Diamonds and Guns

Neverending Heroes

Chapter Thirteen – Some are Dead, and Some are Living

There are places I'll remember
All my life

Though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone
And some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends
I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life
I've loved them all

-- The Beatles, In My Life

This kind of waking up was something Yuffie had never before experienced in her life.

With her husband, she usually quietly woke up and snuck out of the room before he had a chance to wake and demand sex of her.

With Rufus, she'd rolled over and he'd been smiling at her, seductively, and they'd continued their marathon sex that had been briefly interrupted by a nap. And she'd never had the chance with Mike; they hadn't gone to sleep afterward, but had instead eaten a snack and parted ways.

With Vincent, however, she woke up content.

The light peeked through her curtains in the cabin, flashing over her face as the tropical breeze flew in. A shaft of light landed on her closed eyelids before the curtain was drawn in a different direction.

Yuffie's eyelashes fluttered for a moment before opening completely. She wondered briefly at the fact that there was this feeling of utter peace and happiness within her before she turned to her right.

There was Vincent. His face was against one of her pillows, as he'd fallen asleep on his side, with his good arm draped across her waist. His eyes were closed, long lashes resting on his cheeks. Occasionally they'd flutter a bit, as if he was dreaming.

His expression was lax. Yuffie didn't think she'd ever seen him look so happy – perhaps peaceful was the better word – in sleep before.

She smiled.

She thought back to nearly a century ago, when her mother had been alive, before Wutai fell to Shinra. Her mother had been braiding her hair, the day they were taking the children to the Da Chao fire caves for safekeeping.

"Mama, what do we do if they win?" Yuffie had asked. Despite being a mere five years old, she was very much aware of her country's struggles and her place within those struggles, as the only heir to the throne.

"Everything will be alright in the end, dear one," Yuffie's mother said, softly, patting the finished braid into place. "If it's not alright, it's not the end."

Yuffie didn't think she'd ever heard truer words spoken. A slight sigh escaped her lips; that minor noise woke the man sleeping next to her.

His eyes shot open and a wary look settled on his face, before he realized who was staring at him. The alert, fighting expression was replaced with one that was almost wondrous.

"Hey, sleepyhead," Yuffie whispered, reaching over and brushing a lock of hair out of his face. He blinked and slowly, a smile spread across his face. It was a foreign look on him, but Yuffie had to admit that she'd never seen a better smile in her life. He didn't beam like Aeris had, and he wasn't easygoing with his smiles like Cid had been. But it was a smile, nonetheless, and a beautiful one.

Then again, Yuffie just might have been a little bit biased. After all, they say that love blinds...

Vincent reached out with his human hand and touched her face, slightly, as if afraid she'd disappear.

"I'm real, I promise," Yuffie said, smiling. She captured his hand with both of hers and brought it over her heart.

Suddenly, interrupting their romantic moment, a horn blasted. Yuffie giggled, and Vincent snorted and rolled his eyes. They both sat up.

Ignoring her nudity, Yuffie stretched. Vincent didn't balk at looking at her, but his face reddened slightly when Yuffie turned toward him and smiled knowingly. He covered his embarrassment by asking a question.

"What was that for?" he asked, gesturing upward, toward the unseen horn.

"Oh, that means the ship will be leaving in ten minutes," Yuffie said, standing up. She reached for her all-to-quickly discarded kimono from the night before and began putting the various layers on. Vincent sighed and began doing the same.

"The ship is supposed to leave at nine in the morning, so I guess we can safely assume that it's 8:50 in the morning," Yuffie said, tying on the last layer of under-kimono before reaching for her beautiful silk outer garment. "They're serving breakfast in the galley at nine, so we should hurry and snag food while we can."

"I have to feed Yuuta," Vincent said.

Yuffie giggled. "We can swing by your cabin real quick before we head up. And...we should probably try to find Cloud," she said, frowning. "I wonder where he thinks we headed off to?"

"Knowing Cloud, he's probably figured it out already," Vincent replied, sighing. He tied his thin obi around his waist – properly, Yuffie noticed – and slipped his geta on. Yuffie winced slightly as she bent into an awkward position to try to get her obi on correctly.

"Hey, Vince, come help me with this," she said, gasping. Vincent obligingly held her obi in place while she knotted it expertly at the back, and then expertly slipped into her geta. She very quickly made herself presentable in the bathroom, with the barest of makeup fixes, and a brief run-through her hair with the brush. She pulled her hair into a glossy knot at the back of her head and then went back into the room.

"Acceptable?" she asked, doing a brief twirl. Vincent smiled.

"You look beautiful, Yuffie," he said, softly. He held out his hand and she shyly accepted it, inwardly cursing herself for acting like a bashful sixteen year old again.

It soon became obvious that Vincent was always going to treat her like a lady – it seemed to be in his nature. He quietly escorted her to a seat at the breakfast area and held her chair out for her. Yuffie's inner feminist wanted to chastise him, but she was actually quite pleased when he did it.

They were halfway through breakfast when they were joined at their table by Cloud and a young, tough-looking woman with long, blonde hair. The look on Cloud's face warned them not to say anything as he quietly introduced his friends to Amariyah, whom he'd met the night previous. A slight blush on his face was all the other two needed to shut the hell up.

- - - - -

"So who's this Amariyah?" Yuffie said, gently teasing, as she stood on the deck, enjoying the warm sunlight. She nudged Cloud in the side with her elbow. "Are her intentions honorable?"

Cloud blushed, and then coughed. "You might not believe me, Yuffie, but I knew her when I was in Shinra."

Yuffie stopped and her face slackened. "What?" she hissed.

Cloud fidgeted. "She was in SOLDIER, third class. I met her on a few of my patrols, back when I was a foot soldier. When she saw what was going on right before Meteor, she took off and hid herself away. But she got the same treatment that Zack and I did, so she doesn't age either."

Yuffie stopped and pondered the implications of this. "You mean...everyone who survived SOLDIER is in the exact same condition we are?" She felt like she'd been punched in the gut.

"Most likely," Cloud said. He looked sheepish. "It had never occurred to me before, Yuffs...but I guess we're not as alone as we thought we were."

- - - - -

"There's actually quite a lot of us left, considering," Amariyah said. The four of them were in Nibelheim. The blonde woman was dangling a coffee cup between her hands; it was empty. Yuffie reached for the carafe and offered to fill it up, which Amariyah accepted.

"Considering?" Vincent asked.

"Well, yeah," Amariyah replied. "When we realized what happened, a lot of us were happy about it, because, you know, humans fear death. But as we started getting older, and watching all of our loved ones die around us...a lot of us took the easy way out."

"Suicide," Yuffie said, wrinkling her nose.

"How many affected people do you know, personally?" Cloud interjected.

Amariyah sighed and looked thoughtful. "I dunno. We don't really keep in contact with each other. It's really hard, actually. We all have a similar pattern; we move into a place for about ten years and then move on. That way people don't get too suspicious. You know, if people realized what Mako and Jenova could do they'd all want the treatment...but as you all know, the treatment itself is really hard on a person's psyche. Not everyone can handle it. It literally destroys some people."

She sighed and set the cup down on the table in front of her. "Not to mention, the world's a little overpopulated as it is. We don't need even more people laying around, consuming resources that should rightfully be going to the next generation." She sighed again. "Anyway, to answer your question, your guess is as good as mine. I know that about thirty years after Meteor, there were about a hundred of us, and some people had started suiciding. I don't know what we've dwindled down to after all these years."

Cloud looked thoughtful.

"That's horrible," Yuffie said, her voice taking on a disgusted tone. "Come on, we've survived this long. What makes them think they can't? I lost everything, and I'm still here. Look at Vincent. The man's gone through his own personal hell for most of his life."

Amariyah nodded. "Not everyone is as strong as you are, I guess," she said, wryly. "A lot of us were broke, living in the streets and in caves. And it''s really hard to see your own child die." The older woman glanced away, and Yuffie had the feeling she'd experienced it herself.

Yuffie could understand in a vague sort of way – but she hadn't been there when Miyavi died. She'd barely known him when she disappeared. Amariyah had probably been at her child's deathbed.

"So, the question is not how many or who," Vincent said slowly. "But rather, what do we do now?"

- - - - -

If Vincent and Cloud were pleasantly surprised at how much money people were willing to pay for a prime piece of real estate in the city of Nibelheim, they didn't let on. The bidding went on for two weeks, with the final offer topping out at six million gil. By then Yuffie, Vincent, Cloud and Amariyah had moved their possessions – for Amariyah and Cloud had struck up a relationship pretty early on and she'd moved in with the trio, turning them into a foursome – out of the house and into yet another storage unit. They, of course, were residing in a Lockhart Inn; this time, there were only two rooms. At Yuffie's insistence, they did get a lounge room with the hot tub. And when the Do Not Disturb sign was hung from the lounge room's doorknob, you stayed out.

When the four of them pooled their considerable resources, it amounted to quite a bit. Amariyah, unlike many of her unfortunate counterparts within the ranks of ex-SOLDIERs, had wisely invested her money 53 years ago in the company that produced the food units that were a staple in many a household. She now held a controlling interest that all but gave her ownership of the company.

The world was not informed when Free As A Bird Enterprises, the company long held by the progeny of Cid Highwind, was contracted to build yet another floating continent. This one was to be situated near the temperate equator, and was quite a bit smaller. It held a wind farm and several of the self-contained greenhouses that the first floating continent had, as well as the popular desalinization/resalinization plants that had been helping contribute to the world's freshwater supply for so long. Also included was a ranch for breeding bovines, horses and chocobos – for riding, eating, egg-bearing and other purposes. The new, bug-free version of the weather control unit from the Wutaian venture was also included. Just like the continent's sibling, all portions could be enclosed against storms and other misadventures. A fishery brought in ocean products like fish, lobsters, crabs and seaweed, and a dock allowed the continent to import things it wanted or needed, or simply to allow it's occupants to travel. A hospital had been built and a contract with the descendants of the doctor and nurse in Mideel had been negotiated. They'd be moving out next month to staff the facility.

Cid Highwind's grandson oversaw the building of the community itself, of course. A smallish sub-development of fifty homes, a park, and an assortment of empty buildings that would eventually be used for stores, restaurants and schools, was situated conveniently near the beach, but far away enough that the tides wouldn't threaten them. Shalua Highwind, of course, oversaw the development of the continent's air strip, and the newly-christened Highwind II sat pristine in her docks, waiting and watching.

It did happen, however, that only Vincent and Yuffie were there to move things into the two houses the couples had chosen for themselves, secluded in a glade of oxygen-bearing trees, away from prying eyes, on an artificial hillside resplendent in foliage and butterflies. Cloud and Amariyah had left the month prior to spread the good news.

And slowly but surely, here and there, word traveled. In Nibelheim, in Corel, in Junon, one by one, a Mako-eyed man or woman would catch a snippet of conversation, a hint of a legend. And slowly but surely, they gathered together and started traveling. For they had been waiting.

- - - - -

Kiyoshi green-stamped the last of the papers and sat back, sighing happily in his chair. His wife rushed to his side.

"It is done, then?" she whispered, exultation written all over her beautiful face – a face that was still gorgeous even after fifteen years spent researching, negotiating and building.

"It is done," Kiyoshi said. "It is finished. The colonization program is complete. They leave next week."

- - - - -

Yuffie leaned backward on her heels, gracefully. There was not a hint of tipping back, not even in her high geta. The only kimono she'd ever made graced her figure as she tilted her head back and watched the rocket and it's brothers and sisters alight into the sky.

"Let them have the next great adventure," she whispered, snaking her arm around Vincent's kimono-garbed waist and smiling. "We've had ours, now it's their turn."

"Indeed," Kiyoshi said. He was not an old man, but he had aged. Fifteen years was a long time to spend green-lighting a program. He was well into his fifties and had grandchildren of his own – the oldest of whom had just taken off on the colony ships bound for Terra, a planet that was only four light-years away from them. Long-range scans indicated that the planet had no sentient life but had breathable oxygen, drinkable water, and possibly fishable oceans. A short-term survey had been sent out six years ago and had sent back the report: all clear, send settlers.

A second group would be leaving in two weeks, for a habitable moon six light-years away. Now that the colonization program had been green-lighted, the instant an all-clear from the scouting voyages came back, preparations began. The moon's search party had sent the all clear the previous day.

A half a million people in cryostasis had just left the surface of the planet, along with a working ship crew of ten thousand. The next voyage would include a million cryogenically frozen individuals and a working crew of fifty thousand. Ten other scouting parties had been sent out, four of them with the new high-speed faster-than-light hyperspace drives. Ships had been built and were being stocked, and a waiting list a mile long for colonists was ready. The moment the go-ahead was sent out from the scouting parties, preparations were put together.

Kiyoshi and Cid Highwind III thought that if everything went according to plan and at least five of the ten scouting parties found one habitable planet, overpopulation would be solved within five years. The world's population was five billion; if the go-ahead for the Vega VI planet came through, six million people would be leaving the world next month, and even more the month after that for the Reigel subsystem, which looked to have a whopping three habitable planets.

Yuffie pondered her words on the flight home. Highwind II touched down on the Nadare subcontinent just about the time when she realized she was serious; she was happy staying right here on Gaia, with Vincent, Cloud and Amariyah. But some day...

Some day, when FTL drive was more affordable, she'd like to make a trip. Maybe after the Terra colony had been established, they'd take a vacation. They had eternity to wait.

Nadare had grown exponentially; where it had originally been just the four of them and a few non-immortals that they trusted (a few members of the Highwind, Tuesti, Wallace and Shinra families, and a few select others) on their commune, word had spread over the past decade and a half. Slowly but surely, other former SOLDIERs and a great number of Hojo's former experiments that had retained their humanity began to trickle in, asking for a place to live and work in peace.

The original sub-development had been expanded to include a hundred extra houses, as many of the immortal brought families with them. The discovery that two immortal parents passed on their immorality to their children, who would grow and then stop aging after puberty finished, was a shock at first. Even more of a shock was that those who had been treated with Jenova and Mako never hit menopause or otherwise lost the ability to procreate unless they removed the necessary organs, which often regenerated anyway. Immortal women who didn't want to have children had to resort to chemical means to do so successfully.

"It may be that some day this planet is left to the immortals while the rest of us traverse the stars," Rufus told Yuffie once, in a fit of whimsy. That the young Rufus Shinra look-alike had made his way to this continent, despite being mortal, to maintain the colony's food unit center never rubbed Vincent right. As the man was long married now and had a ten year old daughter, Vincent maintained his peace, but Rufus also knew better than to try to make a move on the gunslinger's wife – for after a year of proposals, Yuffie had finally accepted Vincent's.

As they walked to the gated homestead that Yuffie, Vincent, Cloud and Amariyah lived on, Yuffie smiled. Instead of walking to their house, she led Vincent to the small building that sat between the two homes.

It was their entertainment area; when the two couples got together to do things they came here. Vincent and Yuffie hadn't seen the inside of Amariyah and Cloud's house since the day they moved their belongings there. There was a home theater, a small library (the larger version was inside Yuffie and Vincent's house, much to Vincent's delight), a game room and a food unit.

The most important thing in the building, however, was a large white board. It had been divided into three sections at one point, but had been re-divided into four shortly after. Under each name, the phrases "To Do" and "To Learn" were carefully written in permanent marker, with a number of things written beneath each phrase in dry-erase.

A lot of things had been added and crossed out and erased over the years. For instance, Vincent had long since learned how to forge and how to play the piano, where Cloud still had not learned electrical wiring. Yuffie and Cloud had taken cooking classes together, Cloud's expertise in the subject urging Yuffie onward, while Amariyah and Vincent had taken meditation classes together. Vincent's easy manner of slipping into a meditative state had spurred Amariyah to ask the older man how he did it, and by the end of the six-month course both could meditate without any prompting whatsoever.

Today, Yuffie was crossing something off and adding something.

Carefully, she took a red dry-erase marker and crossed through "Help Kiyoshi finish the colony program." Then she took a black one and under "To do" added "Go on vacation on Terra."

Vincent chuckled.

Their board was neither alone nor unique, although it was definitely the first. Many of the immortal had seen the board and taken to keeping ones of their own. Yuffie called it the most important physical possession that her and her friends had.

"My mom used to say that to stop learning is to start dying," Yuffie would say when one questioned her on this. "She was right."

There was a sticky note on the board and Yuffie leaned over to look at it. "Oh, Vince, check it out. Amariyah went into labor while we were gone."

Vincent smiled. "Their second child will no doubt he as much of a hellion as the first. I hope they weren't expecting us to watch over Zack." The name had, oddly enough, been Amariyah's suggestion – she'd known the SOLDIER, First Class. They'd gone through training together and had been rather close. She'd been devastated when she learned of his death, and the knowledge had led her to investigate Shinra more thoroughly and eventually leave.

"No, Cloud says he left him over at Rufus' house," Yuffie said, peering at the note. "I hope this one's a girl, I know that Cloud really wants to name one after Tifa...and Amariyah says she doesn't want any more kids after this one for at least anotherfifty years."

Yuffie chuckled at the sentiment and then picked the note off the white board and tossed it into the nearby garbage receptacle. The two of them walked back to their house in silence.

She hoped that the knowledge that Amariyah had gone into labor with her third child – her second with Cloud – wouldn't spark another argument. Vincent and her often argued over whether they should begin a family or not. Frankly, she was terrified of the idea. She'd abandoned her son all those years ago, leaving him to a beast of a husband, placing herself and her health above that of her only child. She didn't want to find out if she was the same sort of person now. She was afraid that she would be a bad mother.

Vincent didn't say anything, but she knew that he was thinking about it. For the millionth time, she wished that she could get over her Child Issues and just give in. If Vincent could get over his Lucrecia Issues and want children, shouldn't she be able to do the same?

She sighed and headed to the kitchen. Often the two of them would cook a real dinner for themselves, but she was exhausted and so they'd eat out of the food unit tonight. Rufus was careful to make sure that the meals that came through tasted delicious and were made of the freshest carbon sources, so it wasn't like it was somehow substandard. They just liked cooking with each other.

"Going to bed early tonight?" Vincent said, quietly, coming up behind her as she dialed in an order.

"Yeah," Yuffie replied, stifling a yawn. "It's been a long day, and on top of that I have field work tomorrow. I need some rest."

Vincent nodded. He had garbage tomorrow, and figured a good night's rest was in order for himself as well.

Every person on the artificial continent had to somehow earn their own living. Many were independently wealthy and it was a non-issue. However, in addition to that, people who lived on Nadare had to participate in public works at least once a week. This often involved working in the fields to help with the few non-automated things, or to collect garbage, or help file at the library, or man the wind farm turbines. The standard week on Nadare was thus a four-day workweek with two days off and one public works day. It was the price of living on Nadare; no one paid taxes, no one paid for power or water, no one paid for sewage or garbage collection. Instead, they donated their time to the government. Yuffie didn't know if such a system would work on a grand scale, but within the small, 1,000-strong community of Nadare, it was a rousing success.

There was no official leadership. Yuffie, Cloud, Vincent and Amariyah had paid for the construction and they were deferred to on many issues, but there were other things that other people were considered the "head" of. Whoever was best at it, whatever "it" was naturally looked to as the leader. For instance, a secretary who had accidentally fallen into one of Hojo's labs twenty years ago and had her immortality thrust upon her (her name was Amy) was amazing at organizing time slots, and was therefore the one who generally scheduled people for their public works time. And Rufus, who was surprisingly enough, a molecular biologist, managed the food dispensers because he was good at programming the machines with the precise molecular chains it needed to take raw products and produce finished results. They did these jobs once a week, although several people helped maintain the food dispenser system when Rufus was not there. Everyone else either lived off their savings or worked at one of the many stores throughout the community.

It wasn't utopia; everyone had their spats and there were issues. But it was as close, Yuffie thought, as mankind was likely to come.

The only "official" jobs that existed were those of the one judge and four police on the entire continent. Vincent, much to Yuffie's amusement, had been chosen as the judge by the populace; every four years those who lived on Nadare voted whether to keep him in office or to elect someone else. He was resoundingly re-elected every term, because he was hard but fair. Vincent donated his time because he had no need for more money; his four policemen were all paid through a fund established from the sales of certain items that were termed Nadaran property – a certain section of the food products and whatever items craftsmen felt like donating. Nadaran baskets were among some of the best on the Planet, although no one outside Nadare knew that. The continent was still a closely-guarded secret. A cloaking technology developed by the original Cid Highwind had been employed not long after the continent came into use.

The immortal held no ill will to the mortal; it was just that those who could die couldn't possibly understand the problems of those who could not. Because they wished to live in peace, only a select few mortals were allowed onto Nadare.

Maybe some day the world really would belong to those who could not die. And then they could move freely, because everyone would understand.

But until that day, they hid...and waited.

- - - - -

404 years later

Vincent and Yuffie watched in amusement as Nanaki led his cublings on a run. At 15 years old they'd just come out of toddler-hood and were nearing adolescence; it was the first time he'd brought them here, to teach them the story of Meteor and those that died and lived saving the Planet from it. It was the fourth time he'd made this journey; his wife had borne him four litters of pups over the past 500 years.

Their eyes alit on the beasts as they hopped up the rock falls; Nanaki made one final jump and let out a resounding roar, startling a flock of geese into flight. The cubs watched the panorama in awe.

Yuffie listened as Nanaki told them the story; she loved hearing him tell it. The creature had long since become a grandfather in his own right, and had in the process become an amazing storyteller. It took all day into the evening, and only then did she and Vincent melt out of the shadows and light a fire for the group. They'd sleep under the stars that night, with Nanaki and his cubs.

"I am glad you could come," Nanaki said, touching his nose to her cheek as she hugged him. "Somehow it wouldn't seem the same without you two here."

She smiled sadly. "Yes, well, I know you wish Cloud and Amariyah could have made it, but the flight from Altair got canceled at the last minute." She leaned over into his mane. They said nothing more, simply watching the stars.

Later that night Vincent and her curled up in the double sleeping bag they always brought here when Nanaki had a litter he was introducing to the legends. He smiled as he held his wife – they'd just celebrated their 403rd wedding anniversary, and their oldest daughter had just turned 350 years old – and marveled at the wonderful life they'd built together, at the wonderful world they'd built together.

"We've done good, Yuffie," he whispered. "We've done good."

Yuffie nodded. She understood.

Gaia, known throughout the Cosmos as the planet of the Immortals, could rest. She was in good hands.

Author's Notes: Nadare is a rough translation from Japanese. It means "Avalanche." XD I thought it was a nice tribute.

I'm really sorry this was so short. I hadn't intended on this chapter being this short – I had intended for more to happen. Amariyah was supposed to turn up and the whole more-immortal-people-out-there thing was definitely going to happen, but Amariyah and Cloud weren't going to hook up. Originally, Yuffie and Vincent's relationship was going to draw out longer and they'd meet Amariyah, but Cloud was going to lose it and commit suicide to be with Tifa. Clearly, that didn't happen; my muse had other ideas. Honestly, though, I like the way I did it. I like Cloud too much to make him suicide.

There may be another story in this universe; who knows? I've been toying with the idea of writing a fic about Cloud's run-in with Wutaian Gypsies, mentioned last chapter. And there are a few other ideas knocking around in my brain. But for now, the story is over, at least on my end. Anyone who wants to dabble in this universe, feel free, just link to this story. XD

I hope everyone enjoyed Neverending Heroes. It's one of the few original ideas I've ever had within the fandom, and is quite possibly the second-best fanfic I've ever written (I don't think anything will ever replace "Diamonds and Guns" in my eyes).

Also, please check my profile for an update.

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