Things fade with time … as do many things in this world.
But there are some things that we cannot let disappear.
… I finally realized my true feelings. Even if you may never understand them.
Not that I mind, though. But …
This isn’t how it was supposed to be …
Omega rose, pulling the souls from the Planet. They trailed behind, twisting, spiraling, and lifted him on wings made of Lifestream. The siphoning began.
Chaos could feel it, the Planet’s cry pulsing in his chest. One day, they would take that journey, he vowed …
But not today.
He stood before Omega and stopped it. Destiny was sundered. Life fell from the sky, and returned to the Planet. The world was saved.
Omega and Chaos … were gone.
It feels … different.
He had become one with Chaos. The conscious being that had existed inside him … They had come to an understanding. Vincent had chosen to listen, to hear Chaos’s words, and Chaos had refused to become the Planet’s pawn. It was a disturbing harmony, but necessary, and the raw power of Chaos had become controlled when the Protomateria was returned to him. Together, they put an end to Omega.
And then, Chaos had left.
He didn’t know how or why, not really - Chaos rarely explained himself. But the being had felt … satisfied, yet with unfinished purpose, and Vincent could only assume that the roiling backlash of concentrated power and fragmenting Lifestream had enabled him to become free of Vincent.
Chaos had resented him, for his imprisonment. Vincent wasn’t surprised he’d left. But he felt … empty now. Chaos had always hovered on the edge of his consciousness, behind the other voices, dominating at times, watching at others … always with some air of dark amusement. He had always been the one in control of the others. It had just taken Vincent a while to recognize that he was there.
And now … he was free. He felt lighter. But …
There was something else left to do.
Vincent Valentine opened his eyes.
He thought he was dreaming. There was little of interest occurring, however, so it was a while before he turned from the comfortable depths of his thoughts.
He was in a cell. Rather, the walls, floor, and ceiling were gray steel, with a single, harsh, fluorescent lamp flickering above, and a steel bedframe with a thin mattress and a pillow along one side of the room. It looked very much like any cell he had ever been in, so he assumed he was justified in calling it one. He was not concerned about his location, however, because he knew that he was not the one imprisoned here.
There was also a boy in the cell.
There was nothing particularly special about the boy, upon first glance. He was thin, but not skinny. Despite the sleeves of his loose, white shirt, Vincent could see that he was beginning to develop muscle. His hair was relatively long, cropped to about the base of his neck, and long bangs both framed and hid his eyes, as he sat cross-legged on the bed, with his head bowed. His skin was pale, and his hair was white.
There was a stack of books on a stand beside the bed. As Vincent observed from his place in a dark corner of the room, he idly wondered why the boy did not read one. He did nothing but sit there, staring at the hands in his lap or picking at the white fabric of his pants.
He watched the boy for a long time. But when the boy continued to do nothing, Vincent returned to his thoughts, and the comfortable darkness of his mind.
Lucrecia … You were the reason I survived.
It had taken him a long time to come to that realization. After his transgressions, after he simply stood by, watching, while she withered away and Hojo destroyed her … it had taken him a long time to see anything beyond his sins. To find the value in … anything.
It was appropriate that he’d become a monster. Hojo had made him physically what he’d already done to himself. Let him suffer, as he had let her suffer. As he had let her unborn child suffer and create more suffering. His outward appearance should reflect the corruption in his soul, the darkness that stained his heart. Let him become that creature of utter blackness and revulsion.
Soul wrought of terra corrupt …
It was appropriate. It was his punishment.
But she had been his redemption.
The most loathsome creature he’d harbored, the heaviest burden of guilt and suffering … had been her gift to him. It had been everything she’d had left to give, and it had taken everything from her to give it. He had seen in her memories, the cost it wrung from her, from a body and soul that was nearing its limit. Had he been able to speak to her, he would have told her to let him die. It would have been easier …
Until he realized that he had been her attempt at redemption, too.
This isn’t how it was supposed to be … I’ve made too many mistakes. And I’ve hurt you so, so much. Why did I do what I did? I’m so sorry.
But, Lucrecia … you were the reason I survived.
The only reason, Valentine?
Vincent started at the new voice. Who …?
The boy still sat on the bed, though now he paged through one of the books. Vincent couldn’t decide whether he was actually reading or not. The boy’s expression betrayed nothing; his face was neutral, as if he’d become adept at hiding his feelings …
Or as if he simply had no feelings to show.
The boy’s hair was a silvery white, Vincent noticed now, as he studied the figure – neither the silver of an aging man, nor the white of an ancient one, but lighter than one and with a sheen that the other lacked. It made the boy seem like a ghost, nearly luminescent – pale hair, pale skin, pale clothes … It was almost as if he didn’t quite exist at all.
After a while, the boy reached the last page in the book, and closed it. He set it atop the stack on the stand, and then flopped backward onto the mattress, resting his head on his hands. It was then that Vincent received his first glimpse of the only color at all to the boy.
His eyes were green.
They were luminescent, like hard chips of materia. The pupils were slit, narrowed almost to hairline fractures, as he gazed, unflinchingly, into the harsh light of the fixture above.
The unit hummed and cracked, overwhelmingly loud now, in the silence, like an electric discharge. It filled his ears and burrowed into his mind.
Still, the boy stared, unblinking, at it.
It reached the point where Vincent, himself, chanced a look upward to see just what it was the boy saw. But, abruptly, the boy stood, facing the door. Several moments later, it opened. A woman in a white lab coat stepped in. She carried a clipboard.
Without uttering a sound, the boy left with her. Incredulous, Vincent followed with his eyes, until the door shut with a loud click.
Give him back! Give my son back! Let me see him! Just once!
I’m so sorry …
But … Sephiroth …?
… How long did it take you to realize that, Valentine?
Lucrecia’s … son.
He wondered why he dreamed this. Lucrecia had been burdened by painful visions of her son, though she would never relate them to him, nor let him comfort her. He could only watch as she collapsed in agony. It was later that he discovered what she suffered from.
He’d told her that Sephiroth was dead. He’d done it to give her peace, to let her rest … but he wondered whether it really had.
Sephiroth … the man betrayed before birth to a destiny of hate …
Why would Vincent dream of him? He’d never personally come to know him. He’d always felt detached from the man he’d sought with Cloud and the others. Sephiroth had been a name, a symbol recalling Vincent’s greatest sin, and hers … He’d never desired to meet him. His guilt had been too much a burden. His sole purpose was to atone.
So, why now, after the man was dead?
Now is the best time for everything.
… Who are you?
There was no answer.
The boy sat upon the bed once more. Again, he stared at his hands and ignored the books.
There was a bandage around his head, and covering his right eye.
Vincent continued to watch, as he had before. He wondered if the scientist would return. He wondered if Hojo would appear.
After another small eternity of the light’s droning hum, the boy shifted, sighing.
“Are you intending to say anything, or just watch?”
Vincent started for the second time. Was the boy speaking to him?
Sephiroth finally turned his head, fixing him with one catlike eye. “You’ve been standing there for a long time,” he observed. His voice was young, and quiet.
When there was another long moment with no answer, Sephiroth apparently assumed he wasn’t going to get one. With another sigh that would have been a normal breath to anyone else, he returned his gaze to his hands.
“… You knew I was here.” Vincent’s own voice was low and gravelly after long disuse and few words since.
“You’ve been there for a long time,” Sephiroth repeated, lifting his eyes. “The scientists don’t look at you.” He tilted his head, eying him perceptively. “Do they know you’re there?”
Vincent blinked again. “… I don’t know.”
“Where did you come from?”
“… I don’t know.” Truthfully, he didn’t know how he came to be here. It was a dream. He just was.
“Did they put you here?”
Vincent didn’t need to ask to know who he was referring to. “No.”
There was a long moment of silence. Then:
“Do you have anything to say?”
“… I haven’t thought about it,” Vincent admitted.
“Oh.” Vincent detected a note of regret in the boy’s voice, as he turned from him and went back to the study of his hands. The man debated for a few moments, before asking a question.
“What did they do to your eye?”
“… A ‘necessary procedure,’” Sephiroth quoted.
“… What kind of procedure?”
“The ‘necessary’ kind.” He couldn’t be sure, but it seemed that Sephiroth was enjoying withholding the information. His face was still expressionless.
“You know the details.”
“Yes.” Sephiroth offered no more than that.
Silence resumed. The light droned on.
The cell was empty now, leaving Vincent with his own thoughts. Again, he wondered at the point of these dreams, why Sephiroth had chosen to speak to him. The boy was none of his concern. Events were over, and this was meaningless.
Still, he’d found that a certain … curiosity had awoken within him. This was Lucrecia’s son, the joy stolen from her, the joy she sacrificed in some misguided vision of science. What had been her reasons? She said she hadn’t known why she’d done what she had. But she had been upset. She had been upset when Vincent confronted them and demanded an answer, and then meekly let it slide …
Are you sure … this is what you really want?
Am I sure? Am I sure? If this only concerns me, then yes, I am sure!
But … who else would it have concerned? Had she wanted …
If you have something to say, say it.
And he hadn’t. He saw now, what he’d been too blind to see then – too absorbed in wanting Lucrecia to do whatever made her happy, even sacrificing her own child, he’d missed that she’d been looking, begging, for his input. She’d wanted him to protest, because perhaps she couldn’t, she’d wanted him to stop the madness before it could continue … She’d wanted him to show he cared … and he hadn’t. And maybe that was part of the reason for agreeing to the experiment in the first place; certainly it was why it continued. Lucrecia … hadn’t wanted to make that decision at all. But she had, because she’d felt … trapped. Lost.
If this only concerns me …
She had wanted it to concern him.
Had it, Valentine?
… What do you …?
Before he could finish the question, the door opened, and Sephiroth entered. It clicked shut behind him. The boy was dressed in a nondescript, gray sleeveless tunic, and short pants. He wore boots, tall, stiff ones that rose to his knees and braced his ankles and calves. There was a belt, fingerless gloves, and he carried a sword. A vibrant, red gash ran across his bicep and more crimson stained his cheek.
He’d been fighting.
Sephiroth sat on his bed and removed a set of cleaning supplies from a drawer in the stand beside it. Methodically, he began to clean and oil the blade.
“… Do they not treat your injuries?” Vincent asked.
“’I am to dwell on my mistakes, so that I may correct them for the future,’” the boy recited, not looking up. “This is supposed to help me.”
“… Does it?”
Vincent continued staring at the boy. When he merely proceeded with his chore, showing no reaction at all to the blood as it made its way down his arm to the elbow, before finally beginning to drip onto the floor, Vincent spoke up.
“How long do they expect you to remain without treatment?”
“Until it heals on its own,” Sephiroth replied, matter-of-factly. “Or they might heal it before my session this afternoon …” He shrugged. “Or not. Maybe they will want to see how well I do with an impairment.”
“… Doesn’t this … bother you?”
Sephiroth paused, considering. “… It did, at first. But I have learned to ignore most impairments.” There almost seemed to be … a note of pride in his voice. “It gives me a way to measure my own healing rate. It improves as they administer additional Mako.”
“They give you Mako?” Vincent asked sharply. Would they really experiment on a child in this way? Even ShinRa placed an age limit on its SOLDIERs, and for good reason. “How much?”
“The amount varies, depending on a number of factors. But, once a week.”
“But you’re only …” When Sephiroth did not supply anything, Vincent clarified. “How old are you?”
“I believe I am eight. That is what my file stated, last I looked at it.”
Vincent went silent. Was this what Hojo had in mind when Lucrecia gave up her own son? Mako injections were tantamount to torture – bad enough to inflict them upon SOLDIERs, but to subject a child to such treatment?
“Are you going to continue to inquire about the procedures?” Sephiroth broke into his thoughts. “It’s not a very interesting topic.” He watched Vincent, expectantly.
Vincent studied him. The boy had a very serious demeanor. He behaved as if the ‘procedures’ were a natural part of everyday life, simply something to be accepted. He did not seem cowed by them, nor angered, at least as far as Vincent could tell. They just existed, as he did. Vincent wondered what other procedures the boy was subject to.
Sephiroth still watched him. Where, at one point, he may have gone back to his task, he’d seemed to realize that Vincent simply took a while to answer his questions. So he waited, patiently.
“… Later,” Vincent finally answered. It was nothing more than to satisfy his own curiosity, and if Sephiroth did not want to talk about it, he did not need to ask. Instead, he voiced a different question he had been wondering. “Does it concern you that I am here?”
Sephiroth dropped his gaze back to his blade and continued with his task. “Should it? I don’t care what people do, so long as they do not bother me. You are the first person who has not tried to do anything to me, and you provide conversation.” He paused. “It hasn’t been very interesting conversation, but it’s better than the drivel I get from the scientists.”
“… What do they tell you?”
“They tell me nothing. They quiz me on my studies, and inflict punishment if I get something incorrect. I have discovered it is not wise to not know something. I do not trust them to provide me a satisfactory answer, so I learn in other ways.”
“Sometimes. But they do not keep track of what they give me, and they seem inclined to test my comprehension beyond what I have read. … I don’t think they believe me when I report that I have finished a book the day they give it to me.” He paused again, and Vincent thought he detected a faint glimmer of … mischief? … in the boy’s eyes. “The scientists are lazy, so I have learned to steal from their notes.”
So, this is the life of Lucrecia’s son, Vincent mused. A prisoner, neither willing nor unwilling, and he doesn’t seem to recognize it one way or the other. He learns what he must to survive.
“… Do they harm you?”
A flicker of surprise passed across the boy’s face, and his brow furrowed just slightly in confusion. “… No more than what is necessary.”
And what defines ‘necessary’?
“… Does no one show you compassion?” Vincent pressed.
Sephiroth gave him a distinctly odd look. “I am a SOLDIER. There is no room for compassion. Compassion is for the weak.”
Before Vincent could form a response, the door opened. Sephiroth was standing, face once more schooled into a neutral expression, before the lab attendant had even come into view.
“Session Two, Materia Room, Level Sixty-Five,” the man announced.
Without even a nod of acknowledgement, Sephiroth trailed the man from the room, but not before casting one last, curious look in Vincent’s direction. Then the door shut, leaving him alone, once again.
Vincent’s thoughts wandered. He thought of the boy, Sephiroth, which caused him to think of Lucrecia. She was always there, in his meditations, a lovely, bittersweet memory. This time, his musings on her led him on a spiraling path to an unexpected target – his father, Grimoire Valentine.
He hadn’t known the man very well, he supposed. He’d been a kind man, but distant; he hadn’t approved of Vincent’s entry into the Turks. At one point, Vincent had resented him for that … but such feelings were meaningless now.
Grimoire had been a scientist for ShinRa – that much Vincent had known … but that seemed to be about the only thing he had known. He had not known what the man had worked on, hadn’t honestly thought to care, and he hadn’t known that the man had worked with Lucrecia … extensively with her, in fact. He’d been her mentor, supporting her thesis work. It was only much later that he’d discovered what both his father and Lucrecia had been involved in together, and it had been a shock … almost as much a shock as it had been when he discovered Lucrecia had known him in the first place. She had never told Vincent about him, except that she’d felt responsible for his death.
It was that moment, he mused now, that had put a strain on their relationship … She had turned increasingly to Hojo after that, for reasons he could not fathom – comfort, he supposed, that Vincent had tried, but somehow could not, provide for her. She had become consumed by guilt, which Vincent’s presence, as her beloved mentor’s son, only intensified.
He wished things had gone differently … his lack of knowledge about his father only one of the many, many reasons. Lucrecia must have known him far better than Vincent had … what connection had the two made that she’d felt so strongly about him? What was it about the man that she had admired so much, that Vincent had never known? Now it was too late to know anything.
It was strange … it had been the Protomateria, discovered by his father, and lost, forgotten in Lucrecia’s lab after his death, that had saved him from Chaos. It had been, in a way, he supposed, a gift from the man, after his death … A gift from his father – the first and last gift Vincent could ever remember getting from him. Grimoire Valentine had not been an easy man to live with, during what little Vincent saw of him in his childhood – he had expected much and given little, insisting that Vincent learn to become self-reliant in all things.
Absently, Vincent rubbed his chest. He wondered … did he still possess the Protomateria?
There was a dark chuckle in the back of his mind, but it faded as soon as he turned his attention toward it.
It couldn’t be … Chaos?
Vincent continued to dream, and in his dreams, he watched the boy. When his own thoughts merely led him in circles, he finally ventured out of the cell to see just what it was the scientists put him through.
They tested Sephiroth’s strength and stamina, his endurance, his speed, his flexibility, his balance, his agility, his intelligence. They were constantly testing these, and when he surpassed them or surprised them, they came up with ever more creative methods to assess his performance.
He watched as Sephiroth was pitted against monsters, swarms of small, crafty ones, as well as lumbering behemoths twenty times his size. All these he took in stride, handling in one fashion or another, whether he was fully capable or impaired by some injury or Status Effect, intentional or not. It surprised Vincent, the extent the scientists were willing to go to hamper Sephiroth’s ability in combat, just as it surprised him how little aid he received after most battles … just as it surprised him how often Sephiroth was able to walk away from conditions that would have slaughtered a fully-grown SOLDIER in an instant.
He imagined Hojo was quite pleased with the results of this experiment.
There were other tests, too … invasive tests, tests with Mako and Jenova, and other things, which Vincent knew about, but which he did not see. For, Sephiroth, in a rare request, had expressed his desire that Vincent not come to watch. Surprised, Vincent consented. On these days, he waited for Sephiroth in the cell. When the boy returned, shivering, in pain, at times barely conscious, Vincent would sit with him, and sometimes would speak and tell him things.
You’re a fool, Valentine.
Vincent had decided that the dark voice in the back of his mind was indeed Chaos, or a memory of the beast. Perhaps, after harboring him so long, a part of his thoughts now sounded like the creature, for Chaos was gone. Or, perhaps his dream had chosen to communicate with him in Chaos’s voice.
In any case, he ignored it. The voice came and went; it was no more helpful than Chaos had ever been in life, and it refused to answer any of his queries. He would not give Chaos, let alone a dream-construction of his voice, the satisfaction of his irritation.
The voice smirked in the background.
Sephiroth was taking an extraordinarily long time to return to the room today. He had been gone when Vincent returned his focus to the outside world around him; the world seemed, in some way, hazy, as if he viewed it through the glass of a thick, old window. It was easy to become preoccupied with his thoughts, but things had become clearer, lately. And though the passage of time escaped him, he had some concept of the normal length of Sephiroth’s absences. This one was abnormally long.
He was beginning to become concerned – why, he did not know, as the boy and his surroundings were a manifestation of his dream – but before he thought to go look for him, the door opened and Sephiroth dashed in, mildly out of breath. Quickly, the boy shut the door, then stood beside it listening for a long while. When he finally glanced up at Vincent, he didn’t smile, but his eyes glimmered as though from a boy who was smiling, and broadly, at that.
“They haven’t discovered it yet,” Sephiroth stated. Vincent raised an eyebrow, prompting the boy to continue. “The lab assistants were careless enough to leave their notes lying around. I set fire to them.” His eyes brightened. “I also freed the other experiments. There will be a dozen mutant rats in the air ducts, now, and everything else is busy destroying the lab. There was a behemoth in Cell Block D.” Sephiroth’s eyes positively sparkled now. “… This prank is much better than last year’s,” he finished, matter-of-factly.
“… Aren’t you worried what they will do when they find you?”
“No one saw me do it,” Sephiroth replied, confidently. “And they cannot prove it was me. The assistants need more secure passwords.”
After a long moment, Vincent grunted in amusement. “What did you do last year?”
“I put glue in the Mako pipeline system, after they flushed it for inspection. When it was pumped up again, the glue and Mako combined and clogged all the pipes. They had to inspect it a second time, but no one was prepared for the adhesive Mako, which had acquired the intriguing property of bonding to organic substances.”
Vincent actually chuckled at that.
“The professor lost a lot of assistants after that one.”
It was several hours later before someone came to the cell. Abruptly, the door banged open and an enraged Professor Hojo stalked into the room. Vincent stiffened.
“I don’t know how you did it, boy, but I know you did. Your pranks have gone too far!” The professor’s voice, loud and infuriated, grated on Vincent’s ears. He pointed an accusing finger at Sephiroth. “Just what kind of game do you think you are playing? Years’ worth of irreplaceable data … lost! Many of my creations were terminated, against my wishes, and now it will be much harder to replicate what I need.”
Sephiroth calmly reclined on his bed, paging through one of the books. He slowly glanced up, raising an eyebrow. “Professor?”
In a burst of fury, Hojo snatched the book out of Sephiroth’s hands and flung it to the floor. “Don’t pretend ignorance with me, boy! I know you too well. The others may not, but I do. You forget who raised you.”
Sephiroth rested his now-empty hands in his lap. “Professor, I waited for today’s assistants to return with the equipment. When they did not, I simply came back here. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“They did not return because someone had lathered an organic adhesive over the chemical containers they had gone to fetch!” Hojo gritted his teeth. “Mark my words, boy, you will regret your actions today. Count yourself lucky that you are more valuable than the experiments you destroyed.”
When Sephiroth’s only reply was to stare coolly back at him, Hojo huffed and turned to sweep back through the door. However, he paused, having caught sight of something unexpected … and turned to peer hard into the corner Vincent occupied.
Vincent straightened, bringing a hand to rest upon Cerberus. This was the first time someone had seemed to pay any attention to him …
“… Professor?” Sephiroth interrupted the man’s study of the wall. “Is something wrong?”
Disturbed from his investigation, Hojo narrowed his eyes back at the boy. “Tread carefully, Specimen S,” he hissed, and finally, muttering angrily beneath his breath, left the room.
Sephiroth’s and Vincent’s eyes met; together they wondered the same thing.
Still, Vincent’s dream continued. As his musings dwindled, he took to walking the labs when Sephiroth was gone, and spoke with the boy when he was there. Conversing with Sephiroth, Vincent had long ago realized, was a … mildly frustrating experience.
Vincent had seen how Sephiroth recited memorized answers to the scientists when tested; he elaborated upon his understanding and assumptions when prompted to do so in order to demonstrate true comprehension, but never offered anything beyond that. Although he made the scientists work to get the response they really wanted, he never outright refused to answer.
With Vincent, it was different.
There were times when the two held what could almost be termed a “normal” conversation. Sephiroth would tell Vincent about his experiences in the lab and what he thought about things; he would then quiz Vincent on the things he knew – he liked to compare Vincent’s responses to his own perceptions, but more than that, he liked to hear about the things Vincent had seen and done that were outside the realm of his own, limited experiences. Sometimes Sephiroth would ask Vincent, days later, about a topic he had thought forgotten, but which the boy had apparently been taking the time to internalize. He was incredibly perceptive.
At other times, however, Sephiroth would flat-out refuse to answer Vincent’s inquiries. Sometimes it would be with a very direct, “No,” while, at others, Sephiroth would force Vincent to clarify his question to an almost painful degree … and still refuse an answer. It took Vincent a while, and several exasperating, dead-end conversations, before he realized what Sephiroth was doing. With the scientists, Sephiroth had no choice in answering their questions. But, with Vincent, he did – it was a novel thing and represented what very little self-determination he was allowed in this life, and so Sephiroth did it just because he could.
Vincent soon recognized the signs of this impulse and remained silent, allowing Sephiroth his small satisfaction.
The day came, however, when the conversations stopped, and Hojo finally exacted punishment for Sephiroth’s prank.
I will see to it, boy, that you regret your actions. Clearly, nothing has dissuaded you so far from carrying about as you please, but that will end now. I can no longer afford to have you ruin my work. You will gain an appreciation for what you destroy, or so help me, I will devote my efforts to an experiment that is not so free-willed, and thus, more useful, and you will be terminated!
Vincent’s eyes snapped open.
He had not seen Sephiroth in four days now. The professor himself had taken the boy away – not an unusual occurrence, so Vincent had not chosen to follow – but he had not returned when he should have. When a day passed, Vincent had gone out to look for him, though he wasn’t quite sure why. This was a dream, so nothing could be changed, and efforts to do so would not matter … but something compelled him to do so. Perhaps it was some newfound sense of responsibility for Lucrecia’s son, the boy who had yet to become a monster, even though he was only a figment. Somehow, though it was irrelevant, he thought that Lucrecia would want him to look.
Vincent had never possessed the will to question Lucrecia.
He searched, yet he failed to find the boy. The lab complex was a maze; he knew much of it by now, but not all of it. And even though he ventured into areas yet untouched, he remained unsuccessful. So, either Sephiroth was being kept somewhere he still had yet to find, or he was located in a room he had been unable to secure access to. Or, perhaps, he was no longer within the complex at all.
At the end of that fourth day, to Vincent’s best estimation, the door to the cell was flung open, and Sephiroth was thrust inside. He stumbled, did not even make it to the bed before collapsing. He nearly struck his head on the hard metal frame; it was a near miss. Vincent kneeled at his side in an instant.
A noise from the door drew his attention. Abruptly, something snapped inside him; fury rose and his eyes flashed. But the door was shut before he could rush the man on the other side, before he could tear his clawed gauntlet through his neck and torso and watch the light in his eyes go out with dark satisfaction …
A weak groan from the boy distracted him, and the snarl died on his lips. He glanced down, resting a hand on Sephiroth’s shoulder. “Sephiroth? What did they do to you?”
The boy trembled, but whether from simple exhaustion or cold, Vincent could not tell. His eyes were unfocused, and his lips were blue. “… Everything …” he rasped. He shook again; it took Vincent a moment to realize it was a chuckle. “… I will not let Hojo see me defeated. He finally gave up.” A weak smirk graced Sephiroth’s lips, before his eyes closed, and he curled into Vincent’s warmth. “Vincent … I cannot see …”
Vincent froze, startled. “What?” Recovering, he gently propped Sephiroth against the bed, turning his face to better see what the issue was. A brief moment of irritation followed as the man tugged off his right glove, then he finally coaxed the boy’s eyes open.
The eyes appeared normal as far as Vincent could tell. There was no scarring or film across them, and the pupils responded normally to light … Vincent frowned. “… Status Effect?” He laid a hand across the boy’s forehead. His temperature was abnormally high, even for the Mako-enhanced.
Sephiroth nodded, wearily. “Or a result of the poison,” he said, his voice weak and rasping. Somehow, he heard the silent question from Vincent, and added, “Malboro … Great Malboro, I assume, from the Northern Regions. It had a respectable Ice Beam attack. And its Bad Breath was quite … bad.”
“… Even so, it shouldn’t have affected you this badly,” Vincent commented. “I have seen you fight -”
“I regret,” Sephiroth said, grimacing as he attempted to stand, “that I was not at my peak. Regardless, the monster is dead.” He gave a wry smile. “It has been a long four days. I have neither eaten nor slept; I have had more things pumped into me than I knew Hojo even possessed, not all of them good, and I have been pushed to limits I wasn’t entirely sure I had.” His voice seemed to end on a mildly pleased, contemplative note … and then the smile dropped, and he sagged, clutching at the bedframe. Vincent reacted to help him.
“No,” Sephiroth snarled, unexpectedly, causing the man to halt in surprise. “I have allowed you to talk to me. It has been welcome, and I have enjoyed it. But I do not require your help.”
“… You’re being foolish -”
“I have come this far under my own power, and I will go the rest of the way on my own,” he insisted, firmly. Vincent drew back, standing, and watched as Sephiroth determinedly pulled himself the rest of the way up to collapse upon the bed, where he lay, shivering.
“… Will they come to Heal you?”
“I doubt it,” he bit out, harshly. Vincent supposed he was probably right.
The action seemed to have drained the last of Sephiroth’s energy, for the moment, as he did not even attempt to wriggle beneath the thin blanket. Vincent observed him a moment further – he appeared to have fallen into a semi-conscious state, suffering the occasional, violent shiver.
… Even from you, Valentine, I would have expected more.
Vincent ignored the voice, for he was already moving. Gently, he picked the boy up, despite his weak protest, and maneuvered him under the sheet. “You’ve already gone the ‘rest of the way,’” he replied. “I can do what I want now.” Shrugging out of his cloak, he wrapped that around the boy, as well. The heat from his body would help make Sephiroth a little more comfortable. “I will get you something to help, when they come again.”
Nobody came, of course, for a long time. In that time, Sephiroth succumbed further to the hold of the poison, and whatever else it was Hojo had done to him. Vincent was reasonably confident that they would not let Sephiroth die, but Hojo seemed bent on prolonging this ‘punishment.’ He wondered just what it was Sephiroth had destroyed that had made the professor so furious. He had never seen Sephiroth returned in such a state before.
In an effort to comfort Sephiroth, Vincent sat with the boy’s head on his lap, murmuring quietly. He wasn’t sure what all he related, since his thoughts wondered, and many of them were dark and directed toward Hojo and his lackeys. But Sephiroth appeared to take some comfort in it, and, at some point, Vincent found himself stroking the boy’s hair. He didn’t know how long he’d been doing so when he first noticed, and thought to stop. But Sephiroth did not protest … so he continued. Eventually, the boy calmed and dropped into a less fitful sleep.
“… Are you a dream, Vincent?”
It had been quiet for a while, so the question almost startled him. He glanced down to find Sephiroth gazing up at him through bleary eyes. “… I don’t think so,” he answered. Odd that Sephiroth would think him a dream … unless he was now hallucinating?
“I have been wondering who you were, since the time you appeared in my room,” Sephiroth began, quietly. “The scientists do not see you, so I wondered whether you were something I somehow imagined. I haven’t told anyone. They would probably subject me to additional tests if they knew …” He paused. “I have also wondered whether you might be a trick of some kind to test me further. But you talk of the most fantastic things … I am glad they haven’t taken you away.”
Vincent examined the boy’s face, oddly touched by the simple words. He wouldn’t have put much value in his own presence here, after all.
He succumbed to his own musings then, until Sephiroth’s voice once again drew him out.
“Who is Lucrecia?”
He glanced downward, sharply.
“You have spoken of her many times.”
Vincent grunted, looking away. “… Hmph. I suppose I have.” He debated what to say. As he thought, a strange feeling overcame him. It was heavy, expectant, ominous. The room stilled, and even the ever-present drone of the fluorescent bulb seemed to be stifled, as he sensed that something … waited.
And then, he answered. “Lucrecia … was your mother,” he said, simply. With those words, whatever had held the room released it; the air breathed again, and the light flickered, humming. “I knew her … before you were born. She was beautiful.”
“My mother …” Sephiroth gazed up at him in wonder. It was apparent that his vision had started to return. “I thought …” He trailed off. “Tell me about her, Vincent,” he finished, wistfully.
He did. He told of her warm, chocolate brown eyes, her hair and how it shimmered in the sunlight beneath the garden tree. He told of her smile, and of the way it could somehow display happiness, sorrow, and regret, all at once, and of the way her beautiful voice sounded on the breeze. He didn’t tell Sephiroth everything, because it was unnecessary, but he told him about the type of person she was, about how he had never known another soul so kind and compassionate, save one, and how she had become trapped and forced to make decisions that she hadn’t really wanted to make. He told how much she had loved Sephiroth, without ever having known him.
When he had finished, Sephiroth was quiet for a long time.
“… I have always wondered how much of the truth they’ve kept from me,” he finally said, softly. “Do you think … I could meet her?”
For some reason, Vincent hadn’t expected that particular question. “… I don’t see a reason not to.”
“Good.” Sephiroth smiled softly, then, allowing his eyes to close. “We’ll go as soon as I’m feeling better.”
A pang of sorrow reached Vincent’s heart at those words – he knew it was not to be. Sephiroth would never be let out of the labs; he would never know of his real mother, because he was not really here, and neither was Vincent. But he did not say anything; let this boy have his dreams, for now.
It was many, many hours yet, before the door finally opened, and an assistant stepped inside with some food. Vincent ignored him, as did Sephiroth.
However, the resounding crash of the tray to the floor brought Vincent instantly to his feet.
“W-What …? … Who are you? How did you get in here?” The man, incredibly, had his eyes locked onto Vincent.
The former Turk stiffened. Was it possible …? Slowly, he raised his gauntleted hand off to the side and ran the metal claws together so they screeched and sparked. The assistant jumped, staring, wide-eyed, at the limb. Then he spun to flee back down the hallway.
Vincent had grabbed him and cut his throat before he could voice the yell. He let the body thump to the floor, still somewhat in shock.
Sephiroth watched him with a combination of awe and appreciation for his technique. “… You killed him. … How?”
Vincent gazed at the body, then at his claw, wondering the very same thing. “… Perhaps … I am not a dream.” He glanced up at Sephiroth. “… And, perhaps, neither are you.”
A dark voice cackled in the back of his mind. You’re a fool, Valentine.
Yes, I must be, he mused, still wondering. Abruptly, he turned to Sephiroth. “How do you feel?”
“… Better …” Sephiroth admitted.
“Good. Then let’s go.”
The boy scrambled to his feet, a little unsteady, but much improved. “Where?”
Vincent began to head down the hallway, Sephiroth trailing behind. “You wanted to see your mother when you were better, didn’t you? You’re better now.” Ahead of them, another man in a lab coat turned the corner; Vincent had him unconscious and slumped against the wall before he could raise an alarm. “… Unless … you’d rather stay here.”
Wide-eyed now, Sephiroth caught up to him, eying the downed scientist as they passed. “… No, not really. … Do we need anything?”
Vincent considered. “… Materia.” He possessed only a Fire, Blizzard, and Thunder. They might need more, and he wanted a good Restore and Heal if he was taking Sephiroth with him.
The boy nodded. “Follow me.” He dashed ahead, turning a corner. Vincent kept pace. He had Cerberus out now and raised, as two more scientists showed up, along with a handful of guards on patrol. He fired.
Vincent Valentine didn’t know how he’d come to be in the past, who may have been responsible for it, or why. He hadn’t felt a need to change anything, certainly not for himself – he had found his redemption, and maybe this would turn out to be a dream, after all. But while he was here, he figured he could at least do one thing. Lucrecia had told him that this was not how things were supposed to be … so, perhaps it was time that her son found his own future. Perhaps it was time that her joy, the joy she’d never known, found some joy of his own.
There were some things that he could not let disappear.
And perhaps, along the way, his beloved Lucrecia might finally know her own redemption.