Lyria stood at the window, watching the early morning sun bathe gray light over the empty streets of Nibelheim. It was eerily peaceful, Lyrias favorite time of day or night or whatever it was. The whole world was etched in the same shade of gray. It seemed there were no shadows or dark corners; everything was the same, equal, safe. Lyria could scarcely believe that the darkness of the evening before in this same, tranquilly neutral stillness, three people had been viciously, bloodily murdered. From the brief description she had been given the evening before, over the phone as the autopsies were scheduled, she had the impression that the wounds the killer inflicted were horrible, almost inhuman. She had yet to fully embrace the concept that she was standing in the same room with the murderer. Lyria was in no way close to understanding the situation. Clouds information from the previous evening was meager at best. She looked pensively at the sleeping form on the couch.
"How in gods name do you kill three people by accident? I dont try to judge by appearances, but he doesnt look like exactly the type of person one could see being a good addition to society." With a sigh, she decided the matter was a bit beyond her, at least until she could find something else out about Vincent. Licking her lips she headed for the kitchen to get a glass of water. She opened a couple cupboards, looking for a glass. Finding one, she filled it with water and took a pensive sip. It might have been the magnitude of the situation, but she couldnt get Vincent off her mind. She had no idea what it was about him that she found so alluring. Dumping the rest of her water into the sink, she returned to the living room. She was a little disappointed to find Vincent still asleep, but shrugged her feelings off. Idly she dropped into an armchair, closing her eyes and thinking. After a while, her thinking turned to a bit of a half-doze, and she nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard the man on the couch stir.
She paused to consider the logical course of action. "Tifas friend or not, hes still a murderer and it might not be in my best interests to let him know Im awake "
Cautiously, she watched Vincent through nearly closed eyes, long, thick lashes blocking the view of her eyes and head tilted at such an angle as to make it impossible to tell she could see. She heard him groan softly and, still feigning sleep, shifted a little to get a better view. Suddenly the whole house was silent and still and she could feel he was watching her.
"This guy doesnt mess around " A few seconds passed. Through half closed eyes, she watched him half sit up and look around, studying his surroundings. She followed his gaze with her eyes, falling upon the short-barreled rifle that lay about half a foot from her chair, about two feet from where he was.
"Ah hah. So thats his game. Take the gun, and take off, with nary a word to his beautiful young savior. Well, not if I have anything to say about it " Mumbling an unintelligible phrase, Lyira let her hand drop from her side, fingers hitting the barrel of the rifle. She smiled to herself as she heard a muttered curse and closed her fingers around the slim barrel.
"Ok, very good. Now what?" Her question was answered as she felt a very gentle tug on the weapon she held loosely in her grasp. "Mmm " She heard the dead silence that indicated hed frozen, watching her intently for any signs of her "waking up". Feeling a tiny movement of the gun in her fingers she grasped it tightly.
"I could be digging myself a very deep grave " Her thoughts were interrupted as she felt a light touch on her fingers. Intrigued, she didnt respond, wanting to see what the change in tactics was. Touch still careful and almost delicate, she felt her fingers being slowly pried from the barrel of the gun. Throwing caution to the winds, she decided it was do or die and opened her eyes, closing her fingers around his. "And just what do you think youre doing?" For a fraction of a second she caught a glimpse of something resembling surprise in his eyes before he jerked his hand back and made as though to get up and away from her but winced and pressed a hand to his shoulder, falling back against the pillows of the couch with a groan.
"Look, now youve gone and hurt yourself," Lyria scolded, sliding out of her chair and sitting on the floor beside the couch. "Lemme see." She reached towards his shoulder, only to have her hand intercepted halfway.
"Who are you?" Lyria was a little startled by the gravity of his quiet voice, depth of meaning hidden within it almost equal to the depth of pain in his eyes.
"My names Lyria." She smiled warmly and twisted her hand so her fingers grasped his in a handshake. "Dr. Lyria Kindred, MD, actually, so will you please let me take a look at your shoulder?" She moved her hand again, but he caught her wrist.
"Where am I?"
"Cloud and Tifas house."
"Cloud and Tifa?"
Lyria rolled her eyes. "Uh huh, Cloud and Tifa. You see, when two people have had the hots for each other since childhood, things like that tend to lead to marriage. Now, let me go, I need to see if you hurt yourself or not."
"I thought I said that. Lemme go, now."
Lyria felt slightly satisfied when he didnt answer, reasoning he hadnt been able to come up with a good response. Feigning a frustrated sigh, she stood up then sat down again, squarely on his stomach as though he wasnt even on the couch.
For the second time in the space of a morning, Vincent looked startled. "Precisely what are you doing?"
"Lemme see your shoulder."
Lyria looked exasperated, moving her leg to between his torso and the back of the couch. "Youre making this hard for both of us actually, no, youre making it hard for yourself. I could do this all morning."
Vincent looked away and refused to answer, succeeding in looking both irritated and confused at the same time.
"Fine. Be that way." Lyria idly drummed her fingers on his chest, in spite of her impatience; impressed at the taut muscle she could feel.
"Dont do that."
"Hmm? Oh this?" Lyria pointed to her fingers, still tapping their rhythm on his chest. "Dont do this? No, I dont think so. Im enjoying myself. Fascinating muscle group, the pectorals. Did I mention Im a doctor?"
"Did you know you got shot in the shoulder last night and if you dont let me look at that itll get infected and youll get sick and die?"
"I was not aware of that."
"Dont patronize me," Lyria answered playfully. "Please?" Once again she reached for his shoulder, exalting silently when he didnt stop her. "Ok! Good, consent is won; half the battle is over and done with! Now, would you be a dear and open your shirt, or should I do it myself?"
Lyria rolled her eyes again. "I cant see through fabric, silly. Oh, Ill do it " Her nimble fingers quickly unbuttoned his shirt and pulled the fabric away, revealing a bloodstained square of gauze. "Oh dear "
"Where did that come from?"
"Last night. I didnt anticipate you moving around a bunch so I didnt take the necessary steps to hold it in place."
"What happened last night?"
"I dunno." Lyria shrugged innocently. "Now, back to the matter at hand. That," she gently poked Vincents shoulder, "needs to be re-bandaged. But as soon as I get up, youre gonna bolt, arent you?"
For the first time, Lyria met his eyes for a significant period of time. She could sense he was summing her up, cold scarlet eyes calculating. "That was the plan."
Lyria nodded. "I thought so. I feel like Ive got a wild animal cornered, just waiting for me to drop my guard so it can make a run for it. Ah well." She leaned forward, propping her chin her hand and resting her elbow on his chest. "Then it seems we are at an impasse. I cant go get my bandages without letting you go, and you cant get up as long as Im sitting on you."
"I think you should get off."
Lyria laughed. "Im sure youd like that. Nope. Sorry, dont trust you. Youre way too tensed up, I can feel it. Besides, Ive got the advantage here. Your center of gravity is right there," Lyria poked a finger at the center of his chest. "As long as I stay here, you cant get up. Its physically impossible. I like having the advantage."
"What good does it do either of us for you to stay there?"
"No good for you. Im enjoying myself."
"And Im bleeding to death."
"Dont be silly. You wouldnt bleed to death. Besides, by the time youd lost enough blood to require serious medical attention, Id be able to get my stuff because youd be too weak to go anywhere. So I can just stay put until then."
"I dont like you."
"Oh come on," Lyria scoffed. "You scarcely know me! Maybe youd like me if you got to know me better Hmm let me think well, Im twenty six and I graduated med-school two years ago my favorite color is green and I like Wutain food and walking in the rain "
"Lyr, whatre you doing?" Cloud asked, halfway down the staircase.
Lyria turned to Cloud with a bright smile. "Good morn "
She was cut off as she felt a hand firmly slide around her waist and shove her off the couch.
"Youch!" Lyria exclaimed as she landed hard on the floor. "Guess whos awake "
"Morning, Vincent," Cloud said, coming down the stairs with Tifa close behind.
"How are you doing?" Tifa asked.
"I dont know."
"Hold still, k? I have to look under that bandage " Lyria carefully peered under the square of gauze. "So how are you doing?"
"I just answered that question."
"No, you didnt."
"I said I dont know."
"Thats not an answer."
Vincent deliberately ignored Lyria who looked mildly chagrined for a moment, but then shrugged. "What happened?"
Cloud looked slightly startled. "I was going to ask you the same thing."
"I dont know what happened."
"How can you not know?" Tifa asked, slightly puzzled. "Dont you remember?"
"What I remember leaves much unaccounted for."
Cloud waited expectantly for him to continue, then sighed and decided he should have known better. "What do you remember?"
"I woke up in an alley, with a terrible pain in my shoulder and I dragged myself to the nearest house."
"Thats all? Nothing nothing with Chaos?" Tifa asked, even more confused.
"Chaos?" Lyria and Vincent spoke at the same time, though Lyrias tone was one of curiosity while Vincents was sharper, almost worried.
"No not Chaos why?"
"Because " Cloud was hesitant. "There were three people murdered last night supposedly by a winged demon "
"Whats Chaos?" Lyria asked though everyone seemed to ignore her.
"Are you sure you dont remember?" Tifa persisted.
"N-no I always remember Chaos it cant be I didnt "
"You must have," Cloud insisted.
"Whats Chaos?" Lyria asked again, a little louder than before.
"Come with me, Lyr, well make breakfast " Tifa said, casting a worried glance at Cloud. A sort of silent exchange seemed to take place and Tifa nodded and beckoned to Lyria.
Once in the kitchen, Lyria voiced her feelings. "Tifa whats going on? Whatre those two talking about?"
"Im not sure myself Lyria; do you know exactly what this creature from last night looked like?"
"No, I only heard about it over the phone when they scheduled the autopsies I just heard about a winged demon creature "
"Are you sure? There were no details, nothing specific?"
"No. Should we get started on breakfast?"
"You can I have to make a phone call "
"Who are you calling?"
"Just a friend "
"Friend, not ally?"
Lyria sighed and began looking around the kitchen for different cooking utensils. She pulled a carton of eggs from the fridge and found a frying pan.
"Red? As in their talking dog friend?"
"Yes, its Tifa Im fine, how are you? thats good .umm listen we have a problem "
"Do they ever "
"Thanks Red, I know youre always willing to help listen have you any idea what Vincents been doing for the past while?"
"Doesnt she know? I mean, youd think people whod saved the world together would keep tabs on one another "
"No? Do you know if any of the others have seen him? I see well, he umm he showed up last night "
"Shes awfully calm about this "
"I think theres something really wrong, we think he went Chaotic last night, but he doesnt remember it "
"Went Chaotic? Chaos again? Whats Chaos?"
"I know what you mean hes not one to lie, is he?"
"At least Im finding out something about him "
"I hate to impose but could you come down here and help us out? I mean, youve always been the most knowledgeable out of all of us dyou think you could help?"
"Help? From a talking dog? Well, if hes a knowledgeable talking dog "
"Oh thanks so much, Red when can you be here? Great see you soon thanks again. Bye-bye." Tifa hung up the phone and turned to face Lyria. "Reds coming."
"I gathered. Tifa, cant you explain this to me? Whats Chaos? What did you mean when you said something was wrong?"
"Chaos is Cloud told you about Vincents abilities Chaos is the demon he changes into."
"Oh my god so last night he really was the one "
"No. Not Vincent. Chaos. Vincent has only partial control over Chaos."
"But he usually remembers what happens when he does turn into Chaos, but for some reason he cant?"
"Right. And it seems he didnt even have partial control this time. Usually he doesnt change unless hes injured or angry and when he does hes never attacked an innocent person. Hes never done it unprovoked."
"What if he was provoked?"
"But by who? No one in Nibelheim even knows he exists. Its my best guess hes been in the basement of ShinRa Mansion for the past two years."
"The ShinRa Mansion? God, that place is creepy so he lived there?"
"Well sorta he was living in a coffin "
"Theres more to the story, but he never really told anyone. Red might know, but I doubt it."
"When will Red be here?"
"Around noon, hes calling Cid to get a ride from Cosmo Canyon."
"Oh. Ok "
"Are you gonna stick around?"
"Yeah yeah, I think I will my life is dull anyway. The other doctors at the hospital dont appreciate me and itll tick them all off if I disappear for a couple days "
Tifa giggled. "Sure would, wouldnt it?"
"Yup. All those old bastards are gonna have to start waking up earlier and staying up later I think Im going to bed now, seeing as you and Cloud are up."
Nanaki entered Nibelheim to several stares from townspeople walking the street and headed up the road to Cloud and Tifas house. He ignored the whispers from the villagers, but when a small child of about three toddled away from his mother and patted him on the head he smiled and sat down on his haunches.
"Hello, little one. How goes life in the world of the two legged?" Nanaki casually asked the child in the ancient words of his tribe for greeting humans.
The child giggled and babbled some nonsense words while tugging on one of Nanakis ears.
"I see forgive me child, but I am needed elsewhere " Nanaki stood and nudged the child in the direction of his mother who was chatting with several other women.
The child bid Nanaki goodbye with a few more unintelligible phrases and toddled back to his mother. Nanaki smiled to himself and continued towards Tifa and Clouds house, flaming tail swishing idly. When he reached the threshold of Tifas old home, he pondered how he would alert the couple of his presence. In the midst of his musings, Tifa opened the door.
"Red! Im so glad to see you again!" Tifa knelt down and wrapped her arms around Reds neck.
"I share your sentiment Tifa, it has been some time." All of Nanakis old allies called him Red, mainly because it was shorter and seemed less formal than Nanaki.
"Come inside and say hello to Cloud and Vincent "
"Certainly. How did you know I was at the door, Tifa?"
"I just waited until precisely noon; youve always been very punctual."
Red followed Tifa into the house and into the living room where Cloud was sitting, sharpening his sword (for lack of anything better to do and because it helped calm his nerves) and Vincent was leaning against the wall, arms folded so that his right was covering his left, partially hiding the claw from view. He appeared to be staring at nothing, obviously deep in thought.
"Hello Cloud," Red greeted the mercenary.
"Hey, Red! Cmere, sit down! Been quite a while since Ive seen you." Cloud shoved over and Red leapt over the couch to sit next to him. In a friendly sort of gesture Cloud scratched him behind the ears.
"Its good to see you too." Red stepped gingerly off the couch and sat down before Vincent. "Hello, Vincent."
"Red XIII," the answer was distant, almost cold.
"I smell blood. Is that you?"
"Why do you smell of blood?" Red continued his questions, unperturbed at having to ask for an answer every time. Cloud was thankful Red had the patience to accept Vincents nature.
"Because I have the deaths of three innocent people staining my hands."
"I dont smell that. I smell your blood."
"Some is mine."
"I smell only yours. Not the blood of others. Your hands are clean."
"No, they arent."
"What of Chaos?"
Vincent finally met Red gaze, eyes conveying a haunted fear. "I do not know. I dont remember Chaos."
"I see "
"Morning, everyone," Lyria said, coming down the stairs and pulling a sweatshirt over her head.
"Good morning, Lyr," Tifa said.
"Howd you sleep?" Cloud asked.
"Good I guess." Lyria entered the living room and walked up to Vincent. "No good morning?"
Vincent didnt answer.
"Be civil," a voice, unfamiliar to Lyria, admonished. "I can tell youre worried, but theres no cause for insolence."
Lyria spun to face the voice and was rather startled by the creature sitting before her. "Oh hello "
"Greetings. Im Red XIII," the creature introduced himself.
"Dr. Lyria Kindred. Im pleased to meet you."
"Lyria Kindred, best doctor to come out of Midgar University?"
"I hadnt heard that " Lyria blushed.
"Youre one of the few who havent. There are many of your essays in my medical books from the university. Its an honor to meet so great a physician."
"Oh, I like you, Red," Lyria said happily. "At least you talk to me." Lyria looked rather pointedly at Vincent.
"I barely know you."
"I barely know Red and I like him already. I think you owe me some acknowledgement at least."
"You know, youre impossible. Im going to make lunch."
"Do you mind working alone? I should probably stay and hear this " Tifa said apologetically.
"No problem. What does everyone want?" Lyria asked, unsure of what Red would want to eat.
"I wouldnt mind a sandwich," Cloud said.
"Me too," Tifa added.
"Would it be a problem for you to make me a salad?" Red asked. "Im a vegetarian."
"No, not at all, I was thinking of having one myself," Lyria answered, liking Red more and more by the minute. "Do you want anything Vincent?"
"Fine." Lyria left the room in a bit of a stormy mood. "I pull a bullet out of his shoulder and he doesnt even talk to me. Im trying to be nice; I want to help him why wont he let me?"
Lyria sliced some bread for Cloud and Tifas sandwiches and momentarily deliberated making a third for Vincent. "He said he didnt want anything. Maybe no I shouldnt " She took some lettuce, cucumbers and fresh tomatoes from the crisper and tossed them together in a salad, adding a thick ranch dressing and some grated cheese. She continued working for another ten minutes, alone with her thoughts and idly humming.
"Just call me Lyria, Red," Lyria answered, not looking up from her cooking. "Your salads done." She turned and held the bowl in one hand, uncertain whether Red would eat off the floor or the table.
"Just set it down, thank you."
"Did you come to talk to me?" Lyria sat down at the table and started eating her salad.
"Weve decided to go the ShinRa Mansion. I believe that something triggered Chaos and thats probably the best place to start looking "
"Im coming too."
"Because I want to."
"I see you want to stay with Vincent."
"Why do you say that?" Lyria asked sharply.
"Your mannerisms betray you. Just little things, small movements you make. All humans do it."
"Youre being foolish."
"I can see youre attracted to him. You might not even realize it. I have to suggest you stop trying to reach out to him."
"Because you wont get anywhere. His heart has been torn in too many places to be restored by kind words and a pretty face alone."
"I dont think thats true. Theres always potential for healing, it just takes different methods sometimes."
"Sometimes the cure is more painful than the disease."
"Red, Ive lived a life of controversy as a doctor. Ive been criticized in many different circles because I try to heal more than the body. I know Im a good doctor; the fact that people use my works in textbooks is proof of that. I want to be a good human being too."
"You are, Lyria. The light of compassion shines from your heart but sometimes the darkness in a persons soul overcomes that."
"Darkness is merely the absence of light."
"I must say, you argue well for one so young."
"How old are you?"
"About fifty, but were I human I would be the equivalent of twenty."
"Can you explain something to me?"
"I will try."
"How old is Vincent?" Lyria asked, ignoring the fact that her curiosity confirmed her interest.
"About twenty seven."
"But, Cloud told me he was "
"He was born sixty years ago."
"You just said "
"Age and maturity are two different things. He was born close to sixty years ago, but hes only lived for half that time."
"Hes been dead?"
"Not physically, but emotionally and mentally. If a child of four is taken from the environment of learning and growth for fifty years when returned they will still have only the experience of a child of four."
"But he doesnt look sixty "
"Ive heard of people being locked in stasis does that defy the aging process?"
"In a manner of speaking."
"I dont get it."
"Then perhaps this is a path of knowledge you shouldnt follow."
"It doesnt sound like a well worn path. Im going to try and find my way down it."
"Youll either hurt him or yourself in the process."
"I think weve both been hurt enough to handle it once more."
"I wish you luck, not because I approve, but because youll need all the help you can get to deal with what you learn on this path."
"This has been a very metaphorical conversation, Red. I hope you dont think any less of me for my beliefs."
"I assure you I dont. Souls such as yours could heal many with a mere touch but sometimes it requires infinitely more than that."
"When an infinite soul is required, Ill know Ive met my match." Lyria picked up the plates with Cloud and Tifas lunches on them and stood up. "I should feed the other two do you think I should make something for Vincent?"
"He wont want anything."
"I dont think hes concerned with eating right now. Hes got more to worry about."
"Do you understand what has happened to him? The ending of an innocent life weighs heavily on a person. I know he seems awfully dark, but hes human just like anyone else. Maybe even more."
"Tifa said it wasnt his fault."
"It wasnt, but when a patient dies from an inescapable complication you still feel the blame."
"Thats an awful feeling "
"Then perhaps you understand what hes going through."
"Yeah, I guess I do. Thanks Red, you seem to understand him a lot better than everyone else."
"I understand most humans, save the crazy ones."