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Too Little, Too Late

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Too Little, Too Late

From up in the bailey, she could see him. He was wearing a black cloak, and just sitting there playing his… whatever that instrument was.

Kind of a creep… Yuffie thought.

When he stopped to shake his head and remove his hood, though, her breath stopped, eyes widening.

(A cute creep…)

The countless Heartless in the area thrived all around him, but he didn't seem bothered by them at all (in retrospect, she should've noticed; should've realized that it meant something).

A cute creep with no sense of self preservation… She sighed, and, in one great leap, jumped down beside him, throwing her stars in all directions.

All of them hit their marks, and the Heartless dissipated (but they'd be back later; everyone knew that only the Keyblade could permanently kill them).

The man in question stared at her through startled eyes, wielding his ridiculous instrument like a weapon (considering the spikes, it very well could be a weapon) in between them.

While he continued to give her a deer-in-the-headlights look, she just rolled her eyes. "What are you doing? Those Heartless were like five seconds away from taking you out."

He gave her an affronted huff and started rambling off an excuse (something about having the situation under control, which was totally a lie, she thought) while she took the time to take his features in up close.

He had tanned skin, a horrible hairdo (yet still somehow charming), and beautiful aquamarine eyes the likes of which she'd never seen (there was something in those eyes… or rather, something missing, but she dismissed that train of thought, thinking it unimportant; how wrong she was).

Again, she rolled her eyes, crossing her arms and declaring, "Whatever! What are you doing in this place, anyway?"

He smiled. "This," (and just for a moment, the spark left his eyes, and he was deadly serious, but she didn't notice), "is the place… where I'll die!"

He said it with such theatricality and gusto that he obviously had to be lying (it would turn out that he wasn't, and she would be miserable after the fact). She shot him a pointed look and deadpanned, "You're ridiculous."

Again, he gave a huge grin, and nodded wildly (she would only later realize that he'd been playing along the entire time; pandering to what he thought she expected of him). "Yep! Pretty much. But hey, life's more fun that way!"

She didn't mean to, but somehow his comment made her smile. "I guess I can agree to that." (she'd been like that, too; still was, to an extent. But she'd learned that foolishness could cause those around you to get hurt, cause them to lie unconscious and bleeding on the ground because they'd taken a blow from a Heartless that you'd been too busy goofing off to see)

The two shared a laugh, smiles on their faces (one of them was faking it; too bad, so sad).

"So, hey…" she inquired, "…what exactly is that?"

Following her gaze to his weapon, he put on a perfectly insulted expression (he wore his mask well). "It's my sitar, of course! How could you not know what this baby is?"

She spluttered, breaking into more laughs. "Wow! You're even more over the top than I am!"

Again, they laughed, and when they'd finally calmed down, she was ready to start firing more questions.

"You seriously think you could've beaten off those Heartless with that?"

(For a moment, his gaze again turned deadly serious, and this time she noticed, but before she managed to inquire about it, his foolish persona was slipping back into place, making her question if she'd really seen a change in him at all)

He smiled and leaned in close (too close, she thought, fighting back a blush. Too far, too fast) to whisper conspiratorially, "If I show you something, will you promise not to tell anyone?"

She backpedaled to put some distance between them, wondering what the guy's deal was, but ultimately decided to play along with him. "You've got my word. Ninja's honor!"

He shot her a skeptical look (one that clearly read, "Ninjas have honor?", and had she known him longer, been closer to him, she would've felt confident enough to smack him for it; as it was, it felt like going too far, too fast) and, after thinking about it for a moment, chose to show rather than tell.

He sat down, and began strumming his instrument. The melody was very pretty, but mostly Yuffie was just confused as to what he was doing. But just before her patience with the man's antics snapped and she went to yell at him, something happened.

At first, she just felt a change in humidity, as if something funny was happening to the water vapor hanging in the air. But slowly she began to understand, as a bubble of water was forming right before her eyes, shifting and conforming to the music.

"You…" she breathed, unable to believe, to grasp what she was seeing, "…you have power over water!"

He grinned, looking up from his sitar (but never stopped playing, no, never; even if he died, his music would be eternal, so long as someone had heard it, remembered it). "Yep! I mean, anyone could learn to use fire, thunder, or the like, but water? It's special. I bet I'm the only one you've ever seen use it, right?"

She nodded (mostly excited, but somewhat jealous, because she'd never had a knack for even normal magic, much less specialized), clenching her fists and bouncing on the balls of her feet. "Yeah! You totally have a gift! Why keep it a secret?"

He rolled his eyes. "Exactly because it's special. I mean, if the masses found out, I'd definitely be mobbed by fans!"

She didn't even let his theatrics bother her, instead asking, "What else can you do?"

Her enthusiasm brightened his smile (made it a little less fake), and he started strumming up a new tune, faster and more involving than the last.

Yuffie watched in wonder as the ball of water grew bigger and bigger, and finally, started to take on a shape. The man's shape. A water clone (to her, this was just the coolest thing ever; to him, it was his standard battle strategy – one that would prove ultimately ineffective against the Keybearer).

He manipulated the clone into taking not a fighting stance, but a bowing one. "Milady…" he drawled in the clone's place.

She blushed furiously (much too far, too fast), but took the clone's—surprisingly solid—hand, anyway.

And thus, they started to dance ("The lady tonight will be escorted by one Myde Nerio," the man muttered under his breath to himself, "with the music provided by Demyx, in his penultimate performance."). They danced, and started to laugh. Laughed, and danced.

(At one point, Yuffie almost stopped, thinking for just a second that she'd heard the man's laughter ring hollow. But no, she pushed the thought of her head, dismissing it, and thus they continued to laugh and dance, dance and laugh. She never noticed that his smile never reached his eyes)

The next day, she "just happened" to be in the same area, at roughly the same time, and "decided on a whim" to look down from the bailey once more.

He totally catches the bluff, but doesn't call her on it, just smiling.

Like the previous day, they talk, and joke, and laugh, and—just a little, dance.

He likes having her around (he still feels mostly empty, but somehow her presence makes him feel more alive than he's felt in a long time), and stalls her leaving for as long as possible, even wheedling her into promising to come back the following day (it'll be the last time they see each other, so he wants to make it special).

On her part, Yuffie actually considers diving in head first and just kissing the fool, kick-starting what would surely be the most spectacularly awesome romance Hollow Bastion had ever seen (but in the end, she doesn't, because it still just seems like moving too soon, too strong, and as far as she knows, she's got all the time in the world. Maybe she'll work up the nerve tomorrow; third time's supposed to be the charm, right?).

And so, they part ways happily, blissfully.

That night, Leon gathers the group together—even going so far as to track down Tifa and Cloud, which shows that this must be serious—to inform them of a new threat.

As he rambles on about these "Nobodies" and "Organization XIII", Yuffie doesn't really pay full attention (she catches a few words here and there, and, were she paying attention, they would bother her, but since she's currently thinking about aquamarine eyes and dancing, they only nag at her vaguely in the back of her mind).

Leon, of course, catches her in the act and calls her on it. "Are you paying attention, Yuffie?"

She cringes and smiles sheepishly, lowering her eyes to her lap (she had a hard time looking him in the eyes these days. These years, actually. Ever since that incident; even if he forgave her, she'd never forget whose fault it was that he had that scar). "Of course, Squall!"

He recognizes that she's lying, but doesn't comment on it—or snap at her for misnaming him, and that sort of worries her, because he never lets that go unless things are really serious. "Really? Tell me what I've been saying, then."

She'd expected this, which was why she devoted at least a smidge of attention to the man. So, she starts blathering out all the things she'd managed to catch and hold onto. "Um, you were saying how now we've got new enemies to be on the lookout for. According to Sora, they're called Nobodies, and a group called Organization XII leads them. Right?"

He nods. "Right. Now how do you identify them?"

She huffs, irritated at the inquisition (but really, there's just this uncomfortable feeling building in the back of her mind…), and tries to dredge out the memories of what he'd said. "They wear, um… black cloaks, and—" (he has a black cloak, oh god oh god oh god, what else is special about them, a way to identify them differently from him…), "—have… elemental powers…" she falters.

Leon notices her strange reaction, but doesn't comment on it, instead continuing, "Yes. Sora hasn't faced them all, but he at least knows of a wind user and a water user. He also—"

Abruptly, Yuffie stands, fists clenched, shaking. "Excuse me." (it's just so painful, she feels so betrayed. How could he do that to her?)

She bolts out of the room, down the hallway, and into the relative safety of her own room, locking the door behind her, fully aware that someone is bound to be chasing after her.

It's Aerith, who knocks and jiggles the handle and pleads and… so many things. But Yuffie just stays curled up on her bed, fighting back tears (because she will not cry for him. She's only known him two days so this feeling of utter heartbreak is just wrong. She feels too strongly, too soon. Meanwhile, he can't feel at all).

The next day, she comes out only long enough to get food and go to the bathroom, and doesn't leave the house at all. Not even Sora and his friends, who arrive around midday, can cheer her up.

She's miserable, and unhappy, and, most infuriatingly, guilty (because she cares. She told him she'd see him today, and he looked so happy, and even though now she knows that it must've been a lie, she still feels bad about disappointing him. But dammit, she shouldn't, because she hates him now. She hates him for lying to her, for doing this to her. For making her feel so strongly, so soon, moving too far, too fast, and pushing her to this point of no return).

(And really… she thinks, the next day, when Leon declares that they're under attack, she hates him simply because she doesn't hate him. Not even a little bit. Her heart soars up to her throat and just gets lodged there, and she's scared, but not for herself, but her him, because Sora is here, and suddenly she realizes he wasn't kidding about dying)

She goes to the bailey once more, fighting off Heartless (she doesn't know why they're after her; if they're looking for her heart, it's currently in the possession of a Nobody, just waiting to be crushed to smithereens) and becoming more and more anxious.

And there he is, collapsed on the ground (not dead, she breathes a sigh of relief, but dying, and the horror and heartbreak come swimming right back). He is fading, and Sora (good, sweet, friendly Sora, how could you do this?) is just watching without sympathy (she would secretly blame and hate Sora for weeks afterwards, but in the end she forgives him, because he'd been led to believe that these people really were just horrible monsters hiding behind perfect facades that needed to be taken out; really, he was probably more right than she was).

She wants so badly to leap down there. To cradle him in her arms, to give him the kiss she'd never gotten to, to do something, but she's rooted to the spot. Because honestly…

She'd had her chance, and she'd chosen not to act (too little). And now, she'd never have a chance again (too late).