The first thing Vincent’s really aware of is what feels like a rock digging into his back. The second thing is definitely a rock, which is strange, because last night he went to sleep on a hotel mattress, not particularly well-sprung, but still...
He opens his eyes on the grey of a pre-dawn sky.
Sitting up, he looks around. He’s on the Midgar plains, not too far from Edge. He can still see a random light or two, although not many at this hour, and the larger bulk of Midgar’s ruins looming behind. It was a point of pride to the WRO to have moved right back into Edge after the Deepground crisis, a gesture of defiance and stubbornness. Vincent has wondered if it wouldn’t make more sense to avoid this whole region, instead, as the landscape is still struggling to recover from years of abuse by ShinRa. But where the WRO leads, civilians have followed, reassured by their presence that all is once again well.
The gunman is left to wonder how many other experiments, and their often violent consequences, still await discovery.
He stands and begins walking towards the city, thinking on his strange awakening in another place.
He knows he went to sleep last night in a somewhat dingy hotel room. His apartment in Kalm was completely destroyed, so he’s had no pressing reason to hurry back, and he wanted to see Shelke settled. He feels a little responsible for her and uncomfortable at the same time. She has so many of Lucrecia’s memories, memories of him, and some of them aren’t appropriate for a girl who looks the age she does, even though he knows she’s older than that. And then he feels guilty for feeling uncomfortable, because she looks at him with such affection, not even really understanding what it is. She’s officially an ‘employee’ of the WRO now, and he knows he doesn’t have to worry. They’ll take care of her because she’s Shalua’s little sister, and she’s spending a lot of time with Tifa and Marlene.
He had been thinking of moving on. Not permanently, but just somewhere else, for awhile. He’s feeling restless.
That brings him back to his night-time excursion. Only it wasn’t Vincent that left the hotel room. He can still taste the blood in his mouth, coppery and a little bitter with mako-taint. The Galian Beast has been far more restless than he, and he can’t help but think that’s a better reason for leaving an area already so traumatised by the results of ShinRa’s labs.
Chaos returned to the planet with Omega, the two primal beings resting once again, and he feels oddly unbalanced now he has one demon less inside of him. Chaos was the most powerful of them all, and the hardest to control; Vincent was always aware of his presence before.
Death Gigas and Hellmasker have always been comparatively quiet, overshadowed by Chaos’ presence, only coming out when events pulled them to the forefront. Like Chaos, they were never really meant for this plane of existence, and he thinks they sleep in between times.
But the Galian Beast is different. It’s the most real of his other forms, one so suited to the physical plane that Vincent can relate to it in ways he never could with Chaos. In some ways the Beast is quite simple as it loves to fight and hunt, with appetites that are not so strange to him. Like Chaos, he’s always been aware of Galian’s presence, because even when he’s not physically manifested, he can feel the Beast watching through his eyes. That doesn’t mean he always understands him, though. The Galian Beast is still a long way from human.
Vincent has heard the others marvel over the time he spent apparently sleeping in a coffin, the words ‘Thirty years!’ repeated in tones that range from wonder to teasing. The truth was that he needed that time. It was spent sleeping, yes, but also dreaming, looking on sights nobody born human was ever meant to see. He’s hunted long-extinct creatures on two legs and four; floated in the Lifestream and watched the dead stare back at him; seen a world composed of matter and energy entwined, seen beyond that to where the Universe itself hints at something more, even though it’s only recently that last has made any sense to him. Those thirty years were necessary to find a balance with those living inside him.
He never really wondered what kind of balance they found with each other. Maybe that was a mistake.
He’s back on the outskirts of Edge now, and when he reaches the hotel, he thinks better of returning. Vincent can see the window of his room – or rather, where it had been. It appears that Galian didn’t stop to open it when leaving. Some of the frame is gone, splintered by impatient claws, and what’s left clutches a few remaining fragments of glass. He’ll ask Reeve to send someone to settle his bill.
He heads for Reeve’s apartment. Even with the WRO stationed here, and a number of civilians returned, the town still feels half-empty. It probably is; Deepground’s little roundup made another fair-sized dent in Gaia’s population. But people are already stirring, and he finds himself clinging to the shadows as he makes his way through the town. Strangers always leave him feeling uneasy; he’s not sure if it’s his own reaction, and not sure he cares, anyway.
It takes a minute or two after he knocks for Reeve to answer the door. When he does, the dapperly-dressed executive’s eyes widen to see him there.
“Vincent. I wasn’t expecting – you. Come on in.”
Vincent suspects the former ShinRa engineer had been about to say something else.
“Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
Vincent nods and looks around the apartment. “Thank you.” Even though Reeve’s only been here two weeks, it looks like an apartment appropriate for someone who is the president of the WRO, a place where cocktail parties could be held with little additional effort required. The industrial steel walls so common in Edge are whitewashed to glowing paleness, slate-blue pile carpet covers the floor, and heavy curtains hang at the window. Wutaian art hangs on the walls. The leather couch looks familiar – possibly it came with him from his previous residence. The only part that suggests there is anything more to Reeve than the suited executive is the robotic cat lying on the coffee table, a panel at the front open to expose its inner workings. Even the tools laid out beside it are in a tidy row, arranged as neatly as if they are silverware for a formal dinner.
Vincent feels uncomfortably out of place.
“The bathroom’s to the left, if you want to clean up a little. I was just making breakfast. Would you like anything?”
“Coffee’s fine.” He’s just spent the night sleeping outdoors, so the offer of a bathroom is more than welcome.
It’s not until he’s looking at himself in the mirror he understands Reeve’s reaction on answering the door. There’s a twig tangled in his hair, and two yellowed leaves. As if that doesn’t make him look like some sort of demented hobo – more than his usual choice of wardrobe, anyway – the trail of dried blood leading down his chin from one corner of his mouth would do it. He’s just grateful Yuffie didn’t see him like this, or he’d be dealing with vampire jokes for the next six months.
He plucks the debris from his hair and finger-combs it roughly then washes the blood off his face. Even after his attempts at grooming, he looks more like a wild creature than anything that belongs here. He can see his eyes taking on an amber tint, a sign that the golden-eyed Beast is still close to the surface, and sighs.
There’s a moment’s disorientation, and the walls of the small room reflected in the glass suddenly look too close to a laboratory setting, sterile and gleaming, closing in on him like a cage and he can’t breathe –
There’s a high pitched screech and he looks down to see the claws on his gauntlet have gouged deep marks into the porcelain where his hands grip the washbasin.
“Vincent?” Reeve’s voice reaches him, sounding concerned and he wonders how to explain his unintended vandalism.
Even when he steps back into the more open space of the living area, it’s still too much. The designer-look apartment is no place for him.
“Are you alright?” Reeve asks as he hands him a steaming cup of coffee.
“Yes.” Vincent takes a sip, and adds, “Sorry about the bathroom sink.”
Reeve’s gaze slides towards the bathroom, curiosity and trepidation in his eyes, but he drags them back to Vincent and smiles instead. “I’m sure it’s fine. What brings you here so early?”
“I’m leaving today.”
That does succeed in shocking a more honest reaction out of Reeve. The engineer spent too many years working for ShinRa, where any show of weakness was seized upon immediately, and now he plays politics with the planet’s movers and shakers. The polished façade is second nature by now. Vincent knows he’s messed up in the head, but Reeve has his own share of quirks, and one of them is that he’s uncomfortable expressing anything more than the politician’s practiced smile without the comforting shield of Cait Sith to do it for him. The fact that his robotic alter ego was ‘killed’ by Deepground must have been difficult.
“Are you sure? There’s still plenty to be done here; you know we’re extremely grateful for your help -”
“The worst of Deepground has been dealt with already. All that’s really left are some confused soldiers with low-level enhancements. Your own men are more than capable of dealing with them.” Not wanting to be talked into staying, Vincent nodded towards the robotic cat on the table. “I see you’re working on a new Cait.”
“Yes, well, I already had a new body underway to test some modifications, and his memory has always been backed up to separate databanks, so it should only be a matter of days before he’s up and working again.” Reeve smiles at the robot lying on the table before looking at Vincent once more. “Are you going to say goodbye to Shelke? She has an apartment on the floor below, you know.”
The gunman hesitates. “No. It’s still early.” Reeve doesn’t point out that he didn’t hesitate to disturb him despite the hour. “She knows she can reach me on the phone, anyway.” The phone which, he realises with a grimace, is sitting on the bedside table in his hotel room. He’s going to have to return there anyway.
But he can avoid dealing with the hotel staff. The room is only on the second-floor, and the window’s already broken. “I’ve been staying at the Golden Chocobo Hotel over on Fourth. Could you see they get this?” He places a pouch of gil on the table amongst the tools. “This should cover the bill and the damages.”
“Damages? Vincent, are you sure everything’s alright?”
“Yes. I just need some... space.”
“Well.” There’s a brief pause. “You know you can call if -”
“Yes. Thank you.” Vincent looks towards the door, then hands the half-empty cup back to Reeve. “Goodbye.”
Reeve sighs. “Goodbye, Vincent.”
His pace picks up as soon as he reaches street level, and he’s moving with a speed that’s not entirely human, not running, but not walking, either. He almost skips going to the hotel altogether, the Beast urging him away from the town, the people, but he needs his phone. He resisted getting one for so long, but now enjoys having that connection with those he considers friends, a link to his humanity. He’s grateful for the enhanced strength that makes the second storey window a simple jump away, brass claws leaving another set of gouges on the frame, and then he’s heading for the Plains and open spaces, with nothing but wildlife and the occasional traveller, easy to avoid.
He doesn’t have any destination in mind, and spends at least a week just wandering. It’s peaceful enough, the only interruption being when some of the local wildlife decides he looks like a good meal. Vincent doesn’t really mind that either, as even away from Edge the Galian Beast is still restless and discontent. The fights satisfy him. A little, anyway.
He pauses in one small town to purchase some more bullets, but has no desire to linger, particularly with the whispers his odd appearance provokes. Another few days, and he thinks he possibly should have picked up a few extra potions as well, when a series of fights with the monsters dwelling in the local mountains causes him enough damage that the Galian Beast pushes through with an impatient snarl.
Vincent doesn’t really mind taking a back seat as Galian rips the monsters to shreds, a visceral sense of satisfaction rumbling through his huge form along with the deep growls he makes as he fights. But he’s less impressed when the Beast keeps him pushed right back, not letting him interfere, once they’re dealt with. Instead it sets off down the path, eagerly pouncing on any monsters it discovers long before they can even contemplate attacking.
Vincent heaves a mental sigh, and settles in to wait. He’s not all that worried, as long as they stay away from settled areas. But he doesn’t really expect the Galian Beast will be interested in human settlements, anyway.
It’s a chance to observe this particular monster of his, anyway; much as the Beast has often watched his own existence with interest.
The Beast has settled a little by the time they reach more level ground. He’s less aggressive now, although still not willing to let Vincent resume control. Instead he drops to all fours, breaking into an easy lope. Vincent admits there’s something both exhilarating and soothing about the rocking gait, and the contentment the Beast feels at simply being able to run reinforces his belief that this particular demon once had his own, quite physical form. The only time the run is interrupted is when Galian takes down a lesser monster – but this time it’s to provide a meal, not simply to fight.
At some point the Beast has stopped holding him back, and is letting him watch more closely. Despite the pleasure the demon has felt in his temporary freedom – far longer than he usually gets to manifest – Vincent can feel something else, some emotion that seems oddly familiar and... sad.
Then the weather changes.
The Beast looks up at the sky with an unhappy growl that becomes a whine as the rain starts to soak into his fur.
He sets out again, this time with a sense of purpose, and Vincent is surprised when he realises the lights he can see through the storm is actually Junon. In the wake of the damage left by the Weapon and the Meteor Crisis, Junon became the centre of airship development. It already had some facilities, and the business helped the town recover economically. It was the target of one of Deepground’s raids, but the lights suggest there are still plenty of people left.
Including a particular airship pilot and mechanic who lives on the outer edge of the town, closer to the hangars that hold his beloved airships than the other inhabitants.
He’s both surprised and curious when the Beast angles across an open runway, heading directly for Cid’s house.
There are lights on inside. The Galian Beast scratches at the frame of Cid’s door, and settles on the doorstep to wait.
“What the hell -” It’s just like Cid to answer the door with a snarled obscenity rather than a greeting. His gaze drops to meet golden eyes. “Huh. What are you doing on my doorstep, ya silly mongrel? Ain’t got the sense ta get outta the damned rain? Well, come on, then. I ain’t gonna hold this door open all night, it’s pissing down out here.”
The Beast ambles inside with a contented rumble. The room beyond hasn’t changed much since his last visit: a ratty-looking couch, the coffee table holding a few empty bottles and a multitude of parts, airship plans and diagrams pinned to the walls. Bits and pieces of airship-related detritus are all over the place, a testament to Cid’s obsession with flight.
The big furry body tenses in preparation to shed some of the excess water, but a sharp voice stops it dead. “Don’t you even think of shaking water all over my living room, ya damned behemoth. I may not be an excellent housekeeper, but that doesn’t mean ya can trash the place.”
Cid rustles through a pile of laundry on one chair – clean, thankfully - and tosses a towel in their direction. It lands on the Beast’s head, draping comically over one eye. He whines softly.
“Oh, fine.” Cid stubs out the ever-present cigarette in a nearby ashtray and crosses the room to them. He hastily and rather roughly towels the Beast’s mane dry, and even ventures partway down the long back. Vincent flashes back on the open bay of the Shera, Cid yelling instructions at those being dropped to make sure they kill the enemy and not get killed themselves, the gruff admonishments sprinkled with a wide number of epithets and insults.
Cid tosses the damp towel aside. “There.” He stands and head over to the kitchen area, where it appears he was preparing his dinner before the Galian Beast came calling.
Galian rises to his full height, crossing the room on two feet this time. He looks over Cid’s shoulder to see a large cut of steak, thick and red, and just unwrapped from the butcher paper that had been holding it. He rests his muzzle on Cid’s shoulder and whines.
Cid shoves him away with an impatient, “Get out of it!” Then he sighs.
“This is good steak, y’know. Expensive stuff. If you wolf this down so fast it doesn’t even touch the sides I’m kicking you straight back out, storm or not.”
He cuts the steak in half and offers some to the Beast. Galian carefully takes it in his claws, and, apparently remembering Cid’s admonishment, rips a chunk off the end, making an attempt to chew despite the fact his carnivore’s teeth are not really suited for it. Vincent can feel the Beast’s thoughts sliding alongside his own: it tastes good, still rich with blood, although cool; warm would be better. It takes him a moment to recognise the feeling that buoys up those thoughts.
The Galian Beast is happy.
In fact, he’s been radiating a sense of contentment almost from the moment Cid answered the door and started snarling at him. Vincent’s not really sure what to make of it, but as far as the Beast is concerned, all is now right with his world.
There’s a moment of disorientation, and he’s the one standing in Cid’s kitchen, clutching a bloodied piece of meat.
“S’pose you want me to cook that, now,” is all Cid says.
Vincent looks down and shrugs. “This is fine.” He tears off another mouthful, and chews. He’s not bothered by the fact it’s raw; he’s used to that, and it still makes a pleasant change from monster-flesh made bitter by the taint of mako.
“Been a long day,” Cid says as he tosses his own steak on the grill. A couple of eggs have burned to the bottom of a pan on the stovetop. He tosses the whole thing in the sink with a curse, and grabs another frying pan. “Trying to fix the damage that bastard Nero did to my Shera’s engine room. You want any eggs?”
“No, I ate – something else, earlier.” He looks around. “Where is Shera, anyway?”
“At home, where else?” Cid blinks at him. “What, you thought she lived here?” He laughs. “Nah, she said she had enough of me underfoot in Rocket Town. We got separate places when we moved here. Then she married Cedric – that’s m’brother, he’s an accountant, can you believe it? She still keeps an eye on me, mind you. Checks the fridge isn’t growing new species when I’m outta town, that kind of thing.”
“Oh.” Vincent digests this new information, feeling a bit more relaxed now. Probably because now he’s only imposing on Cid with his unexpected arrival.
“Like I said, it’s been a long day; gonna hit the sack after this. Been up since 4 a.m., so I wouldn’t be much company anyway. Couch folds out, if you wanna crash. Should be more blankets in the closet over there.”
The couch does fold out into a rather lumpy bed, with a few more curses from Cid, although the pilot refrains from giving it the kick he clearly wants to. It’s just as well; one leg is a little wobbly and Vincent’s not sure it would have survived meeting the steel toe-cap on Cid’s boot. But as he drifts off, the faint sound of Cid snoring carrying from the bedroom, he has to admit he feels more comfortable than he has in a long time. No rocks poking him in the back, for starters.
If Cid doesn’t mind, perhaps he’ll stay awhile.