She was sitting cross-legged on the right hand of Da Chao again. She blinked slowly, enjoying the dying heat of the evening sun, and wondered how she was spending so much damn time here lately. She had never been particularly devout. Maybe she enjoyed being cradled by a giant deity. But as she looked down at her beloved country, she had answered her own question: it was a good place to think. No one ever really came up this far on the regular. Being so high up, being able to see the entire town, really put everything in perspective. All the whining, annoying matters inherent to daily life shrunk into insignificance, and her mind wandered into the past with purpose.
Eight years ago, she had been hog-tied with rough hemp to the giant stone face that loomed benevolently behind her, cursing the very pathetic life out of Don Corneo. In the end, she hadn’t minded the lecher “conveniently” falling over the cliff, and neither had anyone else in Wutai, though in the process her little rescue crew had dealt a glancing blow to her pride.
Eight years. They had seen that jovial face sun-faded a little bit more, small laugh-lines of cracks deepening, a five o’clock shadow of moss creeping across his eastern jowl. Eight years had seen Yuffie Kisaragi become a smart and untraditional ruler since Godo had stepped down. Who would have thought.
Still, as far as she tried to distance herself in her adolescence from her homeland, there was only so far you could run before losing the essence of those that came before you. For a short eternity, she had felt trapped between the past and present, neither giving an inch in their human tug-of-war. But if Yuffie was anything, she was a first and foremost a Daughter of Wutai. The Single White Rose of Wutai, in fact. As short-sighted and impulsive as she was when she had saved the Planet, she had, and still, meant it with all her soul when she said she would do anything for Wutai.
She got up and dusted off her pants, feeling a resolute peace washing over her. Her doubts had vanished into the dawning night.
“You look so much like your mother. Kasumi, she should have–”
Yuffie reached out and lightly brushed her father’s shoulder, ignoring the way his voice cracked a bit towards the end. Soft morning rays cast their light into the highest floor of the Pagoda, though none of it reached her face past the monstrous, absolutely ridiculous wataboshi tented over her hair.
“It’s okay,” she said quietly, answering his unknown question. “Mom would have been proud of us. And we’ll go to the shrine later to visit her.”
It hadn’t been easy forgiving him. For a long time, she despised him for being a weak, gutless ruler that had let Shinra creep into their borders and ruin everything they touched. For a longer time still, she blamed him for Kasumi’s death.
She allowed a soft smirk onto her painted lips and snorted derisively at her thoughts. Garment after undergarment piled up on her body, the kimono dresser arranging and picking at each one, turning her this way and that. Ugh, so many layers. Everything was so, so simple as a child, when she thought she was infallible.
As it turned out, running a country wasn’t as easy as it looked. She had been so naïve to think that stealing materia would make Wutai steadfast and proud again. Military might was no longer the way to hold sway over the rest of the world. It was all about trade and alliances these days… But straightforward, brash, and entirely unsubtle, that was how fifteen- and sixteen-year-old thoughts ran.
Godo, she now thought, had done what he could to minimize the damage inflicted upon their home. All of the Shinra-Wutai conflict had been fought on their turf. They were wrecked, physically and economically. Parts of the countryside and portions of towns were razed, crippling their textiles industry and sucking away resources into rebuilding. Too many people – too many of his friends, that he himself had ordered into battle – had died fighting a war they were never, ever going to win. If that meant turning Wutai into a tourist trap and letting Shinra goons station a base there, so be it. And above all, he had frantically tried to protect her young mind, insulating her from the chaos just outside the city. In return, she had grown up thinking him a coward, feasting on stories of the past when real warriors ruled in the old traditions. Now, she appreciated the sentiment, but thought he should have just talked honestly to her. Maybe she wouldn’t have been so angry and confused for so long. Maybe she wouldn’t have been caught between two worlds, both hating and loving her homeland at once.
As for her mother… Yuffie looked up into the mirror – and found it hard not to see her, instead. It was as if she had stepped straight out of the wedding portrait she knew her father still kept in the false bottom of the top drawer of his dresser. She was still conflicted over it, at times. Godo hadn’t killed her, but he should have been by her side when she was wasting away at home. Instead, he was off politicking, too busy trying to negotiate a truce with Shinra. It felt like he had traded a thousand soldiers’ lives for her mother’s death. But that was the nature of being a leader. Costs and benefits, right and wrong, constantly balancing each delicately on a scale of judgement... One day, she could read the price of those decisions in the harsh lines of his old face, and found she could no longer blame him.
Skillful hands tied the heavy, brocaded obi into a dead weight around her waist. Then, her mother’s uchikake hovered behind her, a silky white ocean, as she shrugged her arms into the voluminous garment and carefully tried not to muss her heavy makeup.
It was all gone now. Turtle’s Paradise, that fucking awful depressing hole of a dump, had been demolished by her, personally. It was now a tea house and café, lifting her spirits every time she passed by and saw her people there – happy, relaxing, enjoy a pot of tea or coffee, nibbling on snacks, enjoying friends in peacetime. Next door now was a clothing shop, filled with all manner of luxurious items, both modern and traditional. Bolts of Wutai cloth hung from racks, ready to be made into whatever the customer wished. They were especially popular with foreigners. It was just a smaller microcosm of the heavy reconstruction they had done over the past years, but it was her favorite piece. Wutai was finally getting somewhere again, but really, it was still a just-born lamb on wobbly legs. They needed an extra boost. Speaking of which…
Her helper bowed deeply. “Kisaragi-tennō. You’re done.”
“Thanks, Suiko-san. But you don’t need to be so formal with me,” Yuffie half-hiccupped, half-guffawed uncomfortably. People calling her that was still way too weird.
“As you wish, Kisaragi-tennō.”
Yuffie sighed. It was impossible to change strangers’ minds, and a waste of her time, besides. It was fine – she had her friends, and how they treated her would never change. She closed her eyes for a second and thought fondly of how rude Cid and Barret were to her face. She hoped that rudeness would assault her after the ceremony.
She hooked her arm through her father’s, and they began their languorous journey down the five floors of the Pagoda.
“Yuffie. Are you sure this is what you want?”
Godo had stopped, staring at her intently.
“Dad! We’re not even past the doorway yet. You’re so nervous, you’re probably even more nervous than I am,” she laughed. “I’m sure. I’ve never been surer. I’ve thought a lot about this, you know.”
“Hm.” He didn’t look convinced, damn him. She wasn’t a rash little girl anymore. But she guessed that was how parents were, all the time. Always worried.
She took his arm and started walking again, tugging him along. As much as she liked feeling she was honoring her ancestors and very pretty, actually, she still wanted out of this getup as soon as possible. It was like a chocobo was riding her instead of the other way around. And… they really needed an elevator. The stairs were endless; they were only on the third floor now.
“He seems like a good guy, and he’s from a noble family. And they have a bunch of connections that would really help Wutai out, that we kind of need.”
Her dad was still quiet. She couldn’t blame him. Thank god, they were almost to the bottom. Why the hell did they get ready at the top? Oh, because symbolism.
“We’ve talked a lot, over the last year – Kenji’s not stuffy or overbearing at all. I like him, and enjoy his company, and I do think I could eventually love him. You and mom were arranged too, after all, and I know you both loved each other in the end. And if anything does happen…you know we could both kick his ass. But thank you for asking. I know you always cared about me, in your own weird way.”
Finally, Godo smiled. They stopped before the doors leading out to the pavilion, where everyone was waiting. “I trust you. You’ve been very good to Wutai. And I know you can take care of yourself.”
Even nowadays, neither of them said the L-word. It was just too awkward. They skirted around that, and whatever, they both knew they loved each other without saying it.
“I know, I already beat you in the Pagoda once. Now shut up, old man.”
The doors swung open in front of her. She took a breath, and composed herself. She was a Daughter of Wutai. This would be their rebirth.