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Reno sprawled himself on the chair, ignoring Tseng's disapproving glare as he settled comfortably in the seat.  "Whaddya want, Boss?" he asked as he bit back a yawn.  

Thirty minutes left on the clock.

Rufus tossed a file on the desk after a few moments of contemplation and that didn’t sit well with Reno. Rufus never had second thoughts. "You need to pack up tonight.  I'm sending you on a mission. You leave in the morning."

Reno frowned, a bad feeling forming in his gut as he opened up the file, and then closed it promptly after seeing a photo of her , sliding it back across the desk. "No. Forget it."

Rufus sighed as he massaged his temple. "It's not a choice."

"I won't do it.  Get Tseng or Rude.  Hell, get 'Lena to do it," Reno scoffed, "I ain't touchin’ this mission."

"You were specifically requested by Lord Godo himself.  It's for the good of Shinra-Wutai relations, and believe me, had you not been requested, you would have been my last choice," Rufus insisted.

"Is it an option to quit?" Reno scowled at his boss.

Rufus smirked, "You could try, but then I'd have to send one of them to kill you."  Rufus was bluffing and Reno knew it.

Nevertheless, Reno swiped the file off the desk. "This is such a fuckin' bad idea."

The moment his helicopter touched down in Wutai, he saw her figure running towards him, the sleeves of her dress flying wildly behind her.  Her eyes shone bright with mirth, her mouth pulled in her typical impish grin and her lengthy dark tresses soared behind her and he felt his heart twinge painfully in his chest.

“Heya Turkey!” she greeted in her usual boisterous manner, stopping just two steps short from him.  She peered into the helicopter, and looked surprised when she didn't see anyone else.  “Where’s Rude and ‘Lena?”

“I’m here for work, brat,” he retorted with a scoff, grabbing his duffle bag and he made sure to keep his other hand in his pocket.

Yuffie’s interest was piqued. “Oooh.  Anything exciting?” she asked as she followed with a bounce, her hands holding up her dress as she huffed along.

“I need to see your old man,” he responded.

“Boooooooooooring,” she complained, pouting.  “Thought you guys came to visit since it’s been a while.  How long has it been?”

Reno didn’t need to count, because he knew how many days exactly he’s been away, but he was not about to let her know he kept track.  “A year, give or take a few weeks,” he said instead.

“Oh,” she uttered in surprise before a small frown marred her face. “Right.”

They walked in a comfortable silence and he noticed, to his surprise, that the closer they approached the Pagoda, the meeker she became, until finally, she was almost a shell of herself.  He wondered if she had somehow turned herself into the Empress that she was to become, but he felt unsettled by the way she held herself.

Reno sat cross-legged in front of Lord Godo and as he looked over at the Princess, he noticed that she was, much to his astonishment, kneeling and sipping tea quietly.

He blinked and turned his attention back to Godo, “I was told you need my help?”

Lord Godo nodded, “As you know, Yuffie can be quite the handful.  She is known to disappear for days on end, and that will just not do.  You are notorious for being able to keep up with her, and I need you to make sure that she returns home by sunset, every night, without fail.  Where she is the remainder of the day doesn’t concern me.”

Reno grimaced, “You want me to watch her, and bring her home.  That’s it?”  He glanced at Yuffie and noticed the way her hands tightened around the teacup, but otherwise, remained calm, serene, immovable.

“...You will find it much harder than anticipated.  I have exhausted all possible options.  I only asked Rufus Shinra for your help as a last resort,” Godo sighed.

“And how long will this assignment be?” he asked because as soon as he returned back to Edge, Rufus Shinra was going to die.  Painfully.

“As long as necessary,” Lord Godo only responded before dismissing them.

The sun was setting, and it never failed to amaze Reno how beautiful Wutai is.  He had never once blamed her for choosing her country, but often, he wondered how things could have been.  His life had become dull and meaningless without the spirited and exuberant tempest.

“Where the hell do you go on the days you disappear?” Reno asked as they left the Pagoda, his eyes avoiding looking at her for too long.  Watching her made him regret, and he had no time for regrets.

She shrugged as she answered vaguely, “Here and there.”

“Let’s get you home then,” Reno muttered, “I can’t believe your old man dragged me all the way from Edge to babysit you.”

Yuffie huffed, “Well, I didn’t think he’d have the balls to do it either.  I mean, I’m not even gone every day .”

“Yeah, well, let’s make Reno’s life easier and not run away.  I’ll come pick you up in the mornin’ tomorrow.”  He whipped out his cigarette, making sure to dodge Yuffie’s swipe before lighting up the smoke.  “Stop tryin’ to toss out my cigs,” he grunted out with a scowl.

She rolled her eyes. “It’s gonna kill you, ya know..”

“Don’t care.  Stop touchin’ ‘em,” he muttered as he slapped her hand away.  She had a nasty habit of throwing out his boxes of smokes and he was tired of it.  He needed the nicotine, now more than ever.

Reno noticed with intrigue that her steps slowed as they approached her home. 

“I’ll see you tomorrow then?” she asked, her voice quieter than he had ever heard.

He nodded. “Sure thing, brat.”  He felt that same uneasiness from earlier on at the Pagoda.  It was so unusual for her to be so mute and demure.

She unlocked the door, and he could swear her hands were shaking. “Good night, Reno.  It was nice seeing you again.”

Before he could say anything else, she had walked through the entrance and closed the door without looking back.

He ran his hands through his hair.  He needed a drink.

It was a busy night at Turtle’s Paradise.  The only seat that was still available was at the darkest corner of the bar and that worked well enough for Reno.  He wasn’t interested in socializing and he wasn’t interested in bringing anyone back to his room.

He swished the whiskey in his glass around and he wondered, not for the first time, why he was asked to babysit the ninja brat.  He missed the dingy bars in Edge, he missed his bed and he missed Rude.  Worst of all, it seemed like this assignment didn’t have an end date.

What the hell did ‘as long as necessary’ mean?  As long as Yuffie learned not to run away?  Because that would mean he would be stuck in Wutai until he died...or until he killed her.

And as much as he wanted to kill her and return to Edge, he wasn’t sure he would still have a job after that.  As a matter of fact, he was sure that he would be murdered by a group of rabid heroes.

He finished his glass and motioned to the barkeep for another.

It was still early and he was bored.  Maybe he would look for some company.  There were two women sitting behind him who were attractive enough, and if he played his cards just right, perhaps he could entertain both.  They were whispering between themselves, and while he normally would not be interested in gossip, his ear picked up a familiar name…

You did not !

I did, too!  Lord Isao was such a sweet lover.  His wife must be so terrible in bed.

I hear they don’t sleep together.

Well that makes sense.  She looks like such a boy, I wouldn’t want to sleep with her either if I was a man.

So are you seeing him again?

I hope so...but it’s a secret!  So don’t tell anyone.

His hands gripped the empty glass so hard he had to remind himself not to break it.  He slapped down a bunch of gil, enough to cover his second drink, before he stood up and left.

If he stayed any longer, he might have broken both their necks.

He arrived outside her house before the sun rose.  He knew Yuffie was an early bird and tended to leave as soon as the sun came out.  The only question was, where would she go today?  What mind-numbingly boring meetings would he have to sit through with her?

Her door creaked open quietly and when she caught sight of him, she both scowled and smiled at the same time.  She looked like she hadn't slept a wink.  Her attire was croaked and she walked with a slight limp.

He fell into step beside her, making sure both his hands are in his pockets.“You trip on your own toes or somethin’?”

She glowered at him, her cheeks flushing slightly before she responded, “Shut up.  I stubbed my toe on the door, if you must know.”

He chuckled. “Of course you did, you blunderin’ ninja.  Where to today, Princess?”

She bit her lip, nervously.  “You don’t report to Lord Godo where I go, right?”

“Not part of my job.  I just make sure you get home at night,” Reno responded, “I’m not doin’ any more than I’m told.”

“There’s a cave in the mountains near the Da-Chao Statue,” she said, “I go there every morning and I stay during the days I’m not expected to fulfill any duties.”  

Reno nodded. “I know where.”  It was close to where they had met so many years ago—it felt like a lifetime away.

The conversation today felt more normal, with Yuffie regaling Reno with stories of how boring being a royalty was and Reno telling Yuffie about the progress of both Shinra and the WRO.  As they approached the cave, however, Yuffie, once again, quieted down.

She almost seemed embarrassed as they stood outside the cave entrance. “Uh...You can stay here.  I’ll be out in a few hours.”

“Sorry, Princess.  No can do.  Knowing you, you’ll probably sneak off.”

Yuffie rolled her eyes, but seemed to understand that she was putting him in a difficult position. “How ‘bout this?  You come in and take a look, see if I can escape from there, and if I can’t, you leave me alone for a few hours.”

Reno nodded in agreement.  Whatever he had expected, it wasn't this. As Yuffie lit the candles around the cave, he noticed that it was small, cozy even, and at the very back of the cave was a bedroll and a small chest.  It would be impossible for her to escape.

"Take all the time you need to check for exits," she said wryly, "I'll wait."

"I'll wait outside," he murmured.  Something about the cave made him feel uneasy.  Everything about the mission so far made him ill at ease.

"Thanks," she whispered thankfully.

He stood outside the cave, leaning against the wall, and for the first time in a long time, he felt like he was working for the old Shinra company again. It had been a while since he had had to stand around and just...wait.

There were so many questions he wanted to ask her, so many things he didn't understand. He noticed that on the walk over to the cave, not once did she mention anything about her personal life.  She had simply talked about her duties, the boredom and restrictions she faced, the lack of any entertainment.

…What the hell did she do in a cave for hours on end every morning?  But it wasn’t his business.  He was just a babysitter.  This was just a job.

She didn't return for three hours, and when she did, she looked much more refreshed than this morning. She had even fixed her attire so that it looked less crooked.

"So Turkey, whaddya wanna do?  I've got no plans until you send me home tonight."  She seemed almost high on energy, bouncing on her toes, the limp she had suffered from earlier gone.

He shrugged disinterestedly. "What the hell do you do to keep your time occupied?"

"Wanna visit the orphanage?  I've been meaning to, but I haven't been able to.  Today seems like a nice day to take some of the kids out for a walk."

And so the days pass, with Reno spending at least three hours outside the caves every morning, and then either attending meetings that he barely paid attention to before finally walking Yuffie back to her own house.

He spent the evenings drinking at Turtle’s Paradise, but he made sure to stay away from any gossip, because he wasn’t sure if he could stop himself from strangling anyone's neck.

While the amount of questions he had for Yuffie increased, he never asked.  

It wasn’t part of his job.

It was another morning, except it was pouring and Reno was standing miserably outside the cave with a flimsy umbrella as protection.  It had been two weeks since he had arrived in Wutai, and it seemed like he would never be able to leave because everyday was the same damn boring routine.

He took out his pack of smokes and lit one up, prepared to enjoy the entire pack this shitty morning when he heard a cry from the cave.

Scrambling, he ran in.  Yuffie had tripped over the trunk, knocking all the valuables inside everywhere.  There were a few materia scattered on the floor along with a bag of little white pills.

He approached Yuffie and gritted his teeth while picking up the bag, his eyes flashing with anger. "What the hell is this, Yuffie?"

"Get out , Reno," she snarled, her face angry, and Reno could not ever remember her taking that tone with him.

"No," he growled, "Not until you tell me what the fuck this is.  Because if it's what I think it is, I'm going to fuckin' kill you myself."

Yuffie blinked in confusion almost comically. "What the hell do you think it is?  Because I guarantee you that whatever you're thinking, it isn't it."

"It's not... drugs?"

Yuffie smiled a little crookedly. "It's drugs. I'm just sure it's not what you're thinking of.  It's birth control."

"Birth control?" He choked out.

Yuffie laughed, but he was surprised by the underlying bitterness in her laugh. "Yes, Mr. Casanova.  Birth control.  Guess you would never have to deal with it."

He glared at her, exasperated. "Of course I know what birth control is, brat. My point is why do you have it, when it's illegal in Wutai."

"Does it look like I'm ready for kids, Reno?  I can barely walk around without ramming my arm into the stove or stubbing my toe against the door."

Reno grimaced. "This looks like some unapproved drug from the black market.”

Yuffie shrugged airily. "It's the only stuff I can get around here. So it’ll make do."

He ran his hand through his hair and helped her clean up the trunk, noticing that she had also packed a Master Cure materia.  Just as he was about to turn around and stand in the rain, Yuffie grabbed his arm.

"It's pouring.  If you don't mind not smoking, you can stay in the cave by the entrance," she offered.

He accepted the offer.  And that’s when he realized that all the hours she spent in the cave in the morning was to sleep.

That night, he called Elena.

"Reno!  We were wondering how you were."

"Uh...I need a favour, 'Lena," he had never been this nervous asking her for a favour.  "There's this woman I've been sleeping with—"

"It better not be Yuffie." He could hear the frown on her face from thousands of miles away.

He scoffed in response, "I'm not an idiot, 'Lena. I don't mix business with pleasure.  But birth controls aren't exactly legal here. Mind gettin’ Strife to deliver half a year's worth when he comes into town next?"

There was a long pause before she finally answered, "Of course, Reno.  I'm glad you're finally moving on."

Cloud Strife made the delivery three days later.  He was surprised to hear that Reno was in town, but was glad to see Yuffie in high spirits.  He stayed for a quick lunch to catch up and was off again within the hour.

They returned to the cave after lunch and Reno passed the box off to her.

Frowning, she opened it, and upon realizing what they were, she bawled and placed them carefully in her chest.

He realized that night when dropping her off why Yuffie was taking the pills. 

She had opened the front door and upon seeing the man inside, had cast a quick look at Reno before dashing into her room without so much as a goodbye.

"You're Reno, right?" The man spoke.  He was nearing his forties, with a head full of grey hairs and he reminded Reno of a shorter, slimmer certain of Heidegger.

Reno leaned against the doorframe and asked nonchalantly, "Yeah?  What’s it to you?" 

"I hear you get around," he laughed and Reno fought hard not to punch him in the face. "Any tips?"

"If you wanted to get around, maybe you shouldn't have gotten married, Lord Isao ," Reno muttered before turning around and walking away. If he stayed any longer, he couldn't promise not to kill him.

Her husband was an asshole.

The next morning when he picked her up, she looked more tired than usual.  She was limping again, but as usual, he made sure to keep his hands planted in his pockets.  She tended to walk off her limps after her naps.

She hobbled up the mountain, this time, sharing about the time the leader of the group had dressed up as a bride for Corneo to save a teammate.  It was not until she tripped and he caught her that he realized how badly he had fucked up.

She cried out in pain and he couldn't, for the life of him, understand what he had done wrong. Sitting stubborning on the ground, she had stopped walking and refused to go on.  He had offered to carry her up, since they could literally see the cave entrance from where they were.

She was breathing heavily as she winced in pain. "Just give me a few minutes, kay?  It hurts."

"I can carry you, just stop bein' so fuckin’ stubborn."

"Gawd...for a Turk, you're pretty dumb.  Pretty, but dumb."

"What the fuck are you goin' on about?" he muttered, getting ready to lift her.

She waved his arm away. “Stop trying to lift me up.  It hurts, and if you try, I swear I’m going to throw my shuriken at you next time.”  She smiled grimly, but there was a gleam of triumph in her eyes. “Something you said must have pissed Isao off, because he was pretty rough last night.”

Reno froze in his tracks and thought back to all the times she had been limping but had magically walked it off after being in the cave—the fucking cure materia.  It had never occurred to him that she was being hit because the thought of Yuffie being abused was inconceivable.

“Have you realized it now, Reno?  You’re only here to bring me home to make sure I get pregnant.  Too bad that won’t be happening soon.”

“Yeah, cause I’m gonna fuckin’ kill him,” he snarled.

Yuffie breathed shakily as she curled up where she was sitting. “Mind helping me get the cure materia first?”

As gently as he could, he lifted her up and carried her to the cave and for the first time in over a year, he helped her take her clothes off tenderly.  There were bruises and welts all over her upper arms and shoulders, on her breasts and stomach, sides and thighs.  The bastard had made sure that the wounds were all in inconspicuous places.

He had never felt such rage before.

“Have you told Godo?” he asked, keeping his voice as levelled as possible as he looked at her body.

“And do what?” Yuffie asked wryly. “He’s the one who hired you.  Plus, divorces aren’t exactly legal here.  Can you imagine the future Empress getting a divorce?  I’m having enough trouble surviving and trying to please the civilians here, thank you very much.”

“...Have you told your friends?”

“So they can skewer him?” she asked.  “I haven’t told anyone, I’m not planning on telling anyone.  And if I had my way, you wouldn’t have known either, but you’re stuck to me practically 24/7 and it’s hard hiding it when I am in pain, dammit.”

He turned her towards him. “How long has this been happenin’?”

She swallowed thickly, “Reno, it’s not important—”

“How long?” he asked forcefully, tilting her head up to meet his gaze.

She tried to blink away her tears and bowed her head down to hide them instead.  “Since the beginning,” she said, her voice cracking.

He wrapped his arms around her gently, making sure not to press on her bruises. “I should’ve never fuckin’ listened to you, Yuff.  I should’ve never let you go.”

At his admission, her face crumpled.  She did not cry or wail, but pulled him closer as she hid her head into the crook of his neck, her body trembling with quiet sobs.  Had she known what her life would have been now, she would have never asked him to let her go.

Reluctantly, he sent her home once more as he told himself it would be the last time.

That night, he rang Rufus and called in all his chips.

He refused to let her return to the cave the next morning and brought her the cure materia, hiding it in his pocket.  He made sure that she visited her father at the Pagoda in the morning, that she flew kites with the orphans in the afternoon and that she visited multiple food stalls, even after the sun had set.

It was not until late at night that he brought her home.

“Thanks,” Yuffie smiled sleepily.  He had seen that look in her eyes enough times to know that she wanted to kiss him.

Instead, he kept his hands in his pants, and rather than kissing her like he wanted, he merely nodded goodbye and walked away, just like every night.

When he heard the screaming in the distance, he pretended not to hear it and he walked back to the inn.

He returned the next day, making sure to arrive at precisely the same time he always did, and pretended to be surprised by the commotion.

Yuffie was sobbing quietly in her father’s arms, and as Godo caught sight of him, he waved him over.

Reno approached warily.  “Lord Godo,” he greeted.

Godo was enraged, but all he could do at the moment was to comfort his weeping daughter.  “Someone has murdered my son-in-law.  Please help me find the murderer.”  Reno noted with relief that they were not suspects.

Reno investigated the crime scene.  Isao Yamamoto was killed in his bed, completely naked.  He noticed hints of Tseng, Rude and even Elena and he made a mental note to thank his companions.  There were no clues to point to a murder weapon or even a murderer.  The crime scene was gruesome, and if he didn’t know any better, Reno would have thought that the murder arose from a lover’s quarrel.

The time of death was declared to be in the morning, while Yuffie and Reno were visiting Lord Godo for tea.

Upon his death, numerous reports of infidelities materialized, quite magically.  Lord Godo, infuriated at the thought that his daughter had a husband who had been unfaithful, stopped all investigations into the death of Lord Isao and had their marriage nullified.

Reno deliberately avoided seeing Yuffie for a week, despite being in Wutai still, allowing things to settle down.  He found her in her favourite place, at the top of the Da-Chao statue one day, looking solemnly down at the nation she had willingly sacrificed her happiness for.

“You okay, brat?” he asked finally, after climbing the statue.

Her lips were pressed thinly, her eyes were dark and her jaw was clenched.  He noticed with surprise that she was back in her usual getup, before marriage, before she had lost part of herself.  His heart soared at the sight of her characteristic short black hair.

“No,” she responded, honestly, “I don’t think I’ll ever be.”  She sighed sadly before turning her head towards him, a slight smile on her face. “But thanks anyways.”

She was beautiful, and he found himself, not for the first time, immersed in her hazel eyes.

“Didn’t do anythin’,” he said gruffly.

“Mhmm,” she murmured.  She didn’t believe him.

“What are your plans now?” he asked, curious, hopeful.  But he didn’t dare dream.

She was silent for a few minutes before she finally answered, “To grieve.”

Yuffie Kisaragi disappeared from Wutai that night and Reno returned to his own life.

Reno heard his balcony door unlocking three months later at two in the morning.

There was no need for words.

As she slipped into his blanket, he curled his arm around her waist and pulled her closer.  She snuggled into the crook of his neck, savouring the warmth of his body and the smell of his skin.

She was home.