Through the Looking Glass Chapter 27
The Calm Before the Storm
By Lucrecia Marionette
"Must you sit out here constantly, Lucrecia?"
Lucrecia blinked slowly as her hazel eyes remained in their glazed state; fixed to the town gates. Perched on the edge of the fallen tree she tucked her knees up beneath her chin and gave a drawn out sigh.
"I like it here. Its quiet," she answered without emotion, each word ringing with the same hollow tone.
There was a soft shuffling to her right and in the very corner of her peripheral vision she saw a flash of white. The felled log she sat upon dipped down a little as the figure seated himself beside her without request or appreciation of the wonderfully still place.
The knitted roof of branches above her shed a dappled golden-green light as the thin emerald leaves played stained-glass window to the summer sun. As the gentle, warm zephyr fluttered like tepid butterflies through the leafy tunnel the pools of liquid light shifted over the lush green grass and paved road beside her. The dead tree lay to one side of the man-made route; half in the line of trees which bordered it and half in the beginnings of the extensive cornfields around Nibelheim.
"Its quiet inside the Mansion too," Hojo pressed subtly but she still didnt look at him.
"Perhaps," she responded after a moment. "But its so lifeless in there. Out here its more beautiful than anything Ive seen before. The snowfields where I used to live were so gorgeous in their cold, impassive way but here theres so much life and emotion. I dont want to be anywhere else."
Tobias Hojo sniffed disdainfully and wiped his nose unnecessarily with the back of an index finger. "Still, autumn is approaching. Itll be getting colder soon and I dont wan t you getting ill."
Lucrecia lifted her head slowly and a light frown creased her forehead as she very lethargically turned to him. "You know," she started wistfully. "A year ago I would have embraced you because you wouldve been worried about me, Lucrecia the person. Now I could hit you. Youre only worried about Lucrecia the experiment, arent you?"
Hojos nearly-black eyes narrowed a fraction at her accusation but he slowly shook his head. "I worry about you, Luc. Of course I do, but from now on the most important thing is the child. Not just because of what we can create from it, but because itll be my child. Our child."
Lucrecias mouth opened a little as she seemed about to speak but couldnt find the words. Falling silent and denying her husband the honour of an answer, the placed her chin on her knees and looked towards Nibelheims gates on the other side of town.
The Shinra Mansion was in fact the renovated ruins of a house which had stood overlooking Nibelheim for countless years. It was said that a noble family had once ruled over the rural village before the age of science. But as feudalism became less applicable to the modern world, the family were reduced to civilians.
Their house remained standing, but their legacy did not.
Nibelheim had always stayed as a farming community fuelled by the thousands of square miles of cornfields which seemed like a cloth of gold over the otherwise green landscape during fall. At this time of year the corn was in its infancy- ankle high and yellow-green. It took only a few months in the Mako-rich countryside to deepen to a pure gold and smother the hillsides with ochre.
The small hill the Mansion resided upon was only slightly higher than the rooftops of the Nibelheim buildings and allowed a perfect view over the town. Lucrecias felled trunk lay halfway down the hill, trapped beneath two mature oaks and unable to roll any further. Lucrecia sat on the tree with her back pressed up against the oak nearest to the Mansion just as she had done since early that morning. It was almost four oclock.
Hojo sighed wearily. "Lucrecia, youve sat out here all day, every day for the past week. I cant imagine what youre looking or waiting for, but youre obviously not going to get it. Come inside." He hesitated. "Please."
"No Im happier out here."
He slipped off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose in an exasperated action. Why did the damned woman have to be so stubborn? She knew what the Project entailed; she had understood every word of it before she signed on the dotted line. What was the problem?
Or was that only too obvious ? Was he looking too deeply and her melancholy truly was the result of her sudden change of scenery? And yet most people who lived in Midgar would sacrifice everything to escape that smog laden, poisoned air if only for a single lungful of Mt Nibel wind. She was just being bloody awkward; it had become part of her nature recently it seemed. Always wanted to rebel against the routines which had held them in hollow matrimony for the past three years; always finding some way to get under his skin and play on his pet hates.
Maybe he was just being paranoid. Perhaps that was it. Ever since that fucking Turk showed up . Hojo inhaled deeply and squeezed his eyes shut. It was that bastards fault. Before him, Lucrecia had been nothing less than a perfect assistant. Always able to gauge his moods and needs, she had been the much needed crutch to support him throughout the most exhausting nights.
Now she stared into space, her eyes glazed in a delicious day dream. Whenever she happened to brush by a blue suit be-it a regular Shinra worker or Turk shed falter and glance back in some vain hope it was him.
It was tearing at Hojos heart and he felt his blood boil in a rage. How dare that malicious, conceited murderer take what wasnt his? Not that it mattered. He was several thousand miles away and if the only side effect was the depression of his wife then hed won. Hed won and all of a sudden Hojo felt a smirk tug at his thin lips.
There was still another problem though.
"Have you made a decision then?" he blurted out suddenly and she turned to him once more. He pushed his glasses on as he stared back. "Youve been out here long enough to consider what I told you."
"Oh dont play games with me, woman!" Hojo snapped angrily as he leapt to his feet and spun back to face her. "You know perfectly well what Im talking about! I for one do not believe a shred of this home sick and reflective lie you have been weaving for the past eight days! Im not as naïve as that prick Gast and I will not accept any more of your delays. I want an answer and I want it now. When will you be ready to start the experiment??"
Lucrecias eyes widened alarmingly as she leaned away from him. She felt her eyes mist with tears but blinked them away fearfully as her husbands face flushed a furious shade of red. One corner of his mouth was dragged back in a snarl and his dark eyes gleamed with fury.
Resisting the urge to merely turn and run from him, she inhaled deeply. "I, Ive told you that I dont know," she whispered. "This has all come as such a shock that I cant decide."
"Then perhaps I should make up your mind for you, hmm??" Hojo asked with a raging rhetoric. "How about now? Shall we start now??"
"No!!" she cried. "I cant!"
"Well what the fuck are you saving yourself for? Do you expect that bastard of a Turk to come running here and save you like a prince charming?" He threw back his head and gave a shrill, bitter laugh as Lucrecia gasped in disbelief. "Although," Hojo began once more in between gasps for air as he fought back his twisted laughter. "The next time you see him hell resemble something more like the monster than the saviour!"
Lucrecia shook her head and she put a hand to her mouth and pushed away from him. "Youre a sick, sick bastard, Tobias," she murmured. "Sick!" she suddenly screamed. "You deserve to go to hell for what youve done! For what youre intending to do!"
His laughter ceased abruptly as he suddenly leaned towards her and roughly tilted her chin up to him. "Why am I sick Luc? Because Im telling you the truth? Dont you know what a Turk is? Dont you know what they do? I might find it highly amusing the way that those Jenova cells will fuck up his insides as though hes swallowed a blender, but hes already a monster." He gave a quiet chuckle. "Im the one whos trying to advance the human race and take it further than it could ever dare to dream."
He pushed back from her, jarring her neck awkwardly as he backed away. "You should try being on the side of the winners."
She narrowed her tear-filled eyes and glared viciously at him. "I dont care about, Vincent. Youre my husband, at least I always thought you were. You used to be so kind and caring, but now you only care about your work. You can both drag yourselves down to depravity but dont take me down with you!"
Hojos face suddenly fell and he walked over to her, his mouth hanging barely ten centimetres from her own. His eyes bored into her own and seemed to have an effect of paralysis upon her trembling frame.
"If you dont care about him, then why do your eyes light up whenever you hear his name?" he hissed. "Why is it that you can be so depressed and low until someone utters the word Vincent? And dont deny it my dear even now I see how your cheeks blush. I know you better than you think. Do not attempt to create excuses to mask your own lack of commitment to what we are doing. Deep down you are the same as me; it was you and I who developed this, not me alone. It takes two to finish this, Lucrecia and you are not going to turn away and run off with the first dashing stranger who takes your fancy."
Lucrecia shook her head as her brows pressed together helplessly. "I hate you," she whispered and for a second she thought she saw him flinch.
He took a step back, never taking his eyes from her face as he did so. Swallowing hard as he narrowed his eyes thoughtfully, Hojo almost looked wounded. "Im sorry to hear that," he replied quietly. "I want to see you in the labs tomorrow morning."
Before she could say any more, he turned on his heel and strode hastily away.
Hed let himself go.
Lucrecias eyes lingered on his back as he stormed, hands clasped behind his back through the Mansion gates. As the echo of the grand front doors slamming shut echoed through the treetops, Lucrecia let out a wracking sob and buried her head in her folded arms. She felt her tears soak quickly through the long sleeves of her turquoise polo neck but couldnt have cared less. What were a few wet patches in comparison to the turmoil in her heart?
Hojo was right; the whole project had been a joint proposition, not solely the brainchild of the man she found herself despising more every day. And yet, as much as she hated him, a promise was a promise. She had not only signed the contract for her body to be used as the cradle for a new species of hybrid, she had signed her heart away in the eyes of god in a small church back in Icicle.
Her parents had been so proud of her that day. Shed looked so wonderful in her trailing, ivory dress. Pearls sewed up the front of the bodice in beautifully ornate designs that seemed worthy of the angels themselves cost a small fortune. But of course the newly promoted sub-head of the Shinra science department could easily afford it. As he had whispered to her one evening as they stood together, hands held before the bridal shop money is of no consequence. For you, Id sacrifice everything to honour my feelings, Lucrecia. Id sacrifice myself if I needed to..
But where had that man gone? Where had that charming, eloquent and romantic man disappeared to? She wished that she could find him, and yet part of her realised that what had happened then was nothing compared to the way her blood pounded at the sight of the Turk. It would be a mockery of everything good in the universe to deny her emotions and turn from them to honour a hollow vow.
"Oh Vincent " she whispered as she raised her head and looked down at the road to one side. "What would you have me do? Honour the choices I made when I was drunk on a false power and desire? Or honour my heart ?"
"What he wants doesnt matter, Miss Marionette. What you want is all thats important."
Lucrecia leapt so suddenly that she fell from the trunk and was sent sprawling to the sparsely vegetated road. Her knees jarred against the rough paving slabs and she felt the graze slice through her black trousers and scrape at her skin painfully. Inhaling sharply, she leapt up and stared down in horror at the two bloody holes now created.
Her eyes slowly raised with a mixture of shock and anger at the stranger who had approached her so stealthily. When she focused on him she found her breath stick in her throat for a fleeting second in dismay. Daniel Janus, one of Shinras latest recruits stood quite casually behind the dead tree. His lips were still dragged up in one corner in his same fixed smirk; in truth it didnt seem to have shifted a millimetre since their first encounter in the HQ.
Those ice-blue eyes still glittered glacially behind his small spectacles, but over his half-open white shirt and light brown combat trousers he donned a lab coat. His dark blonde hair had been scraped back into something resembling a ponytail, but most of it hung over his face in an attractively rugged way.
Lucrecia swallowed hard. "Thats the second time youve managed to shock me Mr Janus. I dont appreciate it," she informed him with a slight tremor.
"My apologies," he responded charismatically. "I hope those grazes arent too severe. Would you like me to have a look at them?"
Lucrecia found the same muddle of emotions bubble through her mind at the appearance of the young man. Suspicion, an odd attraction and desire to resist his obvious charm all tore at her mind in a confusing whirl of thought. He seemed genuine enough though, and his smirk slipped a little as his eyes looked at her bloody knees.
Swallowing a little and nodding hesitantly, she turned and sat back down. "I dont think theyre much more than skin deep," she said as he circled around her side and knelt down to survey the damage.
He lifted up her leg and rested the ankle on his bent knee as he sat back on his heels. Tentatively picking away the frayed material, he looked at the wound and pulled a face. "Looks a bit messy," he told her. "But nothing severe. I have a few swabs in my pocket, Ill use them to clean them up a bit."
As he spoke he reached into an inner pocket and pulled out a small packet. Tearing the top from it, he pulled out a small square of white material and wiped it against her bloody skin. She gasped suddenly and winced but held still as he patiently tended to her injury.
There was a long period of surprisingly comfortable silence as he ran the sterilised material over her exposed knee and looked down at it with an admirably intense expression. She watched him for a while and was so involved in observing his movements that when he finally spoke it took her a while to comprehend what he was saying.
"I heard you say Vincent," he said suddenly and a puzzled frown creased her brow.
"I, Im sorry?" she stammered.
He peered up at her over the top of his glasses but his hands continued to work on her graze. "I heard you say Vincent. If Im not much mistaken, thats the name of a certain Turk Ive seen you speaking to once or twice. Dr Hojo seems quite frustrated with him," Janus clarified with an odd expression and Lucrecias frown deepened.
"Anyone would think that youre checking up on me, Mr Janus. I dont like feeling as though Im being shadowed."
"Oh dont worry," he chuckled as he turned back to her leg. "Im not stalking you. Hojo talks about him often."
Lucrecia stared at him with suspicion but could read no emotion other than a pure earnestness on his visage- he didnt seem to be lying.
"What what does my husband say about him? About Vincent I mean," she questioned hesitantly.
"Well, he just rants and raves about him. Calls him all names under the sun after that incident with the syringe a few weeks ago." Janus gave a quiet laugh. "He also seems to think that you and this Turk have a bit of a relationship going on."
Lucrecia gave a cry. "Hes actually said that??" she exclaimed. "I cant believe him! Why, of all the things-!"
"So youre saying that youre just friends?" Janus intervened suddenly as he dropped one leg and lifted her other, repeating his actions once more.
"Why, yes!" Lucrecia nodded with a desperate firmness. "Ive done nothing more than check up on him when he was ill and speak with him a few times."
Janus sniffed. "You certainly couldve fooled me," he shrugged and she glared at him.
"What the hell is that meant to mean??"
He looked up at her. "Listen to yourself. Youre practically screaming!" he pointed out and she felt her cheeks blush furiously. He shook his head with a wry smirk. "If you had nothing to hide then youd be a little less enthusiastic. Also the fact that I heard you muttering his name to yourself when I approached you from behind only adds to the evidence. There are other things of course the way you look into space whenever you hear about him, the way that you wore a secret smile whenever you left a meeting with him. Youre terrible at concealing your emotions, Miss Marionette."
She glared at him furiously, her lips pressed together so tightly she felt them go numb. And yet, as utterly furious as she was towards the figure at her feet she could say nothing in objection. Somehow she knew that every word that passed his lips was the truth and it made her insides twist so violently that she almost vomited,
Expelling her pent up breath loudly, she flashed a panicked glance in his direction. "Is it.. is it really that obvious?" she asked him in a high pitched voice and he chuckled gently.
"Fraid so," he answered as he set her foot on the floor and stood up, brushing his knees down. "Your grazes should be fine, but try not to bend them otherwise you might agitate the wounds."
"Thanks," she mumbled awkwardly. "But tell me why does my husband tell you these things?"
Janus gave a slight chuckle. "Hes as useless as you are when it comes to concealing how he feels. I saw him grab and yell at you a minute ago. It wasnt hard to guess what it was about."
"He wants to start the Project now," she muttered. "He wants me " she swallowed hard and shook her head, chestnut bangs flopping over her pale features. "It will be our child but he hasnt touched me that way for almost a year now. All of a sudden " Her voice trailed off and she turned away from the patiently listening scientist.
"I cant speak," she answered softly. "I have no right to talk like this, especially not about such private matters." She paused and looked at him curiously. "Especially not with you! I dont even know you!"
He gave a drawn out sigh and shrug. "I wont press you, but you can trust me," he promised kindly. "Im new here and it seems that you dont have much of a friendly connection with Dr Hojo. If you ever need to talk then I dont mind being a sounding board."
Lucrecia flashed him a smile. "Thank you, Daniel," she answered warmly. "I really appreciate that but I would still feel very wrong if I carried on like this."
He nodded and a comfortable silence weighed upon the pair. Lucrecia reached up and scraped back her bangs from her face, tucking them back behind an ear. Januss face creased contemplatively as his eyes flicked to the town.
"Listen," he began suddenly, and she looked up at him, a humble expression on her features. "You might not want to hear this news, but I suppose youd find out in a matter of hours anyway "
His voice trailed off and she gazed at him intently.
"Well, because the Jenova Project is of such a high priority, the Presidents decided to send out some muscle to guard us. Yknow, make sure the peasants dont revolt or anything."
"Hes dispatched a couple of Turks out here. According to the letter I saw on Dr Hojos desk in the labs this morning, one of them is a rookie called Malcolm Jefferies and the other is-"
He stopped and met her eyes as they widened alarmingly. "Vincent," she gasped emphatically and Janus nodded.
"Yeah. Its weird, the President was adamant not to waste resources on this place," Janus looked over his shoulder at the Mansion and jerked a thumb in its direction. "But all of a sudden, hes sent two over here! And Vincent, I mean, hes supposed to be the best, right?"
Lucrecia nodded and a slow, bright smile spread its way over her lips. "I cant believe it," she whispered. "Vincent mustve done something he mustve said something to get himself sent out here! I cant believe it!"
She gave a cry of delight and leapt to her feet, throwing her arms around Janus to his astonishment. She twirled around him with a joyous laugh and held him at arms length, a dazed grin dispelling her terminal gloom of the past week. "When does he arrive?"
Janus laughed and unhooked her arms from his shoulders. "Any hour now actually. Your constant watch hasnt been in vain it would seem."
Taking a few steps back, she looked at him suspiciously. "Youre not lying are you?" she asked him softly and he shook his head vehemently.
"Of course not. I know how much such news would mean to you. Why would I lie?"
Lucrecia frowned a little. "Hojo he didnt mention this at all. I know that hes angry with me, but if hed known about this then he wouldve locked me up in the basement. If he really feels as strongly as you say he does then surely he should be on the phone screaming at President Shinra for changing his plans so quickly."
A slow grin suddenly grew on Janus face as he slipped a hand into an inside lab-coat pocket and pulled out a rectangle of paper. It had been ripped at one end; an address was written on the front. He held it out to her and she took it apprehensively.
"A letter," he began simply. "I saw it unopened so Dr Hojo mustve thought it was frivolous. I decided to take a look and see if it was anything important, but I havent had the chance to speak to him yet. Im sure hed be just as emotional about the news as you are except not in such a good way." He ended with his glacial smirk but Lucrecia suddenly didnt care about his lack of human emotion and could only scan down the note with blurring eyes.
It was a short note; the typed letters somehow hung with a secreted fury. It did indeed paint the picture Janus had described; two Turks to be posted at the Mansion. One a mere rookie. The other Vincent . Vincent and some rookie were to escort the scientists on their work and safeguard the mansion secrets from Wutaneese infiltrators. She didnt believe that for a second though, the words were too blunt and sharp to describe a well-thought plan. It seemed far too rushed to mirror any of the calculating wit which was the old Presidents calling card. Her heart pounded so loudly she found her gaze drifting up to meet Januss face in the fear that he had perhaps heard it. His face was as icy and impassive as ever and his cold blue eyes were fixed to an overhanging bough.
She suppressed a smile from pulling her lips up in an elated gesture and scrunched up the letter, shoving it into a trouser pocket. "I I dont think husband needs to know about this just yet," she said to Janus with a grimly subdued expression. "I think he has enough of his mind right now."
A broad grin pulled up Januss lips above his small goatee and he nodded firmly. "Of course, Miss Marionette."
She started towards the route to town and looked back at him over her shoulder with an ambiguous expression filled with emotions she couldnt quite grasp at. Frowning thoughtfully to herself, she shook her head as she finally turned and strode with renewed vigour to Nibelheim.
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