"So whos coming to Kalm tomorrow?" Cloud asked, wolfing down a piece of toast.
"I think I actually might stay this time " Lyria said, avoiding Vincents eyes and instead glancing at the floor. "I can make a big dinner for all of you when you get back "
"You gonna stay and help Lyria, stardust?" Cid protectively embraced Shera.
"Sure, itll be fun right Lyr?"
"I think its a good idea, Barret usually warms up to people with food," Tifa joked.
"So everyone else is coming?" Red asked.
"I guess " Cloud said, looking around at the group. "Lets get going then "
"Come on, Shera, we better get started " Lyria hurried down the stairs to the galley. "Bye everyone, take care "
Shera walked into the kitchen to find Lyria scouring a cookbook. "Hard?"
"I couldnt even look at him "
"He kept glancing at you."
"Probably because I made such an idiot of myself "
"I dont think so. I think its because youre pretty, compassionate, and funny and maybe he likes you back."
"Wishful thinking lets just get to work what do you think we should make?"
"Wheres Barrets house?" Tifa asked, glancing at a scrap of paper with his address scribbled on it. "Number Twenty-Six, Diamond Lane "
"This way." To everyones surprise, Vincent took the lead and headed down a quiet looking street with small houses lining either side.
"Does he know where hes going?" Cloud asked.
"I think so. Maybe hes been here before " Red suggested.
"Well, why the #$%# hell didnt he tell any of us about it?"
"Stupid question Cid. Hes barely told us anything about his life, never mind which towns he knows well enough to find his way around," Tifa scolded.
Cloud thought back to the previous evening, wishing hed asked some questions about Kalm.
"So is this it?" Cid asked when the others caught up to Vincent, who was waiting in front of a small house.
"Theres a twenty six on the door, isnt there?" Vincents tone was just barely sarcastic, enough for only Red to notice and smile.
"Well, $%&! I didnt look at the number "
"Watch your mouth Cid, Barret has a little daughter, remember?" Tifa reminded him.
"Well, lets go knock " Cloud suggested.
"Maybe we should have called first " Red asked as Cid rapped sharply on the door.
"Are you coming in " Cloud glanced around. "Wheres Vincent?"
"I dont know. He was here a moment ago should I go look for him?" Red asked.
"Sure, it probably isnt safe for him to be wandering around on his own "
"Ill be back when I find him," Red said and loped off down the street.
"So yer sayin you wan my help in keepin a tight rein on Chaos?" Barret asked.
"Thats pretty much it just until we can figure out a way to get into ShinRa HQ " Cloud said.
"Well Id be all for it, if I didn have t take care o Marlene " Barret scratched the back of his neck. "Cant jes leave the kid again "
"Barret, we really need you isnt there anyone Marlene could stay with? What about Shera? She and Marlene got along really well " Tifa looked pleadingly at her old ally. "Please Barret? No one else will be able to handle him he already killed three people and raked Cids back up pretty bad "
"I guess so Marlene honey? You gonna be stayin with Auntie Shera, down in Costa Del Sol, k?" Barret yelled up the stairs to his daughters room.
"Yay! Auntie Shera! We can go to the beach, right daddy?" Marlene ran down the stairs and hugged her father.
"Now, Marlene, we got guests. Say hello to Cloud and Tifa and Mr. Highwind "
"Hi, Cloud! Hi, Tifa!" Marlene grinned at Cloud and hugged Tifa. "Hello Mr. Highwind."
"Just call me Cid, squirt. Sherall take you on a ride down to Costa Del Sol and you can stick with her for a while."
"Really Mr. Cid?" Marlenes brown eyes were glowing with excitement.
"O course kid."
"Oh boy! I gotta go pack Daddy!" Marlene hugged her father and ran back up to her room.
"So where are Vincent and Red?" Barret asked, sitting down on the couch and propping his feet up.
"We dont know where Vincent went, Reds out looking for him " Cloud said.
"You got a tickin time bomb of a man wanderin around the streets of a quiet little town?"
"He just sorta went off on his own. Hes been acting sort of weird lately I cant understand why " Cloud said, thinking about Vincents attitude from the previous evening.
"Weirder, you mean " Cid added.
Tifa just smiled to herself. She had a fairly good idea of what was on Vincents mind.
"You shouldnt wander off like this," Red chastised Vincent, after climbing the spiral steps to the tower overlooking Kalm.
"Sorry." Vincent was leaning against the wall of the tower and staring out the single window.
Red sat down on his haunches. "So what is it about Kalm that prompts you to wander off on your own?"
"I used to live here."
"I didnt know that."
"Not many people do."
"Its dangerous, you know "
"I can take care of myself."
"I wouldnt be too sure of that. I cant take care of myself, and Im older than you are."
"No, you arent."
"Yes, I am."
"Im nearly sixty."
"For how many of those years were you stuck in a coffin in a locked room in the basement of an abandoned mansion?"
Vincent didnt answer and returned to staring out the window.
"Truth be known, Ive walked the earth for nearly twice as long as you have youre still young, in reality."
"I dont feel like it."
"Why not? Not because youve been alive for longer than it seems, but because youve had more than your share of suffering, correct?"
"I dont know."
"Age and maturity are two entirely different things. Ive the age of a human of fifty years, but the maturity of one just coming of age in my tribe." Red chuckled to himself. "I said almost the exact same thing to Lyria."
"Why?" Vincent glanced at Red, a hint of curiosity in his eyes.
"She was asking about you. Shes got a very inquisitive nature."
"Of course, you knew that already."
"She asks a lot of questions."
"Shes young too. The young always ask many questions. I had a great deal I wanted to find out from my grandfather, but I was never given the opportunity. Well, there were many opportunities, but I just never took them. Thats the funny thing about life, its so easy to let people you care about slip away "
"Lets go back."
"Why? Because Im making you think too much about her? Shes a very special person, if you paid her a bit of attention, maybe youd notice that."
"What makes you think I havent been paying attention to her?"
Red smiled at the young mans slip. "So you have been?"
"Yes no not that way leave me alone."
"You dont know how to admit it, do you?" Red was rather pleased that hed managed to find at least one sensitive spot in Vincents nature. Something about the young doctor made him incredibly nervous, almost frightened, and most definitely confused.
"Admit what?" Vincent asked, sounding almost terse.
"That you care about her." Red was smiling now, convinced hed effectively backed Vincent into a corner.
"That was an out and out lie."
"Why wont you leave me alone?"
"She cares about you," Red pressed, hoping to provoke Vincent into admitting something that resembled human emotion. Red could tell Lyria liked Vincent, very much, but hed decided Vincent maybe needed a bit of a nudge in the right direction.
"She should stop it."
"Because leave me alone. Why are you intruding upon affairs which do not concern you?"
"Intruding?" Red echoed, sounding offended. "Im not intruding, per se, I prefer to think about it as giving a friend helpful advice."
"Assuming the role of a friend, Im requesting you keep your pointed nose out of my business."
Red continued as though he hadnt heard. "And it does concern me. Theres a beautiful young woman who is in love with you, and you dont seem to care. Are you really as apathetic as that?"
"Red, drop it, before I assume the role of homicidal maniac or inhuman monster and make you shut up permanently," Vincent threatened.
"Mmm hmm. Im sure. Is that some of your old nature showing through? The do things my way or Ill kill you approach thats oh-so-delightfully reminiscent of the Turks?"
Red met Vincents icy stare with confidence, even mild amusement. If one thing about the ex-Turks nature was resurfacing, it was that he was fiercely stubborn. "I dont want to talk about this anymore."
"About your previous employment? Very well, lets get back on track now, about Lyria "
"I dont want to talk about her either!"
"Someones getting vehement," Red smiled.
"I am not!"
"Come on. Shes pretty, shes intelligent, and shes got such a charming sense of humor. Ive rarely met a more adept sparring partner. If I were human " Red chuckled. "Well, lets just say its a good thing Im not."
"Maybe, were I human, it would be a concern, but Im not, so the topic is closed to discussion."
Red snorted. "Oh please. You already know Lyria doesnt care. Thats why shes so special, she sees past whats on the surface and even whats just beneath the surface. You scare a lot of people. We both know that. The fact that shell face that fear is reason enough for you to at least talk to her."
"About what?" Vincent asked wearily, switching tactics once again. All he really wanted was for the conversation with Red to end. He made the decision to try and tune out the guardian of Cosmo Canyons voice.
"I dont know, try yourself. She doesnt understand you, but she wants too. We all see that you exist in a lot of pain, but were all powerless to help because you wont let us. Perhaps we made the mistake of accepting that as reality. Now you face a young woman who is not only fiercely determined to get to know you, but wants you to be close to her too."
"I dont want her to " Vincent answered, cursing himself for responding and wishing Reds voice didnt permeate his consciousness so easily.
"Youre afraid to let her close, arent you? Why?" Red coolly met Vincents eyes, half expecting to see anger, but instead perceiving a kind of pain. "Has someone hurt you before?"
There was no humor in Vincents laugh. "That is, without a doubt, the stupidest question youve ever asked."
Red sighed. "You know I didnt mean it that way."
Vincent felt Reds sedate golden eyes on him, but he kept silent. He didnt know what would happen if he answered and he didnt want to chance an overflow of the emotion hed kept such a tight rein on over the years.
Lucrecia sat in her room curled up on the bed with a book on comprehensive biology in her lap. Idly she stretched and laid her book aside. Theoretical ecology only held so much allure. Reaching, she picked up a jar from beside her bed. Inside the bottle floated a pale purple tentacle, a fragment of Jenova. She studied the feeler closely. Such a helpless looking appendage, floating dismembered in the formaldehyde, but it was such a central part of her life. Lucrecia had been thrilled when Hojo had presented her with the small piece of the specimen for her to study on her own. The polite, reserved part of her had protested modestly, saying it was far too great a responsibility, but the scientist part of her wanted to take the specimen and examine its every asset until she knew it as well as one of her own limbs. Shed thrown her arms around Hojo, holding the jar carefully. Had she not been so wrapped up in the moment she might have given more thought to the way Vincent had winced when she lightly kissed the senior scientists cheek.
"Lucrecia, dear, I dont like that one," a voice in the back of her mind declared.
"Oh, stop it. Hes not so bad," Lucrecia mentally defended the Turk.
"What about Hojo? I thought you liked Hojo."
"I do but Vincents different."
"Hmph," the voice replied. "Theyre all the same. Breeding stock."
"I dont think so," Lucrecia disagreed. "Theres far more to it than that."
"Biological attraction, based on little more than physical appearance and the likelihood of a partner to be a good producer of offspring."
Lucrecia shook her head, still disagreeing with the voice.
"Well, if you dont believe what I say, which do you like better, the Turk or Hojo?" the voice taunted.
"I cant compare them; theyre two very different people."
"I dont think that has anything to do with it. Tell me, which do you prefer?"
"Theres a world of difference between Hojo and Vincent."
"So? Whats good about Hojo, tell me that."
"Well hes such an incredible scientist and hes clever and witty, and he pays such generous compliments but Vincent is " Lucrecia paused and sighed a little as she thought of Vincent. "Vincents so sweet and charming. And hes cute too."
"There you go. Youre looking at the physical," the voice proclaimed triumphantly.
"Its not just that! Theres something about him. He seems so cold, but I think its just because of his training. Id really like to get to know him; just talk to him for a bit."
"Would you really?" the voice sounded strangely amused, but Lucrecia was prevented from further thought, as there was a knock on the door. She set the jar aside; shed been stroking it with her forefinger the whole time and had scarcely noticed. "Come in!"
The door opened a bit. "Are you busy?" Vincent asked, half entering the room.
"No, not at all," Lucrecia replied, delighted that her wishes had been answered. "Come on in."
"I wont be long; Hojo just wanted me to deliver some computer printouts." Lucrecia noticed how he said Hojos name, with a trace of disgust and even malice. "Ive no doubt youll understand them, but they make no sense to me. I better get back, see if the master has any more work."
"Oh, do you have to?" Lucrecia asked, looking up from the printout as he turned to leave the room. "Stay a minute, if you can of course, if itll be called disobeying an order or some other such nonsense, I wont stop you."
Vincent turned around, regarding her with cool brown eyes. "That depends. Are you ordering me to stay?"
"I could if you wanted to," Lucrecia answered, smiling. "What happens when you have to conflicting sets of orders?"
Vincent shrugged. "If neither is superior by the authority of the one who gave them to me it rests on my own judgment."
"You sound like a textbook. Very well, Mr. Valentine, whose orders do you choose?"
"Oh joy and rapture. In that case, sit down and stay a while." Lucrecia indicated a chair in the corner."
"Ill stand, thanks."
"Unless ordered to sit."
Vincent smiled faintly. "Of course."
"Can you talk while standing?" Lucrecia questioned.
"Ill do my best. I am, after all, only a lowly Turk, favored by the presence of such a charming scientist."
Lucrecia laughed. "You see why I like him?" she asked, but the voice didnt answer.
"Whats this?" Vincent picked up the specimen jar from where it sat by the bedside, examining it disinterestedly.
"Thats my sample of Jenova," Lucrecia answered proudly. On a sudden impulse she gently took the vial from his hands, cradling it lovingly.
"Precisely what are you people doing with that thing?"
Lucrecia smiled and began explaining the various experiments the scientists performed and the hypotheses that fuelled them. "Its all called the Jenova Theory," she finished.
Vincent was silent and Lucrecia prompted him for a response. "Well, what do you think?"
"I I dont know to be honest, I think its all wrong."
"Wrong?" Lucrecia asked, a false smile playing about her features. "Whatever do you mean wrong?" Deep down, Lucrecia felt like the words she spoke were springing to her lips unbidden.
"I mean, I dont think its well, right. I think you might be fooling around with stuff that should be left alone."
Lucrecia felt rage bubbling within her. Dimly she wondered why, Vincent wasnt saying anything that would normally make her mad, shed often questioned what they were doing herself. "Who are you to debate right and wrong?"
"Well, I " Vincent looked slightly taken aback by her tone.
"Arent you a Turk? I dont think right or wrong is a question you people normally raise," Lucrecia said spitefully.
She watched him flinch and reveled in the pain she knew he felt. It was so odd to be swept up in emotions she knew were immoral. She grasped the jar in her hand tighter, stroking it with one finger.
"Lucrecia whats wrong? Why are you so defensive all of a sudden? You used to joke about your work and how you wouldnt let your life be run by a little chunk of a long dead space mutant." In spite of the situation, Vincent smiled, remembering the remark.
"Well, maybe Ive got a better grasp of where my priorities lie," Lucrecia answered haughtily, tossing her hair.
Vincent bit his lip and didnt answer. Lucrecia sensed his concern and smiled to herself. "Fool."
Out of the blue, she voiced another question. "What do you think of Hojo?"
Vincent lowered his eyes. "You know full well what I think of Hojo," he mumbled.
"Refresh my memory."
"Id rather not."
"That wasnt a request. Tell me," Lucrecia ordered, usually sweet voice sounding slightly harsh.
"Fine." Vincent met her eyes, hatred stirring in the brown depths. "I think hes an insane, inhumanly cruel, black hearted, son of a bitch and I hate him."
Lucrecias eyes blazed and she almost felt someone laughing inside her. "How dare you!"
"Ive told you all this before, and before you almost agreed with me "
"Well, I dont anymore!"
"Dr. Hojo is a great man and youve no right to question his actions! Honestly, sometimes you are so blind to what greatness is."
"I dont understand " Vincent looked thoroughly confused at the tone Lucrecia was taking.
"Hah! Why am I not surprised? You arent half the man Hojo is when it comes to comprehension," Lucrecia spat. "Hey! Whoa, why am I saying this? I dont mean it "
"Hojo? Youre comparing me to that that bastard?"
"Dont call him that!"
"I thought better of you, what has he done that makes you so unwilling to see what he really is?" Lucrecia felt his eyes staring right down into her heart.
"You I I hate you!"
The statement fell on dead air and she could feel her own heart beating in her chest. There was a strange rushing feeling in her chest, half wild ecstasy that shed inflicted such pain, half shock and horror at what shed just said. The voice was laughing manically and, inside, Lucrecia screamed, trying to block out the wild laughter.
"Lucrecia, I " She looked up from her thoughts and could see injury hidden deep in his eyes. For a brief moment, her heart softened as the good part of her soul regained control, but the wave of compassion didnt last long.
"Stop talking to me. Get out of my room," she ordered, pointing at the door.
"Im sorry I didnt "
"Get out!" Lucrecia whirled around. She heard him hesitate and felt an intense anguish tearing at his heart. There was a soft breeze as the door opened and a quiet click as it shut again. And Jenova laughed while Lucrecias breath came in ragged gasps as she tried to take in what shed done.. Jenova was almost crying with laughter, Lucreica was crying tears of sorrow. Jenova collapsed in a fit of hysterical laughter as Lucrecia collapsed on the bed, sobbing.
Hojo smiled, stroking the glass jar he held in one hand sensually. "Oh, my Jenova, you are a masterful puppeteer."
"Come to me Hojo. Ive taken the girls body, shes mine. And Im as good as yours."
"Soon, my pet, soon. Ive a touch of work to finish, and then Ill be there," Hojo promised, lightly pressing his lips against the cool glass.
"I look forward to it."
Gast slowly pushed open the door to Vincents room. It was well past midnight and he expected the Turk to be asleep as usual. Stepping into the room, he noticed a shadow cast in the oblong square of moonlight that usually came through the window. Too late, he noticed Vincent standing by the window, leaning against the side and staring at the moon. Hastily he backed up, accidentally stepping on a creaky floorboard. He froze, wondering whether or not the Turk had noticed.
"I know youre here, Gast. Dont bother skulking around. Youve been getting better at avoiding that board, but you nailed it this time. And I oiled the hinge on the door to the secret basement so it doesnt squeak so much when you open it."
Gast shook his head ruefully. So hed known all the time. "I should have had better sense than to try and sneak past one of Shinras elite. I trust I havent been disturbing your sleep too much?"
"Not at all."
"Is something troubling you, boy?" Gast asked kindly, sensing pain in Vincents voice.
Gast waited a few moments, expecting Vincent to continue. "Well?"
"Whats the trouble?" Gast asked.
Vincent didnt answer, staring up at the full moon.
Gast sighed. "Come on, tell me whats bothering you. Itll help to get it off your chest."
"Ive never believed that."
Gast rolled his eyes. "Dont make me order you to tell me."
"Do what you have to."
"Vincent, you are, without a doubt, one of the most exasperating people Ive ever met. Tell me what it is, now."
"If I disobey an order directly, are you going to report me?"
Gast shook his head. "Im asking you as a friend. Whats the matter?"
"Arent Turks allowed to have friends?"
"Ill check the rulebook."
"You seem awfully cynical this evening. Its Lucrecia isnt it?"
Gast felt a hint of satisfaction as Vincent turned to face him, but it faded when he saw how deeply it was affecting him. "Yeah."
"Lots of stuff."
"Yes, I realize that. What sort of stuff?"
Vincent was silent for a moment, then seemed to change the subject. "Gast, what do you think of Hojo?"
"Honestly?" Gast hesitated, unsure whether he could trust the young Turk. "I think hes a very devoted scientist."
"Enough with the goddamn science. What do you think of him as a person?"
"I shouldnt judge people based on my emotional standings," Gast answered awkwardly.
"Please, Gast, spare me your diplomacy. I dont give a damn whether its right or wrong for you to judge Hojo, I want to know what your opinion of him is."
"Well, I I think hes a bastard."
Vincent sighed. "Yes, its a commonly held belief that Hojos a bastard. What else?"
"Hes arrogant and cruel and umm " Gast was unsure what Vincent hoped to gain from the conversation.
"Do you hate him?"
Gast didnt hesitate to answer this time. "Yes." His voice was flat and he clenched his hands into fists.
Vincent looked at the senior man curiously. "You do?"
"Is it so hard to believe? My soul is not near as pristine as its made out to be."
Vincent sighed and laid his forehead against of the cool glass of the window. The glass was like ice, but he didnt feel it. "Why do you hate him?"
"I have my reasons," Gast replied shortly.
"What are they?"
Gast smiled coldly. "You tell me yours, Ill tell you mine."
"Thats not fair."
"What is fair in your terms? When you get your way?"
"Sounds about right."
"Sorry, my boy, life doesnt work that way."
"No, it sure as hell doesnt," Vincent sighed.
"Come on, whats bugging you?" Gast hesitated for a moment, and then laid a fatherly hand on Vincents shoulder.
"Lucrecia hates me."
Gast winced at the gravity of pain in the young mans voice. "Now, why would you say that?"
"Maybe because she told me so." Vincent sat down on the bed and held his head in his hands.
For a moment Gast thought it was rather ironic that one of the most deadly assassins in the world was in his room, sulking like a little boy. The feeling didnt last as the realization dawned that this may have been the first time the Turk had been confronted with a situation such as this. "Get some sleep, boy. Its late and itll do you no good to stay up brooding."
"It wont do me any good to sleep either. Nor will it help to eat or drink or breathe."
Gast rolled his eyes again. He could sympathize with the young man, but he wished he didnt have to be so poetically melodramatic. "Oh hush. Trust me, son, you arent the only boy in this world nursing your wounds. Across the country there are kids just like you sitting in their rooms, sulking and composing bad poetry."
"Do not call me a kid, I am not sulking, and get the hell out of my room."
"Sorry, my boy, Ive experiments to tend to." Gast felt a flash of hope at the anger that flared in Vincents voice, but it didnt last long.
"I dont even care anymore. Im staying here for the rest of the week, tell Hojo if he has any errands for me to run he can stitch together some monstrosity from the spare body parts hes collected and give it life. Im sure the pitiful existence it lives will far surpass mine."
Gast bit his lip as he slipped into the passage that led to the secret basement. In the morning he planned to have a little discussion with Lucrecia and expose the anxieties he felt, but didnt show.
"Good morning, Lucrecia," Gast politely greeted the young scientist. She had entered the kitchen with a strangely dreamy look on her face and a lock of hair curled about one of her fingers.
"Good morning, Gast," Lucrecia smiled. "Lovely day isnt it?"
"It certainly is." The older scientist handed her a cup of coffee.
"Why thank you," Lucrecia smiled again and took a small sip.
Gast poured another mug of the steaming brew. "Would you be a dear and bring a cup up to Vincent? The boys feeling a bit under the weather and I told him it was best that he stay in bed for the day." It wasnt entirely a lie. After all, Vincent was feeling lousy, and Gast did think it best that he be left alone for a while.
"No," Lucrecia answered flatly.
"Why ever not?"
"Because Im not talking to Vincent."
"I repeat my question, why not?"
"I dont like him."
Gast felt Lucrecia didnt have any real reasons as to why she refused to speak to the Turk. "Why not?"
"Hes he he said he hates Hojo!"
Gast arched an eyebrow. "I dont think his personal opinion of his employer is reason enough for you to hate him."
"He thinks what were doing is wrong!" Lucrecia groped for another argument.
"Does he now? Frankly, so do I." Gast shook his head.
Lucrecias eyes narrowed. "You defend him quite willingly, old man "
"That I do. I dont know what you told him, but upstairs is a young man who youve hurt deeply "
"Youre making it sound like hes the victim!"
"Ah he hes nothing more than a common murderer!"
"Now, Lucrecia "
"You know its true!" Lucrecias voice was slightly shrill as she continued her tirade. "Well maybe he isnt common, more like a very expensive murderer "
"We cant help the vocations ShinRa has given us "
"He kills with no feeling at all!"
"Stop it, Lucrecia. I cant believe youre saying this about another human being," Gast said sternly. "Having the blood of another stain your hands is not something one forgets readily " Gast clenched his hands into fists as he remembered the man he had slain. How the soldier had lain there unmoving, how Hojo had smiled, and how Iflana had subconsciously lifted a hand to cover Aeris eyes.
"Well, he does!"
Gast shook his head again. "Lucrecia, I dont think you realize how innocent he is."
"Innocent?! You call him innocent? Hes killed more people than he can remember and "
"I dont mean it that way, though it may be a godsend hes seen as much pain and death as he has. Do you know the sort of training a Turk goes through? Often they see their families butchered before their very eyes. As though that isnt enough, then their training starts. Only half the recruits graduate. Most often their teachers kill them during lessons if the lessons themselves dont kill them first. The greatest lesson they learn is not openly taught, but by the end of their training all Turks have very finely honed survival instincts."
"How does all this contribute to poor little Vincents innocence?" Lucrecia asked sarcastically.
Gast gave her a warning glare. "Imagine that, from the time you were eighteen, you knew no one would ever take care of you except maybe ShinRa. Naturally, all Turks relate to each other as comrades, but theres almost a family type fellowship. And yet theyre all alone. No one to go home to, no one to really talk to, and no one who really cares whether or not they die the next mission. Of course, no human could take such neglect without a little retaliation. A common attitude is No one cares about me? Fine. I dont care about anyone else either."
"How do you know all this?"
"I originally studied to be a psychologist for ShinRa. It gave me the opportunity to sit down and talk with someone these young men. A lot of the time the response was less than cordial, along the lines of: I dont care who the %# your trying to study, keep outta my face or Ill strangle you with your own intestines! Typical. They arent a very trusting bunch. Once or twice I got a boy to bear his heart and soul to me. The anguish and heartache these kids go through is unbearable."
"I still dont understand what all this has to do with Vincent." Lucrecia stifled a yawn.
"Dont you understand? I know you see the way he looks at you. The way he hangs on your every word when you speak. How confused he is about what hes feeling. How your very presence in his life contradicts everything hes been taught over the past ten years. For once he sees someone who maybe, possibly, despite everything he believes is true, could care about him."
"Well, I dont."
Gast looked at Lucrecia with sad eyes. "You used to."
"I have to go see Hojo now." Lucrecia smiled brightly as inside Jenova laughed at the pains of a foolish human, while Lucrecia wept for what she had failed to see.
"Lets go back."
"Not until you answer me," Red said firmly, blocking the stairway as Vincent made to leave.
"I sincerely hope you arent counting on an answer."
"I sincerely hope you werent looking forward to getting back to the airship." Red sat down, glancing back over his shoulder, just as Vincent jumped agilely out the window. Red rolled his eyes and ran down the stairs again. As he exited the building Vincent landed lightly on the ground in front of him.
"Im taking that little stunt as a yes unless youd like to tell me otherwise." Red followed Vincent as he headed back towards Barrets house.
"Take it however you want."
"Youre extraordinarily childish sometimes. There are more conventional ways of getting out of a four story tower."
"Whats the matter, Red? Or is it simply that the old fear change?"
"Hey!" Red sound slightly offended. "You just insulted me!"
"How terribly observant."
Red chuckled. "No, not at all. Were I observant, Id have noticed what a cynic you are. To my credit, I did catch on to just how much you seem to like Lyria."
"I thought that subject was closed to discussion."
"Is that how you refer to her? That subject? It sounds like an awfully touchy matter," Red snorted. "Will you admit that shes gorgeous? Hair like silk, skin soft as rose petals, eyes of jade with more depth than the ocean. Honestly, one doesnt come much closer to perfection."
"Well, its a step in the right direction. What about that shes intelligent?"
"Yes, all right, fine, shes brilliant." Red disregarded the note of impatience in Vincents voice.
"What about that shes in love with you?"
"When did she say that?"
"That got you interested, didnt it?"
"Those werent her exact words. Although you have heard her say exactly that, havent you?"
"How would you know?" Vincent asked suspiciously, turning blood red eyes on his companion.
Red smiled. "I know a lot of things."
"One thing however, that you seem grossly misinformed about, is when to shut up."
"I think you should tell her how you feel," Red advised, ignoring Vincents insult.
"I dont feel anything!"
"Adamant arent we?"
"Can we just leave?"
"Fine. We better head back; we need to get to Midgar before sunset anyway." Red bit his lip, deliberating whether to take one last shot at Vincent. He decided to throw caution to the winds. "I bet Lyria missed you "
"Good evening Lyria," Red said politely, joining the young physician on the deck. "Lovely night, no?"
"Yeah " Lyria sighed, looking out over the skyline of Midgar. The airship was hovering above the city, until the next morning when the team planned to head into Midgar.
"You sound troubled," Red commented, sitting down on his haunches and regarding the young woman curiously.
"Do I?" Lyria smiled sadly. "Im sorry."
"Not at all. May I ask whats on your mind?" Red asked, though he knew the answer already.
"Do you need to? Whats been on my mind ever since we met? What keeps me up every night? What is it that everyone knows about, except the one person who Ive come out and born my heart to?"
"Such melancholy thoughts should not burden the mind and trouble the countenance of one so pretty," Red responded.
"Red, why doesnt he like me?"
"Its a terribly cruel way he has of showing it."
"Its a terribly cruel existence hes lived," Red pointed out. "What do you see when you look at him?"
"Im not sure I see he needs someone. I can tell that somebody has hurt him very badly and the scars still burn in his soul. I think, deep down, he wants to tell someone whats happened, but he doesnt know how."
Red nodded. "That much is correct. What else?"
"Hes not afraid of anything. I feel as though he could stare death in the face with as much emotion as he shows me."
"Here, your thinking goes awry."
Lyria cocked her head to the side. "How so? If one isnt afraid of death, what is there to be afraid of?"
"Life." Red held up a paw when she opened her mouth to protest. "Consider before you argue. Hes had a lot of people hurt him very badly. What other reason is there for him to shy away from people? Even among allies, hes cold and distant. The moment someone, namely you, tried to reach out to him, he all but ran away to his little dark corner to try and puzzle his way through what you did and come up with a logical explanation as to why youre baiting him."
"Im not baiting him!" Lyria objected. "I care about him, I really do!"
"He cant understand that. In his own mind hes too different from humanity to be accepted as a part of society, let alone a friend or lover. I feel hes faced rejection before and it affected him more harshly than hed admit."
"But hes so wrong!"
"Thirty years in a coffin can warp your perspectives."
"I could fix it if he would let me, I could make it all better "
"I dont doubt it."
Lyria looked at Red curiously. "I remember you told me I should leave him alone."
"I did," Red chuckled. "And, like a child, you ignored me and went right on, forcing your nature on him."
"Why are you encouraging me now?"
"Because youre right. You know what he needs, better than I ever could. And you can deliver it."