Last one everyone. Sorry about the delay, and many thanks for all the reviews and readers!

Chapter 4-- "Forever"

She falls to the ground, the air leaving her body in a rush. He hits a second later, though he almost manages to remain upright, stumbling only slightly and ending up leaning against the rocky wall.

"Yuffie?" he asks after taking a deep breath. He remains propped against the wall, but his voice is as smoothly velvet as ever. "Yuffie, are you alright?"

Her only answer is a snort that turns into a cough. Blood splatters on the rocks.

"Here." He reaches into a cloak, then holds out a potion. "Drink this."

She groans and rolls onto her side, facing away from him. "Don't wanna," she says after another cough. "Gonna die."

"You are not going to die, Yuffie." Vincent reaches down and grabs her elbow, drawing her gently up to lean against the wall next to him. His face is smooth and placid, but it is obvious by his labored movements that he too is suffering. "Drink the potion."

"You drink it." Yuffie tilts her head back, looking up at the sheer rocky drop-off over which they had fallen when the shaking had began. There is blood on her neck and face, her hair matted to her head. "We're gonna die."

"Stop saying that." Vincent reaches into his cloak, exchanging the potion for an elixir. His last one. All the fiends in Northern Crater are difficult but that. . . monstrosity that Cloud commissioned them to deal with while he went after Sephiroth had been one of the hardest they'd faced yet. The fall hadn't helped. He shows the elixir to Yuffie. "I drink half, you drink the other half."

"Fine." She coughs again, wiping away blood. "Might as well be able to see clearly while I die so I can appreciate all the unfair horribleness--"

She breaks off as Vincent presses the elixir bottle into her hand, then pushes it to her mouth. The sparkling liquid trickles down her throat and she coughs a final time, though there is no more blood. Vincent reaches forward and wipes the remainder of it from her lips.

"We're not going to die, Yuffie," he says quietly.

"Easy for you to say, you immortal bastard," she snorts. Sinking to her knees, Yuffie reaches forward into the water flowing past the small outcropping of rock they were fortunate enough to land on, beginning to lave it on her neck and head. "In case you haven't noticed, we're in Northern Crater a.k.a. the Ultimate Breeding Ground of Deadly Fiends that Want to Eat our Heads, we're separated from the rest of the group with little chance of getting back, and for all we know Sephiroth may be joining us at any moment." She sat back on her heels, staring at drops of liquid falling from her hair. "And this isn't water."

In an instant, Vincent is crouching next to her, alarmed. He sticks his claw in the bubbling liquid, feeling the warm tingle that signifies it as Lifestream material. He looks over at Yuffie to find her now sitting with her legs straight in front of her, her back against the rocky wall. Her mouth curves in a wry smile, and she begins to laugh in a way that is not far from tears.

"This is just great," she says through her laughter. "I'm going to drown. In the Lifestream no less. Forget getting killed by some cool-ass fiend. Forget dying in a ninja sword battle. Forget a dramatic suicide. I get to drown, in Northern Crater. Alone." She looks at Vincent, and her laughter dies away. There is moisture building in her eyes. "Well, not alone."

"Yuffie." Vincent moves to his knees, crimson eyes staring into her gray ones. "This barrier that prevents us using our materia, or me from transforming-- it's probably because of the proximity of the Lifestream. There is a possibility it may lift soon, and then I will be able to get us out of--"

There is a loud rumble, and the entire crater seems to shake. Yuffie is thrown sideways but Vincent moves fast enough to catch her before she hits the rocks. There is a faint sound that may have been a far-off shout, and then comes the sound of engines. A few rocks come crashing down from above, splashing into the Lifestream and throwing the green liquid up onto the small rock where Yuffie and Vincent huddle into each other until the shaking stops.

"It's not going to wear off," Yuffie says with a sigh when all is quiet again. She climbs to her feet, and Vincent follows suit. "The Lifestream is just going to keep rising and I'll start drowning and you'll just get to stand there with your immortal ass and watch me go. And everyone else will be having a party on the Highwind. They'll probably get Barret drunk, and Tifa and Cloud might finally make-out and Red will probably cook for everyone and Cid'll start doing tricks that'll probably make me puke even down here and. . ."

She breaks off, looking at Vincent with eyes that are fighting tears, though a smile is back on her face. He returns her gaze, his expression inscrutable.

"You know Yuffie, being immortal simply means I do not age or grow ill." His voice is soft and buttery as always, though his red eyes flicker. "I am still able to die."

"Oh. Well." Yuffie blinks, but her smile widens into something that is almost genuine. "Then this sucks for you too."

"Yes," Vincent replies with a sigh. "It sucks for me too."

They are silent for a while, leaning against the cliff-face, standing very close but not touching. A few more rumbles shake the cavern, and a few more rocks tumble down into the rising stream. The rock they are standing on has shrunk by nearly a foot as the liquid churns and flows around it.

Vincent's lips begin to move, mouthing silent words. Yuffie looks up at him to find his eyes shut, long dark lashes lying on pale cheeks. His beauty is clear and cold like glass, and she starts to reach up a hand to touch his hair, purest black except where the feeble light touches it, making it shine. If the night sky was to be melted into liquid, Yuffie thinks it would look something like Vincent's hair. She's nearly touched his shoulder when he murmurs a name that makes her stop cold.

"What did you say?" she asks in a low whisper.

"Lucrecia," he repeats, though it's unclear if it's in answer to Yuffie's question or simply a continuation of his soft prayer. "I ask forgiveness a final time."

With a move so sudden it knocks Vincent off-balance, Yuffie shoves herself away from him with a hard push. "Well tell her you'll be there soon!" she shrills, voice echoing in the cavernous space. "The two of you can have a grand old time, and I'll just float off in the Lifestream on my own!"

The tears come at last now, though she turns away in an attempt to hide them from him. The Lifestream laps at her feet.

Vincent looks at her hunched shoulders, bewildered. "Yuffie," he tries softly. "I only meant--"

"I know what you meant!" She rounds on him, hands clenched at her sides like a small child about to throw a temper tantrum. "Even when we're standing here about to die all you can think about is the past!"

He begins to see where this is going, and he takes a step forward. His boots splash in the bubbling liquid. "Yuffie--"

"Well I have news for you, Vincent!" She is angry and irrational and hurt and very, very scared. "The past is over! It's gone! It's dead, just like Lucre--"

He grabs her now, pulls her hard to him and leans down so their faces are inches apart. His red eyes blaze, and even in her fury Yuffie can not help but recoil slightly. "Don't," he growls low. "Don't go there, Yuffie."

"Why not?" Her voice is very quiet. She still cowers in his hold, but she is determined to speak. It is the only thing keeping her from a breakdown of an entirely different kind. The tears, evaporated in her anger, begin again to flow. "Because you still love her? Because she's all you've ever cared about?"

Vincent releases her, taking a measured step back. The Lifestream swirls around his ankles. He breathes in, studying her face. Though he is only trying to decide how much of her words are spawned by truth, and how much are the results of the increasingly dire situation-- and formulate an appropriate response based on his conclusions-- Yuffie takes offense at his silence. She turns her back to him again, crossing her arms over her chest, making small splashes with one foot like an angry child.

"Gawd, I am so stupid," she says, voice low like she is speaking only to herself, though he is clearly meant to hear. "All this time I've been thinking there might be something to you. . . That I might have found something most other people miss. Now I can see I was just kidding myself. A little girl's stupid delusion."

He can tell the words are said partially to draw a rise out of him, to provoke something that will distract them both from what's really wrong, yet he still takes the bait. Within a step he's behind her, putting a hand on her shoulder. She shakes it off, turns to face him, and bares her teeth. In that instant she looks wild and feral and stunningly beautiful.

"I convinced myself you were human, Vincent." The words spit and sting, like venom from fangs sung deep into his heart. His reply comes soft, low. Dangerous.

"You told me you didn't think of me as a monster."

"I don't." For a second it seems everything will be right. His good hand moves forward, as though to take hers. His face softens, his eyes melted rubies. Then she drives home the final barb. "I don't think of you as anything."

A wickedly flashing golden claw streaks out instead of a gloved hand, gripping Yuffie's arm just above the elbow as though Vincent is seriously considering snapping the limb in half. He shoves her back, but closes the gap between them with a hard step that throws warm liquid up onto both their shins.

"All this time," Yuffie breathes, body writhing in his grasp but eyes steady on his face. "All this time, I've been talking to you. . . I've followed you around and I've thought. . . I convinced myself. . ." The large, stormy gray eyes narrow. "But now I can see how stupid I was." She's crying again, trying feebly to pull away. "Because you're nothing. You're nothing inside. You feel nothing. And you're nothing to me."

She turns her head aside. The tears flow like the Lifstream pooling around their calves. "I hate you," she whispers.

Vincent slams her hard against against the rock wall behind them, his body falling upon hers like a rock onto ground made soft after a storm. The breath leaves her body in a gasp, but he gives her no chance to reclaim it, smashing his lips against hers in a hard, brutal kiss.

Yuffie does not resist the ferocious display of feeling, but rather adds to it, squeezing her eyes shut tight as the tears burn away in the heat they are creating, arms going around his neck to fist in his hair, lips pressing hard then opening harshly, tongue stabbing forward with all the lethal confidence of her conformer.

Vincent responds. His hands clamp firmly on her slim hips, pressing her against the wall yet clutching her to him at the same time, rendering her nearly immobile with both actions except for when her body squirms and arcs of it's own accord. He stands quite still, nearly rigid, as though to move in anyway might cause his entire self to crumble. His lips are ice to her fire, precision and care to her speed and desperation. His tongue is as a serpent, agonizingly slow but certainly deadly, weaving circles of tighter and tighter tantalization.

They break apart after long moments of the carnal exchange. Yet it is only their lips that separate; their bodies remain modeled together, though Yuffie halfheartedly struggles, just once, more on principal than anything. Vincent's gaze is enough to pin her where she is-- his eyes blaze with a ruby fire that she feels all the way down in her innermost self, but she can't tell if the feeling it ignites is one of fear or something else. Her eyes alone are enough to keep Vincent pressed against her, surging gray oceans with undercurrents of hidden emotion.

"Don't tell me I don't feel anything, Yuffie," he whispers, his voice for the first time ever in her hearing trembling. His gaze is like a burning scarlet laser, stripping her down bare to expose the turmoil inside that beats in time with her heart, just for him. "Don't tell me I don't feel, because I. . . I don't deserve--"

Yuffie's body surges against him and their lips meet again. Though he pushes her away, the words aching for attention even more than his desire, he cannot help but indulge slightly, and again allows only their faces to be apart. Neither of them notice the Lifestream flowing in the few spaces between their entwined forms.

"When you came into my life, Yuffie, I didn't know what to do with you." His breath mists on her lips, warm and real and human. "You talked to me when I received nothing but silent judgment for years. You touched me when everyone else recoiled in fear. You made me feel when I thought everything inside had long since died and withered away."

Her arms around wound tightly around him, their bodies tucked neatly together like puzzle pieces, shaped by cosmic hands to fit with perfection. He leans himself into her, the wall supporting their weight. His head goes dips down, his face against her hair.

"I should have hated you, Yuffie," he murmurs, eyes shut. He holds her like he plans never to let go. She hopes he won't. "You were everything I was not and I wanted to hate it all. . . but I ended up just hating the fact that I could not hate anything about you. Not anything."

Yuffie squirms even closer to Vincent, turning their embrace from clinging and desperate to something warm, soft, and intimate. Yet, being Yuffie, she cannot resist a giggle. The terror of the situation has passed, dissolved by their complete focus on each other. As far as Yuffie and Vincent are concerned at that moment they might as well be standing in a sunlight field, rather than a dark cavern with the Lifestream lapping at their knees.

"You don't hate anything about me?" Yuffie asks, happily tearing apart the seriousness of the moment to interject some of her irrepressible levity. "Not even when I make you come fiend hunting with me for hours just so I can master a Lightning?"

Vincent trails his hand down her back. "No."

"How about how I like to put braids in your hair when you fall asleep then not tell you and you get weird looks from everyone until you realize and take them out?"

His claw slides over her hip, makes circles on her side. "No."

"Not even how I puke every time I set foot on Cid's bucket of an airship?"

He kisses her temple. "Not even that."

"What about when I walk around in just my bra and shorts after I take a shower because it makes Cloud start looking at me, and Tifa start looking at him and neither of them are looking at their materia and--"

"Yuffie." He pulls back slightly, fixing her with a stern glare. "You don't."

"Only rarely. I mean, how often do we get showers?" She shrugs and starts to snuggle closer, but Vincent holds back, still glaring. It draws a grin from Yuffie, and she stands on tiptoe to place another kiss on his lips. He deepens it, holding her tightly. Possessively. She laughs against his mouth. He swallows her laughter with another kiss. Unlike before, it's long and slow and gentle and sad. They kiss like they have all the time in the world, because they know they don't. Yuffie presses herself against Vincent like she's hoping to be absorbed into his skin. He's more than willing to let her try. For awhile there's silence as they simply hold each other. Vincent shifts them so they are leaning against the wall, braced against the rising Lifestream.

"Vincent?" Yuffie questions into the heavy silence.

"Yes, Yuffie."

"I. . . I don't hate you." It is half an apology, half a confession of something else.

The Lifestream licks at their thighs. She has begun to shiver and he tugs her closer, wrapping his cloak around them both. "I know."

"Not even when you sit by yourself and act all angsty and pretend to ignore me."

"I know."

"Or when you refuse to try any of my food, even the stuff that is really good and kind of normal."

"I know."

"Or when you won't let me drink √ęcause I'm underage even though I always have sake at home, like that time we went back to Kalm and that lady had the champagne and we decide to celebrate not being dead yet and Barret started singing that one song and with those lyrics that made Aeris and Tifa get all red, and I started to join in but you--"

Vincent kisses her again, a brief brush of lips that nonetheless make her sigh.

"You did that just to shut me up, didn't you?" Yuffie pretends to be disgruntled, but she doesn't pretend very hard.

"Yes, Yuffie."

They lapse again into silence. There is so much to say in these last moments, yet they do not say anything The silence is almost louder and more meaningful than words would have been. Here, at the end, they finally truly understand each other. The cavern around them rumbles, the Lifestream splashes against their legs. Vincent scoops Yuffie up into his arms, holding her above the liquid as long as possible. The rumbling grows louder. A few rocks shake down around them.

"Vincent," Yuffie says after a moment, lifting her head from where she buried it in his neck. "Do you hear that?"

"Yes." Vincent shifts her slightly so he can reach his Death Penalty easily if the need arrives. She can read the alarm in the tensing of his muscles, the coiled strength in his stance. But there is hope too, burgeoning in both of them. Yuffie looks up, squinting through the dust created by the shaking around them. A rope tumbles down in front of her.

"It can't be. . ." she breathes.

"Grab the hell on, motherfuckers!" The gravely voice comes from above, a snarling, worried-lace voice from heaven. "We want to get the fuck out of this motherfuckin' cave!"

"It is." Vincent seizes the rope with his claw, holding tightly to Yuffie with the other arm.

"We're saved!" Vincent flinches only slightly at the scream Yuffie lets out near his ear. "Vinnie, we're saved! I'm not going to drown in the Lifestream! They won't find our corpses washed up near Midgar, half eaten by fish! I'll can get my ninja battle or brutal suicide after all!"

"Hold on, Yuffie." The shaking gets worse and they can barely see for the dust, but they are moving upwards. Yuffie squeals and squirms in Vincent's arms, laughing and half-shrieking at the same time. He remains quiet and stoic until they're near the top of the ridge and Yuffie leans in to plant a kiss on his lips.

"Tell Lucrecia she'll have to wait," she breathes, moist and warm, into his ear. "You're all mine for now."

"Forever," Vincent whispers into her hair. He is unsure if he wants to hear him, and he is unsure if she does. She holds him tightly, and they are pulled from the lapping, seductive dark of the Lifestream to the hard, worn deck of the Highwind, and the warm love of their friends.

There are hugs and shouts and laughter. After a terse statement that holds more love than he'd ever intentionally let on, Cid returns to the controls of the Highwind and pilots the ships away from death, from despair, from Northern Crater.

Yuffie and Vincent stand together on the deck, watching the crater fall away beneath them. Yuffie grips the rail with one hand-- bracing for the almost inevitable nausea-- but her other hand rests in Vincent's, and his other arm circles her slim waist. The group notes this. Smiles and looks of incredulity of exchanged, but Yuffie and Vincent remain happily oblivious, surrounded by their friends love, yet set apart, yet together. Holding each other's hands, and holding each other's hearts, they lean in for a kiss as the sun begins to rise.




---Sorry about any inaccuracies or things that don't make sense in this last chapter. Creative liberties? Hopefully you'll be able to overlook them and enjoy it. And review it?