“I’ll do it.”
The words had sounded numb and foreign to her as they left her lips. They sounded strange and distant now as they replayed in her mind, as though they had never belonged to her, but had been spoken through her mouth on someone else’s behalf and she just didn’t see the point in not going along with it.
It had been almost this time yesterday when the incident with Vincent had occurred. And only the day before that when…
Lucrecia paused and closed her eyes briefly as tears started to well.
Stop it. Don’t. Don’t think about it. You’re working.
Yesterday morning, she had been careful to slip out of her bed while Vincent still slumbered in it. His assignment may have been a twenty-four hour job that, ironically, left him a fair amount of discretion concerning which of those hours he allotted to sleeping, but Lucrecia and the other scientists were on a strict schedule that required them to keep regular hours in the lab, and those hours were tragically early. At six in the morning she had been untangling herself from the naked Turk’s arms and sparing a passing thought at how he was supposed to protect them if he was that heavy of a sleeper. Even the sound of the shower running for ten minutes in the adjacent bathroom had not woken him, nor the time that Lucrecia spent collecting her clothing from the floor and hastily making herself workplace presentable. Shaking her head in bewilderment at her bodyguard's unconscious body as she collected her last shoe and slipped it onto her foot, Lucrecia wrote it off to simply tiring him that thoroughly the evening prior and congratulated herself on a job well done.
Formidable, trained enemies haven’t been able to take this man down. Vincent Valentine: felled by a good night.
It had been exciting and passionate, if not wise. She knew who he was. And yet still, somehow Lucrecia had managed to convince herself that the right thing to do would be to befriend him rather than be honest with him. She intended to tell him eventually, she had told herself. She was just waiting for the right time. It will be easier if we get to know each other first, was her first excuse, and then, He’s so sweet; I can’t bear to make him hate me just yet. These were sufficient excuses to delay what she was increasingly deluding herself into believing was not inevitable. At least, each excuse was enough to assuage her for the moments necessary until denial took over.
Don’t think about it had become somewhat of a mantra of Lucrecia’s in regard to dealing with difficult emotions. Maybe that was why the chemistry between them had gotten out of control and she found herself making passionate love to the man before she had even realized she had been falling for him.
Don’t think about it.
The bliss was so short lived she hadn’t even been properly faced with the aftermath. Early in the day, Hojo had asked her to retrieve some information regarding her former mentor that only she had access to. She had been careless, leaving Grimoire’s file on her screen while she stepped into the other room, but she thought Vincent would sleep for a few hours yet and he rarely entered her lab. She supposed he had been feeling rosy about their recent developments and was coming by to spend time with her, maybe to ask her to take a lunch break with him, but Lucrecia never got to find out. When she stepped back into her lab to find him there, he was already gaping at the sight of his late father’s file and Lucrecia had no choice but to tearfully spill everything to him then and there.
She couldn’t bear to face him. She had run from him then, run from the lab and didn’t even bother returning to work for the rest of the day. Gast had all but abandoned them anyway, so what did it even matter? She almost would have dared Hojo to say anything about it—not that he had apparently cared about her absence too much, even despite the fact that she hadn’t delivered the files he’d asked for yet. Lucrecia had locked herself in her room for the rest of the day and was glad to see that Vincent had already collected all of his belongings. When he came to her door asking to talk, she turned him away.
She was a monster. The worst human ever. How could she bear to talk to him now? “I killed your father, kept it from you for months even though I suspected you were developing feelings for me, and then slept with you anyway”? There was no coming back from that. Absolutely nothing could have made that right. Nothing.
The best thing she could do for Vincent at this point was put as much distance between them as possible. He deserved better than her. He needed to know that. He needed to get over her.
The remainder of the bottle of wine they had shared that night was still in her refrigerator and it was her only friend that day. Huddled on her floor, alcohol in hand, eyes red and face streaked with tears and mucous like the self-hating drunk that she very much felt like, Lucrecia must have gone through every disparaging thought before her mind started to travel to more mundane issues like work.
Like the project Hojo wanted her to participate in. Unthinkable. Potentially glorious, but unthinkable.
What was the point of resisting now? What kind of morals had she fooled herself into thinking she had? She wasn’t above this. She was no better than Hojo; she just had a more agreeable physiognomy. Pretty. Personable. And the general acceptance of her demeanor was reflected back to her by society in an infinite feedback loop that validated her complacency.
Hojo was an asshole; there was little argument about that, at least where social graces were concerned. But it suddenly became unavoidable to her that beneath the social graces, she was an asshole, too. And she had been hiding from that for so long, unconsciously safe in the knowledge that as long as she said the right words and smiled the right smiles and generally was a pleasant person, people would buy into her goodness in the way that humans often did based on appearances and superficial social cues. Burying her face in her knees so that even the walls didn’t have to look at her, Lucrecia was suddenly sickened with herself for ever fooling anyone into thinking she was any such thing.
You’re not. You’re the worst. Get off your high horse.
The project would require her to become pregnant, yes, and that was frightening in its own right. But a pregnancy couldn’t hurt her career if it was part of her career, and she suddenly had very little personal life for a pregnancy to interfere with. Given the role that her career played in her life—not to mention her decidedly less impressive level of competence in romance and relationships—this might have been her best chance to have a child. Besides, the incentives included ShinRa financially providing for the child one hundred percent, which included shelter and education—top-notch education. On top of her salary, they would never want for much if anything, and it seemed the responsible thing to ensure a secure future for her child if she was ever to have one.
Mostly, though, she just didn’t care about what having a child would do to her life at this point. She had killed her mentor and possibly last friend in the science department. Her family didn’t talk to her anymore. And she had just completely ruined things with the first man to care about her in a long time. Maybe this child thing was a blessing in disguise. Maybe it was what she should be doing with her life; Shiva only knew every other path she had tried to take wasn’t working. What the hell did she have to lose at this point?
But most importantly of all—far more important than any of her silly personal drama and squeamish reservations—the success of this project meant the rebirth of the Cetra race… It was a gamble, yes, to wager on whether or not they would even reach that goal, and unfortunately in that gamble she had to pony up before knowing whether she had won or lost. But the Planet needed her; the Planet needed someone, and Hojo had already made it more than clear to her that at this point that someone was either going to be her or nobody. With Gast’s virtual abandonment implying a lack of confidence in their work, Shinra wasn’t going to grant them an additional budget for volunteers or anything else until he saw results.
The Cetra… Lucrecia had spent a sizable portion of her many years at university studying the Cetra. The Cetra lived in peace until the Calamity happened—an unknown event, likely the collision of a meteor or asteroid, that had left a large crater on the Northern Continent—wiping them out and giving way to the rise of the human race…the flawed, selfish, war-loving human race. The Cetra had the right of it, she thought. Whatever it was that the Cetra knew about how to carry on a society, they did so much better of a job at it than we ever have. The extinction of the Cetra is the worst thing that’s ever happened to us. Look at us…humans…we can’t even go about our own lives without mucking things up. And now, they had a chance to bring the Cetra back. The Cetra needed her. Humanity needed her. The world had a use for her even when she no longer had a use for herself. Why was she being so selfish and afraid?
Entertaining these frightening yet suddenly very realistic thoughts, Lucrecia had lulled herself from ragged sobs to staring openmouthed into space, brow curled in wonderment at the possibility of it all. The fact that she was even considering it all. Yet, suddenly, it made more sense than madness.
But what if something goes wrong? said a nagging little voice. What if the Ancient’s cells cause health problems? Deformities?
It was a reasonable, human voice. But the pragmatic scientist in her replied, Health issues or no, the child wouldn’t be born otherwise, so its only alternative would be nonexistence.
The logic was as good as resolve.
But that was yesterday.
Today, Lucrecia was back to work and trying valiantly to hold it together. Taking the previous afternoon off had done no favors for her schedule, and it was much to her dismay that she came into her lab only to remember that the petri dishes she had meant to have ready for today had never been prepared. It was her own fault, as it was a task that she had designated to the hours she had skipped out on, but the personal culpability for the foolish neglect only frustrated her more. Now, she was struggling vainly to keep her hands from shaking as she handled the small glass dishes and agar mixture.
You’re a professional, Lucrecia, she reminded herself. Stay professional.
That was somewhat difficult in light of her first hour at work, in which she had agreed to participate in the Jenova Project in the capacity of a volunteer uterus.
“I’ll do it.”
Hojo was right. Drastic times called for drastic measures, and the only way they were going to get ahead of Hollander and his team at this point was if they innovated in the practice of human experimentation. Hojo said he knew the key. He said that Hollander’s problem was that he wasn’t cutting out the middle man—or middle woman, so to speak—and that injecting Jenova’s cells into the mother instead of the fetus was an unnecessary and cumbersome step that resulted in the fetus receiving a diluted concentration of the Ancient’s cells. He said Hollander was a fool for not seeing this. He said his intention was to inject Jenova’s cells into the fetus directly, which incidentally should cause fewer negative side effects to the mother.
Don’t think about it.
Gast had really screwed them over when he left. First it was frequent business trips to the new urban development of Midgar that increasingly left Hojo and Lucrecia shouldering most of the responsibility for Project S, and now it was a very ill-timed leave of absence. Now, of all times. Now, when he knew they were competing against Team G for their very livelihoods. Indeed, if Hollander’s team ended up with the superior results, it was unlikely that either Hojo or Lucrecia would be seeing reputable work for a very long time.
Not that Gast has to worry about that himself… We’ll be the ones shouldering the consequences for his neglect.
With all that Lucrecia had lost in the past year—with all that she had lost in the past day—she would be damned if she was about to lose her career too.
Dr. Valentine died because of my ambitions. The least I can do is see them through so that his death won’t have been in vain.
Drastic times. Drastic measures.
“Where will the…sperm donation come from?”
“From our team, obviously.” Hojo had scoffed.
Lucrecia had simply nodded numbly and left. She was pretty sure she had just agreed to fuck her colleague but she didn’t even care at this point.
Don’t think about it.
A curse cut through the air as the glass dish fumbled from Lucrecia’s shaking leaden fingers. She reflexively attempted to catch it but only resulted in spilling freshly poured medium all over her blouse before the dish bounced off the back of her knuckles and crashed against the floorboards. Of course she would have left her lab jacket open. Of course she had.
Sighing deeply and rueing the thought of losing her favorite blouse, Lucrecia quickly removed her lab coat, glanced about the empty lab, and undid its pearlescent buttons while marching briskly to the sink. The dish was broken, the mixture a lost cause, and she didn’t care about the floor, but if she rinsed the blouse before the agar jellified then she could still salvage it.
It was more than a little drafty in the lab, what with the need to keep the room at a cool, dry temperature to prevent contamination of specimens, but Lucrecia ignored the minor discomfort as she ran her shirt under warm water and brushed rigorously at the soiled spot as though she could scrub out all of her own insufficiency.
“Doctor, I need the—”
Lucrecia jumped and dropped the scrub brush into the metal sink with a loud, reverberating clang, so high strung and thoroughly startled she had been by the sound of Hojo’s voice.
“Right, the um—” Lucrecia licked her lips uneasily, glancing over her bare shoulder. “The files—I-I know—” She started to hold the shirt up over her breasts for modesty but then realized it was now soaking wet and would only result in getting her bra and the rest of her wet, so she awkwardly faltered between putting the shirt down in the sink and continuing to hold it in her hand while crossing her forearms over her chest to half-turn toward her coworker. “Sorry, I…I spilled something on my shirt. Watch where you step there, it’s…”
It occurred to her that Hojo was reflecting none of her embarrassment or fluster, as might have been socially appropriate. That may not have been entirely surprising, given that it was Hojo, but he also seemed curiously devoid of his usual annoyance. In fact, curious was a good word for what was there. He eyed her curiously, contemplatively, and Lucrecia felt uncomfortably on display.
Then it occurred to her how silly it was for her to put on a show of modesty with someone who she had just agreed to conceive a child with. Her wariness mounted as she considered the way he looked at her.
Hojo took a purposeful step over the cracked petri dish and accompanying mess and paced slowly toward her, his expression inscrutable. Her back to the counter now, Lucrecia felt her heart pounding in her chest, still unsure how to react. Aside from the darting about of her eyes as she glanced nervously around the surroundings and at her approaching colleague, she didn’t move. Her arms stayed dumbly poised as they were for lack of a better idea what to do with them. Neither spoke. The running water in the sink beside her ran through the air like static.
Hojo stood in front of her now, the obsidian eyes behind his glasses ravaging her hungrily, flickering with a satisfaction that made her apprehensive. Lucrecia could hear her heart pounding in her ears over the white noise of the streaming faucet. He grabbed her wrist and moved her hand down to her side; Lucrecia put up no resistance and lowered her other arm as well. Her wet blouse brushed against her leg, causing her to shiver.
With his other hand, Hojo cupped her right breast, calloused fingers running over the white lace before he squeezed more roughly, causing a sharp gasp to leave Lucrecia’s lips. Hojo smirked triumphantly, self-righteously, and burrowed his fingers beneath the lace cup, kneading her breast lustily with none of Vincent’s gentleness.
Don’t think about it.
In the instant that Lucrecia let her gaze fall away from his face, Hojo claimed her mouth with his. It was a possessive, affectionless kiss, almost angry in its aggression. He leaned into her, his hips pinning her against the counter behind her as his tongue greedily made a reconnaissance of her mouth. She was surprised by his urgency, surprised by the force of it, surprised any of this was even happening.
What surprised her most was that, on some level, she wanted this.
His hand released her breast and instead both were on her hips. He hoisted her up onto the counter behind her. The wet shirt slipped from her fingers and Lucrecia wrapped her arm around his neck. Hojo had surrendered her mouth and she now leaned the side of her head against his, mostly so that she didn’t have to look at him. She could smell his hair. A hand went up her skirt and tugged her undergarments down, almost ripping them in the process until Lucrecia shifted her position to free them from her body’s weight. She heard the sound of belt buckles jingling, and then a moment later her least favorite coworker was thrusting himself into her.
She couldn’t deny there was something sexy about it. Sexy and wrong. He wasn’t necessarily an unattractive man; he was just so weird and unlikeable. He wouldn’t have been her first choice—and, indeed, had not been—but given that the decision had already been made for her by the circumstances, there was something incredibly liberating about having no choice now but to give in and allow the weird, unlikeable man that she half despised to have his way with her. Maybe she deserved it. Maybe, on some level, she wanted to be punished by having sex with Hojo. Lucrecia had never been a particularly masochistic woman, but given all the fucked up shit going down in her life at this moment, maybe being punished was exactly what she needed.
Her other arm flung around Hojo’s shoulders and grabbed the back of his head, angling the side of his cranium toward her mouth with all the unceremoniousness he had shown her. “Fuck me,” she hissed into his ear.
There was no tenderness in it. There was barely even kindness. Every thrust was harsh and abrupt and punctuated with a lusty, guttural sound. Each movement threatened to push Lucrecia out of his reach were it not for the hand that firmly palmed her rump, holding her in place as it greedily squeezed the fleshy cheek. His other hand pushed her bra up out of the way and ravaged the breast nearest it. Lucrecia wasn’t sure if Hojo believed any of that to be pleasurable to her or if it was solely for his own benefit but let him carry on as he wished. Instead, she arched her back and angled herself forward slightly so that at least his barbarous thrusting provided her with adequate clitoral stimulation until her breaths were also accompanied by little hitched sounds.
Lucrecia wrapped her legs around Hojo’s thighs, pulling him into her. Her hands clung to his shoulders. She looked across the room at the door. It was closed, but probably not locked, and for a moment, as beads of sweat formed on her brow and she dug her nails into the back of Hojo’s lab coat, she imagined Vincent entering the room and finding them. What would he think of her right now, caught in flagrante delicto? What did she think of herself right now? She conjured the image of hurt and betrayal on the Turk’s face as vividly as if it had actually occurred and knew it was because she had caused it, and as his visage twisted into a mixture of anguish and disgust, judging her, hating her, she knew it was a mirror to all of her loathsomeness and depravity.
That probably shouldn’t have been the thought that got her off, but it did. She stifled a cry and gouged her nails into Hojo’s shoulder, partially from passion and partially from contempt.
Hojo didn’t seem to notice, but gave a few labored grunts, clenched his jaw, sputtered something unintelligible through the strain in his neck muscles, and released inside her. Lucrecia felt the hot sensation of fresh ejaculate filling her as he withdrew himself.
Belt buckles jingled again, Hojo zipped himself up in front of her, then he turned and started for the door while still buckling his belt.
Lucrecia said nothing.
Hojo gestured to the broken petri dish as he walked around it. “Clean up the mess. Janitorial services aren’t in our budget.”
Lucrecia gazed blankly at the mess in question: glass and liquid and bits of clear gel.
The door to his adjacent office closed behind him.
Lucrecia slid off the counter and turned off the faucet. She fixed the underwire of her bra back into place. She bent down and retrieved her blouse and panties from the floor, replacing the undergarments but still finding her shirt in need of drying, so she draped it over the drying rack and reached for her nearby lab coat. The crisp white polyester provided an odd sense of comfort as Lucrecia slipped her arms into its sleeves and pulled its lapels tightly around herself.
Her hands were shaking. Lucrecia ran them through her bangs in a vain attempt to steady them. What am I doing? she asked herself.
Don’t think about it.
Don’t think about it.