Evolution of Innocence Chapter 17

By Janet Monstwillo

Yuffie looked at her new shiny HP-Plus materia and sighed happily. (It's just so pinky-purple and pretty.) Spying Reeve sitting under a nearby tree, she trotted over to him. "Hi," she said nervously. (He's so cute...)

"Hi Yuffie," he replied politely.

"Where's the furball?"

He smiled at her reference to Red XIII. "Ah, he's over a little ways giving the villagers the third degree. You know, such is the way of the Red."

"Oh yeah." She nodded adamantly. "So...can I ask you a question?"

Reeve looked at her warily. "I suppose."

"Well..." She fidgeted a little. "...I was kinda wondering how you ended up at the convention. We didn't have time to call you."

"I heard about it through some members of the company. As president, I was rather interested in making sure that all the bad press was going towards the former executives of Shinra and not those of us involved with the new incarnation of it."

"Okay." A slight frowned crossed her face.

"What is it, Yuffie?"

"How'd you save Tifa?"

His eyes widened a bit and he blushed a little. "I never really got to meet with you guys in person, so I saw her...and I just knew I had to go talk to her. But I saw her leaving out the door, so I went out another exit to try to run around the side of the building and catch her."

"So you're into her." A little bit of jealousy crept into the ninja's voice.

"Only so much as I'd be interested in any of Avalanche. It was kind of weird for me...being there while not there at all. I still feel like an outsider, even though Red seems to like me."

"That's really weird, Red doesn't like anybody." She paused. "Naw, actually he just doesn't like me. No one did really, except for Aeris."

"Aww." (Poor kid.) "I always kinda liked you."

"Really?" Yuffie's eyes lit up and her face brightened.

The effect on her appearance was amazing, for Reeve could see that she was actually quite pretty. (It's too bad that she pouts and whines all the time, or the men in the convention would have had one more eligible woman to add to their debate of "best chick in Avalanche.") "You're spunky. I could've done without the materia snatching, though."

"I can't help that. My father trained me to be a thief. Even though materia is rare in Wutai, he gave me a lot of it. Of course, he gave me my first Steal materia, and I mastered it before I was twelve," she said proudly. "It's just too bad they aren't worth much."

"They aren't?"

"Of course not!" Yuffie giggled. "Don't you know anything about materia?"

"Not really. All I have with me now is a Sense, my level two Fire, a Cure, and an All."

She glanced down at the shiny orb in her hands. "Only four materia..." she murmured in a tiny voice. "...wow." (He could really use this one I just bought to his advantage. Should I recommend the materia shop to him? Nah...they're pretty expensive. I just bought this 'cause I felt sorry for the shopkeeper. Maybe I should sell it to him for the best price going...)

Reeve had just smiled at her surprise and gazed into the Mako pool. Even after working all his years in Shinra, this was the first time he had ever seen so much of the stuff in person. (It's beautiful, yet can be so deadly. Especially if Kayley has gotten into it.)

Yuffie looked up, her decision made. "Would you like this?" she asked softly.

He looked down at her hand, his eyes widening in amazement. "A materia, Yuffie? Are you feeling okay?"

"I don't really need it anyway, and you could probably use some strength-boosting, Mr. Corporate Executive!" She tossed it down. "Gawd, why does everyone think that I'm selfish, anyway?" She turned to storm off, but her dramatic exit was interrupted by a loud roar and a large shadow passing overhead.

"What was that?"

Her eyes widened. "It can't be."

Another roar reverberated through the air, and Red XIII came running up to the pair under the tree. "The Crater party obviously didn't make it in time."

"What is that thing flying around?!" demanded Reeve.

Yuffie whimpered as another roar resounded. "The dang thing didn't even give me a decent weapon when I stole from it."

Red XIII winced as the shadow circled above once more. "We have to do something about it. We can't leave this town to be completely obliterated."

"But everyone's materia is all spread out! The best summoner I have is Leviathan!"

Reeve put his hands on his hips. "What is that white monster?"

"You want that thing to kill all these people?"

"Reeve is inexperienced and we have sucky equipment!"

A huge white monster landed in front of them and growled menacingly.

"That's the Diamond Weapon!" yelled Reeve.

"Well duh." Yuffie grabbed the HP-Plus materia and shoved it his armlet. "I hope we can handle this."

Red XIII turned from this exchange in disgust and prepared to cast Haste on the entire group. (First I'm stuck with Yuffie, now we have to battle something we thought dead. Can this day get any better?)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"I don't really trust that Zack any farther than I can throw 'em," stated Barret.

"I'm sure you could throw him pretty far," replied Tifa, grinning at Vincent.

The conversation wasn't eliciting any sort of response from the taciturn man. He had withdrawn himself a bit from the pair; he needed to think. But as much as he tried to lose himself in thought, he couldn't help but notice the confused expression on Tifa's face whenever he failed to respond to things she said.

(I never was a talkative man. Have I been changing? I told myself before that I was talking more in order to help Tifa...discuss things, get her to see things in another light. Take away her pain. But what importance should her pain be to me? Cloud's longing for Aeris barely causes a twinge in me. Barret's regret for his hometown...Yuffie's frustration for losing our trust and still not helping her father... It all matters little in the scheme of things, and thus, means little to me.)

She continued to talk to Barret, but Vincent did not hear. He was lost in the timid glances her burgundy eyes were sending in his direction.

(Her pain seems to matter little in the grand design...so why do I ache whenever a tear falls from those eyes?) He broke the glance and clenched a fist, restraining himself. (I enjoyed getting her to reveal things to me, seeing if my guesses were correct. The more I hear though, the more I want to stop any pain she has. What does that mean? It cannot be love...someone like me doesn't deserve the feeling to come twice.)

"...of course they'll be all right defeating Kayley! And then Cloud will come back and we'll see them all and have a party. Maybe storm that convention, if it's still being held."

"Cloud, huh?" asked the burly man. "After his carrying on with th' Aeris business, you still want his spikey ass?"

"Huh? What are you talking about?" Tifa stared at him.

"It's pretty obvious that you's hung up on 'em. Don't deny it."

She stepped away from him. "He's not interested in me. So that's as far as this discussion should go. Dammit anyway, where is Cid and the Airship?"

Startled out of his reverie, Vincent eyed her. "They're not done. They would have called otherwise."

Her eyes blazed at him. "I know that." Looking back and forth between the two men, she sighed in frustration. "You two are impossible!" With that, she stormed off towards Nibelheim.

"Teef, wait!" Barret made a move to go after her, but Vincent held him back with a hand.

"Cloud is a touchy subject with her. You shouldn't have brought it up."

"Sorry. I just thought it would be easier to ask her what she thinks about him than whatever the hell she thinks about you."

"Me?" He raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah. You've been all rilin' her up or some shit like that, don't deny it. Makin' her pain worser for whatever reason. Guess you're some sadistic bastard that gets off on that?"

Vincent grabbed the larger man by the collar. "Don't you ever suggest that I would cause her pain." Pushing him away, he turned down the trail. "You stay here. I'm going to go make sure she doesn't go too far."

Barret shrugged. "If she runs off farther to get away from you, I wouldn't be surprised."

(Neither would I) he thought bitterly.

Fairly sure that she had put some distance between herself and the others, Tifa sat down on a large rock, wrapping her arms around herself. (Could everyone tell about the fiasco with Cloud?) She sniffled. (They must all know how weak I am...and are laughing behind my back. Vincent probably talked to me to add to his penances or something.) "Who would ever want to talk to me?" she murmured to herself.

A twig snapped, and she looked up...and up. Into the reddish eyes of Vincent. He stood there silently, appraising the situation.

"What do you want?"

"I apologize if I said something that was disagreeable to you."

"They all know, don't they?"

He studied her pleading eyes. "Know what?"

"I've obviously shown them all that I was chasing after Cloud when he didn't want me."

"I doubt it. Barret's a close friend though...maybe he even mentioned something to Cloud once and it was he who spilled the beans...but I don't think you should let anything he asks you upset you so."

"Well I don't care what Cloud does anymore, so you can tell them all that."

"Even Cloud?"

Tifa sighed. "I can tell him myself."

"You always were a little too nice for him anyway." The suspicion in her eyes made him immediately regret his sentence.

"Oh yeah? You think that? When you knew that I 'didn't really love him'? And now I'm too nice for Mr. Cloud. Well who would you suggest for me?"

(She's daring me to answer her.) He debated his options. (I don't think there's a way to escape a question like this without hurting her.) He felt the ache inside again. (Tell her the truth.) An inner voice seemed to be speaking to him. (What is the truth? I have no other to suggest for her. And if there is no other, that leaves--) His eyes widened in surprise as he came to a realization.

Turning away from him to escape the wind, Tifa hugged herself tighter as a chill passed through her body. (Is the chill from the cold...or from being so...alone in the world? That one night... Cloud told us to find what we were fighting for...and I had nothing, nothing. I spent one night close to him. I thought I was fighting for him after that. With him gone from my life, that leaves no other.) Goosebumps appeared on her bare skin while she tried to hold back tears. (I'm alone in the cold.)

(It doesn't matter. I cannot chose myself. I don't deserve her...not even to share a rock with her.)

A shiver. Tifa felt herself trembling. (I can't cry. Not even if I'm alone and lonely and my confidante is a man of stone...why doesn't he see how much I've trusted him...) She closed her eyes. (Not only that, I've been depending on him. Don't I need him?)

Vincent turned to her. He was going to tell her that he couldn't chose a match for her, that it was her own decision, and... (She's shaking and close to tears.) Nothing else registered in his mind. He whisked off his cape, enclosing her small frame within it. Perching next to her, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "It's getting rather cold out here."

She nodded and opened her mouth, but nothing came out.

"What?" he asked cautiously.

"I was thinking. Maybe I'm not supposed to find anyone...and if..." Her eyes were wide and pleading. "I need someone to be there for me...I need a friend, a real friend. Will you be there for me, Vincent? I know it's not something that a person should ask about, but--"

"Of course."

A small smile brushed her lips and she unconsciously cuddled closer under his arm.

He could smell her hair; it was intoxicating, but he knew what his lot was going to be. (I don't deserve her. I can keep her as happy as I'm able to, though. It's better this way.)

The wind whistled up through the mountain pass, gusting in short bursts, drifting snow and creating blinding swirls of white in the air. It was tumultuous and peaceful at the same time.

The odd winter tranquility was interrupted by the roar of a monster and the sound of cursing mixed with gunfire. Tifa and Vincent glanced at each other, then ran as fast as they could back up the mountain.


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