoes and took my first snazzy step out of Wutai for ever and ever, and then I fell into a million flyaway Kisaragi pieces when anybody had the balls to do it to me instead. All I got from Vincent was just one breath and him turning off the cellphone and the comm center making beeping noises at me, and all I could think of was that he was readying his gun, and opening up the door to the catacombs with his heart beating out a message that he was a Vincent Valentine all-you-can-eat Chaos buffet. With all the Heartless suddenly pricking up their antennae and crawling towards him and oozing down those spiral stairs; him straightening his arm and narrowing those red eyes, calmly taking aim in the dark -

When Tifa came in with her absolutely gross hot milk for Marlene and me, she found me with my head in my arms and making tiny noises like an abandoned dog. But she didn't make me drink the milk, which is the main thing. She just held me, held me and held me, swept her legs in behind me in the sagging office chair and held me in her lap like a little girl. She rocked me in her arms and rubbed my arms in a slow rhythm: pat pat, rub, pat pat, like a mother with a baby, until Marlene woke up and we all sat in the squeaking bed and held each other. Marlene took the rubber bands out of her hair and gave me her pigtails, chubby fingers threading through my hair. I didn't think then that I'd ever cried so hard.

"Let's pray," Tifa said suddenly, and we arranged ourselves on our knees by the trundle bed. Three pairs of white arms, Tifa's tiny wrists, Marlene's magic-marker elbows.

"Who to?" said Marlene doubtfully. (Before I could ask it. Da Chao gods, you have never filled me with Great Inspiration.)

"It doesn't matter who to," Tifa said. "It matters who for. Let's pray for Vincent."

(I think she thought you were listening. I wonder if you were.)

After a couple of helpless moments of clasped hands, I gave up. Marlene had her eyes squinted shut and her cheeks were puffed out bright pink, so if she got prayer points for exertion the Planet was gonna have to give her full marks. I don't think it made any of us feel better, but it gave me long enough to duck my head and take my breath and stop myself crying, give myself a little dignity before facing everything else. "Tiffers," I said. "Back in Midgar, what'd you used to pray for?"

She thought about this. I waited for something really solemn and profound and moving.

"Biggs' chocolate-dipped frozen bananas."

Stupid thing is, I didn't even pray for him. I just made hot, horrid little promises to myself that that I was going to get up and leave like he did, walk out into the dark and never come back, shoot my gun into the air with bullets that never came down.


What Tiff'd actually come in for, I learned later, was not to force calcium down my throat (that was just a bonus) but to tell me that Reeve had regained consciousness for some time that morning. He'd screwed up his brain somehow; he couldn't walk properly, as if he had floppy little rubber limbs, and it took twenty agonizing minutes for him to stubbornly feed himself cold cereal from a bowl. He wasn't in any position to do anything, which meant leadership of AVALANCHE probably fell to Barret Wallace again. (Apparently chain of command meant me leading anything only happened when everybody else was dead, and even then, only if Marlene said so.) Even slurring, twitching and flailing, Reeve was still on a better level than Cloud, who just sat on his stool wearing his t-shirt emblazoned with DON'T YOU LOVE PUPPIES! and stared morosely at the pipes. It wasn't even enough to think that life sucked any more: we were mouldering down there, stripping our skins off and dimming our lightbulbs until we weren't even /us/. We were dying, too, from no hope and no light and too much corned beef. I was sick of all those things, and it took me about ten minutes to get even sicker from no Vincent paying unwilling attention to me all hours of the day to keep me sane.

There were terrible smudges under Reeve's eyes, and he looked sunken and waxy like a dead thing. His beard looked even more like a poodle's armpit than ever, until Barret came and shaved it off so that Tifa could delicately wipe his chin better without having to deal with thirty million caught food particles in it. He looked about twenty-three after this treatment, gazing at everyone with accusing eyes for the unapologetic murder of his facial hair. Cid with stubble looked rakish. Reeve with stubble looked like a gawky clerk who yearned to ask out the most popular girl in Accounts Receivable, and was gonna buy a black leather jacket for the occasion in case the combination of both things made her agree to go to the milkshake bar with him.

"You can grow a big twirly mustache," I told him. (He looked damply unimpressed.) "Maybe you could build a robot, and the robot could be the mustache."

"Stop gettin' these guys sicker," said Barret, and did something so horrible with a bag and a tube attached to Reeve that years were taken off my life. To his credit, President Victim just looked pensive and pained and dignifiedly weary of it, as if bags and tubes had been in his horoscope the moment the Turks had left his side. "Damn if you ain't the biggest blabbermouth in the whole wide world."

I don't know how Barret bore it, because I could only bear about twenty minutes of flying the spoon into Cloud's munchy-munch airship-hangar at a time. Years of suffering had apparently made Tiff and him perfect for the job, but I still had my youthful gumption and desired better things in life. My first job on the agenda was taking a hairpin to the door that locked through to the main security room, the one that Reeve still held the key for, which was my hope of getting out of there: I just lost the hairpin. There was also the option of building a raft, but then the question of what I would do with a raft once it was finished, and whether I shouldn't just build my own cushion-fort coffin and wait gloomily for death. This is what things were like down there.

I also broke my promise of never going into the communications room again by going back in there pretty much that night. Calling Vincent's number got me nothing better than a recorded, "We're sorry, but this user is not taking calls!" which didn't even net me some free pizza. What kind of person doesn't put in their own personalised answering message? (Answer: Vincent Valentine.) I don't know why I called it, kept on calling it, persisted on calling it, persisted in setting up the chess board exactly how we had been playing it, but I did, only I got tired of myself after this fairly damn quickly so I went back to what I'd been sent in there for in the first place all those weeks ago.

My father didn't pick up. Neither did Red, though that might've been because he had no hands. But my hands got all clammy when I punched in Cid's number -

rrrng rrrng rrrng

- and it actually connected.

"Cid?" I shrieked, as somebody picked up, actually feeling a bit like my old self again - "Cid! Where the hell are you?! Do you have all your arms and legs and stuff? Why didn't you pick up when I called you like a million times before? Are you okay? Yeah, you're okay! Cid, I - "

"Ah," said a voice, faintly. "I thought you were the Captain."

My excitement sank, which was pretty unfair on her. I'm so sorry. "Shera? Shera, that you?"

It sounded like she was speaking from down the other side of a long, long tunnel, and in a kind of daze all the way. It sounded like it was so hard for her to talk, like every word was a kind of dreamy agony. "Maybe it was wrong to think... was it wrong? It's not as if I doubted... I wasn't brought up to doubt."

Okay, in my opinion Shera was always a little bit dim, but her plug wasn't even in the socket at this point. "Shera? Planet to Shera? Hello in there? This is Yuffie. You know me. I helped you take cigarette butts out of the sugar bowl. I once ate all the gelatin pudding in your fridge and Cid tried to make me be sick on the next-door neighbour's dog. You remember that. You remember me. Where's Cid, Shera? Where are you? Are you in Rocket Town?"

There was silence on the end, and for a moment I was afraid I'd lost her. Then, still faraway: "Yes. And I finished the launch. Could you tell him that, please?"

"Shera, I don't know where the hell Cid /is/."

More urgently, as if I hadn't said anything: "You have to tell him. The Captain needs to know. You have to tell him - you have to tell him... there's not enough fuel to do what we had originally planned, you see. You have to let him know. You have to let him know that the keys are in the flowerpot and that I always held him in the highest regard. I can do that. I don't feel so selfish now. My father always said: no loose ends to trip up on. If the only honour I can do him is going down with my ship..."

"Shera, stop it. Take a chill pill. This is so-oo not the time for you to be doing a Cloud Strife on me."

It was a whisper: "Cid, I have you lashed to the mast."

"Shera, you're scaring me, okay? Shera, where is he?"

"The keys are in the flowerpot," she repeated patiently, as if I was the one speaking fluent and satisfied Crazy Bitch, and hung up before I could do anything. I immediately set her on redial like six times but she never picked up again. This is one of the things in my life which I think is /absolutely and totally not my fault/.

"You sh-hould have kept her talking," Reeve said to me later, in his impatient slur, as I watched him spill Fort Condor Corn Thin fragments right down his front and had to brush them away off his chest. There was powdered corn dust caught in his spidery dark stubble. "You could have... confirmed... where she was."

"Are you kidding? Tifa doesn't let me push those buttons. Hell, Marlene doesn't let me push those buttons." I guffawed broadly, not really feeling the guffaw, and again wiped away Corn Thin shrapnel as he munched his way through the cracker. "I would've broken the computer. Hey, is that your wallet? Can I look at it?"

"If... you absolutely have to."

I opened his wallet and made hissing here is your gil! sounds, because I immediately regretted opening his wallet: inside it he had a little photo of him and Elena and Reno and Rude in there, and Reno was giving him the bunny-ears and had one leg popped up like Shirilla on the cover of her romance novel. Elena had her arms draped around Reeve and was giving him finger-glasses. I hurt all over again, like it was seeping over my scalp and fingertips, and he didn't look at me but just ate his Corn Thin. Also, Reno was totally more than passingly redheadedly attractive once you took everything that was Reno out of the equation and just left his appearance, but that made me hurt worse than ever. Reno was not hot in /any lifetime/. I filched Reeve's small change just to give him something else to think about and went back to watching him.

"Don't do that," he said irritably, and he tried so hard to eat his Corn Thin nicely that I almost wasn't entertained. "Strife looks at me... all damn day."

"Boy, you're grouchy," I said. "Probably because Barret knows it /every time you pee/. Okay, I'd be pretty pissed off if that happened to me, really. Also is it just me, or has he spent the longest time in the bathroom ever?"

"He does-sn't like the sound of the pipes," said Reeve, and swallowed, and pretty much gave up on eating anything else. I brushed him free of crumbs, and he just sighed at me. "Sits in there."

"He sits on the can listening to the pipes?"

"Are you looking to me for a full explanation?"


"I built walls, Yuffie," he said. "I built four walls... I built communities. I studied six years of architecture... wrote up reports on urban decay... defined modern arcology... got elected President... and now I get turned over for bedsores and my roommate is a man who sits on a toilet listen-ning to the pipes. I don't think about /why/. Give me the alarm clock."

I unplugged it from the wall, and I gave him the alarm clock. Reeve scrubbed one clumsy hand over the terrible dark bags of his eyes and pulled a screwdriver from I don't know where, I swear from underneath the blankets, and started painstakingly unscrewing the back of the alarm clock. "Scrapes," he explained to me, which totally mystified me, but I let him do it because it probably made him happy and fulfilled a deep and animal need inside of him to look at alarm clocks in the nudey.

"Gawd, do you think I should check on him? Maybe I shouldn't. He might be naked in his bathingsuit area." (Reeve had his tongue stuck out the corner of his mouth and was patently not listening.) "I can't hear him. Can you hear him? Usually with my keen ninja senses I can hear the loud thump of a cat's footfall. Do you like cats? I used to have about nineteen. I used them for my secret Wutaian ninja cat's footfall hearing training - "

He was obviously tuning me out, so I leant my chair back and read one of Tifa's cooking books that she had stolen from the shelves here. I had thumbed through the well-worn pages about a million times, and obviously so had Tifa, because she had penned in new ingredients in most of the recipe and crossed out a picture of strawberry jam with her neat little flowing script: does not work!/. I remembered how we had all sat around the campfire and ate cornbread that she'd cooked in a tin and mopped up the stew off our plates and I don't think I can ever remember being so happy. I was happy even if it was the end of the world: because we were all so fierce and convinced, even Cait who didn't care and Vincent who didn't smile, we had lost you and therefore we were immortal because nothing could hurt us any more. I said to Cid, /I miss her tonight, and he said I miss her every fuckin' night and he gave me the onions off his plate.

"I miss her tonight," I said aloud.

Reeve surprised me by not even having to think about whether or not it was you. He gave me a quick, odd look: "You do," he said, a little questioning, and I shouldn't have been surprised. Only then he threw me by saying, "So do I," and putting three screws in his grimy mouth. I think it was also his way of saying, I miss them, because really the Turks were most of what he had.

It was pretty much at that point that Barret came in to take over from my watchman shift; putting the plate of Corn Thins on the stony grey dresser, dark and warm and with a stupid bandanna wound around his head like he was a housebuilder. He cocked one eyebrow at Cloud's empty chair a little disbelievingly, staring at me like it was all my fault. "Still in the shitter?"

"The pipes are his mysterious mistress," I said.

"Scat," he said, swatting me kindly with his rolled-up magazine. "My turn. You go free now, Yuffie. Go - I dunno - play or sumthin'."

"Oh my Gawd, did you really just say that? What am I, twelve?"

I left, though, for Marlene and her colouring books: I never envied Barret those shifts. My dad used to say, hell is what you make of it, and Shake used to say, hell is other people, though Shake generally used to say this after he'd spend a little bit too much time with me now that I thought about it. When Cid had stood up from our hissing little campfire and looked all around at the Northern Crater he'd said, fuck, is this place hell or what! in the cheeriest voice you could possibly imagine, putting his cigarette out on the nearest Tonberry. All I know is that some nights I still wake up and think I'm in that place, with the stone walls smelling of piss and sad accountants, and in fact we're in the dark and silent Traverse Town and there's Leon on one side of me and you on the other and all we had for dinner was Cid's reheated casserole and I've never been so relieved.

The thing is, Cloud refused to come out of that bathroom for three days, ear pressed to the wall as Tifa longsufferingly handed him endless cups of tea, and all any of us thought about it was that the toilet wasn't any uglier than the rest of this place and now that I think about that we were so all ungodly stupid.


I'll remember that night, too, because it was the night Barret first kissed Tifa. That was something so unbearably intimate it was like I'd ripped open his stomach and tongued his intestines, or, ew that is a gross simile now that I think about it, or something - as humiliating and terrible and wonderful as watching somebody kiss somebody else ever could be, like kisses were something that the world had stopped thinking about, that didn't exist any more. I had stopped reading Biff and Shirilla, by the way, because I was heartsick and couldn't separate them any more from Reno and Rude and so I killed the Turks off all over again by never once more opening up the cover. Kisses were stone cold dead and the thought that anyone could have them had kind of seeped out of my brain, like my belief in the Tooth Fairy. The lights were dimmed along the corridors and I was walking back to my room with the rubber floormats still making the cold seep up through my socks.

I'm going to use the word eavesdrop/. Isn't that just so classy? It sounds like an accident, all /drop, like something you do by tripping over people through no fault of your own. I did not /snoop/. Snoop sounds totally retarded, by the way - and I stopped dead at the corner when I heard her crying, and it was happening too fast because if it had happened slower it would've freely been a /snoop/.

"C'mon, darlin'," - and she had her back to me as I lurked at the corner, torn between running to her and staying, and was I ever that much of a kid? I could tell she had her fist in her mouth, trying to stop it all, and Barret was using the voice he only ever used on Marlene for skinned knees. I can tell you about dismembered hobos but them kissing is so /hard/. What's with that? "C'mon, baby-girl, Teef - "

" - don't know how you do it - "

"Baby, you've been doin' it so much more fuckin' longer than me, girl. I dunno what you're goddamn runnin' on."

"Guilt," she said, and she burst into fresh sobs.

"Don't you say that shit, honey, you know it ain't true, you tell him a coupla bullshit little lies, ain't spit in the course of - of everythin'."

"I hit him! I hit him! And - and all he did, all he - he just let me pry open his mouth, check that I hadn't busted a tooth - "

"Hell, my opinion is that boy jes' isn't hit enough," he said, and I could see her wiping her face with her own shirtfront, pulling up the edge of her thin cotton t-shirt and dabbing at her as if she was so delicate she might break if he pushed too hard. "'Specially by you."

"He's like a dog, or - not even a dog, he's like a rock/. Just the way he /looks and, and the way he looks at you! You and he used to be so - " More floods. "He looks right through you and, and remember how you saved his ass at Gongaga, a-and - he grinned and - "

"I ain't ashamed to say it," Barret said, with finality. "I love that stupid motherfucker. Nearly 'bout as much as you do, considerin' - "

She was really crying now. She couldn't stop; you could tell by her breathing, her half-choked gasps of it. "I thought - I thought if I killed him it'd be better, if I drowned him in that stupid toilet, it'd be better for all of us - "

"Teef - "

" - I'm so sorry, I can't stop crying, I - I - I - Barret, I would've, if you hadn't come to Kalm. I thought about just putting the pillow over his face when he didn't move, a-and I had planned on..."

" - Tifa, goddamnit - "

"... I'd go and drink all the rat poison... isn't that a stupid way to die? For me? It was like I was five steps back from - from when you and me started out, you and me and Jessie then Biggs and Wedge and - I can't live without him and I can't die without him. I'm - it's like he's stuck at my hip and it's like, it's like we're both dead some days... And all you ever do is shore me up, both of us, carrying me along. I'm so stupid, I'm so stupid, I'm so stupid, I'm so /sorry/..."

He kissed her then, good arm locked like a crossbar around her shoulders, sort of furious and panic-stricken and final. He pulled her into him and kissed her until she sort of went all limp, and then she un-limped herself, wet noodle to dry noodle - arms wrapping around his neck, pulling off the bandanna he was wearing on his short dark hair, and they /kissed/. She was ghost-white next to him, like skim milk, him all cinnamon-blacks and his fingers in her dark hair. And then they were suddenly kissing like they were angry at each other, like they were /furious/, and then suddenly gentle again, and she pulled her mouth away and set it at the hollow of his throat. Her fingers trailed over the badass fireball tattoo at his shoulder and she said something I couldn't hear: and Barret said, "Don't pay it no mind," and he kissed both her eyebrows.

They stared at each other: and then they started laughing/, laughing far too hard, holding each other and rocking a little and hooting in what I saw as the most unromantic thing in the universe. She said, "You made my toes curl!" and then they just laughed harder until they were nearly doubled over and still holding hands, a beautiful picture of retards in love, or something. Then they looked at each other again and just the way they /did that - they were so hopeful, so hesitant, like they were planning some heist from a candy shop and didn't know if they could pull it off - and all I wanted was someone to look at me like that, as if what I was consisted of all of their hope and light and relief.

I know they would've caught me, once they stopped staring goofily into each other's facial hair (and I guess Barret's beard was pretty rakish, now that I think about it) so I started to tiptoe the other way down the corridor - not to my room, because I would have had to run their gauntlet of mushy expressions, but down into the darkness the other way. I always seem to be getting myself into shit. I don't know how.

Because it meant that I was the first to hear it - the sound - the loud, splintering crash of porcelain, of wood tearing up, of the Buster Sword slashing over and over as Reeve yelled something indistinct and I tore down the corridor and nearly fell through the door. It was the bathroom: and Cloud moved through out of the little alcove himself all covered in little cuts from the little ceramic shrapnel. Something black and red and greasy fell off his sword and careened through the air to land on Reeve's bed; and Cloud brought the sword down again just as Reeve pulled his legs away, tearing thickly through the mattress, until it was dead. And it was a Heartless.

"Strife!" Reeve said, but Cloud was back in the bathroom again, tearing up what was left of everything - gushing water seeping into the carpet as he hacked the room to pieces, bringing down the baseboard and cutting into the concrete, just over and over and over like he couldn't stop. The thing on Reeve's shredded blankets expired with a greasy /pop!/, just like I'd seen back in Kalm, and Cloud dropped the sword and fell to his knees like he could pull up the pipes by himself with his bare hands and I threw myself onto his back and pounded on his shoulders.

"Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!"

He flung himself back and tried to rub me into the wall like an annoyed donkey, both of us falling back and stumbling out into the bedroom again and knocking down Reeve's old IV - and it was the first time I'd seen a Heartless pull itself out of /nothing/, got the idea of how they moved around, when a Large Body suddenly appeared in the little space. The walls creaked with its huge arms and fat, oversized self, and it stood and blinked at us with large golden eyes as it stood in the streams of water and looked confused. It punched through one wall until the concrete crumbled away, so that it had room; then it punched the other wall, so that it had more room, and slowly squeezed itself out through the door. It; me; Cloud; Reeve; no Conformer and the Buster Sword somewhere at Cloud's feet. Reeve not capable of doing anything, unless it needed its watch fixed. One versus three.

I emptied out my pockets and flung everything at it that I could: three shuriken, which bounced off it with a curiously pleasing blung! noise. One busted pen, which hit it in the eye and made it blink, and the butter-knife from an old meal of Cloud's which blunged off its arm and made it mad. It had kind of a cute hat like the top of a teapot and a big old purple vest with ties that strained across its gargantuan belly, and it was loitering towards me with /intent/.

And the only thing I had in my shoe was a health-to-magic materia which now that I think about it is pretty much the most useless fucking materia ever/, especially when you've got nothing to use it with, and /this is why I stole your materia in the first place.

Cloud had pulled up the fallen IV and was holding it by the base as the empty bag swayed temptingly in front of the Large Body; it followed the bag with its eyes. Then, totally out of nowhere, the Large Body swung its arms up back and forth and and pulled itself off the air and jumped - the shockwave sent most of everything crashing off the walls and to the floor, including a feeble Reeve, me landing squarely on my ass and Cloud crashing face-forward. And then Reeve had a fucking gun - where the hell had Reeve gotten a gun? - and the bullets sank partway into the big bubble of jelly-fat sitting squarely on the Large Body's middle, and then they blunged out again, and this pissed it the hell off and it stumbled over to Reeve.

I pulled up all the old hypodermic needles out of the tin and grasped two by the base of the point, because Reeve was going to die. I mean, the Large Body could have just fallen on him and squashed his skull flat like I'd see it do to other things later, but for some reason it plucked up our Dear President by the leg and held him in midair like he was a rag doll. I ran, jumped, wrapped my legs around the small bobble head and drove the hollow needles into the flat back until they punctured and splintered and broke. The Large Body flung Reeve back as I swung one foot around and hammered in the needles with the sole of my shoe - Reeve and the bed both collapsed with a horrible sickening crack and the bed died, no saving the bed - and the needles must have just felt like bee stings but it was trying to pat its oversized arms back, knock me off, howled as I got one of the points clear down without it snapping off in the skin. And then there behind me was Cloud like an avenging angel - Buster Sword dripping water - and he leapt and sliced down coolly from shoulder to the base of the spine to cleave the thing open.

Something hot and fatty and red burst out from that terrible gash, covering Cloud and me in jellied guts as it sprayed upwards - the Large Body stumbled forward and I made a mad grasp for the light fixture to hold on tight as it rolled forward into the wall. Then there was that sickening pop! again, and the red insides curled up like bacon on a hot pan and were black and disappeared with little curls of acrid steam. I was still hanging off the light. My hands were clenched shut and I was shaking, and I couldn't let go.

"God," said Reeve, quite quietly - and his leg was broken, it was at a horrible angle and the gun was still in his hand. I only realised then how little he'd trusted Cloud, with a pistol all hidden under his pillow. "God, it's all over."

"It came through the pipes," said Cloud. "The way is clear. He breached the lock."

"It's really all over," Reeve repeated in a daze, and he passed out with dignity and grace.

Cloud Strife looked at me - his blonde hair damped down with water and flattened in ridiculous places where usually it took up in ridiculous places, unruffled, and for a moment I didn't know him. I didn't know his face. It was some blue-eyed stranger who stood in front of me with his ratty-ass sweatpants and his mint-green Boys Are Lame! t-shirt and the Buster Sword resting easily on his shoulder.

"There's no more light to hide in," he said.

"I used to want to take off your pants," I said, and I started to shake all over, and I couldn't pry my fingers straight. Reeve was in the corner and he had a broken leg, and I was hanging off a wire in the ceiling and I couldn't get down. "I used to want to take off your pants and do things that were absolutely /rude/."

Once upon a time he would have grabbed my legs and helped me down and seen to Reeve, like he had eight legs and a job to do, but he just tapped his sword a little and stared past me into the darkness of the doorway. "She was gone a while ago... there's not enough God to go around."

"At this point, not even Aerith would screw you," I said, and his shoulder brushed my knee as he walked out - I couldn't hurt him, nothing could hurt him, he was gone and he didn't even care that the world was all crashing down. I could have broken his neck and he wouldn't have felt it - sandpapered his skin and he wouldn't have blinked.

We were so stupid. Nothing lasts forever, not even if you suffer for it.


Tifa put Reeve's leg in a splint and dosed him up so high that he kept calling me Marlene - found him some crutches as I got the backpacks, very quietly, as though it was early in the morning and nobody could hear. I stole into the kitchen and got all the food that would keep for us, just the canned stuff and some of the flour and things, and left a slightly gabbling message on Vincent's answerphone that he would probably never get. Before I left the comm room forever, I bent my head and for some stupid retarded lame-ass reason I kissed the communications microphone - the microphone - for long, long seconds, long enough to last forever, until my mouth was red from the perforation. Goodbye, microphone, my only passionate love.

I strapped Conformer to my back and vowed never to take it off again, re-slotted the Materia and filled my pockets with it so that I clinked gently as I walked. We all waited in front of the main security room - Cloud standing there like a sentinel - until Barret took the key out of Reeve's wallet and he hesitated. He popped Marlene over on his other shoulder, who was quiet as a little mouse, and he put the key to the lock but stopped.

"I dunno - " he started, but then Cloud said, "Yes."

"What the hell will we do?" Tifa, her face a monkey-mask of careful blankness. "Where will we go? What's our plan?"

"Twenty-seven," Reeve said indistinctly.

"Twenty-seven whats?"

"Don't worry him, Yuffie. I gave him stuff that could knock out a bear." Leaving Reeve behind had never been an option: and it was like we were leaving everyone else to die, with nary a note to the accountants. "He might just - "

"Twenty-seven," Reeve said again, with that slightly thick slur. "I can hear every word you say, Tifa Lockhart. No. 27."

Barret unlocked the first security door, leading to the corridor and the long, long staircases up: the first unsealing. We all dully trooped through into that dim darkness - up the flights that would go to the elevator, up the elevator to the first swingback seal door, through all of those and into daylight. They were all useless, because of the stupid /pipes/. "Hell's that," he said, but he didn't sound like himself.

"The new rocket. Junon's rocket. Cid's rocket. Space."

That pretty much stopped us all so short that we bumped into each other, crowding that little steel landing as Barret tossed the keys to the bunker back into the hallway and closed the door behind us. It locked itself. I never went back in there as long as I lived, and there was no ceremony about leaving - we just /left/. Left left left. We'd really left as soon as the Heartless had come up Cloud's stupid toilet, and at that point my heart was numb and vinegary with hate and hopelessness. I didn't care that we were leaving. I just - we left.

Tifa pulled Reeve's spindly body up the stairs, him a cacophony of crutches on the metal, and there was the deep sort of silence you get when everybody is thinking /really really hard/. "Are you saying that you had Cid, our Cid, working on another rocket?"

"Exploration," he said. "The new frontier. Old parts. Nearly finished. Flower of my administration..."

I hopped up the first three stairs to sandwich Reeve in-between Tifa and me, rattling like a pinball machine as I stared at him. He looked relaxed and even happy and was pretty much the only one, giving me a severe longing for lots and lots of drugs. "We have a spaceship? Are you saying - do you mean we can leave? Are you kidding? Where would we go, anyway? There's nowhere to go."

"I ain't runnin' away," Barret said bleakly.

There was a long pause, and then Tifa said: "The Ancients colonised planets."

"Yeah, uh, Kisaragi Counterpoint. Hello! So did Jenova."

Reeve's voice was almost dreamy: "The Planet was dying before we were even born."

There were only the tiniest of pilot lights as we silently took the elevator up, as we opened into the huge gaping driveways with the rubber tracks of the buggy still burnt on them - where Reno had amused himself by fishtailing from doorway to doorway, where we had to open up the huge doors manually as they shuddered to life and groaned all the way down as we pushed on. Eight barriers. Marlene coughed and it sounded like a rifle crack in that huge dusty darkness, no Heartless but more than enough panic, our slow pilgrimage until we reached the last gate. We didn't open the huge boom doors: there was a sealed doorway that Tifa carefully lead Reeve's hand to, that Reeve entered code after code into until it said ACCEPTED! and Cloud pushed his way through. We all crept out as though expecting something to jump out at us in jubilant chomp-chomp Heartless expectation.

The first thing I knew was that it was dark, and I didn't realise that it was wrong until I remembered that it was about midday - it was /dark/. It was darker than black, shimmering at the corners of the sky into some eerie sort of orange band of nothingness - darker than dark, and everything was different. The trees were black, leafless structures with strange lights, the ground heaving up soap-bubble shimmers and all the grass gone. There was no moon. There were no stars. There was just that bleak blackness going on forever, over awkward surfaces and plains that we had never seen or known. The earth was cracked open in some parts, filled with pitch-black night like heavy tar, the soil all gone in place of hard-packed /something/. Barret put his big brown hand over Marlene's mouth so that nothing would break that hungry silence, not even her.

A hot wind scattered my hair into my face, so that I tucked it behind my ears and put my headband down to stop all the whippy strands from biting my cheeks. We all stared. Even Cloud did, though Cloud looked at it as though he'd always expected it and was swallowing it whole with his eyes to know it better.

Somewhere out there was even a rocket. Somewhere out there there was Vincent, 'cause I still refused to believe otherwise, Vincent Valentine, cloak pulled over his thin mouth and pressed up into the shadows: red velvet on the black bare land. Somewhere out there was Red and Cid and my father. Somewhere out there were dead empty cities.

But I knew then that you weren't, like Cloud the Clod said - that you were gone, somehow, that you'd been there before but that you'd left us behind. I'm so sorry. I stopped loving you.
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