Chapter One – Don't you think the joker laughs at you?
am he, as you are he
As you are me, and we are all together
-- The Beatles, I Am The Walrus
The world had outgrown them.
Vincent Valentine stood and watched over the bustling city of Nibelheim from his spot in Shinra Manor. It was the only building left from back then.
Eighty years had passed since the crisis of Meteor. Little towns were not little towns any longer, and now the story of Meteor and Sephiroth and the Shinra Electric Company's evil doings were nothing but legends, told to children during camping trips around a fire. Vincent had, at one point, had the manor restored, but it had been so long ago that the house was somewhat decrepit again.
He sighed and turned to his companion. "I'm amazed he lived as long as he did." He muttered. "What with the smoking and all." His lips turned up at the corners, but he was not really amused. "Especially after he lost Shera."
The other man nodded. His blond hair stood out among the drab trappings of a formal room. "Cid was ready to go. He missed her."
Vincent turned back to the window. "Tell me, Cloud. Do you miss Tifa?"
Cloud's eyes closed painfully. "More than I can say." It was a curse of theirs, a shared one; Hojo's experiments and mako injections and Jenova cells had given them eternal youth. They were forced to watch everyone they loved die, crumble into dust, while they didn't age a day. To be sure, they could be fatally injured; their heads could be cut off, they could be riddled with bullet holes. But they could not die a natural death like they so craved.
"That's the last one, then." Vincent said. "Other than Nanaki..." He chuckled harshly. "I daresay that he may outlive us."
"I can't confirm Yuffie or Reeve." Cloud pointed out. "Reeve went missing and no one had heard from Yuffie in...almost seventy years. She just took off from Wutai and never talked to anyone again. Her PHS bill is still being paid but it's automatic payments from her bank account."
"Reeve is dead." Vincent said, shortly. "The helicopter he and Rufus were using crashed. I found the remains about a year ago."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Cloud asked, angrily.
Vincent shook his head. "The thought had slipped my mind. I apologize." He sighed. "Well, my friend, let's stop dwelling on those who went before us. While starvation could end our suffering...I don't think I want to go out that way." He gestured for Cloud to precede him out the room and the two left, on the quest for food.
As they securely locked the door to the manor behind them, Cloud realized that Vincent had only confirmed Reeve's passing. He, too, was clueless about Yuffie.
Cloud hoped she'd died fighting.
- - - - -
Kiyoshi Kisaragi was the grandson of the famed Yuffie Kisaragi. Every day he lighted the joss sticks in her honor, hoping that some word would come of her – she was his hero. Only 16 years old, she had left her homeland and saved the world. They had never found her body after she left her husband so many years ago.
Because that was what had happened. Public record said that she had simply disappeared one day, shortly after giving birth to her only son, who was given her maiden name to continue the line. Kiyoshi knew the truth, for it was a dark Kisaragi secret, buried in the journals which had been entrusted to him when he became Lord of Wutai. Herjournals.
Yuffie Kisaragi had been given to a brutal man. Gritting her teeth, she'd let the marriage occur, so she could provide Wutai with an heir. And then she left.
It hadn't been planned. One night he'd struck her and she'd broken his wrist in retaliation, and then she fled, knowing that divorce was not an option. Her son – Kiyoshi's father – only a year old then, had been left in the care of Yuffie's father, and was brought up in the traditions of Wutai.
Yuffie's husband had been put to death for daring to strike the White Rose of Wutai. Ostensibly it was because he was a drug trafficker, but Kiyoshi knew the truth. Godo Kisaragi had been incensed when he discovered what the man had been doing, and punished him.
I hope he burns in hell. Kiyoshi thought, lighting the last stick and placing it on the alter of his ancestors. One never hit a woman, especially a war hero like Yuffie.
Kiyoshi was young. He had been born late in his father's life, and because of that had taken the throne when only in his early twenties. He was almost thirty now, and it had been nearly seventy years since Yuffie had disappeared. They had never found any sign of her – her friends from the Meteor incident (which had been faithfully chronicled by Wutai's archivists) had not heard from her, and no body parts were found.
Kiyoshi mourned the lost connection with his past. Yuffie Kisaragi had been brave; brave to face the end of the world, three times, and brave to suffer through her husband's torment for the sake of Wutai. Kiyoshi hoped that, if she were in the afterlife, she was proud of him.
He squared his shoulders and left the temple, striding down the hallway with muffled thumps from his sock-clad feet. His wife, Shizuko, met him at the doorway with his shoes, bowing and giving him a kiss.
It was just another day in the management of Wutai. He tried not to let the distant past muddle his leadership, and he did a damn fine job of it.
Wutai had become quite the city in the past 80 years since Meteor. Most towns had blossomed outward, as well. Gaia was becoming crowded.
In fact, that was one of the things he was going to be dealing with today. Leaders from Nibelheim, Wutai, Corel, Junon and Edge (that great city that had replaced Midgar so many years ago) were meeting to discuss population control.
It struck a nerve with Kiyoshi, because he'd been brought up believing that it was every human being's duty to provide the Planet with as many children as possible. But a practical look at things denied this fervently; there were too many people, and not enough resources. Even quaint Icicle Inn had too many citizens, and not enough food, shelter or clothing for them all. There was a one-child-per-person law (in essence, two children per couple) in effect, but they had no way of enforcing it, and many children were born illegally in the slums. Even worse was that people were having children without going through the application process; one had to prove that they could afford children, and that they would be good parents (or at least able to keep from beating and molesting their offspring), and that their children would not be born genetically unfit.
Kiyoshi was meeting with the leaders to discuss birth control drugs in food. He was the one who had suggested it, since all food was monitored and supplied by governments, be it at restaurants or from the dispensers in people's homes – which were almost the de facto standard nowadays. Only a few ancient houses didn't have them at this point.
He disliked having to resort to such things – forcing people into sterility until they were approved parents. He wished that these things weren't necessary, and that Gaia had enough to go around. Unfortunately, she did not.
Another thing that would be discussed was the gigantic stretch of ocean between Wutai and Edge's continent. They were building a farm there, a huge one; a false, floating continent where corn and wheat and oats could be grown. It was partially done and Kiyoshi was quite proud of his pet project, funded between Wutai and Edge. It would be fueled entirely by solar power and wind, and would actually have internal weather controls within the greenhouses. The water would come from the ocean; the desalinization plants that had become so popular at coastal cities had been adapted for their uses.
Kiyoshi sighed. It was a hard time for the Planet. Regular space flight and orbital missions to the moon had shown that there were other places mankind could settle, but until their technology reached that point, they were just going to have to deal with things as they were.
He inhaled, squared his shoulders, and opened the door, letting a polite smile fall onto his face. "Gentlemen, ladies." He said, nodding at the leaders, all seated around his comfortable meeting room with a beverage of some sort in hand. "Welcome to Wutai. I hope your stay will be comfortable."
- - - - -
Children today liked loud music.
That had never really changed much. In her day, loud music had been popular as well. In fact, she rather liked this music; it was kind of angry, yes, but it was melodic and pleasing to the ear.
Yeah, here we go for the hundredth time
Hand grenade pins in every line
Throw 'em up and let something shine
Goin' out of my fuckin'mind
Filthy mouth, no excuse
Find a new place to hang this noose
String me up from atop these roofs
Knot it tight so I won't get loose
Truth is, you can stop and stare
Bled myself out, and no one cares...
A snort. She could definitely relate to that. She looked at the shopping district of Nibelheim, as always startled by the changes time had wrought on the world around her. Her hands, as youthful as they'd been eighty years ago, rested on a wall, resplendent in fresh plaster and glass. This was where Tifa's house had been.
She'd never told them. She'd never told them what had happened to her when she was escaping from the reactor when Omega had been summoned. She never told them how she'd been drenched in the mako, how she'd absorbed Jenova cells because of Nero's body. She wished she had, but it was too late – they were dead, and she alive.
Yuffie Kisaragi was immortal, and she hated it. Permanently stuck in the body of a woman in her twenties, permanently dealing with people calling her "dearie" and "sweetie" and "child," despite the fact that she was nearing her first century. At least her menstrual cycles had stopped – they had well before she'd given birth to her only child. She wondered if it had been a fluke, or if she was still fertile.
Her hair was longer, and she wore more conservative clothing, but she was still Yuffie Kisaragi. Anyone who had known her would be able to pinpoint her in a crowd. She'd been wandering the Planet; at one point, for about twenty years, she'd been living off the land, but when she was certain Wutai had forgotten her, she had left, and started a new life for herself.
Her PHS had been replaced, but it was the same number. No one had ever called her; for seventy years she'd been awaiting a call that had never come. From someone in AVALANCHE, from Wutai...anything. To know she hadn't been forgotten.
Granted, those first ten years it had been shut off. She supposed they could have given up hope.
Her hand twitched against the plaster and stone building. If one looked closely, they would see that her pinkie and ring finger on the right hand had been broken, and had healed badly, at one point. If questioned, she would say it had been an accident. She would not go into detail about the night her husband had beaten her to within an inch of her life; would not describe how she had wanted to slaughter him and had instead fled Wutai, wishing no one to see her like this. She had not been a good mother – her own safety had been paramount, and she'd left her son behind with that behemoth of a man. However, she knew that her father had taken custody of the child, and she had that much to be thankful for.
She removed her hand and it's deformity from the plaster and strode toward the building in the center of town. It seemed an odd centerpiece to such a bustling city; a sagging, depreciated building made of wood and marble as opposed to the brick and mortar, and plastics, that were so popular today. She waited a few beats to make sure traffic was calm and then crossed the town square.
"It all started here." She whispered. The gating needed to be repaired, she noticed. She put her bad hand down on the fence and stared up at the building, wondering who owned it now and how much they'd want for it. She could restore it; it would give her something to do with the rest of her life. She chortled to herself, imagining her painting the walls even as the world ended. She wouldn't buy the mansion, she wouldn't restore it. It wasn't in her nature.
"Is there something you need?" A voice said, behind her. It was chillingly familiar, and she froze.
"Ma'am?" Another familiar voice. Yuffie slowly relaxed and turned.
"So this is where you two stashed yourself." She said.
Vivid blue and red eyes blinked.
"Yuffie?" Cloud asked, astounded. Neither of them had changed, she noticed, in all these years. They still looked the same; Cloud, merely a teenager in body, and Vincent his late 20's. They both were carrying bulging bags from a local eatery; it was almost like fate had intervened, as if they'd been expecting company.
"The one and only." She whispered. She hadn't thought anyone, except perhaps Nanaki, would still be alive all these years later.
Vincent took in the woman; she had obviously just gotten into town. Her clothing was torn and unwashed, and she looked like she'd been traveling.
"May as well come in." He said, pushing the gate open and walking toward the house.
"Yuffie..." Cloud said. He blinked. "It's really you?"
She laughed; it wasn't the same sort of laughter she'd had back then. It was a harsh, hardened laughter. "It could hardly be anyone else, Cloud."
He looked at her for a while and then nodded toward the house. "Vincent's right. You might as well come in."
- - - - -
"So everyone's dead." Yuffie said. Her fingers traced the wood grain of the kitchen table.
Cloud and Vincent had long ago finished their food, which they had split with her. Hers sat, uneaten, on the table in front of her.
"Except Nanaki." Cloud said. He looked tortured.
"Even Tifa?" Yuffie had hoped, when they explained why they were still alive, that Tifa had made it.
Cloud's face twisted with even more pain. "She died a long time ago. Cancer."
"It was the Lifestream." Vincent replied. "It does that in some people. The Jenova cells counteract it."
"Why...?" The question was apparent on Cloud's face.
Yuffie laughed harshly. "Vincent knows. Don't you, Vincent?"
He studied her face and then lowered his eyes. "Omega."
Cloud's confusion didn't clear up.
"When Nero became one with Weiss, and he joined the Lifestream, he tainted it with Jenova." Yuffie said. "And when Omega formed, I fell into the Lifestream that was creating it."
"Oh." That one word carried the weight of the world on it's shoulders. Cloud seemed deflated. "So it's just us, then."
Yuffie nodded. "Just us and eternity." She looked out the window, to the town. "Things have changed. The world has outgrown us."
Vincent's head jerked up. The exact words he'd thought earlier that day. It was odd to hear it coming in Yuffie's youthful voice.
"You'll be needing a place to rest tonight." He said, shaking off the unease he felt.
Yuffie laughed outrageously. "What, is this the Valentine Home for Unneeded AVALANCHE Members?"
Vincent shifted. "If you'd rather stay somewhere else..."
Yuffie shook her head. "No. It's fine. It was just funny. Jeez." She sighed. "Some things never change, Vincent, and I think your sense of humor is one of them."
Cloud started to laugh.
"I'll take you up on that offer, if you have a spare bedroom." Yuffie said. She started eating the food, finally in the mood. "But first I'll have to go get some new clothes. These ones..." Her nose wrinkled.
Cloud and Vincent both nodded.
"What do you guys do?" She asked, a few minutes later when she'd finished eating. She set the fork down on the plate. "I mean, with eternity to do fun stuff, everything gets boring after a while."
"Read. Watch TV. Go snowboarding. Anything to keep my mind off it." Cloud offered.
"I'm going shopping, then." Yuffie said. "For clothes." Cloud handed her his key, solemnly.
"In case." He said. She nodded and then was gone.
Everything was silent for a long time, until Cloud spoke.
"That's one mystery solved." He whispered.
"Yes." Vincent agreed. "It is."
Author's Notes: I have no idea where this idea came from, honestly. None whatsoever. But I like where I'm going with it.