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A Crooked Smile

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In all the years he's known her, he's never been sure what to make of her. She's different from what he knew before—bubbly, brash, and bold. Everything she does seems unplanned and spontaneous until he notices her crooked smile and glinting eyes.

Yuffie Kisaragi huffs at him, putting her hands on her hips. "Vincent, stop spacing. I'm talking to you, and when a gorgeous girl is talking, you listen."

"Sorry, Yuffie," he says, "Please continue."

"Anyway, I was completely flipping out, I mean, what would you do if all the kids in your country went missing? Seriously, if they're gone, your country is royally fucked because those are the next generation or whatever, and without them, there's no country. So I said to Godo—" and she just continues talking at him, not noticing that, once again, he's stopped listening.

It's like this whenever she's speaking to him and the others are nearby. She talks and talks, about nothing and everything in a long ramble. Already, her topic has changed—"I love my new boots, but they take forever to put on. Seriously, it's a pain in my ass."

Frankly, he doesn't want to know how she went from kidnapped children to new boots; Vincent's certain that only Yuffie would understand it anyway. Of anyone he's ever met—then or now—she's the most capable of changing herself on a whim.

Words die on her lips as the other two stragglers, Red XIII and Barret, head into Tifa's bar. Yuffie takes a step back, so that she's no longer invading his personal space in order to drill her nonsense through his head. "How ya been, Vince?"

By now, he's used to this sudden seriousness brought on by their newfound privacy. Once, he'd thought it something reserved for him until, in a conversation about her one night around the campfire, Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII revealed she did the same with them.

Vincent nods once, then asks, "Yourself?"

"Eh, can't complain," she shrugs, noncommittal, "Whatcha been up to?"

"Very little," he says truthfully. The recent Kadaj episode had been a welcome break from his listless wanderings.

Yuffie shakes her head, disappointed. "Boring. Look we gotta make your life more interesting—how about we go on an adventure, just you n' me?"

"I believe Tifa is waiting for us inside," says Vincent, "We should go join the others."

"Never thought I'd see the day when Vincent Valentine was suggesting we go to a party." But for all her mockery, she leads him inside.

Their friends glance up, some waving, others returning to their conversations or drinks. In front of him, Yuffie calls, "Tifa!" and flings herself at the other woman.

"Yuffie, I was wondering where you'd gotten to," she says, squeezing Yuffie tight until, a few moments later, Yuffie gasps out—

"Tifa… air is good!"

Even Vincent knows from experience that Tifa sometimes forgets her own strength. After Tifa releases Yuffie apologetically, both of them stand a distance apart, smiling. In accord, the two of them go to sit at the bar and begin to talk—Tifa with her characteristic smiles and calmness, and Yuffie with flailing arms and grins.

From where he leans against the wall, he hears very little of their conversation and the pieces he picks up—"No way!" "Godo is—" "Well, Cloud, he—" "Banana!" "Denzel and Marlene got into the—" "Did they get—?" "No, thank—" "Well, that's good."—really are more confusing than enlightening.

Their conversations are more of a dance than anything else. Tifa leans in to whisper something into Yuffie's ear, Yuffie bobs her head, waving her arm wildly seconds later, Tifa ducks, narrowly avoiding getting a black eye. It continues like this, until Yuffie stands with a parting wave and a smile, bouncing over to where Barret had just stopped drinking with Cid to use the restroom.

With a grin, she steps neatly in front of him, barring the way to the bathroom. "The toll for using the toilet is twenty gil and a level one materia," she tells him, holding out her hand.

Vincent can't see Barret's face from he's at, but, judging from Yuffie's growing smirk, he's loosing what little control of his temper he has.

"I guess you could go outside," Yuffie shrugs, "That's free."

Barret's hands—both human and prosthetic—clench. "Get out of my way," he says, shifting his stance slightly.

"You really have to go, don't you? Well, that'll be twenty gil and a materia." Her smirk is so wide now it's a wonder it doesn't consume her entire face.

"Fuck, Yuffie," he growls, "Just get outta my way!"

Behind him, Marlene gives a cry of "Papa! You're not supposed to say that word! Now you have to eat the soap!"

Winking, Yuffie skips away, leaving him to his daughter's wrath, which, if Vincent were to make a guess, will be painful and sudsy.

Yuffie crosses the room to where Red XIII lays, watching her with a single golden eye. "Hey," she greets, sitting on the floor beside him.

He reveals pointed teeth in his version of a smile. "Hello, Yuffie."

"I talked to Godo about your theory," she says, fiddling with the hem of her shirt.

"Which theory?" The barest hint of laughter rumbles deep in his throat. "I have many."

For that, he earns a rueful grin. "The one that Leviathan is really trapped in the materia. The one that's it's not just a way to call him to the mortal realm, but that he's stuck here."

"What did your father say?" Red XIII raises himself onto his haunches so he is eye level with Yuffie.

"Well, he said you were an idiot." Her mouth twists into a scowl. "And that I was a blasphemer for even suggesting it."

He blinks once, bats her shoulder with a huge paw. "What do you think?"

"I think it makes way more sense than it just being a booty-call materia." Her grin is wicked, but there is a dark seriousness in her eyes.

Red XIII lets out a full-blown laugh this time. "I should bring you back with me to Cosmo Canyon. You would give the elders much to think on."

"You just want me for my good looks." She winks, tugging one of his ears playfully. "See ya, Nanaki," and she leaves him, heading back to the bar to sit in Barret's still vacant seat next to Cid.

Vincent takes the opportunity to glance about the room—Tifa is talking to Cloud by the bar, Denzel's come to braid Red XIII's mane, Barret is still getting his mouth washed out by his daughter, and Reeve's leaning against the wall across from Vincent. Their eyes meet, and Reeve gives a lazy wave. Both of them turn to watch Yuffie and Cid.

"What, brat?" Cid asks, blowing smoke into her face.

She makes a great show of coughing, letting the exaggerated hacking shake her slim form. "You're just being dramatic," he declares after a few seconds of this, "You've never even had a smoke before, have you?"

"Of course I have!" but her cheeks are pink and Cid is the one smirking, cigarette hanging loosely from the corner of his mouth.

He proffers an extra one from the pocket of his vest. "Here ya go," he says, holding it out for her.

"I…" she looks at the cigarette, making no move to take it, "I don't have anything to light it with."

"Here," and his smirk widens as he uses a match to light it.

He holds the cigarette out to her again, and she takes it reluctantly. For a long while, she just looks at it; then, she looks up at Cid. Her jaw sets, and she takes a sharp draw on the end of the cigarette.

Yuffie scrunches her eyes tight, removing it from her mouth. Smoke curls from the corners of her lips. Seconds later, she starts coughing, harsh and violent, and the smoke is gone.

Eyes streaming, Yuffie croaks between coughs, "That's the worst thing in the history of ever."

Loud and raucous, Cid laughs at her, taking the cigarette from her lax fingers with one hand, and patting her back with the other. "Gonna do that again?" he asks, laughter quieting to chortles.

"Not even for materia," she vows, only coughing a little. A long pause follows, before she says, "Well, ok, fine. I'd do it for materia."

Cid grins crookedly. "Brat, you'd do anything for materia."

"Yep," and she stands, waving at him.

When she turns away, Reeve beckons her over. Yuffie stills, gazing at him, contemplating whether or not she wants to talk to him. Eventually, she goes over to him, leaning against the wall too.

They put their heads close together while they talk in hushed tones that Vincent doubts even Red XIII can pick up.

Reeve says something, face grim. Her own face tightens and Yuffie whispers back, eyes glinting with an unknown emotion. Placating, Reeve puts a hand on her shoulder. She snaps at him, and both are silent for a time. After that, their conversation is more amicable, and Yuffie even smiles once, though it's small and tight, nothing like the broad smiles that usually adorn her features.

Loud enough for anyone to hear, she says, "We'll talk about it later, Reeve. I'm not sure whether Wutai can spare me just now."

"Alright, Yuffie, but think on it," Reeve tells her, folding his arms and watching her leave.

"Yes, sir," she smirks, giving a mocking salute.

On her way across the room, she stops where Tifa and Cloud are talking. Leaning over Cloud's shoulder, she murmurs into his ear, and moves away quickly, headed over to where Barret and Marlene have finally emerged. A moment passes, and, simultaneously, Cloud flushes deep red and Yuffie smirks widely. Honestly, Vincent doesn't even want to know what vulgarity she spewed at him

"Marlene," she says, "C'mere."

Marlene, looking smug and self-righteous next to her uncomfortable and undoubtedly clean-mouthed father, obliges, walking over to Yuffie.

"What is it?" she asks, all wide-eyed innocence.

"Tag, you're it!" Yuffie taps the girl on the top of the head, and then goes tearing across the room.

Marlene stays where she is, blinking after the ninja for a few moments. A smile spreads across her face a couple seconds later. "I'll get you!" she vows, running after.

Laughing freely, Yuffie slows just enough to let Marlene catch her. "Tag you're it!" says Marlene, before turning heel and fleeing across the room.

Yuffie puts on a burst of speed, tagging a surprised Denzel. "You're it!" she tells him, stepping back so that he can chase after Marlene.

Her laughs are quieter after that, and it's only then that Vincent realizes that, for such a lighthearted girl, this may be one of the few times he's seen her laugh with true gaiety. While everyone else watches Marlene and Denzel play, Yuffie slips out the front door into the night. Vincent though is watching her, and he follows.

She leans against the side of the building, gaze firmly on the sky. Now that she's—finally—stopped moving, her youth is apparent in the roundness of her features, in the cracking innocence deep in her eyes. Part of him, the part he likes to contribute to Chaos's presence—but it was here long before demons resided in his head and all of them know it—wants to shatter what's left of that innocence, just to see what will happen. But instead, he follows her gaze, blinking up at the splattering of stars.

Vincent turns back to Yuffie. In the starlight, she's pale, young, and lost looking. There's no smile now, mocking or otherwise, no smirk. Just a neutral expression.

"Vincent?" Yuffie turns to look at him, brows furrowing. How long has she known he was here? "What are you doing?"

He shrugs, raising an eyebrow at her. Yuffie's attention returns to the heavens, and just when he thinks she's done speaking, she asks, "Did you know that Leviathan and Chaos are brothers?"

Vincent hadn't, but he says nothing, watching her examine the sky. Suddenly, she points up at a spot void of stars, not a single star twinkles in that expanse of sky.

"That's where the constellations of Leviathan and Chaos used to be," she tells him, attention never leaving the gaping emptiness. "Before they were trapped here."

She reaches down, to pull a red materia from her pocket. "Funny, isn't it? The Gods of Order and Chaos, both caught here, captured by mortals."

Why hadn't he known that Chaos was a god? Or is it merely Yuffie being Yuffie, pulling his leg, so to speak? He glances at her, but she's just staring at the Leviathan materia, face blank as the hole in the sky. It seems unlikely that this is some sort of elaborate prank, so he accepts the new knowledge to what little he already knows of the head demon.

"Kinda weird though. I mean, you have Chaos in your head but you're the most orderly person I know." She shifts the materia from hand to hand.

"I suppose," he says, "You hold Leviathan in the palm of your hand, and I've never met someone so chaotic before."

Yuffie turns to flash him a grin, looking at him with gleaming eyes. "Ever think that, maybe, it's fate or something that we met? I mean, you've got Chaos, I've got Leviathan. You're orderly, and I'm… not."

"Perhaps," says Vincent, letting a tiny smile curve his lips. Really, the girl thinks too much if she has time to come up with all of this.

"Hey, Vince?" she asks, meeting his eyes, "I think I'm gonna help Reeve with something he's setting up, but when that's done… We should find a way to free them."

He'd never considered it before, finding a way to rid himself of Chaos; he'd always just assumed he was condemned to a life with monsters in his mind. "Why?" he asks, because he can understand why he wishes to be freed of Chaos, but why would Yuffie wish to be rid of her god?

"Don't you feel it, Vince?" asks Yuffie. She looks back up at the sky. "The feeling that you're just a pawn in their game? That everything is already decided, and none of your choices matter?"

Vincent does know what she means, now that he thinks on it. Every time he transforms, every time he loses control, he feels like he's merely a host for these creatures in his mind. Without them, perhaps he could move forward, no longer static but progressing.

Not only that, but perhaps he could help this girl—youth, teenager, woman, ninja, person—achieve the freedom she so obviously desires. He's never considered it before, but this is a person who has been a marionette since birth, controlled by Godo, a country, a lost war, her own honor codes, and a god. Is it any wonder she wishes to rid herself of one of these factors?

"We'll free them and ourselves," Vincent promises Yuffie, and, for the first time that night, she gives him a genuine smile.

But all she says is, "Thanks, Vincent."

He nods, and both of them look at the sky. From the corner of his eyes, he can see Yuffie's smile turn crooked and her eyes glint.

It's only then he remembers her earlier words—"How about we go on an adventure, just you n' me?"

Vincent is never quite sure what to make of Yuffie, all he knows is that, once again, he's underestimated her craftiness. There's just something about her that he can't help but trust, and maybe that isn't such a bad thing.